“When I’m Gone” and While We’re Here

I like planks. They make bravery a simple choice, if not an easy one. I think of my voice as a plank, where I am both the captive, and the pirate captain.

“Open your mouth, Amanda!”  I command myself.

I can kick my own butt over the edge of the plank. Even if I’m saying something dumb, at least I’m doing something brave.

I don’t even have to commit to the action – I just start, and gravity takes care of the rest. I can do things I’m not ready for. Like share my feelings. Or sing into spaces. Or tell friends what I need from them. Or ask for help. Or for money. Or say thanks and share gratitude.

Actually, I’m changing my gratitude habit. I try to cut down on how often I say thanks.

Part of this flows with my current work as a preschool teacher. I’m being trained to encourage desirable behavior NOT by saying “Thanks for doing your job!” but more by saying “You did your job.” It’s clear, it’s affirmative, it’s attentive, and sets an expectation of kids’ doing – and enjoying! – their jobs because it contributes to personal and social well-being.

When a friend nurtures me in needful times, I want to share gratitude. I’ve realized, though, that I say “thanks” or “I appreciate how you…” in such moments because I am scared of losing this support. I feel needful and nervous.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking to perpetuate the help I’m receiving. I’d rather just be real with people. Instead of saying “Thank you” BECAUSE I need their help, I’d rather just skip to the vulnerability: “You’re giving me something I need. You are helping me. You are giving me life. I need this.”

This post and song are dedicated to the individuals who contributed to my #GivingTuesday (scrambles for space with Black Friday around Thanksgiving) campaign. I seek to raise money for Jewish Voice for Peace. I join this work because the state of Israel denies safety and sovereignty to Palestinians. Israel justifies their debasing and fatal occupation by claiming that MY security, as a Jewish person, is at stake.

I used to detest the idea of fundraising. But I’m full-up saturated with the Kool-aid – that is, I espouse the idea that PEOPLE are GRATEFUL for an OPPORTUNITY to be a PART OF  A STRUGGLE THEY FIND MEANINGFUL! Hell, that’s why I’m fundraising – because I want to help.

I offered a song to my potential donors, to tempt them into giving. My anxieties around being a singer ripple into my fundraising work. I should not fear taking up space with my voice. But I should do so intentionally. How can I use my voice to make room for people more socio-economically vulnerable than I am? I should show up for struggles in solidarity with Palestinians, who survive violence perpetuated in my name. But does supporting Jewish Voice for Peace put Palestinian struggle and leadership as front-and-center as possible?

I cannot do big change on my own. I have to share my passion and purpose with my families, and go from there. My sharing must anchor and birth a collective being.

I sing “When I’m Gone” by Phil Ochs in this recording. Each verse details life-giving and self-cultivating work to which Phil feels accountable.

With each vocation he names, the singer laments that they can’t do thusly when they’re “gone” (“I can’t add my name into the fight…My pen won’t pour out a lyric line…I won’t breathe the brandy air…I can’t be singing louder than the guns…). The singer concludes each time, “So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.”

I love the sentiment of this song. Life offers beautiful moments, and unavoidably hard times and choices. Avoid not the difficulties – in a finite lifespan, life, love, trouble, instability and loneliness all ring rare and precious.

A joke on the line: “I won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone…”
I like to add the word “impression” after the lyric “do my share,” transforming the lyric to “I won’t be asked to do my Cher impression when I’m gone.” The verse must then end “So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here!” in my best throaty Cher voice!


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