This song was written this summer, inspired by a friend’s story, so it is relatively true. I like it because as I’m getting older, and associating with more older people, I am absolutely intrigued by all the stories I hear that are part of their lives. Even my own stories sometimes feel like they belong to someone else because they happened so many lifetimes ago. The one thing I have come to understand, is that people can and have survived so many incredible things, sometimes wonderful, sometimes horrible, sometimes mundane, and learning about them enriches my life and my appreciation of life.
My partner and I were watching the bull riding championship finals this weekend, and it was pretty hair-raising! I had to admit, I felt sad about the guys retiring who weren’t able to ride their last bulls this weekend, and I felt bad that there couldn’t be two winners, because both of the last two cowboys were so great. But I had to tell myself that I too, survived a retirement where I didn’t go out at the top of my game, and though that was incredibly hard, I was able to get through it. The other part of that, is that in the old days, I never even thought I would be able to retire at all, because I made such a pittance in salary, and was not able to hold on to any savings. And here I am, both retired and happy. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had some awfully hard times in between. So though I feel both sympathy and empathy for others in their hard times, their heartbreaks, their struggles, exhaustion and transitional confusion, I also know that it is possible to get through it all, and in fact, those are the things that make for the best stories as well as a life that is lived to the fullest, which means it contains grief and joy, and every emotion in between.
This week I heard a story in my class at the senior center that made my hair stand on end, about hiding out in a wine cellar from both the Nazis and the Cossacks in World War II. This woman and her sister hid beneath the covers on a mattress on the floor, while a drunk Cossack felt up their mother, who was also on the mattress. Because he was so drunk that he fell asleep, they were safe for a short time (although they couldn’t really move much), and when he awoke he was distracted and left without ever seeing the sisters or finishing what he was planning to do to the mother. Later when I commented on her story and how scary it was, she just said, “Well, I survived.”
Another story I heard was about a mother of one of the other women in the class, who, being forced by her daughter to decide on some project to do, chose getting her bat mitzvah. She was 80 years old at the time, and in finding a group of young adults to help her study and “drag her along” as my friend put it, she also got herself a group of people who took her to doctor appointments, looked out for her in inclement weather, generally checked up on her. And she did the ceremony and reading perfectly in the end, with her daughter as a part of the ceremony. That’s a pretty great story.
One of the things I have recently been working on, is a song for my father, kind of telling the story of his life in 4 or 5 verses — kind of a challenge, but very rewarding. (It will be up on this site on his birthday, in the middle of November.) I may have gotten my love of storytelling, or documenting and chronicling (sp?) stories from him, as he has been writing stories all his life, about his childhood, his mother, his father, his experience in college, our trip to Australia, you name it! He has also self published much of it, because he knows the length of time it takes to get things published, and at this point, he doesn’t know how much time he has left. He is leaving his legacy, and I greatly admire that, as I do for anyone who has the ability to write. But what I realized with this song, is that one of the things I am interested in, is writing songs for those who have no memoir, no record of their stories. So that will be one of my endeavors as I move to the next place in my life.
Everyone has a million stories of their own lives or ones that have touched theirs. The friend who told me the story that I wrote the song about, said in wonder, that what he’s learned, is that everyone has a story and that is what clicked for me when I wrote the song. I think that I am going to remember to be open to people’s stories, and to be a good listener, because not only does everyone have stories, they deserve to be able to share them as a reminder that they were indeed upon this earth, and influenced others and were influenced by others. I look forward to the new stories I hear as we make our transition to Trail’s End.