Friday, June 16, 2006

I really didn’t understand what was happening in Danny’s heart, the battle he was facing all alone, in his self-imposed isolation. I would understand it somewhat better later that year. I wrote down some things he said that summer that became much clearer later on. This conversation took place the same day I had written to Mike, July 24, 1974.

“Last night
I was sitting in my chair watching TV
and all of a sudden
I found myself [hands uplifted]
you know,
praising God.
So I did that for awhile…
a long time…
and then I watched TV some more
and then I was freaking on the
moon outside my window
and then the Lord spoke to me

then the Lord

spoke to me
and He said, “I’ve given you the gift
of believing in…Jesus…
and you can’t get away from that—

and then people say you have to
do it on your own, you know, so
I tried it and then
I tried to do it on your own
and it didn’t work and then
He said, “That’s all right,
because you’ve got the one thing
but the one thing’s


I mean it’s everything.”

I wrote something the next week that sounds a lot more sexual than it has any right to. Don’t misunderstand as you read it. None of the unspoken rules had changed in the four years Danny and I spent both together and not together. He never “got past second base” and he had never tried to. I think the intimacy of the poem is a reflection of what I was feeling, not what was actually happening between us in reality. But who knows? This was written on July 30, 1974.

The Night on the Beach

Walking across the sand
I hurried on towards the foam,
and let it wash my feet
and purify my heart.
Then we sat together, and a distance apart.
We listened to the surf, and you noticed
that it roared its approach, then passed us by
again and again, gentle rhythm.
We spoke, we sang
“This is my Father’s world”
and gloried in the night,
Swirls of smoke, dark Sangria.
Then you reached out and caught the warm
brown wool around my shoulders
and drew me to you.
“That was perfect,” you said, and meant more.
You caressed the person by your side
and slowly, and suddenly
in each other’s arms, we loved the world
and each other.
Our hands and mouths knew ourselves
and told us so,
resting on bony reality, learning depth,
pure and distant.
It was not time, but the moment was full.
From unsullied sweetness you led me on
into childlike fantasy, and magical words
crowned the dream, that we are, and that we shall be.
Clinging to this dream,
I hesitate to record it,
to give wordy form to feelings.
To capture is to kill,
or at the least, to cause detail
and universal beauty
to be excluded, forgotten.
But the dream was real.
It happened, and, happening,
bound together so many times –
moments of caring, sharing –
and made of them
something firm
and clear.

Here are Marilyn, me and Sara and our moms at my birthday lunch, August 5, 1974.

When Danny graduated, we knew that we were not getting married any time soon. The summer together had proved inconclusive. We agreed that he would go to Pepperdine’s law school in Orange County, and I would go to Peabody in Nashville to get a Master’s in Library Science. I needed a job, since I wasn’t going to have a husband right away to support me. (Below, Danny Blair saying goodbye.)

I had never made a plan for my future as an independent (read “financially responsible”) woman, because a lot of women just didn’t think like that back then, and I was one of those. Also, I had lived since the age of five with college as my goal and, oddly enough, I simply had no plans for myself “after college”. I did a little research and discovered that Peabody was one of the few schools in the country offering a one-year Master’s degree, at the time I thought I didn’t want to invest two years in a Master’s, and why not become a librarian? It was all I knew.

One part of the decision making process was the fact that I had despised Nashville for many years as a provincial, prejudiced, racist, materialistic place. I had judged and despised my relatives for the same reasons. Now I felt that God was telling me I needed to forgive them for being different from the way I thought they should be, and give them another chance. Later on, when I explained my reason for moving to Nashville, people would ask, “So, how did it go with the relatives?” “Not so great,” I would respond, “but it turned out that I loved Nashville!”


So now comes the chapter of my life I referred to at the beginning of this tale. I packed the yellow Camaro with all my worldly goods, and Stephen Bennett and I drove off to attend a wedding in Lubbock, Texas, on my way to Nashville. James Taylor had become a favorite ever since his first album came out a few years before, and now his Walking Man provided part of the soundtrack for this adventure. How could this lyric any more perfectly describe what was happening to me now?

Distant hands in foreign lands are turning hidden wheels
Causing things to come about which no one seems to feel
All invisible from where we stand, the connections come to pass
And no two strings can comprehend, they affect us nonetheless, yes

Once again, a time of change, though the change makes music
And the children will dance
See the pieces of the picture rearrange themselves
It seems just like a symphony to me, with nothing left to chance

Just look over your shoulder, it’s out of your hands, it’s over for now
Leave behind what you can, you can always return
The ribbon remains unbroken, unspoken, but loud and clear
It’s a slow vibration migration

Hey mystery muse, how I hunger for an answer
Unsung song, how I long to play your changes
Hidden rhythm, haven’t I always been your dancer?
Sing praise, sing praise for the meaning to my dreaming migration

After the DiNapoli/Boverie wedding, I drove by myself through the night, from Lubbock, Texas all the way to Nashville, Tennessee. It took me seventeen hours, which I found out later was rather short. That record speed could perhaps be explained by the number of times I hit 80 mph. I even passed eighteen-wheelers in heavy rain, just closing my eyes and praying, as they splashed me so hard I couldn’t have seen anything anyhow.

I finally found Cherokee Avenue, after passing it several times. I didn’t know that Broadway would turn into West End which would turn into Harding Road, so I kept having trouble figuring out the map in my desperately weary state. I finally pulled up in front of the house I would be sharing with Duane and Carol Doidge, embarrassed that they would smell the smoky car, and started hauling my stuff upstairs to my room. My relatives had already installed a bed, a chest of drawers, a rocker and my Granddaddy Whitesell’s old roll-top desk in my room before I arrived, and I was touched and amazed by that generous effort at caretaking. Note the printer’s drawer which became a little treasure chest for memories – I carried that back on the plane from Zurich, my last purchase in Europe in the summer of ’73.

It was a great house. How I wish we had more foresight, and we could have bought it when it was selling for $18,000 instead of the $150,000 it would be today. It was brick, with a side porch, two stories and an attic above that, hardwood floors, a fireplace, just blocks from Belle Meade, the old money section of town. But who knew I would still be living in Nashville thirty years later, with two years away in other cities but always, eventually, returning here?

Big surprise! I found out that Naomi Harper had decided to move to Nashville. She had become best friends with a Tennessee girl named Elaine Davidson while they worked together at Camp Shiloh that summer. Elaine was from Shelbyville, the Walking Horse Capital of the World, but she was living in Nashville and working as a med tech. She persuaded Naomi to move to Nashville and be her housemate, with two other girls, Beckie and Martha. So we started our fifth year of friendship, tentatively, on this new ground. One night as I lay awake in bed, I got a hankering to get up and write about what I was feeling.

Reminiscing About Europe, circa Summer 1972

Lying under my quilt at midnight
one star blinking through a windowpane
I’ve heard the train passing by,
as it moves less precious baggage
through this town than trains
have been known to carry
We used to walk down paths to the station
wondering where dawn would find us
never certain of a destination
always sure of an adventure to come.
The rocking movement of the cars
on the tracks was adventure enough
sometimes, and rivers and farms
out the window were special gifts
A white cat on a rooftop,
old women leaning from railings,
stacks of hay, cultivated gardens
spoke of a tranquil life of work
and simple pleasures foreign to me.
Those days, when to sniff the breeze
and touch the earth and name the feeling
was all my task,
when friends and I would share
wine and crusty bread, art and music,
walk and talk and rest and joy,
a gift of time from God.
Now I remember: nights by southern beaches,
rain coming down through forests of trees,
bells ringing across the river,
crowds of jabbering strangers,
and quiet, misted afternoons by lakes.
A feeling comes to me,
flows from deep within,
and a wrenching, sweet aching
without a name
calls me back to a time of richness
and a time of pain.
I remember, and it happens again,
and I am grateful for those days.
They taught me that the world is full –
a feast without measure – of good gifts
from the Father, who is all
in all.

Another Surprise Visit

I was about a month into library school, and we decided to take a road trip. As I explained in a journal, “Naomi, Elaine and I journeyed to New York to see beloved people, cradled in the Lord’s arms. The first part of our trip was an adventure, especially for me. The car broke, and it was raining, 2:00 a.m. Along came an old truck driver (answering Elaine’s simple prayer) who needed someone to hug. I went along with him and a hitchhiker from Texarkana to a town twenty miles up the road. He found me a sheriff who found me a tow-trucker who fixed our car. Fine Virginia accents, four men’s lives and an important experience with the Lord’s love.

“New York was gray and broken down, like my last memories of Paris. Someone liked my leaning out of that Brooklyn window and shouted up to say so. Except for a few minutes when men down below were messing with some cars, the night was a comfort. Becky Reynolds was an angel.
“Next morning, I was pulling into New Haven. Maybe it’s colored by a particular inhabitant, but my feeling about the town is special. A dream and a prayer, that I’ll be there again. I found his street, remembering Christmas and wondering how it would be.
“Knocking on his door, in the dark, listening for footsteps –that startling old face, surprised for a minute, then just slightly smiling. We talked awhile, he took a bath, we decided on a church and drove there. Europe feeling, dark and cool and stained glass, the oldest church in New Haven. A visiting Scotch cleric preached on the Seven Last Words. (William Sloane Coffin is the Chaplain there.) A great choir and organ. So nice to pray with my friend, to sing “The Church’s One Foundation”. Then we ate, played, talked. Such a blessing. So hard to leave.” Here follow quotes from Mike Johnston, thanks to my good old list-making, moment-capturing, journaling compulsions. It's a one-sided conversation this time, as I didn't write down my half.

You want to go to church?
Sydney in church. What a kick. (Sydney Ahlstrom was Mike’s major professor.)
That would be a dandy Christmas even for somebody who didn’t know those people. I guess it would be for you.
One difference between you and me is that I don’t mind McDonalds. Maybe I don’t have an inner self.
It seems like there’s things we haven’t said. I mean, you just walked in and all of a sudden I was showing you the paper and we were picking a church. We hardly said hello.
Let’s go make some music.
When I get disgusted with Joni Mitchell and Shakespeare it’s because they’re barking up the wrong trees. Of course I say that because I’m not romantically in love with anybody right now.
I didn’t intend to suggest there was one specific dog…
Have you seen Harold and Maude? It’s the same reaction I have to Salinger – fifteen minutes later I say, “Wait a minute…”
I feel this…calling. It’s very Puritanical.
They don’t need to hear that!
Have I told you about Albert Schweitzer?
Surely anybody who’s studied church history doesn’t believe that.
My poor dad and my poor guitar sure get beat up in these arguments.
I used to tell Virginia about my lists and she’d preach flexibility.
What about this Holy Spirit business?
So what if you had kids? It’s so illusive, how do you teach them?
All to Jesus I Surrender
You’re not enough like the Sermon on the Mount. Perfection.
(Mike told me he came to our choral performance of the oratorio St. Paul on both nights.) Don’t you remember me? I was in the back near the middle.
I’ve been talking to people around here and they say a marriage really suffers in graduate school.
Royce said once that by the time we were fifty we’d all have a set of opinions we were sure of and wouldn’t consider changing. I swore that would never be true for me. I hope it isn’t.
This is almost too perfect…I have a grandfather like that, really sharp, around eighty…
(We discussed our reading: Lindbeck; Pelikan; Stringfellow)
I’ve never criticized your mother…
Yes? — Gwen? — That’s an intelligent question.
I repeat – there’s a lot to be said for majoring in religion.
This will entertain you. You were sitting behind me this one day because you made this squeal – or was it a squeak – anyhow, this little note came out because you were excited about something, and I thought, “You even sound good when you squeak.” I thought I’d tell you but I never did.
Who’s that couple in L.A.? (Chuck and ‘Nell)
There’s those birds…like Elaine and John.
Maybe calling someone nice isn’t always a compliment. (Responding to my comment that I’d like to become someone people would call a “nice” girl, as his friends George and Jerry described someone to me, driving around in a car one night.)
Sing me a song from Elaine’s wedding. (Paul Stookey’s “Wedding Song” and “Where are you going?” from Godspell; then Joni Mitchell’s “Priest Song,” Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” and Joni’s “I Think I Understand”)
I liked that song before I understood the words, and even then they weren’t a disappointment.
Let’s not worry about it. No need to break your neck…
We seem to spend all our time sitting in one room. Of course, that’s how I spend my days. We did go to church…It was a good vacation for me.
“And the wife, she holds the keys.” (Quoting a Joni Mitchell lyric)
I’ll let you know.
Nobody around here speaks the same language. George and I do, but we don’t always agree…
I feel about the same.

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