When Worlds Collide

When Worlds Collide, 13 November 2010

It’s 11 p.m. and I’m sipping a large cup of hot “Calm” tea (I do miss real tea, what we call “sweet tea” in the South). And I’m wishing I were instead inhaling apple pie and ice cream (Breyer’s Vanilla Bean, with maybe a fried baloney sandwich afterward – on white bread with Dukes mayonnaise – “to get the sweet out of my mouth”). The wishing is ’cause a couple of worlds collided tonight and I’m sitting in the middle of the emotion road.

I’ve believed in reincarnation since my epiphany at the mailbox when I was twelve, in which moment I knew that, “I’ve always lived as somebody and always will live as somebody.” (I called that “My Theory” till I unexpectedly read about it four years later and found out what it was really called – and that I hadn’t invented it.) What I didn’t know then, though, was that by the time I’d reach my late fifties I would have lived what felt like several lifetimes in this one. No longer do folks remain in only one career for their entire working life. I think that my generation and the one following have been the first to experience this phenomenon on such a large scale. At fifty-eight (well, nearly fifty-nine, but why go there yet) I’d say I’m in my fifth life and in my fourth career, the unexpected one that began at fifty. Five very different worlds, two of which pulled up alongside each other tonight. (Okay, so they didn’t really collide, but collision makes for a better title).

Whether collision or not, the juxtaposition was bittersweet. Bitter because I’m no longer in either of those two worlds; sweet, because I’ve been so wonderfully reminded of them. Bitter, because aging can be, well, not so so free as the sweet bird of youth; sweet, because the gifts of Croning (or Aging-into-Sageing) make it possible to accept the bitter more easily.

In my second life (the one after the one most of us share – family, school, graduation) I was a singer-songwriter, a world that yielded sweetness and fulfillment matched by none of the others. With the expectancy of youth, I planned that life and went after it. My fourth life was spent as a historian, exhibit designer, and writer for the Wake Forest Birthplace Museum, the last thing I’d ever have thought to do since I cared little for history (well, I’ve always been fascinated by my own, but I’m egocentric that way). As part of the festivities for tomorrow’s official opening of the museum’s new building, the board of directors hosted a concert by Oklahoma singer-songwriter K.C. Clifford. She brought along husband David to play with her, humorously and poignantly entertaining the small, very receptive crowd. And I guarantee you none of the audience appreciated her offerings more than I.

In her mid thirties, K.C. is a gifted writer, singer, and guitar player (her Martin is a different body style than mine, but no sweeter). She even came with a dulcimer, something you don’t see younger folks playing much these days. Mine hangs on the wall in my living room (it needs some work), a cherished college graduation gift in 1974 from a long-ago friend. As K.C. and David played, I was taken back to my songwriting days and to the many small and large concerts I did between 1972 and and 1987. Such fun, such fulfillment, such glorious connection to the Muse. K.C.’s connection to her Muse is surely as deep and strong as mine. Somewhere late in the first set it came to me who she reminds me of vocally, Texas singer-songwriter Nancy Griffith. A bittersweet moment because Griffith’s song, Love at the Five and Dime, has followed me like a knife in the heart for years since the first time I heard its line, “Eddie traveled with the barroom bands till arthritis took his hands,” foretelling my own future as a one-time musician. Eddie, by the way, went on to “sell insurance on the side.”

The museum’s expansion since 1994 when I so unexpectedly went to work there is a real delight to me. And to see some of the work that I did still being used in the exhibits in the new building (to be unveiled tomorrow) truly warms my heart. I count myself very fortunate to have been the first of three employees to take a giant step in building upon the efforts of the dedicated women who began chronicling (in the late 1950s) the history of Wake Forest College and town. The work I did there during my three-plus years humbles and touches me. What I mean by that has to do with the definition of humility, which I see as the willingness and ability to honestly claim one’s gifts without self-effacement and to use them to serve a wider and greater good.

What happens to bodies of work that one can’t tend to any longer? How much human wonder has been lost in this world? As my efforts at the museum were built upon others’ shoulders, the work done since will stand, in part, upon mine. That is a legacy that will surely be here long after I’m gone. What about the music legacy, though, that heart of my heart? In the past year I found some cassette recordings I didn’t know I had of partial songs I’d forgotten I’d written. I’m slowly making CDs to preserve them; and yet, I’m wondering why I’m doing that. For myself, I suppose. I will enjoy hearing my children sing to me from time to time. And since I don’t have human children, these gifts, these children, won’t be passed down. The recordings will outlast me, of course. But I won’t likely play the songs again (not easily or often, I’m sure), and so their “live” lives are finished. (In case you’ve not figured it out by now, this is why I wish for pie, ice cream, real tea, and a baloney sandwich.)

K.C.’s gifts to me tonight were multi-layered. The obvious one is the sheer, stunning joy her music brought me. Another is the permitting of an invisible-to-all-but-myself passing of a torch to another generation of fine musicians. Lastly comes the recognition of a small taste of bittersweet grace in claiming my Aging-into-Sageing years, through which I’m slowly (painfully slowly, but hey, slow is still movement!) making peace with this legacy of mine that isn’t a legacy. And I’m sure this last will be what I call “one of the gifts that keep on giving.” That is to say, I’ll keep working on this one for some time to come.

Time travels. Worlds collide. Or perhaps they just nod at one another through car windows during brief pauses at stoplights. Whether collision or nod is irrelevant. What matters is that I came, that I saw, that my seeing allowed my creating. And that I will continue to be here, to be a see-er and a creator. Maybe not in ways that are so deeply and privately fulfilling as my guitar-playing, songwriting years, but surely in the midwifery of being present to the birthing songs of healing now being written and sung in this current life, this fifth world as spiritual counselor. In large measure, the fifth world was given birth by the concert I gave in 2002, my first in fifteen years, the one I performed to raise money for graduate school. (Barring miracle, it was likely my last; I’d been getting sick for that long.) The morning after, and for the seven weeks following, I was in a great deal of pain. It was worth it, though; it was worth it.

Oh, to write and play and sing again . . .  Perhaps in my next life? That’s a possibility; but I still wish for a baloney sandwich. Oh, and while you’re up, would you please bring me a glass of real tea?

© Amy Pierce and In Spiritual Wonder, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amy Pierce and In Spiritual Wonder with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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