Yesterday my choir sang Handel’s Messiah . Singing Messiah is not something you do lightly. It’s not something that’s easy, either musically or emotionally or spiritually. To sing Messiah – to sing it properly, to really feel it – required me to live, musically, the whole story of the incarnation of God in the world: birth and betrayal and torture and death and resurrection. To go through that journey, that harrowing and miraculous narrative, in three hours and probably thousands of sung notes.
It’s not the first time I’ve sung Messiah. I’ve sung it once before, two years ago. My then-husband was supposed to attend, to support me, to be, in his words, “a good husband”. He didn’t. He spent the time doing something else, something sordid and horrible, and when I got home – afloat on the wonder that is probably the most amazing oratorio ever written – he used it to punish me. I knew that my post-Messiah euphoria would be short-lived; but even I was surprised by how quickly it happened. How brutally. And it’s only now, in hindsight, two years and an eternity down the track, I realise that it was probably deliberate. That there was probably a level of calculation in making me pay, making me suffer, for doing something that was so vital to me, that brought me so much joy and meaning. That there was probably a sense of mean-spiritedness, and plain nastiness. Not very nice, really.
This time was different. This time my parents came all the way from Melbourne to attend the performance. If last time I faced mean-spiritedness, this time I faced its antithesis: graciousness, openness, a genuine celebration at what brought me joy. I am more grateful than I can say, and I sang of resurrection with a greater sense than ever of the meaning of that familiar word.
And yet it was different in another way too, because this is the first time I’ve sung Handel’s Messiah with PTSD. Singing’s hard at the moment anyway and there were times my hands trembled so violently that I was grateful for the hours of practise which meant I’d almost memorised the score which was shaking too hard for me to read. There were times there wasn’t enough air in the vast space of the Cathedral to fill lungs held rigid in anxiety’s grip; there were times I thought I’d have to bolt, drop my music and flee to safe solitude and the disappointment of letting everyone down. If I sang of resurrection with a greater sense of the meaning of the word, I also sang of death and darkness and the frailty of life with a stronger understanding of its sting.
And I hate that and I mourn for it. I hate that singing is so hard, that something that should be simple joy is so fraught with fear and uncertainty. I rage against it, and I struggle to work my way though it, to keep singing, to keep accepting the love and care and understanding of my friends, because the alternative – to give up, to cede defeat, and to leave the choir – is as unthinkable as the option of quitting breathing, or of severing my own arm. And so I have no choice but to persevere with it all, and to do it with as much grace and strength and selflessness as possible, and to hope to God – literally – that I get through it.
Because if singing Messiah has reminded me of one thing, it is this: that after the frightening darkness of death, the fragility of a human body that can be tortured and torn, and of the human spirit which can be crushed, there is resurrection. The Creator of the universe grew up to be shamed, and abandoned, and tortured, and killed. But there was resurrection. After death was life, after darkness was light.
I can’t get back what I’ve lost and I shouldn’t try – it’s impossible. There has been a death – within me – and all I can do now is know that there will be resurrection. Because I know how the story ends. I sang it yesterday.