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Songs & Signs

I’m willing to take most anything as a sign from God. It’s just up to me to recognize it and then (the hard part) interpret it.

This week, though, the recognition and interpretation don’t seem so difficult.

I’m writing this from the back porch of a cottage in Round Pond, Maine, looking out over the little harbor that gives the town its name.

I’m here on vacation with Ann and Hunter, to whom I am husband and father, respectively. Along with my sisters and their spouses, we’re visiting my nephew, Robyn, and his family, who live nearby.

What I feel is God’s grace – unearned, un-repayable love. That’s the first sign, the one I perceive often in different ways.

And two more easy-to-accept signs have come my way.

Robyn left a six-figure job in Boston to move here. He designed animated graphics for a major advertising firm. His work included signature graphics for JetBlue and Acura.

Rob moved here to Maine with his wife, Erin, and their two children, August and Daisy – 6 and 4 years old. He’s about to start his new job as the computer-tech guy at the local high school.

His pay cut was enormous. But he left behind his somewhat grueling commute. He gained great swaths of time with his children. His happiness has blossomed.

I take that as a sign that I need to be sure of my priorities – an important concept for one embarking upon retirement.

I’ve loved my work (well, most days) all my life. Now I need to love the way I spend my time away from work. This should be interesting.

That’s a sign.

And then last night I walked up the road a couple hundred yards to a neighborhood grocery store where, once a week, a jam session convenes – on the lawn outside when it’s warm enough. Guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, a bass, a dobro – all on hand.

The music was mostly bluegrass – sweet songs I remember from when I was a kid, some of them more than a century old (that would be before I was a kid).

“Hey, good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’?” we all sang along.

“Way down in Columbus, Georgia, wanta be back in Tennessee” was one guitar picker’s lament in a Civil War prison song.

It was music that has been shared a long time in a lot of places. If I closed my eyes, I could put myself in my hometown, Floyd, Va., at the Friday Night Jamboree – Floyd’s weekly music event at the town’s country store and on the surrounding streets – the tunes and instruments more or less the same.

The sign I took from the evening’s music was, again, not hard to read. Music is one thing, maybe the easiest-to-understand thing, alive in all of us. And what we share can transcend what divides us.

I’ve been called to become an elder at GPPC, starting next month. One of the questions asked when I was interviewed by members of Session was what I hoped to reap from the experience myself.

I replied that in our hateful, divisive political climate – especially during the current presidential season – I need inspiration and guidance to understand those whose views I find so repelling. There are people I know as good, kind, loving people, whose politics leave me, well, disgusted. Must they be lost to me?

Last night, and every Monday night here in Round Pond, there is music. This Friday and every Friday in Floyd, there is music. Between those two places, and even in each place by itself, the left-to-right political spectrum is, I believe, nearly complete.

Let the music prevail. It’s in us all. And there are other elements, shared and uniting. We must find ways to let the transcendent transcend.

That’s my sign and I’m sticking to it.

Randy Hallman is recently retired from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where he has resurfaced with a weekly column on NASCAR. He has served on our Session in various other decades and more recently taught our middle and high school youth in Sunday School. He has written at least one blues song, which he says he’s closer than ever to performing in public.


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