As he does every morning before leaving for work, yesterday my husband, John, kissed me and said, “Have a nice morning. Love you.” But what he does not say every morning is, “Call me when you wake up.”
I nodded, smiled, and said, “Love you too.” I rolled over, and as I started to doze, thought about why he wanted me to call: Maybe he’s going to surprise me and tell me he’s taking the afternoon off. Maybe he wants to have lunch together. At 9:30, before I even crawled out of bed, I called John.
“Did you hear?” he asked.
My breath quickened. My resting heart rate went from 58 to one hundred fifty-eight.
“What?” I said.
“Pete Seeger died last night.”
Though I had never met Pete, I felt as if I had lost a loved one. I could barely speak, and wanted to cry, but could not, probably because I could not believe he was dead. I did not want to believe that Pete, a musical icon for decades, who persevered after being blacklisted for being convicted of “contempt of congress” in 1957 after refusing to answer questions about his party affiliation, was gone. I did not want to believe that the man who co-founded the Hudson River Co-op, who stood up for First Amendment rights, who at 92 marched with a thousand demonstrators as a part of the Occupy Wall Street protests, was gone. I wanted to believe that he was still going to step up on stage with his seasoned banjo and ask the audience to sing with him, sing “If I had a Hammer” and “Where have all the Flowers Gone.”
But he was ninety-four. I almost forgot that. After all, he had surprised us and showed up at the Farm Aid concert this past September and sang “This Land is Your Land.” We sang with him. And a few days before he went into the hospital, he was chopping wood. I don’t even chop wood, and I’m forty-seven.
That evening, John and I talked about other nonagenarians we know: our neighbor, John’s dad, and the residents of the assisted living facility we perform music for. We talked about how these people might pass: pneumonia, or peacefully in their sleep, like Pete, their overstretched hearts simply unable to beat another beat. We played some of Pete’s songs – John on the guitar and me on the fiddle. We still could not believe, or accept, that he was gone. But is Pete really gone. I mean did you see all the Facebook postings the day after he died? Pete’s voice, his music, affected lingering change. Even President Obama said so when he called Pete ‘“America’s Tuning Fork (thank you Wikipedia).”’
It’s two days after Pete’s death and I wonder how many weeks, months, or years until it’s time to say good-bye to my father-in-law, my neighbor, the residents of the assisted living facility, and my own parents. I wonder how many years I have left, John has left (I know this is terribly morbid, but it’s unavoidably real). Until then, though, there’s plenty of time, and space, for all of us to write, to sing, to speak-out, to do something, anything, that will keep our metaphorical banjo strings resonating. That’s what Pete would want.Read More