Serving the Song

By Jeremy Gilbertson


Atlanta, Georgia

As I watched the glowing embers of our Christmas tree transform into white ash lifted by the breeze of an uncharacteristically warm New Year's Day, my thoughts landed in a place of reflection.

Waking up with a clear head on the first day of the year gives me a moment to relish in the beauty of intentional minutes and present seconds. Last year certainly was not the easiest, but is any life worth living easy?

Creativity is a constant swirling theme in the orchestra of my mind. My 5-year-old and 7-year-old were gazing at the fire, poised to capture the smoke from the pit into the plastic bags they clutched. I love watching their fleeting thoughts evolve into expansive, giggle-inducing experiments.

With each piece of the tree landing on the fire, the scents of pine and sage wafted into my nostrils, and I felt a sense of reverence, watching something my family had cherished returning to its natural state in the universe. It was an opening into something, locked into the form of a tree. Few things are as synonymous with “cozy” as a Fraser fir tree decorated with lights, homemade ornaments, and other crafted reminders of moments in time. For the month of December, it filled our living room with a spirit of close-knit togetherness almost impenetrable by the outside world. The small pieces of wood, metal and paper hung on the branches generated flashes of memories of younger versions of ourselves and the kids.

Like rewinding a VHS tape, I had twisted myself around the tree from top to bottom until the last strand of lights lay carefully coiled on the ground. After turning the screws to release the tree from its red and green stand, I lifted it and walked it out the backdoor. Small patches of sunlight maneuvered through the tight, gray, clouds floating in the sky overhead. Four clipped branches and a small block of fat lighter gave way to something magical. Thick white smoke turned into orange and blue fury that extended above the the pit into the ever-brightening sky of the first day of 2019.

Having a purpose opens the door to structure, which sustains momentum. In my younger days, I moved with a whimsical flow and a less-than-focused mindset. While these moments of exploratory discovery served my personal development, eventually I had to embrace structure. Today, my version of structure still holds these amazing pockets of similarly undefined exploration without expectation.

I had worked a mantra — 1440 — into my subconscious a few years ago. There are 1,440 minutes in each day. These temporal units cannot be stored or saved for future use. The rhythmic cadence of time connected with me deeply as I explored ways to be a better steward of my own allocation and of the temporal stores of others. While our 1440 may seem like a collection of personal assets, they are released into the ether, like ashes from a fire burning out of our control.

The extending warmth of the fire pushed along by each new branch set the tone of transition from one larger unit of time to another. Like the needles from our Fraser fir in the fire pit, the 525,600 minutes that formed 2018 were now gone. Whenever a dial is reset in any way, there is the promise of new beginnings, second chances. A desire for more focused intention is never far behind.

The pile of tree limbs was slimming down in favor of white ash and heat. I latched onto a musical thread looping in my mind that offered a simple approach to the year ahead. I make music for a living, and songs are wonderfully emergent organisms that build with the energy of a spark landing on dry wood. With this energy, ideas collect into holding patterns as they fight for their chance to become something more concrete.

A strong wind can carry any of these ideas forward without concern for the song itself. Distractions lurk around every corner, disguised as meaningful endeavors. Are they just noise or do they serve the song? I sometimes become enamored, obsessed even, with a certain guitar melody or piece of gear. But when paired with the song, my obsessions reveal themselves as cute, superficial distractions — just buffets in the winds of creation.

Looking over the smoldering fire pit, thankful for my Christmas tree and its thought-provoking release into the universe, one question rang out, and it will drive my approach to 2019: Does what I am doing, in this moment, serve the song?