Gifts in the face of mortality
Our greatest lessons often occur in the face of mortality. One of my dearest and most influential friends is bravely battling cancer. We spend precious time together in her living room. For years, she has been a tireless advocate, a wise elder, a mentor and an inspiration. The lessons that emerge between us have become very real gifts.
Last week, she was wracked with pain and I asked what she was feeling.
“I’m feeling afraid.”
“What are you most frightened of?”
“Most of the time I am feeling connected to God and then there are these terrible moments where I don’t feel that connection.”
I touched her hand and whispered, “God’s right here.”
We smiled and in that moment something changed. I could see a power greater than our circumstances; a power that doesn’t rely on retreat centers or walks on the beach, a power that lives through every instant of our lives.
In the moment that I said, “God’s right here,” I finally made peace with losing one of the greatest mentors in my life. Nine years ago, my dear friend Carl Anderson, the greatest singing voice I ever heard was gone. After he passed, I couldn’t listen to any of his recordings without spontaneous grief – until last week.
Musicians often referred to Carl as the most powerful voice in the industry. His charismatic gift was astounding and musical – nothing was reserved. In one song, Carl could travel anywhere with that voice.
Carl Anderson showed up in my life when I was wrestling with letting go of my musical career so that I could live up to the demands of bringing Inspired Work to life. My time at the piano was dwindling from hours to moments here and there. One day, I was performing with a wonderful R & B singer at an event. She was singing a new song I’d written – “Love is Always Here.” Some of the audience members were dancing in the aisles. Despite the celebrative setting I looked out at them and thought, “This isn’t my future.”
When we finished, Carl Anderson was suddenly in front of me. We hugged and he exclaimed, “I love your music so much. I want to hear everything you’ve ever written. When can we get together?”
For the next few years, I played with the anticipation that Carl would appear at my door, often unannounced.
He would call from his car, “Hey brother, I’m in the neighborhood! Play the piano for me.”
One day, Carl left for New York to perform a reprise of Jesus Christ Superstar. He called and I could hear that he was afraid to tell me what was on his mind.
“What is it Carl?”
“I was in a car accident and they did tests. I have leukemia.”
He continued to call out of the blue and show up at my door. We would sit in my little bungalow and talk about art and beauty and all the good that came our way. He started to paint these extraordinary portraits of jazz greats.
One day, he confronted me about my new career. “When are you going to let go of this crazy seminar thing and do what you were born to do?”
I remember every word of the response.
“Karl, music has been my greatest friend and lover. Music brought me here. Helping people find their lives is what I was born to do. It isn’t that different. We’re either tuning instruments or souls.”
The last time we were together I played a new piece.
“That is the most beautiful song you have written my brother.”
“I wrote it for you.”
His eyes filled up and he sighed, “I will always treasure each note.”
A few weeks later he called from the hospital.
“My brother, I’m afraid that I am not going to make it.”
“Oh Carl, who am I going to play to?”
“Don’t worry David. Soon, I will always be looking down on you.”
At his memorial service, Stevie Wonder, Nancy Wilson, Kenny Latimore and others took the stage and sang their hearts out. A few nights later, a number of LA’s better R & B singers came to my house for dinner. We opened every window. We sang to the city and we sang for Carl.
In the past few years, I listen to music every day. However, listening to Carl brought up too much grief, until I told my friend, “God is always here.” This weekend, I downloaded all of his music from I-Tunes, opened the windows and played Carl Anderson out to the world. Carl and I had a very precious and private friendship. Now, I want to tell the world about this great man and celebrate all that he gave me by playing his songs.
When Maya Angelou accepted her Pulitzer Prize, she said, “We die. Perhaps that is the meaning of life. But we have words, and the words we use while we are here is perhaps the measure of our lives.”
One of Carl Anderson’s favorite songs was Joyce Nordeman’s Rolling River God. This is how he lived his life and how he touched everyone that he loved:
Rolling River God
Little Stones are smooth
Only once the water passes through
So I am a stone
Rough and grainy still
Trying to reconcile this river’s child
But when I close my eyes
And feel you rushing by
I know that time brings change
And change takes time
And when the sunset comes
My prayer would be this one
That you might pick me up
And notice that I am
Just a little smoother in your hand.
All the best