Thursday, December 31, 2020

Turn the Page: Saying Goodbye to 2020

Thomas Neal Cartmell died yesterday, after a long battle with cancer, at age 72. If you're a fan of classic rock, you know him by his performing name-- Alto Reed-- and for his outstanding work with Bob Seger. As a member of the Silver Bullet Band, Alto was the sax player on one of my favorite mid-1970s songs, "Turn the Page." (You can listen to it here:

I find myself thinking about that song a lot since Alto passed-- many of my friends are musicians, and it's an excellent depiction of what life was like on the road back then.  If you were a relatively unknown band, like Rush was in those days, you spent long hours in your tour bus, driving from city to city, day after day. The famous bands had elegant and comfortable buses; the up-and-coming bands, not so much.  It could be a lonely and challenging way to make a living: sometimes, the fans liked you, sometimes they didn't, yet you had to keep going. "And you don't feel much like driving, you just wish the trip was through..." 

Much to their surprise, Rush found a home away from home in Cleveland, where fans loved their music and eagerly came to their concerts. But in other cities, the reception wasn't as warm. Still, the guys persisted, never giving up, never slowing down, determined to bring their music to as many fans as possible. (And since I was speaking about Bob Seger, it's interesting to note how at one point in March 1977, Rush found their path intersecting with his, as they were his opening act in New York City. I remember it well.)

In 1987, Rush had their own song called "Turn the Page," a different song, of course, but the lyrics seem to speak to this moment: 

"Every day we're standing
In a time capsule
Racing down a river from the past
Every day we're standing
In a wind tunnel
Facing down the future coming fast..."
Tonight, all of us are facing down that future. Most of us will welcome it, because 2020 was such a brutal year and we're ready to say goodbye and good riddance to a year that took so many important people from us (including our beloved Neil Peart)-- thousands dead from COVID-19, so many celebrities and iconic figures gone; it's a world where it often seems anger and resentment are on the rise, and where kindness and compassion are in short supply. It's an insecure and uncertain world, with a future that holds no guarantees. And at times like these, what comforts many of us is music, friendship, and the faith that things will get better.
It would be easy to succumb to despair, given all that many of us have been through. But I look at us as survivors. We made it through a horrible year, and we're still here, despite the losses and despite the pain and despite the disappointments. In the end, it was the human connections that got us through 2020. I'm sure many of know know what I mean: even when we couldn't be there in person, we found ways to reach out through social media, or through Zoom or Skype, by sending a card, or by picking up the phone and calling. We encouraged each other, and we shared each other's lives as best we could. And we made it to the end of 2020.
And now, as 2021 arrives, I hope and pray that things will be better than they were in 2020. So much loss, so much sorrow, so much pain for so many people-- surely the year ahead will be better. If I could give all of you a hug, I would. If I could thank you all individually for being there for me, I would. And if I could give you a round of applause for coming on this journey and reaching the end of a difficult year, I absolutely would. We made it. The new year is here, and I'm ready to turn the page. I know you are too.  Happy new year.     

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Keeping Things In Perspective

As many of you know, I'm a cancer survivor. In fact, assuming I'm still here on the 17th of December, it will be six years since I had my surgery. And even on the days when I'm feeling frustrated by pandemic restrictions, or when some minor but annoying thing goes wrong in my life, I remain eternally grateful to be alive.

When I was a kid, I vaguely recall someone (perhaps it was my parents) reminding me that whatever I was upset about, there were people who had things much worse. That always seemed like such a cliché, and at the time, it also seemed really unhelpful.  But since my recovery from cancer, and since the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, I've found it's actually a sensible way to look at life. 

These past few months have been quite a lesson about keeping things in perspective: some of my students have endured periods of homelessness, or they can't attend classes regularly because they lack the technology at home. In fact, some of them have parents who are unemployed and the rent is due.  Meanwhile, I have colleagues who lost family members to COVID, and I have an older friend in assisted living who isn't allowed to have visitors. My musician friends still can't perform anywhere, and I know so many businesses that have had to close.  Whatever my problems are, they are nothing compared to any of that.

As I write this, my husband and I just observed another night of Hanukkah at our home, lighting the menorah by the window, to shine some light on the darkness outside. And all over my neighborhood, everyone else has put up their Christmas lights-- in the midst of such an insecure and difficult time, it's nice to see some beautiful decorations.  

It's also nice to know that there is a vaccine for COVID and soon, lots of people will be able to get it. Perhaps in the new year, the pandemic that has impacted so many lives will finally be under control. To be honest, I won't be sorry to see 2020 end; I'm sure lots of you would agree with that. But in spite of everything, I try to focus on how fortunate I am; that's worth remembering when I'm having an aggravating day.  And I know this year, more than at any other time, that so many people have things a lot worse than I do. 

And so, in this holiday season that is very different from previous years, let me wish you, my readers, health and happiness, love and light.  Even in times like these-- especially in times like these-- we all need a reason to celebrate; and I pray that you will have lots of reasons (and lots of celebrations) both now and in the new year ahead.