Beautiful Voices

by Maria Theresa Maggi on October 30, 2020

chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

Sometimes I am overcome with a sense of profound gratefulness for what a good life I’ve had. Perhaps oddly, the prompts from which this feeling arises are not what I’d expect, or what I think most of us would expect. One particular prompt that comes to mind is a scene I came upon at our cabana a couple of summers ago. One of my neighbors is an advocate and special ed expert for kids with autism and she runs a summer camp for these children through a non-profit she’s founded. Each summer the camp brings the kids out to the coast in a big bus and they come to the beach and have a pizza party at our Cabana overlooking the ocean. A couple of my dear friends here are close to this woman and her husband and every year they help out by going to get pizza, and helping to serve it up.

As I was walking down the road to the cabana with the dogs, a big bus passed me and I saw it park down by the grass leading to the steps down to the beach and the cabana. “It’s pizza day again!” I thought to myself, and was suddenly flooded with feelings of genuine happiness for the kids and gratefulness for a life that had shown me throughout it, by my own disabilities and my exposure and familiarity and advocacy for others who had them what a beautiful thing this pizza party is.  I thought of my time helping to write grants for a nonprofit called Families Together to get funding for just such fun weekends, where parents and kids come together and kids get fun activities and parents get support. I thought of the Christmas party I attended while working part time for them, and how I ran into the bathroom when I teared up at listening to a young man with severe cerebral palsy being handed the mike to sing with my son’s band, because it moved me so much to see all the acceptance, compared to when I was growing up. With much much milder symptoms than this young man, the mandate for me was to pass as normal, and that’s what I tortured myself doing. I am so grateful to be given the time over my life span to transform my anger and disillusionment with not being “perfect,” to arrive at a moment several years ago walking down the street in Moscow with my walking stick when a Mom and her little girl were coming toward me. The Mom, instead of greeting me, stared hard at me and my stick, as if I were making her uncomfortable even being there, and she was clearly passing on this message to her little daughter. But instead of feeling anger or shame as I had so many times in my life when my disability kept me from looking or achieving normally, I was overcome with compassion for her  to be so afraid of something as harmless as a woman who has to walk with a stick. And suddenly, all that weight of not being perfect was lifted from my shoulders, and I felt as if I’d finally learned something I was born to learn, even if it took me 50 years to do it.

As I watched them all get ready for the party, I thought of all the people I know or know of who live this every day and was so grateful that I know them and what it means. And suddenly, I felt so fortunate to have such a life, since there are many like the woman who feared my walking stick, and they don’t get the opportunity because of that fear to feel what a good life really is in a different and actually more profound way than the high points of happiness about accomplishments awards or attention, or even material comfort (though I am also grateful for these, too). But this other is somehow the “secret sauce” of gratefulness, I suspect.

Recently a poet friend of mine posted a beautiful choral performance of Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei, which is also known as Adagio for Strings in its orchestral version. Listening to this hauntingly beautiful piece again brought back memories of all the times I got to sing such transcendent music  in choirs, and all the time growing up and beyond that my mother, a vocal music teacher and an accomplished pianist, exposed me to such beautiful music so seamlessly that it was just a part of our lives, just in the air growing up. Whether it was classical, musical comedy, spirituals, jazz, hymns, pop music, or rock and roll, it didn’t matter. I was invited to understand and appreciate all of it. Because of this invitation, I have had many opportunities to be what I call “inside the music”: that is, to be in it while singing in a group and also to hear the effect and affect while making music with others.

As I listened to the Agnus Dei this time my heart was flooded with being inside the music, and how it takes me to places I can’t get to any other way. I thought of standing in a room at Mills College when I was a junior in high school attending “Madrigal College” and we had all been asked to learn a piece by Charles Ives. We had hated it in practice, but when we all stood up and began singing together, hundreds of us, my feet left the floor: I felt literally lifted into the music. I thought of times in shopping malls hearing carolers and having to wipe away tears at the beautiful sound and all the memories it brought back of singing my way through the holidays. Even when I was grown and a mom and no longer singing in public, Christmas night at my parents’ most always involved my mother’s students and former students dropping by informally to wish her a Merry Christmas and have a piece of sherry cake, and then stand around the piano or get out an instrument and play violin or guitar along with the singers around my Mom at the piano. Many of these students and colleagues showed up to perform at my Mom’s funeral, too, when she passed. One, who had been the president of the gospel choir my Mom fostered, had become a doctor and she sang to honor my Mom.

As I listened to the Latin words I thought of all the times I had to sit though Mass as a child, first in Latin and then in English, and how this prayer was a calming one to me, its message so plaintive, so kind, so trusting in the mercy of a higher power: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Grant us peace.” As those words woven with the beautiful harmonies came back to me they seemed perfect for the moment we’re now in. Our sins as a world and a country are many, our divisiveness profound, creating so much suffering. And I thought for a moment to live in that prayer for everyone, because I can be inside the music in that way when I listen, and that is another way I believe in the goodness of the life I’ve been given.

I’ve listened to it many times again since that first listen, and let all the memories and feelings cascade as I do. Sometimes I let the tears flow if they come, whether for its beauty, its plaintiveness or to bless the uncertainty in my own family and in our world. As we wait on the precipice of the election, and I dare to hope we’ll turn a corner toward compassion and healing, a prayer in song asking for mercy and grace feels like a kind of shelter and an act of bravery all at once.

That feeling, it seems to me, is a fine measure of a good life.

Maria (moonwatcher)



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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kathy Ulm October 31, 2020 at 8:59 am

Absolutely beautiful. XO


2 Maria Theresa Maggi November 2, 2020 at 9:23 am

Thank you so much, my Dear Kathy! Really appreciate it. xoxo


3 Denee October 31, 2020 at 2:11 pm

Beautiful piece — and the artwork is stunning.


4 Maria Theresa Maggi November 2, 2020 at 9:22 am

Thank you so much, Denee! I appreciate your kind words.


5 Bonnie Simone Hamilton November 1, 2020 at 6:27 am

Thank you so much for your beautiful words of hope. I just discovered your blog by visiting the fatfreebegan website. I’m a fellow Idahoan living in Twin Falls. I know I’m going to enjoy more of what you write.


6 Bonnie Simone Hamilton November 1, 2020 at 6:54 am

I love you blog. Here’s another love song to bring peace at this time of disharmony in the world.


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