a parting gift

Posted: August 23, 2021 in Arts, Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , ,

Since musician Nanci Griffith’s recent death her fans have flooded social media with an avalanche of tributes. They reflected on songs and albums which hold special meaning. They remembered concerts and television appearances. They talked about times when her music shepherded them through challenging periods. These posts were (and still are) varied, heartfelt, and often tinged with sadness and melancholy. But almost universally they were framed with feelings of gratitude and thanks.

The official announcement of her passing specifically mentioned her wish that no details surrounding it be publicly shared for at least a week. It was a curious and, in this age, unusual choice, although very much in character. For a public figure, Nanci Griffith was a decidedly private person. She hadn’t released new music or toured for close to a decade – all without explanation. Although folks knew of some earlier health issues, no news emerged about what or how she was doing once she quietly slipped into the shadows. When she died it appeared that withholding details of her last days was just another extension of her strong desire for privacy. On the surface that makes sense, but perhaps she had something else in mind.

When someone dies we immediately ruminate on the events leading to it, especially if we can personally relate to any particular aspect. The hows, whats, wheres, and whys crowd our thoughts. In time this fascination with the end fades and our memories settle on what actually mattered. Nanci Griffith forced us to blow right past this morbid obsession with the ending. She pushed our focus back to the heart of the story, the final chapter reduced to nothing but a footnote. We read about long road trips when her music provided the soundtrack. We read about hard times when a song provided comfort. We read stories from people who worked with her on a project, a crossing of paths which left a lasting impression. We read about chance encounters with everyday people. We read about the communal joy of a live performance or simple moments of individual grace. She held up a mirror and reflected back to us the things which make us human: heartache, inspiration, frustration, friendship, desire, happiness, adventure, love. And those who cherished her music responded. By diverting attention while the grief was fresh, she also offered a beautiful and wise parting gift. We didn’t talk about death because we were too busy rejoicing life.

“We all seek comfort in the light of day
And our tears can wash off in the rain
Everything we need is all around us
In simple time and simple ways…”

Simple Life – 2004

  1. rangewriter says:

    “The heart of the story” – so well said, John. Thank you.


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