The saying, “that’s music to my ears,” usually speaks of something good.
“Here, honey, I’ll take that screaming kid off your hand.” –Music to my ears.
“Here’s a free cinnamon roll with your coffee.” –Music to my ears.
“Here’s your tax refund.” –MUSIC TO MY EARS.
But doesn’t it also imply the music is something you’d choose? You wouldn’t skip past it on Pandora. You might even make a Spotify playlist. Country music is NOT music to my ears. Give me Mumford or Wilco or U2. Give me Paul Simon or Van Morrison or Hugh Laurie (yes, he sings the blues). Do not give me Kenny Chesney. Do not sneak Carrie Underwood on to my list.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Nashville. It’s hard to live in the Country Music capital and not get a little sick of the hype. It wasn’t always this way. Back in junior high we were all about the bonfires and pickup trucks and Tim McGraw. The boys thought Faith Hill was dreamy. I even took a “History of Country Music” class in college to try to bring back that spark. But somewhere down the line though, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I needed out.
And then I had Charlie at thirty weeks and we lived in the neonatal intensive care for ten weeks after that. And somehow I found myself tuning in to the oldies but goodies. I’d let Travis Tritt tell me “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” while cleaning Charlie’s empty nursery. I’d sing “Jolene” with Dolly while driving my mini cooler of breastmilk to the hospital. And I’d really crank up Alan’s “Chasing That Neon Rainbow” when I was home alone with the dog, missing my husband and my baby.
I remember one Sunday, Jody and I were driving together to the NICU and he looked at askance when all the buttons on my radio were pulling up country. I tried to explain it, to put into words the weird way twang had come back in my life. It certainly wasn’t the subject matter…
We’ve all heard the joke:
“What do you get when you play country music backwards?”
“You get back your wife, your dog, and your truck.”
It was the emotion, the nostalgia, the need to connect to something deep in my roots. I did not want to feel cast adrift in oxygen and heart rate statistics and milliliters of milk consumed and apnea spells. I just wanted something close to the earth. That’s what country music did. It grounded me, rooted me, when I felt like I would float away. It helped me hold onto myself.
When we finally, eight weeks in, decided to have Charlie undergo the tracheotomy that would put a hole in his neck which would leave him almost mute and unable to take a real bath until he was almost two…but would also set him free from the NICU and bring him home to us, I let Garth talk about “Friends in Low Places” and I prayed and I let the music make me smile and ramp up my southern accent. I let the voices of these ghosts from the past woo me back to myself despite the fears of the kind of mother I would need to be. And it worked enough for that little lift I needed to get me through.
Somewhere in the last four years, my country music love affair puttered out. I think as I met and befriended myself in my role as mother, my soul didn’t need the same kind of soothing. Maybe life just got louder with the normal sounds of three crazy kids. What did it matter how the radio stations were programmed, when Elmo was always on anyway?
And yet…whenever I find myself having a really bad day, I take the long way home, veto all objections, and turn the dial. I let those southern melodies wash over me again. And I am made anew.
Here’s to the things that bring us back to ourselves…
Thanks Meg for the recap flashback…