Gustafson: On lyrics and lies, wishes and wildflowers
October 17, 2017
"You belong among the wildflowers,
You belong in a boat out at sea,
Far away from your trouble and worries,
You belong somewhere you feel free."
— "Wildflowers," Tom Petty
Sometimes you stumble on a song that makes you feel as if the artist had been singing directly to somewhere inside your own heart, proving that we share many of the same universal hopes and dreams. While growing up, for me the peaceful lyrics of Petty's "Wildflowers" strengthened my resistance to hard times. The song served as a reminder of the simple longings we share to feel safe, cared for and free.
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A rush of memories and feelings came flooding back to me. Tom Petty's untimely death earlier this month, and that sweet song has been streaming through my conscious and subconscious thoughts for weeks now.
As with many of his more poetic songs, Petty seemed to encourage us to expose our vulnerabilities and venture out of our own bubble into the world to live wild and free. And his own humble roots supported his message, expressing a genuine understanding of the great big world in which we often find ourselves seeking more meaning. He often sang about simple souls drifting through their own lifetime in tiny corners of the world. His music really resonated with me, a small town girl growing up with American dreams.
The timeless lyrics of "Wildflowers" still send me back to the field above the Little Red School House where, as preschoolers, we would often roam among fields of flowers. I can look down at my little blue corduroy dress, white-knitted tights and buckled Mary Jane shoes and remember how free I felt skipping and tripping along those dirt paths that switched back and forth up into the aspen tree grove where the Fox Run development now resides.
I can feel that wonder, collecting bouquets of wild purple daisies, red paintbrush, lupine and bluebells, and I can smell that sage on my hands. We would sit together in a little group, sometimes only five or six of us with our teacher Nancy Dunham, snacking on graham crackers and Dixie cups of apple juice — a sensible snack back when children played outside all day and sugar wasn't an enemy.
Nancy would hand us each a silver dandelion and promise us that all our wishes would someday come true, and we would close our little eyes and fill our hearts with the simple childhood fantasies of riding wild horses, sailing across the sea or flying to the moon. And in unison with a deep faith-filled breath, we would send our whimsical innocence twirling off on the wind, each seedling carrying with it a sweet dream.
Since then, I've wished on everything and for all types of American dreams. I wish on first stars and shooting stars, on pennies tossed into wells, through tunnels, on birthday candles, eyelashes, wishbones and the satisfying symmetry of 11:11 o'clock. It feels good, like a little jog back to the days of youth, like listening to a Petty song when we were happy for no reason and everyone could sing, and when forward thinking and progress seemed inevitable and possibilities endless, and when wishes just might come true.
But freedom and peace, like something that seems so close, are "still so far out of reach." And Petty's death at age 66 comes like an abrupt end to those bygone days of blissful ignorance and childlike wishes. Songs of American dreams fading out amidst the news coverage of the horrors of the largest mass shooting in our country's history coupled with insidious global instability, a torrent of natural disasters, threats to our democracy and free speech along with the daily humiliating and terrifying political conflicts, and threats of mentally instability in our White House with fingers on nuclear triggers. It feels like we are all "free fallin out into nothin'." I'm feeling ashamed of what we are becoming, and the downward spiral into which our country is flushing. Where did all of our dandelion dreams land, our wishes and hopes, the collective compassion?
True, "What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing." I guess it's time to listen to the dreams and wishes of my babies so I don't lose hope. As Petty pointed out, "Everybody's had to fight to be free," but American dreams should be collective and they have nothing to do with making anything great again, firing up what makes us different or dividing us. We all belong among the wildflowers, somewhere we feel free. And if a song sung by a stranger seems as though it was written just for you, it can only be because we often have more in common than we have to pull us apart.
Let's exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind. After all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind. Share yours and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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