Knowing that Pete Seeger was my 'neighbor,' voted at the same polling place, and that I would casually see him around town, leading us in singing at the Howland Cultural Center or at the Beacon Sloop Club, was one of the highlights for me when I moved to Beacon three years ago. When I realized that I would see him up close and personal in the different venues, I was reluctant to bring my camera along to take a 'good' photo of him, but finally became bold enough to use the iPhone to capture a moment or two for a personal and candid image that I could personally treasure.
I worried after his beloved Toshi died this year, knowing that the stress of losing a life partner of seventy years would take a toll on his emotional and physical well-being. I imagined him living until he reached 100 but hoped that he would be with us to celebrate his 95th birthday in May at the first Friday potluck at the Beacon Sloop Club. I sensed something was changing when he was absent from the holiday sing along at the Howland event in December and when he was not present to lead the Martin Luther King celebration at the Springfield Baptist Church last week because he 'wasn't feeling well.' I knew the day would come that news of his passing would be the lead story in the Poughkeepsie Journal News and his obituary would be aired on the morning TV shows. I am grateful to have known him as a folk hero, a passionate human being, an authentic soul and a role model for all of us who love the Hudson River and care about the environment, social justice and human rights. I will always be uplifted when I play the CDs that were produced locally in the last few years with the Rivertown Kids, Jeff Haynes, and friends. I will be comforted when I remember the lyrics of 'turn, turn, turn', 'we shall overcome' and 'goodnight Irene'. I will find peace knowing his time with us has passed because he will continue to inspire us to live his legacy in the songs that we sing in his memory. For now Pete -- "I'll see you in my dreams."
Food for thought: While driving to work after the news of Pete's passing, I found myself listening (while crying and singing along with) the 2012 CD, Pete Seeger & Lorre Wyatt: A More Perfect Union, just one of several important projects Pete completed in the last couple of years; I heard the lyrics of the last four songs with a truly open heart. In his prescience, and with his ever-abiding grace and humility, Pete was saying goodbye to us long before we were ever ready to say goodbye to him. He traveled towards his death in peace, the same peace that he strove for throughout his life.
from "Wonderful Friends"
That old clock upon the wall
Says soon, I got to be leaving
And though we go our separate ways
There's no need for grieving....
-- so let's sing it again --
When I think of the ways that I've grown
I know I couldn't have made it alone
I owe a lot to the sharing, caring, daring
Wonderful friends that I know.
from "A Toast to the Times"
And here's a toast, to the times, that have been here and gone
Every where I go, those echoes ring
And here's a toast, to all the songs we sang--
And to all the songs we've yet to sing.
from "Fields of Harmony"
Over fields of harmony......I have flown
Through the fire and the flood.....I have come
From the whirlwind came the words......for my songs
All our years become a tale.....that is told
When my days have been consumed.....like smoke
I will lay me down to sleep......in peace
Over fields of harmony.....I will fly
from "Bountiful River"
Deep love, like a bountiful river
Fills the soul, renews the heart
My love is always and ever--
We will never part.....
Oh bountiful river.....we will never part
Weaving our lives with these waters....we will never part
Singing - we're in this together....we will never part
An eagle circling in heaven, fills the soul, renews the heart
The eagle and river repeating
We will never part
Life giver, this bountiful river, fills the soul, renews the heart
Our spirits are mingled forever
We will never part.