Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Flying On Your Own

Leaving's not always the hardest
It's knowing when to go
Rita MacNeil, Knowing When to Go

I don't normally post obituary notices on my blog, but yesterday's passing of Canadian singer/songwriter Rita MacNeil has both saddened me deeply and touched me personally.

I did not know Rita MacNeil and only saw her perform live once -- at Toronto's Ontario Place one summer a few decades ago, before my own move to her native Nova Scotia had lodged itself in my psyche. But I think I would like to have known her.

Humble and modest, MacNeil overcame a legendary shyness and went on to record more than 30 albums that sold in the millions and to garner many honors, including an Order of Canada. Her music was powerful and inspiring, and she was proof that you don't have to be a physically stunning extrovert to succeed publicly with your art.

Rita was also part of a cadre of Atlantic Canada artists who kept me inspired both as I turned my life upside-down in 1994 to relocate to Nova Scotia and during my time in the province -- creative and transformative periods that produced The MoonQuest and that I chronicle in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir.

Two songs in particular from that era continue to resonate powerfully for me: Flying On Your Own, an anthem to empowerment and to following your dreams, and She's Called Nova Scotia, which, all these years later, still speaks to me of the place that will always be one of my heart homes. Both those songs blasted out of my car stereo nearly nonstop in the fall 1994, as I made the thousand-mile drive to my new Atlantic home in the days before my 40th birthday.

At every stage in my life since I first heard Flying On Your Own, whenever I find myself on the threshold of a new adventure or on the cliff-edge of another leap of faith, these words, in Rita's voice, always play in my head to remind me of the miracles I have experienced and of the faith that made them possible.

And when you know the wings you ride
Can keep you in the sky
There isn't anyone holding back you
First you stumble, then you fall
You reach out and you fly
There isn't anything that you can't do...
You're flying on your own

Finally, this from Rita herself: "You can be shy. You can work through all kinds of struggle. But somewhere deep down, you have to have belief, or nothing's going to happen."

I believe, Rita. And thank you.

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