I have taken a hiatus from writing over the past 6 months, mainly because I have been absorbed in the observation of life. As a person, I am always amazed at the things that I can observe if my eyes are open. Now, as I tour with the Jazz Ambassadors, I have decided to put some thoughts down again. They are a little scattered, perhaps, but they are what’s swirling currently through my mind. I, like many people, try to find meaning in the events and accounts that take place in and around my life, to try to find the lesson in them – there is always something to learn if you just look for it – always.
In the past few weeks, the professional jazz and commercial music world has lost two iconic trumpet players: Clark Terry and Lew Soloff. While Clark was long in the tooth and had been ill for some time, Lew was not. In fact, Lew was present at Clark’s memorial service in New York City two weeks ago, as lively as he could be, so I’ve learned. Sadly, Lew suffered a fatal heart attack in the streets of New York City one evening last week. These two gentlemen were so well thought of, not just for being incredible trumpet players, but also for being marvelous mentors, teachers, friends and humans. What a lovely sentiment to add to the memories of their time on this planet, to which I say, “Well done, gentlemen. You did it right!”
As I travel the Illinois countryside this morning, I’m reminded of my dear friend, the late Stanley Kay. I recall Stanley venting his frustration with the aging process. He described all the people he had lost over the years: friends, family members and acquaintances. The loneliness that grew simultaneously with his age would haunt him at times. Yet, he also reminded me of the luxury of age, as not everyone is so fortunate to have the opportunities to extinguish a flaming birthday cake. For this, I am grateful every single day.
I find it incredibly fascinating that we, as a culture, spend so much time obsessed with the idea of remaining youthful. We wear makeup, dye our hair, try to stay lean and curvy if we are women, and lean and muscular if we are men. These gender stereotypes are so superficial when you think about it. What is the stigma that attaches itself to growing old? Isn’t it just part of the natural process, the circle of life? How arrogant and egomaniacal are we that we think we can deny this progression in any manner. And if you are youthful and cannot view those older than you with respect, shame on you! If you are lucky enough to be blessed with the gift of age, you will be that person one day. The journey to an elderly life is a short one, as well as one that can be interrupted at any moment, so we learned with Lew’s sudden passing.
We all suffer loss as we grow, in both growing up and growing old. It starts with childhood and continues until our very own death. Family members leave us, our pets leave us, even our bad habits, habits we’ve grown to bond with over time as a block of our very soul, can leave us if we refuse them their refuge. To these losses, I say thank you! I am the person I am, not just because of what I’ve lost, but for what I’ve gained in my life. I am grateful to all those who have been a part of the joy and the pain in my life. I have learned invaluable strength from them. And I believe that forgiveness is not the act of forgetting – it is impossible to forget. But we can make a conscious effort not to allow those negative people and things to have power over us, thus creating a victimization of our self. True forgiveness, I believe, is being able to look ourselves in the eye and say, “The past is gone, and I’m okay because I’m alive and I’m learning and I’m awake and I’m clear and I have this moment only – ever.”. Only then can we live freely.
Lew Soloff was great at reminding us that we are always pupils of life. Clark Terry taught us that we need to give our gifts to those around us, share ourselves and our knowledge with those who may not have as much, to pay it forward and “Keep on Keepin’ On”.
We are more than a whisper of smoke in this world, and we can be those monumental leaders and fighters for the things we believe in. In fact, it is our duty to be such, and to teach our children about the power of forgiveness, giving and simplicity. We cannot stop the years from ticking away, but we can choose to embrace them, along with our grey hair and slowing bodies. Lest we forget to be thankful for the moment we have right now, please put time aside every single day to just say thank you. State every thing that you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be directed to “God”, but just to the world or the universe, if you wish. Say it out loud. I guarantee it will reset your mind to thoughts of gratefulness and purpose.
Thank you, Clark and Lew, for teaching me and for teaching the world. Thank you for your beautiful musicianship. Thank you for your children. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for your motivation. Mostly, thank you for sharing your lives with so many of us, and for being the most beautiful role models the world could ever hope for. May you both forever rest in peace.