Things I Learned from R. B. (May 24th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4419)

Episode 16

For nearly five months, I had been squirreling some money away, trying to fund an idea I believed needed to be pursued.

It was time.

Whatever inspiration had once possessed the soul of our family—to travel across the country, working, living and making music together—had gradually dissipated down to a stream of loyalty and an irritating question.

If we weren’t doing this, what in the hell would we do?

My wife mustered the energy to be happy, but certainly had lost the desire to schedule, travel and perform.

My sons were thrilled to be brothers, enjoined with me, but knew deep in their hearts that the “call of the mild” must replace the “call of the wild.”

They needed lives of their own.

This would take money.

I knew it was foolish to announce to the family my campaign. It just might make them fearful that if they ate an extra apricot, they were destroying our future.

So I kept it private.

After five months, I had a small sum I was grateful for—but knew it was nowhere in the ballpark of fulfilling the need.

We were traveling across the panhandle of Florida, heading toward Jacksonville when I said a very simple prayer.

“Dear Lord, I’ve painted myself into a corner. Either help the paint to dry quickly or direct me clearly on how to leap out of my predicament.”

Also, it had become more difficult to acquire schedulings. It takes a lot of passion to convince somebody of what you want to do—and honestly, people were not quite as open to being convinced.

So in late August, in boiling hot Jacksonville, we succeeded in getting one booking for the week–on the Sunday night.

One opportunity to pay our way.

One mission field.

One audience.

I came to a decision before we rolled up to our engagement.

“Whatever we have at the end of tonight I will use to set us up somewhere and give my sons the chance to launch their own lives.”

Yet I was discouraged when I arrived and realized we were at a church that only had fifty people on a Sunday night—a black church, which meant we might have to wade through some resistance.

It’s not that black churches were difficult, but sometimes, because of the nature of the South and memories of segregation, the parishioners wondered why a white family was coming to a black church instead of sharing their talents with white folk.

I put those thoughts out of my mind, making sure they were busy elsewhere. Instead, I took a count of my situation.

I felt I needed three thousand dollars to settle in.

With some amazing blessings from the previous two weeks, I had managed to collect $1434 in cash.

That night, when the pastor introduced me and I stepped in front of an audience of forty-two people, the calculator in my brain boiled over with frustration.

I needed to make about thirty-five dollars a person to get my nest egg.

Now, I am not negative by any stretch of the imagination but am also not a fool. I don’t know whether I could have pulled a gun and gotten thirty-five dollars a person out of the gathering. There were several souls who might have needed me to donate to them.

But no matter.

Whatever happened, I was going to take the whole family to our next destination and do the best we could.

We would no longer be “on the road again.”

Over the years I have experienced some magical nights, yet none to compare with the warmth and tenderness exchanged in that sanctuary.

About halfway through I realized that these strangers had decided to become one with us, and we, likewise, one with them.

We laughed.

We cried.

We sang nearly every song we could play.

At the end the pastor stood and took up the offering.

I was astounded when he handed me $1,433.

Now, I will not tell you that I should ever have taken my family on the road. I also will not lie to you and say that everything I did on that journey was well-thought-out or appropriate.

But the science of our music, the Mother Nature of what apparently was a good season, and the humanity of this congregation launched us to our new beginnings.

The next morning as I drove north, I explained what I envisioned for us to do as a family.

They were relieved.

They didn’t act that way—there were some tears of regret.

But there were also some shouts of “hallelujah” over the new possibility.

To avoid a motel room, we drove all the way into Nashville, Tennessee, and in just three hours, located a new apartment.

We spent that first night sleeping on the floor of our new home.

The next four days were nothing short of miraculous.

My sons got out, secured social security numbers, found jobs and set in motion getting drivers’ licenses.

It all fell in place—mainly because I felt as if I was no longer forcing the direction. Rather, the passions of my children were driving the solution.

I hooked up a phone—landline. Two hours later it rang.

It was R. B., calling from Tacoma.

I don’t know how he knew we were coming to Nashville or how he successfully tracked down our phone number so quickly.

He did a little hemming and he did a little hawing, and somewhere in between, I got the idea that he had hatched his own plan.

He needed his own miracle.

Sensing his frustration and his desperation, I said, “Hey, buddy, why don’t you just move to Nashville? It’s where you started. It’s where we met—and it’s where they make music. How can you lose?”

Two weeks later, driving a car that should not even have been on the road, he arrived, found a small one-room apartment and settled in.

We were in the same community again, with even less in common.

Still, all in all, it was better for both of us than where we found ourselves short weeks before.

Things I Learned from R. B. (May 17th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4412)

Episode 15

I excused myself from the table, walked through the lobby and out the front door to catch a breath of the frigid night air.

It was December 18th—my birthday.

I was at Captain John Longhollow’s Seafood House, courtesy of an invitation from R. B.

He explained that it had been a tough year for him, without employment, and he wanted to honor me with a dinner, but hoped I would accept it as his entire gift to the whole family–for Christmas also.

I agreed.

I was upset with the situation. It wasn’t that I wanted anything from R. B. for Christmas, nor did I think he should scrape together nickels to get drugstore toys for the full-grown kids. I just didn’t want to know his reasoning. I didn’t want a generous act to seem like a banking decision.

I didn’t say anything because I knew it was silly and childish on my part, but as the dinner conversation drifted away from our friendship and settled in on his airplane trip back home to Rhode Island for Christmas, I just needed to get away.

So as I stood there in the night, musing my fussiness, the heavens suddenly opened and a beautiful snow began falling to Earth. It was like huge cornflakes being poured into an ample bowl on breakfast morning.

Tears came to my eyes because I had been given grace to continue my delusion. For years, I had surmised that snow was delivered every birthday—a gift of God, offered for my enjoyment from the graying skies.

I stood in the snow until its dampness chilled me. Then I strolled inside, noticing that all the patrons had their noses pressed up against the glass windows—like children peering into a snow globe.

Everyone, that is, but R. B.

He was struggling through his salad course with a frown on his face, as if saddened that he had spent so much money and depleted his funds beyond the practical.

I was so enthralled by my birthday snow—and so hungry—that I sat down with great civility and ended up enjoying our evening. It had been months since I had seen R. B., so I decided to be grateful instead of resentful.

A lady entered the restaurant and explained that the snow was falling quite heavily, and that in no time at all the Tacoma road crews would be unable to keep up.

R. B. ignored the warning and ordered a sherry to finish off his dinner. He offered me the same, confident that I would pass. After he finished his liqueur, we headed toward the car.

He wanted me to drive.  We were not far from my home—perhaps ten minutes on a normal day—but on this night, we drove for an hour-and-a-half and still hadn’t reached our destination.

There was one final large hill to ascend—which had turned into an ice rink. Vehicles were sliding and bumping all over the place.

I realized we weren’t going to make it up, so I let the car go as far as it was willing to travel before sliding backwards. I then turned the wheel to the left and went to the other side of the road. I let the car gingerly bump up against a fence, where it settled in place.

R. B. expected that I would turn around and try the hill again, but his car’s tires were too bald and there was no way to gain the traction to perform the ascent. So after sitting for five minutes in the ever-chilling car, I explained to him that the best thing to do was bundle up, leave the vehicle and walk the rest of the way—a little less than a mile.

R. B. didn’t like the idea. He kept insisting that he was certain we could make it up the hill.

I should have let him try.

I should have kept my mouth shut.

I should have given him his rightful position as owner of the vehicle to do what he wanted.

But I was cold and the lobster I had just eaten lay bitter in my stomach. I tucked the keys into my pocket, got out of the car and started walking. R. B. stumbled from the vehicle, screamed at me, but still followed.

It took a little while to get home. R. B. wanted to argue in the middle of the blizzard, but finally we arrived at my doorstep and climbed into the house, greeted by the bubbling of youthful energy from my children, screaming in delight about the precipitation.

We joined together in the living room and lit a fire to warm the house, as we continued to stare at the beautiful, heavenly flurries.

After about an hour, R. B. thought he might walk back to his car and try to get himself home. I could tell he was completely uncomfortable being with us. It made me sad and mad all at the same time.

Even when we started singing Christmas carols, he was fidgety and kept looking out the window, saying over and over again, “I think it’s clearing.”

Disgusted, he finally stood to his feet and headed to the door.

I had to make a decision. Would I let him do what he wanted to do—knowing how unsafe, dangerous or even deadly it was?

I probably should have honored his autonomy and his human choice.

But I had watched for four months while he deteriorated, lost his way, failed to get employment and acted and dressed more and more like a derelict.

Right or wrong, I made a stand, and explained that we would not allow him to leave because it was dangerous. He cursed me, became violently angry and stood over me, screaming his defiance.

My kids were scared.

I think my wife was waiting for me to kill him—because she had selected where to bury the body. But I let him yell while standing my ground.

Not only did R. B. have to sleep in our house that night, but the blizzard was so massive that the community shut down. The airport was closed, so R. B. was unable to go to Rhode Island for his Christmas holiday.

We invited him to stay, which he did—but he was really never there.  Over and over again he explained that it “just didn’t seem like Christmas” without being back home in Providence.

Our little family worked awfully hard to change our surroundings into R. B.’s childhood memory.

It got better. He calmed down.

He started singing with us.

He helped make Christmas treats.

And by Christmas Eve, it seemed like he had settled his soul and was just a little bit grateful to be safe and warm.

Realizing that we didn’t have gifts for him, on Christmas Eve morning I asked my two older boys to hike up the hill to the bus stop. I gave them forty dollars to buy “R. B.-type” gifts. I also gave them ten dollars for lunch.

They were thrilled. They returned early evening and placed their purchases into the garage, where my wife wrapped them up for Christmas morning.

About 7:40 A.M., we awoke R. B., who overnight had uncovered a fresh batch of grumpiness, but quickly changed his mind when he realized there would be presents under the tree just for him.

It was an unexpected Christmas.

R. B. laughed. I had never heard him quite as tuneful in his voice and open in his spirit.

The next morning, the roads cleared, and R. B. walked to his car.

I didn’t hear from him for almost three months. I pursued contact, but every time I left a message, he never returned the call.

Yet, that year we had a Christmas that was planned by the snow from Heaven. It was significant, it was enlightening, it was surprising, and it was God-like. As it turned out, that was the last time I got to see R. B. in Tacoma.

In May, when I told him we were moving on down the road to brighter prospects, he grunted—and wished us his best.

Things I Learned from R. B. (May 3rd, 2020)


Jonathots Daily Blog

(4399)

Episode 13

Not every door is an opening to happiness, but instead. can be a passageway to a cave with no exit—a darkened confinement.

After three-and-a-half years of traveling with the family, we found ourselves ricocheting from one miracle to another.

Although miracles have a glorious side, they also warn of an inconsistent living pattern, which requires grace to be poured out in barrels instead of cups.

Our journey became irresponsible.

Even though we tried to remain pure in heart, it was becoming difficult to see God. We were truly poor in spirit but bewildered by our insolvency.

We certainly set our goals to be merciful to others, but we were overly dependent on obtaining mercy for our lackings.

We were broke most of the time, and the rest of the time, nervous about how soon it would be before we had nothing again.

The fellowship, the family time and the intimacy was so enriching that we were nearly unable to make solid human decisions about our daily responsibilities.

Coming upon an opportunity to settle into a motel room in Santa Clara, California, where we would work our rent off by assisting on the premises and filling in front desk duties—was just too alluring.

I legitimately wanted my children to be confident. Although they were growing in their faith, their personal sense of talent and capability was diminished by persistent trial and tribulation.

At first the motel situation seemed ideal. My wife was even able to get a job, which for the first time in a long time, gave us money without having to wonder whether it would soon trickle away.

But to remain in the situation and do it righteously required that we abandon our music, our mission and that closeness that can only be achieved by pilgrims on a journey to the same holy place.

We drifted apart.

My sons became too familiar with HBO at young ages and had too much time on their hands. (We were uncomfortable placing them in a local school, lest the teachers or authorities ask too many questions.)

For a little over two years, we experienced an unhealthy prosperity.

One day, a traveler passed through and talked to me about my situation. He remarked, “If the owner here has been charging you tax for your room, he owes you that money. Because after the first month, no one has to pay tax on a motel room.”

I laughed. I didn’t know it was true. So I joked with the boss about it when he came into work that day.

I left, went out to lunch, and when I came back, he was standing in front of my door with a check for three thousand dollars in his hands—apparently frightened that I would make more out of the tax situation than I ever would have. He decided to cover his butt by paying back the money, so he wouldn’t have to worry about being accosted in court.

After he left me alone, I stared at the check.  I realized it was three thousand good reasons to leave “the cave” and start looking for a door again. I didn’t waste any time because I didn’t want to waste any of the money.

We packed up that night and the next morning we rolled off to Sacramento, California. Within two days, we rented a duplex with three bedrooms, a sunken living room, a fireplace, and a huge dining room—a heavenly haven to call our own.

We decided to try to start scheduling concerts again and live off our talent. The first three months were tremendously successful. Wanting to celebrate that Thanksgiving with friends, we invited two from San Diego, and I called R. B., who was living in Tacoma, Washington, to come and join us.

For the first time in his life, R. B. jumped at an opportunity. I was shocked. I was anticipating a rejection, or at least a request for three days of fasting and prayer to decide.

He arrived—and he looked terrible. After a few conversations I discovered that he had lost his job four months earlier and was living off of unemployment insurance. He was drinking, smoking more and was quickly running out of money. It was the most vulnerable I had ever seen him.

As the tenderness of Thanksgiving swept over him, he was in tears several times, grateful for the opportunity to escape his Washington surroundings and be with those who accepted him in the form he arrived.

On Monday, the San Diego couple left. R. B. decided to stay on a few more days.

During that time, we played music, sang songs and even devised a plan so he could come and live with us, join the band and be part of the tour.

Even though my sons were not particularly favorable to R. B., they still thought it would be inspirational to have another band mate.

We laughed and cried our way to a local department store, where we purchased a matching vest for him, to go with the ones my sons wore.

He seemed to belong. More importantly, he felt needed.

Yet, two days later, as we were about to rehearse, he became very still. Something was amiss. After allowing him a space of time to come clean with his feelings, I finally confronted him.

He cried again—and these were not the tears of a grateful traveler. This weeping was coming from a place of fear.

He explained to the whole family that he wanted to travel with us and be a part of the band, but he was scared. All of his life, he had counted on a job to take care of his financial needs, and even though he wasn’t working now, he felt more comfortable occupation than he did launching out by faith, to see how far his abilities would take him.

I wanted to argue with him. But one thing I knew was that each human being sets his own time and place. If we try to find a place and establish a time, he will only rebel.

Two days later, he quietly packed his bag.

He silently ate a breakfast with us, and he walked out our door without saying another word.

I really did believe this would be the last time I ever saw him.

I felt mercy, because I, myself, just a few years earlier, had gone into a dark cave—because I was afraid of my circumstances.

“Be safe,” I spoke aloud.

The family looked at me. They didn’t know what I was thinking.

But they certainly understood what I felt.

Things I Learned from R. B. (April 26th, 2020)


Jonathots Daily Blog

(4392)

Episode 12

Three phone calls.

This is the extent of the contact I had with R. B. over the next two years. On the first two occasions, he tracked me down through a young man who was assisting us with scheduling and knew where we were at all times.

The first call was a chatty conversation about his latest meet-up with Kristall—how it was bittersweet because she was moving to New York City. He was already making plans to follow her, believing they were entwined in a harmony of purposes.

The second dial-up was to inform me that he had lost his job in Dallas and was moving to Tacoma, Washington. He explained all the maladies of his Texas situation—how he had needed to move on and was grateful for the urging provided by the firing.

But the third phone call came from me.

I tracked him down in Tacoma—really just by using the old-fashioned telephone book. My reason was practical.

I had received notice through the mail that a woman in Missouri was interested in purchasing one hundred copies of my first book, “The Gospel According to Common Sense.” She explained how much she had enjoyed it, and wanted to pass it along to strangers, who might find it easier to understand than Brothers Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

I was so moved.

My soul was so hungry for some confirmation that what I was doing was worthwhile and who I was, meaningful.

Yet my book was out of print. I felt compelled to try to get it printed again and get those one hundred copies into this lady’s hands.

Maybe it was mission, or maybe vanity. I still don’t know.

I priced the printing and found out that all I needed was a hundred and twenty-five dollars. I had fifty.

I know it may sound ridiculous, but I had absolutely no way to lay my hands on that other seventy-five dollars except…

I called R. B. I told him I needed a loan. I explained it would be a brief period of time—because as soon as the woman sent me back the check for the books, I would be able to reimburse him.

My plea for the money was about two minutes long but the conversation lasted two hours.

R. B. stated, in a hundred different ways, how he was taught never to loan money. He asked me a half dozen times why I didn’t already have the money. He questioned whether my story was truthful. He made me grovel.

At the end of the two hours, having given me no official answer, he said he would think about it and call me next week.

As I hung up the phone, I realized he hadn’t asked for my telephone number—nor did it seem he wanted one.

I waited and I waited.

Finally, after two weeks, I contacted him again. He apologized and said he could give me the money at the end of the month—which was three weeks away. I reiterated that this was a time-sensitive affair, since the order was now four weeks old. He didn’t understand why a few more days would make a difference.

While I was waiting for R. B. to provide the final funds to order the books, a letter arrived from the lady canceling her request and scolding me for not having the integrity to respond in time.

It hurt so badly.

Not only did I fail to give my writings an opportunity to be used, but I was thrust into the role of the incompetent child.

I did place a brief fifth call. (I forgot about those last two.) It was to inform R. B. that he would no longer need to provide the funds.

He laughed and said, “Well, it’s probably for the best.”

It wasn’t—for the best, that is.

As I look back on my journey with this fellow, I have to be honest and admit that this incident might have colored many of my views and inhibited some of my compassion. I would hope not, but I am a bit suspicious of myself.

 

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