I have always loved music - classical, jazz pop, heavy metal, rap, you name it. My taste in music is rather eclectic. Sometimes I’ll like a song just because there is a drum riff that attracts me, or some lyrics that are haunting or cheery or just funny. Incorporating music into my life makes me feel vibrant and grateful to be alive notwithstanding the heart failure diagnosis.
As I grew up, it seemed like major events were defined by music. Movies had soundtracks that were memorable, like Jaws or Doctor Zhivago or Ben Hur. I was in a high school band, and so classical and marching music seemed to be the accompaniment to the choreography of my teen life. And of course there were the familiar hymns that punctuated each church service I attended.
It is funny but now that I have heart failure, particular songs have sprung to mind as significant events unfold. Once my heart began to go south, lyrics of songs helped me make decisions and function in life. The soundtrack of my life is filled with songs that have taken on new meanings in the life of my heart.
Prior to the diagnosis of heart failure, I had a procedure known as an MRI to determine if my blackouts and dizzy spells were caused by neurological symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, the term MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. This is a technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues within your body. The technique is performed in an MRI machine that looks like a long narrow tube that has both ends open. You lie down on a movable table that slides into the opening of the tube. A technologist monitors you from another room. This procedure is torturous for some people who have a fear of enclosed spaces
Thankfully, while the MRI tube was not my location of choice, I did not fear it. What I did fear was not knowing what was wrong with me! And I was still just so freaking bone tired. So when the technologist offered me headphones to listen to music, I quickly accepted the offer hoping that the music would distract me from the worry and fear that had started to consume me.
I remember clearly when the song “I Hope You Dance” came on. I had heard that song many times before. But this time, I really paid attention to the lyrics: “Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along. Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone.” Those words really became seared into my brain. Suddenly the overachiever in me reached a fateful realization: If I kept abusing my body and spirit, and not paying attention to my health and rest, I might not have many years left at all.
I realized that while I used to love to dance, it had been a long time since I hit the dance floor or enjoyed the soundtrack of my life. I also realized that having worked with the federal government for 34 years, and having made a series of sound decisions, I had a good potential retirement income. I decided it was time to retire, figure out the cause and cure for my medical issue, move on and if not dance, at least enjoy other songs in the soundtrack of life.
So I got off the demanding work treadmill (also referred to as the rat race) and began to take care of my health. Believe it or not, this involves other treadmills! One treadmill is the one I use each day to exercise and try to strengthen my heart. So I listen to my soundtrack of life on that treadmill to keep me motivated. And another treadmill is the one that I have to walk on for the annual treadmill stress test. But the technicians refuse to let me listen to the soundtrack of life on that treadmill! They are afraid it will distract me from noticing key signals and communications while I am performing the test. I keep telling them that the music on the soundtrack will motivate me to do amazing things!
You may also notice that commercials have some very catchy music. This is a must to be able to sell consumers on the purchase of your product. The soundtrack of commercial life often involves music from well-known artists. It’s a great selling point because if you know the artist and like the song, you’re probably more likely to believe in the product. A recent heart drug commercial uses the Sonny and Cher hit, “The Beat Goes On” to sell Entresto, a drug that I may at some point be required to take.
It is an effective commercial. Think about it – you have a bum heart! The song that is selling Entresto has lyrics that are not what you would call profound. But the syncopated bass does keep the song moving steadily along, just like patients hope that the drug will keep their heart moving along. It is so catchy that when I am out for walks, I often find the song running through my brain. So it has become part of my soundtrack of life, and the drug Entresto may eventually serve as an amplifier for the song.
Of course my faith has given me a multitude of songs for my soundtrack of life. After years and years of church attendance, hymns often run through my mind in good times, bad times, trying times and times of joy. In other words, hymns run through my soundtrack of life at a steady pace. Here are just two of my favorites, and the things that attracted me to each song. But in each case, I am also attracted by the faith of the songwriters, and the events that inspired their works of song art.
The first song is “If You But Trust in God to Guide You.” My attraction to this song illustrates that a song doesn’t have to be written in modern times, nor does it need to have the benefit of modern sound effects and orchestration, to become a favorite melody on your soundtrack. If you doubt this, just listen to this hymn. I would also point you to the simple, time tested Gregorian Chants which I also love.
According to the website Britannica.com, Gregorian chants are monophonic, or unison and are “used to accompany the text of the mass and the canonical hours, or divine office. Gregorian chant is named after St. Gregory I, during whose papacy (590–604) it was collected and codified.” The chants are an exquisite expression of faithful ritual and an homage to God. The chants still appeal to our spirits so many centuries later, and they have attained a place of honor in my soundtrack of heart life.
Similarly the hymn “If You But Trust in God to Guide You” has a somber quality. But I find it’s quiet solemnity calming and peaceful, as if to assure me that God is indeed by my side patiently guiding me. This hymn is about 400 years ago, written by Georg Neumark during the Weimar period in Germany. According to the website Hymnary.org, Neumark had gone through his fair share of adversity. He was robbed on his way to college. Fortunately, he was able to retain his prayer book. But he also had to find jobs to survive, much less accumulate the financing for college. He was able to eventually go to college, but then lost all his possessions in a fire. Yet he persisted in being very optimistic about the presence of God in his life. Kind of like the Energizer Bunny of faith.
The lyrics to Neumark’s hymn are based on Psalm 48, verse 14 (King James Version): “For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.” The lyrics of the hymn illustrate this theme. Here is a sample:
If you but trust in God to guide you, and place your confidence in Him,
You’ll find Him always there beside you, to give you hope and strength within;
For those who trust God’s changeless love, build on the Rock that will not move.
When I am in times of uncertainty, this song will suddenly appear in my brain. The result is that any anxiety or anger is quelled. It is almost as though I feel a hand on my shoulder, gently guiding me along. I become confident in the fact that I still have time and energy left, and I begin to plan how to use my life in a productive way that benefits others. How great is that?
Another inspiring hymn is “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” According to the website worldwisehymns.com this powerful hymn was written by Civilla Martin in 1905. She and her husband were visiting Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle in New York. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nearly 20 years, and her husband was wheelchair-bound. Despite this, they had a joyful, positive outlook. When Walter Martin asked their secret, Mrs. Doolittle replied “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”
So how would that line spring to one’s lips? Once again, there is a Bible verse that inspires the hymn. In this case, it is from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, where Jesus says: "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will….[not one of them is forgotten by God]" Luke 12:6; and "Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” [Matthew 10:29, 31].
My favorite part of the hymn is the refrain, which goes like this:
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
As I write this post, I am grateful that this refrain highlights the treasure God has given us through the gift of life. In my case, my heart is damaged but it is free and it is fulfilled by the many wonderful people I know and the experiences we share. We are so fortunate to live in a country where we have incredible liberty and endless opportunities.
The refrain serves to remind me of my faith that tells me there is a God who is there for me. I mean, if he can keep his eye on small sparrows - well I am much bigger and much more talkative than sparrows. How can he miss me!
Even though I have encountered various challenges throughout my life, at the end of the day I have retained my sense of self and my sense of purpose and I am fulfilled. So for that I am happy – which you can see evidence of in my quirky sense of humor and my balanced perspective.
So to sum it all up, our soundtracks are wondrous things that are inspired by many things, including our faith. I thank God for the glorious symphony complementing my life, a life that he has orchestrated and made worthwhile. I hope that your soundtrack is equally inspiring and splendid.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.