FROM MAY 6, 2014
I’ve never been much on lyrics. I am more of a musical sound kind of guy. I listen to tunes and beats and riffs that sound good. If it sounds good, I really do not care what are the words being sung.
Easter Sunday morning, I woke up with an Elton John tune in my head. It played there over and over as I readied myself for work. It stayed with me while I drove in silent prayer that morning – my daily drive time ritual. On those drives, once I say, “Amen,” that’s my cue to turn on the radio for the second half of my drive to work.
That Easter drive was beautiful. The air was clean and crisp. The sun was bright, and it illuminated the promise of the day. It was a Godly day. A day to sow seeds. A day for rose trees to grow on every corner of every city on earth. When it came time on my drive to listen to tunes, I turned on my favorite Charlotte radio station. Between “Amen” and hitting the “on” button, that Elton John tune played in my mind one more time. Neither Elton nor Bernie Taupin had the musical or lyrical timing that I had on that morning. The first sound from my radio speakers that day was a continuation of the last musical phrase that I hummed to myself before turning on and hearing in real time “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters.”
“And now I know, ‘Spanish Harlem’
Are not just pretty words to say
I thought I knew, but now I know
That rose trees never grow in New York City.”
“Wow,” I said to myself. “God, what the hell does that mean?” I asked.
I decided to listen to a few more lyrics, hopefully to get a clue about all of this. Why on such a beautiful and thankful Easter day did those lyrics and that tune happen in such a way?
“New York City?”
Then I heard the words. And it all made perfect sense to me.
“Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true
You stand at the edge, while people run you through
And I thank the Lord, there’s people out there like you
I thank the Lord, there’s people out there like you.”
Decades of trash can dreams have come true for me. But I no longer stand at the edge. That boundary is where I live my every moment. And I thank the Lord for the edge he gave me. And for the answered dreams that led me here.
I have found some incredible people lately. New people. Folks with whom I work and share all that is within each of us. Visitors to my new place of work – folks who seek out just some gentle friendliness and a smile or two.
Old and dear friends have found their ways back into my life suddenly. With others who have always been with me, there seems to be these days a deepening of our mutual desires to continue the strength that kept us together for so long.
“And I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you.”
Yeah. This shit makes sense. Suddenly it does.
“While Mona Lisas and mad hatters, sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky, but they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light.”
I researched the song and the meaning of its lyrics. The writers of the articles that explained the meaning of the song seemed to all agree that it is a harsh and accurate description of the cold reality of a dark city like New York. That tone and direction were a bit of firsts for Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
But those writers were terribly wrong. Those lyrics are about so much more than one city.
Easter Sunday, I got it.
I worked all day that day. Every moment there at work were opportunities to worry and fret about not being with family, of toiling in self pity, and of breaking the back of this tired and feeble old man. It was the perfect setup to not really know if it was dark outside or light. To force me to turn around and say good morning to the night.
But with each moment I spent in that day’s sunshine, and with each new person I encountered, I lived. And I loved. Light was light, and darkness was but a distant and insignificant thought.
And damn. People responded. The people I found that day responded. We said good morning to the day. Each of us did.
And that day brought nothing but good mornings until well past the time the evening just had to conquer the light’s natural and normal fade. And force upon us all the comfort and simple understanding of all things natural.
When I was around six or seven years old, we lived in Roanoke, Virginia. My family and I attended the Airlee Court Baptist Church there. Reverend Sinclair was our minister. I very clearly remember wanting to be baptized by Reverend Sinclair in Roanoke. I think because my mom knew we would soon be moving to Jacksonville, Florida, she decided it was best to wait until after the move for such a major religious commitment on her son’s part. By the time we arrived in our new town and at our new church, the passion and urgency had left me. My new hero was Reverend Harvey Duke at the St. John’s Baptist Church in Jacksonville. And of course, Billy Graham. But by that time, all I wanted was to be moved in a huge way emotionally before giving myself to God. I wanted that one big moment. I wanted my own seeds to grow into blissful rose trees. And I waited for that moment. For the rest of Mama’s life, I waited for that moment.
It never happened.
My love of God, and my devotion and faith simply evolved from those early days. Never an earth-shattering revelation and declaration. I just moved on, understanding that for myself a demonstrative display of faith in such a public way would not at all alter my love, devotion and faith for and in God. I eventually found comfort in simply understanding what God expects of us.
But things were different for my mom. As faithful as she was to God, the poor woman often said good morning to the night. And when it came to my being baptized, Mama never could see the sky. She chose instead to blame herself for my not being “saved.” And that is why, in my eyes, she went to her grave not really knowing if it was dark outside or light.
I have one son – an endearing one. The kid has an extraordinary wife, and she has a nephew. My son has found some people, too. His wife’s mom and her mom. His wife’s sister and her two daughters and other son. And his wife’s grand-nephew. My kid has the sweetest, most beautiful step-daughter in his young life. And three of the most endearing young sons himself.
Easter Sunday night, I left work early to join my son and all of his people at their church. His wife’s grandmother lives in Texas. She was there in spirit. All of the others were at that church in full force.
“This Broadway’s got, it’s got a lot of songs to sing
If I knew the tunes I might join in
I go my way alone, grow my own
My own seeds shall be sown in New York City.”
When I walked alone into that sort of “mega church,” I was greeted with smiling lights from every human face I encountered. They didn’t know me. I was dirty and wearing work jeans and beaten up work boots. Reverends Sinclair and Duke might have winced at the sight of me. My son’s found people simply welcomed my presence, and encouraged me to sow my own seeds.
They had a lot of songs to sing at that service. Even had I known the tunes, I probably would not have joined in. I hate my voice. But I loved what I heard. And saw. And felt that evening.
When the indoor service ended Easter evening, things moved outside. There, at a beautiful pond on a slight hill just outside the doors of the church, folks gathered as the fading Sunday light began drifting toward and behind the tree-lined backdrop of all the new people in my son’s life. My son’s wife and her nephew visited that pond a few weeks ago. Easter night the pond belonged to my son. His step-daughter decided on her own that the pond belonged to her as well that evening. So did my son’s two oldest sons. The rest of us there knew that it belonged to us all.
My son was baptized in that pond on Easter night. His step-daughter and two of his sons joined my boy and were baptized themselves that evening. The hugs and the tears and the love that night seemed to hold in unlimited suspension the light that allowed us to live in the sky for such a brief moment while they forced away that moment’s night for a good while.
“Subway’s no way for a good man to go down
Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found.”
I didn’t go into the pond. I don’t need to. The people I have found give me my big moment every day. The people my son has found are sowing seeds that bring bliss and roses to everyone they encounter. Certainly to me and to Mama. Why would God expect anything more of us – than to simply know and love and understand the people we have found and with unlimited gratitude share with every new one we meet the simplicity and reality of the encounters?
I thank the Lord, there’s people out there like you.
All of you. Each of you. There is no darkness here. Only daylight.
And I thank God for letting me find y’all.
Mama. I see the sky. And it’s always light outside. All I have to do is look to all the people I have found. And all the folks your only grandson found.
And each and every one of us thank the Lord there’s people out there like you.
You did good, Mama.
Good morning to your day, dear woman.