Phone Songs and Parking Lots

Every year around pledge drive, on KUT Public Radio at the University of Austin, I am a guest of John Aielli’s fantastic morning show, “Eklektikos”.
We have lots of fun cracking each other up and playing music, and I look forward to helping raise much needed funds for the best live radio show in the United States. (Ok, ok…John Aielli and Garrison Keillor have the two best shows).

One of the things I started doing a few years back was to offer up an original song in exchange for people making huge donations to the station. Last year,
I called about 17 people with silly little ditties. This year, I limited the amount to ten because the calls vary date wise, and I have to plan around other folks’ agendas (which I don’t mind, but it can be some work!)

Usually, I gather information about someone’s spouse or mother-in-law or best friend via the person donating to KUT, and then I surprise the intended
receiver with a phone song on their birthday, anniversary, whatever special day was requested.

This year, I had the most unusual request. It affected my entire day because
it was something that shook me to the core.

I was asked to call the sister (“Peggy”) of a woman (“Joan”) who had died of a rare brittle bone disease. I was asked to call on Joan’s birthday. Oh, how I fretted over this song! My deepest desire was to be respectful of these two sisters, and to honor their love for one another. And, I wanted to honor the husband, who had made the request.

Well, the morning arrived to call, and I was wide awake by six a.m., watching the clock, worried I would somehow forget to call. The night before I had sung the song to Lance, and he felt it was just what it needed to be, calm and gentle, and I had explained to the girls how I would need their support by allowing me to make an important call the next morning.

I rang up the number. The sister answered. Because it was a surprise, I explained the reason for the call, and immediately, I could feel my heart swelling up like it does. I could hear the emotion in the woman’s voice. We spoke briefly, and I asked her if this was an alright time to sing the song, if she was comfortable and seated. She said she was ready. I had pre-recorded the song with my guitar on tape so I could sing a harmony with myself, and it was very, very difficult for me to get through the song, but I did. I finished, and their was an awkward stillness over the line. We chatted a few more moments, and we were finished.

I hung up and immediately called the man who had requested the gift, worried that, perhaps, I had caused the woman more pain. (By the way, she was very understanding and didn’t give me any reason to think anything was wrong…but, you can see how this would be uncomfortable for me, a stranger, can’t you?)
He was reassuring that everything was most likely fine.

My body just felt so shaky the rest of the day. I could never seem to find my ground again. I’m not sure why this affected me so greatly, except that I guess
it brought to light, once again, how temporary our lives with one another are…how we take for granted the ride to work, the phone calls, the letter in the mail, the family reunions, the trips to see old friends. How quickly it can all be pulled out from under us. How we should look one another in the eye whenever we are speaking, how important it is to connect while we can.

Perhaps the vulnerability of exposing oneself through art is something I should be used to by now. And, yet, as I get older, it seems to become more and more raw with me. I want to balance myself, and then I feel the pull to go out on that limb, just one more time!, and give everything I have, even when I’m not sure what or how to deliver that giving.

Last night, when I was parking my car in this vast lot, a young man came up to collect my parking fee. He had beautiful dark brown skin and eager eyes and rushing up to me, immediately asked, “Why is God too big to fit inside one religion?” He had read my bumper sticker on the back of the van. I smiled and said, “Because God is….” (accent on “is”)

He said, “There is only one religion!”

I nodded my head, and I said, “Yes? Which one?”

And he said, proudly, “Orthodox!”

“Oh,” I countered, calmly. “Do you mean Orthodox Christianity? Orthodox Judaism? Orthodox Muslim?”

He laughed, “No, no! Christianity! It is the only way!”

And I smiled and responded, “Well, I know that Jesus said “Love thy neighbor as thou loves thyself” and being a Christian, also, I feel it is not my place to judge those of other religions. It is my job to love them. Wouldn’t you agree?”

And he said, “Yes! The word of the bible! I read it all the time!”

I said, “Yes! God is good!”

And that was our conversation. I walked into the NARAS meeting happy.
And as I left two hours later, there he was, seated outside, talking with another attendant. I waved my hand and sent him love via my eyes and he threw the love back, smiling widely, and I was no longer shaking.

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