"it's lasted for so many years. Don't let the light go out, let it shine through our love and our tears."
Though Peter Yarrow wrote "Light One Candle" and Peter, Paul, and Mary sang it most often, this chorus reminds me today of Pete Seeger, who died yesterday at age 94.
Pete changed my life. His songs were meaningful without being religious, at least according to my Baptist upbringing, and when I found him, I was looking (mostly subconsciously) for meaning, not doctrine. "Washed in the blood" lyrics were dramatic and the tunes were catchy, but largely meaningless to me, for I had already figured out that blood sacrifice as salvation was not for me.
During my young adult years, his songs and ideals were my songs and ideals and gradually I found my own musical way and new, idealistic composers and singers like Peter Mayer, Libby Roderick, and others. But Pete was a polestar, a guiding light, a model to be emulated. "What would Pete do?" would have been a better mantra for me than "What would Jesus do?"
Pete was real, not a gussied-up icon of religious passion. His songs were about basics: love of natural things, love of humankind, respect for creation, healing of wounds, peace across the earth, and, most of all, how singing together can create this vision of one world.
Four years ago, realizing that Pete Seeger was about to turn 90, after years of creative work, activism, and radical advocacy for the earth, for humanity, and for the power of music, my musical friends and I pulled together an evening of Pete Seeger songs, in homage to this man who had been such an inspiration for us.
We called it "A Pete Seeger 90th Birthday Bash" and held it in the sanctuary of the church I was serving at the time, the UU Congregation of Whidbey Island. It was a benefit concert for a local charity, Hearts and Hammers, which repairs homes for aged and disabled residents on the island.
We hoped we'd sell enough tickets to make a few hundred dollars for the charity and for the congregation. It was a standing-room-only crowd. People were jammed into the foyer, every available chair was shoehorned into the sanctuary, we put chairs out on the tiny patio, and the musicians were crunched into a single row at the front of the sanctuary. The building rocked for hours, as people sang and clapped and smiled and even danced in the aisles.
What a night! What a celebration for an iconic figure in the lives of our generation! It was one of the proudest moments of my life, to gaze out at the packed audience and see what music and an idea can do when they come together.
Pete Seeger, you are gone, but your light won't go out, not if I can help it.