First Semiannual Quiz for Offbeat Compassion’s Loyal Readers

To all my regular followers and other fans: Test your offbeat compassionate nature and take this quiz. The answers will appear in about a week from the date of this post for the multiple choice part. If you wish to answer the essay question, email it to me at I will select some or possibly all to share in a future post for those writers who grant me permission. Note that this is an open-book quiz! (You can use the “search” tab on the upper right.) Update, Feb. 3rd: See the answers below the essay question.

1. “Threshold Choir” is

a. An expression for the belief that a group of angels will ease one’s transition to the afterlife with celestial song.

b. the highest and lowest pitches a choir can comfortably reach.

c. A choir that sings to the dying.

2. The “Prime Directive” of spiritual care is,

a. Finding a way to communicate with others, even by novel means.

b. Treating all as equals, regardless of race, nationality, etc.

c. Encouraging patients to watch Star Trek as a quality of life enhancer.

3. A patient is “unresponsive” when

a. The patient doesn’t say anything because s/he is indifferent to what you are saying or doing.

b. S/he does not communicate in any way, not even by opening an eye or turning away.

c. Chaplains ask too many questions.

4.”Stella in Heaven” is a book that

a. is a humorous yet sensitive fantasy about a spouse in heaven who helps the widower meet new women.

b. in a serious tone helps grievers by means of a fantasy scenario.

c. via imaginative vignettes describes Art Buchwald’s firm belief in the afterlife.

5. [Here’s a tough one: choose the most likely answer.] Even a centenarian can feel

a. that she must be polite to her elders.

b. that Tweeting to me can make his day.

c. that her life has sped by in the blink of an eye.

Essay question: (No more than a few paragraphs; less is okay.) A will is about bequeathing money and material possessions. An “ethical will” is about bequeathing spiritual matters such as advice for living well, stating the values you hope your descendants will carry on, and memories you hope they will retain of you. What are some things you might mention in an ethical will to your loved ones? Some of the best answers will appear next week or soon thereafter (anonymously if requested). Email your essay answers by Feb. 5, 2014.

Answers to multiple choice: 1.C   2. A   3. B   4.A   5.C

A Choir Rehearsal That Grew Into Two

Songs like ‘I will Not Leave You Comfortless” by Everett Titcomb and  “Bamboo” by Peter, Paul and Mary definitely left me comforted. I was a guest at a rehearsal like no other. The Threshold Choir, a national group with various local chapters of volunteers, sings to the sick and the dying. I often have sung to patients myself, and so I was eager to learn more about this choir with its exceptional name. (You can go to to hear soothing samples of the music and see their rehearsal locations.) “Threshold” to me implies a fuzzy boundary between life and death, between sickness and health, a boundary so uncertain and shifting that it creates a separate space. A middle ground. Music is one of the things that can dwell in this space, making the distinction between life and death less stark, less urgent even.

Little did I know that I would be experiencing not just one but two rehearsals that evening. After several songs, the leader placed a lightweight recliner in the middle of the circle we had formed to practice. It looked something like a hammock frozen at some moment in time, formed of a fine mesh of metal painted white. Anyone who wanted to volunteer to be sung to could lie down in it for a song or two, as long as they agreed to close their eyes. Since I traveled very far for this and figured I might not have another opportunity, a philosophy I have even when not traveling far, I volunteered. Besides, I was tired from the long hot trip and and rather keyed up from meeting a whole new group of people.

The recliner looked inviting. Fancy that, I was going to be sung to. Their music spread all over the inside of the circle and I felt it soak into me. But then I was startled as I realized this was a rehearsal for what I might experience if this choir were singing to me when I lay dying. After drinking in the mellow tones, I felt soothed yet afraid. I knew why they were there, and it was not just for aesthetic pleasure. I drifted in this fluid space as if the recliner had become more pliant, more giving. I was in the moment, and then a regret about my life surfaced: I had not lived in the moment often enough. I often had wounded the moment with distractions and anxieties. Those moments were half-lived at best. I then drifted to the mystery of what lay ahead and to the times when I dwelt alongside others in their in-between spaces. I filled those spaces with finely-tuned listening, with  spirited teaching, with touch, with steady soprano song.

Related article: (I talk about “must-listen-to” music as well.)

Announcement: Chapter Two of the book, Encountering the Edge, consists of stories about my singing to patients as well as the effects of other music. This link will take you to my author page at the publisher’s site. The link includes a free excerpt: