August 27, 2014 | Posted in General
I had this odd, quirky feeling come on me when I woke up today. Something was beckoning, reminding me about the date August 27th. Not either of the kids birthdays, nor my parents or any friends that came to mind and yet there was still something significant that was tapping away at me.
I let it go, took a shower and for whatever reason when I get in the water and things loosen up usually a thought or idea comes forth that I have been looking for and today was no different. Not two minutes under the spigot and there was the image in my mind. I was standing in front of a thousand people, a sea of faces intently listening to me deliver the words to a poem I had written a year before. A quick search online confirmed it, “The 9th Annual Windstar Foundation Choices For The Future Symposium The Human Family August 26-28 1994 Aspen, Colorado.”
Two decades have passed since a forty-five minute “talk” changed the direction of my life.
John Denver’s music has been an anchor for me since I first heard his clear, soaring tenor sitting on Michelle’s porch late one hot summer night. It was 1974 and while I might have heard a song or two of his on the radio, it was a particular song, “Sweet Surrender” that struck a chord in my fifteen year old soul. I can remember Michelle going in and out of her apartment at the big brownstone flipping that 33 1/3 over and over again, it was well past midnight when I walked home with something changed inside me. After that I couldn’t get enough of Denver’s messages about life, about the planet and his beloved mountains. My mom fell right in line with my “country boy” gig, surprising me one day after I got home from school by turning my bedroom that was smack dab in the middle of Chicago, into a log cabin complete with a massive wall mural of the Rockies. While some of my buddies were out getting wasted and listening to heavy metal, I would be working about in my basement with “Calypso” on the cassette player.
I bought right in to what this guy was selling…his music moved me.
As fate would have it I met John at a fundraiser my aunt was involved in on a brief trip to Colorado in 83′ and it was for me a grand moment, to simply say “thank you.” I did just that and in that moment I had no idea that five years later we would connect again at an event in Chicago which put in motion another “coincidental” meeting that had me flying to Boston in 1992, after seeing John perform on The Tonight Show, with zero idea why. This was some sort of “divine assignment” that had me at the Wang Center watching a fundraising concert for Catholic Charities and then meeting with John after the show. We discussed many things for about ten minutes, I ended up giving him some letters educators had sent me after I had spoken at their schools and while reading them a big grin crossed his face. He had to go off to the bus but insisted that I put the letters in his travel bag. Just before we parted ways he looked at me right in the eye, put his left hand on my shoulder and said to me in a clear, bell-like tone…
“John, do you know that your voice matters?”
I was stunned. No one had ever asked me that question, nor had I ever considered it myself.
“Uh…no never really thought about it.”
“Your voice is going to make a difference in a great many lives. I know the coming years will prove me right.”
I was now rocking on my heels a bit, just the two of us standing alone in the bowels of the theater.
“I gotta go but promise you will put those letters in my bag.” We hugged and off he went into the snowy Boston night. I deposited the papers in his bag, found my way back to my motel and flew back to Chicago the next day. Six months later I got a call from a woman at The Windstar Foundation who informed me that “Mr. Denver brought your letters to a board meeting and said that we needed to start doing some environmental education outreach programs like yours.” She thanked me for making the effort and when I hung up the phone I felt that I had somehow “delivered the mail” and let it be.
Two years passed.
I was doing some teaching in Chicago at the time and one day got a newsletter announcing that the event in 1994 was called “The Human Family” and something clicked in me. I could not get the words out of my head and by the time I got home that day the words to a poem had written themselves. Being a fully armor plated stegosaurus at the time, my pea brain could not grasp any possible reason for me to write those words. As fall turned to winter and then into spring a pressure was on me from within, I kept feeling like I was supposed to be in Aspen that fall, not to sit in the audience but rather speak from the stage. This is long before I wrote any “best-sellers” or won radio awards or hung out with Dr. Oz and Oprah. In a sense I was simply a man with a message who was in search of his voice. The summer of 94′ I drove my family and friends crazy-especially my pal Ginny- with this “I am supposed to be there” deal.
Finally I let it go...“it is what it is.”
That’s when the phone rang, actually it rang while I was cleaning out the cat-box in the basement. I went upstairs, answered and on the other end of the line was a voice saying “Dr. Mae Jemison (our nations first female black astronaut) was scheduled to speak at Windstar this year but had to cancel last minute. We were sitting in a meeting deciding what to do when Mr. Denver came in and told us to call YOU….are you available to speak in Aspen this year? ”
That stunned pins & needles feeling came on me again. “Uh yea…I can be there” I mumbled. It was a blur after that for the next two weeks until we flew out to Aspen, settled in to our suite in the mountains and I sat looking out the chalet window thinking to myself.
Twenty years ago today, on a bright Saturday morning in the mountains, I stood behind a curtain just off stage listening to the highly respected journalist Rolland Smith introduce me to a vast array of people from all over the world. I walked out with forty five minutes to say something of significance and as I recall I began by asking three questions of the audience…“Where have you been? Why are you here? Where are you going?’ I was 35 years old, still sharp on the edges and light of foot, intent on making sure that the opportunity that John had given me was not wasted. When there was just a couple minutes to go I launched into the words that had been given to me a full year before, words I had inhaled and memorized for a performance that was right on time…
The Human Family
“Have you ever sat in wonder at the setting of the sun? Or how a flower blossoms or that summer always comes?
Have you ever held a snowflake or dried a small child’s tears, ever dreamed of peace and love throughout your living years?
You are the heart of the human family the promise of life to come, the pulse of the living world and you are the only one.
Have you ever walked in the rain, smelling the sweetness of drops in the wind? Ever knelt in humble prayer in forgiveness of imagined sin?
Have you ever hurt so bad, you swear you would rather die? Then you woke the very next morning with a rainbow in the sky.
You are the eyes of the human family, the promise of life to come, a prophet of faith and giver of dreams, and you are the only one.
Have you ever seen the hunger in the children of the land and watched as we consume ourselves, destroying what we don’t understand?
Have you ever stood in silence as the leaders slowly take their fall and prayed for their legacy and all the names on cold stone walls?
You are the voice of the human family, the promise of life to come, singer of songs for all the world and your greatest has just begun.
On this day sit in wonder at the miracle you truly are, and know that your light shines from within and its as bright…as a midnight star.
Dream of a world without hunger, where the children never shed cruel tears, know that we can make that happen, by living through untrue fears.
We are the human family with footsteps in the sand.
We are the human family walking hand in hand.
We are the human family, responsible for all we see.
We are the human family…the truth will set you free.”
The crowd rose to its feel with a standing ovation and I knew that that what John had seen in me before I did, had been affirmed.
After the event I answered questions from the audience, was humbled backstage as a hundred people stood line to thank me, hug me, give me gifts and tokens. Later that afternoon I taught at a “breakout” session and could hardly believed how all this had come together. Was it put in place when Michelle dropped the needle on “Sweet Surrender” twenty years earlier in 1974? Would I had been standing on stage that morning if I had ignored my inner GPS that had me buying a plane ticket to Boston? What if I hadn’t stuffed the letters in my coat before I met with John, even though I had no idea why? The emotional roller-coaster I rode the summer of 1994 wore me out and all my angst and frustration mattered not, because how it would happen was none of my business, why it should was all of my business.
Since that day in 1994 I have taken to heart what John brought out in me, writing books, blogging my fingers into submission, creating radio shows that inform, entertain and inspire people to seek higher ground, speaking to thousands of people from all walks of life. I am sure that none of those things would have been part of my future given how I had lived in the past unless someone had come along to offer me an optional path.
That someone was John Denver.
It has not been easy but it has been worth every step. I really work to not waste my voice by majoring in minor things. It’s been said that when someone who has had influence in a life dies, its up to those within that circle to take on some of their unfinished work. You are not going to find me in front of 20,000 people singing any time soon, but in front of a crowd that size talking about life….that I can do.
John has been gone seventeen years, Windstar no longer exists, the land where so many gathered for so long is silent. All things come to an end, but while the physical presence is gone, what remains for me is the spirit of all of it. It lives inside me, it drives and pushes me forward and on those days where I don’t feel like I am doing anything more than taking up space I see my friend in front of me, eyes clear and voice steady.
“John…your voice matters…”
…If you are reading this and have forgotten… so does yours…