Normally, I’m only back home for the holidays when it’s 20 below zero outside with a blizzard churning outside the farmhouse kitchen window — just as I pour my first cup of coffee, a momentary sigh in acceptance and familiarity of bad weather in the North Country.
But, here I am, walking out into my mother’s garden with coffee in hand, late spring sunshine and green grass amid countless perennials blossoming around the backyard. And yet, the serene scene unfolding before my eyes is a far cry from the suddenness and devastation literally spreading like wildfire across our country right now.
I don’t have the answers to any of the centuries-old questions being asked right now when it comes to systemic racism and social injustice in America. I can’t offer a solution beyond simply coming together for positive change and recognizing each other as equal human beings. But, I do know how to listen.
And I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, just listening. Whether it be watching first-hand accounts on the evening news of protesters for the death of George Floyd or the words of compassion through a megaphone by Floyd’s brother, Terrence, or the sorrow and hope expressed by rapper/activist Killer Mike at an Atlanta press conference — begging protesters to stop rioting, to go home and fight in the voting booth.
Sitting up here at the northern tip of the United States, I’m physically removed from the chaos and madness roaring through metro areas hundreds and thousands of miles away. And yet, my Facebook feed is now full of posts from close friends and loved ones who protested on Monday night in Asheville, only to be in the midst of tear gas canisters launched and rubber bullets shot.
But, through all of this — the Coronavirus Pandemic, the riots and injustice, severe political division, the uncertainty of what will reveal itself in the morning — I remain optimistic. It’s in my blood and part of the core of my being. Shit, what else are you going to do? Give up? Hell no. We’re better than that as people. We can (and will) build a brighter tomorrow.
By the time I took the second sip of my third cup of coffee on Monday, I figured I’d spend the afternoon hiking up a mountain, something away from incessant social media and 24-hour news cycles — to clear my head and make sense of where we currently stand, where we may ultimately go moving forward.
In figuring out where to hike, I also needed to track down some new ukulele strings for a vintage Harmony baritone that I recently acquired. Seeing as New York State is still phasing in retail stores, the only music shop open Monday afternoon was an hour away. Luckily, it was in downtown Saranac Lake, which, for me, is the heart of the Adirondacks.
Approaching the register of the music shop, I went to pay for the strings and noticed a “Grateful Dead For Ukulele” book within reach. It was serendipitous, coming across this publication with the songs of a band (a pillar of my melodic existence and life ethos) whose message of love and compassion between one another touched the lives of countless millions of fans, and continues to do so.
Hitting the trailhead of Mount Baker, I trotted up the trail, over roots and boulders, around the ridge and to the summit. Overlooking Saranac Lake and the surrounding mountains, I thought of all the people down below, those faces and voices who have similar sentiments and concerns about what tomorrow will bring.
I looked up to the heavens and back down below, and wished everyone well in their respective endeavors, that peace and understanding (and hope) from my intent would push outward into the rest of our planet — kindness breeds kindness, and the same goes for when it comes to understanding others who may differ from you.
By Tuesday morning, I once again awoke in the big, cozy brass bed at my parents’ farmhouse. Coming down the old creaky wooden stairwell, I entered the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. Sipping the hot liquid, I relaxed into my thoughts and intents for the day, and of what I can do to be a better human being in the grand scheme of things.
After restringing my old Harmony baritone, I sat down and plucked the strings until it was in tune. Reaching for the “Grateful Dead For Ukulele” book, I flipped to “Ripple” and began my deep dive into figuring out the tune on the acoustic instrument.
For each chord and lyric line of “Ripple” learned, I found myself once again in awe of the melody and how it gave me hope for a new day, “Reach out your hand if your cup be empty/If your cup is full may it be again/Let it be known there is a fountain/That was not made by the hands of men.”
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.