What is the secret to success?
This is something I have been thinking about since breaking ties with a business investor and my former business and music partner nearly a year ago. I knew their versions of success met with the requirements of a capitalist society, but they were not sitting well with my own mind, body, and heart nor my definition of sustainability for the self.
In the midst of these musings, life goes on. The world is on fire. Mosquitoes are spreading a disease around Brazil and beyond; thousands of immigrants and refugees are stuck in Greece; an insane and racist republican candidate is winning over the hearts and minds of Americans; and there is sadness and grief that I know not how to cure.
I went to the dog park this morning. I take my 8-month-old female husky rescue nearly every day so she can run and jump and play and do all those puppy things that make my own life and that of my husband a little easier.
At the dog park, I meet all kinds of people. There are the folks who bring their huskies at 10am each day. There is the fluffy grey poodle named Maggie that my husky pup adores. And there are people of all kinds, each wanting to tell me stories. Usually, the stories are about the crazy things that happen between dogs and people at the park, but sometimes there stories that delve more deeply into the human experience.
This morning, I started chatting with an older fellow I have talked with before but mostly just to say hello and to tell him he has the sweetest dog. And he does. Dixie is small with short, tan hair. She is gentle and quiet and will lean into my shin and look up at me with deep dark brown eyes. Looking back into those eyes, I see complete compassion.
And who would not have compassion for this sweet old man?
Today, he told me that his son was what brought him to Prescott, though he we born in Chicago and spent much of his life in Indiana. We were standing watching our dogs.
I need to sit for a little while, he told. Ok, I said. I had begun chatting with Maggie’s human mom, who had wandered over.
When Maggie and mom headed out, I turned around with the intention of sitting on the wooden picnic table. It seemed safer than the white plastic chairs that I had seen countless dogs pee on during various visits to the park.
Come sit next to me, my friend motioned over. My desire was to be an introvert and hover over my phone while sitting on a relatively urine-free surface, but I couldn’t seem to refuse his request.
I sat on the edge of the chair, vowing to put my pants in the washing the moment I arrived home.
On a side note, I am still wearing those pants as a type this story because I was so very moved by what happened next in our dialogue.
When he asked me what I do, I told him that I edit papers and articles, I hold a yoga teacher’s certificate, and I write songs.
What kind of songs do you write? He asked.
Well, I told him. People tell me their stories, and I type them up on my computer. Then, I use phrases and words from their story as lyrics in their song. I ask them to sing some of the words and find the musical key they are singing in and the notes that might create a beautiful melody. It’s a kind of folk music, I think.
Hmmmm, he mused. Maybe, there is a song in this story?
He proceeded to tell me the story of his experience traveling back to Indiana from Prescott with his wife and dog in their RV trailer. They had eaten dinner as usual and done their worship and gone to bed.
In the middle of the night, he woke up. He had a C-pack over his face, which he told me was the reason he thought he had enough oxygen to notice what was happening. The motorhome was one fire.
He told his wife they needed to get out.
She whispered back that she couldn’t breathe.
He made his way to the door and was able to open it, but by the time he did it was too late to go back.
I lost my wife and my dog, he told me. That was ten months ago.
At that point, I was frozen to my chair and turned toward him, my eyes wide. I am pretty sure I said something to the extent of, Oh my god, I am so so sorry over and over again.
What can one say in response to the kind of heartbreaking disaster one hopes will never happen in their life.
I told him that I would be happy to work with him on a song and that we could do it at the dog park if that was easiest for him.
He asked me what I charge, and I told him but offered the option for him to simply give me a donation.
In the back of my head I could hear my CPA telling me I had already submitted taxes for two years at a financial loss, but I heard my heart saying I needed to write this song regardless of monetary remuneration.
When I left, I did my best to hold back the tears as I drove to the grocery store and walked down one aisle after another. I looked around at each person with their own cart.
They want the same things I do, I thought to myself. Love and peace and the absence of grief. And they deserve it. We all do.
So what, then, is the secret to success? I believe it is defining what success means for you and you alone.
Success for me this morning was taking the time to open my heart and listen to someone who needed and wanted to share their story with me.
What is your secret to success?