This past June a good friend and fellow church parishioner received a shocking diagnosis of cancer. This came on the heels of the sad, premature, and unrelated deaths of two close, mutual friends last autumn, so it was especially hard news to receive. (I wrote briefly about one of these friends here.) Our friend who is currently battling cancer is married with two young sons; my own four kids adore her boys and I think might be tempted to trade in any two of their own siblings for these endearing tykes.
Surgery this summer removed the primary cancer from our friend and some cancerous lymph nodes, but a subsequent MRI full-body scan was still needed to verify that all the cancer had been found and removed, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Shifting briefly to the other side of our story, you need to know that our son, Nathan, plays cello and is a performance major in college. He plays at our church a couple times a year, often accompanied by our friend and professional pianist, Dan. In fact, last autumn Nathan and Dan played several songs together at our friend Brett’s funeral.
Their music-making was incredibly beautiful and helped comfort the grieving mourners that had packed into Pierce Chapel on the campus of Wheaton College.
Nathan spent this past summer at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado and was only going to have one Sunday at home before heading back to college. My wife was unusually adamant that he should play at church that Sunday in late August. I was surprised at how insistent she had been through the summer, given the long history of cajoling, haranguing, and organizing that is often needed to get our kids to do anything that isn’t their own idea. (In hindsight, she can’t explain why she had been so insistent in this particular case, either.) Yet, Nathan was surprisingly cooperative from Colorado and even knew right away what piece he was going to play, something he had been working on over the summer at the urging of his teacher. It was actually not a cello piece at all–not a standard part of the cello repertoire–but a piece adapted for violin that his teacher wanted him to play, both “as-written” in the upper registers of the cello, and at times down an octave utilizing the cello’s rich lower tones.
Back to our friend with cancer: the day of the MRI to make sure she was cancer-free came in mid-August. She was given the option of listening to music during the long and noisy scan. She chose the classical music stream, which randomly put Debussy’s famous piano piece, Clair de Lune, in her ears. This had long been a favorite piece of hers, having studied piano growing up. It was the absolute perfect song to help calm her nerves.
Fascinatingly, though, a thought also seized her mind, a perhaps comforting but also incredibly sad thought: Nathan and Dan could play Clair de Lune at her funeral. She had no idea if Clair de Lune had even been transcribed for cello, but she had been at the funeral last autumn and had been very moved by Dan’s and Nathan’s playing.
She was at church a few Sundays later after having learned the good news that her MRI scan did not show any more cancer. Little did she know that Dan and Nathan would be playing together at that service. She had no idea what they were going to be playing, since the song title had not made it into the bulletin. In fact, no one knew what they were playing except Dan, Nathan, our family, and the music director.
After just one note, however, our friend knew the song: Clair de Lune. Nathan and Dan were playing Clair de Lune, just as she had envisioned in the MRI, except it was most certainly not for her funeral. She was fully alive, and the music was fully alive, and an overwhelming sense of God’s presence and love washed over her and the rest of the congregation, where few dry eyes could be found. (Of course, no one knew exactly why our friend was sobbing in the back, though she certainly wasn’t the only one the music had tearfully touched).
You may chalk this up to a mere coincidence of two hearings of a popular song (though I think the odds are, at best, 1 in 100,000 that it happened the way it did), but for those of faith a different belief is warranted. We do not believe in an unknowable, invisible fantasy, but we believe because we see divine fingerprints all over these transcendent moments of life, these moments that give us hope for a better tomorrow. Like the lunar cycle, God faithfully gifts us these slivers of light to guide us through the dark nights.
Our friend granted permission for sharing the story of this ‘coincidence’ in the belief that reflected light still transmits the efficacy of its source