I guide Vickie into the suede embrace of the recliner and click to channel 779: golden oldies, all the time. Why do fools fall in love? I'm a travelin' man. Ain't no sunshine when she's gone. Wake up, little Susie. Shaboom, shaboom. Those words alone make you smile. Add the music and your heart sings.
Beloved old songs evoke positive emotions. In folks with Alzheimer's, like Vickie, they generate joy. Neurologist Oliver Sacks observes that music "brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can." Long after the doors in the brain that lead to memory are shut, the ability to appreciate music remains.
Sometimes music even makes miracles.
Have you seen the viral video of Henry, the 92-year-old nursing home resident who sat slumped in a wheelchair for years but came alive when given an iPod of Cab Calloway songs? He not only sang along but spoke lucidly for the first time in years. Asked what he thought about the music, Henry shed tears and said, "It gives me a feeling of love. … I feel a band of love, of dreams. The Lord came to me, made me holy, I'm a holy man so he gave me these sounds." Now you can't see Vickie tapping her feet to "La Bamba" at our house but you can enjoy Henry at musicandmemory.org, in a clip from a wonderful movie (on Netflix) called "Alive Inside."
Studies show that music from our early years can spark our memory and animate our soul. That's why our house rocks with Elvis and soothes with Johnny Mathis. When Vickie was a little girl living on the steamy coastline of Mississippi, there was no air conditioner in the bedroom she shared with her sisters, Delta and Margo. They slept with the window open for a chance breeze from the Gulf of Mexico. If you looked out that second floor window in the back of their house you'd see a corrugated roof over a dimly lit bakery where their father wiped sweat off his arms and worked all night in front of a red-hot, century-old brick oven. The holy scent of baking French bread wafted up to the girls' window like incense from a thurible.
With it came melodies from the radio Daddy played all night. Vickie dreamed dreams of "Blueberry Hill," and it wasn't long before the words from songs like "Make the World Go Away," "Tears on My Pillow," and "I'm Walking to New Orleans" stuck to her brain like paint markings on the fleece of a lamb. Those sleepy nights on white sheets moist with sweat awaken heavenly memories today.
One might think the music of Mozart or Bach or even Burt Bacharach would be more suitable for heaven, but novelist Stephen King put it straight in the Nov. 6 issue of Rolling Stone. When asked if he hoped to go to heaven, King said: "I don't want to go to the heaven that I learned about as a kid. ... I don't want to listen to harps. I want to listen to Jerry Lee Lewis!"
If life could be a dream (shaboom), it could be that it actually is. It could be that the music that moves our souls are faint echoes of a paradise lost and listened for. I've had a night dream where I hear the most glorious music I have ever heard and am not only conducting it, but swimming in it. I am the music, and as long as I don't try to control it, it keeps on moving, soaring, ever more gloriously, with melodies played for the first time all the time. I could listen to it forever.
Heaven must be so utterly grand because as astonishing as my dream music can be, my ear has not yet heard nor my heart felt the eternal music of love, peace, harmony and joy that God has in store for those who just want to love being loving (1 Corinthians 2:9) all the time. A music ever ancient and always new. A beatific symphony to accompany a beatific vision.
On earth, the Lord comes to us as he did to Henry, and makes us holy. He gives us sounds to hear with the ear of our soul.
That is what Vickie is doing as she rocks on the recliner, feet tapping, face beaming. Listening to echoes of paradise brought to her by Cablevision. I watch her face and am happy. I feel a band of dreams, yes, of love. My body lifts off the sofa and sways to the rhythm:
Oh, life could be a dream,
If I could take you up in paradise
up above, shaboom, shaboom ...
I reach out. Pull her up. We dance in place. Life could be a dream, sweetheart.
[Michael Leach endeavors to move to the rhythm of life with his wife of 45 years in Riverside, Conn.]