Monday, December 1, 2014

Beautiful Angels

There are angels among us. I have often felt their presence, but never more profoundly than during and after my cancer surgery in October 2014.

They wield scalpels and stethoscopes. They bring food for your family. They send cards, flowers, messages. They bring you your breakfast when you can't get out of bed. They curl up in your lap and purr. They pray for you.

You don't see their wings, but you often recognize their faces. But sometimes they are strangers.

The day after the surgery to remove both my breasts, I was hurting physically and emotionally. My friend, Peter called me. "I have something I think will cheer you up," he said.

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Indeed. Peter had secured a poster promoting a concert by singer-songwriter James Maddock. James had signed it to me, wishing me well. It really lifted my spirits to have a personalized message from an artist that I admire so much. It was a simple gesture that had a big impact.
The poster James gave me

I first discovered James when he played a concert nearby. I had never heard of him. By the end of his opening song, I was hooked. He is British, but his music seems uniquely American, rooted in the folk-rock traditions of the United States. He is a fixture in the fertile music scene in downtown New York. He has a distinctive raspy voice, an amiable stage persona, and a quirky social media presence. He's released three studio albums, and his newest, The Green,  is now out and available here at Amazon,. His lyrics seem deeply personal, but listeners can interpret them for themselves.

Like me, James is 50-something, and his songs tend to reflect the themes that inhabit those in our stage of life:

  • A longing for more time to explore the roads not taken ("Another Life")
  • Messy relationships ("Mister Universe," "What Have I Done?")
  • The vagaries of love ("Stoned On You," "Love is a Flower")
One of his loveliest tunes is entitled "Beautiful Now." The lyrics tell of a man looking at an old photograph of his beloved, taken long before he knew her. As he gazes at the picture, he notes her youthful splendor and radiance. Then he hits us with this chorus.

"You were beautiful then/ But you're way more beautiful now."

Those lyrics have taken on a new meaning for me. I don't have the body of my youth, but it had been replaced by one that was stronger, curvier, more confident. The surgery abruptly changed it, and I have been struggling with the "new normal."

At first, I thought the scars and incisions that snake their way across my chest were ugly. They hurt and I hated them. James' lyrics prompted me to re-think them. Now I see the gentle curves and delicate folds as the beauty of health and the brilliance of life. They are beautiful now.

So thank you, James, for taking the time to cheer up a stranger when she needed it. Thank you for your music. Thank you Tracy Plass and Peter Swarr for making it happen.

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Please enjoy this live version of James singing "Beautiful Now."

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