When Jon and I were dating, and attending graduate school at Auburn, we used to take weekend trips home. Whether we went south to Clio, or northwest to Birmingham, one thing remained constant. Jon sang along the way. Left elbow out the window, brown hair blowing in the breeze, he belted it out. Sometimes I would try to join him, but the result didn’t satisfy me. Better to listen.
He didn’t much care what he sang. He sang “There’s a Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” with the same enthusiasm as “How Great Thou Art”. Of course the former meant less to him than the latter, but he sang both with vigor. When a song popped in his mind, it burst out his mouth, and usually sounded pretty good.
Singing came naturally to him- to his whole family- his parents, his sisters, his cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents sang. At first, I found it disorienting to be around them. They all sang, all the time. Often, and this would drive me crazy, they sang different songs at the same time. “Chaos!” I thought, “what a cacophony!”
But when they sang the same song, and my mind didn’t have to sort through multiple messages and melodies, it was different. Their voices blended effortlessly. I sat on the outside, an unmusical music lover, and drank it in. Often this happened in the kitchen, where Miriam’s sweet soprano presided. Whether she was cooking turnips and cornbread, or Brunswick stew, or carrot cake, the family was sure to check out the progress of the meal, and as they did, they added their own voices. A pinch of Miriam, a teaspoon of Sonya, a tablespoon of Jon, and a quarter cup of Edward. Sometimes I sensed that the song didn’t sound right to them- that they were missing an ingredient. Then I knew they were remembering Jon’s sister, Quenette, her lovely voice, her valuable piano accompaniment. And sadness would creep in.
Well, Jon and I married; he kept singing, and I kept my old job of listening. He sang “Eentsy Weentsy Spider” and “In a Cabin in the Wood” with the children when they were up and running; he sang “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra” to them at bedtime. He sang “You Get a Line I’ll Get a Pole” on the way to church, while I sat fuming because we were running late. Childrens’ songs, Beach Boys songs, Tennessee Ernie Ford Songs, Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes, and of course, hymns, created a musical background for our lives. And then, everything changed. It got quiet.
Our “song-mobile”, the old F-150 Jon and I used to drive to Clio is still parked outside. It doesn’t see much action these days, but it’s a reminder of those road trips home, of Jon singing the wrong lyrics to the right melody: “Born free, as free as the sun shines“? “Oh come on, Jon!” He would laugh and make the correction I recommended, and sing on for the joy of it. Maybe those memories caused me to start singing in the car myself.
One day, something magical happened as I sang a hymn. I had the sensation of being part of two worlds at the same time. One part of me was navigating the twisty road home, enjoying the twilit canopy of summer trees, but another part of me was feeling the presence of God, and singing with Jon in a great assembly. That other world was close- just a spider web width away; it surrounded me, filled me, beckoned to me. And then the door closed, and I was singing solo, off-key and alone.
Alone? Probably not. A Renaissance scholar reminds us, perhaps warns us, that : “Bidden or not bidden, God is present”. Whether or not we sense His presence, He is always here with us. For in Him, “we live and move and have our being”. And once in a while- when we are most aware of this- JOY!