For two-and-a-half years, J. David Lind ’18 spent a couple hours every Friday afternoon volunteering at Ascend Hospice, where one of the patients was a woman named Ms. Patel. They would meet each week, and most of the time, they talked about family and her love for gardening, a hobby she’d since had to give up. Lind remembers vividly the last time they met. Things felt different. “We just held hands,” he says. “There was a lot more silence than normal.”
Soon after, during fall break of 2017, Lind (who performs music under the name J Lind) sat in a studio in Nashville preparing to record his song “Garden” when he received an email. Ms. Patel had passed away. When he landed in New Jersey a few days later, Lind drove straight to her funeral and met the family members he had heard so much about. The experience marked the start of a multi-year project for Lind — “Garden” is now one of seven songs on his new album inspired by his experiences as a hospice volunteer. For the past year, as a Martin A. Dale ’53 Fellow, he’s traveled across the country turning these stories into lyrics.
Lind, who studied philosophy and psychology on the pre-med track, was a volunteer and the campus liaison with Ascend, an activity he joined after performing concerts at elderly centers with Princeton Music Outreach. During one summer, Lind interned through Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) at a medical clinic in Nashville. The following summer, he worked in palliative care in New Delhi through Princeton’s International Internship Program. Lind knew that his background in medicine would lead him to work related to healing and “being a part of someone’s recovery process in some way,” he says. “All of these factors interact with my music and what I’m doing now.”
“When I think of healing in my own life — and I’ve been very fortunate, health-wise — I think about mental health and the role that music has played in consoling me,” he says. “There’s a real medicinal value to music in my head. Music and medicine aren’t disparate to me.”
His project included interviews with health care providers, nurses, and physicians, in which he asked for their perspectives as professionals working in the field. But most of last year was marked by playing music in one hospice center in Arizona. “Even if they’re not cognitively there, I’ll play music,” he says, explaining that he finds it sometimes difficult to maintain conversation with patients who have severe dementia. “It’s a really easy way to connect. Many times, that memory is much more preserved than anything else.” He pulls out his guitar and usually starts with a cover song.
Since April, Lind has performed around 60 concerts on tour, mostly for small groups and medical professionals. While he performs at hospitals, his songs are about more than palliative care. He says that most people wouldn’t initially recognize that his lyrics are about hospice patients. Instead, he connects personal experiences to universal messages. After concerts, someone almost always shares a story with Lind about how his songs resonated with them. Some even ask how they can become hospice volunteers.
While his Dale Fellowship is now complete and the album released, Lind is not finished. He plans to continue writing music and reaching new ears. “Financially, I’m very close to broke,” he says. “But I find enough meaning in those stories for now to keep at it.”
For What It’s Worth, Lind’s new album, was released Oct. 18. You can listen to it, as well as to his older music, at www.jlindmusic.com.