Memory is Treacherous, and the Triggers Many

Memory is treacherous, and the triggers many, and hidden. Last night I listened to Audrey Assad’s version of “It is well with my soul,” several times, and then YouTube gave me a whole string of her songs, almost all hymns, and all lovely. I was working on something, and half-listening, when she started singing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

Nicely, but not nearly as well as my little sister did decades ago. Karen had a stronger voice and a greater range than Assad, and the best untrained voice I ever heard. She sang “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” at weddings and a few other songs at other things to make a little money.

She could never be convinced to work at it, not because she was lazy but because she wasn’t confident. I did the encouraging big brother thing, but it didn’t work. I didn’t know anything else to do. At sixteen or seventeen, you don’t. And then I went out into the world and didn’t see her enough to help.

My wife thinks Karen had an undiagnosed learning disability. But even growing up in a college town, she grew up when not even teachers looked for them. Children who didn’t do well were slow, or lazy, or unmotivated. No one pushed them, or worked to encourage them, especially when there were so many smart, driven kids around.

She Would Have Liked

My sister would have liked to have made a life singing, which would have been a lot easier than the life she made. She waitressed for a long time, then took care of developmentally handicapped adults, at which she was astonishingly good. But it was hard work that paid almost nothing.

She sang in her church choir and some community groups and that was something, but not what she could have done. Not what she would have liked to have done. Then the time she could have done it passed, and then years of smoking hoarsened her voice, but never entirely killed her gift. I think she regretted not using it better.

And then about three and a half years ago she found she was dying of cancer and three years ago she died.

That all flew into my mind as YouTube randomly played Audrey Assad singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Memory is treacherous. You may find yourself grieving late one night at your desk, just because you let YouTube run.


David Mills is the editor of Hour of Our Death. His last article was They Laughed at Grandma’s Coffin. Others can be found here


Audrey Assad’s version of “It is well with my soul” can be found here, and a similar song, “How can I keep from singing,” here. The picture is by Sayantan Bairagi and is published under a Creative Commons license.

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