A Rock Star for a Song

We were invited to celebrate a good friend’s upcoming 50th birthday. Mutual friends/fellow invitees secretly learned from his wife that when alone, the birthday boy loved to rock out to Bon Jovi’s 1986 song, “Wanted Dead or Alive.” No surprise he would want to keep that secret. So naturally our friends decided to perform the song at his party.

My husband and I were hanging out with these mutual friends/fellow invitees. When they mentioned their plans to do the song, we decided to collaborate. While I’m not a Bon Jovi fan, I’m a huge fan of both surprising and embarrassing friends. The men would play their acoustic guitars and the women would sing. Note that I am not a singer. But it sounded like fun so I decided to ignore my lack of talent.

I had two parts in the song that I took very seriously. One was the echo and the other was the final verse. (This would be a good time to stop and watch the video. For those of you who remember, it’ll be a nice stroll down Big-Hair-Glitz-Rock-80’s-Bands-Bad-Rock memory lane. For those who didn’t live through that era, it’ll make you appreciate it all the more. Although before you get too judgy, remember your own musical embarrassments. Every generation has them.)

The echo was a vocal strain but required commitment. The final verse, well, with these lyrics you either have to go all out or risk looking ridiculous. “I walk these streets, a loaded six-string on my back. I play for keeps ’cause I might not make it back. I’ve been everywhere, still I’m standing tall. I’ve seen a million faces, and I’ve rocked them all.” If you don’t sing it like you mean it, you’ll look like a joke. But singing with conviction just might make it appear you are in on the joke, and thus look very, very, very cool. Except to my kids because I am never cool to them.

The four of us practiced together and I sang the song on my own. A lot. I sang it on my way to work. I sang it at home. I sang it in my head and I’m pretty sure I sang it in my sleep. I was determined in spite of my limited musical ability to own my performance like I was meant to be there. Admittedly I questioned my participating, but I never wavered on my desire to do it and I never stopped having fun along the way. It helps when you are willing to look like an idiot.

The party night arrived. The ShuPots rehearsed ahead of time. (Yes, we named our band.) We arrived and settled in for a bit, wanting to allow everyone to get a drink or two in them before we did our song. The time arrived and we performed our hearts out. I could see the birthday boy’s face, which looked thrilled, mildly horrified by his secret being exposed, and touched by our gift to him. The crowd was gracious and sang along. Thankfully there were no videos taken which allows me to remember our performance as nearly perfect.

Happy 50th, AB. I know it’s still early, but I’m hoping our performance will go with you as you near that big day.

A Promise is a Promise, sort of

liv at 10My daughter has always had an air of caution about her. It’s not that she is fearful or doesn’t take risks. In fact I would say Liv is quite adventurous. But she tends to think through what she’s doing. Once she has deemed something worthwhile, she goes for it. Now that she’s 14, this is a great trait. But the early years were a little problematic. She would come up with something she thought was quite logical, but her logic had limitations and she would occasionally get stuck. For example, one day in first grade she went to the nurse’s office because she wasn’t feeling well. She threw up on the nurse, the floor, and herself. The nurse was annoyed that Liv didn’t use a trash can (Really???) and Liv was mortified. Liv wanted to make sure she would never experience this kind of embarrassment again, so she (in her mind) logically concluded that she should never throw up again.

Bedtime ritual typically included talking about the day, a bedtime prayer, kisses and hugs. Then one day, shortly after the throw-up incident in the nurse’s office, she asked, “Will I throw up?” “No,” I said. “Promise?” I tried to reason with her and tell her that I couldn’t make that promise. But she needed reassurance and it was more important to do that than worry about breaking a promise. And so each night for a few years to follow we would go through the routine, “Will I throw up?” “No.” “Promise?” “Promise.” I assume that her logic was that we as parents were trustworthy, and our promises assuaged her fears. Other promises followed. And it was always for a sense of peace. She never asked us to promise her a pony or a trip to a faraway land. Her requests were always her attempt to be reassured, comforted, and told it would be okay.

Then one day she asked me this: “Mom, promise me you’ll never die.” The first time I was asked, my logical response in my head was, “Of course I can’t make that promise. There are many factors beyond my control.” But she was little, and I could see in her face, just as with the throw-up incident, that reassurance was needed more than grownup logic. And so I would take a leap of faith to make a promise I wasn’t comfortable in making, and often with a silent prayer following, “Please God, don’t make me a liar.”

I remember my son periodically asking me if I would die. When he was young I would simply answer with a “no” and that was that. When he got older, I answered with a little more vagueness, “I have plans to be around for a long time.” The answers satisfied him and eventually he realized that I couldn’t know when I would die and so he stopped mentioning it. My daughter, on the other hand, didn’t stop. She would hear, read, or think of something related to my dying, and then come to me asking me to promise that I would never leave her.  When she was about 10 or 11, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the exchange. It’s not that I didn’t want to comfort her, but I knew that her logic had exceeded this ritual. And so the day came where she said, “Mom, promise me you’ll never die.” I hesitated. I looked at her pleading face. Tears began to well in her eyes. She was old enough to know that this was not a promise I could make. And yet I could see the little girl in her looking for reassurance. She said again, “Promise me, Mom.” And I thought, “What if the unthinkable happens? Will she look back at this moment and hate me for lying if I make her this promise now?” She tried to blink back the tears. She probably knew what was coming. I hated to say it, but I had to. “You know I can’t make that promise.” Tears spilled onto her cheeks and it was painful to watch. She knew what I was saying was right, but it was hard to hear.

And then I knew what I had to do. I hugged her tightly and said, “I promise to do everything I can to be around for a very long time. But I want you to know that whatever happens, I know you’ll be okay. No matter how hard life gets, you are strong and kind and loving and resourceful. You will find what you need to get through. You have so many people who love you and will be there for you. YOU are going to be okay.” And I held her while we both cried a little. It wasn’t that I could no longer reassure her, but I realized her reassurance needed to be different. She was old enough to face what was real, and needed my help in finding the courage to do so.

I think we all have promises of our own that we ask, whether acknowledged or not, and we are hoping they will be kept. It doesn’t matter if they are realistic promises. They are rooted in both deep need and fear. “Promise me you won’t leave me because I can’t be alone.” “Promise me you really do love me because I’m not sure that I’m worthy.” “Promise me that you won’t tell me bad news because I don’t think I can handle it.” But there comes a day, or two or a hundred, when we are given an opportunity or even forced to face the need and fear behind the promise, just as my daughter had to do.

When she was little, Liv had the luxury of believing that her world was in my care. And I’m thankful for that because many children do not have that luxury. But at some point, that belief would have become detrimental to her. We can inadvertently teach our children and hope for ourselves that our world is controllable, that good things always happen to good people, that life is fair. But those things simply aren’t true. And when we assume God is only in the positive outcome or we have a faith that requires winning/healing/success/promise, we are denied the opportunity to experience God when we need God most, such as in a tight, long-lasting hug that follows a difficult truth.