Getting older means you start toting up big and little losses on a fairly regular basis, though you try not to focus too much on that little slice of reality. You just take it, do your best, and move on. News reports about Linda Ronstadt losing her singing voice to Parkinson’s disease has given me pause to reflect about what it means to lose an essential aspect of what you consider your “self” to be.
Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich offered some compelling thoughts related to Linda’s loss of her musical gift in an article today:
Sometimes it seems that fate, in more than random measure, aims its arrows at what matters to people most….Fate seems to strike with a cannily precise cruelty.
I floated that theory past a friend the other day. He pooh-poohed it.
"We just notice more in those cases."
Could be. And in some cases, people overcome the loss of their primary mode of expression by figuring out new ways to express themselves.
It’s a beautiful perspective we might choose in the face of the horrible things that sometimes happen to us and to those we care about.
In a comparatively minor way, I lost something recently that matters personally. It’s a short-term problem, not a big deal, but still…
I had to get some serious dental work done, again. It’s an issue that has afflicted my siblings, too, and familiar to anyone dealing with problems of a nature-and-nurture variety – in our case, a combination of not having access to much-needed dental work when we were young, and not having exactly won the strong teeth lottery. (BTW I didn’t win the “little adorable feet” lottery either).
So, I had another tooth extracted, leaving me in a precarious situation with a bridge – one of a few - that already had too much work to do. Fortunately, during the healing time necessary before a more permanent solution is available, dental science has crafted a remarkable piece of architectural art that appears as though my two missing teeth are just fine and dandy, living useful lives in the back of my mouth. Unfortunately my mouth and this thing still have some adjustments to make to one another, the upshot being that occasionally some strange sound will suddenly come out of my mouth in the form of a lisp, pop, or whistle. I am getting better day by day, but this is more than bit of a pain to me.
I teach. I talk all the time. This is a tiny temporary problem all things considered, but still this loss hit me kind of hard. I have lost plenty of teeth already and I lost them when I was young. I might have permanent solutions, but those trashed teeth of yore, particularly this last one, were part of me…mine! And yeah, I am somewhat vain. I take care to look as good as possible. Well, maybe not every day for work depending on what’s on the agenda. But for class, I want to offer my students - particularly my female students- a strong role model for articulate, well-put-together competence.
It’s hard to come off as smooth when you are lithping, popping or whistling as your tongue begins to travel on its own across new “palatial” territory.
I basically took on my impediment something like Linda Ronstadt did. I discussed it publicly with my students, got it right out there. I told them about my problem and gave them permission to laugh with me about any verbal missteps when they happened, because “pulling this device out to speak as quickly as I usually do will not be attractive.” The kids were great, and I was reminded how really decent most people are when sincerely asked for the gift of their understanding.
I also took the opportunity to say that facing stuff head on would be a useful skill for them all to cultivate. For example, it would help if they ever find themselves facing an interviewer with a recent nasty coffee stain on their shirt that they just can’t get out - or find a huge unsightly zit on their nose that pops out as if sent by the devil to pull them off their game for the day.
“It’s really annoying, but if you can possibly make some little joking or casual aside to briefly call attention to the unspeakable and get it out of the way, people can focus on you and not the problem staring everyone in the face and taking up your personal mind space,” I said. “You will be free of wondering if people find it odd or distracting—or worse, feel sorry for you—if you show that you take it in stride. You are so much more than whatever ‘it’ is.”
That’s the kind of lesson I wish I’d learned when I was young, but I have definitely learned it since, especially doing the sort of work I do at the Northern California Adaptive Living Center, Inc.
Thank God, it’s one of those lessons it is never too late to learn, or even to master.
Find the full text of Mary Schmich’s article at https://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-08-29/news/ct-met-schmich-0830-20130830_1_linda-ronstadt-voice-poster