I was so worried when I started this blog that I wouldn’t have anything to talk about, but now I can’t shut the hell up. I just don’t have the time to write it all. Here’s what I’ll focus on this time: Garth Brooks. Not really him, I guess, but an experience I just had.
My husband convinced me to go to a Garth Brook concert. Now, I don’t generally listen to country music, but I’ve at least heard of him, and thought it might be fun to step outside my comfort zone. But we got there and it was…eerie. I’m white, so being around a bunch of other white people isn’t a big deal. But we were in a stadium with probably about 20,000 other white people. Only white people. The only people of color were hired stadium staff and 2 band members. In the ENTIRE stadium. It was just bizarre. And they were all singing along about rodeos and stuff, and I’d wager good money that most of them had never even seen a cow in person. It reminded me of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ym_Awd9uVsA Regardless, everyone was very nice and Garth puts on a good show.
That’s not my point though – just a little side note. Here’s another side note: I have a friend who looks exactly like Garth Brooks. If he wears a cowboy hat, people actually stop him and ask for his autograph. But he’s a jazz drummer (used to play in my dad’s band from time to time), and probably the most talented visual artist I know (check out his website at http://www.timokane.com/). Plus he drinks good whiskey, which makes him okay in my book. I emailed him to say Garth still looks like him, and he emailed back: Do you know the joke about the Country singer and the jazzman – they’re standing before a firing squad. The commandant comes over and says, “You each get one final wish.” the Country singer says, “I wanna hear Achy-Breaky Heart Ten times.” The commandant turns to the jazzman and asks, “What’s your wish?” The jazzman says, “Shoot me first.”
My experience with hearing Garth’s songs in the past mostly had to do with a camp in Virginia called Camp Holiday Trails. It’s a camp for kids with special health needs and is, truly, the most magical place I’ve ever been. I rode horses there in the winter starting at about age 10, and in the summer, I’d volunteer to lead the kids around and teach them to ride. The kids had everything from cystic fibrosis, to asthma, to diabetes, to hemophilia, to renal failure, to cerebral palsy. They’ve dealt with just about every kind of disease a kid can get, which means that I was exposed to health challenges and death at a pretty young age. I made some amazing friends, and lost some, too, and learned that our bodies are fragile and imperfect and amazing, and that my bad eyesight and crappy knees weren’t such a big deal comparatively. And more importantly, I learned just how brave a human can be, and that kids ultimately just want to be kids, so there’s no reason not to find a commonality and make each other’s lives a little more fun if we can.
Which means that if my friends, campers, and, eventually, co-counselors were real suthun (that’s Southerners for “southern”) and liked to listen to country music, I could handle it. I had 4 co-counselors in particular who LOVED country music, and would regularly torment me with it. We’d sit on the cabin porches at night after the campers had gone to sleep, and one of my buddies would strum country tunes, including some Garth (though my favorite was one he wrote for us called “Thank God For Narcotics”). My cabin mate, Whitney, who had cystic fibrosis (CF), would always request Shameless and The Dance. So I got to know those two songs pretty well. When she died, another friend, Jamie (who also later died from CF), and I went to stay at Whitney’s parents’ house. They gave each of us one of Whitney’s Garth CDs – Jamie’s had Shameless, mine had The Dance. I remember dancing to The Dance at the camp “ball” on the last night of camp with another friend, Will, who had been a camper and become a counselor and who I’d known since I was 10, and I was just missing the hell out of Whitney. I had lost several friends to a variety of diseases and accidents during the 9 months before (2 friends were killed by a drunk driver, 1 was killed in a house fire, and 2 died from CF) and was hurting so badly, but the words to the song were right on the money. For all of the pain I was feeling, I was still so grateful to have even known these people.
Flash forward to the concert the other night, and I stood there crying in the middle of the songs. You know those moments when something blind sides you and you’re back in that time when you were right in the middle of so much hell? I can still smell the dining hall where Will and I danced and see the Christmas lights they’d strung along the porch railings, and it was in that moment that I realized that camp had become both a place of solace and a place of suffering; that I couldn’t go back to it just being my place for summer fun and winter comfort; that I had grown up and lost something, but somehow been made richer for it. And even all of these years later, tears running down my face at a concert I would normally have never gone to, “I’m glad I didn’t know, the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”