It was somewhere between the Blacksburg/Earl exit in South Carolina and King’s Mountain, North Carolina, that I heard it the first time.
I was on my way to Charlotte to see my daughter, grandson and son-in-law. It was Saturday afternoon, sunny and bright, and I’d finally broken free of the traffic that had clotted I-85 since the Atlanta suburbs. The radio was on, and I heard “Hey, 19” and the Hendrix version of “All Along the Watchtower” (the only version, in my opinion) as I worked the SEEK button right to left.
Then it landed on a song I didn’t know:
When I am down, and oh my soul, so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until You come and sit awhile with me.
Nice melody, good production, impassioned vocals and a soaring chorus:
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up—to more than I can be.
I realize I’m listening to a Christian station, and the cool sophisticate in me is thinking Les McCann and Eddie Harris doing “Listen Here.” But I hear it out, and minutes later I hear it again on another station, and an odd thing happens. I choke up.
I am on my way to Charlotte for an audition, but far more than that.
My older daughter lives there, and just a few days ago i received an angry email from her. It caught me off-guard, because nothing I could think of had happened to cause an outburst. But it wasn’t the first time it’s happened. A year before, I’d received one from her and I was so filled with anger and righteous indignation it took six days before I could calm down and write a calm, reasoned reply.
She had good cause to be angry, though. She was six when her mother and I parted, and I was, for the most part, an absentee father with little involvement in her life. When I realized what a fool I’d been, I offered to participate in rehabilitating our relationship in any way I could, and it included attending a session with her and her therapist.
But with the second letter, I knew I could neither engage at the level of conflict, nor write another reasonable reply. First, I had to overcome my own anger at being attacked, and then I had to transcend all my default settings and respond in a way I never had before.
Without quite knowing what it was I wanted, I was asking to be forgiving and loving, to manifest something I’d never manifested before that would bring healing to our relationship. It’s called grace, and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.
So I did some praying – quite a lot of praying, actually. Not once or twice, but several times a day. And within a few days, I got the call from my agent asking if I would go to Charlotte.
Even were I to believe that the call was a random occurrence in an uncaring universe, the calm and unflinching attitude that settled upon me as I drove to Charlotte was not. I felt peaceful, almost happy. I had asked for help, and something had shifted in me. Suddenly, improbably, I had an opportunity to do exactly what I prayed for.
It felt as if I had aligned myself with a force, an energy, a plan, that was already in motion. All I had to do was get aboard. And this, I decided, must be grace, and I was going to roll with it.
I went to the audition when I got to Charlotte that morning, then had lunch and meditated in a park. Shortly before my daughter’s office re-opened — she’s a chiropractor — I bought a dozen pink roses, and pulled into her parking lot just as she was getting out of her car.
Again, that I had that that the timing was perfect, as if I were being led.
She glanced over the back of her car, and said, “My God, it’s Dad!”
We hugged and I gave her the roses. Inside she introduced me to her staff, and we chatted for a bit. Then she adjusted me, asked me to stay the night and gave me the key to her condo.
We had dinner that night with her husband and talked for hours – but never a word about the letter. Not then, not ever.
I drove back to Atlanta the next morning euphoric. It was my birthday.
The following week my agent called again. Would I go back to Charlotte for a second audition? I did and spent another night with my daughter and her husband. Over dinner that evening, I gazed around at the plates, the glasses of wine, the candles, my daughter and her husband, and a warm feeling of love and connection washed over me.
This, I thought, is family.
I never did get that part I auditioned for, but it didn’t matter. I got the role I wanted most.
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