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Sarah McLachlan: Support the Arts


I’m terrified of anticipation. I always feel like I’m in the middle of a movie where any potential happiness is foreshadowing the protagonist’s inevitable down-slide into misery. Maybe I take my job as a writer too seriously and forget that art doesn’t always imitate life and vice versa. Or maybe as a poor kid from Ohio I’ve just dealt with a lot of shit. It feels scary to want something when disappointment, even tragedy, might be on the line if I’m rewarded.

So when my partner told me that my favorite musician was playing that night, and close by, I smiled and nodded. A half-hearted, “Oh, that’s cool,” while the weight in my chest told me it’s futile to hope. We had our day planned out already. We were going to a light parade to celebrate Pride. Sarah McLachlan was a novel idea, but it cost money and we already had the supplies we needed for the celebration that night. After the massacre at Pulse, I’ve been feeling like showing a little of my rainbow to the world.

“Actually, I got the dates wrong. The light parade’s tomorrow,” she tells me.

I pause for a moment and allow myself to feel the first little tugging of what looks a lot like fate; another plot device I use in my work but don’t generally apply to my own life.

“It says there will be three special performers with her,” my partner goes on. “But I can’t see any more with my stupid phone. We should look online.”

Now I’m intrigued. Who else could be playing? I go to my computer and try to find out, but it’s vague. My partner tells me to check the seats still available and I wonder what the point is. It’s not like it will change anything if there are front row seats available. We’re not going anywhere. Things like this don’t happen in my life.

Soon, my partner is beside me and I’m swept up in a whirlwind of activity. We’re looking at a blueprint of the venue and watching each little circle going from blue to white as the seats disappear. I want to close the website. I want to be realistic.

“Look, these ones are the cheapest,” I say, playing along as if we’d actually do something so impulsive.

“No, check the front rows!”

I don’t see how this is feasible. Doesn’t it cost too much? Why bother getting my hopes up at all?

“Get those ones!” she exclaims. I tell myself she’s just being competitive and click two seats. Before I know it, we are on a rapid-fire mission to check out with our tickets before the five-minute expiry leaves our seats open to other people.

I’m staring in shock at the check-out page on the screen. It’s telling me that I am going to see Sarah McLachlan as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.  I suddenly realize that my partner has pushed me through. She didn’t let me talk her out of it. She didn’t let me settle for terrible, cheap seats in the back of the venue. She ran to get her wallet and now I am going to spend the evening beside the person I love most in the world listening to my favorite musician. I never believed I would.

About now is when I cry.

I’m surprised though, when I realize that I’m not just crying tears of joy. Suddenly, I’m about 10, 11, 12 years old again. I’m smiling radiantly at a young man my parents know from California. His name is Mike.

“Does he know Nikki died?” I ask my mom when she tells me he’s going to visit. I worry he might not want to come anymore if my brother isn’t there. Her face falls.

“Yeah,” she says.

“Did he cry?”

My mother is quiet for a moment, pain in every line of her face. She looks small, dwarfed by the middle part of a sectional whose corner has been reassigned as a computer chair. I feel bad bringing up the death of my seven-year-old brother, but I have to know.

“Yeah, he did.”

I nod. If he cried too, then it’s okay if he comes. I don’t want to talk to anyone who can’t understand what we’ve lost.

This moment is ancient history when Mike is in front of me; an exotic specimen from across the country. My brothers and I have always liked him; he’s funny. Our mom taught us a keyboard command to say we are blowing bubbles in the chat room where they met, and Mike, (FruitGod, but we called him Fruity) would claim to eat them. He is a child psychologist and he has a t-Rex in his office. Now that he’s here, we expect more fun.

He doesn’t disappoint and I’m back to beaming when he hands me a present. It’s a portable CD player. Possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Streamlined and silver, with little grey buttons and a clear window where I can watch my CDs spin. It even came with my own perfect pair headphones; black and spongy. He also gives me a disc. It’s a burnt copy of “Surfacing.”

Here is where I apologize to Sarah McLachlan and tell her that since then I’ve bought several copies of her CDs and to please not arrest Fruity for saving my life.

My dad, a musician who hasn’t heard much of her music, instantly tears into the gift.

“Sarah McLachlan? Isn’t she a lesbian?”

“She isn’t a lesbian,” Fruity says firmly. I can tell he’s embarrassed. “She’s married to her drummer.”

“Are you sure, man? Have you seen her?”

My dad heads to the internet to battle his point and I instantly tune them out as they start bickering. I wouldn’t care if she was an alien. This is the first music that is actually mine and I can’t wait to listen to it.

I don’t know how Mike knew to choose her CD of all things, but it is profoundly soothing. Her voice is like the cool aloe-vera gel my grandma puts on our sunburns. A Band-Aid on an aching soul. I didn’t know how much it hurt until it started to feel better.

After Mike leaves, home is the same as usual. Quiet, with just the clicking of my parent’s keyboards to fill the voids. My brother and I do whatever we can to distract ourselves as the world we are used to falls apart. For me, this means reading devotedly and listening to my CD, singing off-key with my headphones on and eliciting complaints from my brother.

From then on, whenever I see Sarah McLachlan on VH1 or MTV, I beg whoever has the remote not to change the channel. Even my great-grandparents are happy to listen to her.

My great-grandpa finds salvation listening to Adia, singing off-key and jumbling up the words, and I find the strength and courage to forgive him for violating me from the same song. I make him a tape of the CD and write the lyrics to Adia for him. At the end of the tape, there is space left, so I record it on repeat so he won’t have to rewind it. Because I love him. And because I know he needs to remember innocence.

Sorry again, Sarah.

Fast forward to high school, where everything hurts no matter who you are. Her music is still the most soothing, even though my tastes have grown eclectic and angry. There is still familiarity and comfort in her voice. When I put in my (store-bought) version of “Mirrorball” I can still remember who I was before tragedy turned my life upside down, and I am reminded that things will be okay. Even in heartbreak, beauty can gradually be found.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am not some kind of super alpha-omega fan of Sarah McLachlan. I know nothing about her, I’ve never owned a poster, and I don’t expect she would want to know anything about me. But her music has gone with me on a rocky journey.

I’m actually afraid she might have become jaded at some point in her long career to the impact of her music. Who has an easy time believing anything they create is all that special? In my experience, after so much praise and direction from other people, it starts to feel hollow. As a writer there are times I feel like once people are a fan of yours or want you to perform a certain way, it can seem like you could vomit just about anything onto the page and people would still find value in it, even if you don’t.

It makes people’s praise and dedication almost feel false. But it isn’t. It’s a testament to the power of creation and an homage to those who are bold enough to try. Even when it’s hard. It’s scary to build something meaningful. Or to build something at all. People are terrified of being honest and putting themselves out there. And even if it looks easy, it’s hard. But working in a field of creation and pursuing the arts, there is nothing else you can do if you want to succeed. You have to expose the deepest parts of yourself to perfect strangers and hope for the best. You have to be brave.

I want to say I am not a fan of Sarah McLachlan as a person, because I will never truly know her as a person. I’m a fan of her music because I’m a fan of creation. She has to be strong and brave enough to put herself out there even when it feels false. And even if a little me wasn’t yet able to relate to the messages of heartbreak and forgiveness in the same context as they were written, she was still able to put something out there for me to find.

Maybe if Fruity had given me a different CD this would be about somebody else. But it just so happens that Sarah McLachlan’s creations were a huge boon to a little girl who was drowning. And it was something she could share with her family. Such is the power of music.

At the concert, there were two empty seats in front of me. They stayed empty through the first couple of songs and I selfishly hoped with everything I had that nobody would sit there. I had an amazing view either way, but I thought the empty seats would make it perfect. In the middle of the third song, an elderly woman and her daughter eventually filled them. The woman in front of me bobbed her grey head to the music and was visibly basking in every second of it. It was startling and moving. She reminded me of my grandfather. I think it was the third time I cried.

My great-grandparents were like a second set of parents to my brother and I. They saw us through some of the hardest transitions of our lives. I was stricken by how beautiful it is that Sarah McLachlan’s music can even touch those later in life when contemporary music leaves most from outside of this generation cold. Her themes are universal, and I was reminded of my grandfather’s misty-eyed off-key singing.  Not far behind those memories was the beauty of Sarah’s smooth, soulful voice sending him off at his funeral, exactly as he would have wanted.

Even without ever knowing Sarah McLachlan, it is music and books, creation and the arts in general, that helped me find a sanctuary to gather up my broken pieces so I could make it through some of the biggest challenges in my life. I can’t thank the people who impacted my life enough, and hope to encourage everyone to do the one thing that Sarah seems to find the most important; supporting the arts.

I’m writing this not as a fan of Sarah McLachlan, but as someone who knows very personally the profound effect music can have on the soul. I survived. It’s not thanks to Sarah, or even her music. It’s thanks to the courage it takes one soul to create something that can impact millions of others. It’s thanks to the bravery we can find and gather when we see it originating in somebody else and shared unselfishly, even if it comes from a place of pain and insecurity.

Please, support the arts. Keep them in your schools. Don’t let them be the first to go. There are millions of ways we can help other people, but by teaching and appreciating the arts, we can teach children how to help themselves. We can teach and learn how to survive in a healthy way. When we know how to create, we can all be brave and walk through the storm. Not only that, but we can bend the lightning and single-handedly create something powerful as a testament to our resilience.

Support the arts. And check out the Sarah McLachlan School of Music.

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