Twenty Eight: Looking at Myself through the Words of a Hero


There are people that come in and out of our lives with great force and impact – lovers, friends, distant cousins, coworkers, and so on…until you get to people of notoriety that we have never met, will likely never meet, but whom have had a profoundly sweet influence on us. Pete Seeger was one of those people. I celebrate his life today with some of my favorite quotes from the folk music icon.

“There’s no such thing as a wrong note if you’re singing it.”

My daughter is surrounded by music. I have tunes playing all day. Her father is a musician with an extensive LP collection. Her three-year-old brother makes up little jingles. When little miss breaks into song, she hits some unusual notes. She comes up with elaborate verses about unicorns and monsters and her cats, and it really is truly amazing. Nothing holds her back.

I envy her and her youth because she understands this quote so much more than I. She hasn’t internalized years of self doubt or criticism that she stops the creative flow. It’s coming out and it’s beautiful because it simply is.

“I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.” 

This quote resonates with me as I live in a cohousing community: 23 private units on one property with shared spaces and amenities like a common house. I can imagine Pete and Toshi attending monthly meetings, and figuring out how they (in their 90s) would have contributed their fair share of the work load to be done around the property at work parties. Cohousing in a modern American environment is far from perfect, but it shakes a stick at the loneliness that can stem from busy urban lives. I think that these “small villages” Seeger spoke of are everywhere – collectives that grow out of a common interest, passion, or lifestyle – but they aren’t where we live, and hence we can make the choice to avoid daily responsibility to them and their members if we wish to.

It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with.”

Several years ago, I was involved in the hiring process at the non-profit where I used to work. There were several candidates, but one seemed to rise above the others. My supervisor turned to the hiring team and said, “Beware of leaning towards the candidate that seems to share the most in common with you.” That has stuck with me ever since. It is easier, perhaps, to make progress with those that share our ideas and visions for things, but that might not be the truest form of progress.

I saw it this year at a PTA meeting; a parent questioned what the actual PTA board guidelines were that we were being asked to ratify. No one could produce them. Then he showed up at a board meeting, and despite my best efforts to make him feel welcome he was on the defensive and hard to talk to. He was a thorn in the side, but it was he that was vigilant at pointing out inequities and areas for improvement with the PTA.

I believe that most of us shy away from confrontation and conflict resolution because we are afraid of the time and energy it will demand of us. There seem to be less minutes in the day for anything other than punching in and out of the time clock at work and making three decent meals for oneself. The beauty is that I disagree with people everywhere! There’s always somewhere to practice compassion and honest communication.

“I feel that my whole life is a contribution.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all said this about ourselves? I will aspire to embody these words for the rest of my days. They don’t require the utmost levels of confidence or self esteem but self love – an understanding that in every moment and with every breath we have the potential to bring change and love to the world, and even when we don’t we are still part of the fabric of life. Thank you, Pete, for your words and all 94 years of positive change that you brought to this world.

How do things change in our lives when a hero passes on? Do we start to inherently value their works in a different way?



Altered photos from Flickr Creative Commons; “Pete Seeger’s Peace Machine” by Paul VanDerWerf, “OWS and Pete Seeger” by Daniel Latorre, and “Pete Seeger” by Jim the Photographer.

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