Autumn Wind

“How you doin’?”

“Not bad, could be worse.”

Lordy, there’s a lot to unpack there.

For many, a passing “hello,” has been replaced by “how you doin’?” They don’t really want to know as they pass you in the grocery store. We’re too busy, we’re too self-absorbed. Yes, I’m looking squarely in the mirror here.

My parents will tell you that as a kid, when asked how I was doing, I’d always say, “Fine.” And that was it, the entirety of my answer. Honestly, that’s still my answer much of the time. But I’m working on being more open and honest—about sadness and joy.

The truth is I’m fine, but I’m not. Not bad, could be worse. I’m financially secure, have a secure job, have a loving and supportive family, have the space and resources to do many of the things that are important and meaningful to me. I haven’t experienced great personal trauma of faced much personal grief. I’m blessed.

Yet, I’m also not fine. We live in a world we have made in which the majority of people struggle daily just to survive—they struggle financially, with physical and mental health, a secure home, or lacking a loving and supportive family. So many struggle with unfocused anger and rage which is like a death ray from some alien robot vaporizing everything in its path as it sweeps across the landscape and people in its path. They deal with trauma. We all do. Maybe trauma is most devastating when it then leads to disconnection. Disconnection from one other, from family, from friends, but also disconnection from other life and the natural world. We can collectively see this disconnection, the crises resulting from it, and the trauma it causes, and yet, collectively, we seem unable to act to address it.

How do we reconnect, build empathy, and process trauma together? Singer, songwriter Mary Gauthier talks about this in a TED Talk titled the Joy of Sad Songs. She describes her guitar as an empathy machine and that songs can help heal a wounded soul and heart. A song can bring us into the experience of someone else so we know it and understand. When we change a heart, that can lead to a mind being changed, which can change a person, and doesn’t that change the world?

At times I feel guilty writing a sad song. And as I’ve been told, I write a lot of them. Who am I to write such things. “I’m fine.”

Recently, the power of Facebook reminded me of a birthday of a long-lost friend who died a few years ago. Even though I’d lost touch, reconnected a couple of times, and lost touch again, seeing news of her death was like a punch to the gut. Part of the gut punch was that in my casual reconnecting, I had no idea that she wasn’t “fine.” Maybe those close to her, in those years after we were friends, did know and did offer gobs of support. Maybe not.

“How you doin’?”

“Not bad, could be worse.”

Processing that led to this largely fictionalized story. I hadn’t really considered sharing this one publicly, though Mary’s TED Talk reminds me the power of a sad song—the importance of empathy for what others are experiencing in this world we share. Also, a friend of mine, upon listening to many of the songs I’m working on right now, said this was his favorite as it resonated with him personally. Though I’ve set this one aside for now in the current recording project I’m in the midst of, I wanted to share it here, recognizing the potential power of a sad song.

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