The Pink Notebook

Essays on Asking & Receiving

A New Year, A New Way

In 2002 or so, I wasn’t in the best place…physically, mentally, or spiritually. I was struggling with my life and music was my savior. I was actively writing songs for myself and for a friend’s band I played in called Jo’s Diner.  One day, for whatever reason, I decided to make an EP (a short version of what used to be called an “LP”…a long-playing record, or album.) The EP was called Fragile Heart and it contained six songs, five of which were mine. A colleague I performed with graciously agreed to play sax on the little project, and we recorded it in another friend’s studio in Saskatoon…

Credits on back of 2003 EP Fragile Heart containing A New Way.

The longest song on the album was 4 minutes 30 seconds, and was called A New Way. I remember sobbing when I wrote it. I was depressed and felt like I had failed basically the entire world, myself included. It was a bad, bad time. I don’t like thinking about those days much, but they do remind me of how far I’ve come, and that’s a good thing.

I wrote the song from the depths of an aching heart that longed for something better, and knowing it could only come from my own effort. It was my declaration that things had to change.  I meant it to call myself to task; to talk less and do more. To act bravely, even if I didn’t believe I actually could. To act “as if” until, hopefully, a new way would actually manifest.

It never occurred to me that this song would ever matter to anyone but me. After all, I was being introspective, nearly drowning in my own tears, so it had to be about me, right?  As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong, but wouldn’t know it until two distinct and distant instances: the first was on the occasion of one of the first times I performed it, and the second many years later…as recently as about a month or so ago, in fact.

The enduring power of music

Sheila

I’ll call her Sheila. She walked up to me after the show at the family conference in rural Saskatchewan, propped up by two other women. I wasn’t sure why, and I probably looked puzzled. My performing partner had brought her to me. “Tell Suzanne what you just told me,” she said gently.

Sheila looked down at the floor, and then at each of her friends, and finally, she looked me straight in the eyes. “I wanted to say that I have lived in such fear for the past five years since it happened,” she said slowly. “I have not been able to leave my house. Sleeping is hard, because I’m afraid to shut my eyes.”

Slowly, with encouragement from her friends, she recounted the horrific details of the night that had changed her into a person imprisoned by fear, in her home and her heart. Her alcoholic husband often beat her in drunken rages, but this time he meant it to be the last. He became so enraged that he pummeled her brutally, then dragged her out into their yard and wrapped her in barbed wired. (Let that sink in for a second…) Then, though she was half-dead from the beating and wire punctures, he set her on fire. And then, he left.

Sheila was left to die alone and in agony. But somehow, miraculously, she didn’t. She was saved. Her husband went to prison, and she recovered from her physical injuries in time. But she hadn’t been able to let go of the emotional pain, which scarred her from the inside the same way the wire had from the outside.

She slowly rolled down her turtleneck collar to reveal a wide scar across her throat, evidence of her husband’s fury-filled attempt to strangle her. “I still have this.” Tears in her eyes, she said, “These two women are the only reason I’m still alive. And they made me come out of my house today, to this conference. And I wanted to tell you…that song you just sang…something hit me listening to your words. It changed me. I want to put the past behind. I want to find a new way.”

Murray

Fast forward 15 years to just a month ago, when I had reconnected with a colleague in BC  with whom I’d been out of touch for a month or so. We had scheduled a phone chat to see where we both were, and where we might go next in our shared journey.

Murray started by saying “Do you want to go first, or should I?” “Doesn’t matter to me,” I replied. “Good, because I want to go first,” he answered.

He didn’t speak, but I soon heard low musical strains coming through the phone receiver. It sounded like…it was, that same song. I hadn’t thought of it, or heard it, for many years. The recording I’d made was pretty basic, but I found myself in tears as it went on, thinking of so many things…when I wrote it, Sheila, the people since who’d given me hugs or smiles or thanks for the song in those intervening years.

A New Way ended, and he said quietly, “I’m in tears listening to that song again. I just learned that you had something to do with its making many years ago.”

I said I indeed had–that I’d written it, and that was me performing it on the recording. This surprised him; he hadn’t realized that part of the story, which even amazed him further.

“But where…?” I said, confused.

“I heard it used by a woman in my masters degree program at Royal Roads University and it moved me at the time. I was at a bad place in my life and it meant a great deal to me.”

I put two and two together, realizing that the woman in Murray’s program was the same performing partner I’d worked with 15 years ago and who had included the song on a recording we did to support her training program. I remember she told me she used it as a theme song for many of her family conferences after that first experience.

I shared this connection with him and we both sat, wordless, on the phone for several minutes. “Well,” he finally said, “No matter what you come up with, I think I win today.”  I agreed…it was too amazing to be coincidental. It just felt to me like my Higher Power was sending me a reminder about that long mothballed tune for a reason.

The words struck me very differently than they had when I wrote it, but amazingly they were just as relevant today as 15 years ago. And undoubtedly they meant something different to me than they did to Sheila, or to Murray. But they still meant something. Something important. And that, to me, was the miracle.

The gifts of sharing story

I wouldn’t have ever known my song had any impact on anyone other than me but for these two people sharing their stories with me. I’m eternally grateful to them both, and humbled as I often am by the power of words, and music, to move people. I am reminded to never take lightly the very grave responsibility, and the respect that must be shown that power. You only know how you feel and react when you write; not how another, with her unique fingerprint on life, will be moved.

I recently used this phrase on my Christmas message for my business FreshVoice, “Words have power. This season, use your words for good.” I was thinking of the song reminder when that phrase came to me. I may have heard it somewhere before, or not. But it was a powerful reminder that I can help to heal, or create wounds, with my words. And that that choice is, always, mine.

In the spirit of the New Year, I’m sharing the lyrics of A New Way, as well as a link to the song, if you would like to read, listen and/or share it.

New Year’s Wish…

And my fervent desire is that, if you are out there, Sheila, you are recovered enough, happy and fearless. That you have managed to handle with grace those terror-filled memories, and gently remove them from your heart. You are my inspiration. I have never forgotten your story, and I will never forget you.

May your God bless you all this new year. And, if you need a new way, I hope that 2017 becomes the year you find yours.

Ask & you shall receive,

 

 

 

 

A New Way (c. 2002, Suzanne Paschall)

V1

The older you get the more you find

Wishes that you thought would come true get left behind

Reality stings, makes your dreams melt away

You wake in your bed to many cold, hard days

V2

There’s wars in the world, wars in our hearts

A famine deep inside our souls starving us apart

Rainbow’s torn to shreds by fear

Colours only blending through our collective tears

Pre-Chorus

Iv’e had enough disappointments for one lifetime

I’m gonna throw myself a lifeline…

Chorus

And find a new way, walk a new path

Look through the eyes of a child

Pray for a change, open my heart

Bet on the aces, the aces that are wild.

V.3

We can all wait for the night to come

Where ideas are frozen and hope’s stilled with a gun

We can frighten each other with angry stares

Refuse to talk, to dance or to share

Pre-Chorus

You’ve had enough disappointment for one lifetime

Why don’t you throw yourself a lifeline…?

Chorus/Repeat and out

And find a new way, walk a new path

Look through the eyes of a child

Make your own change, open your heart

Bet on the aces, the aces that are wild.

And find a new way…

2 Comments

  1. Suzanne thanks for the beautiful song. My first i
    n 2017. Bodes well. Well done! Happy New Year!

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