Purple Reign

So Prince has died.

I heard it on the radio in my car last Thursday, several hours after the news had broken.  The DJ announced it so casually.  (What?!  I couldn’t have heard that right.  Did he say PRINCE?)  And then he- OOF… launched right into “When Doves Cry” without even letting me take a breath to absorb the news.  I think I scared my daughter when I burst out and yelled at the cars ahead of me to GO, ALREADY!

I needed to get home.  Quickly.

Not being far from home, we pulled into the garage and I turned the car off.  Quickly turned the key again so we could listen to the song play out.  A combination of rock guitar and pure, sweet, melodic poetry.  A song that I never really “got,” but never really needed to in order to enjoy its groundbreaking sound.

When Michael Jackson died, and Whitney Houston, and so many other iconic artists, I felt almost a sense of relief for them.  Their suffering, their torment, was over.  They were free now.  Robin Williams.  Philip Seymour Hoffman.  River Phoenix.  David Bowie.  How many artists have we lost in my lifetime?  Too many to count.

But Prince.  PRINCE.  He was still making music.  Playing concerts.  It feels like his life was cut short.  Please, please, please, let it really have been the flu.  I can’t bear the thought of another death- accidental or intentional- from drugs or a desperate act to ease his suffering.

He died alone in his elevator.  Too sad.  Too sad.

It was 1983 when the song “1999” was first on the radio.  I was ten.  Without paying too close attention to the lyrics, I imagined what it really would be like on the last night of 1999.  I imagined myself as a 26-year-old.  I would probably be married, have two kids already.  I would be too OLD to party.  Funny to think of that now.

“If you didn’t come to party/ Don’t bother knocking on my door”

On Friday, December 31, 1999, my husband and I (no kids yet) reunited with a large group of friends from college in Richmond, Virginia.  We laughed hysterically at dinner, celebrated one couple’s engagement, then party-hopped across the city as we reveled in our relative young-adult freedom.  We were grown up and responsible, but we could still PARTY.

“So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999”

Around 11pm I said, “WAIT.  We have to play ‘1999,’ y’all.  It’s 1999.  And we’re partying.”  As I imagined similar scenarios playing out across every time zone.  Prince’s reach was massive.  So we’re searching this random house in which we’ve ended up.  Looking in their CD towers for the album.  The song.  Starting to get frantic when we couldn’t find it.  And finally, another guest at the party says he has it on a tape in his car.  On TAPE, of all things!

And we played it and it felt like the night- and the next century, even- was saved.  Anointed.  Blessed by Prince.  He knew it was going to be a great party.  He knew.  The year 1999, which seemed impossibly far away to a 10-year-old kid, is now 17 YEARS in the PAST.

So many other songs of his had an impact on my life.  If I searched my brain, I could probably come up with a specific, happy memory to go along with each one.  They were the soundtrack to my childhood.  And into adulthood too.  “Kiss.”  If it played at your wedding, I embarrassed myself on the dance floor.  Hell, if the DJ played it, it’s probably because I requested it.  At your wedding.  Yep, I was that guest.  But it was “Kiss!”

“But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last”

On Thursday, the day we heard, we were all in shock.  The Purple One can’t be gone.  We never saw him in concert.  Oh, no.

On Friday, sadness set in.

I was on a long road trip with my son.  It was the eve of his fourteenth birthday.  We came across a station on satellite radio that had miraculously, graciously, turned itself into a Prince tribute station.  And more than just playing his music (which, believe me, I needed to hear desperately), the DJ took hundreds of calls from people sharing their stories about Prince’s music, their memories, their connection to or friendship with him.

Listening to them made me feel like my immense grief over a person I had never met was not out of proportion.  Their stories ranged from the deeply personal connections to Prince the man to one caller’s simple request- that they air the song that played in the background when he lost his virginity.  Prince provided the soundtrack to our reckless, intense, fearless youth, and now it’s over.

“They say two-thousand zero zero/ Party’s over/ Oops, out of time”

I was too young to understand what “I Would Die 4 U” meant at the time of its release.  However, the intensity of feeling in his music and lyrics still came through for me at a young age.   The beauty of Prince’s music was that it stuck around long enough for you to get the message.  I have two children now.  And I know.

I was eleven when the movie Purple Rain came out in theaters.  I was too young to go see it.  I still have never seen it.  But the music inspired by the movie, or vice versa, is a part of my heart.  Someday soon I will watch it and be inspired all over again by the man.  The music.  The poetry.  The artistry.  The gentle soul who left us far too early.

“I don’t wanna die, I’d rather dance my life away”

The party of Prince’s life is now over, but the music and the memories he left us with will last.

Thank you, Prince, from the bottom of my broken heart.

And during that road trip on Friday?  It rained.  Out of big, purple clouds in front of a glorious setting sun.  Of course it did.


Movement and Sound

Movement and sound have returned to the garden.  The birds and the wind were the only color and variation in the previous winter’s days.  The silence was calming, and it gave us rest from our outdoor pursuits.  But we knew it wouldn’t last.  It couldn’t last.  Now as the wind blows, it carries petals and seeds and fluff to highlight its direction and flow.  The maple seeds helicopter down to the ground.  When they get picked up by a puff of wind, it’s hard not to believe that they aren’t an actual flying creature.  The new leaves on the trees flop and flap and flutter.

Above the lawn, baby dragonflies try out their new wings for sport.  Clouds of gnats maintain their overall appearance of one mass, but they are hundreds of insects bumping into each other and flying on their own.

The baby birds at the feeder furiously flap their wings as they wait to be fed small bits of seed.  If they could talk, you would hear, “Mommy.  Mommy.  Mommy.  Mommy.”

The squirrels chase each other up and down tree trunks, their claws scraping away little flecks of bark.

The anoles on the porch railing wait patiently for a wayward fly to stray close enough…

In the evening, I can hear the first few cicadas sending out their alarming call.  The tree frogs in the pond will join in soon.

Butterflies and moths and wasps and bees.

It is electrifying to see all of the activity again after so many months of solitude in the garden.  And it is tempting to want to match the frenetic pace of nature coming back to life again.  But these birds and bees and bugs and trees may only have one or two seasons in which to grow, build nests, have young, set seeds, carry out their small ecological function, and then die.

You have lived through many, many seasons, and with luck and grace you have many more ahead of you.

Take your time.

Take your time.

Word of the Day: Eclosion

This morning I saw a butterfly fly across the lawn, double back on itself, and fly back to the edge of my garden.  It landed on a patch of sunny ground… and sat.  Just sat there for the longest time.  As I watched it, I recalled what I remembered about butterflies hatching from their chrysalises, and then I even did a little research to make sure I had my facts straight.

Most species of caterpillars spend one to two weeks in their chrysalises, becoming an entirely new being.  If you spend any time pondering this fact, it is hard to see it as anything short of a miracle.  This is a powerful allegory for us humans.  We are capable of transformation.  But what happens immediately after that transformation is what got my attention this morning.  The butterfly cannot fly at the time of its eclosion, or emergence from its chrysalis.  Its wings are damp.  They are soft.  They are folded against its body.  The butterfly must first rest after the hard work of hatching.  Then it hangs from its chrysalis to pump the fluid into its wings that will inflate them and give them the structure and stability for flight.  The butterfly needs sunlight for its wings to harden and dry.  This preparation for flight can take up to several hours.  Imagine the vulnerability of this fragile insect during this time.  Easily picked off by prey.  Not ready to defend itself the only way it can- by aerial escape.

Every morning I wake up with a version of this thought in my head: “Crap. I need to crawl out of this bed and wake up and face the day and there is so much to do and I am already behind.”  I know.  I need to work on that.  But today I am going to be gentle with myself.  I just emerged from a long sleep that has rested my body, restored my mind.  I love the cocoon of my bed.  The warmth, the security, the comfort.  I don’t ever want to get out of bed.  Ever.  But the tiny transformation has already occurred, and now it is time to emerge.

I stretch my limbs, pump myself full of coffee, turn my face to the sun to feel its warmth.  Now it’s time to fly.