The Song Is Love

by Maria Theresa Maggi on June 29, 2017

 

I have a confession to make: I talk to myself. A lot. All the time. Every day. Even in public places, like the aisles of the grocery store (sometimes especially in the aisles of the grocery store). But according to this article about self talk, this may actually be a good thing. It seems that talking out loud to one’s self is a sign of intelligence that helps boost brain power and improve focus. Which, I guess, is exactly why, about a week ago, when I was getting ready to begin multiple timed processes in the kitchen, I stood there for a minute and then said to myself, “First of all. . .”

I was referring to getting a grain going on the stove, which I did do, but not before breaking into song. So far as I know, the research about self-talk doesn’t say anything about this, but if the instructions I give myself remind me of a song, I start to sing it. In this case, “first of all” is the beginning of an old Peter Paul and Mary song that I loved, that I heard them sing in concert when I was twelve, and that I later on would sing in a folk group, taking the melody. I hadn’t thought about it in years.

But suddenly, it seemed to be all “right there.” It turned out I knew all the words still, and had a great time belting it out as I measured millet and rinsed beans.

Here are the lyrics:

First of all/I would like to say a word or two/I know you won’t be thinking this applies to you/but it’s true/and it do

All your life/you have had to sing your song alone/not believing anybody would have known/but you’re wrong/And you know

(chorus) I’ve got a song let me sing it with you/let me say it now while the meaning is new/but wouldn’t it be good if we could say it together/don’t be afraid to sing me your mind/sing about the joy that I know we can find/wind them around and see what they sound like together/

The song is love/the song is love/the song is love/the song is love

Last of all/I would like to thank you for the word or two/spoken in the moments when I needed you/to see my through/and they do

I’ve got a song let me sing it with you. . .

Of course after I got everything going on the stove, I went to see if the internet would cough up a recording of it, and of course it did, right here, for those of you who would like to listen.

There are so many levels of myself this song calls to rise up. There’s the singing aspect, which was predominant in my early life, and which is not possible in a sustained public way any longer because my vocal chords and other parts aren’t strong enough to project really well. There have been times in the last 21 years I haven’t had enough wind to carry a tune I wanted to carry. When Jon Denver died I had to lay down on the floor in order to be able to project my voice loudly enough to belt out “Rocky Mountain High.” And when I stirred my raspberry jam-in-process, I would let Judy Collins carry the process with her beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.”

But now, years into plant-based eating, I can sing to myself just fine. And to the dogs. These are made up little ditties for repeat occasions or requests. A little dog training outside the box, if you will. I have made up spontaneous tunes to “thanks for cuddling in with me,” “help me up the hill,” and “shake shake shake-a-shake-a shake shake shake” for the many times we have to dry off after walking in the rain. Cotton has a special “come” song for the times he hesitates coming in the door. They both seem to like these, and they crack my son and daughter-in-law up. When we were walking up the hill and they asked me what the song for that was, I sang it. “Very straightforward and to the point,” my son said, and I said “yes” and we all laughed. I laughed less because I was using my windpipes to sing help me up the hill while walking up the hill. Romeo and Cotton instantly pick up their pace when I start singing. I guess it’s a version of “whistle while you work.”

My mother gave me my love of music. She was a talented pianist who could reach a 10th (2 notes bigger than an octave) on the keyboard. She was a music educator for all of my life, whether it was teaching piano lessons in our dining room or directing church choir and musicals. When I was 10 she went back to teaching vocal music in the public junior high school, then later high school. She formed jazz choirs and  put on musicals and helped interested African American students form their own gospel choir and she took them on tour. When it was a beautiful day, she’d sing the refrain from “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” from the show Oklahoma! When my sister couldn’t sleep she’d sing her “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. When I was a pain in the ass with all my questions and arguments, she’d sing, from the same musical “How Do you Solve A Problem Like Maria?” And come to think of it she even made up at least one song, which is where I may have gotten the idea, for me, my sister and herself, especially if there was grumpiness in the car or on Saturday night when we had to have our hair washed and put in curlers. It went, to the chorus of Ta-ra-ra-boom-de ay,  like this: “We are the Maggi girls, we wear our hair in curls, we like to laugh and smile, and have fun all the while!” It would make my sister and I groan, and then sing along ,and we’d all end up breaking into laughter, which is why the song never went any farther than the chorus.

Before I was making up songs for my dogs, I did it for my son when he was little, and was afraid to have a small part in the play at his school. The words were “Give it a try when you feel shy, and you’ll fly around the room” It had to be silly super hero enough for him to go for it. Even though he laughed he’d sometimes say, “Mom, we need to sing the ‘give it a try’ song” or I’d start singing it when he’d tuck his head into his shirt and say “I feel shy!”

All of these shenanigans are, to me, a way of expressing the gestalt of that old Peter Paul and Mary tune, “The Song Is Love.” As I sang it to myself in my kitchen by the sea, I thought of my first boyfriend, who accompanied me on the guitar when I sang it, and how he did it just like they did, he was that good. And that when my Mom died, he was there to be a pall bearer, and came to kiss me after the service as I sat in my mother’s wheelchair. We barely spoke. We didn’t need to. He was all smiles, and just swooped in to plant a big one right on my mouth before I could get a word in edgewise.  As he came up, I pushed back my hair, pointing to my earrings and said, “Look!” I was wearing the pair of earrings he gave me when I turned 13. Tasteful dangles with little fishies and orange beads, from a store in downtown Sacramento now long gone called The Eye. Now, though, we are on opposite sides of the national political divide. I went to find him on facebook a couple of years ago and his feed was filled with angry gun’s rights memes supporting the NRA and denouncing President Obama. I couldn’t bring myself to friend request him. It’s even worse now, from the perspective with which I view the world, at least–memes about how the Clintons and Obama collaborated in murder, how Medicaid is illegally funded and more. So, there in my kitchen, I sang the song for him, and for hope that someday we will all remember the love we share and have shared is greater than the lies that divide us.

Singing is also a comfort for me in the aftermath of a big scare. A few evenings ago, the dogs and I were down at the beach just below our neighborhood’s access, where there’s a stairway and a cabana and benches and picnic tables for people sit up on the bluff and watch the surf. A few of my friends were up there. We had gone down for a very quick “run.” After our initial scare  his first time on the beach back in early October when he chased a seagull into the surf and then froze there, I’ve worked extra special hard with the advice of a self-directed dog trainer to teach Cotton where and when it’s safe to run and to make it super rewarding to come back when called. I had just let him off the leash for a quick “spin,” which he executed like a pro, coming right back for a high reward treat when called. I was tired and about to call it quits but for some reason I thought I’d let him go one more time. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some crows up the beach but he hadn’t seemed interested, so I let him go anyway, thinking they were too far away. He shot out like a rocket after those birds and was running so fast he couldn’t do anything but fly in chase. He turned sharply down towards the water and ran, literally, like lightning, along its edge, ignoring my calls. By this time he was easily 200 yards or more up the beach from me and I could only watch and pray he kept himself out of the water. A sea gull had entered the race and he was almost right on top of it as it veered down near the water, turning just far enough out–on purpose, it looked like, to toss him right into a big wave about to break. He disappeared into it.

For a moment, I was in total surrender. It seemed as if I was watching the death of my dog, and so were my neighbors. From my vantage point on slightly higher sand, he was just gone. Then I saw him come up, shake himself and run like hell away from the water and further up the beach, instead of back toward me. He must have been frightened to death.

Romeo and I slid down the small sand hill and tried to run after him, calling him to come. Way up the beach near the south end of our neighborhood he finally turned around, and came back to where I was waiting. He was absolutely soaking wet and he eyes were wild with adrenalin. But he came back.

I think that brush with death was so frightening that I just shut down. I petted him quietly and thanked him for coming back and led him back to the steps at the cabana with Romeo, who had done a little jumping jig toward him when he finally came back, so I knew he had been worried too. He doesn’t expend that kind of energy unless he really means it.

I  couldn’t speak, let alone face the gaggle of neighbors, so I resolved to just wave and walk back home. But one of my friends was waiting for me at the top of the stairs. “Are you alright?” she said. “No,” I said, which was all I could manage. And she gave me a hug.

Cotton remained wet through the skin far into the next morning, even though later in the evening I dried him with the blow dryer after toweling him down when we first got home. He slept. He was submissive and exhausted. I didn’t know what I would do the next morning, or what he would do. I decided not to freak out and just trust enough to let each moment unfold with the needed discernment.

Although he has since run on the beach and today even chased a gull I missed (which, thankfully, flew toward the bluff and not the water), the very next morning after being rolled into the wave, he stayed on leash with me almost the entire time, never asking to run. When we got to the creek that’s one of our landmarks I let him off momentarily to go get a drink. He came back immediately when I called him.

When we got back to our access, we sat on the sand for a while and listened to the waves. The dogs like to do this. They cuddle next to me and nap, or sometimes Cotton looks and smells and follows after sand fleas with his interested eyes. That morning he backed right up against my leg and went to sleep. I  was thinking about how he came to me in the Fall and that now it had just turned Summer. A song came to me, another  Peter Paul and Mary song, called “Autumn to May.” It is a wistful fanciful lullaby type of song, usually sung for children and I’ve always loved it. It begins with this verse: “Oh once I had a little dog/his color it was brown/I taught him for to whistle/to sing and dance and run/his legs they were 14 yards long/his ears so very wide/around the world in half a day/upon him I would ride/sing derry oh day/sing Autumn to May.” I sang it to Cotton and petted him while I sang it. Later I changed the words a little bit and sometimes would sing “once I had a big white dog/his color was like snow/he loved to twirl and leap and run /and chase after a crow. . .”

Later I did a memory sketch of Cotton running down at the edge of the surf, fast as lightning. Terrified as I was, there was still a sliver of room in my heart for the wonder of how absolutely beautiful it was to see him in flight like that in the late afternoon light and mist. The drawing and the singing slowly brought me back to myself, and to knowing each connection to love and wonder, each moment we feel it, while fragile or fleeting, is real. And it helped me write this post. And remember that the tiny abstract painting in the photograph you see at the top was painted many decades ago by my beloved first art teacher, that first boyfriend’s mother. She painted it for me, so I would remember. I have carried it with me throughout my life. It’s always been where I can see it in every home I’ve lived in.

This morning, I let Cotton off the leash and he ran up to and then around a young woman with bright red hair walking up the beach with a backpack on. I stopped to chat with her and asked if she was walking up the Pacific trail. She was. Her car was waiting for her in Astoria, she said. I wished her a safe trip. But first, of course, she asked me about my dogs. “They are so beautiful,” she said. “At first I thought he looked like a horse when he was running toward me.”

I loved that she felt comfortable to share this distortion. It reminded me of the fanciful animals in “Autumn to May,” and how “real” life tricks us into magical states of wonder all the time, just as it can also leave us bereft, confused, lost. Life is so very full of contradiction and paradox. When he’s on duty, Cotton is the picture of a perfect service dog, sleeping beneath the dentist chair or waiting patiently in the check out line at the grocery store. But there’s a wild streak in him when he’s allowed to run loose, that can awaken without warning, when the shadow of a gull passes over the sand.

Sometimes the only way for me to negotiate all of that is to listen for the song in my heart.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Veronica June 30, 2017 at 10:13 am

<3 I'm so glad Cotton is ok- puppies do things that can make your heart stop! It's amazing how music and song can do so much for us; more so than many other coping methods. And there's almost always a song for everything. So sing on! xo

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2 Maria Theresa Maggi June 30, 2017 at 11:46 am

Thank you Veronica! Me too! He just loses his mind if there’s a chance to chase a sea gull. And I have the feeling the sea gulls know it and want to taunt or “play.” This morning, at moments without sea gulls, he was very cautious about getting too close to the water. Fingers crossed. And in the meantime, we sing on. 🙂 xo

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3 Veronica June 30, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Those gulls are little trouble making devils…… Here’s to hoping he’s learning to ignore their taunting… well, at least learning when to give up the chase!

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4 Susan Dorling June 30, 2017 at 3:42 pm

I was incredibly moved by your post. Everything you shared, from the music to the old love story, art, and of course, anything to do with dogs is pure magic!

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5 Maria Theresa Maggi June 30, 2017 at 6:58 pm

Thank you so much, Susan! I sure agree about anything to do with dogs being pure magic. 🙂

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6 Silvia July 1, 2017 at 3:18 am

What a scare!
I am so glad Cotton is alright!
Love Silvia

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7 Maria Theresa Maggi July 1, 2017 at 11:10 pm

Thank you, Silvia! Me too! love back to you

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8 Pam July 2, 2017 at 9:48 pm

I’m so glad you’ve found your signing voice again, and I loved hearing about how singing has always been an important part of your life. What a scare you had with Cotton. I know they have their place in the world, but I’ve always thought that seagulls are jerks! 🙂 Ha Ha!

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9 Maria Theresa Maggi July 3, 2017 at 7:07 am

Thank you, Pam! And yes, those sea gulls know Cotton can run faster than most dogs on the beach and I do believe they taunt him. We are working on high rewards just watching together. But sometimes they seem to come out of nowhere. . .visualizing safe harmony for all of us. 🙂

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10 veggiequest July 5, 2017 at 6:10 pm

Hi Maria, what a beautiful post! I love that you’re able to sing once again and croon to your puppies (who seem to love it, too). I also think your Mom was onto something with her adorable Maggi-girls-in-curls song–I bet it was impossible to be grumpy when she was singing to you all.

Also, sorry I’ve been so behind on your blog–I feel like I’ve been hanging on for dear life getting through internship, the RD exam, and starting my new job. Reading your blog and adventures on the shore is like a breath of fresh air! (Except for Cotton running right into danger, yikes!)

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11 Maria Theresa Maggi July 5, 2017 at 10:28 pm

Hi Lee! It’s always such a pleasure to hear from you–I totally understand how busy you must be and am very excited for you to be launching yourself professionally–so many people will benefit! I am honored to provide you with a breath of fresh air in your busy life whenever you can stop by. And I look forward to updates on your own blog as well. xoxo

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12 Gena July 20, 2017 at 5:43 pm

Maria,

This post is so rich and full, and I’m not sure that I have a comment that actually articulates how it made me feel. What stood out to me was how loving and forgiving it was.

I love that you can sing “The Song is Love” to your ex-boyfriend, remembering and acknowledging that there is something in him and between you and in your memories of each other that is not damaged or changed by how differently you’ve come to see the world.

And I love that you can grant Cotton permission to have a wild streak, to run like a horse, even though you cherish him and want him to be safe. Love is so full of contradiction, and it asks us for so much generosity. This post and everything it expresses is deeply generous—P, P & M would be proud.

XO

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13 Maria Theresa Maggi July 20, 2017 at 7:21 pm

Dear Gena, This comment literally brought tears to my eyes. They were coming, and then with P, P & M would be proud that did it. You have such a way of mirroring back to me in the most affirmative way what it is I actually wrote. You must have been a very good editor back in the day. I am so honored that you continue to read my words and teach me how they meant to you. xo

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