If you have a passion in your life like singing or some other thing that you pursue in the face of overwhelming societal discouragement, you may have heard yourself say in response to the question why, “I must…it is is like breathing to me”. In my case, that may very well be the truth. My pursuit of singing, my constant efforts to be a better singer, and ultimately my deep reflection to understand why I felt the compulsion to communicate through song, may very well be the driving forces that saved my life in the face of an unknown congenital heart defect.
Overly dramatic? Perhaps; I am a performer after all. But recovering from major surgery gives you a lot of time to think, particularly in these early days when the ability to focus on a real project is illusory at best.
One of the things that has become completely obvious to me (you have to love hindsight) is this: at some level, for a very long time, I understood that there was something not right in my body. I can see a path of choices in my life that somehow always slightly sidestepped full involvement in living. I can see the many ways in which I managed and compensated, the physical activities I avoided, the chances I did not take. And I can see all the little signs in the last two years of my life that said I was winding down, not as willing to act like I had much future left.
But why was singing so important in all of this? One of the little factoids I picked up through the process of diagnosis and surgery was this: the kind of defect that I had usually makes itself known in the early 30’s of a person’s life. And yet, my first symptoms occurred decades after that. The doctors were a little confused; I am not.
Singing made the difference. This is not some metaphysical declaration about the power of song in the human soul; this is a practical declaration. You see, the desire to sing and sing professionally and sing well and sing with expression led me to take a number of actions to make that wish come true: daily exercise, breathing exercises, occasional yoga practice, healthy eating practices, regular sleep routines. All of these basic health-oriented changes I made in the name of being a great singer. And each and everyone of them led me to a greater state of health, postponed the inevitable diagnosis, and made the surgery itself when necessary easier and less complicated.
And it wasn’t just the physical changes that the call to singing brought to my life. The compulsion to sing and the extension of that compulsion, the drive to understand why singing seemed for me the language of God and man combined — these things brought me to a level of self-reflection and faith that gave me the tools to face the diagnosis and the solution. And most of all, this drive brought me to the heart of two amazing communities of faith, without whose prayers and love and support these last months and these weeks for repair and recovery would be unimaginable.
So as I sit here at my desk, gratefully entering the second week of my recovery after valve replacement surgery, and I am so grateful. I am not only grateful to the doctors who worked so diligently to protect my voice during the surgery, I am grateful for the God that gave me my obsessive, unquenchable desire to make music with my voice. I am looking forward to using this gift to sing your praises again very soon.