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MARTI HEALY: Begin anywhere

January 20, 2019

Begin anywhere. Just two simple words that I read recently, quoted from composer John Cage. And yet, like a message from the universe, they have been weaving themselves in and out of my life for the past several days and weeks.

Begin anywhere. The message shuffles around in my consciousness and circles through my dreams and pushes into things I see and hear and read and am told and must do and want known.

Everything from major work projects to housekeeping tasks seems to invoke the advice: Begin anywhere. Even the latest book I’ve been reading is written in the “en medias res” style (opening in the midst of action, then flashing back to the beginning for context). Begin anywhere, it reasserts.

And then, just today, a friend sent me a video link of wolves in the wild, singing. The focus is on one wolf, alone, who hears the echoing calls of the others. And he throws back his own voice to join in the song. It is not at the beginning of their music. He simply begins at that place where he feels the pulse of their primeval rhythm ... where he senses the wind wants to carry his call along with theirs ... where his heart tells him it’s his time and place. He just begins ... anywhere.

My dog, Quincy, stirs at the sound of the wolf song. It reaches out and resonates with his primitive self, even as he sits next to me, warm, safe, well fed, on a soft-cushioned couch. I watch his ears twitch, and remember that it was just a year ago that he came to live with me, with eight years of mysterious life behind him, trembling between an unknowable past and an uncertain future. He began a new life in the company of strangers solely on trust. (A life that also included a small opinionated cat who would soon adore him beyond all reason.) And we continue to learn about each other, bits at a time, in foreign languages, by listening to each other’s hearts. All because he agreed to just begin anywhere.

Not long ago, I was writing a story about fairy tales. And in my research I discovered that the traditional beginning of “once upon a time” was a derivative of the German word “Marchen” – which meant, “a little story from a long time ago when the world was still magic” – or “in the old times when wishing was still effective.” (The Germans certainly fit a lot of meaning into a small word.) But as intriguing as I find those concepts, I further discovered that “once upon a time” was also coined to be able to set a story in any time, in any place. It just happens. Like all the best stories, it just begins anywhere.

It seems to me that the best experiences I have ever known in life were those when I just began ... anywhere. When I just stepped into the parade. When I just began singing along with the song – even if I had to “la-la-la” the words. When I joined in the linedance not knowing the steps. When I made a new friend without realizing it, or fell in love with an old dog on faith alone.

I suspect the best bits in life always do happen that way – when we don’t worry about knowing how or where or if we’ve missed the beginning, and we just begin anywhere. And trust in the outcome.

I found that John Cage himself put that thought rather compellingly when he also said: “There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

Begin anywhere.

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