Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers

Yesterday, one of my heroes passed away. Mary Travers died at the age of 72, due to complications of chemotherapy when she had Leukemia.

I grew up having the privilege of seeing Peter, Paul and Mary ever summer in concert at Wolf Trap, since I was 10 years old. The only summers we did not see them were summers they canceled, one summer I was at camp, and one summer my mom forgot to get tickets, and they were sold out by the time my mom tried to get them. This past summer, less than a month ago, I got to see Peter, Paul sans Mary. The concert was billed as “A Tribute to Mary Travers.” I was sitting in the second row. Peter and Paul waved and smiled at me. Both of them were crying through most of the concert, knowing that their friend was much sicker than they were letting on. Before the concert that night, there was the largest rainbow that I have ever seen. I kid you not, the rainbow went over the Filene center….The WHOLE thing. I still hold that the rainbow was Mary’s rainbow (and my rainbow…that God holds us dear, but that is a story for a different time).
PPM was so integral to my childhood. Summer was complete after I saw them in concert. I could go back to school for the fall because I got to sing “Puff, the Magic Dragon” under the stars at Wolf Trap. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know the songs “No Easy Walk to Freedom,” or “The Wonderful Toy.” Every time I got onto a plane, I sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I learned harmonies for camp songs by listening to their songs.
I learned how to play chord changes on the guitar to “If I had a Hammer.” I have seen the joy that their music brings to kids of all ages at camp. Every time I see plastic handcuffs, I think of Mary telling stories of being arrested with her daughter and granddaughter for civil disobedience, and being cuffed by plastic cuffs not being as cool as metal cuffs before singing “Have you been to jail for Justice?” When I was in Israel/Palestine/Jordan in March 2009, I could not get the song “River of Jordan” out of my head (The Lifelines version, so there were generations of folk singers in my head!). Regardless of what was happening outside of Wolf Trap, for a fleeting moment, we all had hope in the world. Those of us present could take on all of the injustice in the world after singing “We shall Overcome” with PPM, one song at a time, with Mary leading the way. I can still hear her at the end of “Blowin in the Wind,” saying her line...."The answer is still peace, justice and equality, and all of us working for these things together."
There is a semi-joke in my tiny little family…There are only two family traditions. One of them is going shopping the day after Christmas. The other one is seeing PPM every summer. By virtue of that, over the years, Mary Travers became a member of my extended family through the music. Her voice was another part of my small family, and my family is now deeply saddened by the loss of a great woman. I will continue to sing, in honor of her, and to teach her music to the generations to follow.
“And if you take my hand, my son, all will be well when the day is done.”

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