The other day I came home from visiting a friend who is in hospice. His wife is with him, sharing his next journey. But the cancer death he is forced to endure, and she by extension of her devotion, is a grim one. A once athletic body and powerful mind is now reduced to drains and a port and pallid flesh covering bone. His dying does not romanticize death, but instead shows the way, as King David wrote, that all living things go. However, the hospice staff know how to comfort the ones in exit, and he is at ease, even comfortable.
Driving home from visiting a man who did not know that I was there, my mood moved from bitter to sad to mad. Somewhere as I crossed the interstate I even felt guilty because I was out in the world while he lay dying with his wife holding his hand. Such a combination of emotions followed me into our home, and I went to my computer for a diversion, something to take me away from an event none of us can honestly comprehend or certainly not one we can or should change. Fortunately, unlike his wife, I could divert my attention.
Earlier in the day I had saved a chess lesson that I wanted to watch. I felt that the ten-minute lesson on chess openings would be a calming distraction and maybe even somewhat entertaining. However, the You Tube channel offered more than a chess lesson.
The Song Remembers When was written by Hugh Prestwood and next to my chess lesson on the You Tube bar was an unexpected message: A recorded 1993 performance of Trisha Yearwood singing his song. I clicked on the arrow and read the lyrics as Yearwood brought life to them and I thought of my friend Mike; not of his dying but of his wonderful life and the parts of it which I was blessed to share. While I do appreciate the song as a lament for a past romantic love, it also reminds me of our selective memory and how even a song or smell or sound can trigger a piece of the past that was thought to have been buried and placed in a box high on a shelf. The song also speaks to the sometimes chance linking of our lives and how that can produce a pattern woven across years and experiences.
Mike and I competed against each other as high school wrestlers during the 1960s. We then travelled our future paths never having known that we were both from two North Carolina mill hills-his in Mooresville, mine in Kannapolis. But six years ago after I returned to North Carolina our lives once again were woven together like cotton threads on a loom. We shared weekly lunches, we worked to improve my yard, we travelled around Lake Norman; and we finally learned how much we had had in common. Because he had been an engineer for Duke Energy I once asked him what the most difficult thing was in creating Lake Norman. With no hesitation he answered, “Getting it level.” But our best “chats” centered around politics and religion, neither in which we shared much agreement. Once as we argued over our taco lunch about some finer point, he looked at me with a baffled grin before asking, “Are you that naïve?”
A random phone call six years ago by my wife Mary Ann led to Mike and me re-discovering each other. And Mary Ann’s phone call was not, I believe, a coincidence. It was, instead, one of life’s “old familiar” songs that weaves our lives into the connected fabric that life sometimes offers us.
Prestwood ends his song with the refrain, “Yeah, even if the whole world has forgotten/The song remembers when.” The time that Mike and I have shared these past six years is not long in the annals of life, but we grabbed much in our weekly sharing, and I now carry all of it. As long as I still remember, so will the “whole world.”