I am so incredibly lucky to have a wonderful life at age 77. Of course, it’s not perfect because no life is, but I am so abundantly blessed in my elderhood. Here I am, a want-to-be writer who is finally just that! It took me long enough! What’s that “they” say? “It’s never too late?” Thank goodness! This writing is my latest passion in a lifetime of passions. I find it amazing!
Writers know that an idea, a phrase, a word, a scene can pop into our minds without even asking for it. And nearly always, it demands attention. Which means it expects to be put into words. So it was recently when my Muse (whom I have not yet named) whispered these strange words:
“I thought if I could no longer sing, I would die.”
Well, that seemed a bit extreme, even for me (the one widely known for being the dramatic one in the family). Singing has been my lifelong passion, and passions often run ahead of logic. They’re gut things. Of course I would not literally die. Yet, what would happen when something which has been so elemental to who I am finally came to an end? Maybe I would not literally die, but it just could feel that way.
Singing has not been just a passion with me. I have been very good at it. It has been part and parcel of my identity. I was blessed with a beautiful solo mezzo-soprano voice that I had the joy of using in concerts and recitals, sacred and community venues, whether it was on a large stage or singing the Star Spangled Banner on a Little League baseball field. It was big enough to sing over an orchestra but not big enough to hit the Big Time. It filled body, mind and spirit nonetheless, every time.
Ah, yes. The power of living out our passion is palpable.
Singing great music filled me up. The feel of it is physical, and the crazy ride of the surging, feel-good hormones is as powerful as any drug. Besides the very joy of singing with ease and passion, my ego reveled in it. Voraciously. Every prolonged applause and standing “O” for decades was verification that I was a worthy human being. My passion for singing was an immense part of my ego, my self-esteem, my self-worth. No wonder I thought I could die without it.
When I was 72, I preached my first sermon in a new church and ended it by singing “What I Did for Love.” Surprise! The enthusiastic response of the congregation stunned me. They still talk about it five years later. My voice was still in good shape. I didn’t have to die yet.
But I had changed.
One thing was different that day. My ego was no longer on the stage. My love for these people was front and center. It was going to be a harbinger of how I would be able to leave one passion behind and eventually take up another.
The end came this fall. By this time, I was singing in our church choir. No more solos. But at 77, my singing voice was so undependable that I had to retire. Rats! And I didn’t die after all. Not even figuratively! I turned in my music and walked away with no regrets. Only profound gratitude for a lifetime of joy.
This passion had spent itself without my even trying! But thankfully, passion itself was far from done with me. And here is why.
Passion keeps us alive and amazed. Passion is a driving force that walks us into creativity and curiosity and wonderment and purpose. Passion is the glue of commitment, the joy of achievement. It can be a high, it can be unimaginably deep. We all need it. Sometimes we can’t find it. And most of us have to find it. Somewhere. It is where meaning appears and shows us the future we are meant to find. And when one passion ends, there can be yet another that is just as sweet. It is still grace.
Following our passion can be the hardest thing we ever do because it always involves a cost. Some costs are greater than others, and any of them can about break your heart. But not following our passion has costs as well, and the greatest cost is losing big chunks of who we are and who we were meant to be. And that always breaks the heart.
“To be yourself, you have to learn how to become who you were dreamed to be…To be born is to be chosen. There is something special that each of us has to do in the world. If someone else could do it, they would be here and not us.” – John O’Donohue
So where have your passions led you? What “something special” has marked your years so far? Perhaps there has been one overriding passion that has been the story of your life from the beginning.
Have those passions been large or small? Have they been powerful enough to engage your heart and soul and mind, in spite of yourself sometimes? Have you ever had to step out in faith because you couldn’t walk away from one yet?
I have friends who have a passion for quilting and the beauty of their work is stunning for those of us who need beauty…and the warmth of a quilt.
I have friends who have such a passion for little children that their daycare is filled with imagination and creativity and joy…and the laughter that can only come from them.
I have friends who have such a passion for frail elders that they go the extra mile to drive them, visit them, invite them, play with them…making time because they know time is everything sometimes.
I have friends who have such passion for life that they have a heart that includes everyone, even the outcasts…especially the outcasts.
I have friends who have such monumental disabilities that I could not imagine having to rise above their limitations. They not only live with them, they do it with a zest and joy that humbles me.
My friends are grace. So are yours. So are you.
When passion matches who we are, what gifts we have, what obstacles we can overcome, we find ourselves, too, living with grace.
It’s all a part of how I got here. And I’m very okay with that!