Heart Songs

When I’m settling into a new house, one of the first orders of business is to get my music connected. Who wants to unpack boxes without tunes, obviously? But it’s more than that. Music creates an atmosphere, a mood, a background, a theme. I have certain things I like to listen to when I work, when I clean, when I cook, when my kids are doing homework, when I have friends over for a cocktail or a dinner party, when I have my someone special over for wine. Certain playlists are approved when the pool and hot tub are filled with teenagers. Other selections fill my house with peace and good energy when my kids are with their dad. I need music when I’m getting dressed to go out, or taking a bath to stay in. Music calms, energizes, reminds, uplifts, and restores. It brings rest and romance. It speaks to us when we don’t feel like listening to anyone else.

Sometimes when I’m having an off day, I’ll ask God to make my playlist, and I’ll pick random stations on XM and settle in for my endless rounds of car pool and kid shuffle. It never fails. I’ll get the best mix, the perfect reminder of who I am. An old AC/DC song reminds me of high school and warming up before a soccer game. Big Head Todd takes me back to Ohio and barhopping in college. Sheryl Crow crooning in my ears reminds me of walking in France when I was pregnant. I might be transported back to a crazy night of dancing at a Paris disco. Or a personal Lyle Lovett concert by our bonfire at the ranch. Or an old Neil Diamond, Waylon, Willie, or Johnny Cash song that reminds me why I love my dad so much. Or a Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen song that mandates I call my brother. Dido reminds me of breakup tears and how far I’ve come. Bob Marley always reminds me that no matter what, it’s all good.

I think we all have an internal mix tape. Some of our songs we may have completely forgotten, until they surprise us again and we crank up the volume and somehow, still, know every single word and feel compelled to sing them all loudly. My kids are very disturbed by this. The best is when there is a new rap song that’s a remake or remix of an old song, and when I belt out the words my son looks at me and clearly has grave concerns about what I do when they are away. Ha. Do not put your mother in a box.

Maybe our internal mix tape plays behind that question “What makes your heart sing?” It’s an important question and the sooner you know the answer, the more joyful life becomes.

When I was younger, the things I thought made my heart sing were big things. Big dreams and big ideas and big goals along the lines of “I’ll be happy when . . .” When I graduate. When I get a job. When I get a better job. When I have a boyfriend. When I buy a house. When I get engaged. When I get married. When I get pregnant. When I finally have this baby. When I lose five pounds. When my kids are out of diapers. When I get published. When my divorce is over. When I remarry. When I sell my house. When I finish this project. If “the thing I want to happen happens” then “I will finally be happy.”

Happy When statements are bullshit. And they certainly do not make my heart sing, even when they come true—because there is always another one ready to take its place.

Today I can tell you what makes my heart sing, and it’s nothing big and it’s nothing that involves Happy When. It’s more along the lines of Joy Now. It’s my word for the year, and I might just make it my theme song. The word is “Present.”

Being present makes my heart sing. When I am present I am not able to dwell in the past. I cannot replay scenes and relive situations and comment on what I should or could have done differently. When I am present I cannot anxiously peer into the future and worry about what may happen. I cannot pretend to have the power to control outcomes. When I am present, I am merely, blissfully in the now. I am with the people I’m with. I’m doing the thing I’m presently doing. I’m listening, for real, because I can’t think about what brilliant thing I might say next. I’m playing without thinking of working. I’m working without thinking of playing. I’m loving who I’m with and I’m with who I’m loving.

I’m being. And simply saying that is music to my ears.


Illustration by Joy Gallagher

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