The man behind the desk in front of me carefully studied the documents I had just handed him. He looked up and said, “This is your first passport?”
I noticed that he seemed surprised. I grinned and said, “Yes, it is! I’m 55 and it’s time for me to travel to places I’ve never gone before. Is it that unusual for someone my age to get a passport?”
He told me it was and asked me what country I was planning to visit. I replied, “Oh, somewhere in Europe – but I’m not sure yet.”
As I walked to my car, I was delighted that I had taken a step toward doing something new and exciting in my life.
The title for this post is from another song I wrote long ago. I have been working with my arranger, George on “I’ve Always Cared.” I’ve revised some of the lyrics added in 2010 and wrote new ones for a bridge that George helped to create. The song is bouncy and a lot of fun to sing.
A portion of my “arrangement in progress” can be heard below:
Caring seems to be a reoccurring theme of mine. It was in another recent song, “Just A Tune.”
I care about many things in my life. Most important to me are my three children. I care about my friends and even strangers who are hurting. I care about creating music that touches me.
Unfortunately, sometimes I care too much about what other people think of me. It was my habit in the past to expend a lot of energy trying to make everyone around me happy. My life is quite different since my divorce after a long marriage. I am trying to please myself more and worry about pleasing others less.
I hoped to travel with my newfound freedom, but because of my dry eye pain– it hasn’t felt comfortable or safe for me. But my eyes have improved to where I am willing to consider it.
There are a few special bloggers in faraway places that I would love to visit; I feel very close to them because of the intimate writing we’ve shared for at least two years now. Taking a trip to meet any of them feels very meaningful for me.
So my story begins with the reason I actually felt inclined to get my very first passport. It was because of an invitation from a woman named Sarah (not her actual name).
Sarah and I had been writing to each other for several months. I wrote a story about her when we first connected on the Internet. She found my art blog and wanted to purchase an image to use for her website. I gave her a discounted price and she was thrilled.
After that, I shared my love for music with her and we began corresponding. On one of our exchanges, she sent me a lovely picture of a butterfly on her window and invited me to visit her in Europe.
Link to that story: #451 I HOLD ON
Sarah seemed very warm and kind. Even though she and I didn’t speak the same language, she amazed me with her ability to write fairly articulate email messages.
Her messages were enthusiastic and filled with encouragement about my music. Over and over she reiterated that my voice really touched her when I simply sang with my guitar. It motivated me to start practicing so I could perform again.
After eight months of reclusiveness (because of eye pain), I began to play at open mics. It wasn’t easy, but I was pleased that I had pushed myself. I eagerly told my new friend how she had inspired me and sent her links to view my performances.
When I mentioned that I might actually take her up on her offer to host me, she insisted that a week wasn’t going to be long enough – she hoped I could stay at least two weeks. I began to seriously consider planning a trip the following summer and it was all very exciting.
Sarah told me she was would try to arrange for me to perform in her town when I visited; she said she was certain that my music and stories would be appreciated. I hadn’t finalized plans for my visit other than obtaining a passport, which was a good thing.
Only a few days after we had talked more about my visit, she sent me a startling message. A better word than “startling” would be “horrible.”
I was left scratching my head and wondering how such sweet interactions could change in an instant.
Sarah’s message was a list of points that proved to her how self-centered I was. She raked me over the coals and accused me of bombarding her with messages. She felt I was insensitive to her recent illness and all I cared about was music.
I had actually bought a nice Christmas gift I planned to send her and was glad I was able to return it.
She ended her diatribe with a truly vicious paragraph. It seemed that my songs about my mother infuriated her. I never imaged my music could inspire such anger!
I wrote back to her with a simple message:
I have every right as a human to express my feelings about my dead son, parents or whatever. I share my experiences and many other people have told me that they’ve been touched by it. I’m relieved now to know that I’m not going to visit someone who is unstable and easily angered. My intentions toward you were always loving and your words surprise me because they are mean-spirited and hurtful.
I tried not to allow her words to upset me. She was someone I’d never met, but I had opened my heart to her. I was so glad that this had happened before I actually went to visit her in a foreign country. It was terrifying to admit how awful my visit could have been with someone capable of writing such a cruel message.
When I shared this experience with my children, they all said pretty much the same thing. “Mom, the Internet is filled with people who say hateful things. It shouldn’t come as such a shock to you.”
I didn’t want to be affected by any of this, but I was. I especially felt irritated with myself because I had been so blindsided. I thought it might be helpful to write to my grief forum friends for support.
My message was:
Recently, there’ve been many posts about how upsetting it is when other people want us to “get over our grief.” People who are uncomfortable with it are one thing, but then there are others who can be incredibly hostile.
It has only been about a year since my mother died. I was very upset last week when I received an angry message from someone who had listened to my songs.
I have never felt that my loss was greater than anyone else’s by writing songs about loss and love. I will continue until my last breath to remember my dead son and my dead parents. I appreciate the support from this group. Her message was:
“There are millions PEOPLE ON EARTH WHO LOST THEIR PARENTS! I lost both my mother and my father, who I loved more than anything on this earth! Most of us are so f#@%&g sorry to lose our parents! Do not you think? But you talk about the loss of your mother, as if the rest of the people on Earth do not have any parents. YOU ARE / WERE SO SPOILED, and find it difficult to accept nature’s time, and that we ALL MUST DIE ONE DAY. People do not care to hear of others family tragedies in the edition that you represent in your song to your late mother! Why? Because: Your dead mother is NOT worth more than my dead mother or others dead mothers, and because of it, your song is WORTHLESS.”
Judy, what a horrible expression you were sent! Your Mother is worth more to you, nothing to her, such a disgusting comment. I am so sorry to hear you have been subjected to that tirade. Try not to think about it. No one understands what we go through until they go through it for themselves. There is surely no need to degrade anyone else’s expressions of grief.
OMG, what a bitter, bitter person! Keep writing songs, Judy!
Yay, Judy! I support you in self-expression. Based on the last three years after the death of my grown daughter, I am clear that for me at least, the most profound need of grief is its own expression. And so, I have become a writer and am on the last leg of my master’s degree in writing and about to complete a novel. Best to you and keep it up!
Judy, the only thing that may be of any value out of that angry post you received is that the angry sender had “a place” to direct some of her anger. I’m glad that you are able to see her “stuff” for what it is worth. Clearly, you did not deserve that. You keep creating what is beautiful and comforting. I will pray that hostile woman begins to find some comfort and peace.
Wow, Judy. The bitterness and anger in this message that was sent to you speaks of more than just your song. This woman is free to not listen to your song or simply not bother with you at all but instead chose to spit out such anger and for what purpose? If it were possible, I would block this woman from ever sending messages to you again. She obviously doesn’t understand the reason you do what you do and how it helps other people with loss. Once again – wow!
That is the most terrible thing I have heard someone say to another grieving person. Judy, you have helped a lot of people, especially here in the group. You keep writing and singing your songs. Don’t let this person get to you.
The messages of support from my grief forum members did lift me up. For weeks, I avoided writing this story because I wanted to simply put it behind me. But then I decided there was insight that I gained from this experience.
One of my favorite mottos that always uplifts me is:
TAKE THE BEST AND LEAVE THE REST!
I love that line because it works for almost every experience in life. I simply discard unpleasant things and grasp what is useful.
My experience with this stranger across the world definitely taught me many things. Perhaps I was too trusting and open. And if I was overly enthusiastic about my music and a bit self-centered – I accept that perhaps I am that way at this time in my life.
I actually gained some very big benefits from my interaction with Sarah. She encouraged me to embrace performing again. She inspired me to consider traveling to Europe.
I’ve never gone there and one day I plan to travel there with my hairdresser, Shahin. We’ve been friends for over a decade now. Shahin is from Afghanistan and has family in many European countries. I feel very safe with her and I’m certain our trip will hold wonderful experiences for me.
Originally, when I told Shahin that I wanted to visit Sarah, she warned me to “be careful” about visiting an Internet friend. A few days ago, I sheepishly told her that I wasn’t as careful as I thought I was.
One thing I learned early on as an artist (and as a human) is that everyone has differing opinions. As a songwriter, if I seriously listen to opinions from other people about my music, I get confused and anxious. This happens even when my friends have positive intentions.
When I shared my story about Sarah with a good friend (who is very supportive of me), she said, “You know, I shared your songs with someone else who told me the same thing; that you were overly praising your mother.”
Those sentences definitely bothered me and made it hard for me to let go of my hurt feelings. I’ve written many stories on this blog describing interactions with my mother that were less than perfect. I felt misunderstood.
A few days later, I was able to put all of this behind me when I had lunch with my good friend, Janis.
Our mothers had died a week apart in October of 2013. We had met for lunch many times since then and shared our grief. Now over a year later, it was not at the forefront of our minds like before.
Janis and I chatted happily over Japanese food, catching up on life over the past few months. Then she said, “Oh, by the way – we had a small family gathering last week for the unveiling of my mother’s headstone.”
Suddenly, she reminded me how I had played my song “You Were There” at the funeral for her mother; I had completely forgotten about it. I was honored to have been asked. It was only a week after my mother’s funeral in the same location.
Janis asked her daughter to read the lyrics to my song “You Were There” aloud at the gravesite where the family gathered. But her daughter said she couldn’t because the words choked her up too much. Janis wasn’t able to read them either. In the end, she told me her son read the lyrics to my song aloud.
I was touched and smiled. My good friend had related my song to her own situation.
I thanked her for sharing that and then told her about my upsetting “Internet experience.” Now I was able to laugh it off. Janis even added to my good feelings by telling me her daughter had made her a special pillow as a Mother’s Day gift last year.
She said, “The pillow has a picture of my mother on it and the lyrics from your song!”
All my life, every day
You were there when I’d need you
All the time, I just knew
You’d be there and you’d see me through
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