Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Dedicated to Herbie Hancock
We’re all thrown into a world we didn’t make, to be brought up by parents we didn’t choose.
For many of us, this is a catastrophe from which we never recover. From which we never regain our balance. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
So what do a dog gone blind and a pianist playing a bad chord during a Miles Davis concert have to do with this? And with us?
Ría’s young for this to happen, but she developed glaucoma. Her vision faded and she had severe pain in her head and eyes. The only solution was to have her eyeballs removed.
We would call this going blind. For us, the world is still there waiting to be seen, but we are now no longer able to see it.
It’s different for Ría. For her, she was in pain, went to the vet, went to sleep, and when she woke up the world was dark. The world as she’d known it was gone. And there was no way she could possibly make sense of this.
But she had Hannah, her trusted human (and my beloved daughter) with her and Mazey her dog companion. And her house and yard with all their familiar smells.
So she was re-born into a world she didn’t make, and—without a single regret or a single glance back—she went to work figuring out how to find her way in a now-dark world. First her room, then her house, then her yard, then the paths down which she’d long gone for walks with Hannah and Mazey.
There’s no way this isn’t stressful for her. No doubt. But there’s also no doubt that she’s been in “I’ll figure this out” mode the whole time. I’ve just come back from visiting Hannah, about two weeks after Ría’s descent into darkness, and her progress and confidence are amazing. Here she is out in a park walking along a path and passing a whole family with a dog.
Now Ría’s “just” a dog, but there’s deep wisdom here. What is this wisdom? For the answer, we have to turn to Herbie Hancock’s experience playing with Miles Davis. Herbie lays out the whole story about how, in the middle of a concert, in the middle of an amazing Miles Davis solo, he, Herbie Hancock, played a wrong, a terrible chord. A horrendous mistake. Miles’ reaction? The same as Ría’s waking up to a dark world! In Herbie’s own words:
Miles didn’t hear it as a mistake. He heard it as something that happened, as an event, as part of the reality of what was happening at that moment. He dealt with it. Since he didn’t hear it as a mistake, he felt it was his responsibility to find something that fit.
And so what Miles did was he “paused for a second, and then he played some notes that made my chord right. He made it correct.”
Those of you who like to reach for the nearest cliché might think about turning lemons into lemonade. Well, it’s a little like that. But it’s really something quite different, and much more. It’s about not even seeing lemons. Not even expecting lemonade.
Instead, it’s about knowing deep down that whatever is now is exactly what might not be tomorrow or even the next minute.
That change is the only permanent thing.
That our own resilience and adaptability are the beginning of a good life for us and for all of us.
That regret is just hoping backward, which is the stupidest thing in the world, since even God can’t change the past.
That coping is the greatest thing there is to boast of.
Whether it’s someone throwing us for a loop by playing a wrong chord or life itself finding a new way to make our world go dark, what we can hope for (or pray for) and aim towards is the total focus on coping like a simple dog and an artist like Miles Davis.
The Ría answer is that whatever is coping you do and whatever is not coping you don’t do.
. The Miles Davis answer, only slightly more sophisticated, is you don’t think of what happened as a mistake, which tangles you all up in regrets and recriminations and thoughts of the past, but instead you think of it as an event and ask yourself, “What follows best from this?”