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The Day My Mother Drummed

By: Bonnie D. Harr, MSN, MS, RN
Category: Recreational
Population Served: Others

The Day My Mother Drummed


She's always had an interest in everything I do. She's my confidante and friend - an anchor in every storm, a gentle counselor during any time of personal unsettledness for me. Over the years, I've begun more and more to see her in me - traits, characteristics, mannerisms and even the sound of our laughter! This realization, denied in my younger years, brings me uncommon comfort, and in fact, delights me now. For whom better to be like than one's beautiful and vibrant Mother?

I remember back a number of years ago experiencing an a-ha moment, while vacuuming my bedroom! I caught a quick glimpse of myself in the dresser mirror and thought I was seeing Mom! My heartbeat accelerated, and I stopped to take a closer look. The way my hands gripped the handle of the vacuum, the way I stood and carried my head on my shoulders, even the scrutinizing gaze in the mirror - could it be that the very etchings of her were, indeed, manifest in me?

I wrote a simple poem that day entitled Hands. It spoke of the hands that first touched me at birth, the hands that bathed and fed me pincher-finger perfect cheerios and milk; the hands that taught me patty cake, patty cake Baker's man; the hands that crafted cut-out dolls and ornaments, finger-painted with me and taught me to tie my shoelaces. Her hands held me on her knees while reading books to me across time. Her hands folded over mine in prayer by my bedside at night and pushed the hair out of my face each morning for my wake-up kiss. Precious hands - my Mother's hands.

This past spring, I had the pleasure of purchasing a set of HealthRhythms drums for my niece, who is a music teacher and therapist. Our problem became how to get the drums to my niece, as she lives hundreds of miles from me in the deep South, and I had purchased the drums locally in the northeast! I decided to do a road trip - to go the distance and deliver rhythmic blue wonder potential right to her doorstep. An advantage of this road trip would be the opportunity to visit with my Mother.

And so, we planned my visit. I had only one requirement, and that was to have a drum circle WITH my niece in her community, and to invite all of our family members, living in the south, to attend! My niece agreed and became excited about the prospects of drumming with family and friends! An added benefit unfolded when my son and his wife realized that they would be vacationing at the same time and could plan to be at the family drum circle as well! Needless to say, my heart was filled with anticipation! My family would FINALLY get to experience the unifying rhythms of our hearts in a way not known to them before!

The road trip was relatively uneventful, save for the beauty of the spectacular Shenandoah Valley and the occasional jingle of tambourines or shakers in the back of the SUV. I sang my way through mountain passes and across long stretches of interstate highways. Each time I stopped, I checked the drums to make sure they were secure and not scratching or gouging one another. While I didn't pay any significant attention to it at the time, I realize now that I had respect for the instruments I was hauling. Deeper within me, I had respect for the plans for the forth-coming family drum circle. Deepest within, I carried unspoken dreams for my niece's work in the world with the musical children and teenagers that had been entrusted to her to teach. . .

Arriving at my destination, the family was, as they always are, warm and welcoming. But something beyond me attracted them this time. Eyes were riveted on the beautiful, blue HealthRhythms drums in the back of the van. I knew the moment I opened the rear doors, noise would begin, and hands would start dancing across the drum heads. Noise ALWAYS begins around drums, until the story begins and replaces the noise with enthralling wonder and awe. I knew right then, I had to become the story-teller.

Okay, guys. Before I open this door, let me tell you about HealthRhythms drumming. It's powerful. It's healing. It's plain old fun! I want you to know that drumming can open your heart wider than you meant to open it; it can reach into your personal bucket of tears and splash you with awareness; it can bring jiggy-wid-it rhythms out of your very soul! Drumming will affect you, but it's all good! There's nothing weird about drumming OR the drums. Here's the thing, though - I want you to have respect for the drums, if for no other reason right now, than that I do - honor them for me, until you have your own respect. They will tell your story without words, once you allow your hands to communicate that story through them. Are we ready to unload them?

The once anxious-to-unload group stood quietly for a moment. RARELY does my family stand quietly when we're together. It's more like a merry festival surrounded in a stereophonic cacophony of sound and laughter. One person over-speaks another in excitement to share all that has transpired in the in-between spaces of our lives. I thought for a moment that I had scared them off from drumming and was about to reformulate my words of invitation when my niece spoke, ever so sincerely:

Aunt Bonnie, thank you for bringing the drums all this way to me for the kids. I want you to lead the family group, ok? It's right that you lead it. I looked at my niece's face, and taking her in, I realized how very much she looked like my Mom, too - like me! While we are not the same people, there's no denying the genetic etchings on our faces, in our mannerisms and in the embellished expressiveness of our hands. I nodded, indicating that I would be happy to facilitate the circle with her help.

I opened the rear door and lifted the chest of rhythm instruments out first - a cowbell, some shakers, mallets, agogo bells, the trip-noisy tambourines. I want the big drum! my nephew called out!

It's a Grandmother drum, I responded.

Oh - well then, give that to Gran! my son said.

I can't lift that thing, my Mom said! And we were about the business of taking the entire drum set into my brothers family room that had been rearranged a bit for the drum circle later in the afternoon.

I was told that friends from the Church and the neighborhood had also been invited to this gathering. My brother talked about how excited and interested everyone was - Most of them are genuinely interested, Sis; a few are skeptical but don't want to miss it! You know how that is! I was about to ask him if he was skeptical when a different scene caught my eye. Mom was seated at a drum. . .

I cannot begin to tell you the feelings and thoughts that tumbled through me and over me watching her there. Her hands, now aged, were tapping out her rhythm - gently, as though she were caressing the drum skin. Her dimpled smile was relaxed and other-worldly. Her family ring sparkled on her left hand. She was not hurried or self-conscious. She was not attempting to bring attention to herself or her drumming. She was within and without, remembering or visioning, it seemed.

As realization of Mother's drumming swept across each of us, it didn't take long for the room to quiet. Mom remained largely in the serene place, unaffected by either our noise or our quietude. At one point, she stopped the soft flutter-drumming and pounded the heel of her fist into the drum head - a comparative forceful blow for her. I wondered what thought had inspired that singular, powerful thrust. I intuitively sensed that she needed no protection, however ~ for she was clearly on a journey through the landscape of her own life, telling her story in pulsating rhythms.

Is Gran ok? my son whispered to me. I nodded yes.

We moved slowly in the other room to begin to put dinner on the table. Mother continued to drum. She wasnt in a trance; nor was she detached. She was simply drumming. I watched her on and off. It wasn't a show or ploy for attention. Mom was and is clear of mind and spirit. She had simply discovered how the drum speaks. When she was finished with her story, she looked at her watch and heard the sound of dishes in the kitchen. She jumped up and said, I like drumming, Miss Bonnie! (the latter being a pet name she has called me for years). I nodded. Mom was placing silverware at each place setting and commented on the tinkling forks.

After dinner, once dishes were cleared away, we all clock-watched until the appointed time for the drum circle to begin. As friends and neighbors began to arrive, I could feel the excitement mounting. My niece and I had set the circle and our intent. I will confess here, that it was impressive simply to experience the beauty of the drums in place, in an invitational home environment. Everyone sort of stayed on the periphery of the family room, not sure whether to enter and sit down or not. Mother led them in . . . Oh pick a drum or one of the instruments over here& get one that calls your name! Go ahead! You're going to love this! Oh Jenny, if your hands hurt take one of these "pongers"! I laughed. Mother had renamed the mallets, already.

While I facilitated a drum circle, the Matriarch, my Mom, led the way. Mother drummed that day with delightful presence and wooing energy. I noticed as the circle went on that she had more and more arm involvement. Soon after, she was rhythmically swaying her upper body. She asked about the strap on the smaller djembes. She decided she needed to try that and stand up, so she could dance. And dance she did . . .

Every once in a great while, we get a picture of ourselves, in a glance at another. Just as I had been startled the day I was vacuuming and noticed Mother's likeness in the mirror, I found myself startled again as I watched her drum and dance that day. I gazed across the room at my niece and saw it reflected again - the heritage of living and drumming, three generations' worth!

This grand woman, to whom my own heartbeat was once attuned in the womb, continues the rhythms of her life graciously, powerfully and with purpose. The day Mother drummed is not lost on me, nor will it ever be. For in her equipoise she continues to teach me about balance, giving and receiving, living, loving and genuine joy. As an aside, that day Mom also taught me some refinements on how to facilitate a drum circle. She gingerly reminded my niece to polish the drums and keep them sparkling. What a gem!



Bonnie D. Harr, MSN, MS, RN is a clinical nurse specialist and counseling psychotherapist, with post-graduate work in Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Formation. She is known for creating possibility spaces and healing places with and for those who are challenged by dis-ease and discomforts in life. Mrs. Harr is an Endorsed HealthRhythms® Trained Drumming Facilitator with the HealthRhythms® program offered through Remo, Inc.

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