“Maybe I made a mistake thinking you’d understand!”
“Well maybe I made a mistake
She ran, not heeding the tempest that tore at her clothes nor caring where she fled to as long as it was someplace far from home. Away from the chaos of her fighting parents and the hopelessness of the choice she was faced with.
“...it’s pressing on your brain stem and growing very rapidly. If it isn’t taken care of soon, it will be life-threatening...the surgery, however, would cost you your hearing... Permanently...”
Her heart pounded in time with her feet; a frantic, angry rhythm that drummed in her ears and accentuated the storm raging within her and around her. Freezing rain drenched her hair and pelted her skin, mingling with the hot tears that sprung from her eyes. The back fields stretched out before her and her shoes left the concrete, now thudding against soggy earth and dead grass.
“Geez, Jo. You and that piano...seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if you married the thing someday. You’re like the only person I know who’s named their instrument...and it’s not even yours!”
“Hey! Don’t you diss my future Yamaha. Someday it will be mine; you just wait, Kim...”
A sudden pain exploded in her head and she stumbled to a halt, leaning against the rough bark of a nearby tree for support. Her ears began ringing in protest as she panted for breath.
“Why?” she choked. The branches above her head whipped back and forth as the wind howled through them, an echo of her heart’s cry. Too furious to notice the headache, Josie raised her head and yelled at the sky,
“Why, God?! Why me? What do You want from me?”
There was no answer. No mighty thunderclap, no booming voice from heaven, no hopeful sunbeams peeping from beyond the churning clouds. Just the storm, the cold and His silence.
“Are You listening?” she shouted again, her voice swallowed up in the rain. “Do You even care? Do You?
And still, there was nothing.
Anger dwindled into grief and she burst into tears, clutching her forehead with a trembling hand.
“Music is my life,” sobbed Josie. “How can You take that away from me? How could You let this happen? Of all the people on this planet, why me?”
The tempest eventually softened into a cold, drizzly breeze; and for a moment, it almost seemed as though the sky wept with her.
Before she’d finished crying, her ears picked up on a voice calling from behind her.
“Josie? Is that you, girl?”
Startled, she turned around and caught sight of a bent figure coming towards her through the rain, carrying a bright yellow umbrella. Recognition flashed though her mind. “Aunt Naomi?”
The old woman waved her over and reached out to touch her face, pale, unseeing eyes wandering around as she ran shriveled fingers over Josie’s nose and cheeks.
“Aha! I knew that voice was yours, Josie-girl. How on earth did you end up in my backyard?”
“I’m...not sure, actually.”
“Good lord, you’re soaked to the skin...” Naomi brushed her fingertips over the girl’s eyes and grunted. “And you’ve been crying. Goodness child, you’re a wreck. Hurry along and come inside with me. You’ll catch a cold if you stay out in this weather much longer.”
Josie numbly obeyed.
A warm cup of apple cider was slipped into her hands and she took a grateful sip, snuggling closer into the comfort of Naomi’s fuzzy pink bathrobe. The sound of flames crackling in the fireplace mixed with the autumn rain pattering lightly against the windowpane. If it weren’t for the cold ache in her chest, she couldn’t have felt cozier.
“Now then,” said Naomi, exhaling as she set her cane aside and sank into the armchair next to hers, “I’ve called your parents to let them know where you are. And I believe you have some explaining to do.”
Josie bit her lip. “I-I’m sorry if I...”
“None of that,” the woman snapped, her face wrinkling downwards in a disapproving frown. “I won’t have upset 16-year-old girls apologizing for no reason in my house, thank you. Now take another sip of cider, think, and then start talking.”
Suppressing a rueful smile, Josie lifted the mug to her lips again and let the sweet, amber liquid wash down her throat, loosening the uncomfortable knots inside and warming her down to her toes. She sighed and leaned back in her seat, reluctant to talk about what she’d been running from.
But she knew Aunt Naomi. Never would
let something go once she set her mind on it.
“This whole day has been a nightmare,” she finally said, fighting to keep her voice steady. “No, scratch that. These past three days
have been a nightmare; one that I can’t wake up from no matter how hard I try.”
A painful lump formed in her throat again and she felt the blurring heat rush to her eyes, but she forced herself to continue.
“The doctors say I have two choices. I either have to undergo surgery and sacrifice my hearing, or leave the brain tumor alone and risk dying from a stroke or heart attack at any time; and on top of that my parents won’t stop fighting. I just...I hate
Naomi said nothing, but her face softened and the wrinkles set themselves into lines of concern as she continued to listen.
“I don’t know what to do!” Josie cried. “I feel helpless and torn up. I’ve talked to God and He’s totally ignored me. Just why did He have to dump all this on me? If He really loved me, why would He let this happen? I...I don’t understand.”
“Let me ask you something, Josie-girl,” said Naomi, folding her hands calmly in her lap. “Listen carefully and answer carefully: What does God owe you?”
Josie blinked, taken aback by the words.
What does God owe me?
It was such a simple question, yet it left her scrambling for an answer.
“W-well...nothing, I guess,” she stuttered, “but—”
“‘But’ nothing. His ways are not our ways. He’s in control, not us. Asking ‘why’ over and over and ordering Him around usually won’t do any good. He’s not a vending machine, you know,” said Naomi in a dry tone.
“I know,” mumbled Josie, scowling at the fire. “I just wish He’d give me some answers or some sort of nudge in the right direction, and not this unbearable silence.”
“I know what you mean,” chuckled Naomi. “He’s an inconvenient God, isn’t He?”
“Tell me about it.” Josie finished her cider and set the empty mug on the coffee table, then leaned back again and stared at nothing. “How?” she murmured. “What do I choose? How can I live never hearing my mom’s voice again? How can I survive without music?”
Naomi snorted. “Well that’s easy. Look at the sampler on the wall above the fireplace. What’s it say?”
Josie squinted to see the tiny cross-stitched lettering. “‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13’.”
“There’s your answer,” said Naomi, thumping her hand on the arm of her chair for emphasis. “How? Through Christ.”
“I’d almost rather risk dying,” said Josie. “I just don’t think I could ever be strong enough to live in a world without sound or music or voices.”
why He strengthens you, Josie-girl. As for the dying part…choose what you will, but I have an inkling that He’s not done with you yet.”
A few moments of silence passed, the girl mulling over what had been said while Naomi patiently waited for the words to sink in. The silence broke when Josie looked at the old woman with new interest and asked,
“Aunt Naomi? What’s it like to be blind?”
Naomi gave her raspy chuckle again. “It was...interesting at first.”
“You used to be a painter, didn’t you?”
“That’s right. And those paintings made good money, too.”
“When you became blind...” Josie bit her lip. “What was it like? How did you handle it?”
Naomi took a deep breath and let it out again. Her pale blue eyes became softer and more distant.
“I won’t lie, Josie. It was very, very hard at first. I lost my sight, my career, my hopes for the future...I felt no less confused and angry than you do now, in fact. All the color and beauty and joy of my art was ripped away from me. The darkness wasn’t only in my eyesight, but in my heart.”
“Then what happened to change that?”
“God told me to look,” said Naomi, a secretive smile playing on her lips. “So I did. And I found that I hadn’t really lost my sight at all.”
Josie scrunched up her face, perplexed. “Umm...I don’t get it.”
Naomi threw back her head and laughed. “Oh, I can just see how your face must look right now, Josie-girl,” she chortled. “Ahh...I’m not making much sense, am I? That’s alright; I didn’t understand at first, either.”
Her face became alight with a joy that astonished Josie and she leaned forward slightly, as though telling a wonderful secret.
“I found that through my blindness, God helped me to see better than ever. Not with the eyes, but with the heart. It didn’t happen overnight, of course, and it still hurt horribly; but gradually I learned what it means to have absolute trust in Him. I discovered that He can take the ugliest situations and turn them into something beautiful.”
Josie gave a rueful smile. “I wish I had your faith.”
“You already do,” retorted Naomi. “You just don’t know it yet. Sometimes you have to hit rock-bottom to find it.”
“But what if I’m not strong enough?” Josie’s tone became desperate, caught between despair and hope. “I know I’m supposed to rely on Him, but I don’t think I could take it. I just can’t!”
“You silly girl!” Naomi shook her silvery-gray curls and wagged a finger at her. “‘I, I, I’ and ‘me, me, me’...stop looking at you and look at Him! God never lets anything happen that He and you can’t handle together. You ought to know that.”
“I do know it,” Josie grumbled, picking at the fibers of her bathrobe. “I just don’t know
“Well then, I suppose you’ll have to work on that,” said Naomi in the prim, crisp voice she always used when ending a conversation. “Now, Josie-girl. Let’s go see if your clothes haven’t finished drying yet.”
Breakfast was unusually quiet the next morning. Josie poked at the goopy oatmeal in her bowl and chewed on her lip, noting how her parents avoided each other’s gazes and debating whether or not to tell them her decision now or later. She felt a bit nervous, but her choice was firm and final.
“Hey Mom, could you get me the sugar?” Her little brother reached in vain over the table for the bowl that was just beyond his gasp. Mom put down her spoon and gave the sugar bowl to Josie.
“Pass that, please...and only two spoonfuls, Mike. I don’t want you piling on the sugar so much.”
“Aw mom,” the 12-year-old whined, “you let me have three last time. Can’t I...”
“I said no.” Mom shot him a warning glance. “Two spoonfuls. No more.”
“Why don’t you just let him have three,” mumbled Dad from behind his newspaper.
“You’re not helping, David. You’re supposed to...”
“Okay, it’s fine. You don’t need to make a big deal of it.”
“But it is
a big deal! You’re not—”
“Hey, you guys?” Josie stood from her chair, determined to get their attention before another bomb exploded. Everyone stopped in mid-sentence and turned uncertain gazes towards the interrupter.
Her heart began to thump at frightening speed but she cleared her throat and set her jaw.
“Um...I just wanted to let you all know that I thought about a lot of stuff last night and went through some serious prayer, and I...well, I’ve decided to go through with the surgery.”
Josie sat down again and waited for a response, finally understanding what “deafening silence” meant. Everyone sat stunned for a few minutes, and then Mom pursed her lips and laid a hand on her daughter’s arm.
“Are you sure this is what you want, Jo? I know how much your music means to you…are you sure you want to give it up?”
“It was hard, Mom,” said Josie with a sad smile. “And I’m sure it’s not gonna get easier any time soon...but I think this is what God wants me to do.”
“But what about your piano-playing?” breathed Mike. A pang of regret went through her heart but she reassuringly ruffled his hair and forced a grin.
“Hey, cheer up bro. Beethoven couldn’t hear either, and look at all the amazing stuff he did! You never know; I might become like him. And anyway,” she added, casting a firm glance at her parents, “I’m not going to let this beat me.”
Digging into a pocket of her blue-jeans, she pulled out a crumpled up piece of paper.
“What’s that?” asked her father, putting down his newspaper.
“The doctor said if I chose the surgery, I’d get thirty days before the appointment. It’s a list I made.” Josie held it up for them to see. “If my hearing’s gotta go, I want it to go out with a bang. So this is a list I made of all the things I want to do before it happens.”
Day 1 – Start learning sign language.
“A, B, C...” Her mother held up the flash cards one by one as Josie signed and read along with them. Slowly but surely, progress was made; and by evening, she had memorized the alphabet and nearly 10 phrases in sign language.
“I’m so proud of you,” Mom whispered, pulling her daughter into a tight hug. Josie signed “Thank you” and squeezed her back.
Day 5 – Learn about deaf heroes.
On the way to the stairs, Mike passed by his sister’s room and caught sight of her taping something to the wall. Curious as always, he ambled through the bedroom door to get a better look. Josie couldn’t help giggling when his jaw dropped open at all the bazillions of pictures on her wall.
“Jo? What on earth IS this?”
“It’s the school assignment I gave myself. Like it?” She jumped off the chair she’d been standing on and turned to survey her handiwork, a roll of scotch tape still clutched in one hand.
“These are all famous deaf people I researched today,” she explained, waving her hand over some of the pictures. “Beethoven, Helen Keller, Laurent Clerc, Juliette Low…all of them were deaf. But they did amazing things anyway
. They didn’t give up or let their lack of hearing get the better of them. I just decided to tape them up to help give me inspiration.”
“Cool idea. But...” Mike scratched his head. “Where did all the pictures come from?”
“Google is a marvelous thing, little bro.” Josie grinned and tapped a finger to her ear. “From now on, I’m calling this my Wall of Hear
Day 8 – Work on my sight-reading.
“But I don’t get it! I thought you already knew...”
“I sort of know how to sight read music, Kim,” interrupted Josie, taking the stack of piano books from her friend and setting a couple of them on the music rack of the church piano. “But I mostly play by ear and the stuff I’ve memorized.”
Kim chewed on the end of her long, blond ponytail. “I still don’t get it.”
“Well, think of it as reading. Let’s say I know the alphabet and the different sounds the letters make. I know how they can combine into words and sentences, but I can’t just crack open a book and read. I have to pick out each, individual letter and figure out where it goes. I can make up my own stories or repeat ones I’ve heard before, but I can’t sit and really enjoy the story. That’s how it is with music, for me.”
Josie flipped through one of the books, searching the pages for something that could catch her interest. “I can make up my own songs and play ones I’ve heard before, but I can’t open one of these books and enjoy the music properly. And that won’t be very helpful once I lose my hearing. If there’s any hope of me continuing my music, it’s being able to really read
it and know what I’m doing.”
“Okay, well...good luck.” Kim slung her backpack over her shoulder and gave a quick wave goodbye as she jogged out the doors of the sanctuary. “I’ll pick you up in a couple hours!” she called.
“Bye! And thanks!”
Josie settled herself on the black cushioned bench and wiped a few specks of dust off the keyboard.
“Hello, Yama,” she murmured, giving the piano an affectionate pat. “I don’t know now if I’ll always be able play you, but...let’s do this.”
A day and a half later, eyes closed and fingers waltzed across the keys as the Moonlight Sonata rolled out in melancholy waves through the room, echoing from the high arches of the ceiling to the polished pews below. Josie smiled in satisfaction.
All those hours of slaving over the sheet music had paid off after all.
Day 12 – Go to a rock concert.
“You need that boy like a bowling ball
Dropped on your head, which means not at all
You have too much to give to live
To waste your time on him...”
” The audience screamed and cheered for the band and the mosh pit became a whirlpool of gleeful chaos. Josie and Kim eagerly joined in the rocking-out and head-banging as the booming bass shook the ground beneath their feet.
Josie took in every sound and sensation she could: The electric guitar buzzing out harsh chords, the base line throbbing in her ears, the bright stage lights that glared in her eyes, the mixed smells of sweat, adrenaline and smoke-machines, the delicious pandemonium of being jostled and carried away with the crowds as they pulsed with the rhythm.
“I LOVE THIS SONG!” Kim shouted over the blaring music, grabbing her friend’s hands and jumping even harder. Josie grinned, swung her around and they broke apart again for another round of head-banging.
Day 17 – See an opera.
“Do we have
to waste my home theater system on an opera
?” whined Kim, flopping on the couch with a pout. “I’d much rather go to another rock concert with you…”
“Yes we do, so shut up.” Josie threw her a mild glare and shoved a bowl of popcorn at her. Kim huffed and nibbled on it in wounded silence as Josie grabbed the remote and began flipping through the channels.
“Where is it, where is it...aha!” Turning up the volume, she scrambled for a seat next to Kim and shouted, “Mom, Mike! Mr. and Mrs. Berkley! It’s starting!”
“We’re coming, we’re coming,” chuckled Mom, strolling into the living room with the others. “I hope you two made enough munchies for all of us.”
“Scoot over, Kimmy.” Mrs. Berkley shooed her daughter out of the way. “I want a seat next to that popcorn bowl.”
“Hey, don’t steal all of it!”
“Quiet,” Josie hissed, flapping her hand in impatience and shushing everyone. “It’s starting.”
“What’s it called?” her brother whispered.
“It’s called Turandot
, Mike,” Mr. Berkley whispered back, settling into his easy chair and adjusting his glasses as he set his eyes on the TV. “It’s a beautiful opera...when it’s sung right, that is.”
All fell silent as the music swelled around them, and soon they were all caught up in the story of a cold, blood-thirsty princess and the mysterious prince who vowed to win her hand in marriage and melt the ice around her heart. As the voices soared with the orchestra and the magic of the stage held them spellbound, the living room and the big-screen TV melted away into a world of mystery, tragedy, romance and bittersweet endings.
By the time it was over, not a single eye was dry; and Josie had locked the sad, sweet music away in her heart.
Day 20 – Write a new song.
Once again, she sat at her beloved piano and ran her fingers over the smooth, black and white keys.
“I want to write one more before it happens, Yama. One that’ll really mean something. So let’s listen together and see if we can find it.”
For a long time she sat, not moving, not uttering a word. She stared at the keyboard, eyebrows furrowed as she listened to the melody that stirred inside her.
Josie finally pressed down the keys, playing hesitant scales, chords, octaves, arpeggios –and something clicked. The music flowed through her into the instrument, and the piano happily responded. A song she’d never heard before began to take shape.
He never promised that you’d never get hurt again
He never said there’d be no more pain in your life
He never said He’d make all your problems go away
Or that there’d be no more sorrow or strife...
She smiled ruefully as she took a moment to jot down the words in her notebook, then spread her fingers over the keys again and continued to play.
He never said that things would be easy
But I know that He promised us this:
He’ll never leave us or forsake us
So when it feels like you just can’t take anymore
Go to Him and cry on His shoulder
He’ll give you strength
And I know it’s true...
Because He promised that He would
The music lingered in the air for a moment, and faded away. Josie wrote down the last few chords, then took a moment to glance upwards.
“Thanks for the reassurance, God.”
Day 25 – Say “I love you” in the five love languages.
Josie once heard from someone that there were five different ways of communicating love: Physical touch, encouraging words, giving gifts, helping out and spending time. All throughout the day, she strove to say “I love you” in every way she could.
She hated doing housework, but nonetheless she vacuumed every room, scrubbed every floor and washed all the dishes for Mom (giving a big hug and a kiss to her afterwards, of course). She scrounged around her room for all the loose babysitting money she could find, drove to the toy store with Dad and bought a limited edition Hotwheel car for Mike’s collection. Hugs and heartfelt I-love-yous were scattered liberally throughout the day, and when evening came, Josie took the whole gang went out for a nature walk.
“This has been great, Jo,” said Dad, his brown eyes smiling down at her as he pulled her into a side-hug. Josie happily leaned into the embrace, breathing in the crisp air and listening to the sounds of autumn: The wind rustling through the skeletons of the trees, the red-gold leaves crackling and crunching under her shoes, the birds singing goodbye as they flew away for the winter.
She’d miss this kind of music.
Day 30 – Fix my parents’ marriage.
One, cruel hour until it happened.
Josie lay propped up in a hospital bed, surrounded by cards and flowers and plugged into things that beeped and hummed. Naomi sat next to her, holding the girl's smooth hand in her wrinkled one, while the rest of the family stood as close to her as they could get.
After the nurse came in and told her family that they had one hour left, it was then that Josie and everyone else realized how painfully fast the month had gone by.
She spent that hour treasuring the music of their voices. Together they laughed and cried over past memories; and with each passing minute, Josie devoted herself to memorizing each voice so she’d never forget what they sounded like.
There was one last goal she had yet to reach. She didn’t even know if her effort would do any good, but she had to try.
Taking Mom’s hand in her right and Dad’s in her left, Josie fixed an earnest gaze on them.
“Mom? Dad? Before I go, I want you both to promise me something. It’s a big promise, but I need you to do it.”
“Anything, Josie,” said her mother, blinking back tears. Dad nodded and said nothing, but Josie could tell by the way his hand tightly gasped her own that he was struggling, too.
“I want you to promise me that...that you won’t give up.” Josie joined her parent’s hands together and held them in place. “Don’t give up on this. Promise me that from now on – for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health till death do you part – you’ll work things out somehow. Please?”
Dad sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “Do you really know what you’re asking? We...”
“I know,” blurted Josie, cutting him off. “I know it won’t be easy and that it won’t happen overnight. But I don’t want that to be an excuse. This is the last goal on my list; to help fix this mess...because neither of you seem willing to do it.” She pressed their hands harder together and her eyes burned. “Please...just promise.”
Mom looked at Dad. Dad looked at Mom. And after a moment of intense silence, they both looked at their daughter.
Josie give a quick, nervous laugh. “Say ‘I do’?”
“I do,” choked Mom. “For you.”
“I do,” Dad repeated, eyes shining with the tears he’d tried so hard to keep in check. “For you, Jo.”
Naomi's face creased upwards in a smile while Josie closed her eyes and exhaled quietly. The most challenging goal could now be checked off the list. Hopefully it would be enough.
“Josie? Mr. and Mrs. Kemp?” The doctor and a few nurses came in, all wearing white coats and surgery masks. “It’s time.”
Feeling her heart sink, she breathed a quick prayer and gave her family another hug.
“Pray for me,” she whispered. “Pray that I’ll be strong enough.”
“Through Christ, Josie-girl,” said Naomi, pressing a kiss to her cheek. “Walk through this valley and fear no evil, for He is with you.”
“Bye Josie.” Mike squeezed her as tight as he could.
“Bye for now, little bro,” said Josie, ruffling his hair. “I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah, you’d better,” he muttered.
The hospital bed creaked as the nurses rolled it away from the wall.
“Are you ready, Josie?” The doctor peered at her with friendly eyes from behind his mask.
Taking a deep breath, she pulled out her i-pod and cued up Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
“Now I’m ready.”
Though she didn’t know how, Josie felt her body being pulled into wakefulness again. Her bleary eyes fluttered open and a thousand thoughts and sensations flashed through her mind. She smelled the crisp, sterile hospital air and saw the sad, happy eyes of her parents. She felt the warmth of a hand grasp her own and the softness of the blanket she was tucked into. She heard...nothing. No rustling of fabric, no beeping or humming from the hospital equipment, no air moving in and out as she breathed. Nothing.
It was as though something had sucked every single sound out of the whole world forever. Maybe it had.
Tears pricked at her eyes as the silence pressed down on her, smothering any spark of hope she had dared to keep alive.
I will never hear music again.
She felt herself falling; falling down and down into a deep, unfamiliar darkness...but just as it threatened to swallow her, one word brushed against her mind, quiet but persistent:
She stopped falling. She closed her eyes. She listened.
A single note rang out that no one else could hear, clear and sweet as a birdsong at sunrise. It grew and traveled and multiplied, melody and harmony weaving together in a perfect tapestry of joy. And as the silent symphony played on, something clicked. She recognized the theme.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow...
And Josie smiled.