I’ve been sleeping in her bed with her, nervous at listening to her uneven breathing and feeling her body radiate heat, but more nervous to be in the other room. Throughout the night, she says, “Mama?” and asks for water, more blankets, fewer blankets, or the ice pack that fell on the floor. She is constantly aware of my presence. “Mama?” I love to hear her voice asking for me, assuming I am there. Most of all, I love her arm reaching to me in her sleep, not needing anything. Reaching because, even as she dreams, she dreams of me.
My work is wrapped up in the self I knock against every ordinary day. It is in my home. It is there with me on vacation. It is in breathing and being; in worrying less and wondering more; in the act of loving (or cooking or cleaning or playing or resting), rather than in analyzing how well I’m doing it. Don’t get me wrong; my work is hard work (as is yours). But it is very simple. It is right in front of me.
I think this is the way it must be. Every musical child born into the music of a people and place must also hear and see music done by others outside your immediate circle. There must be some heroic figure (and hopefully several) that inspire the young musical person to imagine himself or herself doing that thing, or something similar — essentially, making something. Saying in your energized imagination and will, “I want to make that. I will make that.”
The power of place cannot be underestimated. This is why artists leave one place and move to another. The new place likely comes with a story—a story that tells the artist, “If you want to be a songwriter, this is the place to do it. This is the place that others have done the very thing you want to do. This is a place rich in stories — it’s a history-making place.” When young songwriters tell me they are moving to Nashville, it’s not because of the Tennessee Titans or our famous meat and three cuisine.
Places, and the people that inhabit places, are never neutral in what they give birth to. People and place are meaning makers.
When my boys ask me on the way to church why I like the Liturgy I tell them, “Because it’s beautiful.” I ask them to look for that beauty, not just now, but always, even one moment of that beauty in the middle of the noise, in the middle of the boredom. I tell them about the wind turbines on either side of I-65 near Lafayette, how on a long journey it’s important that we observe those small moments of beauty, though we might be tired or bored or hungry or distracted.