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With a song in my heart

A look back at 2008

Hibernation to expansiveness, letting go to reclamation, wariness to open-heartedness — 2008 was a study in contrasts.

My year started out with a January highlight of an almost five-hour hike with Bob Nelson in Stokes State Forest, a hike that began on icy roads and snowy paths in 30-degree weather and ended with 50-degree sweaty relief when we finally made it back to my car a few miles from where I live in Montague, N.J.

But soon thereafter the deep freeze set in, both environmentally (8 degrees one early February morning, frozen apartment pipes that week, ice-storm power outage two days later) and emotionally (bidding farewell to Frank and the parrots at the end of January before they moved to Georgia, huddling by my apartment heater, having money for expenses and little else).

March brought emotions and professional events to a head when attendance at an anticipated CranioSacral Therapy workshop, “The Brain Speaks,” made me realize that, as much as I love administering the therapy to my massage clients, I need to experience the therapy more than I need to take any more classes or be a teaching assistant at such classes.

After that realization, I began to open to new and unexpected possibilities thanks to one serendipitous catalyst. One day into spring, on the eve of an early Easter, following a visit to my 87-year-old mother at her assisted living residence in Randolph, N.J., I ventured out to Rainbow Mountain in Marshalls Creek, Pa., and to its downstairs bar, where karaoke was in progress. I had never sung karaoke, never gotten up at a bar, microphone in hand, and performed for an audience the lyrics on the TV screen in front of me while the hit-song track played in the background. But I know hundreds of songs (1960s-80s radio hits, film songs, Broadway songs, hymns, Christmas songs), and so that night I suppressed my nervousness and took a chance.

My first effort, the Carpenters’ “Close to You,” was so-so, too low for my performance to register. It took a few weeks and similar experiments for me to figure out which songs fit my voice and projected well. And as I found those songs (Perry Como’s “And I Love You So” and “Some Enchanted Evening,” Carly Simon’s “The Right Thing to Do,” Jack Jones’ “Call Me Irresponsible” and “The Impossible Dream,” Ethel Merman’s “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” Melissa Manchester’s “Through the Eyes of Love,” the title song from “Oklahoma!” and many others), I relaxed and gained confidence. And as I returned week after week, I applauded other singers, made friends, and enjoyed a social life that I hadn’t had in a while.

What’s more, singing begat more singing in different arenas. I sang in the chorus of the Delaware Valley Opera summer productions of “Don Giovanni” (in Italian) and “Don Pasquale” (in English. I started taking weekly singing lessons with opera performer Marshall Cooper in Matamoras, Pa. I joined the Pike County Choral Society and performed Vivaldi’s “Gloria” and other Christmas music in a concert Dec. 6 in Milford, Pa. I joined the choir of the Unity Church that I attend in Lafayette, N.J. And I began to end each gathering of the “Search for God” group that I joined early this year by singing one or two songs.

While I was singing more than I had since the 1980s, I also was reclaiming another talent I had let lay fallow — running. To complement the weight-lifting and core-strengthening with my personal trainer Russell Vaughn Freirson at the YMCA in Middletown, N.Y., along with twice-weekly backstroke swim sessions in the pool, I began running two to four times a week once the deep freeze of February ended. I started off with four miles in each run and advanced to some track speed workouts in May and some six-mile hilly workouts in the fall. My efforts paid off: I won an award in my age group in two 5K races in June and a 10K in October.

With Rainbow Mountain providing me a venue for socializing, Easton Mountain offered me opportunities to make new interpersonal connections. I took two workshops, one in September, one in November, at the rural retreat center 20 miles north of Troy, N.Y., and each time I blossomed amid all the attention I gave and got, while enjoying the vegetarian-friendly cuisine, morning yoga classes and overall peacefulness. I made several friendships that I hope will continue.

As the newspaper world constricts and my copy-editing job evolves, as my massage practice sets its own leisurely pace, as the global economy continues its roller-coaster ride and the world awaits the inauguration of President Barack Obama, I let go of 2008 with relief and gratitude and look to 2009 with hope and expectation. See you all there.

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