I am sitting here listening to a song, The River Knows Your Name, by my favourite singer-songwriter, John Hiatt. It’s from the album Walk On which was the first album of John’s I bought and still the one which captivates me the most.
In the town in which I live are three rivers and the smallest one flows into a larger one and then further along that river flows into the largest. So there are 2 points along the journey of each river where a river merges with another and becomes one before individuating once more.
I am reminded of the quote attributed to Rumi – “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” I like that. We don’t have to surrender our individuality in realising we are each more alike than different.
I was thinking about water and how it often represents emotion and just as the song began, rain started to pelt against the window. There’s a whole world outside that window. I used to get up really early and walk about and streetlights would be on and the occasional lighted window in the houses around me but by and large, everyone would be in the land of slumber having hopefully nice dreams and who knows, maybe some astral travel as well.
The rain hit the windows hard and I was reminded of the musical warrior, Gord Downie. A remarkable individual. I was introduced to him through the parent band, The Tragically Hip. The album was Live Between Us. It was so different to anything I had heard before yet I was captivated at once by the sound and feel of the band and the deftly poetic allusions created by Gord as he expressed himself artistically through song.
The first studio album I heard was In Violet Light and I was especially taken by a song called “It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken.” Gord Downie died in 2017 of an aggressive form of brain cancer, called glioblastoma.
In the time remaining after his diagnosis, he went on a final tour with The Hip and that last show is on YouTube in its entirety. The song Grace, Too is incredibly hard to watch because in the screams contained within the song is a man railing against the dying of his own light. He begins to cry. The screams become a cri de couer. It makes me want to reach into the screen and hold him and tell him everything will be okay although he and I would know that it wouldn’t be. I would still want to reassure him in some way. At least to let him know I value/valued his presence on this Earth.
Gord also recorded a haunting album entitled Secret Path which charted the short life of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy who ran home one night from an Indian residential school before sadly succumbing to hunger and exposure. His body was found next to a railway line. He had walked for 36 hours in sub-zero temperatures, wearing just a windbreaker. It’s a powerful musical statement pertaining to a terribly sad time in the history of Indigenous peoples living in Canada.
When I was in Intensive Care last year, I got chatting to a nurse who worked there. She was mad keen on the band Rush, another group of incredible Canadian musicians and it was through her I reacquainted myself with them. The drummer Neil Peart had himself passed away due to brain cancer. I had in the past been crazy about the band and had seen them in London on their R30 tour. The only concert I have been to where people not only stayed for the drum solo but awaited it with baited breath and Neil didn’t disappoint. Three master musicians.
Anyhow, I started watching YouTube videos and I came across a performance of “It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken” performed at the 2021 Juno Awards with the remaining members of The Tragically Hip and with special guest Feist on vocals. It broke me in two. Here I was, still close to death and yet suddenly remembering how precious life was/is. Sometimes I forget. I have healed and life goes on. Gord isn’t here. Neil isn’t here. Their music however remains, as do I.
And as do you reading this.
If I could, I would reach out from this screen and hug each and every one of you and let you know, in no uncertain terms, how grateful I am that I know you.
Thank you for your Earthly presence in my life.