When I hear the 23rd Psalm and envision myself walking beside still waters and lying down in green pastures, I do not think of triple-forte fff. But exultation is the spirit of Gordon Young’s arrangement of The Lord Is My Shepherd. Mom had been working her way through her filing cabinet stuffed with choir music—hundreds of pieces—keeping her favorites and tossing the rest. As she began plunking the allegro maestoso introduction on the piano, the music and the memories drew me irresistibly down the stairs and across 45 years to the church choir where I learned to sing under Mom’s enthusiastic and competent direction. I stood behind her now, put aside my usual inhibitions, and belted out “God is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” from memory. Mom pounded out the triplet eighth-note chords, and this 57-year-old returned to 12 and sang the melody. Abruptly and appropriately subdued to meno mosso, I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, very temporarily, for I need fear no evil with my Shepherd with me, providing comfort, preparing my table, and anointing my head with aromatic oil. I confess that my cup ran over as the music washed over me and the song neared the fortississimo fff promise of dwelling forever with the Lord. Suddenly very happy, I thanked Mom for the break from my work, climbed the stairs to my home office, absorbed in emotional echoes of musical memory, and sat at my old desk to write, grateful to my Shepherd.
From my seat in the choir loft, I looked out upon a sea of 500 faces. Panning slowly, I looked at the details of each face, especially the eyes. And I could tell that all these people sitting in church on a Sunday morning were good people, wanting to do their duty to each other and to God and the Church. Many couples sat beside each other, their children by their side, or alone where their children had grown. A number of adults sat without partners. Like mine, each face held a story of heartache and loss and grief, and joy. I pondered how their stories are not part of mine, and how my story is not part of theirs. We may cross paths from time to time, but we do not walk the same specific path together. I experienced again the sensation that I would walk the remainder of my path alone. The possibility remains that I might meet a compatible companion, who I now cannot imagine—it might happen. But to flourish in this present moment I have to let go of that ephemeral possibility. Several times I have worked hard to make a relationship happen, but these fabrications have always failed, painfully. In this and other oceans of faces, good faces, I have found no face or soul to belong to. And that is just as well. I have written elsewhere about my setting out to find wildlife in nature, how the harder I search, the less I find. I have learned that when I relax, and breathe, and labor faithfully without expectation, when I prepare myself and allow nature to arrive on her own terms, she and her creatures arrive, beavers and bullfrogs, muskrats and turtles, herons and kingfishers, wild iris and rose. As with nature, so with natural relationships: I must relax, and breathe, and labor faithfully without expectation—I have to be prepared for the universe to arrive with her abundant blessings. For the present, my job is to get used to being alone, to sacrifice and to love alone, to contribute alone, to maintain spiritual standards and practices alone, to be healthy and fit alone, to cook and eat gourmet meals alone, and to forego the pleasures and pains and joys of intimate companionship. My opportunity is to learn the lessons of living from my particular life. Your opportunity right now is to sing with the choir, I thought, emerging from my reverie. To end the long church conference, the choir director led Mom and me and the choir in singing Be Still, My Soul, arranged by Mack Wilberg. The women sang with one clear voice, to which the men added another, moving together into a pleasant perfect eight-part harmony. A spirit of beauty washed over the ocean of faces. After the benediction, Dad walked slowly beside me toward the exit, his arm heavily upon mine. Stepping through the door, we saw that the snow had begun to fall, and remarked upon how beautiful it was, and how cold upon our bald heads.
(Pictured above, Utah’s Jordan River from my kayak.)