Gradual but fierce

For the first time in five months, I picked up my violin. A fall and subsequent wrist injury kept me not only from playing my violin but also from riding my bike, picking up pots and pans, opening doors without pain, getting lids off jars, and even driving. But after five months, I finally felt ready to try the violin for two minutes or so. It’s been a long wait. My hand, which has gained a good deal of strength over the past month, nevertheless shook from disuse as I struggled to move the tuning pegs. My pinky was clumsy as it pressed down the strings. But the music soared out. IMG_0752

In this time of recovery, I’ve learned and re-learned some important lessons about healing, lessons that are valid for all types of injury and restoration: personal, relational, societal. They aren’t universal truths, necessarily, but landmarks, reminders of the nature of becoming whole.

1. Healing is gradual but also fierce.

I had to be patient with the slow pace of my gathering strength, but I also couldn’t sit down and just wait for things to get better. I had to create the conditions for my healing. When I tried to do everything at once, my wrist rebelled with biting and throbbing pain. But if I neglected my exercises (or stopped using my wrist altogether), there was no hope of meaningful steps forward. I had to push my muscles, tendons, ligaments, and scar tissue every day, further than was comfortable but never beyond my capability. It was hard to notice my capacity growing, but my ability to bring out my violin today is proof that it has grown. I had to learn to balance sustained effort with gracious welcome. I’m not a master at it, but I’ve certainly gotten a lot of practice.

2. Consequently, recovery isn’t linear.

If I accidentally overdid things by trying to weed the garden or sleeping without a brace on, I might set back the process by days or weeks. Sometimes a good day would be followed by an abysmal day, and I would have to start all over again. I couldn’t predict the pace – I could only listen and be patient.

3. Visible trauma does not dictate the extent of harm.

When I fell onto the sidewalk back in March, my hand looked as though the only result was a mild abrasion. There was no swelling, very little blood, and nothing suggesting a severe injury. But the next day, I couldn’t move my hand. And my continued pain, weakness, and numbness was testament to the fact that something was indeed wrong. An MRI gave no further clues, but not once did my doctors suggest that my pain and difficulty moving wasn’t real. The hand and wrist is a complex system, they said, and it takes a long time to heal. So we made our best guesses as to the diagnosis and moved through therapy accordingly. Some of my own reading has been about the neuroscience of pain and the persistence of learned neural pathways after an injury. Whatever the cause of my pain, ignoring it was not going to produce healing. Only careful listening coupled with expansive thinking would allow us all to get to the root of my pain.

4. Everything is connected.

When I really started getting my arm back into gear, I noticed increased pain and tension in my shoulder blade. My muscles aren’t used to having an active arm, and they responded accordingly with protest. Nothing about my injury or healing is isolated. What I do in once place means paying attention to another place. 

It isn’t hard to see the common threads in these lessons: patience and listening. And I would qualify these as a relentless patience and a spacious listening; there is nothing soft or easy or quiet about the work of recovery. But wherever you or your community, or our whole world for that matter, may be in messy work of healing, we can know that a sustained and gracious effort will open us up to each other and to possibility.

Of Music and Mochi

Despite the wind’s wintery bite, Wednesday was a day of hygge (that newly ubiquitous Danish word), permeated by an inner sense of coziness and capped with little moments of happiness.

One of my favorite parts, appropriately, was listening to an album by a group called the Danish String Quartet. I first came across their music in NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series, and in a break from the quartet’s usual classical fare, they played their own arrangements of Danish folk songs. I fell in love. And then I did somersaults of joy when I discovered they had not one but two albums of such musical bliss.

As I was driving home from work Wednesday, I had their album Last Leaf blasting (can one blast string quartet folk music?) and I watched the pink sky mellow into dusk. (I also watched the road, of course, so don’t worry.) The track “Shine You No More,” which I have heard innumerable times now, blew me away once again and set my feet itching to dance. I heard in the “Unst Boat Song” the sorrow and joy and longing of 100 lives, and it invites you to write your own experiences into the music, too, whatever they are that day.

Music like this buoys my spirit when gray January settles in. It reminds me of the life that pulses even in the quietest moments and celebrates the softness and introspection of winter.

Image result for mochi

Before I tell this next vignette, I have to share a secret, burgeoning desire I’ve harbored for the last several years: I really, really wanted to try mochi ice cream, the sweet cream and rice-cake frozen treat invented in Japan and made popular in the States in recent years. However, as someone who is sensitive to milk and always has been and probably always will be, I assumed that tasting this delight would forever be beyond my reach. Vegan ice cream there may be, but vegan mochi? It seemed unlikely. When I would see freezers of mochi  in the grocery isle and hear them calling my name, I would sadly turn away and inwardly bemoan my dairy-free fate.

So you can imagine my delight when my roommate Jess informed me in passing that not only was there vegan mochi, but it came in GREEN TEA FLAVOR, which was, just as secretly, the flavor I had always wanted to try. So I bought some on my way home, practically bouncing gleefully through the grocery store isles.

After dinner, I opened up the freezer to inaugurate the beginning of a beautiful mochi-filled life and have some for desert. I invited Jess to try one with me, and before we ate, she bumped her mochi to mine as if we were clinking champaign glasses. I took my first bite.

Reader, it was heavenly. It was everything I could ask for and more.

The world is often a frightening, overwhelming place, and we have so much work we are called to do. Small joys like music and mochi cannot change these facts, but they can help gird us through our fallow, restful months and teach us to keep wondering at the world.

Hymn of “I am”

In the spring, I was in a class entitled “Finding Words for Worship” taught by renowned hymnist and liturgist Dr. Ruth Duck.  We were all charged to try our hands at hymn writing, a task that made me profoundly nervous.  What I discovered, however, was that I found deep joy in crafting words to fit a tune.  Below is the hymn I wrote for the class.

Sung to the tune St. Columba (The King of Love my Shepherd Is, United Methodist Hymnal #138).

Based on Jesus’ I Am statements in the Gospel of John (chapters 6, 4, and 15).

I am the bread of life, my friends,

For hungry souls I’m broken.

My life I give to all who hear

And trust the Word I’ve spoken.

I am the well of truth, my friends,

Come taste the living water.

My Spirit will descend on you

And name you son and daughter.

I am the vine of love, my friends,

Your branches will I nourish.

In Love remain and make your home,

In Love will branches flourish.

I am the host who calls you friends:

Receive the meal I’ve given.

My life in you, your life in me

Will bring the feast of heaven.

© Cassidhe Hart, 2015.