One Yellow Flower

Greenbean is friend who brings joy to little ones I have occasion to musically entertain along the path of my life. He is a non-human life form puppet who becomes whatever – whomever – I need him to be through my voice and right hand. A magical, mysterious monster? Why not! A compassionate listener? Sure. One who teaches the ABC’s of the grand staff? Absolutely. Since 2013, the year after my mom died, Greenbean has been a steady companion throughout the lives of many.

Why the name? The last voicemail left on my answering machine from mom was a breathy thank you for a green bean casserole dropped off earlier in the day. She was suffering from late stage cancer difficulties, yet found the few seconds to call. Always the generous soul, she would certainly make that call. It could have been a bag of chips or a quart of milk … her heart would reach out just the same. Food, favors, car rides, cards, … it didn’t matter to her. There was always a follow-up “thank-you” in some form. I knew of no other proper homage to mom than name happiness, thankfulness, and gratefulness after her …

… And with the same breathiness, I write during these early morning hours.

It’s my time to offer my thanks and gratefulness. To life and all it has … and to a special person.

Specifically, to the artist of “One Small Flower”. This small painting rests comfortably on the top of my Baldwin piano. As I play, never is it not a peripheral reminder of the gift of music endowed to both of us. A talented artist as well as a musician, her gift to me ensures an already high level of commitment I have to join her in a journey. We are, together, preparing a benefit concert to raise money for rare appendix cancer research. Our hope is not to raise millions (although that would be terrific). We want to share our gift and, as well, enjoy music together.

That concert is months away. Now is now and cancer does not take time off. The stage with a piano and a microphone awaits, but stage four is here now. I’m sad about this. There’s no denying my last 24 hours of tossing and turning can’t be appeased by a Chopin nocturne or Brahms Intermezzo at this moment. Music has specific healing power, but there are times when grief inside a sad brain can’t be silenced by listening to a lush symphonic crescendo, either. The artist of note has a blank canvas at the moment. Everything is secondary as this pianist types.

This isn’t about me. It is about the 2.5 x 2.5 inch gift of one yellow flower on my piano … because now is now. My dear friend is having a difficult time and I can’t do much more than type one letter at a time. One word after another … hoping, somehow, she knows there are silent musical masterpieces and invisible works of art being played and painted for her – soon to be heard and seen once again.

She is a steady, wonderful companion to many. An artist. A musician. One who deserves a call to simply say, “Thank you”…

I know mom and Greenbean wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ugh, In A Good Way

It’s not unlike any other morning. How about you?

The living and dining rooms are bare, however. … that’s different. Painters are coming in soon to re-do all the walls and ceilings after decades of living created fades and fancies on their facades. Maintaining credibility has finally been too much. The ceiling, whimsically swirled in eggshell white, has been tarnished by water shenanigans lately and efforts to repair have been futile. I’m not the patch-and-persevere guy around here as most household fixes don’t last more than the time it takes me to find all the tools needed to do the job. Holes and cracks will, finally, meet their match. Professionals, within a few hours hence, will drop their wares.

The furnace still hums away as I sit only feet away from rooms so eagerly awaiting their refreshing, colorful rehabilitation. My office will not receive such treatment. As most go, paperwork, miscellaneous trinkets, and unknowns sit and pile around, preventing me from knowing whether or not this wonderful space needs a re-do or not. The ceiling drops down elegantly with forty-two, 2×2-foot squares that don’t require paint … just a quick trip to the local people-jammed box store to overpay for a replacement should one need replacing- (which explains why these above my head as I type are still the originals from two decades ago) …

Beside, to my left,…a reliable cup of tea. Generic green tea. The Clif bar already consumed, I sat down not knowing, really, anything. It was 3:30 in the morning – the usual time to roll out, wide awake, and begin to think about things.

I wound my way through misplaced furniture, packed boxes, and downed pictures – all repositioned in preparation for the non-Dougs to begin their work in a few hours. The walls have shadowed memories where the pictures hung. Curtains and drapes – so much a tapestry of life lived here – are not hanging in front of the big picture windows now. Little reminders on brads and nails no longer delicately dangle between sashes and sills. Quiet, in a very different way. I’m used to the furnace at 3:00 a.m. … not the starkness of change.

Ugh. In a good way, of course.

We need to change things up sometimes. A new, fresh coat of paint even when the furniture doesn’t want to move, or paintings in our life – so used to being on the wall – don’t want to come down. Material, window bandaged cloaks that have hidden our sunshine for so many years need to be removed to allow new experiences into our rooms. Every piece, every knickknack our hands must touch to move gives us opportunity to reevaluate its importance and look forward to having it by our side again .. or not. Affecting change, touching something other than the physical items before us … Ugh. In a good way, of course.

I’ve been working with someone. It has been a very different experience for me. The absoluteness of her ability to change my perspective on my musical life is a journey unlike any I’ve taken before. It hasn’t been about the lyrics, meters, and various other dots strewn about on lines and spaces. The depth of her passion for life and music in the midst of a life-threating illness brings me forward in my own life to a place where boxes in the middle of a living room are, well, kinda insignificant right now.

Yesterday we had our first rehearsal for a planned concert in the fall. I don’t think she’d mind me saying it’s “planned” with the caveat that all things “go as planned with her health”. So far, the new coats of paint in my musical life are: “Landslide”, “How High The Moon”, “I’ve Got The World On A String”, and “All or Nothing At All” with more cans to open. I sat, secondarily, behind the piano as she sang so gracefully in her uniquely qualified lower voice. We matched styles and colors as one painter would take to a canvas for the first time. I’m so honored to accompany her on this journey toward whatever the unknowns have in store.

All of our living rooms have these moments when the old ideas and “things” have to come down. Memories, of course, can stay, but the material stick-arounds need to go and be replaced with new, fresh things. Ideas on how to think, or what our lives mean, sometimes need re-evaluating, too.

My friend will continue to splash a new coat of paint on my thoughts as we rehearse, and when we talk to each other about … life. Her perspective being significantly different than mine – a 7 years older male. I don’t know what it’s like living in a room with a most likely time-certain terminal disease. I do know how to say, “F*ck Cancer!”, because my mom died from it, however, and every time I meet someone who is pushing their way through, I want to scream, “Ugh!!” … and not in a good way this time.

For now, the painters are only a few hours away and I must begin to think about the day ahead. The living and dining rooms will begin their transformation as boxes, painting, and trinkets remain dormant for the next week or so.

Please don’t continue to be stagnant in your life. Move some of life’s boxes and invite in some sunshine by taking down the shadow makers. Your living space is for just that … to LIVE. Give it a fresh, new coat of colors.

My tea mug is empty now. Thank you for being here. This morning turned out to be different after all.