Friday night I am going to see John Prine.
It’s an early birthday present, and a great one at that. My friend Terry is picking me up from work and we are driving over to Greensboro to soak up one of my songwriting heroes. Today at work at the computer store, I told a couple of people (much younger than I) what I was going to get to do and they asked, “Who is that?” Even after I mentioned “Angel From Montgomery” they still stared blankly. Not that I was surprised. The song had been out twenty years before they were born.
Last week, one of the managers came in beaming because he had been to see Third Eye Blind the night before and all I could think was, “How many times could they sing ‘Semi-Charmed Kind of Life’ to consider it a concert?” I told Dan, one who is closer to my age, what had happened and he and I spent the next hour talking about Prine and John Hiatt and Kris Kristofferson and Joni Mitchell and Nick Lowe and — well, you get the picture. When I left work, I said, “I’m going to have to go home and listen to old records.”
In one of the quiet moments in the store tonight toward the end of the evening, I heard the piano of “Linus and Lucy” drift down from the speakers in the ceiling and it made my heart smile. Everyone in the room knew the melody — and it’s probably older than “Angel from Montgomery.” Perhaps the musical connectedness, or lack thereof, stood out for me because I was looking for connections. Today was a heavy day. That’s the best word I know. The sadness sat on me like chainmail, like a lead coat. I was grateful for work because it gave me something to do, something to bounce off of. During my lunch hour, I read an essay from Wendell Berry’s What Are People For? in which he talked about the necessity of connectedness, of community to live with and live through tragedy and grief. In isolation, we are left bitterness and anger; in community we find the grace to keep going.
I came back to the store with about fifteen minutes left of my lunch hour and was sitting alone, by chance, in the break room when one of my coworkers who is both young and acquainted with grief came in and sat down beside me. “I know yesterday was four months,” she said, “and I just wanted to tell you I can see your sadness, and you’re getting through it better.” I found comfort in her words because she talked about getting through the day rather than getting over something.
Soon after Dad died, I got a note from another friend who spoke of her “fifteen minute life” after the death of her father. The grief was so heavy she found she could only cope in fifteen minute segments, so that’s what she did. Over time, her life grew to twenty minutes, then thirty, an hour, and a day. What I am learning over and over again is I need the companionship of John Prine and those who have never heard of him, of those who know the road I am walking and those who don’t yet know to get through the day.
The insidious lie of depression is that I am alone. The fundamental truth of grace is that I am not. Grace always has a face. And that I can hold on to, even when to believe in this living is such a hard way to go.