Twitter can lead to some interesting friendships. But maybe the most unique one I have is with the cellist Zoe Keating. I mean, we’re not exactly friends – I’m more like her fan-girl – but sometimes we tweet articles and thoughts to each other.
So when she came to DC, I had to see her. I mean, I don’t know anything about cellos or really any stringed instrument, but I listened to her music and it was beautiful. Plus, I wanted to meet someone doing something with her art after a terrible loss.
You see, Zoe and I are Twitter friends because we both are part of the worst club on earth: we’re both young widows (and single moms of young kids.)
So it was more than her music that drew me to her concert. It was also that I wanted to see how someone like me was making it in the world. I wanted to see how someone could lose so much and still go on tour and get in front of live audiences and not sob through the whole thing.
Or maybe she would sob, who knows? Yes, her husband died a few years before mine, but as I’m learning, that pain doesn’t just leave because time passes.
So I rounded up a few friends and got myself down to the venue. We had great seats. Everyone there was buzzing about how much they loved Zoe and I felt like a bit of an imposter. No, I haven’t been listening to her for years.
But once she came onto the stage and began to play, I was shocked that I hadn’t previously discovered her music.
It was mesmerizing.
I’m not a music critic, so any way that I could try and describe what I heard would certainly fall flat. But early on in the show, there was this song that she played that made me feel like crying, in a good way. I’m paraphrasing here, but just before playing it, Zoe said something like, “you know when you try and run away from something and go to another place? But then you get to that other place and things are still hard?”
“YES, I definitely DO know that feeling,” I thought. I heard people murmur agreement around me.
“Well,” she said, still talking to the audience, “that’s what this song is about.” She went on to describe what it’s like to try and run away from something, and stumbled just a bit over her words. The audience was patient and listened closely.
She laughed at herself. “Maybe it’s better if I don’t tell you the meaning and instead I just play,” she said. Everyone chuckled. Then she played the song.
It was beautiful. As I listened, my heart reached to all of those things that I’ve tried to run from over the past year and a half. Shawn’s illness, his death, my life as a single mom, my failures as a wife and a mom and a teacher. The list could go on.
But the music wasn’t the kind of music that leaves you in a sad space, even if that’s where it begins. “This song is a bit experimental,” Zoe said a few times before playing one of her new pieces, “but we’re just going to try it out.” Each time, I was moved.
As a musician, I’m sure Zoe has always been more comfortable with experimentation. But part of me thought while she was playing, “oh, yes, I finally understand what it means to truly experiment. It’s what I do now in many parts of my life.”
Widowhood is strange like that. Maybe it’s because I realize life is short, or maybe it’s because I’ve survived the worst possible loss – but whatever it is, I feel more comfortable with experimentation now. I feel more aware of risks….and yet, also more likely to take them.
So maybe that’s why I enjoyed her concert so much. Watching her alone on stage, I thought, “there’s a widow I admire. She’s up there by herself, sharing her truths and also trying out something new. She’s experimenting, and doing it for everyone to see and maybe even critique. But she’s not afraid. Or maybe she is afraid, but she’s doing it anyway.”
She’s not hiding from the world, although maybe that would be easier. Instead, she’s up on stage, living and breathing and creating.
I don’t know anything about music. But I know about loss and what comes after. Right now, I’m learning what it means to experiment with a whole new life. Maybe Zoe is too, and maybe that’s why her music spoke to me so much.
As I left her concert that night, I turned to one of my friends. “That was amazing,” I said. “And you know what? It felt like therapy. Or maybe even better than therapy.”
I guess music can be like that.