Wednesday, April 10, 2013

He Passed the Trial by Fire

Last night I saw Michael Nesmith in concert in Pittsburgh. It was a surreal experience in many ways. My husband and I approached the venue (70 minutes before the concert started, with all the other fans with OCD. Well, there's only so long you can eat dinner, right?). The first thing I spotted was two ladies wearing green wool hats. They and another friend were loudly discussing the Video Ranch website (Mike's merch outlet) and Monkees aps. Another woman wore her First National Band t-shirt. I then realized I was not the only geek, as I was also wearing my (vintage 1986) Nez t-shirt. As we were split into ticket-haves and ticket-have-nots, a man in front of me commented on my t-shirt, and showed me his Headquarters CD he proudly carried with him. I was amused, and just a little freaked out, over these and other proofs of the sort of instant bonding geekdom creates. It didn't matter that none of us knew each other. We all smiled a bit at each other because we all knew him. And obviously some people wanted it really known just how much they belonged in this fellowship.

So we sat there (yes, mere spouses of fans stood out a bit) waiting for the concert, and I was a bit awash in the humanity of it all. That doesn't happen to me real often.

I admit that when he walked onto the stage, I cried. Not cried like those videos of screaming teens at Beatles concerts. I mean cried, like a breath of anticipation that you've held in for, oh, maybe 35 years and finally exhaled. There he is. He is real.

See, I was a Monkees fan as a kid, but something about Michael Nesmith pierced more deeply into my soul than being a fan. I'm a fan of Paul McCartney, too, but if I would happen to see him in a similar concert (and I'm not even sure I'd bother going), there would be no comparison to the meaning last night's event held for me. You could say that I had a crush on him as a kid, I guess, but (as is my constant refrain), it really was more complicated than that. It was more that I wanted to be him. Intensely.

Whatever I understood about that desire in the past, I have come to understand it better after last night.

It seems to me that the reality of purgatory means that everything must be tested by fire. Fire does not mean destruction; fire in this case means Love. I had more than a moment's trepidation about buying tickets for this concert because I think I was afraid that this soul-piercing meaning would not stand the test any better than when I went to a Monkees reunion concert in the 80s. That was when I realized that the childhood fun the Monkees provided me was rooted in nothing much. The three silly young men (Mike did not do that tour with them) had grown into three silly old men who were still trying to turn a buck based on the antics of their youth. So, without thinking it through rationally, my emotions braced themselves for being disappointed in what I would perceive when finally seeing this influential figure in person. I prepared myself for my childhood dream going up in smoke. Nope, there was nothing special there after all. Stop dreaming, and live in reality.

So when he walked on the stage and I cried, the tears were perhaps trying to figure out whether they were saying hello or goodbye.

He did a slew of songs, most of which I knew, though some were new to me. And he introduced each one with a story, painting a scene like a movie vignette so you could picture the "he" and "she" characters. He used correct grammar, complete sentences with no slang, and lots of big words. Yep, I knew it was him. His lyrics, and the stories he shared, communicated profound meanings, of people accepting loss, facing difficulty, being brave, kind, gentle, honest, spiritual. He respectfully honored the very talented musicians who were his band. During the show I found myself internally yelling: I still want to be Mike Nesmith!!

A three-second gesture at the close of his final encore made my eyes and heart go wide for a moment. For a moment it seemed maybe I was Mike Nesmith. Acknowledging his audience's applause, he did about a nose-high namaste hand gesture. I do that, but (I suddenly realized) in reference to only one person, now that I don't live in Japan, and usually only at the sign of peace at Mass. (Although that usual got pretty unusual in the last several months.) But I know from the inside out what that means when I do it. It was a little unique, to say the least, to see him do the same thing.

I came home saturated with the experience, and mulled it over in that highly sensitive state my brain is in when it is near either side of sleep. And then, early this morning like every other, I headed to my friend Iwona's home for Lauds. For our opening hymn we sang a new praise chorus she had introduced for the first time just the day before. When I heard it Tuesday, I thought, well, that's a banal, generic praise chorus. This morning, my humanity feeling far more absorbent than usual, the song soaked in quickly, went deep and forced out the tears, and my understanding. The part that bit was this:

Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains [repeat]

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me [3x]

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

There is one thing that has always been true, even when I didn't realize it: God loves. God loves me. I am loved, me, by Him.

It's personal. Persons love persons, if love is real, that is. I've had every factor in that simple equation wrong, but one of the hardest things for me to take in in my life is that God calls me to be myself. I have been aware of it since my 20s, when I started toward the Catholic Church. But now I realize that my fascination with Mike Nesmith was, in ways I didn't even understand, an inclination towards God's desire for me to be me. I'm not Mike, but there are things about who he really is that resonate with who I really am. Without being really aware of it, I see now that I recognized in him someone who was showing me how to aspire to be truly human in a way that befits me. Humanity is a beautiful creation of God. We all fall short of God's full glory, but there is something powerful that can happen when we honor the gifts God has given us, and take the risks that put those gifts at the disposal of others.

One of those things is that the real me, I, can experience love. The real thing. The One Thing that never changes. The One Thing that is more real than I am. When I'm faking, I'm also closing myself off from love, from God. But when I'm real, without fear I can reach to you and say, you know what? One Thing is true for you, too. You are loved. The real you is loved by the real me, because of the One Thing that is more real than any of us. A fellowship is born that is much bigger than what forms around a musician. There is a fellowship that is born around Love. It's where real happens.

Wasn't it St. Catherine of Siena who said "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire"? Mike is still honoring the gifts God has given him. Those gifts have resonated with me, and sparked a hope in our Creator before I could even put my finger on it.

So thank you, Lord, for your gift, and thank you, Michael, for your faithfulness to your gifts and for sharing them. Your special place in my heart is reasonable, and has passed the trial by the fire of love.

One Thing Remains

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