I love live music. I love being in the room for those one of a kind moments that can’t be replicated. I saw Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and Buddy Miller a few summers ago on their “Sweet Harmony Musical Revue” tour. The evening was full of amazing things, but the hallmark was David Rawlings, who is known for his old school acoustic guitar, strapping on a Fender and tearing up the night with Buddy Miller. There aren’t any recordings, any YouTube videos (I checked); either you were there or you weren’t.
I was in Tarrrant County Convention Center when B. B. King opened for U2 and then came back out for the encore and they sang “When Love Comes to Town.” Some of that did end up on film, but not Bono turning to Edge as King left the stage and saying, “For a minute there I felt like a musician.”
Ginger and I sat in a small jazz club in Cambridge and heard Jimmy Webb sing “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman” and I understood those songs differently when he was finished.
For all the moments I’ve gotten to share, I’ve missed even more. For all the times I’ve seen Springsteen, including the last concert in the Boston Garden, I didn’t get to see him play Fenway Park and open the show with “Dirty Water.” I simply wasn’t there.
I’ve spent the day thinking about those being there moments because we got news this morning that Vera, one of the dear souls in Marshfield, died over the weekend. She was well into her nineties and full of great things. When I shaved my head during coffee hour as a youth mission trip fundraiser (talk about your being there moments), Vera kept a lock of my hair. I was not there when she died; I won’t be there for the funeral. It is the third significant funeral I’ve missed since we moved south. We shared seven years of unrepeatable life together with the folks at North Community. As I grieve those who have gone on, I also grieve not being there. I must also say the grief is matched with gratitude. Of all the days and all the places on earth, I got to spend seven years there, years filled with moments from mission trips to memorial services, coffee hours to confirmations, dinners and dances, smiles and tears.
When I used to walk the beach in Green Harbor looking for sea glass, I was often struck by the fact that I had to choose a path when I walked; I couldn’t cover the whole thing. Unless the shiny little piece of refuse happened to be in the path I chose, I didn’t find it. Conversely, had I chosen a different path, I would not have found the glass I brought home after each trip.
I’m in Durham now, so I don’t get to be in Marshfield for Vera’s funeral. My path leads me to different things, such as what I saw in church yesterday. We stood up to sing a hymn and Bella, a wonderful little girl stood up between her parents and put her arms around them as they sang. They returned the embrace and I couldn’t help but take a picture with my phone. It’s the kind of scene Vera would have liked.
In my youth ministry days, I worked hard to get every kid I could to go to youth camp or whatever retreat we had planned. Once the bus loaded, I chose to be content with those who attended and would tell them, “We will never again be this collection of people in this place at this time. Let’s make the most of it.” Over the years I’ve realized those retreats were no different than everyday life , which is a string of unrepeatable moments and gatherings, only a fraction of which I can attend. Billions of people have come and gone without my knowing them. Millions of concerts have played that I have not heard. And – in this giant universe – I got to be the one whom Vera asked to give her a lock of hair.
That’s the way love comes to town.
The first time I met Vera she told me that Molly was a very special name to her because her oldest best friends name was Molly Burke. I told her that I was named after my great Aunt Mary Burke who they called Molly. We were instant friends. Last summer, Vera asked me if I would plant her garden in front of her house. She reached into her purse and pulled out $100. bill, handed it to me and said, “I trust that you will pick out the most beautiful flowers”. I never heard the end of how beautiful those flowers were up until the day she died. In the hospital on Saturday I promised her that I would plant annuals in between the perennials when it got warmer. She knew I would! Often, when I would leave Vera’s house after a visit, I would tell her I loved her…I really did, we had shared a lot of stories and time together. She didn’t usually say I love you back, but I knew she did just by the way her eyes would brighten when I went to visit her. The day before she died, I was leaving ICU and told her I loved her. That time she said, “I love you too”. I’m so glad I went to see her that day instead of waiting until the next day. That would have been too late. On Sunday morning, five minutes before I went to church, I got a call that she had died. Another beautiful friend, gone. Thank God we have the memories.
Thank you for this. And I was there for the BB King/U2 moment too.