When we started The Half Fund, our goal was to lift the veil on cancer. We always feel that knowledge is power, and information is a pretty good equalizer. Cancer is going to hit you like a truck. Period. You can either brace for the impact, or you can get run over. What is your choice?
Well in order to see what is coming, you first have to open your eyes. And when you open your eyes, the rest of your senses tend to join the band… smell, touch, taste, hear. Or when all of it comes together, you simply… be. Very few of us take the opportunity to be.
So how do you be? All it takes is one sense, as long as it is an open sense. If you’re in a restaurant and your favorite dish arrives, genuinely savor the taste of it. If a Bob Ross sunrise greets you one morning, see it and stare at it. On a beach, as the water and sand wash to and fro between your toes, feel it, over and over again. On a spring day, as you pass a lilac bush, when the aroma hits you, stop. Smell it for a good five minutes. Breathe in. Breathe out.
And when you listen to something, or more importantly, someone, really listen. This has never been so true as illustrated by a night that should never have happened.
A few Saturdays ago, my brother Gavin informed Stephanie and me that they were taking our boys for a sleepover with their cousins, and we should go out. As it happened, Steph and I had a friend named Bill Passalacqua who was singing at a local establishment in St. Louis. Bill isn’t in town very often, so this offered the perfect pastime.
After devouring our favorite pie at Katie’s Pizza and Pasta, we showed up at a place called The Focal Point, where Bill was playing. This place was unlike any place I’d ever been. It was specifically geared for folk and bluegrass music, with a wooden floor and rows of wooden chairs that looked like they belonged in a 1940s movie theater.
There was no bar here, but they had a deal with the Mexican restaurant next door to allow you to purchase liquor and bring it back in for the show.
Once Bill’s set was over, he came over to us and we all had a beer. He told us that the headliner was a guy named Greg Klyma, with whom Bill was friends, and that the guy was a great folk singer.
I immediately thought of the line that a comedian once said in the ’80s: “If I had a hammer… there’d be no more folk singers.” I can’t say I was looking forward to it.
But then Greg hit the stage, and from song one, I didn’t just hear… I listened. And the music was amazing. I mean, it’s not every day that you hear a sultry version of You Are My Sunshine. It is damn remarkable. People actually got up and danced… some of it dirty. Grrr.
Then out of nowhere, Greg hit me across the face with an amazing story about a girl named Lydia. He had met her at a party thrown by our friend Bill one night, when she showed up with her husband Ivan the Glassblower.
As Greg told the story of Lydia and her battles, and what one of his songs called New Clothes meant to her, it shook me to my soul. It was written by Greg after he left a group to start a solo career in the ’90s.
Yet Lydia got something something completely different out of the lyrics, and it inspired her to do something remarkable.
I will let Greg tell you his story because I could never do it justice, but I do want to leave you with this: if and when you listen to this song, I want you to drink in every single word of what it says. So often lately, I have seen cancer really get people down. I know that sounds funky, but it’s true. I can think of ten people right off the bat that I know with the attitude, “I’m beaten. I’m done. I don’t think I want to fight anymore.”
And I understand that people will feel that way, because you will feel what you will feel. But regardless of a prognosis, deep down, you have the ability to change that.
All of us battling any demon, physical, emotional, both, have the right to look in the mirror and say “enough of this.” When you get to that point of anger, or hurt, or even disgust, use a song like New Clothes, or a smell like lilac, or the taste of Katie’s Pizza with sausage, mushroom, onion, shrimp and basil, or a Bob Ross sunrise, or the feel of sand in your toes to jar you back to the place where you need to be to fight your battles. Because it’s not just ammunition: it’s reaffirmation of a life worth living.
And deep down, they give me hope. They can do the same for you if you let them. Just keep your senses, your heart and your mind open. Just being will irreversibly change your life for the better.
And to Greg and Bill… thank you guys for opening up my ears to something different.