Trey's Days No. 13
There was a flame from an oil lamp on the table between two chairs. This little light transformed the otherwise conventional mid-century living room into a chamber of soul searching. Anne had been through a lot. Minister's wife, mother, social worker, ordained minister now retired, it is here that she would share her considerable experience with me.
The session was life changing. She helped me make the decision. If I wanted to go to seminary getting my bachelor's degree was the first step. I would register for some classes and figure out what I'd major in later. There was on that day with the little light and the woman wealthy with experience a sense that something had changed. There was a new path, the path of education and preparation.
Academic advising with the chair of the music department was a mistake. It didn't seem like a mistake, but I emerged a music major. Dr. Choirmaster exclaimed “Major? Major?” and put his head down on his desk. Dr. Choirmaster has sent me to the department chair for advising. He had not imagined I would emerge a music major. “Okay, get ready!” he warned.
Concert choir was easy enough. Community chorus was even easier. Anyone with half a voice can sing in a huge choir, even if it is Handel and Mozart. It was the voice lessons and recitals, the piano lessons and recitals, the aural skills tests and the other classes on top of that that started the anxiety attacks. Standing in the wings, running “See the Raging Flames Arise” from Handel's Joshua in my head, the anxiety was like having an out of body experience. “Can you take it a little faster?” the Bulgarian accompanist asked as we walked out. “I guess” I squeaked meekly.
I crashed and burned. Two lines into the all together too fast Handel aria I looped and forgot the words. “Kristina, we have to stop.” She ignored me and kept on playing. Lost, I turned and tried to sing again. That was my last public performance. It was an unmitigated disaster. After many successes singing and playing, after mastering a gob of theory, after working my ass off, it all lay in the ruins of one disastrous performance. “Major?” Right. Big mistake!
Advising in the philosophy and religious studies department after years of a steady diet of music felt so much more appropriate. Of course. Preparation for seminary or a theology degree would involve philosophy and religious studies. Naturally. Off I went for some more years of classes I mostly loved. Existentialism, Islam, Medical Ethics, Eastern Thought, all wonderful stuff. But something had happened to me in the process of working on this patchwork we call a Liberal Arts degree. All the resolve of that day with the flame lighting a new path had vaporized. The hope of a degree itself had crashed on the rocky shores of a biology class taught by an old school hard ass. And the anxiety of crashing and burning on the shards of “See the Raging Flames Arise” with the Bulgarian racer now followed me everywhere.
“Wanna get high?” the hippie brother beckoned. Well hell yeah. Years of experience taught me how to make that stalking anxiety go away. Relapse held at bay for a while by a fellowship and a program, there comes in the life of every recovering person the moment when there is no human defense. Hell yeah I wanted to get high. I wanted relief, relief from “Major? Major?” Relief from “See the Raging Flames Arise”, relief from the passive bureaucracy of urban public education, but mostly just relief from myself, from my disease, from stalking anxiety that followed me from childhood, stirring my brain chemistry into a perfect storm of confusion and exhaustion.
I escaped with most of my dignity in tact and a zillion hours. I learned a tremendous amount. From Dr. E I got my faith back in Eastern Thought, Philosophy of Religion, and watching him teach. From my friends I found a new kind of fellowship, one of ideas and aspiration. But I had lost the light of that little flame showing me the way to a new path that would take me to the vocation for which my maker had given me great and powerful gifts.
The fellowship that offers a way out was right where I left it. Many of my old brothers were still there. They had saved me a seat. And in that fellowship I found the lamp still burning, the path still illuminated by the light of that one still and steady flame. The gifts are still there and into them has been stoked the logs of learning and even still breathes Spirit to fan the flame. Tomorrow I go to meet one who found his vocation and met his calling, to hear a word of experience. The path stretches out before me still, and still alive and breathing I have a chance. I am starting to see how my experience can benefit others, and alive in my recent memory is the message of Sister Helen Prejean reminding me not to be overwhelmed but to reach out to one in pain. And I have a whole list of names of people in pain who are waiting for me to reach out. The flame still burns, and the path will become visible again as my eyes open, I trust.