Streetlight people: Journey's Neal Schon and Ross Valory, somewhere in the night.
I mostly avoid Facebook. It can be a discouraging, hopeless place — especially now that it’s awash with frightening headlines about COVID-19. But the other day, mixed within my timeline to a choir of likes, someone posted a video of a Detroit hospital staff celebrating the release of COVID-19 patients to “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. It’s happening at NYC hospitals, too, and even Journey’s former lead singer Steve Perry has given his blessing on Twitter. There are similar events happening at hospitals across the country to the tune of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and to Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and it’s all the right sentiment. But Detroit got it right — “Don’t Stop Believin'” is the anthem we need right now.
Those were the first three words I heard the day of my father’s wake, after he died prematurely of colon cancer five years ago. That morning was robotic — sobbing myself breathless in the shower, putting on a stupid black dress, and wondering why the hell I was bothering with mascara.
When I collapsed against the cold leather in my brother’s Jeep, I was numb. He hit the ignition, and Journey greeted us — don’t stop believin’.
It’s followed our family ever since, and has become our rallying cry. It comes on when my mom, brother, and I are all together, and nearly every time I drive to my childhood home — born and raised in south Detroit. It stirred a New Orleans crowd into an excited frenzy when it came over the jukebox, and they joined mom and me in singing it as high as our voices could lift the words — the smell of wine and cheap perfume.
It calmed my anxiety when I got a flat tire on I-75 and waited on a deserted Detroit hillside for help — just a small-town girl. It’s comforted me on countless mornings when grief would thunder inside me like an unruly storm — livin’ just to find emotion. Whenever I felt like I was drifting beyond the edge of my strength, I would cry and dance along to it in my apartment — wriggling myself free from the grips of pain and uncertainty — it goes on, and on, and on, and on.
In so many dark moments, it’s done more than a kind word, a memory, or a phone call could do. It’s comforted me, grounded me, and above all — told me to keep going.
A few weeks ago in the throes of lockdown, I opened my windows — inviting in an unseasonably warm breeze. My Pandora station hummed in the background as I went about rearranging my drawers, when the song came on. I paused to swim in its welcoming nostalgia, and cranked up the volume in hopes it would find the ear of a passerby, maybe someone out for a walk, for a moment of levity that we all could use right now.
When I read that Detroit hospitals were using it, I got it. I’m a native. I grew up 30 minutes outside of Detroit, and now live a mile from an area hospital hemorrhaging with COVID-19 patients. Michigan, and specifically the Detroit area, has been thrust into the national spotlight as the staggering number of cases climb — which has been alarming to watch. It’s invaded my personal life, too, when an extended family member was hospitalized with the disease. But there’s a toughness here, a resilience that pushes harder against whatever would try to keep it down.
I have friends holding the front lines in these hospitals. Brave, compassionate people sacrificing themselves in service of others. They go without sleep, without seeing their own families — and worst of all — at times without the proper equipment. I see their exhaustion from a distance, punctuating my Facebook feed — their words aching for understanding about what they witness in those rooms. It’s unimaginable. So when I see how they’ve filled their hallways with song to find a respite against the chaos, to renew their fight and make patients feel human again — it’s a welcome reminder that we are capable of amazing things when we feel encouraged.
It’s hard to be positive in the presence of a monster. And make no mistake — grief, fear, anger, uncertainty — these are the monsters sneaking into our lives when we’d otherwise feel safe.
Tragedy, in all of its forms, is consuming, defining — and it’s hard to stare back at it with courage. For our health care workers, for patients, and their loved ones — a simple nudge to suggest that they can get through this can make a huge difference.
It was an entirely different circumstance, but it did for me, and it still does.
When that instrumental breaks over hospital speakers, I hope it’s a comforting hand at their back in solidarity. I hope as the piano melody fills air stifled with anguish, the song unlocks strength that, during difficult times, can be hard to find.
When it seems that things are constantly tumbling toward worse, I hope people can find solace in a simple message: Don’t give up.
We can stop gathering in large groups. We can stop events, and travel, and “normal” as we know it. But if we’re going to get through this — and we will — we can’t stop believing.
Erin Hall is a PR and communications professional, and a hopeful writer, in Royal Oak.
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