You are not old until you have more regrets than dreams.
– Howard Tullman
Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but then you’d never complete your life, would you? You’d never wholly know you.
Since I was 18, I have been working to be a singer, working to be a better singer, working to learn repertoire, working to get ready for auditions, working to learn the roles I was hired to sing, working to learn the roles I would like to sing, trying to figure out how to get up to the next level of house and engagement, thinking of strategies, thinking of plans, thinking of timetables, thinking of how to get where I thought I wanted to go career-wise, thinking about how and what I would need and want to do when the call came. The dream to be on stage was a passion, an obsession. It was all I have ever wanted to do.
Now after 40 years, all that has stopped, suddenly, with a bang. No, not with a bang. Softly, quietly, unheard by the world. The judgment has come down. Somehow I have crossed over the line that says, “you are too old.” It’s my choice to accept that judgment or not, but there it is. The thing is, I also apparently have nerve damage in my face and neck that effects my ability to sing. All of this combined have come as a shock.
The thing is, in my head, I still feel like there has to be more time, that I am still learning, that there still has to be time to get this right, time to make up for all the mistakes, time to really show people what I can do. And now suddenly there is no time. I have hit the wall without seeing it coming or at least without wanting to see it come. Believing that my will and my desire were enough to break through any barrier that might come up, except perhaps the barriers in my own head that made me do all those stupid things over the years that held me back or stopped me in my tracks and kept me from being all that I knew was inside me.
It is a special pain, that pain that you feel when you look back on your life and you know that you could have done more, could have done better but that you didn’t for some ridiculous reason. A reason that at the time seemed unbelievably important, like there was no other choice. But you always have a choice and I have made mine in the past. Now I have to make another one. Let go. Or not.
I’m not sure I am ready for this but maybe you never are. It might have been different if I felt like I had made this decision for myself. Or maybe not. I never really thought about what I would do, what my life would be “after”. I was always working to keep working. My mother once asked me – at a time when I was especially struggling to find work – “What will you do if this doesn’t work out?” and I answered – ever the arrogant know-it-all that I am – “Work at McDonalds or something. What would it matter?” I don’t think that flipping burgers is what I will do. Hard to know at this point. At the moment I am just dealing with what is there.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
William Butler Yeats
The world – as seen from the window where I write this – is a fairytale land. There is a series of ponds in front of my house where the grey heron spends his time. I often see him gracefully swooping to find a landing place among the tall reeds and sometimes the storks join him for a rest on their long journey back and forth across Europe. In the fall, the buck bellows his lovelorn call and in the spring, the deer give birth to their fawns in the tall grass of the swamp just a few feet from our front gate. The woods are full of wild boar and I even saw a badger once waddling down the street. The woodpecker staccato greets me in the morning, the hawk cries over the fields in the daytime, and owl hoots at night. Yes, it is quiet enough to hear all of these things even though we only live about a half hour from the biggest airports in continental Europe. I walk out the door and in less than a minute I am surrounded by trees and wildlife.
Even the people here seem somehow out of a fairytale. I can see my neighbor down the hill as she brushes her long, beautiful blond hair at her window every morning like Rapunzel. There is local guitar builder who builds bass guitars for some of the great players in the world who I see almost every day looking like a homeless man walking his dogs. You would never know how successful he is. Like a lot of small towns – we have under 600 residents – this one is full of characters.
We found this house sort of by accident and a curious synchronicity of events. Wolfgang inherited some money just at the time of the Lehman crisis and went to a State certified investment counselor to ask how he should invest it. She said, buy property; you don’t want to be investing in the stock market at the moment (which turned out to be a mistake but who knew when it seemed like the economic world was crashing down around us). That day literally our landlady called and said that she had to sell the house we were renting from her to fulfill death duties and would we want to buy it. It was a row house in the city in a not great neighborhood but with all the conveniences so we considered it in part because she named a very reasonable price. A few days later she raised her price – friends of hers had told her she should ask for more – and we noticed that there was structural damage in the house. And besides we never really wanted to live in the city, so we went looking elsewhere.
We had lived for a short time in a small town outside of Frankfurt and had felt very comfortable there, so we went looking there first and found something in our price range. The house wasn’t particularly nice and the rooms were a funny shape and organization but other houses in that area were much more expensive so we thought it was the best we could do. The only issue was that it was a prefab house from the 70’s. At that time in Germany, they used formaldehyde on the wood slats and asbestos on the outer walls and so we had it all evaluated by an expert for toxins. While we were waiting for the report, I suggested that we continue looking. To tell you the truth I didn’t like the house but I was willing to take it if we couldn’t find something else. I had however seen an ad for another house that peeked my interest. They only showed the view out of one window, but that view was only of tree tops. I wanted to see the rest.
A real estate agent made a plan of several houses for us to see including the mystery house, which turned out to be the first one we saw. I don’t know why but 10 minutes in the house and I knew I wanted to live there. The owner told us that someone else was working to find the financing but he would still accept a bid. We saw the other properties but they just couldn’t compare. We made a bid, it was accepted with a little haggling and we got the keys just a few weeks later. We had to do some renovation – most of which Wolfgang did by himself – including putting in a hardwood floor in the living room and antique terra cotta tiles in the hall but we made it in before we had to be out of the other place. We are still working on the renovations four years later but we’re doing it as we can, when we can.
Some of our friends and my students think we were crazy to move out here. I drive into Frankfurt nearly every day to teach, about a 40 minute drive and when the weather is bad coming up the hill to us its not so easy. A couple times I almost didn’t make it. But when I am here, my soul opens up and my head is clear. And then it is all worth it to live in fairyland.