My friend, R, was sick and the community rallied. My particular job was to meet her after radiation appointments and, if possible, sing her to sleep. Usually, she was too amped up by steroids to rest, but, over time, through trial and error, I happened upon a couple of songs that did the trick. They were tuneless, gentle, and persistent. I went on and on until I won.
R got better, then worse. When it was clear she was actively dying. I joined her family in vigil. In the evenings, when we were alone, I sang her songs. She was unconscious, but I was pretty sure I could reach her and that she liked the sounds.
One night, I tried to sing but my voice wouldn’t go. I can be more precise about this: it’s not that it wouldn’t go the way a car won’t go. It wasn’t broken. It wouldn’t go the way a dog won’t go even if you yank the leash. It was refusal. My voice wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t think what to do so I sat in silence until R’s daughter arrived and I went to bed.
She died a few hours later. That was a big deal. I loved and I miss her, but I’m here to testify to this other brief weird thing: that sensation of my voice not going. I’ve thought about it a lot. My voice knew something I didn't; I'm willing to say that. Death was near. It was near and happening and even the sweetest words, the softest sounds, would have been ignorant or improper.
What I discovered that night might be old hat in an oral culture, but it sure was news to me; a human voice is creaturely! It expresses, yes, but it also senses and perceives. It roams or balks; it will or it won't. Uncanny, it knows what I don't.