17 years ago today, I left Watkinsville, GA headed toward Austin, Texas with my Dodge Caravan loaded to the gills with all the things I deemed important – my dog, Mackenzie; my music gear; my clothes; my computer rig (yes, before the ubiquitous proliferation of laptops) and some things to remind me of who I thought I was. I set out – single and jobless (save for the ranch I was going to work on for room and board) to “start over.” (Ten years later, I released a song about it on my “Return to Love” album). “Headed West” is below:
Today I took the two-hour drive from my “summer” home (yeah, I know its December…) in Manistee, Michigan to visit my Dad “downstate.” I shared with him the auspicious nature of today’s date. We talked about jobs I’d had and places I’d lived over the years. He asked why I’d left Georgia for Texas. I found an old, unhealed part of myself wanting to hide in shame – but from what? In his mind, I’d left a really good job at a really good company to go do…what? The details of that time are still fresh as ever for me but he didn’t remember that I’d left that job six years prior.
“Music stuff,” was my response to him. This didn’t feel like the time to tell him about my intention then to immerse myself in the metaphysical and “New Thought” philosophies I’d found myself resonating with deeply a couple years’ prior. I may wait until I’m close to graduating ministerial school in a couple of years to broach that subject.
Dad had spent yesterday going through Mom’s college and high school yearbooks and shared them with me. What struck me was how easy it was to pick her out of every photograph (and there were many) she was in. Was this the inherent ability we as humans seem to have to recognize our kin (especially our mothers) or the fact that she really did have some of that “it” factor? Save for a couple of questionable hairstyle choices a few years later when she was a college music teacher that made her look far older than her young 20-something years (and very much like her mother, the school marm), she was quite photogenic.
What I knew of her in my lifetime was that she was not a fan of having her picture taken. At least, I remember her protesting regularly but also in hindsight recall she never missed an opportunity to have her picture taken.
What I didn’t know about her: she was an orchestral bass (stand-up) player; she taught music at the Catholic girl’s college she graduated from; I knew she was a music major with a minor in piano and I knew she was senior class president but didn’t know she was also a writer, speaker and actress. There’s one photo of her shooting pool (in the “sports” section of the yearbook). All these things I learned from an hour or so with a couple of yearbooks and my Dad. A sense pride rose in me to see her as strong, confident and very much involved in what she appeared to truly love. A deeper grief and more questions arise about who she really was and who she’d become.
Since she passed 15 months ago, and Dad has been so much more open about their life of nearly 60+ years together, I find myself landing regularly in disbelief at how much I missed over the years. Regardless of any good or healthy reason I might have had for walking away from my tribe of origin a few decades ago, the ramifications are still evident. But only painful if I let them be.
Despite having some vastly different beliefs about religion and politics, there are far more things I find I have in common with my Dad, siblings and extended family than not. I’ve always known our vast and varied musical and theatrical talents are great, but now they extend further out into the next generations; we are wickedly funny and quick-witted and love good jokes; and we have a deep and abiding faith in God (or higher power). The longing to (re)connect to that tribe more deeply has been strong since Mom’s passing. I don’t think it’s too late. But I also have to remember that though I’ve grown and changed tremendously over the past 30 or so years, they still don’t really know who I am.
I visited Mom’s grave site in the waning daylight. I have so many questions for her that are, of course, so much easier to ask now that I have no fear of any kind of judgment for asking. What I’ve come to believe in the 17-plus years of spiritual study and getting to know who I am is that she (her soul, her essence) is one of pure energy again, without form, but containing every bit of the infinite potential, intelligence and unconditional love of God. That I put her human face on it just makes the answers more accessible to my finite, human understanding. Imagining her as pure peace and joy (and music) brings me peace and cracks my heart open a little (okay, a LOT) more. (“Wide Open” from my 2017 album, The Bridge is below):
I return to Texas in a few days to do the joyful part of my “work.” On Sunday, I’ll deliver a message about love. Every song I sing will be about love. And in the interim, I will do my best to remember that no matter what came before this moment – any moment – there is only, always love. Problems only seem insurmountable when I forget that. Choices only seem overwhelming when I forget that. When I’m focused and fully involved in being love, all is indeed well.