The other night I watched a rerun of Diane Sawyer’s interview with former US Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, and her astronaut husband, Mark Kelley. The interview was the first time the public had seen Giffords since she’d been shot in the head at point blank range. Watching her radiant easy smile, I realized her healing journey has been nothing short of miraculous. Near death when she arrived at the hospital, Gabby Giffords suffered a major brain injury that necessitated temporary removal of a piece of her skull. The injury also forced her to learn to talk, walk, read and reason all over again, and surprisingly, the tool her therapists found to be most helpful was music.
According to scientists, nothing activates the brain like music, especially in the case of severe brain injuries like Gabby Giffords. Music has a unique multi-dimensional power to change the way our brain strings words together; it helps us learn to walk again, and it increases the dopamine levels that produce a positive affect on our sense of well-being.
Sometime last Fall, I remember singing along to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun on my car radio. At first my voice was tentative and soft, but it wasn’t long before I was singing with everything I had, and in that moment, I forgot James died. I forgot that most every area of my life was drenched in grief and betrayal, and in that moment, I wasn’t a widow or a breast cancer survivor, I was my usual happy upbeat self. Amazed at my happy outburst, I remember thinking that on some level, my healing had begun.
For many of us, healing is an ongoing process. Whether it’s physical or emotional, cancer, betrayal or grief, the torn and fractured pieces of our mind and body continue to knit themselves together, again. We gain strength and draw comfort from the prayers of those around us, the compassion of our medical team and from the examples of those who’ve gone before us like Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelley. Gabby and Mark underscore what many of us already know: When the life we planned is not the life we’re living, we must dig deep and summon the courage and determination to map out a new life.
In Diane Sawyer’s interview, Gabby Giffords and her therapists sang Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and in that moment, Gabby was radiant and whole. It made me think back to that day in my car when I sang the same song with joy and abandonment; how the healing power of that happy song lifted me out of my grief.
Music makes new pathways in the areas of the brain that control memory, emotion, even movement. Our body naturally wants to align itself with the rhythms of our environment. What rhythms are part of your environment? Are they the stories on the news about murders and robberies or, like Gabby Giffords, do you surround yourself with music and examples of courage and survivorship?
If you can’t remember the last time you sang at the top of your voice then it’s been too long, my friends. Like Gabby Giffords, we may be beaten up around the edges, but we’re not beaten.
Sing, dear ones, and heal well!