With the Thanksgiving holiday last week, I thought it would be appropriate to focus this week’s blog post on something I am deeply grateful for. My source of gratitude was coincidentally triggered when listening to a podcast about the Grateful Dead. Definitely, the right band when thinking about gratitude.
The Grateful Dead
The first two seasons covered every song’s origin on their two groundbreaking and classic albums that both came out in 1970. These were Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. The hosts did a deep dive into every song to commemorate the 50th anniversary of these albums and to convey how timeless many of them have become. These albums represented a radical departure from the improvisational, psychedelic music that they had been playing up until that point. It represented a major fork in the road for the band as they focused their efforts on more harmonic, acoustic material that had roots deep in Americana. The results were stunning and showed the depth and immense talent of the band and its ability to produce music that not only had deep meaning for them but was also much more accessible to those who didn’t know them or were not partial to their original style.
One of the most beautiful songs on American Beauty is Brokedown Palace. It was almost always as an encore when it was played, and it was a wonderful way to leave a concert that often ran close to three hours and was a roller coaster ride of tempo and song length. The song has beautiful harmonies and the magical, poetic lyrics of Robert Hunter that touches on love and loss with an undertone of melancholy that comes with living a full life and having no choice but to follow the magnetic pull of where your calling takes you, even if it is far from home. It also conveys a completed journey that takes one back home after a life well-lived.
The song has one of the most moving lines of any Grateful Dead song. And I’m not alone in believing this as none other than John Mayer, who plays an integral part in Dead and Company, says the same thing about the line in Brokedown Palace which says,
Mama, mama, many worlds I’ve come
Since I first left home
It not only hits home for members of The Dead who got together when they were young, especially Bob Weir, who at 16 left home to what he fondly characterizes as joining the circus, but for me personally and millions of others of their fans who not only journeyed to follow the band, but had their own personal treks beyond a Grateful Dead centric life. When I hear them sing that line with such beautiful harmony, it makes me remember that the most powerful and meaningful journeys include countless others along the road, and it’s anything but a solitary endeavor. They had only been together five years when they wrote this song but had already seen and done so much in this short period of time. They would have 25 more years together, embarking on their long, strange trip before that phase came to an end with the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995. It’s hard to believe that Roneet and I were together longer, and my tenure at CWS has been over 33 years. Yes, many worlds I have seen since I first left home.
My Journey to Other Worlds
As I was listening to the song and the podcast, I kept thinking about how far I have gone in my journeys, not only through my travels but also through my emotional and spiritual growth and trying to build more and more worldly wisdom to help me become a better decision-maker. While this sounds very dispassionate, at the end of the day, our lives are the byproduct of the decisions we have made, some of which were ones that resulted in action, and others that led to no action, which too is a decision.One can only learn so much from books. Life is ultimately the best teacher.Click To Tweet
One can only learn so much from books. Life is ultimately the best teacher. There is no substitute for getting in the ring and fighting it out. Making a concerted effort to see every experience as a potential guide to improve my decision-making skills by recognizing interdependencies to understand better cause and effect has helped me become a more wise person. And what is wisdom? To me, it’s the ability to see the end from the beginning and the beginning in the end. And for what end? To avoid that, which can cause me harm by impairing my health, relationships, financial wherewithal, or personal freedom. It also helps see potential opportunities as well, but then one needs the courage to take action to take advantage of them.To me, it’s the ability to see the end from the beginning and the beginning in the end. And for what end?Click To Tweet
Courage is a muscle that results in us choosing the higher road and always involves doing something “in spite of.” And by having lived life and getting bumped around and also discovering what is important to me and brings me joy, lightness, and ease, can I tap into courage and exercise that muscle so that I can over time focus more on following my bliss. Growth can only occur by overcoming obstacles and moving forward despite one’s fears, doubts, and perceived limitations. Wisdom helps us avoid the downside, while courage helps us take advantage of the upside.
During the podcast, the host’s interview David Lemieux, the band’s historian, and he talks about how when he would hear that line from Brokedown Palace during the encore, he felt like he had a telepathic connection to his parents, letting them know that not only is he alright thousands of miles away, but he is thriving. He couldn’t have done it without their support. And in some ways, I feel the same.
When I hit the road to see the band with friends during summers in high school, I never got push back from my parents. This continued when I took off for Europe between my sophomore and junior years in college when I traveled with a friend for two months and then studied at Oxford University for three months. And when I told them I was heading to the Soviet Union for a week in 1985, they never tried to stop me.
Upon deeper reflection, I would say their support came more from a lack of discouragement versus enthusiastic, overt encouragement. Maybe it was because I was the youngest of four, and they were worn out by the time they had to contend with my yearning for independence. Whatever the reasons, this was just fine because it served to provide an opening for me to tap into my innate curiosity and wanderlust to see the world and to take risks, and to march to the beat of my own drummer. I had the satisfaction of having it be more my plan than theirs. It’s a subtle difference but an important one for me nonetheless. Their willingness to not create obstacles, especially by supporting me financially, was so important for me to embark upon my journey and something for which I will forever be grateful.
My sojourns began at a time before cell phones and having everything at your fingertips. I had to be more resourceful and figure things out when faced with obstacles. More ingenuity was needed than having all of the answers at my fingertips through a smartphone. I remember having to go to post offices in Europe to make calls home, and that is something I would do weekly, usually on Sundays. It was also far less easy to get to different places on a whim as one needed to have books of train schedules and paper maps to carry out planning and navigation. And, of course, one had to work through travel agents or call hotels and hostels directly to make reservations versus doing them online.
It was a time of great exploration and personal growth and discovery. I bring all of this up not to be overly nostalgic but because I feel a great sense of sadness for the Covid Generation, particularly those who are in college or just graduated and find their lives on hold and feeling a bit derailed because they are frozen in place. So much of the world and parts of our economy are essentially shut down, which has curtailed really formative and powerful interactions in school, social venues, and travel.
I feel fortunate that my kids have been able to see some of the world and have gotten some of those experiences that many others have not had the benefit of having yet. Nevertheless, Covid has also stopped them in their tracks in many ways, and this saddens me and makes me even more grateful for what I have been given. Thanksgiving has made me want to thank my parents for believing in me and having enough faith to give me the chance to take chances, explore, and stumble so that I could finally find my way.
I have indeed come through many worlds since I first left home and I have been so blessed for having had such a fulfilling journey with the support of my parents, Roneet, her family, my CWS partners and co-workers, my friends, and new relationships I have been fortunate to experience and cultivate. I am especially proud of my kids for having persevered through some very challenging times and making me so proud of them. This is only a brief pause on your journeys, and you have so much ahead of you to take advantage of and enjoy.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.