Janet Grice has passed away. She was dear to me during her year as a music student at the University of Oregon. We reconnected as adults, strolling and talking on the banks of the Hudson River. Yet, it was back in those college days that we shared had one remarkable experience that kept us forever connected.
The context . . . We were very close during the 1974-75 school year. We lived in the same house and performed music at local Eugene, Oregon cafes with her on bassoon and recorders and me on guitar and vocals. We also shared a passion for yoga and meditation, as taught on campus by Dr. Lee Engstrom, also known as Sat Kirpal Singh.
The day . . . It was the last day of finals for a mid-year term. We were both pretty wiped out. We took a yoga class together and then hitchhiked out to the coast, to the Hobbit Beach near Florence, about 90 minutes by car from Eugene.
The storm . . .After about an hour on the beach, a huge, epic storm approached from out on the ocean. High winds. Foreboding, dark clouds. This was a major weather event and we were scared. In the grip of heightened concern, Janet recalled our yoga class of that same day. Our teacher had shared a “chant” with us, explaining that singing it would protect us when we needed help. I had thought the whole thing to be pretty hokey, but she was all enthusiastic. She implored me to join her.
The chant . . . We scrambled up a steep path from the beach to the largely vacant coastal road, chanting these words: Guru Guru Whahe Guru, Guru Ram Dass Guru. She was in full voice and I was a bit more hesitant. The storm was quickly closing in on us at an intimidating pace.
The stunner . . . Hitchhiking was illegal, and our thumbs were fully extended when the first car pulled up; a police car! The policeman’s dialogue was mythic.
“You two, where are you headed?” He asked as he rolled down his window.
“Eugene.” We were scared. Illegal behavior. Storm.
“Well, that storm is about to cause some big problems around here. I’m going to be pulling around in another 15 minutes. If you’re still here, I’m taking you home to our barn where my wife can serve you a dinner and you’ll be safe for the night.”
What?! Does this chanting work?
The next stunner . . . The next car. Full of people. Jammed full. They pulled up and rolled down the passenger window.
“We see you’re in trouble here. We’re so full and we live far away. But we want to see if we can help. Where are you going?”
“Eugene. We go to school there.”
“Really, where in Eugene?
“19th and Hilyard.”
“What, WE live at 19th and Hilyard! GET IN THE CAR!”
They were our next-door neighbors. They had heard all about our house where people did yoga and meditation and played music on Friday nights. One chant. Two cars. Both offering to help. And we were headed home. Amazing!
Janet left the University of Oregon early on to study music in a more advanced conservatory on the east coast. She became a very accomplished musician and composer and was an innovator in teaching jazz in the New York City Schools. She and I connected from time to time over the years, through a continuing spiritual connection, our music, and our families. I visited her in Ardsley and New York City a few times within the last ten years.
She was my partner as I started on a spiritual path and I will greatly miss her.
I recorded this version of the Guru Ram Das Chant as a tribute to Janet.