Pete Seeger: A Personal Reflection on the Life Lesson He Left Behind

this machine surrounds hate and  forces it to surrender

This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender [“Pete’s banjo head.” Photograph of Pete Seeger’s banjo by Tom Davis (tcd123usa), via Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons License.]

On July 14, 2013 I went online to the Woody Gurthrie.org website. It was Woody’s birthday after all. I was stunned to see a note of condolence to Pete on the loss of his wife Toshi. She had passed away just days before. I immediately composed a sympathy letter and sent it and less than three months later I received the postcard from Pete thanking me for my thoughtfulness.

He never wrote a memoir or autobiography per se. He did allow Rob and Sam Rosenthal to go through the boxes he kept of his personal papers, letters, and such to publish in 2012 Pete Seeger in His Own Words* in which is a letter from around 1986 to Tim Morris in which he wrote “The mail comes in to our house literally by the bushel, and I hardly have time to read it, much less answer it coherently.” But he did, answered them all, all in due time, as he answered mine.

I mentioned in mine to him a part of the lyric from one of the songs on his last album “A More Perfect Union” it goes: “Deep love, like a bountiful river/Fills the soul, renews the heart.” He said in his reply that those weren’t his words but those written by friend and fellow performer on the album Lorre Wyatt. But if you go to Appleseed Recordings’ notes about the album it clearly states “14 songs newly co-written with Wyatt.” this is just another illustration of Pete practicing humility, of giving not taking credit. His whole life was dedicated to giving, to including, to uniting — binding together, not tearing asunder. In that same letter to Morris he wrote: “there will be no world at all unless we change the directions of our lives.” And, “Pick some little struggles . . . little victories give us the courage to keep on struggling to win some bigger victories later.”

His beloved Hudson River; his beloved America; his beloved folk music; the confluence of all of these reflect the life of a man, reflect his demonstration of how to live a life, a life admired by so many if only practiced by a very few. Still we can strive to do so – live a life worth living – if we listen to the lesson of Pete. In my letter to him I said: “Thank you for continuing to change the world, one person at a time” — and so he shall, through the legacy of his music, his words, and his shining example.

*Quoted from with permission from Paradigm Publishers

Pete’s banjo drawing from postcard, enlarged

Pete’s banjo drawing from postcard, enlarged

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