The Inspiration For Things That Make Life Worth Living: 29,000 Sunsets by Andrew Allen Smith
Many of you may know my friend, Andrew Allen Smith, an amazing indie author, dog whisperer, conduit of pure joy, wisdom-seeker, and all-around nice guy. Some of you know about his blog, 29,000 Sunsets, in which he writes daily about attitude, perspective, wisdom, joy, passion, and so much more. He also shares tremendously stunning photographs that accompany each day's thoughts. I read his posts each morning as I begin my day with hot cocoa and a sleepy dog on my lap.
After reading Andrew's thoughts for some time now, I have realized that too often, I don't pay enough attention to the elements in my life that help to grow a better me, nor do I truly appreciate the wonderment that exists every day.
Today, that changes. Today, I'm making a more concerted effort to reassess the value of the now and focus my energies on forward appreciation rather than backward regret.
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and so, I've made a choice to reframe my perspective of life daily and reflect on the Things That Make Life Worth Living... the tangible stuff you could put in a box and save under your bed forever, if you really felt the need... and the mysteriously magical stuff that you can always feel, sometimes see and hear, and rarely hold in the palm of your hand. I'll endeavor to write about it all here, hoping that what I write comes close to teaching me the same intentionality of life that Andrew lives.
I welcome your comments, should you feel so inclined... but respectfully request that, as Thumper taught us:
"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."
I was first introduced to Josh White Jr. and his music when I was 14 years old. I was an awkward, frail, shy, tremendously self-critical freshman in high school, trying to figure out where I fit. Through the magic of risk-taking, I discovered the family of Theatre in my first period Stagecraft class. Very quickly, I discovered that this was where I belonged. The theatre was filled with tremendously, creatively weird people who banded together like knights defending a castle... except that the castle morphed into a new set every eight weeks, and we were armed with songs and dance routines (many different variations of "jazz hands") as our weapons.
We worked late into the night, so many nights I've lost count, building worlds of escapism for others and commonality for each other. We had bonfires to celebrate our victories against becoming "normal," and we sang under the moon, in the stark morning light, and in snippets of choruses as we walked from class to class.
One night, early in my first autumn with this new family I'd discovered, I was invited to hear a folk singer perform at The Raven Gallery... an amazing fortress against the world where folk and blues music clung to the rafters and we theatre nuts helped push it out into the night skies. Josh White Jr. was there that first night I visited, with just a guitar and his strong, soothing, welcoming voice and incredible laugh. He told stories, shared the history of his legacy, passed from his famous father, and gave us permission and encouragement to sing on or off key, each with the same measure of reckless abandon.
I was immediately captivated by this incredible mistral and his music. He sang about Grandma's Hands, St. James Infirmary, The Dutchman, a Blue Balloon, Unicorns, Rainbows, and One Meatball. He invited us to sing along with him, and he taught us how to make it rain. He had a presence that was engaging, joyful, and larger than life on stage. Afterward, I gathered up my courage and approached him, certain that I would be easily dismissed. But I felt compelled to tell him how he'd touched me that night, even if it meant I would be rejected. I had to tell him how much I enjoyed the show.
When my small frame and tiny voice reached him, I discovered a remarkably soft, kind, gentle, humble, loving, generous human... more than imaginably possible. He drew me into a warm embrace and authentically thanked me for coming to the show, and that he was glad I had a good time. I was touched, felt seen, heard, and valued. There are moments in time when we realize that people are meant to be a part of our lives, for all our lives. This moment, meeting Josh for the first time, was such a moment for me.
From that time to this, whenever possible, I have traveled to all the venues, large and small... to fill my heart and soul with this man's music. I bought his records and memorized every word, every note. The theatre crew and I attended him at The Raven Gallery until it closed, we followed him to the basement at Red Cedars, to the hall at The Botsford Inn, to small farmer's markets, to The Ark in Ann Arbor, and small village music festivals all over Michigan. Yes, I am proud to admit that I became a devoted Josh White Jr. groupie. Josh's music got me through some of the most difficult and most joyous times in my life. His voice was there when my grandmother passed away, through relationships, heartbreaks, when my son was born, potty training my puppy, and so many more. His stories and songs, many of which were gifts from his father, are gloriously entangled into the soundtrack of my life.
At each live performance, I hang back afterward to tell him how I feel so grateful for his support of my spirit, for the joy of his music, and for the honor I feel each time, being able to hear him, and share him with those I cherish. Every time, he remembers me. We recognize each other as touchstone to our lives. We laugh, reminiscing on those early shows, we introduce our children to each other and talk about life and the projects we're working on... music, teaching, theatre, books. Sometimes, if I get to the venue early enough, I catch him and request a song. He never disappoints. After each show, we share a warm, long, sincere hug, and we take photos together to mark the year. (Someday soon, I'll digitize all the really old ones.)
This weekend, I again followed Josh to a small music festival on Saturday, and then to The Ark on Sunday, where he was celebrated for his 80 years of contributing to the world through his music and storytelling. I felt honored to be among the audience at both shows.
But more, I felt honored to receive his warm, strong hug and return it, kissing his cheek, and telling him in his ear how much he has touched, changed, and enriched my life. My joyful tears were silent... but my voice is not so tiny anymore. The generosity of Josh White Jr. and his music helped me to hear myself and be heard by others.
Josh White Jr. is more than a singer/songwriter to me. He is one of the people That Makes Life Worth Living!
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