Music is my Religion

PSA: This post is inspired by Alive Inside, a documentary about the power of music in reuniting people suffering from dementia with their memories.

For the whole movie I watched people come alive as headphones were placed onto their ears and the sounds of their past came rushing in, touching the places that had not been affected by dementia. I heard big band, gospel, Louis Armstrong, and I cried along with the people whose lives had been momentarily regifted to them. I felt so moved and inspired and lucky to bear witness to what I think can be considered a miracle: memories that were gone now came back.

But the beauty of these moments is not just in remembering the past. The fact that music can help us to recover memories is certainly something, but it also serves as an indicator that music is far more essential to humanity than we may realize. Pick whatever pop bubblegum artist you hate and marvel at how what they do could be considered essential to humanity, but then think about it this way: music is so essential to humanity that we will accept it in just about any form coming from just about any person. Our hearts beat. Our voices have tones. Even people as rhythmically challenged as my dear mother still feel the urge to tap or dance along to the beat of a song.

Music is a part of every culture. It is a part of every religion. It easily accompanies any physical, artistic, academic, or emotional endeavor. I have met people who generally dislike television, movies, and all kinds of additions to life that can range from undiscovered to life-consuming depending on the person. But I have never met somebody who, on the whole, dislikes music. Just like I’ve never met somebody who dislikes food, water, or breathing.

So I watched the film, touched to see these people touched by music, fascinated to see how universal and yet how personal music can be. But I wasn’t prepared for a moment that came at the very end.

In a montage of people hearing the music that touched them- a feeling that I had thought I was feeling with them- a new song came on: Blackbird. Reliving the memory, I don’t even know that I had a visual; the instant that I heard the first two notes, my body took in an involuntary gasp and I was sobbing, wailing, before the next note came out. I had thought that I understood before, but when I heard Blackbird I truly knew how music affects us so much more deeply and viscerally than we can comprehend.

I turn my iPod to shuffle when I’m lost and I want another power to decide for me what I need to hear. Often, the right song can touch me much more strongly than parts of my own religion. Could music, in fact, be like a religion to me? The thing in life that gives me hope and peace and connection and the belief that there is something more? I think so.

I got an angel to teach me Beatles and beat, to drive me to dance and to make the car move with the songs. I wrote him the music for You Are My Sunshine; he wrote me music for We Are The World. And when my angel knew that I understood, not long after I made “and in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me” a part of body, and very shortly after we recorded our own memories of and feelings about The Beatles into an archive (at which I said that I trusted that a person’s opinions about The Beatles would tell me all I needed to know about their character), he left me on my own.

But not really. Because my heart still has a beat, my voice still has sound, my iPod still sends me his music, my tattoo reminds me that he is always right in front of me. And when I hear Blackbird he is there to block out everything else and give me a moment alone with my heart. He is my angel, and music is my religion.

“The lord came to me, made me holy. I’m a holy man. So, he gave me these sounds.”



Letter to Dad

I was always going to write a song about how much I loved you. But you were supposed to hear it.

You reached out to me in the back seat when we would ride in the car; holding hands will never be the same. You read to me; now I can’t open the book. You taught me rhythm; my heart misses you with every beat.

Once I said I’d rather be deaf than blind. Your response: “Really? But then you couldn’t hear music.” I can’t pick up the guitar. I can’t listen to the songs. I can’t watch a father-daughter dance.

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

I’ll always be that girl. The one who has to leave to collect herself, the one who has to pretend I’m okay because it’s awkward if I’m not. Everybody doesn’t want to talk about you every second of every day the way that I do. For the rest of my life: “she lost her father when she was young.” No wedding dance. No grandchildren. There’s never going to be a moment that’s 100% happy again in my life, because half of my heart won’t be there.

My favorite game when I was little was when you would push me on the swing and begin a story, and then you’d have to chase me to the other side to continue. I kept going back and forth, and you kept following me, not ever being able to finish the story. But the story didn’t even matter. What mattered was that you were there. Wherever I went, you would come with me.

Wherever I go, you will come with me. I’ll hear you in the music of my guitar. I’ll touch you when I reach out for a hand in the car. I’ll dance with you at my wedding. And I will never, ever stop feeling you in every heart beat.

I’m going to write a song about how much I love you. You’re going to hear it.


Yesterday Alan Rickman died, and although he had a whole life and a family and a career that included all sorts of wonderful roles, at least in my generation he is remembered as Severus Snape.

Obviously, we didn’t know Alan Rickman the man. Many people my age haven’t seen his other work, except for maybe Love Actually or Die Hard (three guesses which one of those I’ve seen and which I haven’t). So, because we respect him and we feel something, we talk about Snape. Snape is someone we know, perhaps one of the characters we know most intimately in the Harry Potter series. And, as of the end of the seventh book, most of us love him.

Snape might be one of the most unique and unsolvable characters in popular literature. There are so many angles from which we can analyze him. We all talk about how Snape is a hero, Snape is so brave, Snape’s story is so tragic. And although the professor doesn’t get much credit for being good during the series, in pop culture we tend to look up to him a great deal and to feel for his heartbreaking story. But, as flattering as all of these viewpoints are, I think that, in fact, they sell Snape a little short; I would argue that Snape has the biggest damn heart in the whole series.

Here’s a boy who didn’t see love between his parents, never had his own romantic feelings reciprocated, didn’t even have any real friendships. In fact, it’s no wonder that he became so obsessed with Lily; he never had a single example of an appropriate, mutually beneficial, caring relationship in his life. And yet, he literally devotes his entire life to love. He is shunned by both the good side and the bad side. He constantly risks his life as a double agent. He is not trusted by anybody, and, even if he doesn’t show it, he surely suffers from loneliness as much or even more in adulthood as he did in childhood. And none of these awful things are in pursuit of love, which is so often how we justify them in stories. Snape stands to gain nothing- especially once we think about the fact that, even if he helps Harry, Harry is intended to die in the end anyway. Honestly, the only way Snape might ever have any satisfaction in life is if he lets go of Lily… but there’s no way he’ll do it. He would rather look at the face of James Potter’s son every day, risk his life, live without relationships or trust, than forget Lily Evans. Snape lives his life for his heart.

And that is why Snape is the bravest of all. Not because he risks his life, not because he protects Harry, not because he kills Dumbledore. Snape is brave because he is vulnerable. Snape is brave because he keeps living for his heart even though he knows that there’s no way he’ll get a happy ending. Snape is brave because he knows, without a doubt, what he lives for, even if nobody else could ever understand. Even if it means that he will never be accepted in this life. Snape would rather do right by his heart than anything else.

We tend to think of Snape as ultimately one of the most tragic characters in the Harry Potter series. But, in a way, I think he may be the luckiest. Snape is not tied to any societal conventions; he lives singularly to honor the woman whom he loves, and for him, there is nothing else. At the very end, Snape expresses no regret. He expresses one thing: his love for Lily. I think that many of us would give a lot to be that sure of what’s important to us in life, to know for whom or for what we would give it all.

The world mourns Alan Rickman, as it should, and he deserves to be thought of as a whole person rather than for just one character. But, for those of us for whom this is our only way, let’s honor Alan Rickman- a man who seems to have incredible empathy and heart- by truly understanding one of the characters he played. Let’s think about Snape not only as brave and tragic, but as huge-hearted, single-minded, and lucky for it all. Let’s think of him as the person who taught us that fulfillment comes in many forms, and that, even if we are not lucky enough to be popular or to be in a relationship, that does not mean that our life is a waste. What matters is not how the world sees us, but that we always do right by ourselves and by our hearts.


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