Thursday, April 4, 2013

We Used To

I am shaking with nerves, and with something else. The something else doesn’t have a name, because at this point I can barely identify what is happening to me.  However, tonight I have a job to do. I am singing roughly half of the most important piece of music in Catholic liturgy all year, and I’ve learned it all in the last 24 hours. It is unaccompanied, difficult, and almost perfect for my particular skills, for my voice which has suddenly kicked into gear quite spectacularly. But I do not feel worthy to be here, in a house of God on Easter Vigil night. This is a place for believers, for those who practice what they say, and because of what is happening to me outside this place I cannot believe that I belong here, that this job is mine.

The Bishop has asked for me, urged on by my favourite organist. She spent an hour or so on the phone to me last night, playing the piece down the phone to me and, unbeknownst to her, to my father’s dictaphone which has been volunteered for this purpose (it’s amazing what my parents will volunteer when something Catholic is up for grabs). The piece of music is marked in pen (oh, the horror!), with bits scratched out in Marie’s elderly scrawl. My more modest cursive has made small circles around notes that bother me, phrases I have sung under my breath all day on a cash register serving frenzied shoppers not so far from here. I am not really ready for this, but I know the basic notation well enough that I can always return to the original key and starting point for the next phrase if I need to.

People are on their way back in to the chapel after lighting their candles and praying outside, where the Mass begins. My head is seething with a panic caused by a chain of events that was started in that same place as the cash register I worked today. My job is my one place of refuge outside of school, but it has also become a place of darkness, marked by spaces where I cannot go for fear that HE will seek me out. It is bad enough that when he tells me to meet him at his car around the corner from work I have to do so, but now he might hurt me at work too – this is where it started, you see. It has been going on for a few months now, and for some reason, here in a place of worship, my mind lingers on the traumatic details. Why now?, my mind protests – I mean, really? Is it somehow part of God’s plan for me to be panicking while I sing His praises?

The Bishop goes first, his voice really quite decent for a man his age. Priests are rarely singers, and even more rarely good ones, but his does his job. I am conscious of Marie close by, she has not a doubt in her mind that I can do this, she pushed for me to take over the job from a man unwilling to let it go. I remember that I am in a venue where the acoustics do most of your work for you. I breathe in, and sing out, and I hear a voice that has changed so much, so very recently. I am a mezzo now, a grown up singer, still changing, but definitely more adult. I look up into the vaulted ceiling and hit the notes just so, as needed. I do not falter. I hear my voice ring out in a beautiful venue with a full chapel beneath me, and I realise that although my life is falling apart, I can do this. This is still mine, and that small moment of pride stays with me, even as the shame and pain of everything else colours my life, both that night and for the rest of the year. Tonight I become a little more like a woman.

It’s all thirteen years ago now, but it’s so easy to write it all in the present tense. This last Saturday night I sang the piece again, as I do every year. Easter all about the rituals within the liturgy, but it’s also the rituals created around the practice of it. For me, even though I no longer consider myself to be Catholic, it means singing at Maundy Thursday Mass, the Good Friday ceremony at 3pm and then Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. I stay in the family house with people who fast and take this stuff very seriously. I walk to and from this lovely chapel, still with the beautiful acoustics, that remains such a feature in my working life, and on a piece of land where I exercise almost daily. And I sing the Exsultet in full, by myself now, feeling a connection with my past and my future and with the faith that still has elements of beauty that move me. I still use the same copy of the music with Marie’s handwriting all over it, marked up terribly in a way that would make me ashamed to show it to anyone else. (Marie doesn’t sing with us anymore, she’s in her late eighties and now has trouble placing me when I call. The Bishop retired some years ago, and I have no idea where he is these days.) When people talk about the exciting things they’re going to do over the Easter break and ask what I will do I smile and say ‘lots of singing’, because I know exactly where I will be, and what I will be doing. I will be upstairs in that hot, stuffy gallery, singing beautiful music with people I care about, gently touching the music marked by someone I love, and then walk home in the crisp Autumn air.* I think of the man who tore my life apart, wonder what happened to him, and am filled with regrets. I remember a time when I was even more trapped and confused than I am now, and am grateful for how far I have come.

* Autumn in Sydney always seems to only kick into gear at Easter, for some reason. Doesn’t matter whether it’s early or late, Autumn waits for Easter.


  1. MOZ, this was absolutely stunning. Finishing it felt like coming out of a dream. I need to read again.

  2. Yep. What Lyn said. I love the way you write.

  3. Me three! You write so beautifully.

  4. Second that (or forth that ;)), it's amazing how you put your thoughts into words. x


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