there was a day of song…closely followed by this night of darkness
Watch out now, take care
Beware the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night
Beware of sadness
George Harrison “Beware of Darkness”
The pretty high school senior went for a run around the lake the other night and didn’t come home. All around town the next morning flyers were posted in windows asking for help. The television trucks with the satellite dishes came, and the search parties began to fan out throughout the area. It made the national news today, when her body was found in a shallow grave along the shore.
The man who they believe raped and murdered her lived just fifteen minutes from our front door and he sits in jail tonight. The autopsy results are expected by morning and he’ll be formally charged. She’s the second girl in the past several months whose death has touched me deeply. I didn’t know her, nor the first one. Nevertheless, it feels painful.
When I used to feel down or troubled I’d reach for something to help get me through the night. Or day. Now I just try and breath. Slowly. I wait for the minutes to pass, knowing I won’t get stuck in one place if I can just wait it out. Some take it one day at a time; others take it second by second. Lately I find myself falling into the music more and more. Old and new. It helps.
This past Sunday found me and eleven other white faces sitting in an old church tucked into a barrio just a mile or so from the Pacific. We’re weren’t the only people out of place in this Hispanic community because this was an African Methodist Episcopal church and I’m guessing that the black folks must have fled the area long ago. But they still come back to worship. And sing. And man…did they sing.
The choir was maybe twenty people strong and they ranged in age from eight to eighty. There didn’t seem to be a leader, but sometimes a different person would step up in front to conduct. And other times not. It seemed somewhat effortless..unrehearsed and unplanned. I know this wasn’t true because the songs were listed in the order of service that they passed out.
There was a band. Three men in their fifties I’d guess. An old upright piano, a beat up Fender knockoff and a drum kit that sparkled and shined. Like the choir they too were relaxed…easily sliding into a groove. At times the music was cool and light. At other times it burned hot. There were hands thrown up toward the sky and screams of praise and joy. “Hallelujah”, they cried out. Often.
A half hour into the service it grew quiet as the preacher stood up and looked our way. “Will the visitors please rise and introduce yourself” he said. And so we did. The man in our group with the ponytail yelled out “you guys rock” and everyone in the chapel laughed. And then they all stood and as the band started to play the congregation made their way to our group to welcome us.
Old men and ladies dressed in their finest. Single moms and some hard looking men. Kids who giggled and teens who were curious. This lasted several minutes and a woman wrapped her arms around me and whispered in my ear “I’m sorry if you’re feeling overwhelmed” and I smiled. No…I wasn’t. It actually felt nice to be connected.
My son had been looking forward to this trip for months but I could tell he was let down. In the car I asked if he liked the service and he said it was just okay. He’d seen the Blues Brothers movie last summer and was expecting more blues and rock and less gospel music I suppose. There was no Jake or Elwood here. And no Aretha.
We stopped for a burger on the way home and he was happy when I said he could have a chocolate shake. And I had one too.
Chelsea King…may you rest in peace.