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John Prine

This was not going to be my next post. Fate steps in and calls on me to share one of the wonderful performers we had a chance to see live. John Prine is as as close as I am to someone contracting Covid-19 and, sadly he passed away last night due to complications. He had underlying health issues as he was a cancer survivor and was 73. The beauty is he leaves a rich book of songs and videos. I share three with you.

The last time Kathy and I saw John Prine he sang this song . It is normally a duet he sang with Iris Dement. Last night, we watched Kevin Bacon and Krya Sedgwick do it on Facebook. The audience howled with laughter as Prine sang the female parts. As you listen, you will understand the humour of the moment. It is called In Spite of Ourselves and is about a couple whose love is unquestionable and they are each other’s big door prize.

These links will take you to many others John Prine did, if you are inclined. He wrote and performed for 40 years and tackled social issues and love in various forms with humour and fearlessness. He is likely entertaining someone in the great beyond.

I played Paradise for students and it has a strong environmental message that echoes mine and I think Wendell Berry about what is lost as faceless corporations tear up Earth, haul it away in big trucks, and label it the progress of man. In Alberta, regulatory processes include land reclamation leaving it as good as it originally was . It reminds me ecology and economy are from the Greek oikos, meaning household.

I leave you with the Missing Years of Jesus, which was the first song I heard of John Prine. It is a tongue-in-cheek look at what we think we know about Jesus, a person we actually know little about in a historical sense.

Set the Backpack Down

Several years ago, I was in the midst of professional struggles and wrote this poem while attending a retreat based on Parker Palmer‘s work. At the time, I was reading his book, The Heart of Democracy. In the book, I came across the following quote:

“Suffering breaks our hearts, but the heart [that is] supple … breaks open, not apart, [and] can grow into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.”

Joanna Macy has a similar quote: “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” If my memory is accurate it is this quote that informed Parker’s writing at the time. It is about hopefulness. Hopefulness is not going it alone. It is walking up the mountain together, with those who we can share the burdens of our mutual journey together. Companionship is about sharing bread along the journey, not hoarding it. This is an apt metaphor. What does bread mean in our daily lives?

Parker reminded me passion is not just about love that comes easily. Passion is love has moments of suffering, sometimes long moments. We can each grow through these moments or wallow in self-pity. The other part of suffering is I was not in it alone. Whether it was a colleague who listened, parents who came to check in with me every few days, or Kathy giving me space to make career decisions, I was not in these moments alone.

At the time, I was writing poetry for the first time in years and it was a healing space; a space where I tried to become whole. An essential part of becoming whole is speaking from the heart, which may not mean speaking out loud. In speaking to one another this way, I must listen more closely.

Weighing us down;

We set backpacks down,

Without companions,

The path terrifying,

The mountain is high,

Its peak obscured.

Sharing one’s load;

Trusting,

Settng one’s course right,

Being true to one’s heart,

Only other hearts hear,

Will others hear?

Speaking one’s truth;

Inviting,

Sharing

Lightening loads;

Strengthening our resolve,

Straighening backs,

Squaring shoulders,

Holding heads high.

Will we walk together?

Will we share our loads?

Will we lighten the journey?

I leave you with a wonderful short video from a Canadian performer, David Francey called Morning Train.

 

A Grateful Haiku

via A Grateful Haiku

What are each grateful for at this time? We live in unusual times. As I go through my daily routine, I read articles and posts about how this is a time to rethink what we value and what we are each grateful for in our lives.

Tanya wrote a haiku about the symbiotic relationship between a monarch butterfly in its larval stage and milkweed. I often overlook how nature provides a sense of harmony I have to look deeper to see. When I look past the monarch butterfly’s beauty to its larval form I understand it exists by taking bites out of the milkweed flower’s beauty.

In that vein, when I read the comments, I realized it was “dueling haiku” between Tanya and Stephen. I appreciated what lay beneath the surface of the post and was grateful for their poetry skills. After all it is National Poetry Month.

Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me to find the extraordinary, I look past and beneath the surface of the visible to uncover hidden beauty. Yesterday, it snowed and was cold, below 0 Fahrenheit (about 20 degrees Celsius), and there was beauty. I took this picture of a tree in our front yard with the clear sky in the background. If it had been January, not the end of March, it might have been easier to see beauty. I remind myself we need this snow to melt and add to a needed water table so we might grow and harvest later in the year.

Front Yard with Fresh Snow March 31, 2020

I recently wrote about challenges of being unable to teach in a university setting. At my age, the doors appear closed. As I reflected and wrote, I realized my days, as a teacher in some formal way, might be over. Quite frankly, we do not value the wisdom elders have to offer. Emerging from this sense of frustration and despair was a sense something else was calling me: to write in various ways. This is a form of teaching perhaps and a gift I had not been grateful enough to have.

Yesterday, a colleague and I were advised we were accepted to write a peer-reviewed article for a special edition of a journal. This is asecond peer-reviewed article in several months that has been accepted. For that, I am grateful. In being grateful, I need to look past how things appear superficially and re-cogize there is more I am becoming.

I leave you with this beautiful video from the late Israel Kamakawiwo`Ole or IZ as he was known.

The Gift of Presence

via The Gift of Presence

Wendell Berry is one of my favourite poets. In her post, Shobna uses part of a poem, Our Real Work, to point a need to be present. Gary Snyder wrote a book called The Real Work devoted to similar subject matter.

In the rush of “normal” life, I often overlook what that means and what calls to me to step into a healing moment; to make me whole and pause to listen to what the “impeded stream” sings to me. For Shobna, gardening is a quiet moment to listen to the “impeded stream.”

Today, as I checked Facebook, Parker Palmer posted another Berry poem: The Peace of Wild Things. Here, we are called to, in times we do not have a frame of reference for, to turn to poets to help find paths forward. In various ways, they remind us to each look for what keeps us moving , especially in times of turmoil and despair. When I hike and find my path blocked, I pause, look, and listen. In life, I find ways to move ahead, embrace uncertainty, and recognize I am walking my own path, as Antonio Machado would remind me, but I am not alone.

As Shobna points out, I only have to look and I “see that kindness is more visible these days.” Health care workers, farmers, grocery store employees, and many others, often strangers, stand in the breach to help. If these are to recall Dickens, the best and worst of times, what makes them the best is to pause, when my path is blocked, to find what calls us and ask we each ask ourselves what calls us.

One of the things I take for granted is music. It is part of my love of poetry. In particular, lyrics pull me to them. I am fortunate to listen to a small community-based and funded radio station, CKUA, and have it on non-stop. To say it is eclectic is an understatement. They do play top-40, but it is often from years and decades ago.

In keeping with my love of music, I leave you with two videos. The first by Jimmy Buffet got me through tough times years ago. It reminds me who I am and live that way. I have always been a person who walked to the beat of my own drummer and am a bit of a pirate, regardless of age.

 

The second is one I used to listen to with my mother years ago. It is a gospel song written and performed by Gene McLellan, a Canadian, called Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man Who Stills the Water. Now, my mother and I did not always agree on music, but we had some serious overlaps such as Gene McLellan, the Beatles, Elvis (if she did not have to watch), etc.

 

 

Let Go

via Let Go

Eddie posts short quotes and images about living mindfully and being aware of how we each live. Let go is a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh who provides wonderful insights into how to let go and be in the present. For me, They’s most profound quote is about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Make no mistake, this challenges me. It is not only difficult to live fully in the moment, it is impossible. Being aware of this paradox of letting go and being in the present moment is part of mindfulness.

I tell hockey players, students, and anyone who will listen for that matter to figure out what we each control and don’t in our lives. This is important in daily life and essential in times like this when we are faced with even more uncertainty.

I try to stick to a routine, getting up at the same time, making breakfast (now for Kathy who is working at home), going for a walk, checking email, writing, reading, etc. I spend a little time watching local news to make sure I have a sense of what is going on close to me.

For the most part, social distancing has not been difficult. I am a profound introvert who loves the ritual of routine. I still wave to people, smile at them on my walks, and pause to chat. On the other hand, this has been difficult for those who thrive on engaging socially. Maybe, as it is for me, this is a time to reflect on what has happened in my life and let go of things to live more fully in the present.

What am I grateful for? It may sound odd, but making breakfast and lunch for Kathy is something to be grateful for. What are you grateful for that might have emerged in these difficult times with rapid change? What have you let go of?

I leave you with a prayer by Thomas Merton called A Prayer of Unknowing. It has echoes of the 23rd Psalm. I have not researched it, but I suspect all cultures and religions have a similar prayer to help guide each of us through uncertain, sometimes dark moments.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen

Here is a video from Michael Franti called Good to Be Alive Today. How do we put our spin on feeling good about being alive today? How do we each reach out to others?

 

Please drink of me, my love

via Please drink of me, my love

John provided a wonderful post. He often writes poetry and includes images, but this time he was prosaic. His most common theme is love and he was true to that in his post. The link above includes a video.

Along with images, John embedded a video of one of my favourite performers, Leonard Cohen. Cohen’s songs are poems put to music. This link includes a video from Cohen’s recently released posthumous CD.

I have listened to his music and read his poetry for 40 years. The song John posted, Dance Me to the End of Love, is my favourite Cohen song. I am unsure of its underlying, but I think of it as an ode to perfect love that continues like a great dance. Love of this kind does not die. Instead it lives on and is remembered by those who witnessed it.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about how our ancestors are always present. I think, with a perfect love, people remember it in the stories and people who were part of that love.

Here is the URL for the Leonard Cohen song Sisters of Mercy. He was well known for writing songs about what he experienced. People interpreted this song as being about prostitutes, but Cohen said the idea came to him as he sat in a hotel room in Edmonton watching nuns come and go from a convent. He took some poetic licence in writing the lyrics.

 

 

Welcoming Arms

via Welcoming Arms

Eddie provides a quote from Khalil Gibran reminding me how Nature welcomes me with beauty and silence, adding to a post from the other day. Where do we each find peace?

There is an echo from Thomas Merton who warned us about the busyness of the modern world, writing in the middle of the 20th Century. With a little effort, we find nature and silence in urban settings, renewing the spirit and the body.

In nature, we have opportunities to hold the wolf of busyness at bay as we experience solitude and peace, which provide moments for deep reflection and introspection.

Path 1

I took this picture of a path that climbs out of the river valley and back into the edge of downtown Edmonton. For me, it is easy to walk these paths and find moments of peace and solitude in the shadow of a large urban setting

Leonard Cohen

We did not get a chance to see Leonard Cohen live, but I have listened to him for a long time. I bought Songs of Leonard Cohen a couple of years after it was released.

One of the songs on the album was Sisters of Mercy, which Cohen wrote here in Edmonton. As he told the story, he sat in his hotel room, looking out the window, and below he saw nuns walking to and from their convent. He determined they belonged to the Sisters of Mercy and wrote this song.

Leonard Cohen also wrote Hallelujah. My favourite version is by kd lang, another Canadian artist. We have many songs from various stages of her career.

Kathy and I have attended concerts by kd lang (another great Canadian artist) and her version is spell-binding. She has a pure voice and sings with so much power I have goose bumps.

One Bourbon

via One Bourbon

Matthew posted this poem in response to my pressing of an earlier post. I included a video by John Lee Hooker of a song called One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.

Matthew wrote a poem that embraces how a blues singer might go about writing a song. I find blues songs are never complete. I listen to one version of a song, even by the same performer, to find it is slightly different. Sometimes it is quite different.

Although he is not a blues singer per se, I enjoy Jimmy Buffett, as well. He does a Lord Buckley song called God’s Own Drunk. It is funny, charming, and Buffet does his version as a kind of talking blues.

I tried several times to upload the video, but failed. I held my mouth just right and it did not work. Here, is the link to God’s Own Drunk.

 

Where Words Fails

via Where Words Fail

Thank you to Misifusa for this wonderful post.

I have not posted for some time. This seemed like a good way to begin again, afresh. When I was growing up, we listened to a wide variety of music, including Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. I thought it was the norm and grew into a die-hard blues fan, attending concerts by Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, and King Biscuit when they traveled to Canada.

As an adult, I saw BB King, John Mayall, Etta James, Ruthie Foster, Taj Mahal, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and others. An American friend told me this was not the norm in the US. He did not have the same opportunities to see these performers as I did or, if he did, it was long after they were in their primes.

The Hans Christian Anderson quote fits well “where words fail, music speaks”. Music breaks down barriers without realizing they are coming down. As a Canadian, I had freedoms I took-for-granted, like the music I listened to and the concerts I attended. When I taught, I played a wide variety of music each morning. It ranged from the blues to jazz to country to folk to old rock and to more contemporary music. Students enjoyed it and it surprised them when they heard me play old Johnny Cash, the blues, and rock-a-billy.

Music is colour-blind or, better yet, music is blind to colour.

I like this particular John Lee Hooker song, which I first heard in the early 1970’s. George Thorogood plays it in most of his concerts in tribute to John Lee. Enjoy.

 

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