I chose this as the first, but not the last, Grateful Dead song to write about. It’s the gem of my all time favorite Dead album, American Beauty. This album was a change of pace from their previous efforts, going away from the psychedelic sound to a more acoustic and folk-centered theme. It is said that they were heavily influenced at the time by the Band’s Music From Big Pink, and wanted to create their own kind of American folk music. They accomplished just that, with American Beauty, filled with great harmonies and strong songwriting complimented by Jerry Garcia’s acoustic and steel pedal guitars. They even added in some mandolin, played by David Grisman, who would go on to be in a short-lived bluegrass band with Jerry called Old and in the Way. This album has always been a go-to of mine, one I have never tired of.
Ripple is the first track from the B side, for those of you who remember vinyl. The simple acoustic strum and baseline compliment each other well, with accompanying mandolin sprinkled in. Jerry’s vocals are a perfect fit for this sound, both simple in soothing. Although never a great singer, Jerry flourished on songs like these. He portrays Robert Hunter’s lyrics perfectly (they frequently wrote songs together), singing about walking life’s path.
There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone
I think of these lyrics and how they relate to my life. Everyone has their difficulties and challenges through their lives, and I’m no different. A good portion of my challenges come from my daily battle with CF and chronic illness. There are plenty of obstacles constantly being thrown into your path, causing detours or delays towards your goals. “No simple highway” he sings, referring to the winding path of life that is anything but a straight line. And while CF can cause many detours and frustrations, one must still keep their goals in sight. It’s easy to lay down and forget these goals exist, or succumb to the illness; it can be exhausting to try to live a normal life with all of CF’s challenges. But if you can overcome, and still reach some or all of your goals, the success will feel that much sweeter because of the hard road you took to get there.
I feel like I have achieved a lot of my goals, both in career and in life. I am now married, a successful P.A., with a teenage stepson and a great life in Denver. However, it was difficult to get to this place, a lot of struggles and roadblocks along the way. And while I had a great support system growing up, I had to forge my own path in early adulthood and figure out how to balance life and CF alone. A big part of that was moving away from my family, forcing me to manage the illness and life on my own. There are a lot of intricate details that must be dealt with: medical bills, insurance woes, treatments and exacerbations, not to mention the daily hardships of symptoms. Through all that, I still worked and went to school for years, in the hope I would achieve the success I now have. And while that was extremely grueling and difficult, I felt that was the best way for me to evolve into a better person and a real adult. As the song goes “If you go no one may follow, that path is for your steps alone.”
I want to talk to the other people with CF who may be reading this blog: follow your dreams and achieve your goals. While there are constant day-to-day challenges with this illness, CF doesn’t have to define you and force your path. You can break through, however difficult it may be, to stay on your own road to success. And success can be defined in many ways; not just by big life items but also by the small stuff! So whether it is overcoming setbacks to finish school, finding a job or career you wanted, moving away to find yourself, or something else entirely. The important thing is to keep moving forward in life, not letting the incredible weight of this disease drag you down into the abyss and impede your personal progress. At least that’s what I think about it. And this song always helps me keep it in perspective. Preach on, Jerry!