Holding on in a time of coronavirus

Do you dance in your living room? My sister sends me a photo of her year-old son bouncing around to jazz piano, and I remember the way she and my brother and I used to do that, jigging aroudn without thinking in the family room with indestructible saffron-orange rug and the oak ice box where the records lived. 

My mother would listen to Ray Charles while she made bread, and later we would look through my parents’ record collection, Sargent Pepper, Peter Paul & Mary, the Highwaymen. Long before we knew what the songs meant, we were singing along to them.

Why am I remembering those afternoons, baking in the old kitchen and singing along to Hair — why am I remembering that tonight, in a pandemic? Everywhere around me, people are stunned and scared. People are struggling to keep their businesses afloat. Or pay the rent. Or find tomorrow’s dinner. People are looking for ways to help.

And it can feel beside the point, or even irresponsible, to look back at a glad memory or share a song. Some people say when you are trying to get by, music is a privilege. And I hear that.

And yet … I’ve been talking with a lot of people this week, and I am reminded in many ways that when we’re sad and frightened and feeling alone, we make choices. And being aware can influence them. 

If we have an ounce of give in our souls, it can make a difference in the choices we see and the way we follow them. A moment to breathe can change how a parent talks to a child, or a farmer finds ways to bring food to a neighbor, or the owner of a small business looks for resources to weather the next few weeks.

And a song or a memory or a picture can sometimes give a moment to breathe. I’ve been learning that creativity has a relationship with anxiety. An inverse relationship. One goes up and the other goes down. 

I think that’s why some people feel that when you’re trying to get by, music is a privilege — because when you’re in survival mode, adrenaline takes over, and can feel as though you don’t have the energy to care about enything else. Anxiety takes over creativity. But if you can shift the balance, if you have enough give in the elastic to allow a song, an old photo, a recipe, it can make a difference. 

Ease an argument. Suggest a way to find help. Give a night’s sleep. 

Earlier this week I was rambling online (because it’s one of the few places left to ramble), and I came across Tony Pisano on Facebook. He was standing by his window, on an icy hillside over the Hoosic River, playing his mandolin. He recorded himself and posted the recording to share. I turned up the volume, he was playing Let It Snow, and the notes fell clean and light on an early spring morning. And I was laughing. Thank you, Tony. I needed that.

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