Ann-Thology Number Sixteen - August 2005
What Is On My Mind
The most powerful, enduring concern and dream of my life since my early childhood has been world peace. At about the age of six, I thought it was inexcusable and unbearably sad that we were living in a world that could easily destroy itself several times over. It didn't make sense to me. Many nights, growing up, I would contemplate what might help people to put down arms and surrender their weapons of mass destruction in favor of learning to live with each other in mutual respect. I wasn't dreaming that somehow we'd all live with great affection for each other, but rather that we could slowly evolve into living with a modicum of compassion and kindness for each other, qualities that I believed to be the essence of being human. At my grade school, when interviewed by CBS news a year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I suggested that gun control seemed hard, why didn't we just ban bullets? When I was about twelve, I got up from bed and ran to my dad with the simple revelation that what all humans had in common was that our hearts were beating at the same time and maybe if someone could convey the beauty of that experience, it might change something in the world. When I was twenty nine, I finally put that image into a song called "At The Same Time" and sent it out to dozens of world leaders including Reagan and Gorbachev for their first summit. A seemingly innocent idea moved both these men and several other leaders to write me and/or share the song further. Barbra Streisand liked the idea and the song enough to record it several years later. In the aftermath of September 11th, I heard a beautiful prayer from the Rig Veda which seemed to call out to be made into the song, "Let Us Be United." The powerful words seemed to offer healing to many people around the world after it was sung and recorded. The core idea of these two songs was unity. And when I grasped what unity was, it didn't seem like something to strive for, it seemed like something to recognize. We are together. We are one. We may not always feel it, but it is always the truth.
"How can I honor this truth as an artist and as a citizen?" It is a question I often stay up thinking about. I have spent much of my life, particularly in my adult years, trying to cultivate inner peace. I am blessed with a spiritual path that has given me all the tools I could ask for, to realize this dream. Everyday, I endeavor to use these tools, finding life richer and more beautiful as a result. As I do, I try to reassure the little girl, the anxious Ann that still lives within me, that the act of devoting oneself to inner peace is a relevant contribution to world peace and one completely within the realm of possibility.
I don't go around singing lots of political songs. I take a more subversive approach to my dream: I sing beautiful love songs about everyday life experiences. I think there is something slightly revolutionary about singing a simple and true song to an audience in this day and age. Whether I am singing a song that Ella Fitzgerald made famous, or a song that Cole Porter wrote for a movie musical, or any song at all, if I sing that song from the depths of my being, unguarded and as honest as I can manage in that moment, I believe a small bridge has been built. Some hearts have been connected. A bit of oneness has been experienced. Unity is having its turn. These, I try to reassure the exhaustively ambitious dreamer in me, are tools of peace. From New York to Adelaide, to Berlin, to London, to Philadelphia, to Chicago, to Boston, to LA, to Moscow, to St. Louis, no matter where I go, music is the great Pied Piper who leads all of us to the truth. What is the allure, the magic of music? I believe it exists in the art of listening. Listening is the great act that mysteriously leads to peace. To hear where someone is and connect with that place in them. The best singing is essentially listening. The best writing is essentially listening. What, in us, is doing the listening? And what, in us, is being listened to? I have my greatest faith in what that is and how it unites us all.
I try to have as much fun as possible in life. Maybe that is a part of creating peace as well. When I studied evolution in high school I was excited to find out that one of the unique and defining features of human beings is playfulness. I think that quality gives such sweetness to people and I try to indulge it and bring it out whenever possible.
That's one of the reasons I can't resist doing improvisations with my audiences. They are so funny when they get to brag about their city and I get to make up an outrageous song using all their ideas. I hope I get to do that at the UN someday. I'd like to make up a giant love song about all the things people are so proud of about their countries.
Being a musician means spending a lot of time learning how to breathe together, play together, and be in tune together. What unity there is in the finest moments of music. I had a dream recently that a world orchestra was created and that at least once a year all the world leaders would have to sing or play songs together on some kind of instrument and listen to each other, really connecting on that heart level that music demands. Wouldn't it be fun to see them on one giant stage performing "I'll Be Seeing You" or "You've Got A Friend"?
When I dreamed of peace as a child what I didn't know then was how many other people were dreaming of it, too. I thought I was all alone. It is so inspiring to meet people from all my travels who are doing all kinds of things with their lives to uplift humanity.
It's one thing to devote your life to making what difference you can with your gifts. It's a whole other thing to connect your life with all the people who are doing the same thing with their gifts. The world gets smaller and smaller every day as you pay attention to all the ways people are working together and living peacefully with each other. It is just as important to see the good news as it is to see the bad. Maybe even a little more important, come to think of it.
There are a lot of brilliant, creative people out there with great energy and ideas and love.
For every person who has a bomb they'd like to explode, there are thousands and thousands of people who have a child they want to nurture. I pray for them all. I pray for my allies, the people who dream of peace with me and I pray for my enemies, the people who would forsake the value of precious life for a gesture of unspeakable hatred. I am too na´ve to understand how someone gets up in the morning and kills someone. But I will pray for them anyway, for their heart to open somehow its wilted petals to love.
What makes us more loving? When I am truly conscious, I ask myself what food will make me more loving, what art will make me more loving, what company will make me more loving, what thoughts will make me more loving during the day. This is how life is becoming an art when a fervent dream keeps you up at night.
May that which is Ghandi in each of us, which is the courageous faithful part of us, prevail. May peace prevail in all the ways and places we meet. In our eyes, in our words, in our deeds. In our homes, our schools, our workplaces. On our highways, on our street corners, our stoops. In our churches and our temples and our mosques. In our concert halls and our museums and our baseball fields. On our prairies, our beaches and our mountain tops. May peace prevail. May it find itself in our prayers and recognize itself in the world we are creating together every moment we are alive.
I will keep singing for that dream.