This week I have been thinking a lot about an essay I wrote back in 2012. Today, I would simply like to share it again with you:
“You Take The Songs Of Those, And You Sing Them Into The Future.”
What is the song you will leave behind?
A song that others will sing long after you are gone?
I don’t mean this from just your entire life, but even a single interaction you have with another. What do you leave behind that inspires them, grows in them, affects them in a positive way, and helps shape their actions?
Perhaps it is a story, or an attitude, an experience, or knowledge. Something about you that lives on in others, that they embrace, come to embody, and in doing so, a small part of you lives on far into the future. Not as merely a memory, but an action. That the decisions and attitudes of others are shaped by you, long after your time here and now is gone.
In the work I do with writers and creators, we are focusing on how they can create more, engage an audience, and have their ideas shape the lives of others.
For a writer or artist, their work will essentially be remixed into the lives of others, and evolve without them. You can write a song from your heart, but you can’t control what others hear in it, and what it means to them. Same with a book and most forms of creative work. You write it with one intention, but the reader brings their perspectives and life history to how they read it. That is the beauty of art, it is a mixture of the the person who creates it, and the person who sees it.
One of my favorite singers, Glen Hansard, performed a medley of songs back in 2010 that I always listen to. It includes “Parting Glass,” which he describes this way:
“That’s an old Irish song from the 16th century, made famous by The Clancy Brothers. All the Clancy brothers have passed. I guess in oral tradition, you take the songs of those, and you sing them and you sing them and you sing them and you sing them into the future.”
And now in hearing this, his audience has the opportunity to continue that tradition. To add something of themselves to it as well.
Glen sings another song in this medley, “Heyday,” a hopeful song by his friend Mic Christopher who passed away after an accident in 2001. As Glen travels the world, he sings Mic’s songs to new people he meets. In a tiny way, Mic’s attitude and ideas live on. His music lives on.
Recently I read something that moved me in the deepest ways, and I can’t think of anything more appropriate to share as we end this year, and enter a new one. This was written by someone I used to work with, Jeff DeBalko. We stay connected on social media and via email, but seeing this written on his Tumblr really gave me so much to consider:
“On Father’s Day in 1996, my son Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia… his treatment was 2 1/2 years. During that time there were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of rushed drives to the hospital, and the incredible anxiety and fear of every test to see if the cancer had returned. Ryan, unfortunately has been left with severe developmental disabilities. At 20 years old, he struggles to read and write, struggles to tell time or do any kind of math, is unable to tie his shoes, and has a hard time walking down stairs without help. When he was 16, he was diagnosed with Epilepsy, likely caused by brain damage from the chemo, and now takes daily medication to reduce seizures.”
But what Jeff takes from this, and how it affects his daily life is inspiring to me:
“Despite all his challenges, Ryan is truly the happiest and most appreciative person I have ever known… It’s amazing how your child getting cancer can straighten out your priorities very quickly and make you realize that there are very few things in life worth arguing about. Even with what has happened to Ryan, our family realizes how lucky we are. Many of the friends we met in those early days in the hospital lost their son or daughter. Out of this tragedy came many great things and great lessons… We cherish every single day together and enjoy every vacation and holiday together. All because of Ryan.”
This is not to say that daily life cannot be a big challenge for Ryan, Jeff, and their family. But the perspective that they take from their experiences helps create more special moments than bad days. This is a photo of Jeff and Ryan from years ago:
Through Jeff’s Instagram account, I have watched him and the now grown Ryan bond over golf year after year:
As I look forward to next year, I am keeping this in mind. How fortunate we are to have the opportunity to create. Not just books or songs or art, but to create moments for others. These experiences become the building blocks for our lives, as they are inspired and informed by the work that you shared with them.
Thank you Glen. Thank you Jeff. Thank you Ryan. Thanks to all of you out there, singing your songs.