November 28, 2008
Dear Fred Eaglesmith, I am now sitting in my study; an old grandfather clock ticks away time in the hall outside my door and I try to imagine sitting once again with you and our columnist Kevin Somers in your shack in Port Dover. I think of the large tugboats moored just outside your door and the grey storm clouds rolling in over the lake; the sound of halyards clanging against a mast and the moan of a foghorn in the distance. I can almost smell the smoke from your wood stove. The sense of peace that permeates your shack — peace that comes after a long day of honest work — still resonates in me. And the music we listened to, music full of sorrow and love. Did the music guide our discussion or did our discussion guide the choice of the music we heard? I can’t seem to remember the ebb and flow. But what I do remember is your curiosity and your energy; you have a passion for life that seems to cascade out of you. You are a musician who has built his own generator from scratch, whose farm is completely off the hydro grid, who paints and has plans to restore an old sailboat. You lost your business and have picked up the pieces and re-worked them into an expansive life. What I see in you is a man who has lost everything and “built it up again with worn out tools” as Kipling wrote. Our discussion that day is one that I hope will continue. Do you remember that we talked about our different beliefs, your belief in Buddhism and my commitment to the idea of love? You suggested that my idea of love might not be as encompassing as the Dharma (Buddhist teachings). Not only did this instill in me the desire to prove you wrong, but it challenged me to brush up on my Buddhism. Thanks to you I’ve been reading such things as The Way to Freedom by the Dalai Lama, who writes, “all beings have a natural tendency to wish for happiness and freedom from suffering. Knowing this and still working only for our own liberation makes the accomplishment a small one. But if our underlying motivation is to be able to help others, we can attain the omniscient state and with it the capacity to benefit every living being.” I can’t help but agree with such wisdom. I believe that true achievement in life comes from helping others. But I think that trying to do it alone generates only a small flame, whereas a loving union has the possibility of generating enough positive energy to light an entire town. I’m a romantic at heart. I always thought of marriage as a path to happiness and knowledge. Having to give up the “me” for the “we” is both challenging and enlightening. Unfortunately, the current prevailing belief is that we must maintain ourselves as separate individuals. Giving up the self is viewed as a sacrifice rather than a purer way of being. I think many marriages fail because of this. A marriage built on commitment to the union (something larger than yourself) is something to learn from. I hope that I can learn to let go of my personal desires, to overcome anger, jealousy, pride, hatred and greed. I’m reading another book, The Tao of Relationships, written by Ray Grigg, a teacher of history, arts and religion. It has me thinking that my belief in love isn’t too far removed from Buddhist views. He writes, “The union of man and woman teaches that the becoming between them is between everything.” His book dedicates a whole chapter to the union between a man and a woman. I still have a lot to learn about Buddhism, but thank you, Fred, for getting me focused on it. It seems that we all set out on our own paths, some paths criss-cross, others merge into a larger path, and still others veer off in a solitary trek through the wilderness. Thank you for introducing me to Mickey Newbury. And for playing his song Lovers when we talked about what love is all about. I’m listening to him now and the lines “When will we learn what lovin’ is? It’s not what you get in return but what you give…” brings back the discussion in your shack quite vividly. And thank you for allowing Kevin and me to hear your newest song — the strings said what words can’t. Thank you for the memory I have now of a blanket around my shoulders, of dark storm clouds rolling in off the lake, and of the peace I found in a shack by the docks in Port Dover.