Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Canceling 7434

Almost 3 years later I thought this would be just another mundane administrative task. Call up customer service and cancel the number no longer being used on my cell plan. Except that it's not just any number. It's his number. 

I told Laura, the lovely Customer Service Rep at AT&T Wireless that I needed to cancel one of the lines on my service and I knew that I would be asked why. I was prepared. 

"It was my husband's line and he passed away."

She of course was so sweet and said she was sorry for my loss and told me that she would take care of it right away for me and that I was on a very old plan and she would also find the best new plan for me.

There must be a requirement that the CSR say out loud what she is doing and that she say it more than once.

Canceling 7434...

"feeling reckless"...his last text to me. He meant to say "restless" but the drugs were interfering. 

Canceling 7434...

"Hey, it's Joe. I can't get to the phone. Leave a message." The voicemail recording my friend Erin went to painstaking ends to help me record and save.

Canceling 7434...

The tears were falling down my cheeks now as Laura moved on to talking about the changing fall weather and did her best to get through the steps of the line cancellation as quickly as she could. 

Laura was great. She helped me order the new iPhone I have been meaning to get but never seem to have the energy to follow through on. She adjusted things on my plan that needed fixing and she ended up saving me $90 a month. I have no idea why I didn't call sooner. Except that I do. Grief is a funny thing. You can be ready for your "different" life in so many ways and not yet ready in so many others. 

It was just a cell phone number. But it was a part of my Joe that was still here. It was the number I called when I first got back in touch with him and we started dating again after years apart. I had left him a message after that "Hey, it's Joe. I can't get to the phone. Leave a message." And he had called me back. And after talking briefly, he called me right back again because he forgot to tell me about his encounter with Greg Dulli. It was that phone number. And I didn't realize it when I picked up the phone to call customer service today, but I know it now. There was a lot packed in to canceling 7434. Grief is a funny thing and I'm glad that CSR Laura from AT&T understood it. She was wonderful.

After I hung up with Laura, I closed my office door and put Lost In The Woods by The Afghan Whigs on repeat for a bit. And I cried. It felt like the thing I needed to do. 

Getting a new iPhone still feels a little empty without him here and canceling his phone line sure felt like shit. But like my friend Erin texted to me right after I did it, "joe probably would have told you to cancel it right away." And she is right - totally, 100% right.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reading the Riot Act to Sad and Frantic

As I sit here trying to put this past weekend into words I feel tears well up in the corner of my eyes. They aren't "sad" tears. They aren't quite "happy" tears either. More like "dammit this life I have is pretty freaking amazing even though sometimes it feels awful crappy" tears. And no matter how many times I've tried to write a less sappy blog post it just isn't going to happen.

Music and the people who enjoy it with me have that sort of deep effect on my psyche so it should be no surprise that a weekend of music in one of my favorite cities with some of my favorite people would inspire the type of perspective shift I needed.

I reunited with old friends. I met new ones. I officially retired my old Mizuno running shoes by getting them muddied up at Riot Fest and then plugging away 10 more miles the next morning along the gorgeous Lakefront Trail. I ate funnel cake for dinner and had many, many drinks with friends (and even some strangers). I shared a brunch for the ages with 3 of the coolest people you could assemble in one place. And we all listened to kick ass music until we passed out in our respective beds.

The retirement of my old Mizunos. RF muddy and still did 10 miles.
I was frantic going into this weekend. Frantic and sad. Work has been devouring me from the inside out. The weight of Joe's death has been starting to emerge again in the questions and heartache of my increasingly vocal, soon-to-be 4 year old. The shortening daylight hours were already taking a toll on my emotional well being and, against my better judgment, in many ways I was letting my circumstances define my self worth. The recipe was so bad that I almost canceled the trip which I was all of a sudden going to be making solo.

Thankfully, a wise friend convinced me that it made much more sense to go than it did to cancel and from my first run along Lake Michigan to the final Riot Fest after show I didn't regret the decision for a second.

There was the moment when The Dropkick Murphys broke in to I'm Shipping Up to Boston, a song that I run to during my training runs as I keep my eyes set on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I couldn't have been happier to sing along with the crowd under the gorgeous early evening sun and dream of crossing the finish line in Philly in November with my qualifying time.

Just a demonstration of the random fun of RF. I found Waldo. He goes by Rooster.
He had a flask of whiskey. Don't ask.
There was the conversation with another member of the Congo (if that makes no sense to you then check this out) just before the Afghan Whigs began their set on Saturday. I found myself answering her question about how I was doing with the conclusion that my marathon training was the one thing that was consistent, mostly within my control, and keeping my sanity in check in the midst of everything else - work, dating, parenting, you know, LIFE. It was something of a realization for me. She had some kind words to say about this blog and my journey and it was one of the sweetest moments of the weekend for me. The bonds I have formed with my fellow AW fans and the music we share together are deeper than anything I could explain here. Many of the people I have met through the Congo have become like my second family and our passion for music is not only fun but transforming. When the band began their set at Riot Fest I was so happy to be among friends who understood that flying to Chicago for music wasn't really THAT crazy. In a lot of ways it was NECESSARY.

My view of The Afghan Whigs rocking my face off at Riot Fest.
There was also the moment "Domani" came on at the bar where we were having brunch (with some help from a fellow Congo member of course). And a little later it was "Live With Me". And a little later "Bulletproof" and "Faded". All with their own special place and meaning. All making the music weekend something to remember (or not remember depending on the number of Dark & Stormy drinks and Congo Bombs I ended up consuming before we finally left thanks to same Congo member!) We sang along and laughed together and enjoyed Sunday like I hadn't in a long time. It was perfect.

Over the weekend, I even had music moments while I was running. The most powerful was on my Saturday run, when the random shuffle hit me once again with "On Top of the World" at the exact same spot as it did last time I was in Chicago. What a spectacular feeling...and how wholly impossible to keep my pace easy with the view and the music and the beautiful weather. No matter what comes I am blessed and I was reminded of that again and again this weekend.

From my Sunday run, but still, same amazing view both days.
Aside from the Afghan Whigs performance, my favorite overall set of the weekend was the one by Social Distortion. A few of us had found ourselves some space right behind the sound booth so we didn't have the problem of crowds and no one cared when another fellow Congo member and I started dancing around. I couldn't help but sing along loudly to Ball and Chain, Story of My Life, and Ring of Fire. The dancing and the singing, combined with the fact that while Story of My Life was going strong I was transported back to Guitar Hero days with Joe, left me on a high for the rest of the weekend. I've been listening to those songs since and even paid a visit to the cemetery on my way home to have a listen and collect my thoughts.

Visiting the cemetery.
With fellow Congo member Lisa at our spot for Social D & Patti.
Patti Smith's set at Riot Fest was a turning point for me in how overwhelmed I have been at work. Her performance of "We Have the Power" and her impassioned plea at its conclusion reminded me of why I started working as an organizer in the first place and that even when it seems most hopeless, there are more of us than there are of them.

"We do have the power! Our governments, our corporations, would like us to feel defeated. But, we have it with our numbers - if we use it. Don't forget it!" She might as well have come down off the stage, crossed over the field to the soundbooth behind the Roots stage, and spoke those words while pointing her finger in my face. It felt that direct to my being.

Patti continued on and as she spoke I thought of how beaten down I have felt about the people's fights, but also about THE reason why I keep doing what I do. My faith compels me and my son inspires me. It's about hope in extreme darkness buttressed by proof that people DO have the power if we only decide to band together and use it. This afternoon, two days after "the Patti experience", we received word that the final vote count in the American Airlines Union election was 9,640 Yes to 1,547 No. Workers at AA (before the company merged with US Airways) had been trying to organize with my Union, CWA, for more than 20 years. I worked on the effort just before this one and was heartbroken when we lost by just 150 votes. When people decide to band together eventually they can win.

There were so many great things about my weekend in Chicago - so many things that I needed. Inspiration to fight on. A reminder to get up and get out even when things don't go the way I expect. Hugs and drinks and music with friends. Running in the sunshine with a beautiful change of scenery. Some good old fashioned fun. And I almost didn't even go.

Yesterday, I watched my son giggle and grin and jump around Disney as he saw his favorite characters and heard his favorite songs. This was his own soon-to-be-4-years-old version of Riot Fest and I loved being able to give it to him. And then, when we got in the car on our way to dinner and our cousin Tony popped in Do To The Beast by The Afghan Whigs and Domani's first words were, "Mommy, it's Greg Dulli!" I just knew that all was right in the world. No matter how sad and frantic, I will have Riot Fest and the music and relationships that come with it. No matter how depressing and chaotic, my son and I will have Disney World and the hugs and laughter of these days. These moments are way bigger than the feeble things of my imagination, larger than what I think a "happy" version of my life should look like - and when I picture a life full of love, the moments of the last 5 days are actually what remain.
View while eating my funnel cake dinner and listening to Weezer.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Today was a rough one.

There have not been many days over the course of the past year that have brought me to the edge of losing it completely but this was one of them.

It started last night when my little guy went through the most heart wrenching 45 minutes of grief I have witnessed since those of us closest to Joe walked through the first days following his death. 

I had made the mistake of tripping over Domani's foot while getting him ready for bed. He was tired so it triggered him to be way more upset than usual. He said that he wanted his "whole family" to be there with him. Knowing he was tired, I brought him in to his bedroom and sat with him on his bed, talking with him. He caught a glimpse of the picture on the wall of Joe and me with him as a baby and the grief flowed. 

He wailed. He threw his arms in the air and then fell down on the bed covering his face. He said that he wanted to be a baby again because that is when he was happy and he was with his daddy and now he is only sad. He said he would never be able to stop crying because he missed his daddy. So much sadness in such a little guy. It broke my heart into a million pieces.

But I hugged him and rubbed his back and told him that I understood how sad he was and that it was really unfair he couldn't have his daddy here with him. I told him how much his daddy loved him and all the things he did to take care of him. And I texted my mom for advice. And then, when Domani finally was able to get some words out in between the tears he asked for a Doc McStuffins episode and we were on our way to calmer times.

The immensity of it all didn't really hit me until this morning. After I dropped Domani off before going to work I felt his sadness all over again and I couldn't shake it all day. So many times I caught myself wiping away the tears in the middle of writing work reports or while on conference calls because, well, it's just f*@ked up that a 3 year old has to grieve his father like that.

This was Day 2 for me of coming back to work after vacation and there was still a barrage of assignments coming in needing attention. Yesterday was hectic, but I always expect that on my first day back after time off. Perhaps it was the added emotional stress, but today made me seriously question if there was any human way to tend to the work in front of me. More than once I wanted to crawl under my desk and stay there.

But just as my mind would begin to entertain the fantasy, inevitably the phone would ring or a new email would pop through or a text message would ding - the never-ending stream of things that need attention would make its demand.

Six days out of the week I would have a simple way to work through all of this since a good run always works wonders for my body, mind, and soul. Today was my weekly rest day on my training calendar though so there was no run during which I could work out all of the thoughts mulling around in my brain. No endorphins to take over the sadness that was settling in. No opportunity to stretch and challenge my tired body to the point of exhausted satisfaction. And that made me even more sad.

It truly became my own version of my favorite children's book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". 

But then...

Almost as if the universe knows what we need when we need it.

There was dinner with 3 lovely women at a familiar restaurant, arranged weeks ago, but now falling at just the perfect moment.  Dinner with three amazing women who instantly understand the complexities of my day because they have had days like this too. Dinner with three inspiring women who are also living after losing their spouses. Dinner with three special women who took my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and ended it with good food, laughter, and friendship.

And for this I am so thankful.

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Holy Shit Training Moment

"Holy shit, I get it!"

I admit those words came sputtering out of my mouth just after mile 7 of my 10 mile long run today. I repeated them several times too. I have just finished week 3 of my training for the Philadelphia Marathon and it is finally sinking in just how serious of a plan I have chosen. The concept is cumulative fatigue - designed to prepare you fully for the rigors of the marathon - and today for the first time in the training program I really really got it.

Yesterday, after just two weeks of following the Hansons Marathon Method I finally managed to defeat my nemesis and knock 8 seconds off my 5k time. I've been chasing a PR in that distance ever since I ran my 23:29 in Philly last September. I've watched as the minutes have fallen off all of my other distances, but in the 5k I had remained stuck. Until yesterday morning in Asbury Park. I didn't shatter my time, but 8 seconds was enough to make me feel like I had done something substantial. On a much hotter day and in certainly more humid conditions, I mailed in a 23:21 and kissed that Philly time goodbye. It felt so good.

After completing the Asbury Park 5k on Saturday, 8/9/14
Official Time: 23:21, 7:31/mile
Being stuck at 23:29 was part mental - I had some emotional ties to that race and I think for awhile I was having difficulty dealing with those. But it was also physical. I just needed to get faster and stronger. I can already feel that happening and it's amazing.

Today my plan called for a 10 mile long run. From reading the strategy behind the plan I know that it is designed so that the long runs begin to simulate the final miles of the marathon. You are running on tired legs from all the work done during the week. For some unknown, God-forsaken reason today I decided to run at 4pm along a hilly route with not so much shade. Yes, in August. It sounded much better in my head.

I felt great for the first 3 miles. See, life has been good these last few weeks and these last few days especially. Running is my thinking time and right about now thinking is good. I have a lot to look forward to over the coming weeks and months. Songs like "On Top of the World" and "Happy" which are currently on my running playlist don't seem to do it justice. Perhaps soon there will be a blog post about some of these things, but for right now they will just remain nebulous. Let's just say that vacation is coming up, dating is great, preseason football is on, and the Afghan Whigs are about to be back in the States. (And did I mention that I finally got a new PR in the 5k?)

So, I had a lot of good things to think about for the first few miles of this long run. And then I started to realize that my hip hurt a little. And my legs felt like lead. And I really would just rather be taking a nap. And who picked such a hilly freaking route to run on for 10 miles?! The internal debate began. I'll just do the one loop and then the second time I will take the shorter loop and then run around close to my car until I hit 10. As I debated, I slowed down.

Then, I said...really? You are going to run past your car again and just keep running around randomly until you hit 10 miles? Dumbest. Idea. Ever. Do the full second loop (with all the hills included) and do a cool down walk back to the car when you hit 10. Full 10 miles. Full challenge. No cop out. So, that's what I did.

And as I came up on mile 7 and my "holy shit" moment I realized that not only was this run training my body for the marathon, it was also training my mind. Here I was coming up to the end. What was I going to do?

By the time I got to mile 8 1/2, I remember thinking, here you are. It's the last mile and a half of the marathon. Are you going to treat it the same way you have treated your first two and survive through it? Plod across the finish line and feel like you barely made it.

Or are you going to dig deep and run so you leave it all on the road? Force those tired legs to perform like you know they can. Get your BQ or pass out at the finish line trying. From somewhere I found it. And those tired legs worked because I willed them to work. And I learned two important lessons today: 1) what I do in training is what I will do on race day, and 2) when I think I can't, I can.

Perhaps good for life too, but that's probably another blog post.

After my 10 mile Long Run on Sunday, 8/10/14

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Training My Brain

This morning I realized through heavy eyelids that my upcoming marathon training cycle will be much more about training my brain than training my body. As my obnoxious alarm beckoned me out of bed after a mere 4 1/2 hours sleep, the only thing I wanted to do was turn it off and roll back over. 

I hit snooze and allowed for the internal debate. 

I had already run 7 miles last night.

I haven't even started my official training program yet.

I'm so tired and this is my last chance to rest before my "real" marathon training starts.

But then...how would I feel at 9:00am rolling out of bed not having run?

There's a whole running club to meet up with at 8:00am.

It's been a really long, emotional, full week and 7 miles was good, but adding on another 6 would be divine.

Training to BQ is going to be so much harder than getting out of bed for a 6 mile run after a night out. If I can't do it now, how will I ever hope to do it for the next 18 weeks?

This was only Day 1 of many when I will not FEEL like getting it done, but I must train my brain to do it anyway. And so I rolled out of bed, threw on some running clothes, and got out the door in record time. I made it just in time for the quick club meeting at 8am and to tag along with two club members I've never met before on a 6 mile loop around the Rutgers campus. We had a great time together.

On Thursday, I will officially start my training program for the Philadelphia Marathon. I'm using the Hansons Marathon Method which will mean six days a week of running and an aggressive schedule of speed work, tempo runs, and strength training. There will undoubtedly be many days when I would rather curl up in a ball than run. Those are the days when I will dig deep and train my brain. I already know that the finish line demands it and come November 23rd I want to know that I gave everything I had to my training. No excuses and no regrets - 18 weeks of forward motion.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Past Two Months

Plugging along the final stretch
It's been just about 2 months since I ran the NJ Marathon and made my first attempt to achieve a qualifying time for Boston. Even though I knocked 12 minutes off my time from the NYC Marathon in November, I still didn't hit the sweet spot of sub 3:40. I did go sub-4 which is sort of a big deal and I knew when I crossed the finish line that I could do better next time out. A 3:55:16 was great, but it wasn't great enough for Boston.
Beach finish line!
It was no more than 15 minutes after finishing the race when I started talking with one of my fellow running club members about our next BQ attempt. That night we were texting back and forth about training plans and strategy. This running thing has definitely bored its way into my soul.
The morning after the NJ marathon I received a Facebook message from my training coach from the NYC Marathon. He had been at the NJ Marathon and cheered me forward at a critical moment as I was leaving Asbury Park and headed into the wind for the last 6 miles. Cliff's message was matter of fact - that I will get to Boston through Philly and a reminder that with the Philly Marathon I will have the good running months to prepare. It was exactly what I needed to hear in the midst of my mixed emotions about my finish in the NJ Marathon.
I rested for the week and then ran a 10k on Saturday morning, achieving a 5 minute PR completing the race in 48:39. I went for the trifecta of PRs in one week and ran a 5k that same evening, but couldn't quite pull it off. I missed a 5k PR (going back to a race in September 2013) by 23 seconds, but did manage to place first in my age group.
A lot has happened in the two months since those races - personally and professionally - and I am now on the verge of beginning my training for the Philadelphia Marathon. It will be my 2nd attempt at a BQ and the honest truth is that I'm just this side of mortified. The doubts are creeping in. I'm realizing just how much time 16 minutes is to knock off one's marathon time.

But there have been some wonderful things going on in my life which only promise to get better and I find hope in them. I am happily back to dating again after my heartbreak of earlier this year. There have been 3 amazing Afghan Whigs shows with some of the coolest people I know, with more shows to come this fall. Two weeks ago I was able to once again travel to Sao Paulo, Brazil as a part of a campaign I am assigned to for work and it was inspiring on so many levels. My sister Karen and her husband are about to have their second child and my other sister Naomi will be visiting from Idaho twice this summer.

It hasn't been all roses though. Work has had its challenges. Fighting on the side of working people when corporations have so much power and influence isn't always encouraging. In May, we had a final vote count for an organizing effort I had spent long hours working on over the past year and we lost by 2 votes. The month of June has been spent fighting back against attacks on public workers in NJ. But, for two days in June we brought together all of the organizers working in our CWA District for a retreat and I found deep hope in all of the incredible work being done.

And then, on Thursday, June 19 there were two beautiful moments of the arc of justice bending which gave me hope in the midst of a lot of discouraging developments. I was sitting in a training class when we got the news that the union election for US Air and American Airlines agents would be moving forward this summer. US Air agents are currently CWA members and American Airlines agents have been actively organizing to join our Union for more than 20 years. With the recent merger of the two companies all agents will now vote on the question of Union representation. With this announcement came flashbacks to our most recent organizing effort during which workers came so close to winning and to the mountain AA workers faced as they fought for their Union. I cried when we lost that election in January 2013 and teared up again when word came on June 19 that the election would be moving forward. Support is overwhelming this time around and, with continued hard work, in just a few months AA agents will finally have their Union.

I was still in that same training class when my social networking feeds started exploding with news of the vote on same sex marriage in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church, USA.
Indeed, I witnessed the arc of justice bending just a bit that day and it was beautiful. I thought of all of those who can now know our church to be as welcoming as Jesus himself. I thought especially of our youth and how important it is for them to know they are loved and welcome. I pray that we can live it in a true and meaningful way. This one was deep for me and I am so thankful.

There is something about how all of these pieces are playing together in my life right now that reminds me of the delicate balance between hope and despair, between determination for change and the temptation to just give up. I will carry all of these life pieces into my training and as I prepare for my next BQ attempt I will get ready to go full throttle towards the finish line. No fear to attempt here. In every part of my life I choose hope over despair and the determination for change over the temptation to just give up. I find that it's a decision I must make daily. And so I will.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Brooklyn, Boston, Baltimore - Maybe I Should Just Be a Roadie

I've been looking forward to the past 3 days ever since the tickets went on sale and in the ensuing chaos I ended up with the Holy Trinity of East Coast shows - Brooklyn, Boston & Baltimore. Those of us Afghan Whigs fans on the East Coast patiently watched as our friends out West gathered setlists and cool photos with the band and relayed every possible detail about the shows out there. We watched the Coachella livestream, read every article, and sifted through all the photos - knowing that soon enough our time would come. And come it did.

For me, it was 3 days of friends, feelings, and f*@king awesome. I brought my cousin Alyssa (currently a resident of Boston) to her first ever AW show. We got drenched waiting almost an hour for the doors to finally open there. I had more than one heartfelt conversation about the tough stuff of life with people who over the last two years have become really good friends. I devoured some delicious Jamaican food and threw back my share of beers. I drove a lot and for at least some of those hours on the road had some really good company in the car (Elissa & Andre!). I met new people. I had amazing late night red velvet chocolate chip pancakes. I danced my ass off and and lost most of my ability to hear. I finally got to hear these "Do To The Beast" songs live which I have been listening to non-stop in my car, on the running trails, and in my basement. I laughed a lot. I cried a little. And I realized just how important this band and the friends I've made through them have been to me in dealing with the loss of my husband.

With Alyssa waiting outside Paradise Rock Club in Boston 5/16/14
When the unmistakeable opening for Faded started in Brooklyn I steeled myself for what I was sure would be neverending waterworks. That was, after all, what happened during the 2012 tour anytime that song was played. I was a little taken aback when it didn't happen. Instead, I was simply filled with a sense of peace about how awesome it was to be there in that moment with so many of my friends and I was thankful for the gift Joe had given me of connecting me with them. I came to The Congo because Joe was on the listserv going back for as long as I can remember. After he died, I continued to keep up with the emails through his account and found the Facebook group that way. There are just no words to describe the awesome people I have found there and the fun we have had together starting with the Bowery Ballroom show in May 2012.

The reunion tour was an emotional one for me. Joe hadn't even been gone a year and it was my first time experiencing shows without him, but I've noticed a real change has taken place from then until now. For sure sometimes I still feel awfully lonely, but I have grown in to a peace that I'm never alone - I felt it during Faded in Brooklyn and many more times over the days that followed.

With Elissa & Melissa at Brooklyn Bowl, 5/15/14
I was too excited about seeing the Whigs to figure out what I was supposed to
be doing with my hand.
With Melissa & Amie at Brooklyn Bowl, 5/15/14
The band kept it interesting for those of us who attended all 3 shows and switched up the setlists pretty significantly between the three nights. Although Baltimore was definitely my favorite show out of the three (it is actually in a dead heat now for my favorite show ever), Brooklyn and Boston each had songs that were particularly memorable. Neglekted in Brooklyn was just plain hot and anytime I get to hear John the Baptist live I consider it a special treat. They pulled out Crime Scene, Into the Floor, and Miles Iz Ded in Boston - all of which were exciting for me to hear live again.

The biggest highlights though definitely came in Baltimore. Turn On the Water. Debonair. And of course the perfect trilogy from Black Love - Bulletproof, Summer's Kiss, & Faded. Greg did a intro to Faded from Sometimes It Snows in April that he did at the other 2 shows as well but for some reason here it was just out of this f*@king world. As was the whole show. 

With Melissa waiting in line at Ottobar in Baltimore 5/17/14
I Am Fire seemed like it would never end and I didn't want it to. Greg sang the opening verse directly in front of us and stared right at Sheila while he sang the "I could love you" line. (Thankfully, she didn't pass out from the excitement.) I have never had more fun singing along at a show than I did during F&F and Going to Town at the Baltimore show. I'm sure it wasn't true, but from where I was it felt like every single person in the crowd knew every single word and it was a high too intense for words.

The Ottobar was a perfect venue, reminding me of every great Jersey dive bar that is no longer and I was finally in the front row again for an AW show. It just felt right in every way. The band was having fun. Everyone in the crowd seemed to be giving it all they had and Greg only had to call out a rogue audience member once for taking a photo with flash. Greg made two beautiful dedications to Sam Holden and I had some of the photographs he has taken over the years floating through my mind during the show (one of my favorites). By the time the encore was over in Baltimore, I had no voice left, my ears were ringing, and I was sweating from head to toe. I was surrounded by kick ass Congo members and we were all firmly planted on Cloud 9.

Susan's setlist from the Ottobar in Baltimore, 5/17/14
Brooklyn, Boston, & Baltimore were days I will not soon forget.

While walking back to the car after the Brooklyn show two friends and I ran into Greg who was coming up the street in the other direction. It wasn't "my" moment since I've been lucky enough to meet him before and feel like I've said what I needed to say then, but something Greg said to my friend who was talking to him stuck with me.  The more I thought about it the more I realized it is the perfect summary to the past 3 days and really the past two and a half years. He said, "music is the thing that makes us feel not alone. It's what connects us all."

Three cheers for the savior of misbehavior who once again hits the nail on the head.

With Malinda & Melissa in the front row at Ottobar in Baltimore, 5/17/14
Joe has been gone for more than two years but somehow he is still there with me at the shows and in the music. I feel like I have a way that I carry him with me now that has allowed me to accept his death and also to accept that I have more living here to do. The place I feel that most clearly right now is at these shows. I think that's why I am now feeling joy and peace at these shows where before I would get hit with these waves of overwhelming sadness. He may not be standing next to me but that doesn't mean I'm alone. I feel like Joe left me The Congo for a reason. It's true that music connects us all and I'm so glad that Joe left proof of that and so many amazing people who do great things for each other. 

We never lose those we love when we find a way to weave them into who we are and the world we are building. They go on in that way and, at least in my corner of the universe, music is one of the most powerful ways we are all connected - past, present, and future.