PUT YOUR OWN HEART FIRST

“All that you touch you Change.  All that you Change Changes you.  The only lasting truth is Change.”
Octavia Butler

 

The parking garage entrance to UCLA Medical Center at 6:30am and the Covid screener

My phone alarm goes off at 5:30am. I am jolted awake by Al Jarreau crooning his song Mornin’ because it sure is… I’ve been doing this “deliver-the-newspaper-kind-of-early” for the last couple of months so I can get to Cardiac Rehab on time every Monday and Wednesday.

One of the lovely perks of being in “the first session” of the day is that LA traffic is mercifully spare, the gentle quiet that blankets the city is rustling a little but still cozy and I snag my favorite parking place in the subterranean garage at UCLA because there is hardly anybody there. It’s just plain wonderful, especially since early morning is my “leave-me-alone” time.

But I do look forward to greeting the covid screener who holds court in front of the elevators. One more time she points her electronic thermometer at my forehead and sincerely goes through her spiel.

Have you had any of the following within the past two weeks:

*A fever. Nope
*Loss of smell or taste? No. Right now it smells like a parking garage and tastes like Crest.
*Muscle aches? Well nothing that screams OMG.
*Sore throat? No my throat is happy today.
*Shortness of breath? Just when I read the news alerts on my phone.
*Chills? Um, not since the rollercoaster ride at Magic Mountain.
*A new or unusual headache? Nah. Just the old, usual stuff.
*Have you been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with Covid-19. Not that I know of. But frankly no one is telling…

And so it goes. I once saw an interviewer on television ask Tony Bennett if he gets bored singing “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” over and over, thousands of times, and he said “No! Because each audience is different.” I think this young lady is channeling Tony.

Recently I asked the screener how many times a day she recites this litany of Covid questions and she said about 50 but her friend, who sits upstairs in the lobby, goes through the laundry list maybe 200 times. She adds that almost everyone answers NO to these questions. Apparently we save the truth for our doctors. Well let’s hope…

I know this isn’t something that most of us think about. It’s an almost inconsequential by-product of this heart-wringing pandemic. But look at the numberless ways the past months have impacted our lives.  Have changed us. The screener tells me that she hears these questions in her sleep. Fifty years from now I bet she’ll be able to recite them again. Oh the magic of repetition.

I’m about two-thirds through my Cardiac Rehab program and it’s been an education and a half. Having a heart attack is the scare of a lifetime but this rehab program has also been a life-changer. In a very good way. I am surrounded by experts—the nurses, exercise physiologists, a nutritionist on call and a psychologist whose door is almost always open for a speedy talk-it-out session.

My first day in rehab she introduces herself and I’m thinking “oh isn’t that nice…” and skulk away. Many of you know that I am no stranger to therapy and I say hooray for anyone who makes this inside-passage and takes the time to dig in the dirt with a trained someone at your side. And if you grew up in a “dysfunctional yurt” like I did, therapy can be like a cool glass of water after a day in the desert.

But I’m in Cardiac Rehab to build up my stamina, get my ass back into an exercise routine and not keel over on the treadmill. Self-introspection is not on my to-do list.

But…

Something has been weighing heavily on my mind. And my body. California is emerging from the oppression of this pandemic and I get an email from the Senior Center in Culver City saying they are planning to open again and want to know if I’m coming back to teach.

My ukulele group, The CC Strummers, was born there. In the craft room. It was May 2010 and I was a first-time teacher, teaching a two month Ukulele For Beginners Class. It was supposed to be a one and done kind of thing. But anyone who plays in a ukulele group knows something happens that is almost transcendent. A gathering of people with different stories and opinions and histories come together and turn the whole musical enterprise into something that resembles a family. A family you choose. “Well let’s call ourselves The CC Strummers” I tell them and we keep right on going. And growing.

As we got bigger The Senior Center provided larger rooms to accommodate all our players and then we took it to the streets, literally. Flash mobs, shows, music therapy, teaching middle school kids how to play. We were honored for our work in a ceremony at City Hall. Then March 2020 happened and it all stopped.

But not for long. I got a Zoom account and brought all my classes online. Suddenly everyone, anywhere could learn to play ukulele with The CC Strummers. No age restrictions. No where-are-you-on-the-map limitations. We became an international group. And still are…

How do I put the Genie back in the bottle? I want our group to be open to players of all ages, like it is online and NOT like it is at The Senior Center. I want us to be in control of our destiny and not tangled in bureaucracy. But I’m mightily nervous about “leaving home” and the security it provides, not to mention the lovely rooms where we play. This decision will not only affect me but a whole lot of other people too. Going independent feels like growing up, which I have assiduously avoided all my life.

I am losing sleep over this so after my workout I nab the psychologist for a little chat. We only have a few minutes so I lay on the spiel quicky-quicky. And this is what she says to me: “You are a cardiac patient now. You have to put YOUR OWN heart first. Not anyone else’s.”

My first thought is “you have GOT to be kidding?” Like I almost never do that… What an earthshaking proposition!

“Feel into your heart. Your body will tell you what to do,” she continues. Yeah I know that sounds all whoo-whoo and I can only guess what my face looks like right now because I’m kind of shocked. But I take a deep breath anyway and have my answer. It is clear and concise. We are going independent.

I don’t think anyone of us needs to be a cardiac patient, or any kind of patient for that matter, to heed this advice. After all the flight attendant instructs the mother to put HER oxygen mask on first.

Isn’t it amazing how one person can pop into our lives for a few moments, a day, a week and say something that completely blows the dust out of our eyes?

That happened to me once before, when I was working in a local hospital emergency room at night, attending nursing school during the day and agonizing over my life because all I wanted to do was make music. There was no one in my corner, encouraging me to chuck it all for that crazy music thing. So here I am, face to face with the ER supervisor for my six-month employee evaluation when she stops mid-sentence and says “you seem really upset…what’s wrong?” Well, busted.  And o-o-oh the music spiel pours out of me. It’s a gusher.

Then silence. Until she speaks…

“If you don’t do it now, you never will.” Her words slice into my heart. With every cell in my body I know she is right and that afternoon I drop out of nursing school and am soon performing in piano bars.

What kind of life are we living, if we are living someone else’s instead?

The CC Strummers are finding a way. One of our players has generously opened her party-size backyard for twice-monthly jams. Other players found a restaurant patio where we have room to stretch out, eat delicious sandwiches and entertain a built-in audience every other Sunday.  Click here to watch a song we performed at our last jam.

Still others are combing the neighborhood, scouting for an indoor location that can support our ohana and not cost an arm and another arm to rent. The welcome mat is out for people of all ages to learn and play ukulele with us. I feel like it’s not just me carrying the weight of this group anymore. We are in this together, surviving the pandemic, meeting in person and online. Taking it to the streets.

Now that’s a song I can sing over and over!

Big feet, big lips

2 Responses

  1. Anonymous
    | Reply

    I love everything about this blog! So proud of you for putting your heart first and expanding your ukulele group. We all know deep down inside what we want and need; we just have to find the courage to answer our own call.

  2. Anonymous
    | Reply

    As always, I love your blogs — your stories, your humor, your intelligence.
    And wow, “taking care of YOUR heart (and body) first” is a mind-blower for me too. Once again, you inspire!

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