When “R2D2” entered Casa Carcinista earlier this year to become a semi-permanent resident, oxygen entered our thoughts in different ways.
For the kids, it was an omnipresent-shiny-tin-can with a funny, 50-foot hose that was stuck up mom’s nose. Sarah’s Star Wars analogy helped them connect with it, and then mostly ignore it. An obstacle at times, the hose became something to trip over – or NOT – as doing so could evoke the wrath of Mommy. Sarah often joked about it with them, helping poke fun at the situation. The boys thought it comical to say “Mommy’s a hoser” or “Mommy, go stick a rubber hose up your nose.” Their laughter always brightened the room.
For me, it was scary. Like a stranger invading our home. An odd, noiseless, motionless machine with a coil of clear hose I could follow, like bread crumbs, to find my wife. Of course, R2D2 wasn’t the invader – just a shiny metal reminder of the real intruder that relentlessly conspired against our now fallen hero.
Ironically, my life has been riddled with oxygen woes as I’ve had asthma since I was 8. Hospitalized twice as a child, I experienced the terror, frustration and difficult struggle of breathing shallow, constricted breaths. But now, as an accomplished athlete with breathing under control, it was incredibly hard to see my dearest friend struggle.
For our hero, The Carcinista, oxygen simply meant: Energy. Function. LIFE. I believe she thought about this often, realizing the significance of the oxygen we all breathe every day. And thus, before she died, she asked me to tell this story about her “oxygen of life.”
On Thursday, April 28, 2011, Sarah put on her beautiful new party dress, ready for a night we had anticipated for more than a month. Our friends, A + S arrived. We loaded three portable oxygen tanks (not taking any chances) and were off to the Colonial Theatre in Boston to spend the evening in the presence of Harry Connick, Jr.
Over the years, Harry’s music had provided a consistent theme in our lives. It began with the first mixed tape Sarah sent me back in 1993. Then at our wedding, we danced a choreographed foxtrot to “She belongs to me.” Toward the end of the 90’s we enjoyed seeing him in concert. Seeing him again in April was special.
Throughout the concert, while Sarah breathed from her oxygen tank, she experienced another “oxygen” as she called it. She said, “music is the oxygen of life for the musician.” Sarah was a talented singer in high school, traveling with her a cappella group – and I suspect she had experienced this feeling even then.
But, this night in April was over-the-top. Harry was on his game; he even remarked, “Y’all are lucky you’re here tonight. You see, I’m feeling really good tonight. And if there was a night I was going to ‘win’ this week, tonight’s the night.” He was playing five shows that week, ours was the third. Maybe he says this every night? Not sure. But, he (and we) definitely “won” that night.
During the show, there was a series of deeply collaborative musical conversations that carried from one instrument to the next. At one point, Harry abandoned the piano, to take in a trombone solo by Lucien Barbarin. As Lucien jammed, Harry began to tap a beat. Then stomp. Then got down on his knees, slapping and sliding his hands and wrists on the floor. The microphone captured the simple, beautiful rhythmic beats as he and Lucien carried on this intimate, delicious conversation. Music flowing, exuding this “oxygen” Sarah described. A musical story was unfolding, conjuring the struggle of the life of the New Orleans musician. Music in their soul. Music as life. Music as the oxygen of their lives. If the rest of the concert could have been the main course, this would have been the dessert to beat all desserts.
After the show, Sarah and I remained in our seats, allowing the majority of the audience to leave. The 20 or so who had “after show” passes were guided to a room. We found an armchair in the corner for Sarah to sit comfortably. A few minutes later, Harry entered the room. Sarah gasped. “Quick, take some photos!” she said.
A life-long dream. A man she had admired for his musical and acting talents, comedic abilities, humanitarianism and more, was no longer on stage, but right there in front of us only a few feet away. Ultimately, Sarah just wanted to have a conversation. To know what it was like to talk for a few minutes about something that mattered to them both.
Harry made his way around the room, talking to one or two at a time. Posing for photos. Signing programs.
Sarah was patient, but anxious.
After ten or fifteen minutes, Harry came to us, and lived up to all of Sarah’s (and my) hopes. He was a perfect gentleman, remaining focused on Sarah the entire time we talked. Sarah ask a few questions and discussed, quickly, her idea about oxygen and music and their importance in life. Harry seemed to pick up what she was saying, and liked the analogy.
She was smitten. I was happy. At this point in her life, physical gifts meant nothing, but this was a gift that meant so much. An amazing night together. And she was able to experience, and cherish what she dubbed “a real LIFE moment.”
We went to bed that night, holding hands as we always did. Both happy. Full of love. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this was our last date. I look back now and just think, wow!
If you have the opportunity to see Harry Connick, Jr. in concert, Sarah would have said, “Do it!” If you don’t, you might still take a moment and listen to a song or two. While you listen, try to take it in. Feel the music in your soul. Breathe the oxygen. Enjoy.