How can I keep from singing?

When I was twelve, I belonged to a girl guides’ troop. We met in the evening. I had to walk home, on my own, at about nine o’clock when it was dark and quiet. I used to be afraid the whole time until I got home.  (It was only about a ten or fifteen minute walk but it felt like an hour.) I walked very fast but I didn’t run. I didn’t want whatever bad thing was lurking in the shadows to know I was afraid. I then discovered that if I sang Christmas carols, very loudly, as I walked – I wasn’t so afraid. I tried other songs but they didn’t have the same effect. There is something magical about Christmas carols.

When my daughter was about six months old and my son was nearly three, the discs in my lower back finally fulfilled their niggling promise and blew up. That first night in hospital, as I lay on my bed unable to move and in a lot of pain, I could feel the dark shadows gathering around my bed. It was night-time and the patient who shared my room was asleep. The hospital lights were dim. I could feel the darkness growing and the fear rising in my chest, so I began to sing. This time I sang an old gospel song: His eye is on the sparrow.  “I sing because I’m happy.  I sing because I’m free. For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The little dim light above my bed began to glow warmer and brighter and a deeper golden colour until the shadows were pushed back to the edges of the room. I felt as if I was cradled in someone’s arms. (My non-religious friends will attribute that to the drugs and my religious friends will say it was God. But,  I don’t really care what you think; I just know how I felt.)

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer back in the 90s, I was sent to a hospital in the city (we were living in a small country town) where I had chest x-rays, ultrasounds, a bone scan etc. I sang throughout the day: old gospel songs, a couple of my favourite Christmas carols and a few Beatles’ tunes. I finished off the day with the Animals’, “We gotta get out of this place.”

Whenever there have been difficult times in my life I have found myself singing. When I was much younger and cuter and had a reasonable singing voice, I used to get to sing at various places. One of my favourite songs (well before it became a hit for some woman who can’t raise her voice above a whisper) was: I cannot keep from singing. It’s sort of my life-theme.
My life goes on in endless song above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear it’s music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?

While though the tempest loudly roars, I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness ’round me close, songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth how can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble in their fear and hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near how can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile our thoughts to them are winging,
When friends by shame are undefiled how can I keep from singing?


  1. Paula Vince
    Jun 21, 2014

    Sounds lovely. I hope you have a relaxing winter holiday.

  2. Lynne Stringer
    Jun 14, 2014

    I’ve been a fan of that song ever since I heard it on Enya’s album. I used to sing it all the time.

  3. Joan Harslett
    Jun 14, 2014

    Sing that song, sister!!!!!!!

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