This past Sunday I participated in my first ever “Yoga Mala”, a fundraising event for the New England-based nonprofit organization “Yoga in Action” in which I completed most of the 108 sun salutations! This practice is an empowering and transformative experience with ancient roots and many benefits. Even though I was doing this virtually in front of a video monitor, I felt connected to the other participants on the screen at the event's location, River Mill Landing in Dover, New Hampshire. Together, we mindfully paraded through (or suffered through) a seemingly endless succession of sun salutations “mountain pose, forward fold, chatarunga, upward dog, downward dog, repeat”! Upon the completion of each round of 10, a queue card was placed on an easel reflecting our count and a new instructor would begin the next round, each instructor infusing the event with their own unique energy.
After the first 2 rounds we paused for a heartwarming video testimonial of one gentleman’s experience with Yoga in Action. He spoke of reaching a point in life where he was accepting that aches and pains and limited mobility were simply inevitable, of how he had once previously experienced yoga “in a room full of perfect bodies”, feeling intimidated and unable to do most of the poses. His life changed for the better when he began attending 2 different Yoga in Action sponsored classes. Here the teacher taught him to find a new way in his body, to connect his mind to his body, and over time he experienced a decrease in aches and pains and an improved sense of well-being.
The break ended and back to the torture, I mean salutations. Seriously though, I have been practicing yoga for about eight years, and even though I am fairly advanced in my practice, this was one of the most physically and mentally challenging yoga moments I have yet experienced, the phrase “yoga marathon” coming to mind. By the time I had completed 50 sun salutations I was starting to feel a subtle drop in energy, periodically doing the occasional modification from this point forward to survive the second half (not to mention those dreaded salutation B's that a few teachers snuck in). After a few more rounds another heartfelt testimonial was read by one of the event's instructors, Marie, this one speaking of another Yoga in Action sponsored class “Yoga for Diverse Abilities” in Seabrook, NH. In what would be one of the most touching moments of the event, she shared a letter from the caretaker of a non-verbal young man who was finding a parallel between his weekly yoga experience and his love of music, his yoga class apparently having an immeasurable effect on his life.
Somewhere around 70 or 80 salutations I was starting to feel physically and mentally fried, and like a gift from the universe the next instructor, Dave brought some much needed lightheartedness, beginning his segment with “are you ready to do some yoga with the fat guy?”. Offhand comments about cookies and donuts were followed by Dave joking about his ability to talk about himself in the third person while teaching yoga. Before we knew it, we were at 100 sun salutations and on to the final eight, finishing strong with a big applause at the end! The final instructor took us through some cool down stretching, followed by a guided meditation, complete with body scan and visualizations, and then a well-deserved shavasana.
Three hours after I began this epic yoga moment the event came to its graceful end. I was pleased I was able to complete all but a few of the 108 salutations, and with some sun salutation B’s thrown in, somewhere around 140 chatarunga's (AKA half push-ups). Although I wasn't there in person, the spirit of the event shined through my video monitor and speakers, allowing me to feel connected to this amazing yoga community. My muscles were sore and tired, but my soul felt replenished and I felt a renewed sense of well-being.
The greater purpose of this event is to raise money and awareness for Yoga in Action so they can support communities that otherwise would not be supported through yoga, and I have a personal connection to this through the memory of my Dad, as the “Yoga and Cancer” program was of great help to him near the end of his life. To Michelle Couture and my friends at Prasada Yoga in Hampton, NH, my friends who made contributions and all who support Yoga in Action, thank you for helping to spread the healing gift that is yoga!
The video shows me doing the first and last eight salutations, sped up times eight. The photo shows me wearing a wonderful gift from my lovely Kelly, yoga mala 108 beads with a tree of life!
A little over three years ago my Dad passed away from a long battle with prostate cancer. He lived most of his life in relatively good health, but struggled in his last years as his cancer progressed. Gradually, he found himself surrendering many of his activities and abilities to the care of others. At the suggestion of my good friend, Robert Skaff I brought him and my Mom to a “yoga and cancer” class at Prasada Yoga in Hampton, New Hampshire. As an experienced yogi of many years I immediately recognized the high level of teaching and care brought by the instructor, Michelle Couture. As cancer patients and recovering cancer patients have various physical limitations, the style of yoga for them must be specifically contoured, and modifications to traditional poses are necessary. Some, including my dad were instructed to do most of the class seated in a chair, downward dogs and other poses modified to be done using blocks, or standing against the wall. My Dad took well to the class, and by the end of it, he was fast asleep in what would become his favorite pose, Shavasana.
This introductory class took place during one of my trips home before he passed, and for the next 2 1/2 years Dad and Mom became regulars, often going twice a week. I talked on the phone with Dad every week during that time and he was always bringing up the yoga class and how much he looked forward to it. I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of more classes with him on trips home. During my last trip home shortly before he passed, he told me that there were two places in his mind he would go when the pain or anxiety got really bad. The first place he described was shortly after he and mom married when they hiked to the top of Mount Chocora. Shortly after reaching the summit, a formation of F-14’s came out of nowhere and flew low across Lake Chocora towards them, ascending into the heavens as they reached the base of the mountain right before them! The memory of this special moment brought him peace. Then he said “the other place I go is yoga”. I don’t think I realized just how much the yoga was helping him through this difficult phase until that very moment.
The yoga and cancer program that my Dad went to (and mom still participates in) is a part of the nonprofit organization “Yoga in Action”, which works to provide free and accessible yoga to anyone who needs it in the New England area. On Sunday, February 20th at River Mill landing in Dover New Hampshire, they held their 16th annual Yoga Mala fundraiser, in which I participated virtually, helping to raise awareness and fund many yoga programs throughout New England.
The world just lost a great human with the passing of my old friend and band mate, Mark Gagnon. The longer we stick around this place, the more loss we seem to experience, and every once in a while somebody leaves us and it rips a giant hole in our heart. This was the case for me and likely anybody else that had the gift of having Mark in their lives.
I’ll never forget the first time I was graced with Mark’s presence. Back in 1990 I was playing in the band Crossfire, and on an off night we all went out to see The Branches, another popular band on our circuit. We walked into the packed nightclub and the energy was oozing off the stage, with the audience absorbing every bit of it. My first impression was that the band was great, the singers were top-notch, but the bass player was almost stealing the show. It wasn’t just his bass playing, which was top-notch; it was beyond that, he just had this amazing, kinetic energy. With an ear to ear smile that never seemed to fade, he put every ounce of his being into every second of that performance. He seemed to have this kind of magic spirit that lit up the whole room. A few short years later I found myself playing in a band with Mark, and I learned that this is what you would get from him on a nightly basis. This was Mark at his core, a kind soul who loved playing music and loved making people happy.
I would spend the better part of the next 10 years making music with Mark, growing our band, Shockwave from the ground up. Within our ragged little band of misfits, Mark was the guy you could always count on to lighten the mood. “Hi, my name is Chance. Give Chance a piece!” he might say. While helping to hang our backdrop with thumbtacks he would shout “Aaa-tack!”. Or while sitting at a late-night breakfast joint he would pick up the saltshaker and yell “Assault!”. Always on time and with a smile, or even early (probably the only musician in the history of bands who was ever early), whatever demons he was carrying, for the most part he left at home. A band is like an extended family, and I think Mark thrived on that element. Traveling the country side together, going to new towns and venues, facing unknown audiences night after night, you develop camaraderie, a kind of “us against the world” thing, and Mark’s caring and giving nature made him the perfect comrade for this kind of life. He was a total team player. And I would say he was at his happiest when he was on stage making people happy by making music.
During these years making music together we became great friends, playing hundreds of shows, writing and recording original songs, eating, sleeping, partying, and laughing together. He was even the best man at my wedding and delivered the most amazing, heartfelt speech for the champagne toast. His sweet and thoughtful sendoff brought everyone to tears. As life pulls us all in different directions, I lost touch with Mark in recent years, but I will always cherish the time we spent together. I’m lucky to have known him and am a better person for it.
Even though he’s gone, he wouldn’t want us to be too down about it. Of course we will mourn, but let’s also remember all the goodness he brought into the world. Rather than offer condolences, I would like to encourage everyone to share your stories, Mark one-liners and other “Markisms” in the comments. Let’s celebrate his life and the impact he had on us all!
Here’s a couple more Mark quotes to get the ball rolling:
“She gives good hug”
“Excuse us for a moment, were having a caucus. And in a minute we’re going to have a boobus!”
“If I sing out of tune, it’s always sharp, I’m an overachiever!”
Ever have one of those moments of clarity where the truth hits you like a lightning bolt straight out of the sky? A pivotal moment in your life, which when looked back upon is seen to be the moment your world is forever changed, sending you on a path, a journey, a new life mission. Of course, you don’t realize the scope of this moment as it occurs, you just know something is forever different.
It was the summer vacation right before my sixth grade school year, a couple weeks before school started back, and a picture-perfect, warm, sunny day fell upon us. A bunch of friends sitting lazily around the man-made fishpond in front of the Sadowski home, music emanated from stereo speakers placed in a bedroom window. The mood was relaxed and cheerful, and although the chitchat drifted in and out, the strange music pulsing from the second-story window kept drawing us in like metal particles to a magnet.
“What are we listening to?” I asked innocently.
“Woodstock.” replied one of the Sadowski brothers. “It was the first big rock festival concert back in the 60s”.
The music was electric and raw and had a strange earthiness to it, blossoming imagery of another time and place. I was already familiar with some of the music of this generation, as my Dad frequently played records of Clapton, Santana, and many blues greats of that era, but this was different, the mega concert format depicting the best artists of that era in a peak moment of reckless abandon.
After the first couple album sides of mostly acoustic artists, the music started getting more intense and heavy. Following CSNY and the Who was this emotional roller coaster performance of “With a Little Help from My Friends”.
“Wow, who was that?” I asked.
“Joe Cocker. If you liked that, you’re really gonna like what’s coming up.” replied one of my friends.
The big guitar sounds of Santana, Ten Years After, and others, interspersed with strange announcements and crowd chants drifted from that mysterious bedroom window as my attention continued to deepen. Then all of a sudden it happened.
As funky and cool as so much of all of this music was, it instantly transcended into another plane as the final side of vinyl played on. The electric guitar seemed to pulse and dance amidst a rhythmic and visual soundscape, building and building, going higher and higher until suddenly the drums and bass fell away, leaving a lone guitar to sing her blues.
What’s this? Now he’s playing the national anthem? Of course he wasn’t just playing the national anthem; he was living it, the sounds from his guitar painting the most surreal imagery of all the strife and wonderment of our world across a cloudless blue sky. Interspersed within the melody of an age-old moment of remembrance were rockets, explosions, bombs falling from the sky, people crying, and chaos surrounded by a strange divinity, the guitar literally screaming in pain while simultaneously singing of unimaginable beauty and optimism.
The sounds coming out of that speaker in the window might as well have been coming straight from Mars. It was the deepest penetration of music into my being I had ever experienced in my 11 years of life on this planet. My friends informed me that I had just heard the music of Jimi Hendrix, and the mystery of this bold, cosmic messenger became instantly more elusive as I learned of his passing just one year after this magical performance.
I was forever changed from that moment. I didn’t really know what I had just heard or experienced, but I knew what I felt. I felt an awakening to a mystery. A mystery I wanted to live and explore. The world before me grew instantly larger, with infinite possibilities on the horizon. And although I had already begun learning how to play guitar the year prior, this was the real beginning of my life pursuits in music and beyond, a moment of clarity and truth, a new North star. For me, summer had just begun.
Last Tuesday I awoke to the heartbreaking news that my Dad passed away. After a long battle with cancer, he died peacefully in his sleep with family members by his side. His passing did not come unexpectedly and over the past months I did much to prepare myself, but we are never really that prepared for this kind of thing. He was an amazing man whom gave so much to all who knew him; I miss him more than words can say. It was his wish that all four of his children would give eulogies at his service. Here’s what I wrote for him.
What can I say about Dad. There’s so much to say. He wasn’t just a great Dad, he was also a great friend, mentor, bandmate, and probably my biggest fan. He was my hero. His departure has left a giant black hole in my universe. I was just talking to him the other day, sharing stories and laughs like we did often through the years, and now he’s gone.
But he’s not really gone. His physical being may have left this world, but all the goodness he embodied and the huge impact he had on his family and friends remain. A part of his spirit is still here and lives within all that knew him.
Dad had an amazing sense of humor, probably one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. If you knew him well enough to call the house, you might have occasionally been greeted with “Murphy’s pool hall”, or “Coles Barbecue, best butts in town”, or some other equally entertaining abstraction. My curiosity was always peaked when I would see a voicemail from him. Sometimes it was just to say hi, other times he would leave some sort of CIA spy jargon like “The camel has left the tent.”
His text messages could be equally entertaining. Sometimes I might get something like “your time zone is behind ours, therefore you must be an hour late for everything.” Or “what are you doing standing there looking at this text? Get back to work!”. He loved to laugh, and he loved to make others laugh.
Dad loved music, and this passion flowed out of him like a cool mountain spring. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of dad placing headphones over my infant ears to hear the music of Carlos Santana. He may not have been an actual hippie, but he was always playing music of the Woodstock generation back then, always eager to share it. His passion for music led him to become a great bass player, something he was able to do till the very end. He didn’t think he was a great bass player, that’s because he was humble. But he was great! - Solid, dependable, always holding down the fort. These words describe not just Dad’s bass playing, but his approach to life. I’m really not sure why I chose to become a professional musician. I would say that Jimi Hendrix is the reason I play guitar, but Dad is the reason I play music.
My relationship with Dad changed over the years. I looked up to him in my younger years, his calm, subtle exterior almost masking his pillar like strength. I battled with him as a rebellious teen, as my experimentation with nearly every drug on the planet most certainly attributed to whatever bouts of hypertension he may have had. I’m not sure when it happened, but some time well into my adulthood, I realized that he was one of my best friends. He always made time for the people in his life, whether you wanted to chat with him, ask him for advice, or just share stories or jokes - if this isn’t the definition of a best friend, I don’t know what is.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to endure in my life was living half a continent away from Dad and my family for the last 17 years. Little did I know that following my lifelong musical dreams, largely instilled by Dad, would lead me away from him for all these years. But in carving this path, I found myself, and did a lot to make Dad proud.
And Dad did a lot to make me proud. He was always there for his family, always finding a way to provide whatever we needed to have a good life. He would wholeheartedly take on any job or task that came his way, whether it be vice president of a regional bank, volunteer greeter at Exeter Hospital, or bassist and bandleader of Wind Spirit. Perhaps the biggest thing he was always there to share was his love - his love of life, his love of family, and his love of friends. If you became his friend, you basically became part of his family, otherwise known as “Team Normand”.
During these last few years I grew closer and closer to Dad. I would visit when I could, which never seemed often enough, but we talked on the phone all the time. He was always so totally present when we talked, that even from 1200 miles away I felt as if he was right there beside me.
I am grateful that I was able to introduce him to yoga in recent years, something which gave him great comfort and solace at a point when he really needed it. See Dad, you really went full circle, doing yoga and chanting Ohms - half way to becoming a hippie again!
Another great thing that happened in these last months was our “album club”. I’m not sure what started it, but for a while, each morning would start out with me texting him a record that he turned me onto when I was a kid. He would listen to it on Google music, I would listen to it, and then we would talk later in the day about how great it was. After a couple of weeks of this he texted me something like “I must of been ahead of my time. Did other Dads of that era listen to the smart music as I did?”.
All of these memories, and so many more I will forever cherish. For me, my mom, and my brother and sisters, Dad was a safe haven. He infused our family and anyone who was lucky enough to know him with love and kindness.
So while I’m sad with the immediacy of his loss, I’m so happy to have known him, to have been his son, and to be a part of team Normand. He gave this place 78 amazing years and that’s something we should all be happy about. The great thing is that his spirit still lives within us all.
So Dad, my good friend, if you’re listening, thanks for all the friendship, the music, and the love. And thanks for inviting us to the party!