This is a non-political observation. It will not contain poll information or weigh the relative strengths and weaknesses of Romney and Obama. Instead, it's an opportunity to write about and remind us all of the power of simple kindness.
Those who know me, know music has always been a large part of my life. It is especially powerful when associated with church and worship and liturgy. All the years of doing Godtalk, there were pieces and artists who played a prominent role setting themes on Sunday mornings. The opening, Amazing Grace, no matter how tired or unfocused I might be, never failed to center me and open me to whatever would occur that day. Artists like Jesse Manibusan and Annabelle would add their music to a Sunday when we could share and touch each other. However, no artist has ever touched and moved and inspired me over the years as much as Sandi Patti.
I first became aware of Sandi while listening to Jim Eason. He played a cut of her singing the national anthem and it was the best I had ever heard. In 1982, my wife and I were away from home in Washington D.C. and at Christmas time we watched a program called "Christmas in Washington" which featured Sandi. I was knocked out again. I never forgot her, and when I started on Sunday mornings, I bought her album Let There Be Praise, and I played cuts from it for years. (I probably overdid it I'm sure.) Eventually, I saved her for Christmas and Easter. Her version of O Holy Night sends chills up my spine and her offering, "Was It A Morning Like This?" is perfect for Easter Sunday. In the four plus years I have been a guest of the federal government, I have had no contact with Sandi or her music. Until today. (a Sunday morning ironically)
Recently, our gracious hosts have allowed their guests to purchase MP3 players. We can download songs to them. The player and the downloads are too expensive for me. I could not justify spending that much money on a luxury like this as I depend on the kindness of friends and family for any money I have. I use most of it for the phone, emails and mail to friends and family. I was talking to a friend who is in my Sunday night Godtalk/catechism class. (it's a very cool group and you would love the talk) He has an MP3 player and I asked him if he had ever heard of Sandi Patti? He said no, so I had him look her up in the song lists and listen to some snippets of her work. One of my favorite songs is called The Name of the Lord. He listened, and then I left without giving the encounter a second thought.
This place is a place of extremes. There is extreme noise which can be mind numbing. There are extreme personalities, which, if not handled wisely, can explode into confrontation and oppressive tension. Extreme loneliness is always present even as you live in a barracks with 200 other people with about 3 feet of personal space. You learn how to navigate among the extremes and the peace or quiet of you daily life depends on excellent navigation. This is also a place where there is extreme cruelty as well as unexpected and shocking acts of kindness.
On this Sunday morning, about the time I would have been on the air, with a beautiful sunrise and gorgeous azure sky overhead, I was going out to do my job sweeping the compound. (or as the re-entry skills program calls it...learning skills to prepare me to work at Disneyland) My friend called me over and handed me his headphones and MP3 player. He said,"...don't touch anything...Here is the volume button and I put it on repeat so you can listen to it over and over again as you sweep." He then turned it on adjusted the earpieces and I heard a live version of Sandi Patti singing In The Name of the Lord. I walked into the compound with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. (I was taught very early in here you never, ever let anyone see you cry...it labels you as weak and as prey) I walked faster, by myself, and started sweeping and listening, as I was flooded with memories and images of shows and callers and events which this music was a part of and trigger.
It cost between $1.25 and $1.50 for him to download this song. In your world that might get you something off the dollar menu or an extra shot in your half-calf, soy latte with non fat milk, but in here it is 3 letters home...phone time with voices who keep you sane...an email to your wife or children...part of a meal to supplement the meager offerings given here at breakfast, lunch and dinner. To spend $1.50 on someone else...use limited download space for a song for someone else...take the time to sit and select the song all so it could provide me with a moment of pleasure, and then, out of the blue, offer it to me to listen to on a gorgeous Sunday morning, is an act of kindness and a glimpse of the grace of God visible in this world.
This is not the first random act of kindness I've experienced in a system which is by design inhumane, soulless and devoid of the most simple rudiments of compassion, and each time I am struck and stopped by the power and effect they have on me.
Each night, before sleep, I recall 5 reasons to be thankful for my day. (By the way, if I can come up with 5 examples from my day in here for which I am grateful, how many can you come up with?) Giving thanks is one key to persevering and overcoming adversity, and it is also humbling...something I needed badly. Tonight, I will give thanks to one man and his decision to show me a kindness and be humbled by his graciousness and total lack of expecting anything in return. To quote a famous French archbishop, "...the miracle is not that God occasionally touches our world. God is constantly in the world. The miracle is when we see it."