If you have not yet heard, my friend Pete Seeger passed on to his last journey from this world yesterday. He was a good friend to all native people (Floyd Westerman also appeared with me telling stories at Pete's Clearwater Revivals) and for nine decades a singer, storyteller, fighter for working people, for equality, justice, peace and a healthy planet. In his song “To my Old Brown Earth”, Pete asked us not to cry, but you and I know that crying is a good and healing thing that allows our feeling our strong and deep emotions. The words of Ecclesiastes that he set to music say that there is a time to mourn, and we may take time for that now. Sadness is important also to share.
It was not unexpected, of course. When I visited them last spring Toshi was much reduced and Pete was taking pains to include her in our conversation but it was clear that dear sharp energetic Toshi would not be long with us. And that would mean, of course, that after 70 years together, their lives being so entwined, neither would care to hang out very much longer without the other half.
The occasion of my visit was to give them my latest book Have You Lost Your Tribe? because of the brief memory of Pete I included at the end of the chapter on “The Rainbow Tribe.” I left soon, not wishing to take up their time together, and I doubt now if Pete even had the time to check out that part because I failed to mark it.
Now I am realizing that I spend quite a bit of my free musing time in writing letters to them in my head, explaining what I am doing and telling them how their example has helped to fuel the work with people that Ellika and I do. Not wanting to add to the great volume of correspondence that they would be receiving, I actually sent those thoughts very seldom and visited even less. And of course after the fine memorial for Toshi at Ethical Culture I have been thinking to check in once more with Pete but this time put it off too long.
My friendship with Pete Seeger began 38 years ago at a one of his concerts (I know the time because my oldest son was in his mother’s womb at that concert and when Pete played the banjo she said Tokeem was dancing!) my old friend David Amram introduced us, and the first thing Pete said to me was how much he loved Indians when he was a boy. I stayed in touch during my tenure as an editor of Akwesasne Notes and when we formed a community in New Hampshire later our whole community would go to the Clearwater Revivals to do the recycling while I was telling stories at Story Point.
Following my elders advice to go wherever I was invited, my path led me to Europe, where I met Ellika and most of you who are reading this have kept our connection through community building camps and family camps that we have led for 30 years, now in 12 countries. Most of you have watched as I showed Pete’s story, The Power of Song, and you know what an inspiration he has been to me for maybe 60 years. You have heard me say that his integrity and unflagging zeal for peace and justice and compassion, for the Earth and all our animal and plant relatives was unequaled by any public person in America. He did not care to sing solo but always enjoined all present to song together, and his attitude was encapsulated in his remarks that we must change the end of “Over the Rainbow” to remind us that none of us will get to our vision of a world fit for humankind until all of us can go together –“If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the Rainbow, why can’t you and I.”
As you all know, I am just 10 years younger than Pete, and I really hope I have another 10 years in me because our community building is only just really getting started and I have at least another 10 books to write and add to the 10 I have perpetrated already. I am slower, but I will keep traveling until I have to stop and let you come to me. Lucky I am to have Ellika to hold me up and keep me in line – as I say in a poem to her, ,”insisting on vegetables and seat-belts.”
So wherever you are now, join in a chorus of Pete’s that we often sing together:
One blue sky above us, one ocean lapping all our shores,
One Earth, so green and round, who could ask for more?
And because we love you, let’s give it one more try
To show our Rainbow Race, it’s too soon to die.
And as we remember Pete, recall his belief that the human race has a 50/50 chance of having a human race here in a hundred years, that the scales are evenly balanced and one grain might tip them in either direction, and that we are, all of us but one grain - we must all be involved and get active in some way.
And listen once more to the farewell of his last song:
Guard well our human chain,
Watch well you keep it strong,
As long as sun shall shine.
And this our home,
Be pure and sweet and green,
For now I’m yours,
And you are also mine.
Be Well – I love you all,
TOGETHER THERE IS NOTHING WE CANNOT DO
ps I attach a photo from the last time we visited - a model for us of a couple who showed us all not by teaching but by doing -and that courage is not something we are born with but something we choose, a decision we can continually make.