I could just imagine the conversation of any one of the young couples inside the upscale suburban restaurant as I slogged by the windows. I was covered from head to toe in dirt and everything about me—coat, hat, bags—was askew.
She: (peering over her glass of Pinot Grigio).
“Honey, look at that woman. Should we call the police? She’s all covered in mud.”
He: (shaking his head in amazement.)
“No, Babe. I don’t think so. That’s not mud, Babe. It’s mud and dog shit!”
Yep. He would be right.
I had stepped off the commuter train a few minutes before and was taking a shortcut through the parking lot when I stepped onto a grassy strip and fell. My left leg splayed to the left; my right leg to the right. I had braced myself with my right hand, only to feel my wrist sink-deep into—unbelievable—a pile of wet, slimy, dog shit. It just got worse from there.
I had fallen in winter before; slipped on ice and broken my ankle. So, I lay there for a moment allowing the freezing rain to pelt my face as I took long, deep breaths and began to cry. Pulling my hand out of the dog shit and wiping it on my coat, I cursed the jackass who didn’t scoop. And it was a big dog. I wiggled around, so nothing was broken.
Now, for most people, a fall would just be a fall. But, for me, having been blessed with a neurotic need to find meaning in every little thing, I looked for mystery; an answer from the universe. And true to my experience, I got one.
I was suffering a dogged commute into the City of Brotherly Love and working for a rigid, mean-spirited manager who could suck the joy juice out of a dinosaur. She derived her own happiness from—and I quote—“…dashing people’s dreams.” But she’s not the story here.
Later that evening, over my own glass of wine, I asked myself how I had become so risk-averse when it came to following my dreams. I had taken a “safe” job that in the end was devastatingly toxic. I talked to a couple of friends.
“It’s not the time to change. Look at the economy.” Ouch.
“Adapt! You grow stronger by adapting.”
From cradle to paycheck, I’ve adapted to other people’s times, places, and priorities.
“Bloom where you are planted.”
God!!! I frigging hate that phrase. It was time to move on.
Many years ago, I had a chance to meet one of my heroes, the late, great jazz saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. It was a lifetime moment. There I was, face to face with the jazz master himself. I told him I sang jazz and his eyes lit up. “Hey, Smith!” he said to his partner. She’s a singer.” My heart beat like Ellington’s band playing “Take the A-Train.”
“Where do you sing?”
I paused, shuffled my feet, and coyly said something about working to clear up debts right now, and fluffed it up with some stuff about overcoming fear of pursuing my dream. With the word fear, the jazz master’s eyes glazed over, and he didn’t miss a beat (no pun intended).
“If you love something,” he asked softly, “how can you fear it?”
He stared compassionately at me for a moment, wished me luck and turned away. I recalled this conversation as I rinsed my muddy, shit-streaked boots in the bath tub.
Fast forward to the summer after my fall. I was sitting in a park listening to a Brazilian band, and I had been singing along.
So danco samba, So danco samba, vai, vai, vai, vai, vai…
Then, as if on mental cue, the group began an original tune “Singing Takes Away the Blues.” My feet tapped the ground, but my heart settled in my throat and tears filled my eyes. I missed singing. The question, however, was: how much risk (yeah, yeah… in this economy) at my age (sigh) was I willing to take?
On the way home, I thought about the past winter’s commute, my miserable manager, and—oh yeah—can’t forget the dog shit.
And, because I am the kind of person who has a neurotic need to look for meaning in everything, I took “Singing Takes Away the Blues” as a sign.
That evening, I sat at the computer and fired off an ad for a musician-collaborator. ‘Cause, I said to myself, if I love something, how can I fear it?
A special shout out to the spectacular group Mina for being my sign. If you ever have a chance, go see and hear them!