Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Blaise's Melody

Happy Feast of St. Blaise. Time to break out those blessed beeswax candles already!

He's one of the saints that is near and dear to me for many reasons, most of which I appreciated before marriage...but certainly became sweeter after marriage. It's funny how some saints are for certain seasons and others kind of stick with you, isn't it? Blaise is one that sticks.

Recently I've been writing posts as a way to learn how to articulate my thoughts better, not necessarily to share personal details about myself. I struggle with writing. And yet so many people that I love do not. The words flow from them seemingly effortlessly, filling page after page. And yet I stare at a blank page and wonder what I have to offer the next word I might write or type.

All that is to say that I think you can write without calling yourself a writer. That's where I am: a person who writes, but does not deserve to be considered a writer. My DH is a writer - through and through. He has that gift where words leak out of his pen and onto the page. And when he moves to the computer, the words leak out of his fingers and assemble themselves into keystrokes. It's kind of awesome to see how prolific some people are with their writing. They just seem to effortlessly tell stories, don't they?

People can tell stories without being writers though. It's kind of the fabric that knits together a culture. Kind of. That's like calling sushi kind of about seaweed, fish, and rice. But I digress. I'm really good at that. Most women are. We're spaghetti, after all (and men are waffles). Somewhere my DH is rubbing is stomach saying "mmmm.... waffffllleeesss" a little too much like Homer Simpson...

Storytelling. That's what we were talking about. Some people tell them with their writing. But that's not the only kind of storyteller that exists. It's not even the most compelling kind (though it can be!). For most of my life, I've been a storyteller. And music has been the book and the pen has been my voice. And the words are sung in soprano. Music has stirred me from the moment I knew how to recognize it. Anyone who knew me as a child would tell you that I was born with music in my soul. Not the kind of profound kind of soul-lifting music that Brahms, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, or Tchaikovsky might have been born with... but music all the same.

Here are five tidbits about my life and why I always needed St. Blaise:

1. Music

There is no way to tell the story of my life or my experiences without music. And there is a deep joy inside that tugs at me when I type that sentence. I like being so entangled with something that I might not be recognizable without it. Isn't that an awesome metaphor for marriage too? And because of that entanglement and the closeness that I have always felt to music, and music to me, I know that understanding God and my relationship with Him was easier. I'm not saying there is music between me and God (though maybe there is...that's kind of a beautiful thought on its own!)...so much as I'm saying that nothing else in life seems to be entangled as closely as that. Learning that relationship showed me where God was supposed to be - where He *is*.

Especially because I was born mostly deaf.

2. Toddler Memories

Now I'm going to tell you a story with words. Or try. You'll understand why Blaise is so important to me as an intercessor after you read this. I hope! When I was a baby, I apparently excelled at most of the benchmarks for development, growth, and learning. I was running at seven months. Drawing and painting shortly after that. Tying shoes by age three. By all accounts, I'm sure my parents felt immense pride at all of that. I struggled to communicate with them, but I was constantly making noise. Humming, mostly. And like any toddler, I didn't listen well. These aren't anecdotes I learned from my parents - I vividly remember living these moments of my life as they happened well over thirty years ago. It never struck me that remembering toddler-hood was an accomplishment in and of itself, but I mention it since some people *do* think it's odd to have vivid memories from that young of an age. As time passed, I became more of a sullen child because of the communication gap, though I still made plenty of noise. I had my own personal soundtrack of melodies and that seemed to grow for all the conversation I didn't have or understand. My parents tried to placate me however they could. Once, that involved being given an orange lollipop as a two and a half year old. I got to pick out the color I wanted at the bank that day. My father opened the lollipop and put it in my eager hands. I have no idea what he said to me, but I remember his lips moving. I also remember standing at the top of the stairs when the lolly suddenly slipped off its stick. With one panicked in-breath, it quickly lodged itself solidly in my wind pipe. I can only imagine how terrifying that moment was for my father, watching his toddling daughter choking at the top of the staircase. Lord have mercy. I very clearly remember the feeling of choking and the panic I felt as my field of vision turned white and sparkly. Thankfully, my quick-acting father was able to get that lolly out of my throat with one swift move and my life continued. Pretty good reason to have a devotion to St. Blaise as an intercessor, no? We know so little of him, but St. Blaise was purported to be a physician who saved a young child from something caught in their throat...

My parents scrambled to figure out why I slowly and progressively lost my spark after that though. How could she be so ahead and then suddenly have everything fall flat? Was it the trauma of her choking? It seemed more than just a "season" or a developmental plateau. In their desperation to return my smiles to my face and engage me more, they even got me a kitten soon after my brush with death. A white one with blue eyes (oh the irony that she had no hearing problems as most white haired, blue eyed cats do...). I adored her. And the dialogue got a little better. At least, I found myself wanting to express new things. I still remember a morning we were talking about my kitten in the living room. My parents were asking me all kinds of questions about her. "What does she do when she's upset?" and "What sound does she make when she's happy?" and all the other things parents ask their children to identify and associate with their pet...

But I had no idea what sound a cat makes, let alone when it's happy or upset.

I just stared at them like they were making fun of me. Cats don't smile, I thought to myself...how am I supposed to know if she's happy? Yes, my three year old thoughts were quite emo, ha! That was, of course, the moment when my parents realized something was wrong. Tests and doctors went on to show that I had been born with only about 20% hearing between both ears. No wonder I had no idea what sound a cat makes when it's happy! After many surgeries and hospitals and doctors appointments, things seemed to be improved. My speech was improving, but I wasn't able to be easily understood yet and I definitely had trouble hearing conversations directed at me. It took a lot of intensive speech therapy to get there. Things like S's and Z's really are subtleties that are lost on a child who can't hear them. With hard work though, I conquered the challenges in front of me. Eventually, the doctor appointments lessened. It was simply time to see if the surgeries had improved things. We retested my hearing.

I remember sitting in the pediatrician's office the morning we were supposed to get the results of the new hearing test, uncomfortably perched on the crinkly paper pulled across the leather exam bed. Sitting on paper makes me feel like I'm sick again, I thought. Five year old me, philosophizing and making connections about what health meant. The doctor came into the room, and he looked at my chart and pushed papers over the top of his manila file folder. He nodded to himself and scratched his chin. He asked my parents to speak with him in the hallway and exited and closed the door behind them. Great, they aren't going to tell me what's going on now, I fumed.

I stared at the floor. Sitting there on paper, in my tee-shirt and underwear, with my pigtails hanging in front of my face and my legs nervously scissor-dancing as they hung over the side of the table. And then I heard the pediatrician say - as loud as if he was standing next to me and saying it full volume in my ear - "she'll never be a musician, but with more speech therapy we can hopefully get her to be able to communicate better with her peers". Not another thing was heard of that conversation they all had in the hallway. Minutes later (an eternity to a five year old), they all returned to the room. I supposed they had developed some kind of game plan to articulate the results to me or share the follow-up details in a kid-friendly way. Instead, they just said I could put my clothes back on and that we were leaving. When we got in the car to drive home, I broke the silence and asked why I couldn't be a musician. My parents stared at each other blankly.

"Who told you that?", they asked me. "The doctor said it", I replied matter-of-factly. "When did he say that to you?", they asked - more alarmed now. "He didn't say it to me - he said it to you", I told them incredulously. The rest of the car trip home was spent with them talking about how I could have possibly heard the musician comment while the radio blasted Girls Just Want to Have Fun...

3. Callings and Blessings

That was the first time I began to recognize God's call in my life. It wasn't that I understood the enormity of having heard something out of my range of hearing - or that I understood this was the voice of God. Everyone swore I couldn't have heard anything they said in that doctor's office because they had walked all the way back to the waiting room to discuss the test results and next steps. And yet I still heard clear-as-day "She'll never be a musician..." It wasn't profound to a child, it was just kind of a challenge.

I studied music voraciously from them on. All years of school, college, and then I began performing and singing professionally. Hundreds and hundreds of weddings. Performances with the Moscow Ballet. With the Georgetown Orchestra. At the Kennedy Center. The Lyric Opera House. Never telling a soul I had a hearing problem, for fear they would discount my voice. I have sung in amazing places with wonderful people. I have been very blessed to do so. God gave me a voice to tell His story and it is His gift I share with people...not my own.

4. Feeling of Sound

So what does that all have to do with Blaise? Why did I even bring the dude up 80,000 words ago? Part of learning how to sing when you have a hearing impediment involves muscle memory more than it might for another singer. It involves really understanding the teeny tiny minutiae of how a hum feels in your voicebox. Where a tone is by how it feels. It's learning how singing feels instead of purely how it sounds. I've had many musicians tell me that the great teachers around the world use this method to get singers in tune with their own vocal frequencies better - to produce purer tones that are the result of better breathing control. And yet that was just the way I had to learn because of my limitation. I learned to sing the same way I learned what sound a cat makes when it is happy.... by feeling the vibration.

So you can imagine how amazingly important my throat has been to me in this journey, right? Blaise (yes, we're on a first name basis at this point...) is my go-to intercessor for throat maladies. And because I didn't die from choking. And though I've thankfully had very few situations that could have led to choking in the more than thirty years since, I've had plenty of throat maladies! Goodness, there are whole years in my life that were lost to strep throat infections, screaming through painful ear drops after corrective surgeries, painful exams at ENT offices because of Eustachian tube dysfunction, back-up, or pain. I've always needed a St. Blaise. What I didn't realize in my single years was how uniquely Blaise's patronage would also fit into my marriage. This saint isn't *just* for throat ailments...he's a patron for all illness. Even infertility. And without marriage, I might not have known I needed a St. Blaise's intercession for that.

Example of a Celtic Crosier
5. Wool and Biscuits

The cultural connection is there too. Blaise is a patron of Sicily (my father's side of the family is Sicilian) and known to the Italians as San Biagio. But he is also the patron of woolmakers and shepherds. You can't get more Irish than wool! My DH is 100% Irish - and the remaining heritage running through my veins is also Irish. Italians celebrate the feast with panettone or little tea cakes (sounds Irish as well). There is even a tradition that holds that cookies are made into the shape of a bishop's crosier. Men would give the question-mark-shaped cookies to their sweethearts and if she broke it in half, keeping half for herself and returning the other half to the man, it meant she would marry him.

I think of all the biscuits and cakes DH and I have shared when I ponder that tradition. I'm a sharer - in that I want half of whatever he is eating, lol. I love that a tradition that rests solidly between the two cultures we share, celebrating a saint I look to for prayer in so many ways, is a constant reminder of the bond we've found with each other.

Physician and hero to children. And a solid reminder to me of how closely entangled we should be with God. Blaise reminds me that God should be as close as the feeling of a hum in your throat. I hope you will make time to have your throat blessed today. Think of St. Blaise and the awesome example he set. Let the symbols (the beeswax candles) of the Presentation of Our Lord that were blessed yesterday rest at your throat and ask St. Blaise's intercession for God to deliver you from all illness and affliction... including infertility. That's what I'll be doing today, as well as offering my yearly prayer of thanksgiving for the illnesses that have been taken from me.

"Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."


  1. I think your writing and storytelling is wonderful! Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story!

    1. You are a sweetheart. Thank you for the kind words and for reading my long winded mess today. Happy St. Blaise day! :)

  2. Wow. What an amazing story you have to tell--and you tell it so beautifully. Happy St. Blaise Day!

    1. Thank you, Rita. Happy St. Blaise Day to you too! :)

  3. Wow! Just wow! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Had to put my big girl pants on to write this one! :) Thank you for reading, Donna. Means a lot to me.

  4. What a lovely, enjoyable and full post!

    I so loved visiting today, my friend!

    Thank you for this~ :)


    1. Thank you for the kind words, Chris. Love having you here. -M

  5. It is so wonderful to hear stories about how Saints touch people's lives. This is no different. Beautiful!

    1. <3 Thanks, Jenna. Really enjoying your link-up and all the fun blogs I've found through it!

  6. I love to hear people's stories, and this part of your story is beautiful and amazing! Thanks for sharing!