Saturday, May 26, 2012

When You Get The Chance, Say Thanks

While I was at the Northwest Folklife festival today, I got an extraordinary opportunity to thank someone who helped me through some difficult days.

When I originally left Poulsbo to go to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, I had no job, and no real understanding of what it would take to get and keep one, and so I didn't! My Mom paid for outstanding school fees after financial aid, and covered all my living expenses. Then, at the end of the year, my Mom's place of employment burned down. She was out of a job and since I had not become any more independent, I had to move home.

For a young gay man in the 1980s, it was the worst case scenario. I had escaped my hometown, but due to my lack of initiative, skills, and maturity, I was falling backward into the gravity well of anti-gay from which I had only recently escaped. There was no hope left.

On the last ferry trip back to Poulsbo, I encountered two musicians. Steve and Kat, whom I had seen many times busking on the Seattle to Bainbridge route. They were as charming and folksy as ever, but they sensed somehow that there was a troubled soul in their midst who needed their help.

Kat asked me if I was OK, and I told her my story. She nodded and had a short conversation with Steve. They ended their set with a song called "The Mary Ellen Carter" about a sunken ship that was raised again by its faithful crew. The chorus goes "No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend, be like the Mary Ellen Carter: rise again." There was something in the way that both of them emphasized the word "home" that told me that the song was for me.

Time passed. I finished my college years in 1989 and went to work in the student loan industry; still commuting from Poulsbo each day. Those first couple of years were rough. I didn't actually "rise again" until 1994 when my bandmates Stan and Marisa Lanning offered me an affordable basement suite in their house.

Tonight at Folklife after my set, which I thought of as extremely important, I did something that was actually important. I walked into the beer garden and Kat was standing there with some mutual acquaintances and I knew that I was being given an opportunity.

I approached her and told her about the day she and Steve gave me the gift of reassurance on ferry from Bainbridge Island. Her eyes widened "That was you?" I didn't have any expectation that she might remember. She did remember, though. I finally got the chance to tell her about all the nights and days that the refrain of the song she and Steve sang for me rang in my ears and kept my spirits up until it was time for me to move back home to the city again.

The upshot of this story is that if you get the chance to speak with someone who made your life better as a young person, say something. Tell her or him that she or he made a difference in your life.


MaineCelt said...

Oh, so beautiful. I'm glad of so many things: of the way Kat reached out to you, of the way Stan & Marisa took you in, and the way your own life became an echo of a song we should all learn to sing.

Kat is the daughter of my third-grade teacher. She would sometimes bring her guitar and sing to our class. She was the first person I ever heard sing in Scottish Gaelic and I vowed then and there I would study it some day. I had a cassette of her and Steve singing "Mary Ellen Carter" and listened to it through my own hard times.
A few years ago, I was back in the Northwest on a ferryboat, bound to visit my childhood island. I saw Kat, went up to her, and told her how she'd been my stepping-stone into Gaelic & how much jo & love-- and community--it had brought me. She looked astounded. "But, I learned that mouth music by ear," she said. "I had no idea what I was even singing."
No matter. Kat is one of those people, like you, who re-weaves the world through her music. I'm so thankful that you and I have both been blessed by that gift, and that we've both had the chance to say THANKS!!!

MaineCelt said...

Er, joY. How much JOY and love... Aye.

Eilidh said...

Hey Seumas, This was a very moving post. Thanks for it, and for reminding me to be grateful. I have people in my life to thank as well who said something kind, or cared, or helped me out when I needed it. I'm glad youhad a great day yesterday. Sorry to have missed it.

Hippy Goodwife said...

A very timely reminder! What a wonderfully intertwined world we live in!~

Mary said...

Saying thank you doesn't end with youth. Thank You, Seumas, for sharing your story and for being an inspiration to so many of your friends. Tapaidh Leat a m'eudal.


Adam said...

It is so important, and I am glad you got the chance. with all the deaths of friends and relatives I have experienced recently I have learned the importance of not leaving these sorts of things un-said.

Harp Friend Anna said...

Lovely! It is quite amazing when you are given the privilege of seeing something come full circle. And a gift when you have the opportunity to say "thanks." Good for you for seizing it!