Enter instrumental music, how learning to use my mouth again taught me how to listen and caring for a dying man. I knew my wounds would heal, his would finally kill.
Two years ago to this day, I suffered a near death fall. I went for a short cycle ride, actually I went for the uphill climb. I needed to burn some stress of the previous 72 hours. 5 weeks into a stay helping my best friend in a palliative care situation. I wanted to feel the burn on my legs, the wind in my hair, the salt sea air in my lungs and to reconnect with the spirit of my old dog. A quick 5 minute round trip is all I needed. The bicycle as escape, as transport and independent as it gets. A tune running through my head, motion pictures passing by, freedom is just a few peddles away. Never one for speed, always erring on the cautious side it hit me like a tidal wave. Only it was the flared steel handle bars colliding with my face. Rolling down the lighthouse road hill, ancient asphalt in dire need of repair teamed with city tires and a quick release front tire not properly maintained. No warning. Instant face plant. No time to react, not even the slightest wobble. With any pot holes the slightest lift does wonders when cycling over roughness. As I lifted so gently like a thousand times before that front tire stayed hard on the ground. In a lot less than a second I was colliding with those handle bars, then went over them while still holding on to have my nose and face break my fall. I ate pavement. Everything stopped. I still have braces holding my front teeth in place. The Third Eye scar on my forehead healing, leaving reminders of another tale survived. My nose instantly shattered had to be held on with 21 stitches. When I came to in the hospital, I noticed that I didn’t break a nail on my picking hand. I took it as a sign to reconnect with the nylon string guitar. Amazingly no serious head injury (I know of) I never wore a helmet as long as I could remember. Maybe the false sense of security, but more out of sheer vanity, I avoid them. I now avoid the prospect of cycling at all. It would have taken a hockey mask to save my face from the devastation it underwent.
When I got up from the fall, it felt like a mile walk of shame holding my face on and soaking the blood spilling from my face onto my denim wrangler button up. No cell service in this area, but somehow I was able to send one text to my ex-partner and naturopath who still lives 3 miles up the road read, “I need help.” A man of few words. She soon found me and followed closely behind the 45 min ambulance ride to the emergency room, and then stuck by my side for the next 7 days. A woman of intense character and willingness to help no matter what the circumstance entails. The previous Fall was as profound a time as I’ve ever known. The universe opened wide and I had no choice but to embark on the journey of a lifetime and float into the light that parted a cloudless sky, as we parted ways.
Perspective is everything. The week of being bed ridden left time for other areas of my life that needed addressing. I knew my wounds would heal, his would finally kill. Everything we face in life we are built equipped and each experience contains unique lessons to discover. Some are subtle and others have the force of an aluminum baseball bat smashed against your face. Others offer the slow deterioration of man, before my eyes. It was this man that showed me what community is. Never had I had known what true community involves in all its rawness, addiction-fueled, family bonded, neighborly waving, rubberneck drive-bys, trigger happy machine gun mouthed, snow shoveling stormed in driveways, hay bailing all hands on deck, anonymous deer steak gift wrapped on the porch step to come home to when there’s insufficient funds in all the bank accounts and credit card companies stay well clear, two years in a row claiming zero income but the riches of the universe unfold and mesmerize adding fuel to fires that will burn forever.
When all you’ve got left is your senses, they are put to work for the body that can’t fight the gravity any longer, “Hand operated legs,” he'd say. When a puff off a joint is too much for the lungs to bear and an entire meal is reduced to a spoonful of plain yogurt and a tea with milk.
I’ve seen the grimace of pain overtake the odd moment here or there over the last four years. That missing eye tooth contortion of agony took over the entire psyche, filled the room and enveloped the house and reached around the yard to spill over to the community and along the shore, across the Bay and over the ancient Cobequid hills and past the provincial line and clear beyond the reaches of the Maritimes to the west and over the Atlantic ocean pond and into the ether of the stars. One tea bag pot, steeping on the counter since last night, micro-waved for 45 seconds, “Breakfast is ready” I say. The vicious 12 hour morphine cycle unwinds, the last two hours practically unbearable. I pick up the guitar, filling the silence as best I could. Lightening up the heavy lead atmosphere of the crumbling plaster of centuries old walls, the music fills all the spaces in between, simmers the grimace, rests the mind, calms the nervous system and gives me something to do. This was the setting for my first foray into learning West African Kora pieces.
Music has been healing people for 30,000 years and more. In this fast pace bullshit filled society, it is a dispensable commodity. Taken for granted, overstuffed, over saturated, watered down, but all around. Like weeding a neglected garden trying to find the fruit. Over exposed under attack nature’s wild ride, finding the perfect tune for the moment, endless options and marketing strategies and lifeless songs written in boardrooms. I tend to go for the sacred songs the ocean sings, or the desert chants of the Tuareg or the lonesome sounds of the blue mountain songs. As Coltrane said, “It’s all folk music. I play folk music, music for folks.”
I couldn't talk much for the first few weeks home. I would have brutal reminders learning how to chew with the new positioning of my front teeth when they were still loose for the next year, biting down on the wrong spot as it would send painful chills throughout my entire body. 2 years to the day I have most of the braces off save for 3, waiting for my eye tooth to get strong enough to live on its own. I have started to sing again, but had to find a new voice. The amount of healing my mouth had to go threw changed the mechanics of everything. During this time, I found I could say and express clearer thoughts and emotions with instrumental music. No trappings of language to get in the way. I am still exploring this avenue.