July 4th weekend is usually a big hairy deal here in the Mount Washington Valley. Lots of tourists and weekend warriors coming up to the mountains to get away from it all – or to bring it all here.
And, after a week of blistering heat and humidity, it rained non-stop starting on Friday morning.
My heart goes out to the kids who wanted to be playing outside all weekend; to the parents who were looking forward to putting their feet up and watching those kids run around from a safe, sunny distance; to the carnies who aren’t making any money on town greens selling their snake-oil-style-games; to the waitstaff who are on their feet all day, no matter what the weather is doing; to all the folks who planned and built their float parades for weeks and months, only to be kept parked in their garages the morning of.
And add to that list of complaints now the incredible sunshine that is now shining down from the cloudless sky as everyone packs up and begins the drive south. I can just hear all those drivers now, shaking their heads in disappointment as they watch what is arguably the nicest day we’ve had in ages shine through their windshields.
I found myself complaining a bit this weekend, too – about my anxiety about the future; about having an overwhelmingly long to-do list; about – you guessed it – the rain (and only just a little – I *had* been complaining recently about the worrying lack of rain).
So much disappointment, so much to complain about – and with each harangue, I try balancing it with a measure of gratitude. I mean, aren’t I lucky that I can complain about anything at all? That I’m happy and healthy; that I live in a safe, secure, beautiful place with people I love, creating music and writing that I share with folks who, in turn, support me in countless ways that sustain and nurture my needs? Lucky indeed.
There will always be uncertainty. There will always be something to complain about. We’ve all gotten lots of practice and we’re good at it! And so long as I always practice gratitude, too, then the anxiety and the frustration will be like those rain clouds that hang around for a bit – sometimes for a whole weekend – and then move on.
We arrived in San Francisco on Friday morning after a grueling night of travel—90 minutes in the car, 75 minutes on the bus, nearly 7 hours on the sold-out flight. With next to no sleep, stiff and sore, we gathered up our luggage and stepped out into the fresh air and hailed a cab.
Everyone in sight was masked, including the four of us, and keeping at a safe and respectful distance.
We made our way to the Airbnb in North Beach, stunned into silence by both the beauty and the hustle and bustle that surrounded us on our way. We met our masked hosts outside, made our way upstairs to the apartment, got the lay of the land, got settled in, and then dived right into wearing ourselves out even further on the first day—food, coffee, hot chocolate, the constant wind off the ocean, gawking at everything in sight, racking up thousands of steps walking up and down hills that would be impossible to navigate in a New England winter.
Everyone in sight was masked, including the four of us, and keeping at a safe and respectful distance.
I could launch into a detailed list of everything we’ve seen so far, but I won’t—not because I don’t want to share the awe and excitement of what we’ve been experiencing here, but because I’m feeling more moved to express how incredibly grateful I am to be here at all, to experience any measure of this world, the very idea which, after the last 14 months, seems like a miracle to me.
It hit me most clearly when Shawn and I made our way on Sunday afternoon down the steep path to Mile Rock Beach and we took in the stunning view on offer there.
I looked around this little cove and saw families and couples and lone travelers, folks of all ages and walks of life, relaxing and enjoying themselves in this beautiful place, and still, everyone in sight was standing by with masks, including us, and keeping at a safe and respectful distance.
This is how we got through, and continue to get through. By keeping ourselves and each other safe as best as we could, we get through—to trust those who developed and created and administered the vaccines; to trust every other driver on the road and every passenger on the flight and everyone on every sidewalk and walking path. We trust one another to take care of one another.
And this has always been our circumstance—we each have trust in so many people, most of whom we’ll never know and never get to thank personally. Every single individual in our food chain; the line of people responsible for the successful turn of every water tap and the throw of every light switch. The list is nearly infinite. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it is the fact of our interdependence, which can only exist with a certain measure of trust.
And I don’t mean faith, which is belief in something without evidence. What I’m pondering here is a reasoned trust—we believe in one another and we hold each other up because it’s the tried and true way that we hold ourselves up, too. Every link in the chain is only as strong as the weakest, and each one is essential to the health and success of every other.
And this extends to the very trust in this beautiful earth that holds us all in place and provides everything that any one of us would ever need to survive and thrive in this life. Everything is possible because we trust the earth, and one another, to hold us.
Earlier in the day, the four of us were sitting in the restful paradise of the Japanese tea garden at Golden Gate Park. After we had finished our snacks, Shawn asked, ‘I’m assuming that no one wants to visit the gift shop?’ We all shook our heads silently, and then Ann said, ‘The gift is out here.’
On Wednesday, I received some very sad news from a friend who recently received a grim health diagnosis—like 3-to-5-years-left-to-live diagnosis. As we spoke, what struck me most about his accounting of what’s happening in his life right now is his unshakable gratitude. ‘I’d be a lot more upset if I’d spent the last 30 years of my life at a desk,’ he joked. He admitted that he has moments when he feels scared, but went on to reflect how he’s seen and experienced so much in the world, all over the world, done work that he loves, and on his own terms, and that he sees his remaining years as a gift.
We made a promise to get together as soon as we are each back from upcoming travels.
The very next day, two weeks out from our second COVID-19 vaccines, Shawn and I drove up to visit his parents and hug them for the first time in over a year. And to have dinner with them in their house! Wow! Another tremendous upheaval of emotions and gratitude.
And we also made a promise to them to get together as soon as we are back from upcoming travels.
There is a clock ticking on the wall for every single one of us. Most of us live our lives most of the time as if there is no such clock. We eat poorly. We hold petty grudges. We do work that we don’t enjoy. We stay in places or in relationships or in situations that don’t fulfill us. We scroll through social media and the news, seeking out elation and outrage.
In this way of living, death is something that happens to other people, but not to us.
Then the phone rings with bad news, and the world grows quiet, except for that clock, which suddenly is the loudest sound in the world.
In that relative quiet, we can instantly see the ways in which we have wasted time and energy. ‘Why did I do/say/not do/not say x-y-z?’ It reminds me of that moment when you wake up from a dream that seems bizarre once you’re awake, but seemed ordinary while you were dreaming it, because somehow you understood everything in the strange world you were just inhabiting. You were beyond thoughts. You were just experiencing things as they arose, and then the bubble burst and you were suddenly and seamlessly experiencing something else entirely—being wide awake in your bed in the ‘real world’—and then were immediately flooded by familiar thoughts and judgments and emotions…
… until the next time you are shaken awake by the awareness of what is most true of anyone or anything—that everything that arises also passes away. Hugs, tears, dreams, promises, friends, life itself.
Impossible as it seems after this past year, I’m getting on an airplane this coming Friday morning with three of the dearest people in my world and heading out to California for almost two weeks. We’re all fully vaccinated, and we have decided not to stay home and worry about whether the vaccine has done the necessary work in our bodies to protect us and others from the ravages of this coronavirus. We’re listening to that ticking clock, to that pop of the bubble, that says:
This is the only life of which you can be certain, so go out into the world and plant the seeds of your songs and your work wherever you’re invited to do so, make and keep your promises to those you love as best as you can, and give the world your care and your gratitude while you have the time.
Good morning, and Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. I haven’t posted anything personal in a while and would like to bend your eyes and ears for a moment in that regard.
I’ll be spending the day today playing piano at the White Mountain Hotel in North Conway, New Hampshire, for folks who are perhaps smarter than most and leave the cooking and the cleanup to other people – people who are, at least in part, giving up spending Thanksgiving with their own families. The almighty dollar looms large, as it must for many. Music is my living, and I’ll be happy to see my jar fill up today as well.
To be truthful, Thanksgiving is just another day for me. When I was a kid, I loved it – it was just me and Mom and Dad, eating lots of food, and watching football. Dad would drink his Budweiser, Mom would drink her Boones Farm, and the dogs would beg for scraps.
Dad died the week before Thanksgiving in ’98, and the holidays, and the rest of life, were never quite the same after that.
Fast forward to January of ’07, and then Mom died one night in her bed, alone, surrounded by the memories of Dad of which she never let go.
I have to admit I feel a pang of sadness when I see social media filling up with photos of happy families gathering together on this day. But that feeling never lasts long. Life is too good for that.
The last couple of years have been the best in my entire life. My music is making its way into the world, and I’m lucky enough to make my living entirely from it.
All of this is a long winded way of saying two things:
1. I am so grateful to you, one and all, for being a part of my life and for cheering me on during this one way wild and crazy ride.
2. Treasure your own one way ticket and the bumps in the road and enjoy the smooth stretches. And the scenery is great too.
Oh and stay home tomorrow if you can. Black Friday totally sucks.
Five years ago today, I finally summoned the courage to leave an abusive relationship. I’d been with him for seven years.
“Why don’t they just leave?” I used to say of women who stayed with abusive partners. I thought I was too smart to fall into that trap.
I learned the hard way how wrong I was.
He was older and seemingly wiser. His charms slowly tarnished over time, until words that I’d once used to describe him – like smart, quick-witted, observant, attentive – became what they really were: sarcastic, harsh, cynical, obsessive. Throughout our relationship, I felt my identity slowly slip away from me, until I was merely a means to his end. I was not as important. He made that clear. I stopped caring about myself sufficiently and considered only him and his opinions, his feelings, his plans. I believed that he was the most important person in my world, and that I was secondary.
There were no telltale bruises, marks, or scars. All of my wounds were on the inside. Words were his weapon of choice, and he was a master of manipulation.
Even with my two closest friends beseeching me to leave him, I stayed. “I can’t leave him — it would devastate him,” I would say, giving very little consideration to how terribly depressed and unfulfilled I was.
One day — five years ago today — with the help of a friend in whom I’d confided my fear, I did finally leave, knowing that it was necessary to preserve my sanity, but feeling terrified that I was making a mistake.
It was no mistake — it was the wisest choice I’ve ever made in my life.
Since February 26, 2010, I’ve accomplished some pretty awesome things. It’s a long list, but here are some highlights:
I’ve recorded and released 4 CDs of my music. I’ve toured all over the US in a Winnebago with my bandmates and closest friends. I’ve learned to how to ride a motorcycle. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon. I’ve been brought to tears by the wonders of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I’ve watched the sun set on the Pacific Ocean. I’ve played jazz on Bourbon Street. And I fell in love and built an amazing life with my best friend, someone who encourages me everyday to be me.
Every single one of these things was a lifelong dream of mine, and every single one was unthinkable in my old life.
Take it from someone who usually learns things the hard way – don’t ever let anyone tell you that your dreams aren’t worth following or that you are selfish for even wanting to do so. Such sentiment is a poison. Those admonitions still occasionally haunt me, and yet I wake up every morning feeling grateful for another opportunity to continue living life in full pursuit of such dreams.
Life is beautiful and tragic and, most strikingly of all, it’s far too short. Get out there and live your life! — because when you do, you smile, and then everyone around you will start smiling too.
I’m not typically one who climbs aboard bandwagons. This propensity towards the path not usually taken has meant that I’m usually a little behind the times on pretty much every aspect of popular culture – fashion, movies, TV, idioms, etc.
So, while my social media newsfeeds have been awash since November 1st with daily declarations of gratitude, I can’t help but think: shouldn’t every month be gratitude month?
Even as trendy as the month of gratitude may be, I do think it is a good way to help remind people to get into that mindset. Gratitude is, at its best, a selfless expression of appreciation for the good stuff in one’s life.
Even the celebration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday is dubious, given what happened to that peaceful accord between Europeans and native Americans: for what, exactly, did those tribal people have to be grateful once their lands, their wives, their children, their health, their Eden, had been taken from them? Besides what was left of their lives? Not a whole hell of a lot.
Today, most thoughtful people can appreciate how terrible an injustice it was and is even as they tuck in to their roast turkey, bread crumb stuffing and pumpkin pie. Those were the sins of another generation. The cycle ends now.
Let’s hope so, eh?
I say: live in such a way that others are grateful for your existence. That’s my goal – this month and every month thereafter.