Tuesday, November 17, 2015
In April of 1995, when I was finishing my CD Life Gets Real, the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown up, an act of domestic terrorism. I had just finished recording “God Is Sleeping” and paired my song with a lullaby version of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”
In October of 2002, a plane crash took the lives of Paul and Sheila Wellstone, their daughter Marcia, staff members Will McLaughlin, Mary McEvoy, Tom Lapic and two pilots. The entire state was grieving. I had a CD release concert scheduled the following week. I asked a friend of mine, a close friend of the Wellstones, how she was even functioning. She said, “There is work to be done. I’m going to keep working.”
Here I am in 2015 and I happen to be working on a song about Mother’s Day, the real Mother’s Day. The one organized by Anna Reeves Jarvis whose immediate goal was to improve sanitation in Appalachian communities. During the Civil War, she asked women to care for the wounded on both sides. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation for peace that begins: Arise, then, women of this day!
I am working on this song as I hear about Paris.
On Facebook, people are posting photos of the French flag along with expressions of their sorrow. A friend of mine posts a peaceful picture of his wife taken a year ago on a Paris street. In response, I post a couple of photos I took two years ago when we were in Paris: one of the Eiffel Tower, another of our table at Café de Flore, empty or near-empty coffee cups and plates with crumbs sticking to them.
I hear an interview with a woman who lives near the carnage in front of Le Carillon. She tells the interviewer that after she helps clean the broken glass from the street, she will dance because it is the only thing that will help her continue.
Soon there is a posting that says it is not Paris we should pray for. It is the world. The message is that this outpouring of grief for Paris is all over social media and the press, but there is nothing for the victims of the bombs that went off in Beirut or Baghdad.
When I hear about more attacks by ISIS or learn of another young mentally ill person who decides to slaughter others in a school or movie theater, it feels like a fist in my gut, I feel it take my breath, clench my heart.
Beirut, Baghdad, Mogadishu.
Kabul, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Ankara.
Kambari, Tripoli, Peshawar, Fotokol.
Copenhagen, Cairo, Lahore.
Tunis, Riyadh, Erbil.
These are only 20 out of hundreds of cities where terrorist attacks have happened this year. I have never had the pleasure of eating their food, gazing up at the sky above these cities, meeting their people, carrying the dirt from these places on my shoes.
But I have walked in Paris and mangled their language trying to order a meal. I’ve wandered through Notre Dame and Père Lachaise. I’ve had coffee with friends at Café de Flore.
I am connected to Paris because it is familiar. The grief is also familiar. It is indeed for the world because the horror continues and I worry that we will all become — or perhaps have already become — accustomed to it. Another bombing. More innocent people left dead, homeless, wounded in body and spirit.
I still believe the world is beautiful. There are some people who are doing their best to turn Eden into Hell, but the world itself is beautiful because of those working to turn it back into an Eden.
I stay open to all of it. The light and the dark. I keep my friends who are my family close.
I write songs. I sing them. It is the only way I know of to continue.