When I took a headlong tumble into the pavement in early November and came down hard on my right hand, it was scary and painful but I did not despair. I have, after all, been down the roads of injury, fear and uncertainty many times by this point and yet I keep bouncing back – not unscathed, necessarily, but bouncing back nonetheless. I owe much of that to the fact that by repeated good fortune, I have had a stream of potent healers of all shapes and sizes in my life . . . and, I suppose, the good sense to trust them. And we’re mostly not talking about healers in the New Age sense, although there’s nothing wrong with that either. The healers I refer to here are people with the courage and caring and compassion and commitment (stop me before I come up with more words beginning with “c”) to identify someone struggling and reach out to help.
I still vividly remember the day that I walked into Caryl Johnson’s office and sat down at her piano. I was a freshman in college and had seen my 6 hour/day practice sessions devolve into wrist pain that shot through my arms when I lifted my bag or a tray at the dining hall. Caryl matter-of-factly checked out my hands and my piano technique, setting me on a path of rehab for the former and insisting that I work with a classical teacher for the latter. Over the next several months, I built my strength up (I almost said “back,” but in hindsight it had never really been there in the first place) and rescued my career, and Caryl remained my go-to person for injury rehab and general hand-conditioning thereafter.
The demand that I find a classical teacher led me to the late Wanda Maximilien. She was willing to work with me even though I showed little interest in classical piano, working with me on the focal point of building my technique. As we succeeded with combating my physical fragility, the focal point began to shift to other facets of fragility; she knew I needed a lot more than improved posture. Sometimes at the end of a semester she’d say “what grade do YOU think you deserve?” I would answer B-plus or thereabouts (if I was really delivering the goods, after all, she wouldn’t be asking), but GPA be damned, I was getting other priceless things.
Most notably, perhaps, I still vividly remember the day that she looked me dead in the eye and said that I should see a therapist. She went to her desk, took out a pad, wrote down the phone number for the clinic on campus, and sent me home to call and make an appointment. Of course, I couldn’t POSSIBLY see a therapist . . . it would mean I was broken and weak and possibly even in possession of inner demons that would reveal me to be despicable, shameful and fundamentally unlovable. And of course I went home and obeyed and called and within days was seeing Lauren, a graduate student in psychology. While I still wasn’t eager to announce that I was “in therapy,” that safe forum for communication, growth and self-study became a lifeline, twice a week for the next three years.
I still vividly remember the day when I was 22 Lauren informed me that our relationship would soon be wrapping up. She was moving on to the next stage of her studies, and the clinic had strict rules whereby I could no longer be her client. As I panicked over how I would be able to hold my sh** together or remember what she had taught me without her there to remind me, she reassured me that I had been integrating those lessons all along and they would be with me forever. Sounded like a steaming pile of BS to me, but what choice did I have except to accept it? All these years later I can probably count on one hand the number of specific, concrete wisdom-pearls that I can trace back to the hundreds of hours I spent there, and yet she was ultimately right – it’s all in there.
There have been more, but I look back at these three women as a sort of Holy Trinity of right-place-right-time healers in my life, which is particularly striking given that I can’t really cite a point-by-point method that any of them took in helping me. There are certainly tangible things I can trace back to them. If in the minutes before I play the piano, you see me doing funny-looking Tai Chi-based warm-up exercises (without which I can’t play more than a few minutes without pain), thank Caryl. If when I play you think my posture is good, thank Maxe, God rest her incredible soul.
Indeed, I think the most potent thing they each gave me was hope. For me, that hope had to come through their diverse areas of expertise as opposed to “chin up, buckaroo.” I got to see Caryl in the aftermath of my recent injury (a very shiny silver lining) and recount to her that in the face of the many injuries in the past, her wisdom and expertise were invaluable, but so was the resulting sense of calm in knowing that I would ultimately be “okay” and that she would make sure to guide me to that outcome. The end of my relationship with Lauren was hardly the end of my time in therapy, yet I will always look back to my work with her as the genesis of having hope that I could eventually feel okay.
When I composed “The Healer” in 1997, it was inspired by my sister Alison, who had first introduced me to things like meditation, herbal medicine and therapeutic bodywork. The tune has been central to my repertoire since then, and its meaning has evolved into an expression of gratitude for all those upon whom we depend for support, strength and, yes, healing. Watching people step up in the face of serious adversity (as I have seen vividly in the wake of the 12/14/12 Sandy Hook shootings, but as is sadly necessary all the world ‘round) has galvanized my commitment to keep evolving into that kind of person. This could (and maybe will) be a whole ‘nother post, but I believe every time we bear witness to suffering, it is an opportunity to be a healer in this way. We can’t put our whole selves into each such opportunity without depleting our inner resources, but sometimes we must answer the call. And sometimes we can make a difference with little more than an encouraging word or a moment of openness about your own experiences or a moment of knowing, compassionate eye contact.
The song has most often been played in a trio setting (indeed Ron Carter’s playing on it is my personal highlight of the Patch Kit album) but was initially composed for an octet; although the arrangement and orchestration are different in the version soon to be released on the Ripples album, it too is for octet, which offers a nice bit of full circle. This newly-recorded version is probably the most potent of the hundreds of times the song has been performed, which only feels right given the importance of people on our planet willing to heal the wounds we all have.