Thank You, Teacher
there used 2 be a time when music was a spiritual healing 4 the body, soul, & mind…
Grief is a funny thing. The last two days I have learned a lot about its surprising, weird, loving, and uncontrollable nature. Prince’s death has let me grieve parts of my experience I didn’t even know I still needed to grieve. The tears come surprisingly – standing in front of the sink washing dishes and hearing a song that spoke to my being in a different way – watching a news report and seeing the death dash completed - dancing full out in my apartment hallway to “Lovesexy” and needing to dance my way to the box of tissues because I discover that tears are running down my face – and they are all welcome. It feels like a small price, and maybe even a reward that I don’t deserve. Heck, he did all the work. I get the gift of feeling my humanness deeper. I cry, I think, because I didn’t get to say thank you.
Prince’s death on Thursday has opened up a well of grief in me that is as much about me as it is him. It has been fascinating to observe and yet, difficult to experience. The baton passes between sadness at the absence of the memories that were yet to be made at his concerts and the immense gratitude for the blessing of his life - breathing words, sounds, and thoughts out into the world - to the very harsh grief of hard moments in my life that he accompanied me on – I feel like I lost a friend.
I never met him. I didn’t have to. That’s exactly what art is about. That’s what liberation is about. We are supposed to express what is in us because we have no other choice but to do so. The problem is most of us think we do have another choice. We choose “safety” and “comfort” – not realizing that we’ve chosen the harder, less colorful, dreary path. In liberation, others are supposed to observe our living and feel the breeze of the opening of a window or a door letting us know that there is more life to be lived, to be faced, to be embraced. He did that SO beautifully, with such grace, with such humor, with such panache, such boldness, such sexiness and with such love. He did it so well – he LIVED liberation so well – that it felt like he was here with me trying to instruct and open doors for my own liberation.
Sometimes it was with a gentle hand – a breathy, deep or falsetto, compassionate voice and sometimes with a rougher hand in the form of that full-bodied, rich scream like in the song “Temptation” that I heard yell, “Let Go, Tanya!” He has been right here with me for these last 38 years creating and holding space for a little Black lesbian girl woman raised in a working class, Baptist household – wrestling with internalized racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. He held space for me – when I couldn’t inhabit it myself. He did it through
his moving between worlds with such fluidity
his ability to fill as space
and his ability to handle a guitar preciseness and rawness that it felt like it was an extension of his soul – I felt a kindredness with him…maybe because I wanted to be him.
My own fears, internalized hate, limiting voices…he seemed like he had none of it, so it gave me the opportunity to see that I could live outside of all that. I didn’t know how, but he had figured out how to – he lived it so clearly – it must be possible for me, too.
I feel like my Teacher died. As if with his death, my Teacher had pushed me out of the nest, out of the classroom - telling me that he had no more activities to offer. But it feels like he left in the middle of a lesson. I wasn’t finished learning from his example, his words, his clarity – his example was so beautiful and powerful – maybe he knew that I had gotten lazy and comfortable and that I would have sat hanging on his every word for the rest of my life and never actually walked out of the classroom myself.
There he is teaching me even in death.
I have enough songs, videos, photos, memories…and I hope, the long talked about Vault that I pray gets released with care and presence when access is gained…to last me a lifetime. His physical being will now forever be absent but the kindness of genius is that it always leaves something beautiful behind. And I know his teaching presence will always be near.
Prince, thanks to you, there is still a time when music is a spiritual healing for the body, soul, and mind. And that time is now. As I listen to your catalog in its completion, it’s like re-reading a book and finding a new meaning in its pages – seeing the ways that I have shifted that allow your lessons to go in deeper. I have gathered new keys that will help me continue to open doors and windows - my own and others. People have spoken of your quiet generosity – your philanthropy for causes, for people, for organizations – it wasn’t so quiet if we had listened closely. You left us with a treasure trove of music, you brought numerous artists both contemporary and elder on your vast stage and through your music room, and you offered an every day example of liberation to aspire to and fight for. And for that lesson, Teacher, I thank you.
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