Listen: things are not normal right now.
It is OK to not be OK.
A global pandemic, catastrophic fires exacerbated by climate change, a divisive election, ongoing political bickering amidst diminishing civility, human rights violations, and racial/caste injustice…
In the face of unprecedented, unimaginable, unrelenting heartbreak it is OK to not be OK.
Focus on the things you can reach and make better, even if it’s just being kind or mindful or momentarily witty. Even if it’s just being you.
This moment, this season, this year will keep marching on. The heartbreak will slow down and relent. There will be bright and sunny and happy days again, even if they’re hard to see through the smoke.
If you haven’t heard of Blind Willie Johnson, he was born in 1897 in Texas. When he was five, his father gave him his first guitar made out of a cigar box. At seven, his stepmother splashed lye in his eyes, causing permanent damage. He practiced his music in church and wanted to be ordained as a minister. Johnson sang on the street to hone his craft and music – becoming a master of playing songs in open D tuning. When he was 30, he was found by a talent scout for Columbia Records and over a series of years recorded many songs including “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”. He was so good they arrested him once in New Orleans for trying to “incite a riot” with one of his songs. He eventually became a Reverend and played music around Texas through the Great Depression. In 1945, his house burnt down and with nowhere else to go, Johnson stayed, exposed to the elements. He caught malaria and because he was black and blind and technically homeless, no hospital would admit him and he died that same year.
Fast forward to 1977: NASA was constructing Voyager, our first spacecraft that would leave the solar system. They asked Carl Sagan and a team that included science writer Timothy Ferris to create a collection that showcased the human experience on Earth to be imprinted on two golden records and included with each Voyager. Ferris helped select Johnson’s, “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”.
In 2010, the Library of Congress added the same song to the National Recording Registry.
Voyager 1 left the solar system in August 2012, Voyager 2 in November 2018. Both craft, to this day, give us unprecedented insight into the nature of the outer reaches of our solar system and open space beyond – and on their journey, they carry with them the hard-won-through-pain music of a blind, black gospel singer and masterful guitarist pressed on a golden record that will reach further into space than any other human effort to date. A testament to the enduring human spirit of exploration and curiosity for the good of everyone.
Some far-future humans or alien civilization may happen across Voyager, put that golden record on a far-future equivalent of a record player, and Blind Willie Johnson’s music will spring forward into a future that we can only imagine right now, and one that, from his burnt-down house in 1945, must have seemed unreachable to Blind Willie Johnson.
Our impact on the world is sometimes impossible for us to see or know. Your presence makes a difference so far beyond anything you can imagine. All you have to do is be you.
If you have the capacity to help, you can go here to find a path that resonates with you: https://www.coloradoresponds.org/
If you don’t, give yourself space and time to breathe if you can. I highly recommend the Ten Percent Happier app but there are so many great free resources out there to grow that space when it seems hard to find.
If the most you can do is just be you, just be you.