Winter solstice, the longest night of the year seems a fitting day for my first blog post. As I have been in discernment about my life’s work over the last year, the name “Knightingale” fell in my lap after a choir member mentioned the bird’s name when the choir was chatting about my new last name. It seemed obvious and perfect. Just put a K in front of the famed songbird. So, I changed my gmail, named my small voice studio, and continued on.
But it is quite incredible how the divine spirit intertwines this world and our lives. Have you ever had an “aha” moment and then looked back and saw the deeper significance on your path to get to that very spot? I have been having a lot of those lately. Signs. All over.
- In the rain, beginning and ending at just the appropriate moment during my grief filled last service at St. Andrews.
- Seeing a Japanese beetle after meditating and praying in deep distress, when the very day before I had asked myself why I hadn’t spotted the invasive species in forever?!
- Having a praying mantis land on me and then the piano in the middle of “Once” at Brucemore. The list could go on.
And now, when I think about the significance of the name Knightingale as I set forth on a great endeavor to build my own way to help heal the world, I am in awe of signs throughout my life all the way back to my childhood. I remember in 5th grade I wrote a book report which won an award and was displayed in the city. Who was it about?
Florence Nightingale, one of the brilliant pillars of feminism and service. She built a school for nurses and taught them to care for the sick and poor. She also fought for the removal of restrictions that prevented women from having careers. Now here I am, a teacher and musician, trying to figure out how to bring the healing power of voices to everyone, not just those who have musical interests, or money to pursue those interests.
Another huge thing that somehow fell into my lap is the sacred caretaking of the Emma J. Harvat and Mary E. Stach House which was built in 1919 for the first female mayor of Iowa City (and also the first female mayor of a town more than 10.000 in the United States). Emma Harvat was a brilliant businesswoman and the city hall is named in her honor. Then Carol De Saint Victor and her husband and family lived here for fifty years, both of them integral professors of literature at the University of Iowa helping to establish Iowa City as a UNESCO City of Literature. After that, Andrea Wilson ran the Writer’s House and published a literary series on the immigrant experience in Iowa, amplifying the VOICE of immigrants in Iowa! Andrea wished for the house to be taken care of by artists and Adam and I were looking for a home. So here I am running my studio out of this beautiful home filled with strength from women who used their voices in incredible ways for good.
Even the little things: like thinking back on my childhood and realizing I obsessively sang with Cinderella scrubbing the floor on her knees, “Sing sweet nightingale, high about the earth”. And the wall art in my studio I found on clearance at least ten years ago with text saying “Sing forever” and a painting of a brown bird. What do all of these signs mean? Each one keeps reassuring me that I am on the right path, even though I can’t see the next step.
When I started to dig into the meaning of the word night and the bird nightingale, even more meaning surfaced. I have been experiencing what some mystics call “the dark night of the soul,” except it lasted a little longer than one night. And one thing that I have learned is that DARKNESS IS SACRED. We tend to call it bad and want to get rid of it, whether it is fear, anger, pain, or grief. But this world and and its energies MUST be balanced. There must be dark and light and they are both good and holy. Just like today, the darkest night of the year is surrounded by a time when generations of people across the world have celebrations to balance the dark with light.
Our voices are the same. They bridge the world of dark and light within our bodies. Our voices originate in the dark interior of the body and connect to our emotions deep within the darkness of our souls and then send them out into the light of the world. In order to heal we MUST not eradicate, but make SACRED our darkness. My youngest child’s therapist would say, “You have to name it to tame it.” And I think this is the simple way to put it. By singing out our deepest, darkest fears, sorrows, pain, and anger, we not only name them and use our voices, but we turn them into art, which transforms them and makes them sacred and beautiful. THIS is where true healing lies and is the goal of my new endeavors.
So now on to the bird named and made famous by its beautiful nighttime birdsong. Here is a bird that sings in the darkness, making beautiful and sacred the night. No wonder the nightingale is significant in countries and cultures throughout the world and has been made famous in literature and music from Homer, Shakespeare, Keats, Beethoven, Liszt, and on and on. The nightingale makes over 1,000 different sounds which is three times more than any other species. And when people tried to capture the birds in the 19th century, they would only live until the fall when their natural urges to migrate to Africa would cause the bird to dash against the cage and kill itself.
Maybe nightingales are so famous because people for centuries want to understand and possess their dark beauty. But when possession and power come into play it can kill sacred beauty. Trying to conform and live in this power driven society is sometimes like a prison if we are unable to find our voices. I came across this incredible short piece by Colette, a French female writer and poet (1873-1954) about a nightingale entitled:
“The Tendrils of the Vine”
Inflexible, tenacious, avid and treacherous, the tendrils of a bitter vine wrapped around me while in the middle of my springtime. I had fallen into a happy and trusting sleep. But with a frightened lunge, I burst all of the twisting threads, whose double, claw-like sprigs already gripped my flesh, and I fled… When the torpor of another honeyed night weighed on my eyelids, I again feared the tendrils of the vine, and I let loose with a lament that revealed my voice to me…
Alone, wakeful, agitated, I saw rise before me in the ash-blue night a star voluptuous and morose… To make sure I no longer fell into a happy sleep in treacherous Spring, when flourishes the gnarly vine, I listen to the sound of my voice. Sometimes I feverishly say things usually left unsaid or whispered very low… and then my voice languishes to a murmur because I dare not say things that have been said, have been screamed long before me, for millions of years…
I wan to tell, tell, tell, all that I think, all that I know, all that enchants me, all that hurts me, all that astounds me, all that revolts me… But every morning, a cool, sensible hand is placed on my mouth… And my exalted cry reverts to moderate verbiage, to the loquacity of a child who talks out loud only to calm himself. I no longer know happy sleep, but I no longer fear the tendrils of the vine…
After reading this, I was astounded at how much my whole body resonated with Colette’s words. Our voices when lifted in truth and beauty are supremely powerful. That is why they are so threatening to the those that want to possess this power. Another sign came upon me when I was researching the nightingale. Guess what the national bird of Ukraine is? The nightingale of course. Our world is full of traumas induced by people wanting to POSSESS, when really what we all need to understand is that each of us has within us divine power to heal our own souls and bodies without needing to possess others. Finding our voices can connect us to the divine source of love and energy within and help us make sacred both the night and the day, the dark and the light. And that is how I hope to spend the rest of my life, however short or long, helping the world to realize.