August 2021: Somewhere in the DC Suburbs

You belong among the wildflowers…

Sometimes you find a song. But sometimes the song finds you. And like special people in your life, you wonder how you ever lived without it.

It becomes a part of your ethos. A part of your sense of self. Occupies a little bit of your soul.

Such is the case with Tom Petty’s title track Wildflowers. Released in 1994, I didn’t discover it — or rather, it didn’t discover me — until Summer 2021.

You belong somewhere you feel free…

As a history teacher. I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be free. Who has had freedom, who has not, degrees of freedom, realms of freedom. The ongoing quest for freedom; and the tragic results when freedom is denied.

Inevitably, when you spend your waking hours thinking and teaching about what it means to be free, you think about your own freedom. Not always in a literal or political sense, but in the ability to let your mind wander, to dream big, to imagine the unimagined.

Life in 2020-21 was the opposite of “free.” As a teacher whose school was closed, my basement became my classroom. Instead of bright young faces, I now looked at circles on a laptop screen — each one representing a student with a camera turned off. Surreal.

At the same time, I was parenting two kids. One was entering teenagehood.The pandemic catapulted his emotions into constant emotional turbulence.

None of it was easy. But compared to so many others that had it far worse, my family was lucky.

For that, I was grateful. But restless and anxious as hell.

So, in an effort to keep my sanity, I found solace in the outdoors. I took walks in the woods behind my home; I discovered gardening; I took pictures of sunsets; I soaked up sunshine whenever I could; I noticed the smell and the color of spring like I never had.

Outdoors I felt free. Like I could breathe.

So, as weeks of quarantine rolled into months, I found myself turning anew to music. Rediscovering it. Letting it saturate me like I once had as a teenager. And Tom Petty’s songwriting alchemy of hope and realism, of a search for refuge, spoke truth to me. So I dug deeper. Delved beyond his radio cuts. What was this album Wildflowers diehards spoke of? Was it really that amazing?

Wildflowers arrived with a humble brown cover. What to expect, I didn’t know. But I heard those opening acoustic notes on the title track, and was instantly entranced. Petty was speaking my language: Of finding peace amidst the chaos, of discovering tranquility in nature, of wanting to protect your loved one from turmoil, of deserving a place—and space—for freedom.

You belong among the wildflowers

You belong somewhere close to me

Far away from your trouble and worry

You belong somewhere you feel free..

This song? Love at first listen. My anthem. Just the call for sanctuary was enough to provide tranquility on some of those crazy mornings. I wasn’t alone.

How I missed this song in its prime, I’ll never understand. But somehow this song found me when I needed to hear it. Finding peace in a song about solace — while the outside world remains ablaze so many days—has been a beautiful find, much like a wildflower itself.

Thank you, TP.




Stereo Story #681

See also Learning To Fly. Story by Lauren Alex O’Hagan

After discovering the Beatles as a 1980s teenager, M.B. Donnelly discovered the joys of music and song analysis and never looked back. Finding music a sanctuary in a confusing world, M.B. is an American history teacher, often reflecting and writing on the intersection between culture and music.