To Give of Your Gifts Freely

For many reasons, this first month of 2017 has been a challenge. I will forego any specific political or world changing events that would support that statement and instead focus on a personal matter.

On the morning of Monday, January 9th, after a tough battle with cancer, my step-father died. It was not unexpected. For many months we had witnessed the effects of his illness and the scars of his struggle; because of that, as well the emotional toll his decline was having on my mother and his children, there was some relief in his passing.

My wife and I joined the family in their home outside of Chicago for the week, helping with funeral preparations and offering as much loving support as we could. Aside from the everyday cooking and cleaning tasks that we could do to help around the house both of us were looking for ways to utilize our talents to benefit the entire family. For Clare, her current work as a medicinal herbalist was of immense help to their physical and emotional well-being. Her prowess as a photographer enabled her to create a remarkable photo slide of my step-father’s life and document the difficult yet beautiful unification of a family in mourning. For me, I knew that the best I could offer was to sing for his funeral.

It may seem an obvious choice, but consider this: my own father died 20 years ago, and I am very familiar with the heavy feelings of the loss of someone so close. At age 14 I could never have sung at his funeral, nor, perhaps, would I be able to even now. But with Dave, my step-father, being slightly removed from me in that regard, yet with the affection I held for him as my mother’s loving partner, I felt that music was the greatest gift I could offer his family and his memory.

Through the music chosen and prepared by my sister, brother-in-law, and me we helped to guide everyone through the surge of emotions that accompanies a funeral service. Every time I saw a somber face I sang with more strength, more love, and more joy to encourage those who needed help pushing through their pain with a little nudge of support. It was perhaps one of the most meaningful engagements I have experienced as a singer, and it helped me to recognize the power and responsibility of my own craft. During the service one of Dave’s daughters spoke a lovely eulogy describing some of his guiding qualities, among them to be kind and to utilize your gifts in the assistance of others without expectation or need of repayment. Upon hearing this I realized that this was what we were all doing at the moment: singing, making music, providing memories, sharing stories, and supporting each other in each of our own unique ways.

It was an important reminder of the active altruism needed every day as we strive towards understanding and improving ourselves and our communities. For me, recognizing my gifts as a musician, singer, actor, performer, inciter of emotions, connector of people, and facilitator of understanding; working on those talents; and giving freely of those gifts, never holding back, is at the core of my own guiding force.

If we could all focus on each of our own individual gifts and learn how to best use them to benefit each other, I wonder what marvels we could accomplish together.