Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The Man in Black - Finding Contentment
My plane trip to live in Nashville back in January 1991 was spent in deep conversation with the man sitting next to me. I was 21, and he said he was 26 but the little broken blood vessels on his face and the aimless, sad air about him spoke of someone who had walked through some difficulties already in his young life. We talked about music a little. He was listening to Bob Marley on a cassette tape. Whew, there's a throw-back, right?
Anyway, we got pretty deep spiritually. I grew up experimenting with New Age and some transcendental meditation (sans drugs), nothing too deep and more spiritual than religious. Filled with an inexplicable longing, I spent a good part of my teenage years studying some of the world's major religions trying to figure out how life worked; Shintoism, Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism, and more. In my sophomore year of college while studying abroad in Germany, I decided it was time to study the Bible. After all, Christianity is one of the world's major religions, right? We talked about all those thing, about life, God, brokeness, alcoholism and more on the five hour flight to Music City, USA.
As the plane landed, my new friend, John, told me he wanted to introduce me to his parents. He added in an odd voice, "Just don't look at their faces."
I thought it a strange request, but I agreed and we walked into the concourse together chatting till we got to the baggage claim where we walked up to a couple. I don't remember much other than the man, tall and lanky, was dressed all in black and she, standing close by his side, was dressed in a denim skirt and shirt with long black hair. We talked for just a moment or two. I told them that they had a good son and that I really enjoyed my conversation with him. They seemed guarded, but polite, as if they weren't sure what to make of what I had said.
I walked back to the group of other record label employees that had also been on the plane and waited for my baggage. They all stared at me. Finally, one of them asked, "Don't you know who that was?" Naive southern California girl that I was, I shook my head.
"That was the man in black, Johnny Cash."
I laugh to think that I still didn't know who he was, but John and I had exchanged phone numbers on the plane and over the next year kept in touch some. He helped me get my car to the shop when it died and cruised sans power down Old Hickory Boulevard late one night. We spent some time talking on the phone, but our lives drifted apart. I never talked to his parents again, but I know that John Carter Cash found peace in his life. Nashville is still a small town in some ways. We have some mutual acquaintances but have never seemed to bump into each other again. I suspect we will someday, that's just how Nashville is.
Over the years I have since come to appreciate Johnny Cash and his story. It made me understand John Carter Cash and the sadness I encountered that day on the plane. I mourned with the rest of the Music City (and the world) when June Carter Cash died and when Johnny Cash, her soulmate, died just four months later.
I wasn't a fan of country music when I first got here, but the 90's were the hey-day of country music and I got swept up into it. It wasn't "hick-ish" like I thought. It was simple, sweet, and sometimes, incredibly powerful. I was sitting in a small barn with a couple dozen other people when Tim McGraw sang "It's Your Love" to Faith Hill at a local benefit for one of the first times with tears in his eyes. She was glowing and pregnant at the time.
Country music has always had an element of being thankful and a sense of contentment that seems to be lacking in many of the other forms of music today which seem to thrive on angst or lust - not that there is anything wrong with those things, they exist in this crazy world we live in today. But to quote Epicurus a Greek philosopher who lived from 341-270 BC, "Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for."
When I was a teenager I hoped to find peace and purpose in this life while trying to graduate from high school. When I was in my early twenties I hoped to graduate college and go on to work in the music industry. When I was in my mid-twenties I hoped I would find a smart, handsome, humble man with whom to share my life and who would love me as I am. In my thirties I hoped we would have healthy, happy children together. And somewhere in the midst of all that I hoped we could afford a house and cars that ran. All those things I had hoped for, the big things in life, I have today.
Sure there are things I still desire. I hope to take my kids to Hawaii to visit their 90+ year old Great-Grandmother and to visit where I went to Kindergarten. I hope to take them to Germany to see where I was born and to travel beyond the borders of the United States. I hope to learn another language. I hope to one day start a business with my husband. I hope to lose these last five pounds...
But even if I never do those things, I want to be thankful for what I do have - which is a roof over my head, food on the table (enough that I'm carrying an extra five pounds), two healthy and happy children, a husband who loves me and a Mom and Dad and Sister whom I love dearly and who love me back. I am a blessed woman, and heaven forbid I loose sight of that in my desire for world travel, a smaller waist size, a clean house, and a little more money after the bills are paid.
What do you have today that you once only hoped for?