I have three, yes three blog posts that I’ve been working on, all reaching completion about simultaneously. I’ve given some thought on trying to work things in a serial fashion so as to get things out on a more regular cadence, but hey, that’s just not my way of doing things.
I couldn’t help but reflect briefly on the amazing evening I had with my niece Natalie having Uncle Hebo time and going to the Taylor Swift concert. I wanted this to be once in a life time and it was absolutely that — because of the relationship I have with her that is continue to grow through the years. And the fact we had the most amazing seats at one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen.
What I’ve come to realize that most people will likely say they agree with but few understand is that life is just a constant transition…the people that best navigate avoid trying to change the rate of change and rather learn to live within it, accepting its fluctuations and learning as they go.
Taylor Swift and the album 1989 has particular significance for both Natalie and I which I write about in the letter I wrote for her birthday below — she’s becoming or is an adult about ready to go off to college, and I’m reaching a new phase that I don’t quite fully understand or have my hands around yet (blog post on that tomorrow). What I do know is that I’m so grateful for change and what it has taught me, and how I finally see in myself the uncle I have always wanted to be.
My letter sent to Taylor Swift on my nieces birthday, June 10:
Dear Ms. Swift:
Congratulations on completing the first month of your tour. Two months from now, my niece and I will have the pleasure of attending your concert in Seattle, Washington. I’ll do the best one can do in Seattle and try to ensure sunny, warm weather. Today, I am writing with what I hope is a unique story that will buoy your spirits and help keep your energy up as you continue your tour.
Today, my niece Natalie turns 17. She is brilliant, focused, hardworking, competitive, shy, reserved, pensive, a bit of a brat…and also a scientifically minded young girl growing up in a time when women are finally starting to see equal footing in that discipline. She is about to graduate high school with many college credits already in her bank due to her aggressive focus on coursework (she once raised a pig named Bacon…or at least that’s the story!). She wants to study to become a pediatrician. She is dispassionate in a way that I will never be and has a calmness I hope to someday emulate – whatever she does, it will be her calm-in-the-face-of-a-massive-storm demeanor coupled with her intelligence which synergize to create a huge impact on the world around her. When Natalie shows some amount of pain, it makes my knees weak because whatever is happening must be excruciating to most others. If she is showing signs of anguish it must be huge – she is that strong.
I am very thankful to be her Uncle and so proud of the woman she is becoming (I have two other nieces and a nephew who are also uniquely awesome!). As I approach my 36th birthday, I think back on the ways my life was indelibly changed when my sister and brother-in-law asked if I would be her Godfather. I don’t know if I’ve done an especially good job of being “Godfather Hebo”, or if anything I’ve told her will endure to become lessons she draws on as her life continues, but I do know this: I am blessed, have grown, and have learned because I am lucky enough to know a bit about her.
What compelled me to write this letter was not how amazing she is or how proud I am, however. Rather, it was our shared experience of losing my father (her grandfather) on April 23rd and the way, strangely, 1989 and you became a really wonderful part of that otherwise sad experience. My father was 70 years old, suffered a massive stroke that left him mostly speechless and partially paralyzed in 2010, and then fought cancer from which his body could not heal. There were five years leading up to this death but even with the foresight my niece and I were blessed with about what was coming and the time we had to say goodbye, the loss of a loved one is never easy.
Without going in to detail, your album, 1989, defined the soundtrack of two incredibly meaningful moments in mine and Natalie’s lives that surrounded this life event. For my niece, it was the soundtrack that played as she travelled across the country with a high school friend to explore new places, see new things and look at colleges. It will be the album she thinks of when she thinks about the moments which separate her youth from the many chapters ahead. For me, it was a cold bucket of water in the face reminding me of a lot of lessons I have learned throughout life but needed to be reminded of. It became the backdrop of my final moments with my father before he passed away – I insisted my father listen to it on the last day we saw each other. “This is real modern talent – she’s writes the stuff too! Do you hear the musicality?” He agreed.
To this day, “Style” makes me tear up.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and my niece and I had the occasion to sit down and talk about life. We talked about the album, we talked about a bunch of things. Later that night, I bought us tickets to your show, on the floor, in the 3rd row, in the best tickets I could find. It is truly remarkable that your album has created so much connection: between my father and me, my niece and me, the many others since with whom I have shared this story. There are so many stories of this connection I could share. But the most important is that of my niece and I.
If my niece one day tells her own children and grandchildren about the day she went with her Godfather Hebo to a Taylor Swift concert…
My father’s passing taught me never to wait to tell people you care, why you appreciate them, or the “why” behind the statement “I love you…” My niece knows I love her, but the joy I’ve had thinking of her and I spending the day together leading up to an experience that can never be duplicated…that we will share together and remember for our lifetimes…that feels like a bit of my father and Natalie’s grandfather smiling down on us.
So thank you, Ms. Swift, for the authenticity I hear in your album and the way you very randomly became a part of this time in my life when I’m rediscovering my role in my family. Thank you for the amazing experience I’m sure Natalie and I will have watching your show. Thank you for sharing your talent.