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The Woman Who Lost Her Music

The Woman Who Lost Her Music

I saw her immediately as I entered a restaurant. She had taken one of the larger tables far from the counter and was leaning over several books which held musical notations. I guessed the books to be hymnals. The woman was making notes on index cards, utterly absorbed in her work. I chose a seat near her so I could learn more. I asked if she was interrupt-able. She looked up and re-focused on me.

“Are you an organist or choir director?” I asked. She laughed.

“Neither.” And then she unraveled this amazing story.

“I come from a long line of musicians from England—church musicians or members of really good orchestras. My grandfather was knighted by the King for his work with the Royal Opera. I could play piano before I could talk. In elementary school I took up the pipe organ and was accompanying Sunday worship and weddings before I graduated from high school. If I heard a piece of music, I could play it. I did arrangements to accommodate the available voices. I was never apart from the music.

“Then when I was twenty-five, I started having problems remembering and recognizing the music. Doctors in Boston found a tumor pressing on the part of my brain where the music lived. The tumor was operable, but when I woke up the music was gone. They had to cut away that part of my brain. So I had to rebuild those neural pathways. I started at the beginning, like any beginner, and slowly began to return the music to my mind.

“A few years later I was in a terrible auto accident. I hit my head hard on the door frame and I lost consciousness. When I woke up the music had gone again. Everything I had worked for had disappeared with this head trauma. I could see the notes on the page, but I couldn’t understand how they were related to the keys on the piano. So I started with piano lessons again and over time recovered some of my musical ability.

“In my forties I developed epilepsy. I was given drugs to control the epilepsy, though I still have it. While we’ve been talking I’ve had several petit mal [or absence] seizures, but you probably haven’t noticed. [She was right—I hadn’t.] It took time to find the right medication doses, but before that happened I had a chemical reaction against the medication and I lost the music for the third time. Now I think we have the right dosages of the right medications, but I cannot connect music with words. I can do one or the other but not both.

“Now—” and she pointed to the index cards, “I am getting it all down on cards so if I lose the music again, at least I won’t have to start from scratch.”

I listened to this story and loved her, this woman who would not live without music, who doggedly started again from scratch each time it went away. She spoke without a trace of self-pity. It seems to me this is what faith is: hanging tenaciously to what gives life to our spirit, practicing it even when we don’t fully understand, simply because we cannot imagine being without it.

Carolyn Metzler Signature

Carolyn Metzler
Spiritual Life Coordinator