July 4, 2013: Please Remember that Life's Too Short

Editor's Note: For the last two years, we have run a version of this post.   When you read it, you will understand why that post is being updated and rerun.

If you read the inside jacket of Into the Flow, you observed that we had one side headed “Thank You To.”  Perhaps you were wondering what brought about the thank yous.

Before giving some answers, I will digress a bit.  Today is the Fourth of July -- Independence Day for those of us in the United States.  237 years ago, thirteen colonies declared their independence from England.  Our “founding fathers” wrote in the Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Those are lofty truths.  But this blog is not about political or social comment.  You can go to any number of blogs which call Democrats “socialists” or “Communists” or Republicans “fascists.”  The “blogishere” is filled with political vitriol, hate, jingoism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, extremism, ignorance, intolerance, misinformation, and too many more “phobias” and “isms” than we have space to list.

The people listed on the CD jacket have not fallen or did not fall prey to the purveyors of “phobias” and “isms.”  The people listed on the CD jacket all helped or inspired us in some way.  Some of that help or inspiration is very personal to me.

Many are alive.  Their support and roles have been regular parts of our blog.  Some of the people listed are iconic and need no introduction or discussion.

Some are dead.  They are the ones about whom I am thinking the last few days.  Art Traugh mentored me professionally.  He was a good friend and confidant.  He had an insatiable curiosity, diverse interests, an infectious laugh and keen eye for the truth.  He also had pure pitch and a wonderful and natural ear for music.  I have a bagful of harmonicas, which I cannot play a lick, to keep up his memory.  He played them by ear.  But his inspiration and help have little to do with music.  Instead, they are part of my everyday life.  I cannot say how many times I have thought, "What would Art do?"

Sharon Patalon was Becky’s best friend.  Like Art, she had a wide-range of interests and ready and willing laugh and quip.  She was dealt a horrible hand when it came to her health.  She died young.  But she never complained about her fate.  Rather, she made sure that she enjoyed each moment and that she shared that enjoyment with others.  She was a natural musician and, despite her weakened health and hampered dexterity, joined us for jams.  I had the privilege of hearing her when she was strong and dexterous.  I wish that others could have had that privilege.  Again like Art, her touch has little to do with music.

Byron Blackburn was a man whom I never got to know as well as I would have liked.  Like Sharon, he died young.  He gave freely of his time to me whenever I approached him.  He was a jazz musician who had the humility to remember when he played blues or rock ‘n roll.  He encouraged people to play music and promoted the importance of having a vital live music scene in Sacramento.  I never saw him turn away an aspiring musician who had questions or sought guidance.

Tommy Van Wormer was a regular on the Sacramento improvisational jazz scene.  But he was no longer a performer.  He kept a visual history through thousands of photographs.  He was a walking encyclopedia of music and a fount of other information -- important to arcane.  He approached everything that he did with passion but maintained enough cynicism to avoid becoming a zealot.  He encouraged people to follow their muses.  He too died young.

Sharon, Byron, and Tommy encouraged me to play despite my limitations.  Each was inspiring both in words and in example.  The CD jacket is correct:  “We miss each of them every day.”

The last line on the inside of the CD jacket thank you page is “our Dads for letting us find our own way.”

That line has a particular resonance to me on the Fourth of July.  Five years ago on the Fourth of July, my Dad died.  He was inspirational and an example.  He truly let me, Sue, and our other sisters find our own ways.  But this is not the place or time to redo his eulogy.  Once I took up guitar in my old age, he was encouraging.  Even though he was wheelchair-bound, he attended a Christmas “recital” by the East Sacramento Guitar Orchestra.  When I think about that, I chuckle a bit.  Even though I was past 60, I was happy to have my parents at a “recital.”  My Dad helped make me feel like a schoolboy again -- nervous and hoping to be lost in the orchestra but proud to be there.  I am lucky that he was alive for that.

On this Fourth of July, in addition to thinking about what independence means to you, please reflect on those who have gone before, those who died too young or too soon, and those who inspired or encouraged you to do whatever you do or be whatever you can.  That reflection gives meaning to the oft-repeated "life's too short."

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