The Many Forms of Gratitude

For two nights in a row, I had the privilege of standing onstage beside a friend. I want to commit an impossible thank you, and this post is my attempt to get there.

Now and then way back when Justin was living on the change in his pocket (and less), we’d talk sometimes. He’ll tell you I said and wrote some things that were a help. I hope that’s true, although he’s very kindly ignoring the exponentially larger amounts of meandering blather he had to siphon off first. More foam than beer, I fear. And for the record (this will be one of my all-time claims to bad-advice fame) when he emerged from the woods with For Emma, Forever Ago and asked my opinion before he released it, I said I could see what he was trying to do there but I wasn’t sure this whole singing-in-falsetto thing was gonna pan out.

Cue the world tours and multiple Grammy noms.

I guess I’d say what I’ve said before: I’m proud of Justin in an avuncular way, not a proprietary way.

All the more gratitude in my heart then, for his invitation to join him for the two recent concerts. If you weren’t there, I read John Denver’s “Alfie the Christmas Tree” poem while Justin and the band played their song “Lisbon, OH.” The poem is from John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together, a source of many fond memories for Justin and his family. Roughly ninety seconds onstage each night, but my heart full at being there, at being asked to be there, and to stand just for that short moment as witness to what he has created. The greybeard uncle, hanging out for a heartbeat or two

People ask, and the deal is, I see Justin only now and then. We keep in touch, but not overly much. There comes with his level of success certain whirlwinds and I am truly removed from that, just packing my book boxes, typing in my room over the garage, feeding the chickens, trying to be a decent husband and dad, worrying about the mortgage, and so on. We’re working different arenas in every sense of the word. If you’re looking for some red-hot inside info, I will tell you that I snow-plowed his driveway not so long ago, a real neighborly thing to do except that I got a little off track and gouged a big swath of sod off his yard.

What’s he like? those same people ask, and I say, well, he’s the one with that answer, not me. Although once I told someone he’s about the perfect blend of namaste and “hey dere,” and I’d stand by that.

I invoke the word gratitude so often I suppose sometimes I’m coming off cornpone. I relish sarcasm and irony as much as the next postmodern pig farmer, but sometimes they’re just a shiny sleeve to cover your heart. And so without cover let me say that as I drove home in the dark last night I drove in gratitude: for good things come my friend’s way, for his gratitude, for the love shown him by the crowd, for this slow-motion pinball life of mine allowing me to witness from that stage, and – as I turned off the car and walked toward the house where my wife and daughters slept – for my full, small life.

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