Two Sundays ago, I was sitting in a pew at the neighborhood church that Stanton, the girls and I attend. The pastor announced the next song; I flipped to it in the hymnal. “Lord, When You Came to the Lakeshore.”
The choir director began playing the melody of the song. In that moment, my memory flashed back about 20 years.
My very first job, at age 15, was as an organist for a small church near my Pennsylvania hometown. I probably was in a bit over my head, friends. I knew how to play the piano, not the organ…so I learned as I went. In the beginning, I played the organ like a piano—focusing on one keyboard only. As time went on, I began adding in sounds from the other keyboard, plus the pedals.
The biggest challenge, though, was trying to direct the choir. The choir consisted of four or five regular members (median age: 76), all of whom harbored strong opinions about which songs we should be singing. They didn’t mind so much that I was young and inexperienced; they just wanted to belt out “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” every.single.Sunday.
At this point, you might be wondering how I got this job. (You also may be wondering if I was qualified…) Answer to the first question: My friend’s mother was the original organist at that church, and needed some help with some of the services.
I ended up playing the organ for that church all through high school. I also ended up (eventually) becoming fairly close to my septuagenarian choir members. I invited all of them to my high school graduation party, and they all came. As I’m writing this, I’m smiling at the memory. George, Annette, Eddie…they were all there.
They didn’t mind so much that I was young and inexperienced; they just wanted to belt out “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” every.single.Sunday.
Back to that song, though: “Lord, When You Came to the Lakeshore.” At my hometown church, there was an old lady who always sat in a front pew.
If you’ve ever attended a worship service somewhat regularly, then you know that many people usually sit in the same spot week after week. Similar to having “your” seat in a college classroom, or “your” table at a coffee shop. You get comfortable; you gravitate toward the familiar.
This lady, friends—I wish I could remember her name. I can’t. But she had white hair and wrinkled skin, and she was nice. She also wore a hat, every Sunday.
One Sunday before the service, I was downstairs where the pews are. I was making my way up to the choir loft, where the organ was, along with George, Annette and the gang. I stopped to say hello to the lady. We chatted a bit, and she asked me if I wouldn’t mind playing her favorite hymn, “Lord, When You Came to the Seashore.”
There was still some time before church started, so I said sure. She squeezed my hand. I went upstairs and played that song. When I was done, she turned around in her seat and smiled her thanks.
I like the song “Lord, When You Came to the Seashore.” It’s straightforward to play (which is helpful). The melody is pretty, the lyrics uplifting. I got into the habit of playing it every Sunday before church started, partly because I liked it but mostly because the lady did. Every time after I played that song, she turned around and smiled.
I waved back: “You’re welcome.”
Twenty years later, in a different place, in a different church, I was the one sitting in the pew, and I heard that familiar melody I once knew so well. The title of the song was slightly different—“Lakeshore” instead of “Seashore”—but it was the same song. Hearing that song took me back to 15.
I had to blink myself back to the present. I also had to blink some tears away. Because almost certainly, my old friend has passed on by now. I’m not sure where my “Battle Hymn of the Republic”-loving choir members might be either.
I do know, though, that that small church doesn’t exist anymore.
Has something like that ever happened to you too? You hear a song, or a line from a movie, or something like that…and suddenly, you’re time traveling?
Hearing that song took me back to 15.
For me, time traveling—nostalgia—isn’t constructive. I start to miss people. Places. More than anything, I feel my mortality. I look at pictures of my high school graduation party, for example; I see a younger version of myself (alongside George and Annette); I have to acknowledge, “I’m getting older.”
Sometimes I’m surprised by the people and places I miss. Maybe you are too.
As we move along in our lives, we still may carry within us pieces from our pasts, from our childhoods. Pieces stay with us…still. Because they mattered.
On Monday evening, the day after “Lord, When You Came to the Lakeshore,” I stopped by a yoga class at our Y. I love yoga, but don’t always make the time to practice it. At one point during the class, the instructor led us through a challenging pose.
He encouraged us not to compare ourselves—our bodies, our yoga practice—to our neighbors. Go with your own flow, he said. Appreciate what you can do. Then he said, “You are where you’re supposed to be.”
Friends, those words struck me. You are where you’re supposed to be.
The wisdom in those words, for me, is that this makes sense. This present moment means more than anything. This is right.
Whoever you wish you could be with again—whoever you may miss, including your younger, carefree self—whatever time from years ago seems easier than the moment you find yourself in now…no. No, this is it. This is where you’re supposed to be.
(And try not to compare yourself to your neighbor. Everyone has their own journey. Everyone has their own struggle.)
When you struggle, where do you find hope? And when your heart overflows, when your cup runneth over…where do you acknowledge the goodness, the grace, the second chances?
For some of us, the answer (to both questions) may be church, or temple, or another place of worship. For others of us, the yoga mat, or another form of exercise or meditation. Nature. Lots of places.
This present moment means more than anything.
In “A Moveable Feast,” Ernest Hemingway ends his memoir with a beautiful reflection on Paris, a place that “stayed with him” throughout his life. He concludes that when he lived there, with his first wife, “we were very poor and very happy.”
My old friend in that small church can’t perfectly compare to Paris—it’s not the best parallel—but that time in my life was very “coming of age,” as Hemingway’s Paris was to him. I learned then something that has stayed with me all these years, which is work with people. Find common ground; meet in the middle. Wherever you find yourself—whatever odd set of circumstances you seem to have stumbled into—make the best of things.
Leave that place better than you found it, if you can.
Maybe it doesn’t make sense at the time, but you are where you’re supposed to be. One day, you’ll understand why.
“Be where your feet are.” (Anonymous)
Photo credit: Pixabay
Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.