Today marks the end of a series on NPR called, “I Believe”. I only heard it for the first time maybe two years ago, and I must confess, every time they announced a new segment I half expected to hear a bar or two of a song that was popular when I was a little girl, “I Believe”. They probably thought of it and decided against it as being too schmaltzy. Wise.
I really loved this series. It is fascinating to hear people from all walks of life and in all sorts of circumstances make a public statement about their most privately held and most central core belief. Most of the time I would listen and think to myself, “Gee! That’s a good one! I believe that, too!”. But I had never consciously thought about most of these ideas. They just informed my life, always working at a subliminal level, the mirapoix that flavors the soup, but whose taste nobody can identify.
Then, inevitably, I would say to myself, “Gee, I really ought to write a “This I Believe” essay and send it in. Then I would think: “Who knows? They might choose mine to put on the air”. (Notice the immediate departure from ‘Art for Art’s Sake’?).
So I have to ask myself the musical question: Do I really believe in what I say I believe in, or do I believe others would validate me if I said I believed in it? How do you really get deep beneath the bubbling surface of the potato leek soup of your mind to the most basic of its elements? And how do you know when you’ve gotten there?
This is an especially thorny issue for a songwriter. I write songs all the time that set out to express some aspect of what it is I truly believe. Some of the songs do this overtly in a kind of spiritual testimony. Some of them do it obliquely in a kind of story tradition that is so prevalent in country songs. (Some songs I write for pure fun, so they don’t count here). I have one song that states that I, like Norman Rockwell, try to describe the world as the best of all possible worlds, not because it really is that way, but because that is the world I would like it to be. The hope is that, “we get the life we make”. This is a corollary of the affirmation theory; the belief that you can change your life by changing your perceptions. As much as anything I have ever believed in, I believe in this.
Or do I?
I never have sent in my own essay for the show. Every time I came up with a hypothetical title, I questioned it. The questioning would inevitably plant just enough doubt in my mind to make me think, “Who am I to make this statement? What proof do I have? Is it truly an original thought? And while we’re on the subject: Who cares?”
As I write this, I believe that we can change our reality by changing our perceptions. Will I believe that tomorrow? If I had been one of those people who survived Katrina in New Orleans or the bombing of the World Trade Center — not from the comfort of my living room, but at ground zero — would I still believe this is true? I might take the other tack. I might start to believe that it doesn’t matter about my perceptions. I am simply collateral damage in the battle with nature or the battle with fundamentalist extremists.
But I did have my own kind of personal catastrophe. I survived cancer. Twice. I came out of it believing that one of the things that saw me through was my ability to envision myself whole and healthy. Simultaneously, I was able to surrender to and accept the reality of the situation and my own limitations in altering it. This allowed me to reach out for as much help as I could possibly get. So, yes. In other words, “Sit back, take a deep breath, and accept your reality”. This I believe, too.
So for me, I have two seemingly diametrically opposed ideas which I hold on to for dear life. Will a new life-altering event create a new belief system? And how will I know that unless I hear another essay on NPR?