When I stopped by Annegret’s Chocolates to buy a treat for the friends who had invited Robin and me to dinner, I took away something as delicious as our favourite chocolates: a story that gave me hope.
Robert Jung, who runs the store along with wife Annegret, told me Irish singer Julie Feeney would be performing right there in Towne Centre Mall on Saturday afternoon. That alone would have been enough to buoy my spirit, but there was more.
The stunning composer and singer was flying all the way from her sold-out, 10-day show in New York to visit our small city (Kelowna, British Columbia). She was taking a break from a busy touring and composing schedule to travel across North America in order to shake hands with Robert Jung, the man whose life she had saved, a man she had never met.
Their connection started with a horrifying accident in 2009. Jung was an athlete at the peak of fitness. He was training for an 89-kilometre marathon. Over the weekend he had run a 55-km training run. A few days later, a vehicle turned into the path of his motorcycle.
The extent of his injuries was masked by shock. He was taken to hospital but released the same day. Then the severity of the accident kicked in. A year of difficult and painful physiotherapy and then complicated surgeries left him wheelchair bound. He gradually reversed the muscle atrophy that set in after the accident, but he could not reverse his soul’s atrophy. His life was over.
Then one day he was surfing the Web, looking for some Irish music to download. Four singers at the peak of the Irish music scene caught his eye. He knew the music of the first two, Sinéad O’Connor and Enya. The next two, Julie Feeney and Mary Black, were unfamiliar. He sampled Mary Black’s songs and then turned to Julie Feeney’s.
The first song he listened to tossed him a lifeline. It was as if the woman singing “Life’s Nudge” understood his shattered soul. Lyrics like these perfectly described how lost he felt:
You didn’t recognise the magic in your life till life’s nudge knocked to shock you
Thirty days and nights full of cement inside, a crying feast emotion cocktail.
Limbs broken but moving the hurt-shell still hopeful you file it all under bewildered
Significances cling to ordinary things, peculiar superstitious comforts
She sang the depths of his despair but didn’t stop there. She sang words that re-kindled his inner fire:
Get out of the world, get out of the dreams, and get out of the place, out of the anxiety
Out of the head, out of the sleeping, a weak kind of rage, get out of the dreaming …
Life’s unexpected nudge has come and, can’t blame anyone,
Life’s unexpected nudge has come, you can’t let it keep you down
The song gave him the nudge he needed. His whole life had been focused on physical expression. His joy and satisfaction came from pushing his limits. That part of his life was over, but the song reminded him that his life still had meaning.
With the song as guide and with the help of a local healer, he regained his mobility and started a new life. The new life focused outward, on family and friends, on connections in his community, on what he could do to help others.
When he could leave the wheelchair behind, he sent an e-mail to Julie Feeney to tell her how “Life’s Nudge” had affected him. She wrote back. After more e-mails, they met each other via Skype.
The germ of an idea, to bring her to Kelowna, blossomed into a full-blown plan. One of his favourite charities, Project Literacy, was planning a 25th anniversary celebration. Feeney agreed to sing for that and for two more performances – one linked with a fashion show at Town Centre Mall, the other at the Minstrel Café. Three chances for Kelowna audiences to hear one of the most original and innovative singers around.
Robin and I heard her at Towne Centre Mall. She was radiant, funny, powerful. Her voice soared and dug deep. And when I saw the look on Robert Jung’s face as she sang “Life’s Nudge”, I knew she had transformed his life with her song.
So that stop at Annegret’s to buy chocolates gave me a gift that will stay with me the rest of my life: the story of an accident, a shattered life, and the redemption of a song.
You can follow Julie Feeney on the Web, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. If you’re in Kelowna, stop by Towne Centre Mall and try out the fantastic European chocolates at Annegret’s. You can also stop by their Facebook site and leave a message.