I have a confession: I love John Denver. When I first fell for this country boy, I was a city girl living in Manhattan, and I learned to keep it to myself — to avoid the scorn of musician friends I hung out with, who were into jazz, blues, and the hard rock of the sixties. They viewed Denver’s recordings as the musical version of Walt Disney movies (which, I confess, I also love.) But here I am, years later, still loving John Denver and ready to say it: He was a true poet, and his songs were gifts, as strong and bright as sunshine.
When I was in love, I swooned to his ballads: “Annie’s Song,” “My Sweet Lady.”
When I felt lost or down, I found hope in “Sweet Surrender.”
And when I moved to Colorado, I played “Rocky Mountain High” endlessly, and gloried in his love for these mountains, these skies, this Earth.
Then, some years later, I discovered one of his best songs of all: It’s called “All This Joy,“ and it goes like this:
“All this joy,
All this sorrow,
All this promise,
All this pain.
Such is life,
Such is being,
Such is spirit,
Such is love.”
There are more verses, but around that same theme: “World of Joy, World of Sorrow….”
I thought it was a sad but noble song. And when my friend Ellie’s father died, we played it at his memorial service, me on guitar, she on dulcimer, and it seemed just right. It became in my mind a song for funerals or times of sorrow.
So naturally I thought of it when we were invited to Ellie and Annie’s this November to celebrateDia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. Ellie asked us to bring photos of people in our lives who had passed, along with food and music to share. I took a pumpkin pie, my guitar, and song sheets for “All This Joy.” It seemed like the right song to sing when remembering loved ones who had died.
But something happened to me before the party. As I practiced playing and singing the song, I began to realize what I had somehow missed before: It’s not just a song for funerals and Day of the Dead; it’s a song aboutlife.This life, this world, are filled with joy and sorrow. Some times seem especially joyful, and some times seem unbearably sad. But they are both always present when we open our eyes and hearts to all that is happening to our friends, our family, and our world. Ah, I thought, it’s not a sad song; it’s a true song.
And what I also came to realize is that this doesn’t mean that life is sad, anymore than the song is sad. It just means that it is both: joy and sorrow. I feel I need to really get that: to remember in times of joy all the sorrow that is still around me. To remember in times of sorrow all the good that lies before me, behind me, and all around me. The challenge is to hold them together at the same time, and to know that this is okay. More than okay: ineffably deep.
I wanted to give you a gift of brightness as we approach the winter solstice, when the days become shorter and darker and the nights grow longer. A time when we light candles and hang twinkling lights. I humbly offer this song by John Denver, "All This Joy"
So that’s my confession. Yet I still feel the need to add in my defense that I do love the blues, good jazz, and the hard rock of the sixties…. But I also love John Denver.