In Full Retreat…

“The worst of life looks beautiful, as it slips away in full retreat.” – Bonnie Raitt

Winding down another tour with the Jazz Ambassadors, I’m reflecting on the roller coaster of emotions we’ve ridden since this trek began. Losing one’s spouse suddenly is not something that anyone ever anticipates, but that’s exactly what happened to one of our musical brothers in the hours after we left Fort Meade for this 37-day tour. Stolen from him in a moment, our dear colleague’s wife and soul mate was gone, and his future, forever altered. How does one recover from that?

I will always remember the numbness that rippled through my body when we learned of this tragedy. We were told following our first tour performance in Weldon, NC, and the gasps and collective, “No!” throughout the group could be clearly understood from anywhere in the room. I wanted to run as fast as I could, but I was paralyzed. I wanted to speak, but I had no words. I wanted to hug and hold my grieving colleague, but he was already on his way back to the arms of his family. I felt selfishly lost.

Back in the hotel room, my roommate and I tried to talk. Failing, we turned off the light and lay in the dark room, left alone to sort through our thoughts as the quiet grew louder around us. I ached terribly to be home with my children and my man, the ones I love dearly.  The darkness blanketed the room with weight and warmth.  Another internal voice simultaneously scolded me and called me a selfish ass: “How dare you?”!   Troubled, I stayed in that awkward place until I awoke the next morning, and the same tragic reality greeted me before I could even recognize the unfamiliar surroundings of the hotel room.

I will never understand why some are chosen to leave this world at such a young age…

We certainly have a very human habit of taking the very blessings we hold so dearly for granted in life. We all do it. It’s so easy to forget that our worst nightmare is someone else’s reality somewhere and at any given moment of the day.

As the days and nights accumulated, we slowly started to process what had happened.  We began to understand what we had to do to fulfill our professional mission while maintaining our availability for our wounded colleague.  Time was soothing our pain, and we prayed that those sharp edges were beginning to soften for our buddy, too.

Like good soldiers, we rolled on…

The past few weeks have been healthy ones for my roommate and me. We’ve been riding bikes hard, eating and sleeping well, and taking good care of ourselves. We’ve invested in every beautiful moment, silently vowing not to miss those brilliant sunrises or sunsets.  We’ve taken notice of the way the sand, against a cloudy sky and with the ocean underneath, shows off more hues of white than one can ever imagine. We’ve breathed the sea air deeply, and laughed heartily with the killdeer and seagulls as they played in the surf. We’ve lived as fully as we could.  We’ve grown, and life has changed once again, as it always does.

Today is Veteran’s Day, a bittersweet holiday for me, personally, as I continue my active duty service – 15 years, 7 months and 1 week, but who’s counting?!  My Mother would’ve celebrated her 72nd birthday today, had lung cancer not taken her nearly 7 years ago. I remember my frustration with her in her last years. I couldn’t understand her pain, although during that time, I believed I did. Once again, I was selfish.  I knew so much more about life than she did. In fact, I even thought I knew the proper way to die.  Of course, I’d figured out that she wasn’t doing it right!

Wow!  How dare I?!

I beat myself up a lot as I reflect upon my years. It’s also very easy to do.

But what’s difficult to do is to remind ourselves that the moment in which we are living is the only one we have. Wherever we are right now is exactly where we are supposed to be, both physically and spiritually. Yes, I was sanctimonious back then. I was impatient. I was self-righteous. I knew it all and had every answer.

I can also look back upon my life now and see the mistakes and the poor choices I made along the way.  Still, those are the decisions that put me where I am today.  My life is very, very good – maybe even great! Had I not walked the path I chose in each and every moment, I would not be where I am now. I have two healthy, beautiful and happy children. I have a man who loves me unconditionally, who can’t wait for me to return home, even before I’ve left.  I have a happy home full of love, laughter and life.  I may have never discovered this happiness and these gifts had it not been for my miscues along the way.

What could have been my homemade recipe for disaster has yielded a feast upon my life’s table.  I lower my chin gracefully as I gaze upon it.

Therefore, I forgive myself.  I even laugh some times at the way I used to think, to act, to be.  I am a continuously evolving creature. I now go through my day knowing that I have no control over so many of the things that happen within the scope of my life. People come and go around me, including those I love. I honor them by living as if I am their very spirit, giving them the love and hope they may or may not have ever known, doing my best to spend my time with the goodness that was their essence. I choose not to dwell in the dark places that others dwell. And I refuse to give my time and my joy to those people and spirits that do not deserve it.

I have no idea what the next moment will bring, and I may not handle it perfectly. But I will witness it and learn from it. And to me, having a spirit is all about sharing yours in such a way that someone wants to carry it with them long after your physical time on this earth is through. So don’t forget to stop and just breathe, and be, so you can develop your spirit and your passion, your empathy and your wisdom.  Mostly, forgive, love and learn.  Retreat, and then start anew every morning.  You never know when it will be your last.

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6 Responses to In Full Retreat…

  1. Truth: “What’s difficult to do is to remind ourselves that the moment we are living in is the only one we have. Wherever we are right now is exactly where we are supposed to be, both physically and spiritually.”


  2. John G says:

    …who said trumpet players were bullies…
    JG xx


  3. Janice Lewis says:

    Veterans Day was my mothers birthday too,she would have been 83.We are blessed to have had them as long as we did,breast cancer took her at age 63. May God continue to bless you,your roommate (my dght)the entire band and strength the young man.


  4. dear liesl,

    i’ve long been a fan of your wonderful playing but reading the message gave me insight into your soul and beautiful sprit. thank you and love,

    jiggs whigham


  5. Andrew Woodard says:

    Enjoyed the concert tonight in Reno, NV and you made me proud to be an Alumnus of the Jazz Ambassadors (Studio Band) when I was in it in 71-75 (jazz trumpet chair). The level of the band is impressive and I’m not sure if I’d pass the audition today! Enjoyed, also, this missive and your insight…I share your thoughts completely. Music is the great healer and thanks for carrying on the tradition.
    Andrew Woodard
    AFM #369
    U.S. Army Field Band, Studio Band 1971-1975


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