The Space Between

I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. – TS Eliot. J Afred Proofrock

 I am in the space between.

Between the end of a project and the path to a new artwork.

Between my home in Maryland and remaining in Maine.

Between caring for myself and caring for another.

My mother has never lived more than a mile from where she lives now. She has been part of the lives of her compatriots and their children and their children’s children. She has witnessed the transformation of our lower middle class neighborhood of immigrants to the most sought after housing in the city of Portland, Maine.

For every house we walk by, she can recall the names of former owners and those of their children who darted in and out of our house when we were young. It was a time when you shared news while hanging out the laundry. Shared troubles over a cup of tea. Doors were left unlocked so you could borrow an egg, the proverbial cup of sugar and even an article of clothing.

My mom loves to tell the story of finding a young woman she had never seen rooting through my closet. She was looking for a skirt to borrow for a concert. She became one of my closest friends. And another daughter to my mom.

For the past several years, my mom has needed increasing levels of help. Her daily walks to the coffee shop have stopped. She learns news only from television and depends on others to fill her days. At 84, after a series of falls and a broken pelvis, hip replacement and now a broken arm – my Mom’s ability to care for herself is being questioned.

I am visiting assisted living facilities and nursing homes and talking with friends who have faced this same conundrum – how to preserve the dignity and independence of someone and insure their safety at the same time.

The conversation has begun in earnest. She is at a rehab facility now.

She is in the space between:

Between living independently and being dependent on others.

Between the familiar and the unknown.

Between continuing or stopping.

I Can’t Keep From Singing (sometimes)

I’ve decided to learn to read music. I sang in my junior high school choir and in a really bad rock band in high school. While sculpting my dad’s memorial on Peaks Island 7 years ago, I sang with the Peaks Island Chorale directed by Faith York.

My PI Chorale audition consisted of singing Happy Birthday while waiting in line for the ferry. Trust me – it wasn’t very professional or pretty and certainly, not on key. Faith York maintains it was not an audition, but “a recruiting effort.” Because I could not read music, Faith made audiotapes of my parts so I could memorize them.

For me, when I sing that first note, all current cares fall away. I let go of family responsibilities, financial worries, medical concerns, war weariness and political differences. More importantly, when you take the first breath, you are completely in the moment. You listen with an intensity usually reserved for intimate conversations. Your voice blends with the voices emanating from those on either side of you. We act as one entity – trying to bring to life a phrase, an experience or feeling contained within the piece.

While at the Northfield Conference (Read blog entry: Lying Fallow), I participated in a workshop let by Kate Munger: Intro to Threshold Singing. Kate, like her east coast dopple ganger Faith, embodies music. She sings, plays a variety of instruments, composes music, and conducts chorale groups. She is able to take a disparate group of people of varying skill levels and create community through music.

Kate writes:

The seed for the Threshold Choir was planted in June of 1990 when I sang for my friend Larry as he lay in a coma, dying of HIV/AIDS. I did housework all morning and was terrified when the time came to sit by his bedside.  I did what I always did when I was afraid; I sang the song that gave me courage.  I sang it for 2 ½ hours.  It comforted me, which comforted him.  The contrast between the morning and the afternoon was profound. I felt as if I had given generously of my essence to my dear friend while I sang to him. I also found that I felt deeply comforted myself, which in turn was comforting to him.

Two to four singers are invited to sing at the bedside of a person who is dying. Many of the songs are composed by members of the choir and are “ to communicate ease, comfort, and presence.” It was a remarkable workshop because the simplicity of the notes and words released emotions I did not realize I was holding.

There is a threshold choir starting in Maryland. Because the songs are sung a cappella, I need to learn to read music. My first lesson is about the “family relationships” within music. The spaces between white keys and black keys; the space between Bass clef and Treble clef.

Faith asks:

What do you know about music?

My response:

What I recall from Fourth grade music class is the following mnemonic:


EGBDF  (lines on the staff) – Every Good Boy Deserves Fun – seemed sexist in the 4th grade and still does , oh well-


FACE – (spaces on the staff)


A friend’s music teacher explained that this notation system originated from European monks. With no formal way to share music sung at one monastery with another, they designed a system based on the hand.  Fingers represented the EGBDF notes and the spaces between fingers signified the FACE notes. Using a hand like a recording device, they memorized the music and taught others using their hands (There are many theories about the beginnings of musical notation that have been thoroughly researched  I can’t verify the monk theory – but it is a great explanation.)

Growing Old is Not for Sissies (Paul Newman)

Everyone dies.

Most everyone I talk with is not afraid of death. They are afraid of the space between – losing the ability to care for themselves, losing their memory, losing connections to others, losing who they were.

Everyone wants to die with dignity.

When I visit the nursing home, I am acutely aware of how we are all in The Space Between:

Between present and absent

Between then and now

Between breath and no breath

I am hoping during this space between that I will be able to read and sing the music that accompanies these words:

Walking Each Other Home: Lyrics Ram Dass

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home




7 comments on “The Space Between

  1. Margaret Dowell says:

    This post made me cry. Thanks for your words!

  2. Ingrid Willenz-Isaacs says:

    This pair of blog entries was itself like a journey along Indra’s web. So many connections: a car commercial, stained glass, singing, grieving, resting… I, too, had tears. My cup has been filled.

  3. Paula Mathieson says:

    Dear Jo,

    Thank you for these glimpses of your (and your mom’s) life. The “between”s are beautiful, as are the notes on the lines and in the spaces. What I disagree with, though, is about your once empty cup now being filled: It seems to me that all your life (anyway from Gallaudet days on) has been a quest with fulfillments all along the way. What a wonderful example you are to us all.

    Love, Paula

    Date: Tue, 3 Sep 2013 03:14:10 +0000 To:

  4. You always seem to meet every turn of the path with creativity and endurance. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  5. Susan A says:

    My eyes fill each time I read this post… and, thankfully, aren’t the “between” and “fallow times” the rich humus from which new growth springs forth?

    thanks for another heartfelt blog, Jo.

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