Last week, I caught one of those unwanted autumn colds that blows in unexpectedly just as the days warm for a quick Indian summer rebound. Being of hearty stock, I figured it would run its course and be gone by week's end. Instead, it settled into my chest, clenched my voice into a scratchy rasp, rifled through my schedule and canceled my weekend plans. Sunday and Monday were all tea and cough drops, but on Tuesdays I'm down at the college to teach, and by Wednesday my voice was entirely gone. Friday night had a gig scheduled, one that I'd been greatly anticipating not for its glamour (since, on the back patio of an urban bookstore, it certainly had none), but because I planned to sing new songs in front of an audience for the first time. With my voice shot, I couldn't rehearse, and as Thursday turned into Friday, I didn't even know if I'd have enough voice to sing on stage.
The last time I lost my voice, it was metaphor. I could talk and sing, if I wanted to, but I lacked the desire. The sudden desire to not sing, after years of desiring the opposite, took me by surprise. I tested myself time and again, played a few gigs here and there, to see if I'd really lost it. Eventually I stopped trying; the desire was inexplicably gone. With nothing else to do, I practiced a lot of yoga and took up running. I noted with curiosity the cycles of fruit, leaves, and clouds in southern California's subtle shift of seasons. Those changes might have escaped my observation if life had been louder, and my quietude also revealed gaps in some of the foundational logic on which I'd built my life. My former marriage fell away. As inner listening tends to do, I developed new awareness of my own inner workings. I became accustomed to silence's hard questions, and learned to endure the disquieting geological time scale in which difficult answers are disclosed. Among other things, I discovered, for the first time, something in myself resembling trust or faith. I wondered, during those years of silence, if I would ever come back to writing songs, if I would ever again want to sing them.
They say that the Universe will test you. It will throw obstacles in your path to check your dedication to the thing you appear to want. How bad do you want it? the Universe will ask, and if you crumble and skulk back to your room, the Universe will have proven its point. That's what I thought, it will say. But if you really want it, you dig deeper. You find a way to get over, get around, or work with the obstacles. And the Universe will sit back in its chair and say, Oh really? Now look at you, kid. Tenacious little thing, aren't you?
After a long decade of weird absence, the desire to create music returned to me. Maybe I needed that time to attend to rebuilding my foundation. Maybe I needed to find some faith. While I did that, my voice had run off on sabbatical. It's reappeared now full of stories from its travels, and for the last few months I've been writing those stories into songs. When this cold swiped my voice, I considered canceling the gig. Especially on Thursday night, I began to contemplate how I might contend with things if my voice never returned (oh, how illness turns me pessimistic). But on Friday I woke hearing the Universe asking, How badly do you want it?