Lessons from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Mother Theresa
On my walk today I happened to contemplate Mother Theresa of Calcutta's words, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." During this time of contraction, isolation and loss we truly are thinking "small"--in a beautiful way. I have seen all around me small acts extended with great love: a quick text to check on someone, a little gift dropped off on a porch, a minor purchase at a local business, a short hike with someone who is feeling blue, and gatherings of only a few people who are in your "bubble". You see, I believe that over the years we have collectively bought into a very BIG lie: that we must make GRAND gestures and perform NOTEWORTHY acts and give BIG gifts and live LARGE lives and have TONS of people around. I believe that this is just Western conditioning at work and the pandemic is prompting us to change our paradigm. Let me tell you about something that might have appeared insignificant if it had been blasted all over social media at the time, but proved one of the most incredibly loving acts I've ever witnessed. (Fortunately this was in 1989 and social media hadn't corrupted our sensibilities about such things.)
When I was a young lass of 20 years, my boyfriend and I snagged tickets to see bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan with the opening act, Stray Cats, at Val-du-Lakes, an open air concert venue in northern Michigan. Well, Brian Setzer must have gotten a hairball stuck in his throat because Stray Cats canceled just prior to the gig. Stray Cats were one of the hottest acts around and when they pulled out, so did most of the fans. Only about 300 people came to check out Vaughan and his replacement opening act, Johnny Winter. With a capacity of 22,000, anyone would have thought that it would have been a dud of a concert. But it wasn't. It was, in fact, was one of the most transformational moments of my life.
Having become clean and sober from a just a year before, Stevie Ray possessed a clarity of presence that was palpable and a connection with his art that was awe-inspiring. He poured out his heart to this small gathering of fans and it was pure bliss--for everyone. I could feel his great love for life, for music, for his fans. His creative power emanated from the stage--which, because of the low turn-out, I was able to be sitting right in front of.
At one point the blues legend picked up a battered acoustic guitar, sat on the edge of the stage with his legs dangling mere inches from fans, and played his new song about overcoming addiction:"Wall of Denial". His eyes were sparkling and he flashed an easy grin as he sunk into the simple beauty of the stripped-down version. "A wall of denial, is fallin' down/Whoa it's fallin' so hard, down to the ground/Never knew something so strong could be washed away by tears/But this wall of denial was just built on fear." I could feel him drawing upon the depths of his complicated soul and the difficult journey to sobriety. Vaughan famously began drinking alcohol at the tender age of six years old and had only been enjoying a life where his mind connected fully to his body for a year or so.
I, too, was teetotaling because I was seven months pregnant and about to embark on the difficult journey of being a single mother. But, in that moment, I felt Stevie Ray's strength, vitality, and love--and was assured that there is always a path to wholeness and wellness and that everything would be okay. Until that moment, I never knew the love a musician has for his craft and I never felt the transformative and healing power of music. I've carried that love in my heart for 31 years. Vaughan did, as St. Theresa said, a small thing with great love.
Sadly, Stevie Ray Vaughan died 12 months later in a helicopter crash. The toxicology reports indicated that all occupants of the crash had no drugs or alcohol in their systems. He stayed on his path of clarity and self-love until the very end.
Like Vaughan, I'm all in for sitting down, smiling and connecting meaningfully with a handful of people. I'm limiting Shamama programming, slowly pulling together a book (one interview at at time), holding space for old friends and new clients as they navigate writing books during the pandemic--and finding the joy in the little glimmers of passion and compassion that light up the world. I would rather touch one person's life deeply than twenty-two thousand lives in a shallow way. I know it isn't an either-or proposition; many people can meaningfully reach millions, but when they do, it is often a one-way street and there doesn't exist the alchemy of a heart to heart exchange. Magic happens--for both of us--when we intimately gather and share our truths.
Please join us this winter as we do small things with great love.