Things I Learned from R. B. (March 22nd, 2020)


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 8

The tour ended in a rather joyous splash.

Of the ten thousand original dollars offered by the investors, we were able to complete the entire project, travel all across the country and still return five thousand dollars to them.  It wasn’t great—but considering the industry of music and theater, not too bad at all.

The cast gave hugs, promised to write, took addresses, and in a matter of two hours, what began as a dream ended—leaving me with a deep sense of loneliness.

For me, it was not just the end of a tour. It was also the demise of the music group I had been traveling with for eight years. My partner from the inception had grown weary of pulling her makeup out of a suitcase and was going back to Ohio to begin the next chapter of her life. I didn’t have the heart to go on without her. Singing voices can be replaced, but memories and passion are rare and come at a premium.

On top of that, I was reunited with my two older sons, who were rather pissed because they had spent two months with their grandma—especially since the littlest one rattled on about stories from the road.

The rent was due, and the refrigerator needed to be filled. I had no money. Worse—I had no plan.

About five days after the tour disbanded, I was sitting in my small apartment in Nashville, musing my fate, when the phone rang.

It was R. B.

I had completely forgotten that he also lived in Nashville. He was calling to ask my advice on where to find a reasonably priced place to record some of the music he had written. This was back in the time when “reasonable” and “recording” were two words that couldn’t be used in the same sentence.

I was also a little needy to be needed.

So I offered to use my gear at church nearby, where the pastor and I were friends.  When we arrived, I asked R. B. to sing me his songs. There were six in all.

The problem with sitting and listening to a singer-songwriter is that he or she often feels the need to take ten minutes to explain the origin of their three-minute song. After about an hour-and-a-half, we finished, and R. B. asked me my opinion.

“There’s only one way you can tell if a song is any good,” I said. “Without hyping it, telling its story or sharing a tearful story, just play and sing it and see if people dig it—just for its own worth.”

R. B. frowned at me. Part of the frown was due to the fact that he didn’t know exactly what I meant, but most of it was caused by R. B. being very unfamiliar with criticism.

I listened to the songs individually one more time, and told him that of the six, there were two that people would enjoy hearing and other artists might like to sing.

That afternoon we recorded those two songs. I overlaid some piano, organ and vocals and did a quick mix on it over to cassette tape, so he could take it home and listen.

He was thrilled.

I must have gotten about seven calls in the next two days—R. B. pointing out things he had just discovered and expressing how grateful he was that I took the time to help him.

Meanwhile, I made a contact with a minister in Mobile, Alabama, who was just beside himself—overjoyed to have my wife, kids and myself come down and join the staff.

I had never done anything “churchy” before, but the opportunity came with a house, free utilities and a small salary. So I looked past my apprehensions.  I buried my dreams and made plans to move my entire entourage to Mobile, Alabama.

Shortly before we left, R. B. came to dinner and told us that he had just hired on with an electronics firm in Minnesota. We shook hands. I think he even mustered a hug.

As R. B. left, I remember thinking, “I’ll probably never see him again.”

 

Save Your Village… March 6, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog  

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puddle water

I like to go to public parks to work on my writings and stuff. The scenery, atmosphere and intrusive clatter–well, I find exhilarating. Yet you do have to share the space with every living creature who habitates within.

Such was the case yesterday when a guy named Bunky came into my three square feet.

He was thirty-one years old and just as slight as I am husky, and wiry as I am cumbersome. We shared very little in common, but since proximity dictated either conversation or further social distancing, I jumped in.

Once I made my preliminary inquiries about his well-being, Bunky launched into a thirty-minute discourse on his life. Here are the highlights:

He had a nineteen-year-old girlfriend who is a junkie and needed him to go to work every day to get the money for her fix, so that she would not become violent and attack him. (In alternating presentations, she was referred to by Bunky as “lover, friend, enemy and bitch.”)

He had once been in a gang–I think it was the Crips–and told me he had killed a man, although he eyeballed me carefully to see if I was questioning his credibility. I didn’t. I saw no reason to authenticate a tale in progress.

He talked to me about the use of marijuana being helpful in relieving his back pain, brought on by years of working on cars, lying flat down on the hard concrete.

I wasn’t sure how long he was going to share, or if there would be a stopping point whatsoever–until his friends showed up. And then what had been a very intimate exchange was terminated as he rose to his feet, accepting the invitation of one of his cohorts, to go to another bench where they could smoke.

As quickly as it began it was over.

Being raised in a spiritual climate, I incriminated myself that I had not more sufficiently impacted Bunky’s world. It’s what we do best, you know. As human beings, we often “strain at the gnat and swallow the camel.” We criticize ourselves for what we don’t accomplish, while simultaneously failing to achieve what is set before us as our daily bread.

Let me share with you candidly, which is always my goal:

  • You are not going to change the world.
  • Jesus Christ didn’t do that.
  • He was smart enough to leave behind an example of exactly how things work.
  • Start where you are.

For you see, Bunky is not my problem There are many more qualified people to share, care and be aware of him than me. Here’s what I’m supposed to do:

  1. Find my village.
  2. Teach my village.
  3. Save my village.
  4. Let it travel.

I raised six boys in my household. For a brief period of human time, these young men sat at my table and listened to me expound on life. They also watched carefully to see if I followed up with my own choices. They were my village.

Also within that village was a handful of friends and comrades. They, too, were exposed to my experience.

I didn’t worry about changing a whole town, state or country. I found my village, I taught my village, I saved my village and then I let it travel.

Those young men met women and now their influence spreads from Miami to China to New York to Nashville to Dallas to Los Angeles. with films, music, business, ministry, recording, procreating and acting.

While some folks encourage me to spread out my influence as far as I possibly can, I would much rather have a thick spreading of peanut butter on a cracker than a thin application on a four-foot-long piece of French bread.

It’s simple–stop trying to change the world. Stop criticizing yourself for being ineffective.

  • Find your village, teach your village, save your village–then let it travel.

And always remember–leave your image in the puddle provided.

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The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Click for details on the SpirTed 2014 presentation

Click for details on the SpirTed 2014 presentation

Please contact Jonathan’s agent, Jackie Barnett, at (615) 481-1474, for information about scheduling SpiriTed in 2014.

click to hear music from Spirited 2014

click to hear music from Spirited 2014

25 Smackabonies… January 16, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

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I'M book coverIt takes two different desires to write a book. Well, at least it should:

  • First, a vision of something to say.
  • And second, an arrogance that you actually have a right to say it.

I decided I wanted to write a novel. It went swimmingly until I splashed down in self-doubt.

What you may not know about the writing process is that you pen many, many pages which will never be used or are simply edited down in your completed manuscript.

Mine was a simple telling of the “greatest story ever told.” I wrote a first-person account of the life of Jesus–him telling his own story–including possible scenarios of what may have happened during “the missing years”–between the ages of twelve and thirty.

In 1993, I reached a juncture in the story where I was about to enter the last days of his life. I stalled. I didn’t want to write something predictable. I didn’t want to share the story of the final moments in the life of Jesus of Nazareth in a traditional way.  So I did what all writers do when they’re poised at a fork in the road.

I stopped.

My two oldest sons, who had just moved to Nashville and started working, were greatly concerned. They loved the book and wanted to see me finish it. So unbeknownst to me, they found an empty apartment in our complex which was fully furnished and was rented out to visiting parties for $25 a night. They rented one day’s lodging for me.

This was quite an achievement. It cost twenty-five dollars–hard-earned money they really didn’t have. (We jokingly referred to dollars as “smackabonies.”)

They came to me, handed me the key, and said, “Dad, get away. Go write.”

I was moved by their generosity, but was also fighting a severe bout with a urinary infection at the time. I had a sting in places on my body which were never meant to be stung. But rather than disappoint them, I took my old manual Royal typewriter with  an “a” key which failed to finish its bottom, and headed off for the seclusion.

I have honestly never had such a transforming experience. Sick, with a mild fever, in great pain, I sat behind that typewriter and hammered out seventy-five pages of my book, taking me through the betrayal, the trial, the crucifixion and the resurrection of my dear friend.

It was amazing.

The pain I felt only helped to feed the passion of the moment. Page after page flowed from me, almost like automatic writing, if there is such a thing.

I don’t know what my sons expected, but when I walked out the next morning with nearly ninety fresh pages of my book, they were in tears. They spent the next several hours reading the fruit of my labors and the grapes of their generosity.

It was just 25 smackabonies, after all.

But to them it was a gold mine. And to me it was a treasure chest.

I have never forgotten it. And it makes me realize that the greatest accomplishment in life is discovering that God, your friends and your family not only love you … but are prepared to invest in you. 

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Click for details on the SpirTed 2014 presentation

Click for details on the SpirTed 2014 presentation

Please contact Jonathan’s agent, Jackie Barnett, at (615) 481-1474, for information about scheduling SpiriTed in 2014.

click to hear music from Spirited 2014

click to hear music from Spirited 2014

Musing City USA … November 20, 2012

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Just about a third of my life.

Driving down I-65 South yesterday heading to Nashville, I realized I had spent twenty years–in two stints–living in the country music mecca. It gave me pause–because I am not a country music artist, nor really am I what you would call a conventional gospel picker. I am just kind of my own thing, which is often the best excuse for being truly erratic. So I had to ask myself, how did I end up spending so much of my life in this Tennessee capital?

Growing up in Central Ohio, I had a predilection for gospel music, so it did seem logical to me, when I graduated from high school, to at least take a stab at where such sounds were not only permissible, but promoted.

I remember the first time I drove into Nashville and went to Dickerson Pike–to Jimmy Snow’s church. Jimmy Snow is the son of Hank Snow, a legend in the business. I was a punky, inexperienced yokel–but you see, I had this new song, called Resurrection Day, and I decided to perform it with my nervous little green combo–and received a standing ovation from the audience.

I recall the first time I drove to Hendersonville, Tennessee, to record at the House of Cash, and during the session for our album, Johnny, himself, walked in, introduced himself, and struck up more than a polite conversation with us bunch of confirmed nobodies.

I had to laugh to myself when I considered the number of times I walked up and down Music Row, from one publisher to another, sharing my songs with bored office employees, who more often than not, found a bit of glee in dashing my hopes with negative comments.

Then I remembered meeting Dottie Rambo. Dottie was that beautiful combination of earthy, spiritual and humorous which rarely comes our way in the human family and should always be treasured. She loved me–plump bundle of insecurity that I was–and even graciously recorded one of my songs on her album. It’s quite an astonishing honor to have one of the greatest gospel songwriters cover your tune.

Then there was Marijohn Wilkin, who wrote One Day at a Time. She was my mentor and friend. She recorded an album for me that enabled me to chart on the religious radio stations.

Taking another trip up to Hendersonville, my van passed by the city park, where we took a 25-piece orchestra called the Sumner Pops, of our own founding, and in the presence of five thousand folks, put on a July 4th show, melding local talent and our ability at arranging and conducting.

There isn’t a school I pass on the way in that doesn’t conjure a memory of a performance, in which we took a very special show to the young humans, encouraging them to be creative and open-hearted to their fellow-man.

I had a house on Bayshore Drive, where I built a swimming pool, a couple of additions, a circular driveway and tossed in a gazebo. Of course in the long run, it was rather ludicrous, because nomads like myself make very poor landlords. We’re just better with sheep and goats.

Yet in that city, I wrote ten books, recorded fifteen Cd’s and penned thirteen movies. It was a strange sensation to return to Music City after all my touring this year. I’m coming back to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family, which is congregating like a bunch of misguided birds to a location where we can nest and fellowship for a few days.

But as I drove into town, I thought to myself, “I lived here for one-third of my life, but it was never my home.”

The realization did not sadden me. Nashville is a place where I built a house of faith. Sometimes that’s the best we can do, folks. We may not be able to change the world or even redecorate the rooms. The best we can do is leave clear evidence of what we thought was important, what we believed and how fruit was born through our lives.

Nashville was never my home. I saw too much of the underbelly of lingering prejudice and false piety for me to ever embrace the community and kiss it square on the mouth. I saw a false sense of security over Southern hospitality, which was often dished out in sparing helpings to those who had stood in line the longest. I experienced a reluctance to change, simply because the word connoted something other than the fraternity philosophy. I always loved the people, I just didn’t always buy in to the pills that were being swallowed.

It’s good to be back, though. It festers memories, good and bad, joyous and sad, but in all cases, earth-shaking and ultimately fulfilling.

I would like to have been closer to this town where I hung my hat for so many years but I always found it a bit difficult to join into “whistling Dixie”–and maybe it’s just not in my character … to “look away.”

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Song Guy … July 28, 2012

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I didn’t know what an ordination was. Probably worse is–I didn’t care. It’s just that this guy I knew was going to be ordained and he asked our fledgling group, Soul Purpose, to sing a tune at his ordination service.

He was probably only twenty-seven years old, but because I was only twenty, I thought he was ancient. (Twenty is that age when anyone nineteen or under is a punk and anyone over twenty-three is heading for social security.

I am sure when this guy asked me to have our group sing, he was thinking about something like Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art. That was not the way I thought. Even though I was only twenty years old, I had already written two songs, recorded them, put them on a 45 RPM record and had begun to travel around to small coffeehouses and area churches in order to convince all those willing to listen that I was worth hearing. So the invitation to sing a tune at the ordination prompted me to write another song. Now, I lived in a small town, where song-writing was normally relegated to Francis Scott Key or George Gershwin. Young men from the community–especially those who had not gone to college–were not permitted to participate in such a flamboyant activity. So the mention of writing a song was usually greeted with a frown or a snicker. It just wasn’t done.

So when I announced to my friend that I was going to write a special song just for his ordination, he was rather nervous. Matter of fact, he discouraged me from doing so in the nicest way possible. I didn’t care. You see, I wanted to be a Song Guy. One of those people who writes “the songs the whole world sings” and “wants to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”

So I sat down and wrote a song, fittingly entitled To Be Ordained, taught it to our group and performed it at the ordination, to surprised appreciation. I had now written three songs and was convinced that Bob Dylan was in danger.

Shortly after that I was inspired again and wrote a fourth song, called The Blood of the Son Makes Us One. About two or three months after writing that song, I attended a concert by a well-known gospel group called The Rambos, and through a series of near-mishaps and unbelievable events, got them to listen to my song. They ended up liking it. They signed it and decided to record it. I was amazed at how easy this was. I had only written four songs and I was already poised to become the next great Song Guy.

And then … I learned what I probably should have known (but of course, I wouldn’t have known it because there was no place for me to have learned it).

I arrived in Nashville to present my song in front of the music publishers, and they, being good business people, wanted to hear my “entire catalogue.” You may not know this, but those picky folks in Nashville don’t consider four songs to be a catalogue. I was in a room with a captive audience of very influential and prosperous men and women, who were anxious to hear the entire body of my work, and I didn’t even have a thumb.

It was embarrassing. It was debilitating. They wanted more … and I had nothing.

You see, I realized in that moment that I didn’t want to be a Song Guy. I wanted to be a guy who wrote A song that made lots of money and then everybody just kept giving him money because he wrote THAT song. I became aware that I had been trained to work on what I wanted to BE instead of actually practicing and performing what I could DO.

It is one of the flaws in the American dream. AFter all, the hypocrisy and presumption is in the title itself. It is a dream–a fantasy of where we want to end up, with no comprehension about what it takes to get there and even less passion for the actual labor itself.

I walked out of that office in Nashville that day resolute. I would never put myself in that position again. I realized that I DID want to be a Song Guy, but not because I wanted to be recorded, make a lot of money and be famous. It was because I really had something to say. And whether anyone ever heard it or not, it needed to escape my body–or it would possess my soul.

Within two years, I wrote an album’s worth of material, which ended up being recorded and played nationally. I then turned around and wrote a fifteen-song musical based on the Sermon on the Mount which toured across the country. When I got together with my family, I wrote at least three albums of songs, which we never actually recorded, and even today, I feel compelled to compose enough music for at least one album per year.

I actually have less attention to my work than I did when I had my four little songs at age twenty, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t write music, books or even this jonathots because I am secretly awaiting the arrival of fame and fortune. I write music because deep in my heart I want to be the Song Guy. I have to allow the music to escape.

The greatest lesson you can teach any young person (or even yourself if you missed it on the way to older) is: Don’t think about what you want to be. Just start working on what you can do. It may be the flaw in our higher educational system. We ask people what they want to be when they grow up instead of giving them a chance to do it and finding out if it wears well on their everyday bodies.

I am a Song Guy. I don’t worry about whether I’m great. I’m not concerned about sitting in rooms with the upper crust of the music industry, seeking their approval. I write songs because they’re in me, I have something to say … and God seems to enjoy listening to them.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Perform like you do while acting like you don’t … July 7, 2012

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She laughed at me.

She enjoyed doing that. Since I was only twenty-three years of age, I often made naive observations about life that caused her to chuckle vigorously, while maintaining a generous attitude. Of course, I was a boy from Central Ohio who had only recently moved to Music City U.S.A. and she was a well-seasoned veteran of the Nashville industry.

On this particular occasion, though, I produced a giggle-fest in her because in passing conversation, I informed her that I occasionally went to a nearby steakhouse situated in the proximity of Music Row because I’d heard that the restaurant was a frequent hangout of country music stars. It seemed right to me–because the wall of the establishment was completely covered with signed photographs from these luminaries. After she got done nearly choking on her laughter, she said, “Listen, Jonathan. If you were a country music star would you really want to go eat your lunch at a place where your ugly mug stared down at you the whole time? And why would you want to sip your coffee to the probing eyes of a whole room of strangers?”

It gave me pause for thought.

So one day at lunchtime, she decided to take me over to a real eatery–where the people who were “in the know” went to acquire their noonday sustenance. It ended up being a little cafe stuck in the back of an old, nearly abandoned hotel that barely had enough room in it for fifteen tables. It wasn’t fancy and from looking at the menu, it appeared that the only items for consumption seemed to be various incarnations of chicken fried steak.

But the room was chock-full of country music stars, actors and well-known personalities of all sorts and sizes. Matter of fact, the first two people I saw as I walked in the door were Tennessee Ernie Ford and Andy Griffith. They were just sitting there, chompin’ away and smiling, almost like they were on the set in Mayberry. My dear lady who had brought me to this experience didn’t miss a beat, walking right over to Mr. Ford and Mr. Griffith, striking up a conversation and turning my way, a little perturbed that I hadn’t followed her and seemed to be stuck in cement somewhere near the door. She motioned for me to come over, and I timidly made my way to her side.

Andy Griffith, Tony Award-nominated and Emmy A...

Andy Griffith, Tony Award-nominated and Emmy Award-nominated American actor, producer, writer, director and Grammy Award-winning southern gospel singer. Image taken as President George W. Bush presents him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She introduced me to Tennessee Ernie Ford and I stuck out my hand as a greeting. He looked down at his own paw and said, “I’d shake your hand, son, but mine’s covered with gravy.”

Apparently I was temporarily inspired with a burst of courage, so I responded, “That’s okay. It’ll give me a chance to taste the cuisine before I order.”

He thought this was hilarious. Andy Griffith even laughed. I was on a roll, so intelligently I excused myself and found a table.

While I waited for my benefactress to join me, I looked around the room. Famous people as far as you could see, which, since the room was less than two thousand square feet, wasn’t really that extensive.

I watched them. They all had one thing in common and many things different. They had all succeeded in finding something they could do that other people wanted to buy, which had surprisingly made them well-known. But other than that, they were just human beings acting out their own particular agenda. Some were nice; some were friendly; some were quiet. Others were boisterous and loud. Some treated the waitress with respect, others bellowed out their need for more catsup. There was nothing really different here in the realm of the human family–just people who got paid a whole lot more money to do what they did, while still being who they were.

My dear friend joined me and several other famous individuals came up to the table, including Mel Tillis, Waylon Jennings, Jessie Coulter, Hank Snow and Ray Stevens. Each one of them had a kind word for my lady producer, and turned to me and graciously informed me that I was in good hands.

After I had crunched down a particularly well-fried piece of simulated steak, I told my friend, “You know what I learned today?”

She shook her head, curious. I continued. “I learned that fame is just another cross to bear, that can either take you to glory or just leave you hanging in the air, dying a little bit as the whole world watches.”

She sat quietly and didn’t respond. After a few moments, she put down her fork and replied, “So what are you gonna do about it? I mean, if you ever get to a position where people know your name and think you hung the moon?”

I thought for a long moment, looked around the room at all the folks who had achieved success, and said, “I think the key is in performing like you do while acting like you don’t. I’ve got it figured this way–when the spotlight hits you in life, you should be ready to give your very best, without timidity, anguish or any intimidation at all. But when the spotlight turns off, you should leave the stage humble, not quite sure who that person was that performed all those antics, and walk out to be among your brothers and sisters believing that you’re blessed to have survived that scrutiny–and not quite sure how you’d ever be able to do it again. That’s the key. Because when you begin to believe that what you do makes you better than other people, you really lose the meaning of why you do it. The real reason for talent is to encourage somebody else to live on a little happier and find their own abilities.”

Tears filled her eyes. It was one of those sweet moments that demanded more than milk gravy. But we still made do.

I never forgot that day. Just because you’ve found something you can accomplish on a regular basis doesn’t make you special–unless it blesses other people. So when you’ve done your little tap dance, sit down, relax–and humbly join the human family.

   

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

MJ …

Question 3: Can I keep going if it doesn’t get better?

April 27, 2012

 

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity.

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I met her quite by accident.

I had finally manipulated my way into getting a guest spot on the Teddy Bart Show in Nashville, Tennessee. It was one of those regional talk shows common in the 1970′s and had quite a following in a three or four state area. At least, that’s my memory. The show had never invited a gospel group onto perform before, so it was quite a victory to be appearing on the venue.

It was great. After the performance, I received a phone call from some unknown gentleman who told me that he was a representative for Marijohn Wilkin. I knew the name because she was a fairly well-known songwriter at the time, having just penned, performed and promoted the songs, One Day at a Time (Sweet Jesus) and I Have Returned.The man on the other end of the line said that he had set up a meeting for me with Ms. Wilkin for that very afternoon. He gave me directions and informed me that I needed to be there promptly at 1:30 P.M.

Well, you can imagine–I was thrilled. I had gone from being a Central Ohio boy whom nobody liked because I wouldn’t “work a job” and persisted in pursuing music, to being a fellow who had a group that won some contests, transforming into a bit older guy who had one of his songs signed by a group called The Rambos–a popular gospel group at the time. And now, having just appeared on the Teddy Bart Show, I was being pursued by a successful artist and writer for further consideration.

So as requested, promptly at 1:30 P.M., I, along with my group, arrived at Buckhorn Publishers on Music Row in Nashville, walking in the door like I kind of owned the place and announcing myself to the secretary. She stared down at her appointment book in bewilderment, disappeared into a nearby office and I realized there must be some problem. After what seemed to be an interminable delay, a slight woman finally appeared from the inner office, wearing a scarf on her head, dangling earrings and greatly resembling a gypsy princess. Her voice was husky–like she had been up for two or three nights straight, screaming at a parcel of kids. She was a bit gruff, so she kind of scared me, but through the hoarse voice and gruff mannerisms, I received an invitation to come into her office with my group.

She proceeded to explain that no appointment had been made for us and that the gentleman who called on the phone was an old alcoholic buddy of hers who occasionally pranked innocent boys and girls from Ohio who came to Nashville looking for fame and success, throwing her name around to make himself look important. I was humiliated–devastated. I was in a strange lady’s office who had the entire garb and persona to cast a spell on me.

She didn’t. Instead, she asked to hear our music. We stayed there for the next four hours and talked, laughed and cried. She became my friend. She was my producer. I spent hours and hours at her lovely home on the outskirts of Nashville, talking about music, playing music, meeting famous people and swimming in her pool–warmed to a perfect 98.6 degrees.

I remember many things about that experience, but one of the things I will always take with me is that Marijohn would occasionally fall apart. She wouldn’t show up at work and they would tell me that she was at home, trying to get over “a spell.” When I inquired further, I was given no information, and the attitude was that I should keep my nose to myself. I don’t do that very well, so I decided to drive out one time during one of those spells, to find out what was actually going on. During the drive, I had all sorts of imaginations–drug addiction, alcoholism, and … well, I was young. My brain went kind of nutzoid.

When I arrived, she was alone in her living room with her legs propped up–reading. She welcomed me in and I knelt down next to her, took her hand and asked, “Marijohn, what’s wrong with you?”

She quietly set her book aside and removed her reading classes, looked me in the eye and said, “Son, I have cardiovascular disease. Every once in a while it just hurts to move, think and breathe, and if I just shut down for a season, I appear to get better.”

I asked her if there was anything they could do. She said they were doing that–and more–but still, there were times where nothing worked as well as general “stoppage.” She also said she used those times to write, think and pray–and to look deeply into her soul. She jokingly told me that without the cardiovascular disease she might avoid all of those things.

I felt like I had stepped on holy ground. The room was so quiet, so preciously charged with spiritual energy, that I was unworthy to be there and was an interruption instead of a blessed presence of visitation. She sensed my awkwardness and said, “I’m glad you came. But you must understand–if it weren’t for this problem I have, I would never have written One Day at a Time (Sweet Jesus). I may have never have written anything at all. I would not call this condition my friend, but it is an enemy that fools me from time to time by providing me with unexpected gifts.”

I excused myself, went out and got into my beat-up Volkswagen Beetle with the dent in the nose and headed back to Nashville. I learned something that day. Here was a woman who had no particular prospects of her situation ever getting better, who ignored bitterness, rejected complacency and eschewed self-pity–to continue to produce the gift that life had provided for her.

Since that day, my youthful frame has gained miles of carriage usage. I, too, have developed pains. I, too, have acquired “spells.” And every time I am accosted with my own mortal aching, I remember that morning in that living room, where I knelt by the side of a brave woman who looked on her affliction as an affection that lured her towards beauty.

I try to do it myself. I try to be brave. I try to put my feet up and let life go by for a few minutes, so that God can come in for just a little while.

Marijohn lived for many years. I suppose the cardiovascular disease finally caught up with her and took her for one eternal “spell”–to a place where she could perpetually be creative. I suppose that will happen to all of us eventually.

Until then, our only job remains to keep going–even if it doesn’t get better.

 

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