May 25 2015

Paul Williams



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Addictions, Appreciation, Clarity, Compassion, Courage



May 19th Tracey and I recorded a podcast with Randy Cohen.  An enjoyable visit with an interesting man. During a break I rather casually mentioned that it was the anniversary of my fathers death.  “Today?  May 19th?” Tracey asked. I answered “Yes, in 1954. Two days before his 60th birthday.”  It had quietly and almost clinically occurred to me. We nodded respectfully and the conversation moved on.

It was one of those moments when a memory surprises you by its lack of emotion.  In my case the flat affect was probably based on the many years that have passed.  Although I think we’ve all experienced the opposite reaction. Recalling a first pets passing can release a torrent of tears decades later. In fact, searching for examples I just found a powerful one.  Watching your child board the bus for the first day of school. Yep, got me!

The impact of memory, or at least my memory is swift, unpredictable and random.  I’m amazed at it’s accuracy one moment and complete inefficiency at another.  While some of it may be age related I’m somehow relieved to say I’ve spent a lifetime looking for my car keys.  I’ve stared at faces I’ve known for years and searched for the name.  Surprised by the sight of my pharmacist in line at the movies instead of behind the counter I’m baffled. And I loved my pharmacist!

So the wheel spins and what is sometimes a black belt skill, (Henry Travers played the angel in “It’s a wonderful life”; my art teacher in 10th grade was Mr. Valentino; in 1963 a loaf of bread cost 20 cents.) at other times seems damaged and as unpredictable as my cat.

I’ve made peace with my misfires.  I am amazed and not crazed by the process.  Once baffled by the brains flawed filing system I’ve learned to live with it. I’ve always loved mysteries so I’m comfortable with this one. You can’t remember something you have always known …    almost pass out trying to remember … and then in the middle of the night the name pops to the surface.   A mystery.

There’s a lot of Maybe-ville in my life.  All that booze and blow.  Blank pages are to be expected I suppose. So I’ve embraced it.  I’m the Mayor of Maybe-ville.  Self appointed.  It’s an imaginary office in charge of wondering.  No, that’s wrong.   Close but not quite right.

Because wondering has given way to wonder.  I marvel at this magnificent mystery that is our mind and especially the creative process. Someone once said that a God small enough for them to understand wouldn’t be big enough to handle their problems.  I get that. So, I can trust that memories have their purpose and while I value the lessons they contain I do not need to try to capture or control them. Rather I can enjoy the occasional beauty as I would a sunset or a favorite song.  Sunsets and songs that seem to have a mind of their own.

Yesterday was Memorial Day.  I can’t think of a better use of our memories than reminding us of the supreme sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.  In their name I pray for world peace and a day when we can stop adding names to that list of fallen heroes.  May we never forget them.

As life goes on I hope your memories comfort you often, caution you when necessary and always remind you that the place to keep them safest is in a kind heart living in gratitude and trust.

Paul Williams

Paul Williams is a singer, songwriter, actor, recovery advocate and has been a fixture on the American cultural scene since the seventies. His book Gratitude and Trust is now available.