“I don’t know what to do!”
“Just follow the music.”
While listening to the live broadcast of Allen Toussaint’s funeral this morning (thank you, WWOZ), I heard the exchange above. More specifically, it happened during a video feed as the memorial ended and the mourners and musicians filled the street outside the Orpheum for the second line. Someone near the camera didn’t know what was happening, where to go, and someone far more familiar with the tradition told them what was next – just dance and stroll, following the band and the music, wherever they might lead.
When someone passes on, everything stops. We cry, we share the news, we plan, but that time is quiet, still, internal. The memorial service comes, and we solemnly honor and send the departed on ahead into the great beyond. In New Orleans, after that respite, comes the second line. As the memorial service ends, the music lifts the mourners back up and carries them forward into the streets, celebrating the life of the person who is gone and reminding everyone that our lives, though finite, still continue. It is the vibrant, funky, literal manifestation of “a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Balance is restored; like music, life pauses and it continues, over and over.
A week ago today, the music was violently, hatefully stopped at the Bataclan in Paris. Too many lives stopped along with that music. There aren’t adequate words in this world to describe the horror of losing every single one of those people. They were my people. I’d only met one of them, but I know for certain that they understood life – that there is a necessary balance to it, and that we’re all in it together. I know this because they chose to attend a concert. In a world where we are increasingly detached and isolated from each other, dependent upon the cool glow of technological advances for communication, these concertgoers made their way to the packed, raucous Bataclan. They knew that a digital file is only a faint shadow of live performance. They also knew that while less convenient than staying at home and spinning the record instead (or watching via Periscope), going to a concert is one of the few places one can be enveloped by something bigger. Sharing a room with people they’d never met, bonding over the music played by a band they all loved was essential. They knew being in the crowd at a concert means that, for a short time, you need not feel alone or be the odd person out. You are part of a community. You are connected, welcome, inspired, transcending all that weighs you down. You are sweaty, human, and you are so very alive.
I wish the troglodytes who committed these despicable crimes had experienced this sense of concert community at least once in their lives. If they’d felt that connection once, they couldn’t have stopped themselves from returning again and again, to feel part of something, to better understand the people fumbling their way through this world with them. If they’d been fortunate enough to have a song grab them by the elbow to walk them through their darkest days, to lift their chins so that they could see a clearer path to a better lives, to open their minds and hearts to the notion that being a human is bullshit and beauty and complexity inextricably entwined, they could not have done this.
Instead, here we are. We’ve lost so many fellow humans this week in France, Lebanon, Nigeria, and again today in Mali. Save a sudden and miraculous discovery, we’ll probably lose more of us like this in the weeks/months/years to come. Fear is natural and understandable. That said, being scared is only the first reaction we’re meant to have when something horrid happens; we’re not meant to stay afraid, to wallow in it. The endless flood of vitriol that consumed this week and continues now is all based in fear; the needle’s stuck for too many people, leaving them only capable of repeatedly screeching their hatred like a scratched record. ENOUGH.
It’s time to step beyond fear. Accept grief. Feel grateful for those who survived. Stand in awe of those who rushed in to help. Contemplate what’s happened, is happening and will happen. Be angry. Ponder the “if only” situations that continue roll through our minds. Be angry some more. Recognize the messy, inconvenient, glorious state of being human that we all share. Let the anger go. Remember and honor those we’ve lost and send them on their way.
We need a second line for the whole world right now. Let’s figure out how to do that together. The first step: stroll outside and back into the world. We’re all heading out into the street, whether we like each other or not, and we have to move together. Listen. Just follow the music.