Home for the Holidays Part II: The Soundtrack of the Journey

Our moving day was Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2010. We left Kalamazoo, MI, around 4 p.m. after the two moving vans had already headed east. Our first stop was with Stuart’s brother Hollis and his wife Marty in Ann Arbor. They toasted our transition with a champagne dinner. In the morning after a quick breakfast, they went to work and we set sail for I-94. Stuart drove the blue car, and I took the gold one filled with about a dozen house plants. Like so many green monks, they silently absorbed my thoughts and prayers.

Usually I listen to satellite radio when I drive on long trips. But for some reason, this time I didn’t turn the dial. Snow flurries  fell most of the way, making driving difficult along one stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. But after we turned south on I-70 at Breezewood, PA, roads cleared again. The scene to my left was the first of many amazing landscapes. Instead of traveling through the mountains, as I did in western PA, I was driving alongside them.

I decided to listen to CD’s. It just so happened that my daughter-in-law Chelsea’s meditation mix was in the deck, and the song that filled the air was Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” sung by Jeff Buckley. Chelsea picked it because it was one of Anthony’s favorite songs. I love the part about the “secret chord” in this song:

“Hallelujah”

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

The plants and I started singing along as the scenery in front of us merged with the music surrounding us. The next two CD’s–also mixes, called “Stuart Inspired” and “Shirley Inspired,” merged together with the scenery in front of me as I drove.

I’ve had many moments of fleeting mystical awareness in my life, but this time I soared for hours. None of this was pre-planned. The CD’s hadn’t been played in months, and I had no intent to play them as I drove. But every song seemed to speak to me. They all said, “Pay attention. This present moment is your life.” Many of the “inspired” songs on the CD spoke about a home far away–Willie Nelson’s “Unclouded Day,” for example, starts out:

Oh, they tell me of a home
Far beyond the skies
Oh, they tell me of a home
So far away
Yes, they tell me of a home
Where no storm clouds rise
Oh, they tell me
Yes, they tell me
Of an uncloudy day

Chorus
(Oh) Oh, they
Tell me of a home
Where my loved ones gone
(Oh) Oh, they
Tell me of a land
Bright and fair
So far away
(Where) Where (the) the tree of life
Sheds its fragrance through the air
Oh they tell me of an uncloudy day

American gospel music loves to paint pictures of the beautiful life in the hereafter. Such yearning!

But not all the yearning lies beyond the grave. Some of it lingers in the here and now. Especially the longing to be close to one’s children. The classic “Calling My Children Home” would soften the hardest heart.

I first heard this song when Chanticleer sang it in Sauder Hall at Goshen College. Tears stung my eyes when I heard these words:

Those lives were mine to love and cherish.

To guard and guide along life’s way.

Oh God forbid that one should perish.
That one alas should go astray.

Back in the years with all together,
Around the place we’d romp and play.
So lonely now and oft’ times wonder,
Oh will they come back home some day.

I’m lonesome for my precious children,
They live so far away.
Oh may they hear my calling…calling..
and come back home some day.

The version I listened to in the car was Emmy Lou Harris‘–the last song on the mix album called “Shirley Inspired.” You won’t believe this, but the music ended just as the lights of Harrisonburg began to appear on the horizon.

I was traveling home, toward my precious children and many other dear friends and relatives. But underneath the physical journey, I was aware of my spiritual journey which has now taken a new turn. Along the highway, speeding fast, I saw the landscape and heard the music of the home stretch.

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About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
This entry was posted in Personal Reflections and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Home for the Holidays Part II: The Soundtrack of the Journey

  1. Kathleen says:

    Your story moved me to tears as I read it late this afternoon. It has stayed with me into the evening …

    surely goodness and mercy
    have followed you through all the days

    even now, you dwell at home
    and in the home of the Spirit

    Peace be with you…

  2. Susan Neufeldt says:

    Such a beautiful post, so wonderfully meditative. There is something about driving that puts one into a light hypnotic trance, not so deep that one forgets to drive attentively. Like taking a shower, driving allows the unconscious to work in a unique way so that things can surface. How many times I have struggled with a question and then begun driving and had the answer surface.

    The musical lines are lovely accompaniments to your thoughts.

    • shirleyhs says:

      Yes, Susan. Driving and taking a shower. Good analogies for the mind and spirit. I can tell you are a psychologist. 🙂 I’ll have to try to question/answer thing more consciously next time I am stuck with an idea. To be truthful, I am not overly fond of driving, and I love the luxury of reading, napping, conversing, listening to podcasts as a passenger. So this kind of a drive was very rare for me. The one other time I drove as far without adult companionship (I took four-year-old Anthony), was when my father was dying in PA and I traveled from IN to be with him for a period before he died. I remember a similar kind of spiritual presence. I saw forsythia aflame in the sunlight as though it were the burning bush.

  3. doradueck says:

    Shirley, I too was moved by this blog on the soundtrack of your homeward journey. Thanks so much for setting it down in the midst of your move. (Which somehow delighted me, that you would do it, I mean.) Your post reminded me of so much (which the best writing does, doesn’t it, carry us between the writer’s experience and our own) — similar experiences of that “light hypnotic trance” of driving as Susan above puts it, that space in which one must simply keep going but has the opportunity to simply be and to listen, that “lonesome for my precious children,” Leonard Cohen’s music. And the favourites CD my daughter put together for me one Christmas, which has his “Hallelujah” on it and which I’ve just now put into my computer to listen to.

  4. doradueck says:

    Quick edit to the above. The “delighted” refers to the fact that you would move, I mean, even though I gathered from your earlier post that the decision had spontaneity to it. It’s inspiring, at our age! 🙂

  5. shirleyhs says:

    Thanks, Dora, for sharing your own associations with similar experiences of driving and listening in “light hypnotic trance.” Glad that we even share some of the same inspirational music. The urge to both move and to document was quite strong. Looking back over my life, the times I have most wanted to write have been times of elevated consciousness and major life transition–going to college, falling in love, going to grad school, becoming a mother (twice), becoming a college president, leaving Goshen, joining the Fetzer Institute, and now leaving Fetzer and moving back to Virginia. So, my impulse is to work hard all day and then reflect morning on night on what is happening.

  6. Shirley,

    I love this account of your move, and know you’ll love Harrisonburg, where I’ve stayed several times while visiting my farm mentor Joel Salatin. It is amazing how much we perceive when we are fully awake at one of life’s transition points. “Hallelujah” is one of my favorite songs, though I like Rufus Wainwright’s version best…

    • shirleyhs says:

      Well, Richard, I now have Rufus Wainwright singing to me on iTunes. I love that I can find a piece of music so easily and access it with one click. Now I can go from one version to another and then end up with Hallelujah Morning, another song I love.

      And next time you visit your farm mentor, I hope you will let me know. It would be great to meet in person. Our new house overlooks miles of farms with the mountain ridges behind them into the great blue yonder.

  7. Oh Shirley, I love the way you wove together the song lyrics and your own musings. This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  8. Becca says:

    This is my first visit here, Shirley, and as an aspiring memoir writer, I’m especially glad to have found someone who so clearly knows the value in sharing our individual human stories.

    This post moved me so much. I live in Michigan myself, and could well imagine your trek eastward on that cold, snowy day, heading into a new life.

    But what is most moving to me right now is that you’re traveling toward a new life where you will be close to your children. In the weeks ahead, my only son will be moving far away from me, and this is a change which is hurting my heart.

    I wish you all good things in your new home!

    • shirleyhs says:

      Hi, Becca, ravenous reader!! Thanks for coming to this site. You sound like the perfect reader for this blog. So glad you reached out. I hope you can always find a good memoir to read by using the search function on this site and that you will subscribe for new posts.

      I was deeply moved by your words about your son. I can feel the hurt in your heart and yet your deep desire for him to take a step toward a new life also. I am sending the desire for you to hold these two desires in creative tension. Even when they seem to conflict, they may well be leading to the same goal.

      And thanks for sensing the power in this change for our family. Merry Christmas!

  9. Love Emmy Lou Harris — listen to her music all the time! In fact, when we moved from Indianapolis, Shirley, back to Dakota … I had 2 of her cd’s in the car. She’s just a voice to trust … take care, my friend! –Daisy

    • shirleyhs says:

      So you know what it is like to move and be moved at the same time. 🙂

      I like the phrase, “a voice to trust.” Thanks for that. One of the posts I am working out in my head is one on the connection between voice and story. I want to remember this phrase.

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