You are always on your way to something wonderful if you will just allow it. Abraham-Hicks
The June air was clear and cool and sweet, and the setting sun flickered through the trees and into Joy Center’s main room. Jerry Mills was lit up, center stage last Wednesday evening, performing his songs to an appreciative audience. His songs stand by themselves, glorious story ballads that rise up from some deep soul place inside of him, songs that he sings with his whole heart, songs that stir our hearts as we listen. I’ve been listening to his songs for the past few months, ever since I first met him at the TedX Conference in Marquette back in April, cranking the volume up each day and singing along as I putter-clean my home. And this would have been enough, his singing last Wednesday, but there were the stories. The stories in between the songs, the stories that sometimes interrupted the songs, the stories that embellished the songs. Jerry Mills is Irish, has the gift of gab, is a master story-teller; in fact, he has made a profession of traveling the country inspiring people with his stories.
So last Wednesday, we the audience were entertained and touched and transported as story and song mingled together in the sweet summer-like air. There was the story and then the song that followed the story about a miner, a family man, working the midnight shift, that stirred me as I felt a love for my neighbors, so many of them who work at the Tilden. And there was the story leading up to another song, one entitled, “Grateful”. The story, a litany of magical almost unbelievable moments in a day of allowing the magical almost unbelievable moments to flow, made me grateful for magical almost unbelievable moments, and made the song, which was already alive, even more vibrant. And there was the one about a road trip to Maine, one that included a moose and the rocky coast and the lobstermen, one that led to a song that he had never sung in public before. There was story after story, song after song.
Near the end of the performance, Jerry began another story to introduce the song, “Believe”. He explained that he had been contacted back in the summer of 2005 to speak at a town in Mississippi that had been flattened by Hurricane Katrina, and, of course, he had said yes. And then he went on to share with us his process, how the stories, the speeches, the what-to-say-to-a-particular-group, comes to him in the days leading up to an engagement, usually in an easy flowing way. But this had felt so big and nothing was coming to him. So, he told us the story of how he brought his guitar to Presque Isle and he sat on a log and he listened, on this gloriously clear day, to the Lake, to the gulls, and to his own inner voice, and a tune began to rise up, and the words began to flow, and he strummed his guitar and he began to sing, out loud and free. And a song began to take form, a song of hope out of devastation, of still standing when all else has fallen, a song of believing.
And then Jerry paused, in the telling of his story. And we, in the audience, paused with him.
And then he started strumming a bit on his guitar, tuning up for the song that would follow his story, and he continued. “So I’m singing this song and it is feeling good, and the words are coming easily, and all of a sudden . . .” And then he paused again, as though something was beginning to brew. “And all of a sudden . . .”
And, in that pause, I am feeling it, the clear air, the smell of balsam, something taking form . . .
“So I’m singing this song, and all of a sudden, a woman pops up from the rocks beneath me . . .”
He looks at me and I look at him. “I think it was you!” he laughed.
The smell of balsam, a blue lake in July, my writing journal, a song in the air. . . “It was me!” I cried out.
And then, with all of us laughing, he finished his story, how the woman said, “thank you!” but she couldn’t quite hear the words. And that’s when he sang it to her, and his song, his brand-new song, found its first audience on the shores of Superior.
So last Wednesday, as Jerry began to sing again, this song that I had first heard seven years ago, it all came back to me, how it almost was too much, a gorgeous summer day, a tall Irishman I had never met before, singing to me a brand-new song. I remember how I scurried to my car, forced myself to breathe, to breathe it in, this gift that I had just received. But I don’t think I did. Not all the way. Not until this moment at Joy Center, when I breathed it in again, this song with the title “Believe”, breathed it in deeply, in an almost unbelievable moment in an evening of magical moments.