…and suddenly it’s Sunday night. My last show is no longer something I’m getting ready for. It happened. And it was a wonderful time. People came from all over. People were there from many states, including Alaska, (though I don’t think the show was the only reason for their trip). But people came from Missouri, Colorado and various other places too, and the show was the only reason for their trip. Amazing.
It was excruciating trying to decide what to play. I’ve put out ten records, and a show like last night’s starts to run a little long if you play too many more than 20 songs, so basically I left out five songs for every one I played. In the end, of course, I ignored the set list I had made and played some different songs anyway, but honestly, I don’t think it mattered too much. Playing music live, for me, is mostly about holding a space to be together for a while.
And, of course, when the show was over and I had talked with everyone who wanted to talk and signed everything that could possibly be signed, I played for another forty-five minutes or so for the folks who were still hanging around. I love playing, and I’ve had to learn over the years that it’s often better to stop than keep going.
And so I’ve officially changed my job now. I’m no longer a performing musician, since there are no performances on the calendar. Some would say I have a new vocation, given that we often use the word ‘vocation’ to mean ‘job.’ Vocation doesn’t mean job, though, it means calling. And that’s different.
There are so many ways to answer a calling. They’re not always dramatic— the sell-everything-and-move-to-Africa callings, or the quit-being-a-banker-and-go-to-seminary callings, though those count too. I’m so glad that people of compassion and vision work at banks and post offices and airports, too, and not just at churches and aid organizations.
Melissa Gutierrez, for instance, who was working at the Guatemala City airport last summer when I got stuck there due to a canceled flight and had to get to San Jose to speak at a huge gathering. After dealing with a long line of other frustrated passengers she took forty minutes with me trying to find a way to get me there on time, and in the end she did. She went far beyond the call of duty and changed my life significantly.
I was on my way to speak to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the governing conference that meets every two years to decide on the policies and positions of the church. They invited me to spend an hour speaking to the thousand commissioners (the ones who cast the votes to make those decisions) right before they went to do their committee work. In that hour I played three songs, but mostly I shared some thoughts on how it is that we go about changing the world, and what it means to be faithful in that effort.
My plan had been to get home to NC, drop my Guatemala gear, get my suit, guitar and drum and then fly to California the next day, but as it turned out I got into California straight from Guatemala with no suit, no instruments, no sleep, and only a few hours until I had to go on. Still, somehow it all worked, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time. At the end I got a standing ovation.
I wonder whether Melissa ever got a standing ovation in her life. I wonder if anyone ever wrote her a letter to tell her how much the way she did her work meant to them. I wrote one heck of a letter to the airline, I assure you, but honestly it didn’t occur to me to write to her as well.
Most of us just don’t get that kind of appreciation.
And then there’s me. I’ve been aware for a long time that I get much more than my share of it. And it certainly feels good to be appreciated. I’m not saying I should have less of that, but that so many people should have more.
And when it comes to vocation, to calling, it’s not about applause, it’s about doing what you were put on the planet to do. I don’t believe that’s a simple answer for most of us. I don’t think there’s one calling that sums us up. I think we have many vocations, some big and some little, some dramatic and some generally unnoticed.
I’m switching my work now. I’m turning my focus to peace work, and for the next year and a half I’ll be a student of peace making. I’d like to think that my vocation isn’t changing, though. I’ve always tried to use music to remind others and myself of our connectedness and commonality, and increasing empathy is a huge component of peace work.
My sister Margaret owned a design company for a while and studied professional photography, but felt called to become a minister, and needed to answer that call. She was happy before but it became clear to her that this was what God wanted from and for her. My brother John did remodeling and construction and owned a painting company, but it turns out he has a real gift for caring for elderly people in home health care, and I think he’s right where he ought to be doing that work today. My sister Kathy has done a ton of things, from generously and skillfully running my career for several years to being a professional potter, but left the life of an artist to go to Cornell law at age fifty because she’s passionate about addressing the brokenness of our death penalty system.
I think all three of them deserve a big round of applause, along with Melissa Gutierrez. And I imagine you do too.
I’ve been hearing from people in recent weeks about what my music has meant to them over the years, and I treasure every one of those notes. It’s good to know that it mattered, and it’s humbling to hear about how deeply some of these songs have connected with some of their hearts and histories.
Deanna, Mason and I had dinner with my friend Frank tonight (well, Mason actually ate later…), and at one point Frank said “If they can say at my funeral ‘We know Frank loved us,’ then my life will have been a success.” I think that’s spot-on. I guess my point is that if you wanted me to know I’m appreciated, you’ve been a success.
And I want you to know, too. The work I’ve done for the last eighteen years has been directly for you. I was an independent musician, so I’ve never worked for a record company or for a fancy agent. I was an independent contractor: I worked for the people who came to my shows and the people who bought CDs. And you’ve been a great boss.
So thank you. And farewell. Take a bow.
And good morning. And welcome. If you’re interested in staying in touch as this new adventure begins, please do. I’ll be blogging here and will always be happy to hear from you.