Farewell to Mary

A few weeks ago, I woke to the morning news announcing the passing of Mary Travers. Like many other people from my generation, I immediately felt the sting of loss.  Mary Travers was like an older sister to me.  She was beautiful- with silky blond hair and a clear, pure alto voice that wove itself between those of Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey.

If there were to be a soundtrack to the film of my life, it would be songs from Peter Paul and Mary.  The first concert I ever attended was in the late sixties.  I was visiting my cousins who lived outside of Washington D.C. and was granted the rare opportunity to attend this outdoor event with them.  Gordon Lightfoot, virtually unknown at the time, opened.  I scarcely remembered what he sang- I was so excited to hear the headliners. 

They performed with no accompanying orchestra.  There were no fireworks, no stunts, no running around the stage. Just three singers backed by two guitars.  They stood together, singing of peace, forgiveness, unity.  They engaged the audience in a way I have rarely seen before or after, charging us to take up the cause and continue the fight.  I will never forget how these three unassuming people led an audience of hundreds to sing “Day is Done,” as if we had rehearsed for weeks.  I am still brought to tears, remembering how our voices melded into one, drifting toward our nation’s capitol, singing our prayer for an end to war and injustice.

I often tell people that when my children were little, their friends listened to Madonna sing “Material World” while they heard strains of “No Easy Walk to Freedom.”  I still have a mental picture of a two year old Elizabeth sitting alone in the “way back” of our old station wagon, belting out, “Keep on walkin’ and you shall be free.  That’s how we’re gonna make history…” 

Because of this song, my kids knew who Winnie and Nelson Mandella were. They understood the evils of apartheid.  Music with a social consciousness sparks long talks about racism, war and peaceful demonstrations.  It is the catalyst for change, not only in our own hearts but in the hearts of those we teach. 

Life will be a little less beautiful without Mary Travers’ voice to echo through the winds.  But I think…no,  I believe… our world can be just a little more beautiful because of her.

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