We met on the head of a dandelion, two seeds almost ready to fly. Do you remember, Annie? Our hearts were our sails, and yours was sure, defined and full. It stood out from the rest. I knew even then that it could propel you to a great and admirable destiny. But for the moment, we were both on the same stalk, growing together.
In 1970, the hot house of high school was in full operation, nourishing and sheltering homogeneity – a carnation factory, as it were. How ever did people like us erupt from its soil? I gave it no thought at the time, but looking back, I see how strange we might have seemed.
The generation gap was growing. Most teens were feeling the freedom, power, and disappointment that come from realizing the fallibility of one’s parents. Ours, though, were leaders in the movements that had captured us. Oddly, we admired them, trusted them. Loved them. My parents were linchpins of the Indian civil rights movement. Yours, through their ministry, were champions of the disenfranchised. Ironically, our own outspoken willingness to stand up to the establishment qualified us as dutiful children.
The age we had reached in our young lives matched the stage most of Western culture had reached at the same time: “The Age of Aquarius,” it was called, though it might well have been dubbed “The Tyranny of the Hormones.” All rhetoric about love and peace aside, our generation was engaged in eating, drinking, and breathing sex. The shallow displays of plumage, the brief passionate couplings and the dramatic breakups that littered the sidewalks of our daily lives, identified our collective personality – they fueled gigantic industries like name-brand clothing and pop music. Yet you and I felt somehow sheltered in our foxhole. Our meetings of the mind and heart seemed unimpeded by romantic attachments or the self-conscious preoccupation with girl-boy relationships that one would expect in such a setting.
Instead we acted like old buddies, gossiping, philosophizing, sharing stories about politics, dogs, and first kisses. And playing music. I thought I was pretty hot, fingerpicking Paul Simon and John Fahey tunes. But you had a guitar all set up for slide. How cool was that? You worked it with a butter knife. You opened doors for me with your knowledge of Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Remember playing for Wendy and Bill’s wedding? You sang with that same odd twang you used when you were being funny.
And funny you were. I loved your sarcastic humor. You always seemed ready with a quip. When I left for college, my favorite letters were often the postcards you sent, mailed with fake stamps from Mad Magazine (you knew they would go through). I could see your face and hear that goofy drawl as I read your words. So smart and clever. I still have most of them. They make me smile.
But it was in our quest for a better world that your heart displayed the most remarkable gifts. When we worked as counselors at a summer camp for foster children, it was your gentle guidance that sometimes got me over the hump of frustration. “You have to connect with them, touch them somehow,” you said. “You can’t reach them if they don’t reach you.” Your words came from a place of wisdom far beyond your years. And it worked, of course. Another time, faced with confronting a potentially explosive matter in a charity group, I found myself going to you again for counsel. Yours was a voice I always counted on. Since I rarely saw allegiances blind your insight, I felt I could trust you.
Then the wind began to blow, dislodging us from our seed head and sending us soaring out into the world. We did not anticipate its power. It was neither gentle nor predictable, and sometimes seemed to buffet us from every direction at once. In the brief moments of quiet, I barely had time to look down before the next gust of fate or choice carried me away again. I was too distracted by my own flight to notice you disappearing from view. By the time I was aware of the eerie calm that had descended upon the Guyanese jungle that November day, it was too late. You had been swallowed up.
But I know you wanted to leave something behind, Annie, and you did. It turns out that those lessons – the ones about listening with an open heart, gentleness, dedication, honesty and humor – I kept them. Stored away in my eyes for how I see the world. Stored away in my hands for when I touch my children. Stored away in my voice for when I stand up for justice, and dignity… and humility. They are part of the stalk I have become, launching more fluffy seeds into the world. And as it was for us, those little seeds will take with them whatever bits they can glean as they stand in the wind spreading their sails. Pieces of me with pieces of you that I got as we stood there, side by side, on that dandelion head all those years ago. Who knows where the next one will land?
Thank you, Annie Moore. Though the wind goes on forever, may you settle in and rest now. In peace.
(Ken Risling is a songwriter whose tribute to Annie Moore – the song “Jonestown” – appears here and here. His collected writings for the jonestown report are here. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)