11: Finding “Perfect Love”

11: Finding “Perfect Love”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Finding “Perfect Love”

If you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up.

~J.M. Power

I grew up on the west side of Buffalo, New York in a low-income, interracial, musical household. Although my early years were filled with the turmoil often found in a broken home, I remember hearing the soothing sounds of my father’s jazz guitar at night. It was his way of unwinding after a hard day patrolling the housing projects. Those memories are few however, since I was raised primarily by my mother, a Barbizon graduate beautician, an aspiring school-teacher, and a woman with whom I had much conflict as a child. Still, it was my absentee father who instilled in me the knowledge that the Universe is a grand and awesome place, and I should be thankful for the time I am given in it.

Like all children, I had dreams… of stardom, wealth, a loving family with children, and everlasting love. I also had a burning desire to do good and be influential in a positive way in the lives of all those with whom I would come in contact. Many children do not have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Many grow into adults who feel their lives lack passion and purpose, or have not lived up to their expectations. I didn’t want to be one of those children.

As an adolescent, I struggled to accept a stepfather in my life. Learning the new rules of the house was difficult for me, and school and music became a refuge from my teenage angst. The piano provided solace and the lyrics became a vehicle for me to share my innermost feelings of sadness and confusion with anyone who would listen. It was the one thing that reliably brought me joy and happiness, and kept me close to my distant father. The drama of the musical theater stage became a way for me to escape into a life other than my own.

But the past has a way of shaping one’s choices for the future, and despite knowing deep within my heart that music was my passion, I chose to excel in academics and start on the journey to medical school. Being a doctor meant a life of security, financial stability, and social status, out of the projects and into the Ivy-covered walls.

At Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, despite an inner knowledge that I’d betrayed my musical soul, I persevered and became an anesthesiologist. During my fellowship year studying to specialize in cardiothoracic anesthesia, and working with surgical greats like Drs. Mehmet Oz and Craig Smith, once again, I reached towards music to help see me through this emotionally trying time. With the encouragement of a group of fledgling songwriters at a small New York City bar called Downtime, and the assistance of a young producer named Julian Harris, I wrote and recorded a six-song demo CD. This was my first experience in a professional recording studio, and it was exhilarating! It was also my first encounter with a keyboard player by the name of Paul Gordon. As a favor to Julian, Paul played piano on a few of my songs, and that was the last time I saw or heard from him for years to come. I accepted a job offer in Florida against Julian’s advice, who believed my creativity would be stifled by the Florida heat and my short-lived career in music would end. He was right.

I excelled at being a doctor and had a natural gift for connecting with and caring for my patients, but I felt empty inside and left my private practice job after only two years. I felt as if I were suffocating and needed to escape. Fleeing to Australia, I met and married my husband of the next ten years. We had two beautiful children, but we were not happy, and I was increasingly discontented with being a doctor. We travelled from Australia to the U.S., went from job to job, state to state, one unhappy year after another. For some reason, enduring this challenging marriage, simultaneously working and childrearing, and having multiple different full-time jobs depleted me of all my creativity. The fatigue and stress, the lack of “me” time, the depression and lack of love saw me deeply entrenched into a song-less decade.

Yet, there’s nothing like heartbreak and death to bring on the emotion that creates the inspiration for a good song. That was certainly the case with me. In the same year my husband and I inevitably divorced, my mother unexpectedly passed away. It was the one-two punch that sent me into a downward spiral for several months. Every time I put oxygen on a patient, visions of my mother slowly suffocating in the intensive care unit entered my mind. Any time during a crisis, I would snap curtly at the OR nurses, something not at all in my character. So, with the encouragement of my colleagues, I took a three-month medical leave of absence, never to return.

I moved back across the Pacific Ocean, became a single mother of two little girls, and searched for a new job on my own. It was one of the worst years of my life but it began for me one of the most prolific times in songwriting that I’ve ever known. Over the next five years I wrote the songs of my life, of grief and pain, new relationships, and love lost and found. The floodgates were opened and I was once again creating beautiful music.

In August 2012, I reached out to a contact of mine who is a professional musician and asked him if he would listen to some of my songs. Finally, after all those years of stifling my passion, I wanted to be a songwriter. I thought that perhaps if he liked them that maybe somebody like Mariah Carey or Mary J. Blige would like them too! Stanley agreed and after listening to my GarageBand demos, he sent me a Facebook message saying, “Shari, I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard! I wasn’t expecting this. I don’t think that you should shop your songs as a songwriter. In fact, I think you’re good enough to consider being the ‘artist’ yourself! You should record these songs.”

It was the vote of confidence I needed and something I had never considered. Certainly a woman who was approaching her fiftieth year of life could not possibly embark on a new career in the music industry. Well, coincidentally, as if He knew it was my time, just a week later, Paul Gordon, the keyboard player from New York, reappeared in my life. Over the past twenty years he had worked with artists like Prince, Bon Jovi, The Goo Goo Dolls, Lisa Marie Presley, Natasha Beddingfield, and most recently the B-52s.

Once again, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, Paul reached out to me and gave me two VIP tickets to see him and the B-52s in Washington, D.C. The show was an amazing experience and afterward Paul and I caught up on the last two decades. He was married with two little boys, living in Nashville and working as the keyboardist and guitarist for the B-52s. I was living and working in D.C. at the military hospital part-time and raising my two children alone. Paul asked if I’d written any music lately. With some cajoling, I decided to share with him a few demos I had on my iPhone, and watched him intently as he scrolled through song after song detailing the events of my life over the past five years. He listened, occasionally nodding and saying “oh yes” or “that sounds like so-and-so” and looking at me, at the song titles, and at me again. Thirty minutes later, he looked up at me with a bright smile and said, “Shari, you’re ready for an album.” I burst out laughing in disbelief.

“I’m serious. I loved your music then and I love it now. You have a unique style, your lyrics are heartfelt, and I hear the story in each and every song. If you’re willing to come to Nashville, I have the month of October off and would love to work with you!”

The Universe has a funny way of calling your attention to things left undone. And miracles happen when you least expect them too. But through a confluence of forces, Paul and I were brought together again to create Perfect Love, my first full length CD. Despite seeing an increasing number of wounded warriors in the operating room, my sympathetic musician Chairman created a flexible work schedule that allowed my frequent trips back and forth to the Nashville studio. Despite the monetary constraints of being a single mother supporting two teenage children, paying down a mortgage on a house, and only working part-time, I somehow managed to find a way to fund the project.

On June 25, 2013, my forty-ninth birthday, Perfect Love was officially released to the world, and is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby. And suddenly, as if it were always meant to be, my life feels complete, and I know I have done what I was meant to do. I have learned that true everlasting love comes not from others, but from the love we have for ourselves, from deep within, in that place that no one else can reach, except for our Creator of course, and I definitely have that… I love me. I share this message with you so you too can believe that it is indeed possible, no matter what your life circumstances, your age, your heartaches, or past traumas in life, to make your dream come true, and to live a happy, loving, spiritual, and passionate life.

~Dr. Shari Hall

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