In 2003, I went to India. While I was in Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities on Earth, I was asked to write a story for an Italian Yoga magazine about my experience coming to India as a Westerner. I wrote the article and the magazine was never published. So I posted it on my website. Here it is. Enjoy!
WINNOWING (Robin's Ashes)
I never met Robin Snowden. I don't even know what she looks like and have only met one other person who knows her. Yet, in the bottom of my backpack, along with the few clothes I own, a few Cd's and some sound recording gear, I have Robin Snowden's ashes in a small velvet jewelry gift box.
A traveling musician doesn't need much, but things accumulate. Tapes, broken strings, worn out cables, business cards, reams of unfinished ideas, they start to pile up like a snow drift outside the cabin door and if you're not careful your cabin may become a tomb.
January's wind is whistling through the cracks and I'm hearing a Woodie Guthrey refrain rustling in my brain like so many bare branches.
"So long its been good to know ya..., So long its been good to know ya..."
The trick is knowing when to get rid of the junk and just go.
Before I left for India, a great winnowing occurred. The broken strings and things, yes, but more importantly, the winnowing of the spirit. You see, the older I get the more my family becomes important to me. I am in constant reconnection mode. Lots of leftover stuff from single parent childhood, and so on, etc. etc. There are enough excuses for a lifetime.
Either you just let things go on as they are or one day you get on a plane to Carolina, you borrow a car, you drive 10 hours through a freak snow storm, bite the bullet get there, use all your powers to laugh with 'em and love 'em and let 'em know you care. "Come on," you say, "Let's let bygones be bygones, turn the leaf. Nobody remembers what the fuss ever really was."
So you laugh, and hold your sister's baby. You look into that cute little droolers eyes and you see a twinkle of yourself. You smell that sweet baby smell as she gurgles and tries to poke your eye out, focusing on only you. You cuss a little and what you really want to tell her is all the things that make the world a beautiful, amazing place, what to watch out for, no good. Just hold the little thing and love her. Although its good enough, You'll be halfway around the world when she takes her first step.
The wind has died a little and the cabin door is open more than enough.
"So long its been good to know ya..."
The snow started to melt on the roads and I had just enough time to get back to Asheville, where all my luggage waited. I had one more stop to make. There's a little restaurant down on the coast there in Carolina where I've played so many times. I always love to stop by and have a meal with my Dad, his wife, and my Grandmother and say hello to all the locals there. The folks down there always have a kind word for my music and hold a special place in my heart.
After a time, a musician starts to feel aparticular closeness for those with whom he regularly shares his soul. I had just gone around shaking hands and saying "So Long..." trying not to finish the last line of that song, all the while my Dad loud and proud saying "He's going to India, won't be back for a year..." And so I get to tell my story again and again, tailoring the details to each's need, snipping and saving the finer points, who knows what's gonna happen...I don't like telling a story before it happens.
I received Robin Snowden's ashes across a table cloth with a candle burning in a stained glass chimney, a salt and pepper shaker, a porcelain cup with packets of sugar, two glasses of wine and a piece of cheese cake. A woman I had never met asked if I was by chance going to the River Ganges. Of course I was, but I said, "I don't know."
She timidly spoke, "I'm Susan, nice to meet you."
Susan told me she had been keeping Robin's ashes in her underwear drawer for five years and that she had once asked an Indian doctor to take some of Robin to India and sprinkle her in the Ganges River. I guess it didn't work out. But, here I was, and it was Robin's final request. Who am I to deny such a simple and sincere thing?
By now I had gotten rid of so much. There might be a little extra room for this. I agreed to take Robin to India.
I waited for 10 minutes with my grandmother in the car while Susan went home to rummage through her underwear drawer. The heater was blasting against the freezing wetness. My Grandmother kept insisting that we turn off the heater, that she could stand the cold. She's tough, but I'm not. I left Granma there and went inside the restaurant again. In an all too non-descript and unceremonious way, I received the velvet Zale's Jewelery box in the smoky foyer of the restaurant. Its only contents, a dusty sandwich bag of white grainy powder and a little card which read simply: "Robin Snowden. Have a nice journey. Love, Susan."
I slipped the box into my pocket, shook Susan's hand and walked out into the chilly night. I revved the diesel mercedes engine and drove away. Nearing the outskirts of town I turned on the radio to cut the slick silence. The crackling AM squished around as I adjusted the station. The voice came faint at first like music seeping into the street from an open window on a summer night,
"So long, its been good to know ya...,
So long its been good to know ya..., So long its been good to know ya, This dusty old dust is a gettin' my home, And I got to be drifting along...
"Its not me," I kept telling myself. "One day I'll learn to just get out of the way."