Guest Posts, memories

The Song that Binds Us

May 5, 2024

During a middle school basketball game, my period leaked through my gold basketball shorts.  The coach, a friend of my Dad’s, called me out of the game to tell me.  I ran to the bathroom and changed into sweatpants.  I stayed there for an entire quarter of the game.  When I finally came out, hoping that no one else had noticed, a boy yelled across the gym, “Hey Brooke, why did you change your pants?”  It seemed like the entire gym erupted in laughter.  I was mortified but sat down on the bench anyway.  I didn’t play for the rest of the game.  I sat there like a stone, impenetrable.  When I got in my Dad’s car after the game, I continued to sit in silence.  He was the last person I wanted to talk to about what happened.

After about a half hour of driving in silence he began to sing.  Arms crossed I sunk lower in my seat wishing to be alone.  Slowly his singing started to unlock the armor around my heart.  His song reminded me that everything was still the same as it always was.  My Dad was still singing as he drove because he couldn’t help it.  My tragedy was not his, or anyone else’s and actually maybe it didn’t have to be mine either.  I let the song take my worries away, at least for a little bit.

Now that I am a parent watching my own children learn how to cope with the ups and downs of adolescence, I think of my Dad’s singing with such deep love and gratitude.  He never sang professionally or expressed an interest in singing beyond the house or in the car, but he sang around me all the time.  I hadn’t realized until now as I write about him, that his singing is a colorful thread tightly woven into my life.   I can see now that his melodies taught me how to soothe my worried mind and how to create lightness and contentment in any moment.   How rare it is to discover something new of someone who has passed on.  He has been gone for such a long time but I cherish that voice that I can still conjure up in a quiet car ride singing Buddy Holly songs:

Every day, it’s a-getting closer
Going faster than a rollercoaster
Love like yours will surely come my way
A-hey, a-hey-hey

I am now a little older than my Dad was in that car ride.    I feel as though I am on a Ferris Wheel that keeps circling around and around with different passengers getting on and off.  There was a time when I was holding tight to my Dad’s hand, another when I sat close to a boy as my heart beat too fast and then another with an exuberant toddler clutching my body.  The songs and perspectives are constantly changing.  Now I am the parent singing around my teenagers, who roll their eyes and say, “You are so weird.”

Recently I found myself sitting at our worn oak farm table on a Saturday afternoon.  Caught in a ray of sun streaming through the south facing windows, everything felt just as it should.  The entire afternoon unfurled itself before me with no real plans or lists of things to do.  Everyone was home and happily danced in and out of each other’s orbits. I perused through some cookbooks, thinking about the magic I could concoct for dinner if I could ever wake from the dreamy October sun that had caught me like a cat.

The abundance of life in that moment got me singing.

It doesn’t really matter what I am singing.  Often the same songs get stuck on repeat.  For weeks I had been singing Suzanne by Bermuda Triangle

You love Suzanne and I love you
Where is she now, go and get her
She don’t want you but I do
She makes us lonely here together

As I begin to sing, my shoulder’s drop, my breathing becomes deeper, and I start to slowly stretch my neck and back.  I sit taller.   It is like a gust of goodness and well-being sweeps over me.  Singing is my favorite medicine, a contentment I purposely unwind into, as a practice of happiness.   The effects are subtle but over time I have come to rely on the feelings of contentment that splash over me like gentle lapses of warm waters.

In all of my years of singing I can’t remember ever singing in anger.  It is unimaginable.   When I am singing everyone in my family knows that I am relaxed and happy.  It is a sign post at the door reading, all clear, Mama is in a good mood.

Knowing so well that singing is a beacon of happiness, I am hyper aware of others who are singing.   Happening upon someone caught in song draws me closer to them.  I am a voyeur in these moments, secretly entering into a magical sphere of music someone else has created.  The experience captivates me.   I feel as though I am chancing on a mating dance of a rare bird.  Is this how I look when I am lost in song?  There is something so universally binding about this happy singing that connects me to these passing singers.

A study by Loersch, C., & Arbuckle, N. L. (2013) theorizes that early human beings began singing for social necessity.  Singing bound us closer together to work collectively, ultimately enhancing our chances of survival.   The social connection was an important outcome of singing, but what kept us making melodies was how good it made us feel.  Scientific studies have been able to distinguish how our neurochemical make up changes while singing.  In a comparative study, Dunbar RI, Kaskatis K, MacDonald I, Barra V. shows that singing triggers a great endorphin release, evidenced by increased pain tolerance.  In another study Grape, Sandgren, Hansson, Ericson and Theorell found that oxytocin levels increase while singing, indicating an overall sense of wellbeing.    When we sing it simply feels good and the benefits of our songs are boundless.

Last winter the snow fell relentlessly for months.  Our snowbanks were over 12 feet high making it impossible to shovel the snow from our driveway as there was nowhere to put it.  Despite Winter’s intention to keep up us holed up like the Donner Party, my daughter Maya and I had to go to San Francisco for her dance audition.     As we drove back home, I could see the clouds puffing their billowy chests into massive dark forms.  The wind was roaring down the mountain toward us making the car sway back and forth.   We should have pulled over and got a hotel room.  Maya was insistent, “We should just keep driving.  It won’t be that bad.  I will drive.”  It was 11:30PM.  Maya was 16 and had only been driving legally for a couple of months.  There was no way she was driving.

With no other cars on the road, the wind had made snow drifts across the highway, making my minivan feel like a sled careening down the road.  I drove 20 miles per hour, white knuckling the steering wheel over the entire pass.

When we finally got home, Maya said that I sang for three hours straight.  “I did?” I asked.  “You were singing something when I fell asleep, then later I woke up in a complete white out and you were singing Lizzo.  By the time we got home you were singing Gillian Welch.”  She had fallen asleep in the middle of my panicked driving as only someone young enough to be oblivious of the real danger they are in can do.  It was just me and my songs in a white world of uncertainty.  Singing got us home.

One night recently after all the lights had been turned out and I was cozy under my blankets with a book, I heard Samuel, age 12, singing to himself in bed.  I couldn’t make out the song.  It sounded like popcorning notes exploring the borders of his voice.  It was loud and high-pitched sounding almost like Freddy Mercury singing “I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouch, Scaramouch will you do the Fandango.”

Samuel is naturally a quiet kid who doesn’t put too many unnecessary words out into the world.  He is thoughtful and intentional with his communication.  The juxtaposition of this night time singing was so wonderfully unconscious and free.  The sound of his uninhibited joy was magnificent.  It made my whole-body smile.   Despite the weight of his day that he never really talked about I knew in that moment that everything was going to be ok.  I closed my eyes and  heard my Dad’s voice in his song.   I imagined him singing a sweet little melody of contentment as he found a home with his grandson of the same name, whom he never met.

Brooke Chabot has published extensively in her local paper,  Moonshine Ink. Brooke has a background in education and music. She teaches, performs and writes about music because she is forever intrigued by the depths of beauty that music encapsulates.


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