GRATITUDE, GRIT, AND GRACE
Round the flickering campfire light
Sing songs tell stories of our life
To help us understand define what’s often overwhelming
It’s through our stories we declare
The truths we hold the things we share
Who we are how we got there discovering in the telling
A journey of gratitude, grit, and grace
So much learned and so much faced
The contours of a life are traced
In a journey of gratitude, grit, and grace
That’s the first verse and chorus of the title song of an album I introduced at a concert in the Spring of 2017.
Paraphrasing Charles Dickens the Spring of 2017 it was the end of times, it was the beginning of times. For 24 years I’d sung at Children’s Hospital as part of an annual memorial service for kids who died while in their care. That Spring would be the last time I would sing for that special event. I’d also provided music for half a dozen Civil Rights Pilgrimages with students from the University of Washington and Bellevue College who joined a group of adults traveling on a bus visiting sites, singing songs, and hearing stories that brought the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s to life and connected those times to events of today. That Spring would be the last time I would be getting on that bus. My mother would turn 95 that season, and, oh, how ready she was to celebrate! After a concert I did for everyone in her retirement community and their guests, my mom hosted a dinner for an extended family with lots of laughter, toasts, and singing. For someone who loved a good party it would prove to be her last big hurrah.
And then there was also the concert on May 13th at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle where I shared songs from a new album, Gratitude, Grit, and Grace. Those songs an important part of a 49th and final campfire marking the end of one journey and the beginning of another.
Twenty years earlier at my dad’s memorial on May 31, 1997 I received what I believed was my dad’s last gift. Unexpectedly and unbidden, in my dad’s own words, at that most public of places, our family’s relationship with mental illness, a family secret, was revealed and shared publicly for the first time. I had turned 50 a few months earlier. It would take ten years to understand that gift was a chance to know who I truly was in the light of a story as well as in the shadow of that secret. Which led me to take a leap of faith that I was someone capable of loving and being loved. And then after taking that leap living as if I believed I was truly loving and loved.
How can someone love me if they don’t know me well
Yet if they know me well how can they love me
So long that was a riddle that I simply couldn’t solve
The questions that it asked had control of me
The answers to most riddles are right before our eyes
I saw that I could solve my riddle once I realized
I know myself like no one else if I could learn to love myself
The answer to the riddle was supplied
Eventually I came to understand that leap of faith was the beginning of yet another journey. I called it a journey home. I thought it might take as many as two or three years. It took ten. An important part of that journey I would jokingly refer to as my thank you and I’m sorry tour where I reached out to as many people as I could who had been important in my life. To thank them. And where necessary tell them I was sorry and ask for their forgiveness for those times I had hurt them and where possible do what I could to repair. Eventually I renamed that part of the journey a Journey of Gratitude and Grace.
If someone would have told me twenty years earlier at my dad’s memorial that that day would be the beginning of a twenty year adventure divided into two almost perfectly symmetrical halves I wouldn’t have believed them. I wouldn’t have had any idea what they were talking about.
Recently I did an Internet search on how long it took Odysseus to get back to Ithaca. Yep, twenty years. Ten years of battles and ten years to get back home.
The fact that each of those ten years ended with a leap of faith was not surprising. I believe life’s full of small steps and some very scary leaps. In that first instance leaping into believing I was loving and loved. In the second, faith I’d finally found my way home. Home at last with myself, with the world, with those I loved. Grateful that Pat had stayed with me throughout and was there at the end. Along with many others, no one more important than you.
You were backstage waiting to greet me when the concert was over. I don’t remember what we said. I do remember how much joy there was in that moment. Joy in knowing what it meant to have made it around a metaphorical mountain, understanding that was just not an end but a beginning. There was something else in that moment that we haven’t talked about that I want to share in this letter.
Somehow at that moment with you after the concert I realized in my marrow, in the core of my being, that not only were you there with me, you were there for me.
A distinction subtle enough that one might say nothing really changed, and yet I would posit somehow everything was different. An example of the end of something making way for the beginning of something new. Of seeing something familiar as if for the first time.
Likely from the time I was born I’ve been terrified of being abandoned. For much of my life I didn’t have any idea that that was what I was afraid of. For so long there was that double bind of not wanting to be alone and yet being afraid when people got too close. Afraid they would go away. So often I would leave first or do something to make sure they wouldn’t want to stay.
Once I understood those fears and where they came from I thought I could overcome them. I don’t know when it finally dawned on me, the fears are here to stay. That meant finding ways to live with fear instead of in fear. To define those fears instead of being defined by them.
And part of that meant finally being able to believe that you would be and that you are there not only with me but for me.
It was something to learn how to live with my fears
Not simply live in them as I’d done all those years
When what I’m afraid of becomes stated and clear
A lot of what haunts me appears to disappear
My fears don’t scare me like they used to
Once I found what fears are most afraid of
They hate being faced, exposed or embraced
By truth, light, or love
Recently it dawned on me that besides being something negative, something to be afraid of, my fear of abandonment has also been a wonderful positive gift. Let me explain by first paraphrasing St. Francis:
Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is offense, let me bring pardon. Where there is discord, let me bring union. Where there is error, let me bring truth. Doubt, let me bring faith. Despair, hope. Darkness, light. Sadness, joy. Let me not seek as much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. It’s in giving we receive, in self-forgetting that we find, pardoning that we are pardoned.
For me the hardest person to pardon has been me. The hardest person to have faith in, hope for, to console, to understand, to love, myself. I have come to believe my primal fear of abandonment has been a primary doorway to being there when others are afraid. And by being there where there was fear, I was able to bring love. For others and ultimately myself.
A journey of Gratitude, Grit, and Grace.
The last song on the Gratitude, Grit, and Grace album is called There You Were. Pat’s is most often the face I see when I sing it. In this case, I’ll make an exception and end this letter by saying, “Here’s looking at you, old friend.”
Fought the good fight finished the race
Got lost a few times somehow kept the faith
A journey of gratitude, grit, and some
Back to where I started not to the same place
There you were
Took a long time to learn how to love and be loved
In the clutter and clatter find who I truly was
Somehow to believe in the end it’s enough
Somewhere in the midst of such powerful stuff
There you were
Did my best round these campfires to put it all down
To show what I’ve been through to share what I found
If I didn’t know it then I sure do know it now
Each in our own way is homeward bound
It’s been quite a journey of stories and songs
The people I’ve met and the places we’ve gone
Found enough reasons to keep going on
And then that one thing should have known all along
There you were