The music ran through her mind like a stream through a parched place. Music had always been her strength and her solace. It was that now and even more. It was the only outlet for the creative waves that continued to swirl through her being.
She walked through the park in a daze. The guitar case slung over her shoulder appeared to overpower her. She had always been so diminutive. The only thing she had that was not petite were her eyes. Luminous oval eyes of brown dominated her face. The lashes feathered around them, making them appear even wider. They had not lost their luster, even now. The only other thing larger was her voice. The timbre was deep and rich, filling every space as she sang. People stopped to listen because it made her militant music all the more entrancing.
Her face was lined and her mouth turned down, making her look continually sorrowful. The prettiness of her face was almost gone and she looked older than her 44 years. She walked as though she carried a burden heavier than her guitar and case. She slowly approached the center of the park. Normally sunny and warm, it was a comfortable place. Today, however, the wind was blowing slightly and the clouds covered the sun. Even so, a few people were milling around, inline skating, biking, or just people watching. Many were there for the hour they had free for lunch, coming to spend a few minutes out of doors.
Vanessa approached her usual spot. There were a few regulars standing, waiting. They knew when she came to play and they liked to listen. Some were from offices near the park, others from the neighborhood. Vanessa felt a pinprick of excitement knowing that they had come to listen to her. She slowly took out her guitar and strummed a few lines.
Someone called from across the park, "Please, play something familiar, something from our generation." She looked toward the speaker and realized he was from her generation. As Vanessa began to play Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In the Wind," more people gathered. The group was quiet as they listened and reflected. When three songs were completed, she stopped to rest. She grew tired so quickly now. Three women in the front stood talking. One of them approached her hesitantly.
"Why do you play out here in the open, in the park, for nothing when you are so talented?" Vanessa smiled sadly, how could she ever explain . . . she couldn't, so she did not try.
"Thank you for your kind words, I am happy you like the music," she replied.
She played three more songs. They were her favorites and did not take much of her mental or creative energy. As she played, she reminisced about the crowds, the bands, the stages in various cities here and abroad, the adulation, and the fame. It all seemed so far away.
That had been another time and another place. Life held her high for a time; but, as it often is with pop stars, her fame was not enduring. Her music had gone out of style. Society traveled far beyond the places she once sang about. Women were living and working in the mainstream. Her lyrics were old and outdated to the teens who spent their money for CDs and DVDs of their favorite pop stars. As always, though, when she thought of those days, the memories were keen and beautiful. They faded, however, as she gazed at the trees and the sky surrounding them. This was her stage now.
The crowd began moving away, their noon break over. Time to return to the workaday world. She brought out her little white basket. Although she did not need to beg, she could use the money. A few people dropped bills in the basket, but most dropped coins.
Embarrassed, they wondered, "How could anyone with a voice so rich and vibrant, so full of charm as well as pathos, be singing out on the street, in a park?" Perhaps the scene brought up hidden fears that it could happen to them.
Vanessa was not homeless. Rita and Sammy made certain of that. Vanessa and Rita had been friends since high school. Rita would sing along as Vanessa strummed the guitar, trying out unusual chords and different styles. Rita never had the voice and the talent that Vanessa had, so she tagged along with Vanessa as her assistant and her friend. Along the way she married Sammy. He was stable, constant, and sure of his role in life. They were not wealthy, but they were comfortable. Rita never forgot that Vanessa included her when she traveled among the rich and the famous.
Vanessa never cared much about the money, in fact she wasn't sure even now where it all had gone and today, she had very little left. Their roles now reversed, Rita included Vanessa in her life with Sammy. Vanessa lived with them, contributing what she could to the household. Vanessa liked to play music in the park because it gave her something to do as well as earning her a little money.
As Vanessa walked toward the bus stop, she contemplated her life. That woman's comments had started her thinking about it all, again. She never married. Like the women she sang about, Vanessa had given her love away freely. Many relationships later, she realized she actually wanted to settle down to a lasting commitment. Now it was too late. Her son Danny had never known his father. In fact, Vanessa was not sure herself who he was, it could have been one of several men.
No thanks to her parenting, Danny was stable and well-adjusted. Rita and Sammy had seen to that. Danny had grown into an awesome man and she was proud of him, although she knew better than to take much of the credit. Thanks to Rita and Sammy, she and Danny had finally found their way to a healthy, enjoyable relationship.
Walking into the house, she stumbled. Always tired these days she realized that wishing for the vitality that was once hers would not bring it back. Rita, Sammy, and Danny were preparing for the special dinner out they had planned so many weeks ago. Vanessa was not sure why Danny wanted to have dinner with her tonight, but she knew something was up. Knowing how tired she would be if she didn't, she rested for awhile.
"Why can't I just keep going, I don't want to rest, I want to go now," Vanessa thought as she fell on her bed. It was no use, she was asleep in seconds.
Vanessa was happy as she woke to see the sun had come out. She was surprised she only slept for half an hour or so. She put on one of her long flowing dresses decorated in varying shades of blue from peacock to aquamarine. The kids today called this style "left over hippie."
She really did not care, it was her style, and she still loved it. As she combed her long straight hair, she grimaced at her reflection in the mirror. Once shining brown with highlights of gold and red, it was now dingy gray, white, and brown.
"I look like a mongrel dog," she thought.
"Better leave those thoughts behind and enjoy my time with Danny and his girlfriend, Kimberly tonight. I do not know how many more nights like this I will have with them."
During dinner Danny and Kimberly shared their news. They were getting married. The wedding would take place at Rita and Sammy's house so she could rest whenever she was tired. So in love and so excited, they exuded joy. Vanessa was happy for them with a bittersweet kind of happiness.
"Life is ironic," Vanessa mused as she stared at the iridescent fish swimming exotically through water in the tank.
As Vanessa pondered she realized, "Just as I am learning how to really live, I must prepare to die," She planned to relish each moment, every day for as long as she could. Although she did not want to leave those she loved, her soul was at peace.
Vanessa's mind wandered back several months to the night she attended the Billy Graham Crusade with Kimberly's parents. The message, so simple -- yet filled with the most inspiring hope she had ever felt, moved her to tears. That night, she met her Creator at the foot of the cross and laid down the burden of her sins at his nail-scarred feet.
Today, Vanessa knew without hesitation that she would live again. When her life on this earth ended, her soul would be transported to live with her Savior, Jesus Christ, in Heaven for all eternity. What peace that knowledge brought to her spirit. What joy it would provide as she lived out the balance of her days cherishing those she loved.