There is a certain song, an instrumental by harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite from 1967 called “Christo Redemptor” that I play in the dark hours. When it seems like the world must end, I put that CD on and I play along on my harp. The song is a long, strange meditative rant/chant that goes on for about 15 minutes. I lose myself in that song when I play it – I disappear into it – and though I play it when I am at the bottom, by the end, after having scoured the dregs, I know that the next step is up.

I am not afraid of going to the bottom. It is a sort of pilgrimage and it gives me strength. I know that if I can go there without flinching, nothing can touch me. The bottom is the truth and if you can face the truth and it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. And wiser.

Some people prefer to avoid the eternal truths – annihilation, nothingness, death, our ultimate insignificance – fearing that the contemplation of these dark things weakens our hold on life. But I feel just the opposite: if the baseline is a gray nothing, then everything that takes us above that barrenness is a triumph of the human spirit. A wooden chair made by someone’s able hands, a flock of birds in flight, a phone call from a friend, a stranger reaching out to touch me, each of these things reminds me of just how much I love it all.

My profound awareness of the dark emptiness that surrounds us only makes every caress that much more precious.

So I play the blues like I write the blues. It is what comes out when I open my mouth. I can never forget what awaits me, so every moment between now and then is invested with the exquisite, bittersweet perfume that is the scent of life itself.

Breathe deeply.