“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Do you know someone who is balm for your soul? Someone that makes you glad to be alive every time you see them? Gurney Norman is one of those people for me. I’ve never been around him that he didn’t make me smile. I was tickled to run into him today at a lecture given by his good friend, folklorist, oral historian, musicologist, and all-around awesome Italian dude Alessandro Portelli. If you’re not familiar with ‘Sandro,’ as Gurney and other close friends call him, check him out. His lecture concerned immigrants and emigrants of present-day Europe. If you’ve followed the news you’re probably most aware of the enormous wave of Syrian immigrants flooding Europe, but there are many, many others. The closest land for most North African immigrants is a small Italian island. There’s also large Romanian and Kurdish immigrant populations in Rome. This diverse influx into Italy has provided Portelli with unprecedented access to the songs and stories these people bring with them. He played for us a number of folksongs sung by some of these immigrants, and it was fascinating to hear how the lyrics changed. A song by one person about parents missing their children might be sung by another about children leaving their parents behind. The song starts the same, but the inner verses change with the circumstance of the singer. As Portelli described these shifting populations and the evolution of their folkways, I was reminded that today marks the forth anniversary of the F3 tornado that hit West Liberty. It left hundreds homeless, and out of necessity, they emigrated out of the county. Many never came back. And like the notable migration out of Appalachia in the 1940’s and 50’s, those natives took with them songs and stories that now, three or four generations later, have no doubt been altered to fit the times and circumstances. In this way, we are all emigrants, even Native Americans. Locations, circumstances – everything really – has changed and continues to change, so that the stories and songs we pass on are inevitably altered to reflect those changes, or fill our needs. I had not considered this detailed aspect of historical evolution until today. I love Gurney and his friends. They bring so much enlightenment and joy to my life.