Sitting at the bar of a tiny restaurant in the fashionable SoCo zone of Austin last night, two ladies were hugging the corner of the bar. The room was crowded and loud and people were talking in three languages. The younger of the two ladies, she was in her early 30’s, was pouring her heart out at 90 decibels. Bless her heart; she was looking to make sense of her life in this world. She was intelligent, handsome and very fraught with making a meaningful life. Haven’t we all been there?
40 years ago at about this time, I was living in the SF Bay area, finishing up my university studies. The Vietnam War was winding down. The economy having been propped up by military spending was a year away from crashing. College graduates would find it difficult to secure much in the way of meaningful work. The society had been ripped apart into two camps. Those two camps are still wrestling for the soul of the country. It was a mess. In the meantime a friend invited me to a pot luck dinner.
I was 21 and the ability to legally buy wine was mine. I was broke, but wine was cheap. One could always find a bottle of decent Chianti in California. I lived in a house and could have probably brought a dish, but my friend said to just come, there was someone there he wanted me to meet.
I lived in Santa Clara and the pot luck was up the road in Palo Alto, about a 20 minute drive in my snappy little Fiat.
I arrived to a house and walked up the path through a garden. I thought I was early, for there weren’t that many people. At the door I was greeted by my friend, Bob, who was active in the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence. Bob led me over to one of the rooms on the house and introduced me to Joan Baez.
In those times and in that area there were a lot of famous people. I had met Bucky Fuller, Anais Nin, Ansel Adams, Thomas A. Harris (I’m OK, you’re OK), Alan Watts and on. It was a time of energy and hope, even in the darkest days of war. So I wasn’t a star struck student.
Ms. Baez was warm and genuine, about 10 years older than me. She radiated a certain aura of which I had seen in other people whom life imbues with a sense of destiny. She wasn’t fraught. She had her mission.
What that night meant for me, sitting in a circle of maybe six people, eating a casserole and talking about Vietnam (she had recently been in Hanoi at Christmas when it was being heavily bombed). There was heaviness to the conversation when she talked about that. But there was something transcendent to the way she looked at time and events and how she communicated to us that night. Joan Baez, regardless of your politics, is a good communicator.
It was for only a few hours we all sat together and talked. She might have picked up a guitar and sang a song or two, maybe one she was working on. We were all in it together. There was none of that “I’m going to get mine and you better get yours” stuff. It was more about getting your stuff together before we fall into the abyss.
My life didn’t change dramatically because of that dinner, but it did indicate to me that people at all levels of influence have to essentially deal with the same things. Sure, some folks have the ways and the means to do so with a little more ease. But that doesn't really change the idea of where we all have to go, sooner or later.
That young lady at the bar, she was so sincere. I would have loved to have taken her back in time and dropped her into that little circle with the casserole and the simple bottle of Chianti and the music and the energy. And Joanie, who reassured another young person who was fraught, that it will all eventually work out in time with some blood, sweat and tears.
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