Tuesday, June 30, 2015

This Little Light

Have you seen this? If you do nothing else for the rest of the day, please give this its four well-deserved minutes.




I don't even really know where to begin with this. I first heard Alastair Moock on NPR talking about his album Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World's Bravest Kids, which had recently been nominated for a 2014 Grammy. Here was this Dad talking about his five year old baby girl, who had a healthy twin sister, and years of chemotherapy, and he was elegant and smart and completely touching. I couldn't get him out of my head. I came home and googled him and watched this video over and over. Those are his daughters and his band in that video. It is brilliant and moving and one of the strongest, most constructive responses to cancer I've ever seen.

Here is the thing. Making music seems like it's an incredibly difficult thing to do. Dealing with cancer IS, as a fact, a nearly impossible thing to do. Dealing with the cancer of your child? The only reason I know it is even possible is because I have seen that people do it. But writing and making music about your daughter and her fellow cancer patients while she is going through treatment? I am just as blown away by it today as I was two years ago when I heard Mr. Moock's interview. Look what he does, for her, for these kids, for families of these kids. For all of us.

Some of the best moments in this video (though every moment is the best) are those between he and his daughter who is sick. Her body is entirely swollen, cheeks puffed, from steroids, I assume, but nothing can disguise the look in her eye, which says "oh my Daddy is the greatest" which his eyes match, over and again, with their own adoration. The joy in these moments, the silliness, the laughter, and within the white space, set in the background, the reason they are here, in this barber shop, is ever present and indescribably powerful.

Strangely, a couple days after I heard this interview and watched this video, I spotted Mr. Moock and his family at a race my husband had just completed. And then, entirely against my nature, I went up to him and started talking, compelled to make this connection, convinced there was some reason they were there and I was there and I had just heard this story that I couldn't shake from my mind.

"Excuse me? Uh... hi...yeah...excuse me? Did I, um... hear you on All Things Considered the other day?" Did I somehow make that sound like a horrible pick-up line? This poor guy.

Clearly tired after his run and wanting to just sit on a little hill under a tree after his 3 mile run, he still went ahead and humored me. "Yes, that was me. I always like meeting people who listen to NPR," he said. I had so much to say. I wanted to talk about his daughters and 'back of head Fred' and ask him if he was actually going to the Grammy's and then follow that up with all these other brilliant questions. I was overwhelmed with things I wanted to express, but I was unprepared to communicate them, and frankly, we were in the middle of a post-race beer fest and so I just settled on smiling a lot and some lighthearted conversation which I'm sure he could have done without. While standing there, it also occurred to me that perhaps I was coming off as more paparazzi than fellow NPR listener. And I looked at his girls whose eyes were sort of saying, "Uh, can we have our Dad back now?"

When I watched the Grammy's not too long afterwards, I can't deny that I felt like I was rooting for a friend, for the good guy. And when he didn't win, I was dumbfounded by it.

Because, what can be better than what he has done here? Families dealing with cancer, he's saying, I've made this album for you; I've even made it upbeat. You are entirely not alone. Cancer is horrific, but we're just doing this because there is no other choice but to do this. My daughter is doing it. And my other daughter. And my wife. And we're not doing it, as in talking about what we once went through, we are in this, in the thick of it. And I'm making it just a tiny bit more manageable with music. You are entirely not alone.

I Am the Light
Alastair Moock

C is for cancer, that's growing in me.
A is for able, that what I will be--
Able to bend like a tree in the wind;
My branches are strong even though they are thin.
N is for nothing can make me afraid.
For I am the kid who leads the parade.
I march down the street and I wave as I go
And people wave back and they smile. Even though
My hair may be gone they can see me for me
For I am the light and the light is in me.
Then C once again, this time is for comfort
The people who love me will give me when I hurt,
Which I will now and then and I know they will too
But we'll huddle together and the storm will pass through.
And then E, we'll emerge, and we'll smile and dry
Ourselves in the sun that's now bright in the sky.
And R, I will rest and get ready again
For the struggle that's waiting around the next bend.


As one of those parents desperately trying to get it right, I try to take tidbits from people and behaviors and decisions I see and admire. So, here we have highly accessible and beautiful messages from this father, musician, husband, writer, runner (sorry, it's weird for me to note that). Primarily, I think, he is saying, let's put it on the table here. This is a crappy ass situation we're dealing with, but let's just face it head on. Let's put words to it, let's talk about it, let's pour ourselves into getting through it and feeling what we need to feel as we do it.

Also, I believe he is also letting us know that wallowing is okay, but when you get tired of that, if you are able, there are other ways to get through this. Music is one of them. Togetherness. Sharing the experience, as awful as it is.

Whether we think of this man as a celebrity who's not afraid to show his face around town or a local guy who just writes good, smart, powerful music, the message does not change.

Last week, I went to live music night at our local farm and Alastair Moock was performing. I might have been reading into it too much, but I swear I saw an extra hop in his step. He sang many silly songs and some traditional favorites and he taught the kids some new moves and a couple times he talked about a time when his daughter had been really sick. I wondered how she was.

And then, later, he asked Clio and Elsa, his daughters, to come up and sing with him. They popped up to the microphone, one at a time, looking vibrant and joyful, and entirely healthy, each one of them. Clio had a head full of hair, like her sister, but entirely her own. I looked at her from my seat way high up on the hill (800 people showed up to the event that usually hosts about an eighth of that crowd) and thought about that amazing little face from the video, the most beautiful face I'd ever seen, and now here she was, steroid-free, chemo free, full of fire and life. They sang their little hearts out, alongside their Dad. And for those of us watching? Some of us there knew their story and some of us did not. Some of us were running around freely, twirling and falling, laughing loudly. Some were young and bald, sitting close to their parents. Some danced, some sang along, some sat there quietly, in their own heads. And whether we recognized it or not, we were in the presence of a brilliant sort of warmth that you just don't see every day.

This little light of mine (they sang)
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine

Hide it under a bushel? NO!
I'm gonna let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? NO!
I'm gonna let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? NO!
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine



*Dear Mr. Moock, if you are reading this, which I know you are not, I apologize for any misinterpretations or misinformation I've given. If I blew it, I'm sorry. Don't worry, I only have about 4 readers.