News of Death
Every city has a place where the downtrodden congregate. In Salt Lake, Pioneer Park is that place. I would see drug use and violence, but on one spring day I saw something new. A man in a chef toque was meditating under a tree. I saw him there daily. My curiosity grew and one day I sat in silence beside him. After awhile he turned and smiled at me with a sublime gaze. I asked the reason he meditated in the park. Without losing his smile he calmly said, “I’m here meditating because I am dying.”
He was born in Compton, California and had lost two brothers to gang violence. To avoid the same fate, he concocted a plan. He sold crack long enough to get the money to move to Las Vegas and attend culinary school. He had been working as a successful chef for several years when he began to feel an increasingly intense pain in his back. He had tests run, fully expecting to hear he simply needed to get a massage or to be better hydrated. He was not prepared to discover that he had terminal cancer.
Upon receiving the news, he immediately went home and flew into a rage. He destroyed his apartment, punching holes in the walls and throwing his lamp through the window. He eventually fell to the ground and wept like a child. When he woke, he was surrounded by chaos and shame.
Inspiration for Life
On a normal day he would have walked to the bus stop and gone to work, but once at the bus stop, he kept walking. He soon found himself at the end of the city and began hitchhiking. He continued until he reached Salt Lake. He turned to me and said, “I sat under this tree. The setting sunlight came through the leaves and I smiled. It was the first time I smiled since I learned I was soon to die.”
He decided he would sit under the tree until he either found peace or death. When I met him, nearly four months had passed. He wanted to share with the world something so meaningful that it would change many lives … if only he had time. He began to ask me brilliant, soul searching questions until finally he said, “What will you be doing on the day you die?”
I laughed at the seriousness of the question and shrugged it off. My friend laughed and assured me it was no laughing matter. “Life is so fleeting. You may live 50 more years or you may die today. Either way, it will not be enough time. You need to realize this.”
I thought about his question and came to realize that my life has been defined by travel and making music. I brought my guitar the next day and played for my friend. Our visits continued until one day I arrived at the park and he wasn’t there. I returned for many days and never saw him again. I quit my job and have now been on the road for over six years. I have played nearly 2000 shows in 41 states. Every night I sing my song for my friend. One of the lines says,
If you stay true to anything, let it be the wild-eyed wonder of a child. Live your life with a sense of poetry, don’t be afraid to go a little bit wild.
The song is called “If I Could Die Anywhere.”
Everywhere I travel, it is my goal to share the great mystery my friend shared with me.
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