Those who know me well are aware I’ve been through some difficult times. To be clear: I’ve never for a moment forgotten the undeniable advantages I’ve had, by the era of my birth (Boomer here), the color of my skin and yes, my very maleness. But I’ve had tests in my life. And I’m writing to you now as a bearer of consolement. I bring you hope in these dark times. Maybe even joy.
You be the judge.
As I write this my friends are reeling from the news of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s the latest calamity this year and it comes when we all know more are on their way. Like a prize fighter on the ropes, with no referee in sight to stop the pummeling, that ruthless brute “2020” has landed some horrible blows and shows no sign of relenting.
- We’ve just surpassed 200,000 deaths from Covid, before even the arrival of the flu season
- The U.S. West is only in the middle of its fire season and already the devastation has sprawled beyond a combined area the size of Connecticut
- Hurricanes drown other parts of our country
But of course there is more.
I fear, as I’m sure you do, for the very integrity of our democracy, while a vocal minority of our country nods approvingly toward fascism and insists Black Lives Matter has no place in our social discourse because, Why? Fake news? False equivalencies? I can still hear the booing from many in the audience for the opening NFL game when players and coaches linked arms or took a knee in a moment of silence and solidarity.
It’s as if our country has lost its mind, and one wing of the asylum is burning while another is flooding.
To quote a song from King Leer, “The rain, it raineth every day.”
The healing power of The Mary Ellen Carter
At around the time of his death in the mid-80s, my wife (at the time) and I became familiar with Stan Rogers. His folk music endures. At that time, when we first heard his song The Mary Ellen Carter, my wife was extremely sick with a debilitating chronic illness and I was barely making due with freelance consulting work. Times were bleak. (This was just before we scraped up enough money to move to Milwaukee. What came next was discussed in this speech to a Chicago audience, at the most recent Pecha Kucha Night.)
We loved this song, and eventually recorded it onto a cassette tape off of public radio. That tape got a lot of use. It was a source of healing, and inspiration.
When I stopped my marathon work sessions, and our low moods seemed to find no bottom, we would play this song, over and over if necessary, until we moved from holding each other and crying to loudly singing the refrain.
Maybe you will too.
So here is my advice to you: Play this song during or just after your tears, when what you need is a tonic to help you get ready to fight anew. There were other rallying cries for us back then (I’m thinking of Kenneth Branagh’s St. Crispin’s Day speech in the film Henry V), but none as reliable as this.
Here it is, played live as part of a documentary, prefaced by a brief explanation of the power of the song’s refrain. As one man recounts, it may have saved his life, as he faced a death by drowning or hypothermia in a swamped lifeboat.