It would take too long to go into the detail of the latest MWP excursion, so I choose to record the highlight – an unexpected but also somehow predictable denouement to a two-day, rain-soaked, beautiful weekend.
At the end of the second night, with almost everyone else in their beds, eight people sat outside around a heavy wooden table. At the last minute there had been a couple of adjustments; one person left, whilst another drew up the final chair just in time for an event which none of us saw coming.
With the giant speaker turned down to a more acceptable level (after the karaoke finish to the previous evening had used up all good will and sensibility), a simple request across the table for a song and a story was all it took.
Again, I cannot go into detail about the stories – not only would it take too long, those stories are private – but I will share my own feelings and observations as the powerful combination of music and narration simultaneously grabbed me, shook me, held me, and showed me again and again what is available to us when we seek to connect with each other in deep, meaningful ways.
The first song was a beautiful reminder of my 70s childhood. John Denver’s voice took me back instantly to a more care-free time when life was all about playing and having as much fun as possible, as often as possible; days when everything seemed much less complicated than it can appear these days.
The story accompanying it was one of struggle but also of true commitment to doing the right thing. An honourable, courageous and difficult choice, and a longing for things to be easy. I was immediately struck by the contrast of strength and softness reflected in the severity of the situation and the presence of that person’s characteristically joyful personality – one which would fuel and feed the laughter that eventually brought the whole night to a close.
I was next, and chose Peace In Our Time by Elvis Costello because it’s the song I currently sing to my five-year-old son when I clean his teeth. I sing it because it’s an easy song to sing for my range and ability; because the music helps to ease his reluctance; and because it is a beautiful reminder that we (just about, still) have peace in our time.
As I listened to a song which is rarely aired outside of our home, I felt appreciation for what I have in my life. My wife, my son, my work, and this community of people who all understand what’s possible, (but, paradoxically, may still not know their full potential). The tears and the smiles came easily.
Next came a song for, and from, a recently deceased father, chosen by him to be played at his own funeral with the encouraging words that things will get easier. (A side note to the first storyteller, perhaps.) I never knew him, but I know his son a little, and he has already made an impression on me with his warmth, his ease, and his inclusivity. He was there last year as I contemplated an early exit from the party, with a simple enquiry which held me firm and helped change the course of my evening. And he had been there again just hours earlier to encourage me to let go more than I would normally have liked, allowing me to witness a side of myself which surprised not just me.
The next two songs were also in honour of father figures. All three songs united their selectors in love, appreciation and absence, and there were more tears (not just mine, this time), as we were invited to remind ourselves of the small (foolish) things we love about the people we love.
I felt privileged and fortunate to be in the midst of these people. The reward, perhaps, of a personal commitment to give the night’s party everything I had. Maybe that’s the lesson from these three songs – give everything, go with a smile on your face, and leave your essence behind in songs, stories and memories, together with the message that everything is going to be okay.
Life may not be what you expect, but there will be times when the depth of human contact (including to your own love, grief, and appreciation) will make it all worthwhile. Seek, therefore, to connect, to love completely, and to allow others to touch your humanity as you inevitably touch theirs.
Three songs remained and I can already feel myself go again as I contemplate capturing the rich, powerful and vulnerable way they moved me. The sixth song was about family and home (Our House by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). Initially, there was an admittance by the storyteller of not being too familiar with the whole feeling of home – a declaration which added obvious fragility to something so precious. He informed us that when the song plays in his house, and his young children sing along, he is regularly overcome with joy and appreciation, but is also acutely reminded of how delicate it can all be.
Again, how lucky am I to know exactly what he meant and what he feels? Exceedingly lucky, and through the teller’s tears and my own, I felt gratitude and love: love for my own family, for this family of eight, for the people already sleeping, and for him for bringing his song, his story, and himself to this intimate group.
Number seven spoke to me of fathers and sons and of a clear shift through the generations from a matter-of-fact coldness towards warmth, love and a playful togetherness, all observed from a discrete, satisfying distance.
By now my emotions – my entire body – were on a hair-trigger and I gasped audibly, pulling in the air I needed with a physical jolt at the mention of the relief and joy of a mother witnessing a new, corrective and beautiful father-son dynamic between those closest to her.
It moved me because I instantly thought of my wife’s similar joyful relief at the recent blossoming of my own relationship with my son. These are the kinds of connections which exist everywhere, but when left unspoken their power to unite remains untapped.
Besides all that, what a wonderful example of how possible it is to change the generational course.
The final song was one which has been promised to appear at the storyteller’s wedding by a father full of love and gratitude. Given everything we had heard so far about life’s loss and grief, the beauty and fragility of family life, the desire to fight for what is right, and the potential for life to seek realignment, here was a daughter sharing something we should all experience as our birthright – the felt knowledge of being loved. What an exquisite way to finish.
We have no way of knowing just how far our influence extends, nor the depth it touches in those close to us, as well as those with whom we have only fleeting contact. Connection, love, kindness and appreciation were present in abundance around that table, but we were still not finished. With all the stories told and all the songs sung, with the tears still glistening on our cheeks, we laughed. Again, together.
It rose up in swells, reaching peak after peak, as we willed it into the night, healing ourselves in the process. Whenever it threatened to die down, one laugh in particular could be heard – that of the first story teller, whose infectious laughter coaxed and re-ignited our own.
There was relief in that laughter, and release too. It was a laughter forged in the furnace of the previous hour’s emotions, carrying the exact same intensity and connection, just in a different form. Its flames – fuelled by our togetherness and the depth of such a special, shared experience – licked at the walls of the house where others slept, carrying the essence of our connections into their dreams.