As a musician, lots of people see me up on stage having the time of my life. That brief time spent performing, immersed in the music, is the highlight of my profession. However, that's the tip of the iceberg. Many people are surprised to hear that I spend more hours in my home office (making phone calls, sending emails, making posters, etc) than I do on the stage.
Last year I was offered a show in southern Minnesota. It didn't pay that much, but enough to justify building a tour around it. I got out my atlas, got to googling like mad, and networked with as many touring musicians as possible. I put at least 100 hours into planning the "Til the Wheels Come Off" Midwestern Tour, which I secretly called the "Cold Call Tour of 2013."
We did get everything lined up, and hit the road in late May for nine engagements ranging from Montana to Iowa to Colorado. The Minnesota festival was the fifth show in, on a sunny Friday afternoon. A few hours after the show, I received a call from my husband Allen– his father was found in his chair, not breathing. Later that night he confirmed that he had indeed passed away.
We decided that the band would perform the following evening in Topeka, but then I would hop a plane to New Jersey for my father-in-law's funeral, and cancel the final three dates. The rest of the tour, which took months to plan, was undone in minutes by a few emails and phone calls. The to-do list for the remainder of the tour was abandoned, and a new to-do list had to be adopted within a day.
Allen's father Hank was a Korean war vet, a loving father, and a rabid Yankees fan. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer only a month or so previous, after a rapid loss of weight. Allen had flown to his parents' condo for a week to help him improve his diet and plan for his treatment. Upon returning to Portland, Allen was on the phone every day, encouraging and advising his parents and sister about his health care options. I watched Allen put his every effort into sustaining his father- and in an instant, all was undone.
Allen also had a to-do list, of doctors to call, appointments to arrange, treatment options to consider… and within a day that list was abandoned as well. He immediately moved in a different direction, just as I had out on the road, and began planning for the funeral and travel arrangements for the family.
There's a saying, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." Life is full of such letting-go-and-picking-up, and it often seems there isn't a hair's breadth between the two. It happens in ways large and small… a funeral is planned instead of treatment. The milk in the fridge smells funny, so the cereal box is put away and you make something else for breakfast. An encore song is requested, and the song you intended to play is abandoned.
We do it all the time, this letting-go-and-picking-up, without a concern. But when it's something we've invested ourselves in, we grasp at what we should be letting go of. This is not only the source of suffering, but it causes us to stumble in our path forward. If we are contemplating the song we wanted to sing instead of the one requested, we mix up the words.
I often call my husband a "naturally Zen dude," as I see how easily he turns from one direction to another. I tend to need more practice in this regard and have a harder time letting go. It's through practice that I am able to observe this process, and watch when I grasp at what might have been. That always makes it easier to let go.