Thursday, February 19, 2009


Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not a Christian, and that my world view can best be described as devout agnostic. Every once in a while I run into a situation that strikes me as a little too convenient to have been just random chance, and this is one of those situations. It's why I've never made the leap of faith to being a full-blown atheist, although I do admit to standing firmly on the precipice.

A little background information first:

When I was in high school, I played in a rock band. We were terrible, there's no question of that, although we did do quite a few gigs around town for proms, parties, etc, but rarely club gigs (that was when I was in college). This story involves two of the people in this band, Lori and Greg. 

Lori was our female vocalist, and I suspect rather strongly the reason we got any bookings at all. She has continued to be a professional musician as far as I can tell for her entire life. I've have very little contact with her outside of two class reunions, both of which we performed at, either with the original band or sitting in with the band playing at the reunion. Greg was our guitarist, and while he's a great guy and a good friend to this day, and we've kept in touch on and off over the years. 

When I was in college, Greg had gone off to join the Air Force, but the band continued with a different guitarist and bassist for a couple of years. During this time, we purchased a small PA system, nothing special, that Lori, myself, and the bass player owned collectively. The bass player and Lori did not get along well at all, and eventually the band broke up after my sophomore year, although the bass player and I formed up another band that played out for another year or so before it too fell apart. That's the nature of bands, I guess.

What is important is that when Lori left, she was never cashed out for her investment in the PA, which was $170. I ended up with the PA "head" (the part with the amp and mixer), and the bassist ended up with the speaker cabinets. When we split up the equipment, I paid the bassist in such a fashion that I was technically not responsible for paying Lori back for it - in other words, I paid him Lori's part of the PA head, or $85. The bassist didn't really care if he owed Lori money, and in fact insisted on this arrangement. I went along with it, but it's bugged me that, at least ethically, Lori never got reimbursed for this equipment. The PA head is long gone (I sold it in 1987), but the "burden" of knowing that someone got screwed out of their piece of the pie has stuck with me to the present day.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I sold one of my old Macs to Greg, who wanted to screw around with Garageband (apparently he never leaves the room with the computer now). I gave him a very good deal, as I always do with friends who buy my old gear, and when I went to deliver the computer to him, he told me that he'd recently become born again and that as part of his examining his life he needed to come clean with me about something he'd done back when we were in high school. At one point we'd rehearsed in my parent's basement for a few weeks during the summer where my father kept his wood shop. For reasons that escape Greg at this time, he'd stolen a hand plane from my Dad, and since he's moved very little over the past 20 years, it's stayed with him. 

Every time Greg saw this plane in his garage, he'd feel badly about having taken it. Wanting to be "right with the Lord" he decided to get it cleaned up and give it back to me, being unable to give it to my father as he's been dead for nearly 15 years. So it was that when I brought his new computer to him, he explained what he'd done and presented me with the plane. 

I'll be very clear here - this is the reason that Greg and I have been friends for so long. He's that kind of people, the kind who value their friends enough to not only want to (eventually) resolve these sorts of burdens, but to carry them in the first place. He felt terrible about having done this, and too embarrassed to put it right, at least until he felt that he had an obligation to put it right. He was terrified that I'd be disappointed in him, although I thought it was cute more than anything else. For one thing, my father had about a bazillion hand tools and to my knowledge never noticed that this one plane was missing. In fact, when my mother asked me to catalog and box up the various tools he'd had in their attic after his death, it took 35 boxes to hold them all. The hand saws alone took up five boxes, the planes another three. In a sense, Greg's youthful indiscretion had actually *saved* me time and effort, although in a small way.

Of course I immediately forgave Greg for having stolen something, even if it was from my father rather than from me, and since he'd gotten it all cleaned up I gave it back to him and told him to use it as a way to tell others (particularly teens) about how your deeds follow you through your entire life, even the simple stupid ones, and that the best way to deal with them is to 'fess up and try to make things right. Greg was very surprised by this reaction, but it sure felt like the obvious choice to me. I told him that I had a couple of these burdens in my life as well, including the debt I at least morally owed to Lori for this PA. 

And here's where life comes and hits me upside the head. A friend of mine who belongs to the University Club took Mel and I out for dinner last weekend. This is the kind of place that I am generally uncomfortable in - while I consider myself to be well-educated, I'm not a big fan of pretension or ostentation. Of course, that's all in the eye of the beholder, but in my case I draw the line at exclusivity. I had joked to Mel that she would know people from the club (she did, a couple of agents from a real estate agency Mel had done office management work for), while I would know people from the band. 

Early in the evening, Mel asked if the female vocalist in the band was Lori. I looked over at her, and was pretty sure it was not in fact Lori, but I must need a new prescription for my glasses because it was indeed her. Unfortunately, I didn't notice until late in the evening, and while we did exchange a hug in the middle of the set, I didn't get a chance to speak with her when the band took their next break because our hosts needed to leave before then. 

It was a day later that it occurred to me that perhaps this was my chance to put down my own burden, small as it was. While I wasn't able to get specific information about the band, I was able to find an address for Lori online and am sending her a letter this very day asking her to contact me so that I can take care of some old business. 

In the name of full disclosure, there was a time when I was in college and Lori and I were still in a band together when I had hoped to date her, and she ended up with the guy who she eventually got married to. That's an entirely different story, of course, but it should be noted that I was very attracted to her at one time. We had a very good stage relationship, and I've always enjoyed working with her. I also recognize that we would have been a terrible couple for many reasons and got over the rejection within a short amount of time. 

The point of all of this is the synchronicity of these events coming together within a very short period of time. While I'm still of the opinion that if there's a Christian God (or any other kind, for that matter) that wants me to believe in Him/Her/It, that there are better and more straightforward ways than throwing the occasional wild coincidence into my life. Certainly not with a Bible that's been translated and retranslated with political ends in mind for the last 4000 years. However, it does make me wonder if there isn't some sort of active intelligence behind the scenes that gives the occasional nudge in the right direction and in my best interest. It's clear that my "owing" Lori money all these years, no matter how little and no matter how tentatively, has stuck with me enough to know that it's time for me to take care of the situation, no matter if it's me that owes her the money or someone else. 

What also surprises me is that it took faith for Greg to come around to putting down his own burden, although of course by extension that means that his faith is helping me to put my own down as well. All I know is that this is the part of organized religion that I like - the nudge to do the right thing in a given circumstance, no matter how long ago the wrong was committed. 

If you read this and think of old burdens that you'd like to put down, and do so, then Greg's faith will be even more justified, and there's something about that that I find tremendously encouraging, even if I myself don't share that faith. Today, I'm walking a little lighter. Call it an "Earl" moment, and thank goodness I don't have a list like that popular television character does, but I know that I'm glad to have finally put it to rest. 

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