RIP Mary Travers 1936-2009

The news hit pretty hard this morning when I popped online to see what had happened overnight and saw the announcement on the New York Times website of the death of Mary Travers of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. She and the group of which she was a founding member had been part of my life for so very long. They were the very first music group I discovered for myself, without influence of family or friends. I took my younger sister to her very first public concert, to see Peter Paul and Mary at the Garden State Arts Center. Many years later, she and I took her children to their first major concerts, to see Peter Paul and Mary again at the Arts Center or at Wolf Trap in Virginia. One of the last concerts I went to was to see Peter Paul and Mary at the NJ Performing Arts Center.

In essence, I grew up with Mary Travers. She enriched my life by her words — spoken and sung — and by her deeds. She was part and parcel of the folk movement. She was part and parcel of the movement for peace and justice and equality throughout the 60s, and 70s, and 80s, and 90s, and on into the 21st century. She was part and parcel of my world, and my world is not as rich and full tonight as it has been til now.

I could not begin to list the songs she and her colleagues have sung that have touched my heart. From the earliest lessons asking Where Have All the Flowers Gone, to the poignant and powerful Jesus on the Wire and Don’t Laugh at Me, to the challenging Have You Gone to Jail for Justice, to the simply hilarious Going to the Zoo or I’m Being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor, their music — her music — has comforted me, taught me, nudged me along, for all of these years since I was a preteen. When I lost my mother, Mary Travers’ Motherless Child was my song. In the depths of depressions in my life, her Indian Sunset (“Now there seems no reason why I should carry on. In this land that once was my land I can’t find a home”) spoke for me. When I was battling my own cancers, her — their — Sweet Survivor kept me going. Her Delivery Delayed expressed my own view of discovering the depths of love of my family. My Christmas song has long been her I Wonder as I Wander. Her Conscientious Objector helped me understand one of my brothers more than I ever had before, and she helped me understand my family members and friends who are gay better than I could have otherwise with her Home is Where the Heart Is.

So much of what I have experienced and learned and been has been reflected in the music of this group and this woman… I can hardly believe that she will not be there to take me the rest of the way… and I will miss her.

But one particular set of her lyrics sticks in my mind more than any other tonight, and I think she would have wanted it that way…

Memory moves us past each other.
Time is a ribbon without an end.
Love is the lesson we keep learning.
Death but a moment we must spend…

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