On the Trail Again

Here we are in this liminal space
What can be let go of
What can be embraced
Nothing is lost that can be faced
With compassion and love and healing grace

Dear Friends,

It has been a full year since I have written and a lot has happened in my life personally and professionally. If you want all the details please read on. If you are just looking for performance dates and highlights, no worries at all, please scroll down or skip ahead here!

I just returned from a 5-day backpacking trip on the North Country Trail in northern Michigan with my longtime friend Janet Ray and my newly adopted dog Caillou. The days of hiking along the trail were beautiful, peaceful, and challenging, and allowed me to reflect on the many big changes I have experienced during this past year. I know it has been a challenging time for most of us, living through the lingering effects of the pandemic and the many resulting traumas, not to mention the war in Ukraine, continued gun violence and racially motivated attacks in our country, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. So many layers of grief, fear, and anger to work through individually and collectively!

The biggest change for me has been the end of my marriage to Allison and the loss of our relationship, which had been an anchor in my life for the past 12 years. I really loved Allison with my whole heart and being. Our connection was musical and spiritual and I experienced it as a gift from the ancestors and the Great Spirit. I was devastated when she began questioning whether or not she wanted to stay married. We worked together with a marriage counselor for a year but she eventually decided to move out and, after a couple months of separation, to divorce.

I have cried like a baby. I have cycled through stages of grief again and again, moving from denial to shock to anger to acceptance and back to denial. I have sought and continue to receive support and guidance from so many dear friends and family members, from my therapist, my 12-step recovery groups, and from my spiritual communities.

I have been disoriented and traumatized, finding it hard sometimes to schedule or plan ahead, tasks that normally come easily for me. I have prayed and meditated, walked and hiked and rested. I have listened. I have fostered and eventually adopted the amazing Spirit dog Caillou, who has brought me much joyful companionship. And I have sang. Once again music is helping me find my way through a dark and difficult time.

As this separation and divorce were occurring, I also experienced the death of my beloved mentor and guitar teacher Gilbert “Farmer Jack” Potter, and my spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Layers of sadness have inspired me to look deeply and to see that nothing has truly been lost, just changed form. And yet I continue to grieve those changes.

I see how both Thich Nhat Hanh and Farmer Jack continue through my music and how their love is alive in my work with children and youth. I have been given many wonderful opportunities to share my music and passion for songwriting with incredible folks this spring, including at the Boggs School in Detroit, Wylie Elementary School in Dexter, and Detroit Youth Volume; an amazing organization that teaches music to young people in the city using the Suzuki violin method. I had an incredible gig at the East Lansing Art Fair with the Community Gardeners and the All Nations Dancers, and several spring gatherings in Ann Arbor with percussionist Lori Fithian, including the Ann Arbor Earth Day celebration and Huron River Day. In the midst of death, life has continued to bloom and sing.

Hiking on the trail this past week has given my heart and mind some space to really feel my feelings; the sadness, pain, heartbreak, and longing. The anger and resentment. The acceptance and forgiveness. The beauty and joy of the present moment. The limitless unconditional love of the Spirit that flows through so many channels. The true presence of life in each breath.

I have been reminded again and again of the love that is alive in my life as it has shown up in so many meaningful and concrete ways.

During our hike we took a rest day at the Sand Lake Campground in the Manistee National Forest. After three days of hiking we were exhausted and sore. We were immediately welcomed by a young family that had just set up camp. They asked us if we needed anything and lent us soap so we could take our first showers of the trip. The campground host visited us and welcomed us too, bringing us firewood left behind by other campers. Another family who camped across from us fed us from morning until night and again the following morning with amazing homemade food that would challenge any restaurant, let alone campsite! These simple acts of generosity were tangible experiences of the love of the Great Spirit that connects all things. We were not alone. We were not forsaken. We were well cared for and loved. We were fed.

And so my question now for my life is how do I continue to give myself the space and time I need to grieve even as I participate in simple acts of generosity for those around me? How do I welcome and feed the strange traveler while also keeping my heart and mind well balanced? This is not anything I can do alone, I know this much. I need the support and reflections of trusted friends, family, wise counselors, spiritual community, and the Great Spirit. I need to stay engaged in my life even when it feels painful or difficult. To embrace and move through the unpleasant feelings while remaining present to the beauty and wonders of life.

Just before we came to the campground we thought we were lost. The road appeared to be a dead end. We were disappointed and disillusioned. We decided to ask for help. When we did, we were directed to walk just beyond what we thought was a dead end and we found the campground where we would be cared for beyond any expectations. We were right where we needed to be.

Oh Great Spirit, help me to listen to your direction by having the humility and willingness to ask for help when I feel like I may be lost. Help me know that I am always deeply connected to you through the love of all my relations. And help me trust you in each step, each breath, and every song along the way.

In gratitude for our shared resilience,
Joe

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