Finding Gratitude in a January Rain

It’s 11:03 pm on Monday, January 16th. Martin Luther King Day. I type these thoughts of gratitude, counting my blessings, amazed at my good fortune — all the while with a bruised and battered rib cage, a brutally stiff back, and swollen elbow. 

I started the day like all winter days, by setting my water to boil for coffee while I sifted out the coals in the wood stove. Separating the ash and coaxing it into the ash pan below, then adding the kindling to start the new fire, is a meditative task that I relish. For the ashes, we keep a galvanized steel trash can out back and every morning I walk across the deck to dump the ashes. But Mother Nature had wielded her magic the night before and doused us with a freezing rain that fell into the morning, covering most everything — the deck, the sidewalk, the gravel drive, the grass — with a thin but treacherous layer of ice. This morning, even using the utmost caution, when my foot hit the first uneven step, I went down. 

I heard a crunch as I landed, my rib cage smashing against the edge of a step, my elbow slamming into the deck above, and the ash pan flying away from me into the rain and ice soaked grass. The wind was knocked out of me but I somehow managed to let out a frightening, unnatural sound as I desperately tried to roll over onto my hands and knees. With the cold rain drenching me as I knelt in the sodden grass, my knees sinking into the damp earth, fighting to catch my breath, it was all I could do to hold myself up. Lauryn was now leaning over me, trying to help me up, in near tears herself. Slowly, we were able to get me up the steps and back into the house without either of us going down again.    

It was a frightening fall. It scared us both. A trip to the emergency room revealed no fractures but left me to wonder what caused the crunch I heard. The ice has nearly all melted and I’m home safe with a deep gratitude for what’ll surely just be some serious bruising and an inevitable trip the chiropractor once the acute pain wanes.  

But my gratitude extends beyond the X-ray outcome to the X-ray itself. On Friday of this week, the inauguration of our next president will take place. It will be the start of a new experience for all Americans, an experience that has many of us on edge. I was fortunate enough to be able to seek health care treatment today because of the Affordable Care Act, something near and dear to independent musicians like myself — those of us who are willing to make many sacrifices for our art, but who, finally, did not need to have health care be one of those sacrifices. This new era, however, that begins with the new Congress and is set to be fully in motion when the new president is sworn into office, is filled with uncertainties.  

I’m grateful that I didn’t break a rib. I’m grateful that my hands were occupied with the ash drawer so I didn’t land on my wrists. And I’m grateful I fell today, before that uncertainty takes deeper root in the repeal of the ACA. It’s a dicey proposition to talk politics, for fear of starting an argument or offending someone. But we’re booked to play a gig on Inauguration Day and while we’ve toyed with learning some songs to express our fears (“It’s The End of the World as We Know It”) or our convictions (“Man in Black”), mostly I’m left more with questions. I’m afraid. I’m angry. I’m determined. But I’m also confused. Of the many campaign promises scheduled to be unleashed after Inauguration Day, what will happen if Lauryn or I get hurt?  

I came upon this quote from John F. Kennedy the other day and it really resonated with me:

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.” 

So, even though I’m left more with questions than answers, it has always been our resolve to sing our truth. Maybe instead of the REM song or the Johnny Cash song, Lauryn and I will sing the song that begins with the question “Has anybody here seen my old friend … ” and ends with “I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill with Abraham, Martin, and John.” Whatever words we find, whether from others or our own songs, we will continue to sing and we will continue to offer solace by shining some light on the dark places. It’s all we can do.

​~Dennis 
January 16, 2017

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