Uncharted Territory: Part 1
Note 1: This song, "From the Inside," is "Part 1" and relates to a follow-up song about the wonder of more fully experiencing the world around you, even--or perhaps especially--in a time of challenge (a cancer journey): "The Days of Your Opening."
Note 2: In December of 2016, sadly, Marie Pechet passed on. At her request, I performed this song as a centerpiece performance at her funeral. I had never performed it live before. It had been composed, at her request, nearly a decade earlier, when doctors had given her only a year or so to live. She outlived all prognoses and expectations, was a featured panel guest on NPR's series' about Living Exuberantly with Cancer, and began a blog that became increasingly popular over the course of her lifetime called "Adventures in Spiritual Living." She will be missed.
Marie called me out of the blue one day a few months ago asking me to write a song to help her navigate her overwhelming experience with cancer. The story she told me was very inspirational. This was Marie's second experience with the disease, and this time felt very, very different to her from the first time. She explained that several years ago, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. From the moment of diagnosis until it was all over, she was worried but still felt she would get through this, like it would just be a short visit to the land of cancer. She did not want to join support groups. She did not want to say the word "cancer." She wanted to get through it and return to life as it had been. And, that is what happened. Quick surgery, and no chemo required. But then, several years and two adopted children later, Marie and her husband found themselves with two young sons whose mother faced a core-shaking diagnosis: stage III colon cancer.
Marie shared with me that, while she did not believe her behavior or attitude the first time around had caused the second cancer, she did believe that life was presenting her an opportunity to show up differently--to hold onto herself throughout this experience in a new way. She was not sure how to do this, but she believed that with my help there might be a way for her to find her own inner guidance, through hearing her own song "played back to her", at this scary and surreal juncture. I saw the signs of her new way of being in everything she shared with me. When the doctor first called her to give her the diagnosis over the phone, Marie's response was, "Wow. Thank you for catching this when you did. I'm so grateful to you for being my doctor and for being on top of this." (This is apparently such an unusual response to learning you have a potentially fatal disease that the doctor actually assumed Marie was in shock and both he and another physician checked in with her repeatedly over the weekend). Instead, what they learned was that she was centered, and fine. She had just watched "Randy Pausch's Last Lecture" on the meaning of life. If you have not seen this phenomenal lecture on youtube, please check it out. (Pausch was all over Time and Newsweek a few months back and is, as it turns out, a personal friend of Marie's from college.)
DARING TO MOVE INSIDE THE SURREAL
Marie described to me the way that, as awful and frightening and painful and hard as her experience with chemo and facing her own mortality had been, she had begun to experience something profound and deeply beautiful. As she described in her articulate and entertaining regular emails to a a wide circle of loving friends:
"There was a time period where I was so raw that I was wide open. And during that
time, it is almost as if grace had a chance to enter. The gifts and suggestions that I
was open to during that time have all been wonderful additions to my life. Life has
now assumed a kind of new normal, so I am no longer in that place, and while I wish
I could generate that kind of openness in myself, I am always grateful for even
having it, and for all the gifts it brought. This feels like such a long road, and
I am so thankful for your company."
Marie began to realize that along with all the pain and fear had also come a kind of opening within herself. It seemed most intense at moments when she felt the most lost, or disoriented. Part of her longed desperately, as it had with the first cancer, for this to be over, and for life to go back to what it was. But part of her realized that something profound was happening within her. And she wanted to hang onto that. She said to me, "I just don't want to lose the feeling of expanded compassion. I don't want to lose the feeling of empowerment." So that became the question for the song: How do I hold onto all the beauty I have found within myself and all around me as a result of this experience, and yet still move forward and heal?
A really interesting (and frustrating) thing happened to me when I sat down with my many interview notes to try to compose Marie's song for her. It was really hard. Really hard. I struggled. I had many different starts, all seeming to pull me in different directions. I heard voices: the little child she used to be, an angel calling her forward, some non-omniscient narrator offering up hard prods to heal old emotional hurts. And while Marie had specifically asked for a song that was "uplifting," the tones I kept hearing and picking up on where not uplifting sounding at all. In short, I seemed to find myself smack in the middle of many of the same difficult feelings Marie was having. Finally, I somehow stopped fighting it and just invited the song that seemed to be trying to kick its way out to get born, whether it fit Marie's specific requests or not. I loved the song that finally got born, but I knew it was not exactly what she had asked for. Even so I knew it was saying something important that I believed she was ready to hear, and I decided then and there that I would bring it to her.
FROM THE INSIDE
Anna Huckabee Tull
For Marie: For Your Journey
So many times,
So many signs along the road
So many ways to know
So many ways to go
But now the known is closing
I am surrounded by love, but I’m alone in these
It’s not light, but it’s not darkness
And I call to me here
In the center of the storm
And I call to me here
Bruised and broken…open
All alone, all alone…(all one)
I was hiding on the inside…(I am rising from the inside)
I will stand inside myself
Oh, oh I am rising inside of me: I speak
Rising high, Rising I:
From the Inside
© Anna Huckabee Tull, CustomCraftedSongs.com
And then...the MOMENT I made this decision, to go with "the song that showed up," as opposed to "the song that was exactly what she asked for," something really odd happened. My arms reached out and grabbed the guitar and the tape recorder, and a second song came out--basically in its entirety--BOOM! Just like that! I loved this song. It was so much of what Marie had asked for, in terms of inspiration. I didn't so much "write" it as take dictation. It "came down whole" as sometimes happens with me and songwriting. It was almost like having a surprise twin get born.
I want to tell you this month about the first song, and next month about the second song. But what I mostly want to tell you now is that the first song, called "From the Inside" is one that has not only become deeply moving to Marie, but has become deeply important to me as well. I find myself listening to it in the car, very often moved to tears. This is largely because of what Sandi Hammond, who arranged and performed the piano, was able to understand and portray in helping me bring this song to life. But it is also because this song gives voice to what it feels like to move awareness deeply inside of yourself in the face of fear and shock and pain, and to literally pullllll yourself forward in a way that honors who you are. I am so proud of what this song communicates, and the way it communicates it. And I am so deeply grateful to Marie for the way she opened up her heart and her story in the name of her own journey and, I believe, in the name of all of our journeys that move us through shock and pain and loss and fear, and into our deepest and most powerful resource--that part of us that is connected to everything.
And once you understand all of this, you will have "earned your way" into the glorious surprise of what popped out in Song #2. So...(oh man, how rude am I to make you wait a whole month for a cliffhanger?! But it's kinda fun, isn't it?!?!?)...See you next month so you can learn how Marie's journey is faring and what second song appeared out of the ethers in response to her original request for upliftment.