My ex-husband’s best friend died a couple of years ago. He lived out on the west coast, so I didn’t know him all that well even through 16 years of being with my ex, but I knew him enough to know his humor, talent (he was a great photographer) and kindness. He was a good friend, father and husband. He was my age. Struck by cancer in his early thirties, they treated it aggressively and it went into remission for 15 years. Then it came back with a vengeance. So young. So tragic.
When someone dies – whether unexpectedly or not – we tend to think about our own mortality. It’s a natural thing. We know that there is an expiration date on our days and we can’t do a damn thing about it. The great mystery is when that date is and the great challenge is – What am I doing to do with my life before that date?
Then we panic.
I believe that sometimes the Universe (or God, The Holy Spirit, etc.) gives us wake up calls. Sometimes it comes in the form of another’s death. When my mother died at 70, I was gripped by a sense of urgency to do more, write more, eat that ice cream, tell someone I loved them, spend time with my dad, make another album, eventually move to New England, etc. etc.
I’ve felt this panic before. I was 22 years old and living in Knoxville, TN. I had wanted to be a singer since the crib (literally) and I had never made one real step toward that goal. So, on my 22nd birthday I panicked and felt so old…LOL, but it was the kick in the pants I needed to finally seek out a musical outlet for the first time in my life. I auditioned for a band. I had only ever sung in my car - alone. I had no idea if I even could sing a note in a live musical setting. On top of that, I was really shy. The band asked me to come to a party they were throwing and they would be playing all night and people could just jump up and sing a song in between beers. I can’t remember what I sang – I think it was an Edie Brickell song – and I was so nervous and shy, I actually sang with my back to the audience! When I finished, a woman approached me and said, “Damn girl, I thought they had put the record on!” I thought I might cry – and she’s still my friend to this day!
When people ask me how I got into singing and songwriting, I tell them that I “willed” it to happen. I knew it was my calling from the start, but I was too afraid of failing to act on it. I waited a long time to pursue it fully, made a lot of stops and starts, had failures and victories, and have worked extremely hard, but I kept going. Now, it’s what I do for a living. I’m not famous or rich, but my life is a constant adventure. I will not go to my deathbed wondering if I could have been an artist.
I didn’t know my ex-husband’s friend well enough to know if he ever thought about his life and panicked, but he was a very energetic, driven person who followed his dreams and passions. Here’s the “passion project” he was most known for: Behind Photographs. He had a curiosity about the large Polaroid format and then had the idea to shoot pictures of his photography heroes holding their iconic photos. One little idea took him around the world and became an incredible book.
So, let the panic take you somewhere new. It’s an urgent sign that there’s something deeper that your soul wants – and then follow your curiosities. You won’t regret it. I promise.