Remembering Susan Osborn

by Bryan Benepe

Special the Sounder

I have been invited to write about Susan Osborn.

As I sit at my desk, I start by wondering where she was born, when she got to Orcas, and about every band she was ever in. I wanted to know just how famous she was in Japan and America.

I’ve been on Google. Most of this is there. Most of the information. And it’s phenomenal — the catalog of music, the accomplishments, the fame, the musical legacy that has lifted the hearts of tens of thousands.

But tonight, this isn’t inspiring me. What is sticking in my mind is a small church in a small valley on a small island.

What follows is a picture of what I remember.

In the best of years, Old Man Winter has laid a soft blanket of snow across the gentle hill that leads down to the church. The last car has found a place to park. It is evident the couple leaving the car have been in love for many years. A leather glove holds a soft wool mitten with tenderness.

Because of the snow, all sounds are immediate. The intimate crunching of two pairs of footsteps going towards the door could be coming from anywhere.

Looking down on the church, one is allowed to enter the real world of a painting by Thomas Kinkade. The warm glow of candlelight comes through the windows and lands on the snow, making forgiving rectangles that have lost their sharp edges.

Inside, the last couple have found their seats. The chatter that is the nature of close friends and neighbors softens and silence is found.

Susan is standing at the altar. She is resplendent. She could be an actual angel. A prophet. A mystic.

And she smiles. And though there is no fireplace or heat in the chapel, hearts are warmed.

There are some instruments surrounding her: a guitar, a flute, and a hammer dulcimer. But the opening invocation will be a capella. Susan takes a deep breath, and 50 people hold theirs in anticipation.

When the first note arrives, it is so pure that there is a communal ache in the hearts as this wave of beauty washes over them. Some faces lift up, looking towards heaven. Other heads bow in a natural prayer that doesn’t depend on religion but on the simple faith that there is powerful goodness in the world, and they are in the presence of it.

Even under the heavy clothing that covers the arms, hair is standing on end. The hands of lovers intertwine. Children are not restless.

The music that flows from Susan is astonishing and yet comforting. It is being in the presence of genius that offers you a cup of hot cider with a stick of cinnamon to stir it.

This is the Christmas Concert in the Chapel in Victorian Valley. Susan will do this year after year for over twenty-five years. It will become historic.

When the last note of the evening softens to its release, no one will make a sound. They have just seen a glorious star go from one end of the sky to the other and want to stay in the moment as long as possible. Some are wiping away the last of their tears. The applause that follows is informed by the essence of the evening: gratitude, humility and wonder.

When people begin to stand, a line forms so that there can be some connection of thankfulness.

And Susan is no longer an Angel. She is a friend among friends, a neighbor among neighbors. If a hand is offered, she reaches to hold it. She is laughing quietly, she is laughing out loud.

This is Susan in the market. This is Susan at Lorna’s. This is Susan at the Living Room. This is Susan.

It would be silly to take away from Susan the humanity of anger, jealousy, or righteous indignation because she delighted in being human. She delighted in being part of humanity.

But it is rare to catch her in these moments, as it is not her natural state. Susan is kind. Susan is compassionate. Susan is nurturing. Susan is a resting place of peace. Susan is a funny, funny girl. Susan is a joy to behold.

Susan Osborn — born Feb. 26, 1950, died March 14, 2024.