I know you know just what I meant.
I had a whole plan for what I was going to write today. I was in the middle of mapping it out when I learned that my friend Hugh McGowan had died. He was an incredible guitarist, an amazing songwriter, with a lovely high tenor voice that was so pure and distinctive. His songs "No Precedent" and "This Place Is Hers" have been wrecking me in the best way possible since I first heard them at a house concert back in 2013. In fact the first time I heard him play I am pretty sure I told him I had a crush on his music, which he graciously accepted as the compliment it was meant to be and never batted an eye at. He slung drinks and ran open mics and seemed to dabble in every instrument. He was well known and loved among many and never as famous as he should have been.
He dragged me onstage on more than one occasion, even when I was just there to listen, a gesture that made me know I was a part of things. I have hugged him at a hundred different shows. And while we never really hung out apart from music events, I would like to think we understood each other in the way that musicians always seem to. Every conversation I ever had with him, however small, it was clear that he was so present to it. His heart, his even keel, and his quiet but powerful way of making a person feel seen and safe left a deep impression on me that I'm finding it difficult to articulate and to feel worthy of, given the impression he's left on so many.
We are all so worn out from the constant stream of losses and grief, whether we have lost people or experiences or work or a basic sense of safety, whether any of that was directly related to the pandemic or not. We live in a society that prioritizes productivity over humanity. There are many in power who would have us believe that we can efficiently set aside all of our pain, that it would be right and brave and strong to do so. "Let's get things back to normal," they say, not knowing (or possibly not caring) how that normal has harmed so many, long before this year ever happened.
But right now, I am angry that a year after the world shut down, I cannot hop in my car and drive to the Burren and cry and sing and play with everyone who is mourning like I am tonight. I am angry for all the hugs and funerals we've all missed, for the trauma on trauma. I am angry for the things I didn't know before this year -- not deeply enough, anyway -- about how the world hurts some more than others, and how I contribute to that pain. I am angry for how the world has hurt me, for all the layers of abuse I am still unpacking after twenty years of therapy because it only now feels safe to touch some of it. I am angry because, really, I am grieving, and somehow fighting with the outside world and with myself for the space to do so.
Grief is treated as a privilege when it is our right.
Feelings are a strength, not a weakness. If you're in them right now -- and listen, you're a human in 2021, so I'm almost certain you are, whether you want to admit it or not -- I want to encourage you to stay in your feelings for just as long as it takes to light a fire, to heal, to grow. The world doesn't need more productivity; the world needs your heart. We will get things done, but not without grief and joy and anger and sadness and empathy. Let our productivity be born out of a radical love that stops us in our tracks, where one person is enough of a reason for everyone to stop what they're doing and look.
RIP, Hugh. <3
(I searched for a long time to find pictures of us together, but somehow couldn't find any. I hope he doesn't mind that I borrowed a couple. I imagine he doesn't.)
To hear some of his music, check out Hugh McGowan's Bandcamp page and this recording of his song "No Precedent." I imagine that many who have known him longer and better than I have will share more over the coming days. I encourage you to listen.