If times were ‘normal, at this moment, I would be at Wiggins Park in Camden, NJ for the XPoNential Music Festival hosted by my favorite radio station, WXPN. It has been a highlight of my summer for more than 30 years. Last year it was put on pause because we were in the depths of the pandemic pre-vax availability. This year, using full COVID safety protocol which included proof of vaccination and for those not fully vaccinated or for children under 12, proof of a negative test, they were doing everything within their power to protect the festival goers, performers, staff and volunteers. Even so, as someone with health issues that make me high-risk, I thought it made more sense to wait this one out and intend to attend next year, praying that we have this virus under lock and key. Friends who are there have been sending photos and updates on the fun I am missing. I am enjoying it wistfully and vicariously through them.
As I am starting to type this article, I am listening to the one and only Ani DiFranco whose pro-social sensibilities made her a musical icon since the 1990s. She is the closing act for tonight and I am imagining being there without taking my place in the crowd since they were livestreaming the concert.
I am remembering years past when the temps were soaring into the 90s and others when torrential rains fell and we were sent scattering for shelter. What was the most joyous about it, despite the weather, was the sense of community. Familiar faces, friends gathered on our blankets and chairs, singing, dancing, sharing food and fun. In the ‘before times,’ I would wander the grounds, likely racking up 20 or 30,000 steps each of the three days as I offered FREE HUGS to anyone willing to spread their arms and open their hearts. I estimate that i hugged a few hundred over the weekends that I was there.
Instead of trekking the hour or so each way, I gave myself the gift of local music and community in bits and pieces. After a long day of work, Friday night saw me gathering with friends who invited me and a bunch of others to their backyard bonfire. Stumbling in the dark (I forgot that my cell phone had a flashlight until later in the evening.), I made my way to the leaping flames and greeted with hugs, vaccinated folks who somehow recognized me in the dim light. Some of the people there are musicians and others just enjoy singing along so we did just that. Various genres of music filled the air. At one point in the evening, I gazed around the circle and felt a rising warmth that didn’t come from the fire, but from a sense of contentment, that I was not ON, no expectations to do anything, but simply BE. I was accustomed to seeing many of these people at vigils, rallies and protests that focus on social justice, so it was lovely to just be social. No protest signs, no voices raised. No candle holding silence. Just fun. The kids ran around with glow in the dark bracelets and necklaces, roasting marshmallow in the dancing flames. I had the chance to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in years who I had met when they asked me to officiate their wedding ceremony maybe 20 years ago. Now they are the proud parents of three children who share their love of adventure and travel. A few other people approached me and introduced themselves, reminding me that we are friends on Facebook. I joke that I am ‘Facebook Famous’. Although I had only planned to stay an hour or so, the time sped by so that I was one of the last to leave. As I found my way back to car, flashlight on this time, I felt emotionally satiated.
On Saturday, I headed to a Peace Fair held at a local Quaker school where I had been several times before. I knew I would see friends, learn about social justice activities going on in the community and take in the tunes performed by local performers. In the past few weeks, after hospitalization for COPD, I have required the companionship of a walking staff that I had acquired a few years back. This time it came in handy as I needed to trek up a hill from the parking lot. Halfway up, one of the volunteers said that there was a golf cart that was ferrying people if I wanted to wait for it. Nah, since I was almost there, I would keep on keepin’ on. I’m nothing if not persistent. By the time I got to the top, I admit I was huffing and puffing but was able to recover pretty quickly. Meandering the grounds, I added more hugs to my supply. I notice that when I hug heart to heart, my breathing settles down. I have also realized how much I appreciate hugs since I did take them for granted prior to the pandemic. One friend, Cindy Greb has been in my life for likely three decades. A Renaissance Woman, she is a minister, healer, writer, photographer and artist whose relationship with nature is inspiring.
One of the friends who entertained the audience composed of chronological children and kids at heart is Richard McLaughlin (a.k.a. Eco-Man) who sings children’s music as well as folk songs. He did John Prine proud with a few of his tunes as well as rocking out to Old MacDonald and Sesame Street. John died early on in the pandemic but his music lives on as a beautiful legacy. I have known Richard since the mid 1980s when I moved to the area and began attending an interfaith community called Pebble Hill. The motto is “We live a life by love transformed~by Sprit empowered~by creative imagination guided~in peace with all.” I like to think I live those ideals in my daily life.
After his performance we sat for a bit and caught up. He was one of the mentors for my son after my husband died in 1998 when Adam was 11. I had decided that it was important for him to have male mentors since the concept of single parents being both mother and father is a misnomer. I had no clue had to be a dad. Richard did since he is the father of four. He is also a teacher and carpenter. He recruited Adam to do some home projects with him. I’m grateful for his role as one member of the village who stepped up to help me raise my son to successful and happy adulthood. He is now a loving husband to Lauren (they were married in 2017) and the smitten father of my adorable grandson Dean who at nearly 18 months old is 3 feet tall. Adam likes to tease that he is nearly half my height, made even more poignant since at my last doctor’s visit, I discovered that I shrunk 1 1/2 inches. Richard is a resilient thriver who blessedly recovered from prostate cancer. He asked me how I nourish myself spiritually (or words to that effect). I paused for a moment and told him, that being there was spiritually nourishing, having God-versations all throughout the day, taking in the beauty of nature, time with kindred spirits, focusing on gratitude and watching Dean. He is my most important guru.
I was with him this morning and am constantly amazed at his leaps and bounds growth and discovery of his place in the world. He is inquisitive, determined, persistent, silly, loving and generous. He shares his food and the contents of his sippy cup with us and his toys. He is becoming a master of animal sounds and does the Dean dance as if EVERYONE is watching.
As the weekend is winding down, my heart is full and I am completely nourished spiritually. My cup is running over with love and gratitude.
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Photo credits: Sue-Ann Leigh DiVito (the author with Cindy Greb in the featured image) and Edie Weinstein (photo of Richard McLaughlin)