by Liz Jansen
Until recently, I’ve left the electronics off when I hike, preferring only the sound of the wind and my footsteps. I’m well aware there’s a tendency to get carried away with volume when listening to iPods, both with what’s coming in through the earphones and exiting through one’s voice, and it clouds my thoughts.
Recently that’s changed. Hardly anyone uses the nearby conservation area during the week and with the leaves off, visibility is pretty good so I can hit pause on the music if I spot someone. Last week I thought I was pretty safe to let loose, but I’d overlooked one critical set of ears.
The book project I’m working on has me digging into my past to understand the lives of my ancestors. What they experienced lives in me, often in my subconscious where I’m not even aware of it. I’m eager to learn and understand their stories, knowing they’ve shaped my beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and actions.
To really ‘get it’, I try to put myself in their shoes, imagining what it was like to live the experiences behind the stories passed down through their descendants. Although I’ve always known how important music was to them, they’ve taught me how specifically hymns, can bring me right to them. It was their direct line to Spirit, more so than sermons or Bible readings. Especially if they were sung in German.
Singing their songs opens my heart and brings me symbolically to my knees, and often to tears. It puts me in the heart space I can write from—where I feel their joy, sorrow, angst, and faith. I’ve downloaded their favorites and sing them (in English) on my walks—Christmas carols and hymns sung at their funerals. A favorite is Nun Danket Alle Gott, (Now Thank We All Our God)—the song which erupted spontaneously from weary passengers on the train carrying them across desolate Russian countryside as it passed under Red Gate—after one last military check—and over the border into Latvia and freedom.
Coming around a corner on the trail, up ahead and up wind was a woman standing at the side of the path. The slack leash in her hand was not necessary to restrain the little dog sitting quietly beside her, waiting for me to pass. In fact, the dog had heard me well before she did and they’d stopped to listen. Hymns aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you see someone tethered to electronics. Sheepishly I offered a two second explanation of what I was doing, and why. Somehow it resonated with her and what would otherwise have been a passing greeting became an emotional bonding. “Keep singing,” she spoke in parting.
I know my grandparents walk with me on this journey, teaching me, and guiding my steps. On that day in the woods, they’d reached out from the past to touch yet another soul.
I honor them and myself with their songs and will keep singing.