It is the season for contemplation, and more so than ever this fall. As the darkness descends, I find myself settling into my home, doing fall cleaning, and planting spring bulbs. The ultimate in an expression of hope. Next spring will bring crocus, daffodil, and hyacinth.
I have always been a believer in “think global, act local.” When I see flags and signs, I can appreciate the sentiment of “God Bless America” but I want it to go further. What about “God Bless the Earth” or “God Bless All People”? What about a flag with the earth on it? I don’t have any easy solutions to the trouble at hand, but I sure have questions.
My answer, as always, is to look within. To look at how my own life reflects the greater world situation. To find any place of discord and to focus on peace within myself, because, although I know it sounds simplistic, where else can it begin? As a writer of such idealistic songs as “Stone by Stone,” and “Peace on Earth,” I find my greatest challenge in manifesting my beliefs in my day to day life. I have to keep pulling my focus back to acceptance, and willingness to discard assumptions and judgments, even of myself, and be fully present in each moment.
Touring in Washington State, I played on Orcas Island in a cozy venue called The Living Room. Its creator, Susan Osborn, with a warm generous voice that pours out of her, and a heart and spirit to match, used to sing with the Paul Winter Consort when she lived out east. I met her back in those days, when I lived on the green in Litchfield, Connecticut, right next to where Paul had his office at the time. In recent years, since moving out to Orcas Island, Susan has spent a lot of her time in Japan, singing and recording traditional Japanese songs with English lyrics that she has written in conjunction with her husband poet/artist David Densmore. Together, Susan and David created The Living Room to bring music to Orcas, and to provide a space for workshops, art exhibits, and classes. Susan and I sat at breakfast the next morning and talked about the world and talked about our lives, and she turned me on to a book by Eckhart Tolle called The Power of Now. She loaned me both book and tape, and throughout the rest of my Pacific Northwest tour I alternately listened and read, immersing myself in his philosophy. Tolle presents a startlingly different way of looking at life that, despite its unorthodox approach, somehow aligns with my existing spiritual understandings, and is working its way into my consciousness and affecting how I see the world around and within me in a powerful way.
The highlight of these two months, in a full touring schedule that has taken me from Vermont to Washington and Oregon, has been my work in the schools. Being with the children, sharing music with them, simply fills me to the brim. In particular, some of my connections with individual students have affected me profoundly. And I have loved being able to settle into a region and play for both children and grown-ups, an experience I relished in both Franklin County, Vermont, and in Parkdale and Hood River, Oregon. The week in Franklin County was set up by the never-tiring Mark Sustic, an early organizer of the Champlain Valley Festival, and an Early Childhood mover and shaker in Franklin County for 20 years. I spent a delightful several days at the height of foliage season driving around the back roads of northwestern Vermont between elementary schools, libraries, and pre-schools from St. Albans to Richford to Swanton. I worked harder that week than I ever had before and had the time of my life doing it.
I spent four days in Parkdale, Oregon, at the foot of Mt. Hood, while I played at schools in Parkdale and nearby Hood River in the Columbia Gorge. The May Street Elementary School set me up in an unused portable classroom, where I played for groups of kindergarteners through 5th graders for two days. After the last children trailed out at the end of the first day, I sat in the stillness of the empty classroom, quietly frailing on my banjo. The result is a simple little tune I’ve called “The Bells of May Street,” and every time I play it it reminds me of my time with those sweet kids.
I concluded almost every children’s program of the fall with my song “Peace on Earth.” I like to teach two simple ASL signs that the children can sign along with the chorus, “peace on earth, peace on earth.” I teach them the sign for “peace” that starts like a handshake of friendship and spreads out into the world. Then I teach them, rather than the tiny sign for “earth”, the easier sign for “world.” I teach it by having them start with two “w” hands, thumb holding the pinkie down, the other three fingers up like a “w.” Bring the hands in till they touch, one in front of the other. One hand “stays home” the other goes “around the world.”
On the last night of my stay in Parkdale, Oregon, I went with my host family to the elementary school, for what turned out to be the most fun I had all fall, outside of sharing my music – an evening of family rollerskating in the gym. Many of the kids recognized me, even without my banjo and my bright dress and my bear puppet Ursa, and smiled and waved to me as they zoomed around the gym. As I got my rollerskating feet back under me – it’d been 20 years since I’d been on rollerskates! – I watched in awe the tiniest child there, a little girl in strap-on skates who stepped around the floor, holding tightly to her mother’s hand. When my hostess Beth announced the limbo, this little girl let go of her mom and got in line. She was tiny enough to pass upright under the bar that the other children had to fold themselves under. After standing off to the side watching for awhile, I decided if she could do it, I could do it, so I joined the line. On one round, I fell into line behind her. She turned around, a flicker of surprise rippling over her face as she apparently noticed me for the first time. Quickly she flashed a “w” hand and a big grin at me, and then turned and skated off! I am such a sucker for kids, I just stood there with my mouth open and my heart feeling like it would burst. I do have to say, if the world is in the hands of these wonderful children I sing with, there is hope.
I urge you to think global, and act as local as you can! Celebrate life, do what you love, love your family and friends, and be gentle with yourself.
Quite warmly, Lui