A couple of weeks ago, I posted that I’d been on a journey; a little break for family and fun. I went to the gold rush foothills northeast of Sacramento, then my brother and I went to Santa Clara for the first final concert of The Grateful Dead. Fare Thee Well, it was called.
Fare you well my honey
Fare you well my only true one
All the birds that were singing
Have flown except you alone*
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We had a beautiful, awesome time. It was a great day. The old guys still have it, and there were rainbows full of sound, fireworks, calliopes and clowns. I tell you, brothers and sisters, there is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.
In the days and weeks after the show, the tide of my emotional life continued to rise. I found myself listening to and watching the old songs and shows far more frequently than normal. The tide ripped: I was at once happy and grateful that we’d been at this wonderful event together, like a reunion, and also melancholy because it was the last of its kind.
We’ve since learned that a new band has been formed, so maybe there will be tunes to fill the air again.
The sun will shine in my back door some day
March winds will blow all my troubles away
One day my brother shared a link to an audio stream of the last show we saw together before Jerry Garcia died. The strange thing was, I thought we’d been to more shows after that. Nope, it was the last. Over 25 years, my emotions have built a vague sense of false memory. My mind has sentimentalized concerts into existence, and shuffled years like playing cards. Fascinating.
I’ve tried many times to write about Memory. It’s difficult. I don’t mean I tried to write about memories, although I have and a lot. I’m talking about Memory itself: what it is and how it works, and what we mean when we talk about the time that seems to have already passed. It’s hard to handle.
The Buddha said we’re not made of what we’ve done, what we have, or where we live. We are made of what we think. I say we exist as consciousness and time. But nobody really knows what either of those things is.
Everything we are and everything we do, as individuals or as groups, depends on feelings; our reactions to the stories we tell ourselves about what seems to be going on. Everything we think or believe is made of our feelings about it, including what we think we remember.
“Indeed, feelings don’t just matter — they are what mattering means.”
– Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness
If we are made of consciousness and time, then consciousness plus time equals story. Life, the Universe, and Everything depends on Story.
Think about what you did in the last hour before the last time you feel asleep, and you’ll find a story.
Imagine the next time when someone will deliberately make you cry, and that’s a story.
Life is fragments, holograms, shadows, made of emotion. Memory is just impressions of feelings, and we’re almost completely incapable of being objective about them.
Sun went down in honey.
Moon came up in wine.
Stars were spinnin’ dizzy,
Lord, the band kept us so busy
We forgot about the time.**
So I’m going to forgive myself for believing – vaguely, wrongly – that we went to more Dead shows than we did, and went to more shows after the last one before Jerry Died.
Richard Bach wrote this:
“The world is your exercise-book, the pages on which you do your sums. It is not reality, although you can express reality there if you wish. You are also free to write nonsense, or lies, or to tear the pages.”
“You are led through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self. Don’t turn away from possible futures before you’re certain you don’t have anything to learn from them.
You’re always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past.”
So when the sun goes down wherever you are, and you remember holding someone’s hand for the first or the last time, or some other magic lantern scene of joy or shame, what matters is not epistemology. Even honesty may be less than clarity. What matters is how you felt, and how that makes you feel. You are an artist of emotions. Write it down, or give it to the wind.
* Grateful Dead, Brokedown Palace
** Grateful Dead, The Music Never Stopped