As the strangest year of my life draws to a close, I reflect on four words that have defined my 2020 - Gratitude, revelation, service, acceptance.
Gratitude. As this year has progressed, it has been the one word, the one thought I keep coming back to. It is a constant reminder to not take anything for granted. Gratitude is what keeps me grounded. But you cannot truly be grateful for all of the things that collectively make up the life you have built, the accomplishments you have made, and the people who surround you without having moments of revelation.
When a global pandemic changes the way you go about your daily life – possibly long term – there is bound to be some “a-ha!” moments found when the world population is forced to slow down its frantic and begin healing itself – physically, spiritually and mentally. At the outset of the lockdown that occurred in New York State, I spent three months away from my day job. Any gig work I had on my schedule was cancelled, rescheduled for a later date, only to be cancelled again. As I took walks with my partner Sheila and our dog Addison, the world was eerily absent of the “normal” sounds of traffic on the highway in the distance, or the sound of planes flying overhead as they departed and arrived at the airport that is only a short drive from where we live. In that silence, the awareness of my surroundings on these walks heightened. What seemed to be an every week occurrence of having to “be somewhere” – whether it was to work, to a weekend of gigs on the road, or to get together with friends or family - came to a rather pleasant halt and resulted in a quieted mind, because there was no longer a daily grind.
Trips to the grocery store were reduced from once to twice per week, down to two per month. “Stocking up, just in case” became the main purpose of those trips, and they were done with a focused mindset of safety, caution and with a great deal of trepidation. And even though we were “stocking up” on essentials, with time, it became evident that many of us were realizing that we could live just fine with less of the non-essential items we collect throughout our lives. We found we could do without all of the material “things” we as a society deemed to be important to our social and economic status.
Circumstances forced us to find new ways to work, worship, and interact - remotely and safely from home. A great majority of people who do what I do – performing live music – found ourselves creating new ways to get our music out to our audience. This literally amounted to the adaptation of new skills on not only a technical level, but in performance. We had to learn how to come across with the same sincerity, sing with the same amount of passion, and be just as engaging through the screen of someone’s computer as if we were performing for a roomful of people. We learned how to set up virtual tip jars, and Venmo became a verb. Through week after week of trial and error, we learned how to improve the quality of the audio and video we were sending out to our audiences. On a personal level – I purchased a new Macbook, along with the necessary peripherals and reacquainted myself with the world of home recording, mainly in an effort to document the close to two dozen songs I’ve written over the past few years. In doing so, and in releasing them via my website, it has revealed to me how much of an audience I don’t have and that fact in and of itself - has been quite sobering. Because of that, I was reminded once again that my role as musician, as a partner, in my day job, and as a human being – is to be of service.
To be of service to others can take any one of the many paths available. Being asked to make the small sacrifice of wearing a mask is being of service to others. Placing the needs of your spouse or partner, of your family, friends and neighbors above those of your own is not only being of service to them, it is also a great sign of love, even if it’s the simple act of making a meal. Over the past 18 months or so, I have learned so much from simply taking care of our dog Addison - who can do nothing for me in return. Addie was diagnosed with stage 3 kidney failure in the early part of 2019. Additionally, she has had dental issues which required her to have a good deal of her teeth removed as she has aged. Conversely, it has led to having us literally hand feed her, which can be unfortunately – just like pulling teeth at times. But we do it – patiently, and without condition, and I’m certain that she feels the love that is present in this act. Without a second thought, we would provide the same care for our cats, Grace and Bigsby. After all, I end my daily mantra before leaving for work each day with, “blessings upon us all – creatures great and small.”
Solely speaking from my perspective as a songwriter, it means to serve the song; from its inception, through the creation of its various drafts, in the eventual recording process, and in its live performance. If I do all of those things, and do them with genuine intention, I feel that I can properly serve the audience of that music – whether it’s in a recorded version or live performance. And that requires an “a-ha!” moment when you realize that the goal of making the connection between performer and listener can only be properly achieved when there is no longer a separation between the two. We become one, or “in concert”.
I also realized that perhaps the aim of recording my songs in my home studio and simply uploading them to my website at a “pay what you want” price point was perhaps too small minded of a purpose. So in an effort to be of service, I decided to make this all digital album – titled “The Share Project” – truly live up to its name by donating 100% of the money generated from those downloads to my local food bank, FeedMore WNY. This has become especially important during this pandemic, when food banks, soup kitchens and pantries have become incredibly stressed by a greater than ever need for their services. Giving back to your community and building a bigger table when you have more than others is a great way to serve. Volunteering your time is just as important as donating funds.
However, I strongly feel that it in order to express sincere gratitude, to experience profound life altering moments, and to unconditionally be of service requires one to submit to full acceptance of where one is on their journey. Acceptance of the decisions you have made, responsibility for one’s words and actions, acceptance of not only your moments of success, but more importantly – the times you have failed. With that in mind, I momentarily return to revelation, because as I’ve been authoring this little essay, I have realized that an analogy I once made about cooking and recording a song, to now be true of life itself.
Recording a song can be a bit like following a recipe; the song in its most basic form is kind of the cooking vessel into which all of the “ingredients” (instruments) will go. If done with care, with proper time, and with the best ingredients available, the results can be very “tasty”. Sometimes, more often than not – we may fail to make the perfect recording, the perfect version using the “recipe” available at the time. And in life, we try to do the same – in our relationships, and in our work, with what is available to us at any given moment or situation, hopefully done with the best of intention, and with acceptance of the successes and failures along the way. We make mistakes, we own them, and we try again. Sometimes we knock it right out of the park. Sometimes we need a little extra salt.
So, as we prepare to flip the pages of the calendar from one year to the next, let us do so with gratitude – for what we have and perhaps with a greater amount of thanks for what we don’t have. For what we have learned about ourselves during this pandemic that has hopefully allowed for growth as we move forward on this journey. For the moments of true revelation when we realize that life is not just about our individual experience, but how our individual experience allows us to be a better part of the bigger picture of the whole global community. I believe a possession of that mindset can in turn allow us to be of greater service to others. And with that, we come to acceptance of all things – the good, the bad, the ugly, the triumphs, the times we fall flat. To accept ourselves as we are, right here and now. To realize and accept that there is always room to improve and grow. To listen to new ideas, to accept that there are other, and perhaps greater possibilities, to be accepting of others who may look, speak or believe differently than us, and realize those minor differences help us to find how much more we share in common.
And to finally accept when it’s time to let go, and to move on – from people, places, memories, from the expectations of what we think we are or supposed to be - and from this year.
Lead with love. Act with kindness. Strive for peace. Happy New Year!