Many are marking their one-year-of-COVID anniversaries with an outpouring of stories, colored by every hue of disbelief, despair, longing, grief, and also hope, resilience, surprise, and even awe.
Awareness of the pandemic, and especially of the immediate impact it would have on my life, exploded in my brain on the evening of March 6, 2021 at the Mudville Music Room in Jacksonville, FL. Shawn and Davy and I were eating our pre-show meals and scrolling through our phones when Shawn announced that the entire SXSW conference had been cancelled.
‘They cancelled the whole conference?’ I replied, my voice loud and incredulous enough to draw the attention of others in the venue who were awaiting both their own meals and their entertainment from us.
‘We’ll probably all be going home in a week,’ Davy said with a bit of a chuckle.
No, I thought, pushing on this unpleasant idea as strongly as I could. I was immediately carried off on a train of thoughts:
Dammit, that means we won’t get to perform our SX showcase!
Are we gonna have to cancel the rest of this tour?
I don’t want to get sick.
I don’t want to get anyone else sick.
Shit, I’m never gonna sell all these brand new band T-shirts.
Davy was right. Over the next few days, the tour fell out from under us. Except for a live radio spot in Tampa and our last scheduled Florida show on the 14th, all our remaining gigs cancelled on us. We wouldn’t be touring Texas this year, nor would I be seeing any family in Houston, nor passing through my beloved Crescent City on the way.
This past year is the longest I’ve spent anywhere since before 2010. I worried that after a few weeks of hunkering down at home, I would get too restless not being able to get the hell out of Dodge on the regular to see and experience something new. I worried about the future. I felt powerless to the changes.
In fact, what I’ve realized in the last year is how happy I can be keeping completely still, and how deeply satisfied I am with the choices I’ve made in my life—who my partner is, who my friends are, how I structure my days with various practices and disciplines and joys. Happiness isn’t out on the road somewhere. It’s right here, in my heart and mind, even when it seems a bit out of reach, even when I believe that it’s not possible. If I remember to look, it’s available to me anytime. I have thousands of photos, videos, and journal entries to scratch the itch of reliving past adventures. And I have the time and ability to gather up and set down some new observations, plans, and hopes. There’s time now for new song ideas and new ways to share them, and for noticing the subtle changes that occur along the path of my daily walk—new bird songs, new growth on the forest floor, new beer cans discarded out of open windows, new sets of footprints from fellow creatures following impulses of their own.
This past year has also been a beautiful reminder of how generous and loving and caring folks are. As soon as we got home from Florida, I wrote and recorded a song about toilet paper, based on a poem I wrote during the loooooooong drive home, that kinda sorta went viral. And that was fun! And the laughter during a scary moment was appreciated so much by folks that they—strangers, friends, family—started sending money. Shawn and I started live-streaming that weekend, and again, the donations poured in. For the last year, I’ve made my living entirely from the value that others place on what I do. Donations, tips, gifts, pledges on Patreon, PayPal, Venmo, checks in the mail with lovely handwritten notes. That’s amazing to me. What a humbling gift!
And most of the T-shirts did sell eventually. And of course they did, because people rock!
With vaccines rolling out now—at the speed of imperfect and well-meaning humanity—I’m feeling hopeful and curious about the future. I’m also feeling so grateful for what I have, what I’ve learned, and for the reminder that life has always been, and will always be, uncertain—and being able to cultivate equanimity is the key to staying relaxed in the shadow of that fact. When I remember to breathe and allow myself to feel the negative feelings more clearly, rather than push them away, then they can burn out under the magnifying glass of mindfulness.
As we all mark this strange and stark anniversary, I hope that you can notice and reflect on the small sources of happiness around you that ring the gentle bells of beauty and joy in your own heart.