Umm Kulthum and Omar Sharif
Came floating on the jasmine wind
From the west, from the south
Honey in my ears
Spice in my mouth
Dark and thrilling
Strange and sweet
Cleopatra and the handsome thief
And they floated in on a jasmine wind
Who even is Umm Kulthum? With lyrics as dark and thrilling, strange and sweet as these, do we even need to know?
Turns out, she’s an Egyptian singer, songwriter and actress (with a questionable birthdate), active from the 1920s-1970s. The most revered singer in the entire Arabic speaking world, according to Wikipedia, she earned the honorific title “Planet of the East”. Wow. Because Sharif, also Egyptian, came to us via such prominent films as Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivagoand Funny Girl, most of us know him.
The song is from the play The Band’s Visit, lyrics by David Yazbek. I had the pleasure of watching Katrina Lenk sing it passionately to Tony Shalhoub (Wings, Monk) recently on The Tony Awards(2018), where the play cleaned up, winning 10 out of 11 nominations.
The imagery in these words, the pleasurable assault to the senses . . . well we’re momentarily carried away, lifted beyond the physical ties that bind. It’s what creative people do, yes? Transport. Open a door to beauty, pain perhaps, the past, the future, a troublesome now. A door to what if? What about? What is? What was . . .
Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Robin Williams.
They were. They grabbed our attention, making something that wasn’t. But don’t you think we’re all creative, to an extent? Making things that weren’t? A new living room, say, or a child or a poem or a nightstand or a garden. A spreadsheet, even, like my husband B. For most of us, the audience is not that big. It’s our spouse, or a friend or two, or maybe even an industry or a community, saying, “Look at that! That’s really coming along. Keep going.” Gosh, sometimes don’t you think it’d be sweet to have a bigger audience? Jim Carrey, who got one, cautions, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
It’s not the answer. It clearly was not for Spade or Bourdain or Williams. People who appeared to have it all. They floated in on a jasmine wind, like honey and spice and everything nice, then floated away again. As we’ll all float someday, hopefully following a much less torturous journey, through natural causes, not by our own device.
The answer? To pain in the brain? So complicated. According to www.drugabuse.gov, “The brain is the most complex organ in the body. The brain is made up of a complex network of billions of nerve cells called neurons, as well as other kinds of cells, all protected by the bones of the skull.”
I read in the paper the other day about a young man dealing with a severe concussion from a helmet to helmet hit while playing football. “He’s not my happy kid any more,” says his mother. “We have to walk on eggshells every day. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to go anywhere. He can’t work out. He can’t have a regular conversation.”
The closest I can relate to people suffering from mental health issues is when I took a hit – not physically, but mentally – with the sudden and unexpected death of my first husband. I found deep grief unique, isolating, scary and, at times, debilitating. The warning signs being posted at the end of news articles on Spade and Bourdain, who both apparently battled mental illness?Suicidal thoughts. Substance abuse. Purposelessness. Anxiety. Feeling trapped. Hopelessness and helplessness. Withdrawal. Anger. Recklessness. Mood changes. I had varying degrees of most of these on my grief journey.
The solution? The best answer? Blowing in the (jasmine) wind?
Help. Get help!
In a recent London Free Press piece, Dave Navarro, guitarist for Jane’s Addiction, admitted depression led him all the way to writing the note, making the plan, stockpiling meds, but . . . “I reached out,” he said. “Luckily, as a last ditched effort, I reached out. I spoke to my closest friends and loved ones. I sought therapy and at times, psychiatry, alternative medicines, even hospitalization. Whatever it took.”
I’m currently reading about Temple Grandin, a severely autistic woman famous for her work with animals. She built herself a hug machine. A hug machine?! It helps her with anxiety.
Hopefully you can find a way to heal from any mental pain you experience, as the cause of it – a physical or mental hit – cannot be undone. What Navarro learned through his experience is that circumstances can change, feelings can shift. This too shall pass. I repeated that phrase often on my healing journey.
Another thing I repeated? Well, sang actually, but only when alone, because the voice? Not so great. “Jump in. Oh well whatcha waiting for? It’s all right. Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown.” Let Go by Frou Frou.
Let go, into the beauty of your own personal breakdown, if and when necessary. Easier said than done, sure, but we think everyone out there is watching, judging, and maybe they are, but who cares? Are there 10, 100, 100,000 or a million people watching? The people who love you want you happy, living life to the fullest.
Jumping into a beautiful breakdown is a surefire way to learn some incredible things about yourself, while showing love and respect to the eternal light from which you came.