Recently, while driving to work, Joni Mitchell’s song “River” came on over the radio. A song I have always loved (especially this time of year), because it reminds me of my mother and the many folk tapes she played in the car when I was a kid. My mother would sing along in a low, heartfelt way touched by the lyrics of one of her favorite artists, sometimes looking like she was on the verge of tears. Or she would sing to me and my sisters at bedtime, songs like “Circle Game” or “Blackbird”.
When I got home later that afternoon, I looked up an interview with Joni Mitchell online. There had been something about the song “River” that I hadn’t really noticed before until that morning commute, and I wanted to learn more about it from the musician’s perspective.
At the beginning of the interview, Ms. Mitchell seems cynical, on-guard, and defensive. She can’t really see her lifetime accomplishments or contributions. But instead, she seems more concerned about how others misinterpret who she is as a person. She chain smokes, as she apprehensively eyes the interviewer, Jian Ghomeshi.
What stood out for me over the course of the interview, was not only the way she was self-aware of her growth as a person and artist, (“I am liquid,” she says, and “I don’t like looking back”) but how she ends on the thought and point that we are all truly alone on this Earth, and let’s face it.
The song “River” begins with the image of people getting ready to celebrate Christmas, which is the kind of connectedness we as a culture get nostalgic over. But as the song continues, she speaks of detachment, too. Like when she says in her interview, “Everything I am, I’m not.”
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with an aging population these days—a mostly forgotten population. I think a lot about how they feel, as sometimes my role is to anticipate their needs in a care-giving way. I wonder if they feel alone, or how they feel about strangers assisting them in the most personal ways imaginable.
When we are young, capable, attractive and independent we just don’t see that one day it could all go away. We are vain and selfish, sometimes superficial, and we are so used to the attention we receive in our youth--trying to stay appealing to others, so that the attention we seek doesn’t fade. But as people grow older and become slower, more dependent and less capable, they are treated as though they are a burden and we as a society are too impatient to give these folks any consideration.
I truly admire cultures who respect their elders. How much richer those people are with all that wisdom and knowledge and stories being passed down to them. How connected they must feel knowing where they came from.
Being aware of this makes me want to be more patient with others, and more appreciative of the time I do have left on this planet. And I know this is an every day practice that will eventually become just a part of who I am. Though right now, I’m as guilty as anyone of being selfish, caught up in my own stuff, demanding more and giving less. I just hope I am graced with a nice, full life so I can make the changes I need to be a better, contributing person and experience how rich in other ways life can be.