In Remembrance of Kindness
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
In Remembrance of Kindness
I was saddened a couple weeks ago to receive a phone call from my friend Andy Spence, telling me that her beloved husband and co-conspirator in many artistic and community endeavors spanning more than ½ a century, had died. Bill Spence was a gracious man with an occasionally surreal sense of humor. Absurdist quips were a tool of transformation in his hand. He could uplift, console, inspire, encourage, all with a brief bit of humor and levity.
Bill was 78, and had a remarkable life. He recorded/produced over 40 albums for Front Hall Records, the record label he and Andy founded allowing many artists shut out by the mainstream industry a chance to share their music in recorded form. They wrangled a distribution hub called Andy’s Front Hall, promoting the music of hundreds of additional musicians over the years. And Bill was a huge support to Andy in her work founding and running the Old Songs Festival for 38 years. And in 1973, Bill released a seminal recording, The Hammered Dulcimer. It brought several generations of musicians into playing that unique instrument. Thousands of people now play that instrument as a result of the ripple affect of that one recording.
What strikes me most about Bill however is his kindness, and the lessons to be learned from his leadership by example. Bill was the sort of person who could walk into a room and immediately make people feel more welcome, even when he was the guest. Always happy to share the spotlight, equally willing to pick up a broom after the show and sweep the floor. A man who showed his respect, devotion, and love by being of service. My own father was very much that way.
As I sift through the memories, I ask myself what piece of Bill’s legacy do I carry on? How will I honor him not just for a day or a week, but as a daily practice? And I keep coming back to kindness. In these times it is a spiritual and emotional and physical practice to remain kind. It is a choice. There is so much that can throw us off our center and cause us to be reactionary. But taking a deep breath and choosing kindness is always a good choice. Even when we disagree, we can do so with kindness.
I know this is all starting to sound all love and light and unicorns and rainbows. So I must add that I saw Bill’s ire rise on a number of occasions. He was human and opinionated, occasionally impatient. But his default setting was to be kind. That is a choice. And it is a choice we can all make. Graciousness feels like a lost art sometimes, an anachronistic holdover from another generation or culture. And yet it is what allows us to accomplish the work of bringing people together in collaboration. Whether that is a few people or thousands of people, a core practice of graciousness in our process and daily interactions can be the difference between having a good idea and actually making something happen in the world.
There are many differences for us to overcome in the modern world. We live increasingly in societies where diversity of language, religion, and culture could be barriers to feeling like we are in community and in harmony with each other. But kindness and graciousness are almost always universally understood as gestures of welcome. I want to be like Bill. I want to be a person who makes other people feel just a little bit more welcome.
The Folk Alliance International conference just finished in Montreal. In addition to being a FABULOUS musical event, it was marvelous to spend time in another culture and in a place where English is NOT the common language. I was reminded sadly by witnessing a moment of intolerance toward a Francophone man by an English speaker – how little it takes for some people to equate different as "less-than." I was surprised in the moment to witness the lack of graciousness on the part of a fellow English speaker and a musician at that! In my mind I keep going back to that moment and wishing I had thought to just defuse the situation by offering to buy the Quebecois man a beer, a universal act of apology and welcome. But the moment went by fast and in my brief experience of shock; I did not intervene at all.
This why I think we must practice kindness every day. SO that it becomes our automatic response, even in a moment of dismay or surprise, or in a moment of anger or frustration. If we are practiced in graciousness and kindness, even our activism and opposition to things that make NO SENSE to us can be imbued with kindness. And what a difference that could make in the world.
So, I will remember Bill Spence. I will remember him in my music and with colleagues and friends. But I will remember him most as I continue to aspire toward letting graciousness and kindness BE the center of how I relate to the people around me. I will carry his way of being forward in my life more than his accomplishments. Because HOW we are in the world seems to have a bigger impact than who we are in the world.
Thanks for the many kindnesses, Bill.