Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand. – Patti Smith
Last year this quote added a bit of a tail to the drifting kite that was my life as the author of The Art of Living Lost. At the time, I didn’t know who Patti Smith was, but I made a vow to personally thank her for the light she brought into my life. Fast-forward, I’ve repeated the quote many times, and when I sat to research Patti, I realized the full genesis of her quote and immediately fell in love.
For those of you who don’t understand the difference between Patty Smyth, Patti Scialfa, and Patti Smith, let me explain; Patty Smyth is the artist who’s famous for the songs The Warrior and Goodbye to You. Patti Scialfa is the stunning red-head that was the first permanent female member of the E-Street Band. Patti Smith, who initially voiced the prophetic quote at the beginning of this BLOG, is a true Renaissance woman. She’s a painter, a poet, an author, and a singer. She’s a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. In 1978 she released Because the Night a song she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen. Bruce would go on to re-release the song in 1986 followed by a rendition released by 10,000 Maniacs in 1993. Ironically, Patti’s resume as a musician doesn’t come close to describing the genius of the person I met on Saturday at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Now, let me back up about 300 miles to New Jersey. I knew I wanted to shake Patti’s hand, but first, I had to find her. Discovering, she was on tour promoting her new book titled M Train, which she describes as a road map to her life. M Train wasn’t Patti’s first book of prose; in 2010, she earned a National Book Award for Just Kids, a memoir chronicling her life and the fascinating relationship she had with late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. I’ve read both books, and they are full of remarkable stories of a life well-lived. Jersey girl aside, she’s my alter ego; hip, adventurous, and funky in a way only a truly courageous woman can be.
I was ready to meet her!
Now, I’d never been to Portsmouth, but I’ve also never met a seaside city I didn’t love! It’s with this good intention that I ventured into town to start my evening. I walked to the theater arriving early to see if I could meet Patti. I’d written an introduction letter and included a copy of my BLOG for her reference. I bravely pleaded my case to theater staff and was informed that unfortunately, she was sick with bronchitis. The show wasn’t canceled, but the chance of an introduction was VERY slim. With this in mind, I slunk to my seat.
Fortunately, my disappointment wouldn’t last long – once I was inside the theater, my imagination came alive. The venue was ornate yet comfortable, each seat offered a cozy view of the stage, which was set with two chairs and a podium. Patti would read select passages from M Train with a vague lilt to her voice that was probably only recognizable to folks from south Jersey. She’d joked about wearing the same white t-shirt for an Amtrak cover photo while reading the article on an Amtrak train. She mused that it was probably the same shirt she had on at that moment too; the audience laughed. In the middle of her reading, an alarm on her phone went off mildly, disrupting her flow; she joked that NOW she understood why it hadn’t gone off that morning. More laughter! She ended her reading by singing (bronchitis and all) a song titled Wing that she wrote for her daughter after the death of her father, Patti’s husband. It was, as she said, her gift to the audience.
A gal from New Hampshire Public Radio would step onto the stage and interview Patti — highlighting her influence — and thanking her for making “different” acceptable. Questions from audience members were read and Patti would answer with honest, comedic timing. Where would you live if you could live anywhere? “Philadelphia, she answered. Most Jersey girls go to New York via Philly, she said. Since I couldn’t get work in Philly, I went to New York instead.”
I sat riveted to the edge of my seat.
When she was asked what gave her the greatest sense of joy? She excitedly replied MY KIDS! I was amazed; here was a girl from South Jersey who had followed her dreams. Her courage, strength, and imagination led her on a brave and fantastic journey. Yes, she’d endured her share of loss, but she also gallantly transformed these experiences into inspiration. Success! She’s inspired me to pay it forward. I’ve spent the last year working with people who have also suffered a loss. Frequent hugs and kind words fuel my daily activities. My children embody the generous spirit they’ve inherited from their father. Yes, Patti, you’re right; those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand. Thank you.
So did I get to shake Patti’s hand and thank her for her wisdom? Nope. I left the theater high as a tiny-tailed-kite and enjoyed a cup of green tea with a new friend. It was as it should be. Have a great week!
Want to learn more about Patti Smith? Check out Terry Gross’ 2015 interview for NPR titled Patti Smith Looks Back On Life Before She Became The Godmother Of Punk