Joni Mitchell in November 2018 at age 75

Yesterday, November 8th, was Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday, an occasion celebrated by friends and well-wishers at a concert in  L.A.  The iconoclastic Canadian singer-songwriter did not perform, gone mostly silent since suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015.  Yet throughout her legendary career, Ms. Mitchell penned words and sang notes that spoke to the human condition like few before or since.  

In one of her most acclaimed songs, Both Sides Now, she sang how she’d “looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow, it’s cloud’s illusions, I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.”

While clouds were Mitchell’s metaphor for both life and love, she was equally perceptive with “something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day” as even in acquiring experience we lose time in the exchange. 

Yet if the ethereal Ms. Mitchell is to be fully appreciated, it is in the realization that only those who have the capacity to see both sides, who can stand, at times only fleetingly, in the shoes of another, who may one day comprehend their own illusions as carefully constructed mechanisms meant to help navigate the great yawning maw that confronts each of us everyday. 

It is only when we can see beyond our own narrow self-interest that can we come to grips with our humanity such that it might dovetail with the illusions of others, and thus acknowledge life as a pitching current in which we all move inexorably to the see (sic).  

It is when illusions become delusions that we lose our way and find that nothing is gained and everything is lost. It is this perspective that rounds experiences into a life worth living and sharing. 

Joni in November 1968 at age 25.

According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 80% of Americans agree on one thing, that the nation is deeply divided. Whether along political lines, Democrat / Republican; pro-Trump /anti-Trump; rural / urban-suburban; educated / less educated, about every aspect of American life can be viewed through the prism of division. Tuesday’s midterm elections only reinforced those differences.  

But though Americans are deeply split, one place that has avoided that rift is the sport of running. At the start line of last weekend’s TCS New York City Marathon, it would have been difficult to tell any of the above-listed categories from another. Simply based on their presentations, all one could see were runners. All previous divisions had been set aside in the striving toward a goal that was difficult for all.

I have very good friends on both sides of the political divide who are equally passionate about running. And while they may not have much to say to one other outside a race context, once you put them together in a running environment, you will find an equanimity that transcends all their differences. There is a “we-are-all-in-this-together” element in running that sunders the divisions of sedentary life. 

As we wish Ms. Mitchell a happy 75th birthday, here’s hoping our own passionately polarized people and her governmental representatives take the time to re-listen to Joni Mitchell’s words and notes and consider the lessons in striving together before our delusions fully pull us under.


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