Many strange things happened this week, but this was one of the strangest.
I was in the middle of a two-day recording session for Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto, experiencing the delight of reading my own work for the audio-book. Standing alone in a padded room, just me and the microphone a few inches from my mouth, I moved my arms – indeed my whole body — as I spoke, as though I could reach through the mike and draw the listener in.
At home, though, the resident feline was fading fast: Dashi, fourteen years old, a silver-grey tabby with blue eyes, a wide range of vocalization, and a personality ranging from ornery to enchanting. Early in the morning of the second day of recording, I realized there was no longer any doubt about what I had to do. Tears streaming, I called the vet, wrapped the cat in her favorite fleece blanket, and took her in. She died cradled in my arms, barely thirty seconds after the final injection. It was hard, and awful, and yet right. She had a great life with me, and I saw her out of it as best I could. That, in itself, was a privilege.
“I should cancel the recording session,” I thought, but something in me said not to – that it would be good to lose myself for a few hours in total focus. By midday, I was back in the studio. “You are absolutely rocking it,” said the director, to whom I’d said nothing of what had happened. Then, with only the last chapter still to go (on what we mean what we talk about soul), I called a cigarette break and headed toward the door.
A man was leaving in front of me, and as he went through the door he kind of half-sang a “bye-bye” to everyone there. Something in me picked up on the lilt of it, and without even thinking, I began to sing “Bye Bye Blackbird.”
Here’s where I should say that I can’t sing. I mean, I’m no good at carrying a tune. I once took jazz lessons to try and deal with this, but enthusiasm without talent can only take you so far.
As I went out that door, however, I was singing perfectly. I could hear it: every note crystalline and pure. And I went on singing, my voice carrying through the rain on Seattle’s Fourth Avenue, the cigarette dangling unsmoked in my fingers as I let the song rise up into the grey sky, thinking all the while of Dashi.
And I knew as I sang that I’d never sing that beautifully again.
(“Pack up all my care and woe, Here I go swingin’ low, Bye bye blackbird / Where somebody waits for me, Sugar’s sweet, so is she, Bye bye blackbird /No one here can love or understand me, Oh, what hard luck stories, they all hand me / Make my bed and light the light, I’ll be home late tonight, Blackbird bye bye.”)