Changing the Lyrics to Ourselves

 

While listening to online radio one night—thankful for technology that encourages the human ‘spirit’—“Georgia On My Mind” sung by Ray Charles came through, and with tears came the rush of memory:

—“Pop”, as I had recently begun to call him, my strong silent father who answered to the name “Bill”, was sick. He had struggled and suffered since his diagnosis of a rare type of cancer and through the round of chemotherapy treatment that followed, and it seemed that he had taken a turn for the worse. On that day I was fortunate enough to be there with him and with the rest of our family: brother, sister, mom, and the other close relatives who trickled in throughout the day. 

Personally and honestly, I myself had been oblivious, selfish, and uncaring throughout most of his struggle, throughout most of my own life really, but the past no longer mattered. As his oldest son there were responsibilities that I had to fulfill, or so I thought: to show a personal strength or steadiness to what was at hand; to show a strong face; to be determined and able to handle whatever may come, and to handle it with dignity—for Pop, and for the rest of the family.

That last day—it seemed that all of a sudden the man he had been was inexplicably turning into something which I never saw coming: a weak, tired yet peacefully resigned, clinging sort of human figure; once the all-powerful mythical “Father”, one of such strength and resolve in my eyes, “steady as a rock” and unshakable, now with a body reduced to frailty and to weakness—that day had unexpectedly come.

Unexpectedly. It had only a few days ago when my brother and I had taken him to a local pool hall, and on the table we played he still had what I call the “rush of the dance” going easily, when the shots go in and a body dances freely around the table with cue-stick in hand, making one shot after another after another—a joy that needs no smile but exists naturally. An amazing display for such a body and spirit, however brief it was in time. We even shared food and “communed” together, all three of us picking through a single tray of fries and chicken we had ordered, with sticky fingers grabbing white napkins to clean up our hands, then later walking outside to the patio to sit for a few moments. A beautiful afternoon, and a memory that doesn’t fade.

That rush of excitement though, that “dance” around the table—certainly he was skilled at billiards, real tough in his early years according to one of his younger brothers later on. I knew it as well— I had heard the occasional rumor around town from others, about how he had a certain nickname that described his skills on the green felt. Unbeatable at times. But now the final day had come, and when the end was just a moment away it seemed, all I could do was just “be there”.

That last evening rolled around, the daylight hours passing as we all occasionally shared time outside when he was still able to walk and move, visitors coming and going—but his voice was growing scarcer and scarcer. The last words he spoke to me, after I asked for his forgiveness for the wrongs I had done in my life, were spoken with a slow and raspy voice: “We all do bad sometimes”. He was forgiving me completely, easily, without hesitation, in his own way.

(We all fall. We all struggle. And we can all rise again. Forgiveness, it seems, must begin from inside truly, and grow outward from there, continuing onward).

That last night, as his body lay in the hospital bed we had set-up in the main living room—at home, the place where he had wanted to stay in his last days—my sweet and brave mother began to sing to him. Throughout the day Pop had been watching television like he so often did in life, but now he was switching channels to the religious networks, reviewing his childhood faith and beliefs perhaps—things he never really spoke openly about. Pop was good though—he tried to live the way a person can and should, particularly later in life—helpful to others, honest, with an easy sense of humor, and kind, even to the little squirrels around the house—remembered by so many people he met, strangers it seemed who later came to pay their final respects to the body.

As mother sang softly that night, a religious song that she knew so easily, his body began to relax from the previous fit of unease and discomfort, and the very moment she stopped singing he motioned to his ear with his right hand. “Sing, he wants me to keep singing”, Mom said. I was beside the bed that was set-up in the living room, seeing that motion of his hand from my point of view, and well—if singing was what he wanted, singing was what he was going to get.

Mom brought out on old hymnal from the back bedroom and began with some familiar songs—“Send the Light”, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”, “How Great Thou Art”, “Amazing Grace”, and a few others. I joined in when I could, both of us singing softly and just good enough I guess. He became peaceful, finally closing his eyes to rest.

Eventually she got tired and sleepy herself after such a long demanding day and retired to the bedroom. I remained where I was, sitting right by his side on the couch, and grabbing that old hymnal I sang whatever I could find, leafing through the book, searching for songs that had a good message. The melodies weren’t important I thought, just the words and their meanings—I made up my own melodies to go along with them.

Finally I remembered—he had recently spoken to me and my brother about the time he had spent in Georgia as a younger man, living with his uncle further south, carefree and experiencing another world it seemed, probably far different from the small town he grew up in. That story, to me, was like him weaving some kind of magical and mysterious spell—the silent father finally sharing a moment of himself, something I had thought I never got to experience before.

And as he described that short period of life before marriage, it was like one of those times when the world seems full of possibilities, where nothing is yet “set in stone” and a lifetime could go in many different directions. And since I had exhausted the book anyways for its real ‘goodies’, “Georgia on My Mind” was the song that came to me. The problem was, I didn’t know the words—I only knew that lovely chorus and I wasn’t sure about how that really went.

As I sang it anyways, adding my own words to the ones I knew, mixed in between tears and softly whispering words of love, along with of my own strong belief of “life-to-come”, I knew I was making a mistake with the song, thinking “I wish I knew all the words”. But I kept flubbing through it, doing the best I could with what little I knew, laughing at myself and crying at the same time.

He passed on some short hours later, peacefully and at rest.

________________________________________________

I still apologize, even now. I didn’t expect to get so long-winded, nearly losing myself in the memory. But that song came back to me the other day abruptly on the radio. I hadn’t thought of it once since that night, and as it played I listened to those beautiful words Ray sang, agreeing with every one of their simple truths, every poetic phrase, every single word, until—

—nearly halfway through, the lyrics “no peace I find…just an old sweet song… keeps Georgia on my mind”. I stopped, puzzled and concerned. My first thoughts then: “Why ‘no peace’ Mr. Charles? Why not ‘such peace I find’? Or even ‘what peace I find’? Seems to me that such would be closer to the meaning of existence, closer to some ultimate truth in life, or something or another like that”.

(Such thoughts run their course, and there’s no need to stop them out of fear—just follow on through, listen, and make any changes as you so choose.)

Of course, and truthfully now, creativity can be expressed in whatever way a person chooses—the melancholy of a sad and dark mood, the emptiness of a particular dream, or the pure joy of being alive—but it almost always displays a reflection of one’s own personal beliefs and ideas. But I think there is more to it than that.

It brings me back to the thought that we do live in a world with that most unfortunate idea almost built into it, that thing that says, “if there is good there must be bad”; or “without bad we cannot know good”. Similarly—the Yin/yang duality, the balancing of influences, the positive vs. the negative, right versus wrong, faith versus reason, inner versus outer, and on and on and on. Pick your terms.

Perhaps, and it does make sense in a way, we haven’t yet as a whole been ready to move beyond such concepts. That we, as a whole, cannot accept the natural rightness of our lives that we have been given—the life that flows through the flesh even as the breath does; that divine spark that exists within ourselves and seeks to create and to just be—accepting our basic innocence as easily as an animal within its own nature does.

Sometimes I think, “we have a long way to go”, but then I remember to slow down, take my time, and not to rush to any conclusions or dire proclamations. They would build their own momentum, and there would be a huge mess to deal with after that.

The natural “magic” of simply living the best life possible and not hassling every little detail that falls short, shaking off old ideas and limitations, learning to trust the inner integrity that is already there—these will automatically come when the need or desire makes it possible. We can then “re-write ourselves” and have a new song—one that doesn’t limit our understanding, nor cause us to fall back into the habits of our pasts, but rather one that liberates and expands ourselves even further, ringing throughout the moment, forever.

 

 

Peace, and be well as always

—M.R.S.

 

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9 thoughts on “Changing the Lyrics to Ourselves

  1. Michael, that was so beautiful. Your father, my “Butterball”, was the best man I’ve ever known. You were so blessed to have him as a Father, as I had wished so many times that he was my own. I looked up to him as a Father, he was the only father figure I ever had. He was so extremely proud of you, Troy and Susie. He would be so humbled by this story. He was indeed a silent, mysterious man, but you could always see the love in his eyes. Thank you so much for sharing this. We all lost a wonderful person that day, but these memories, we get to keep forever…. And I’m so happy that you shared your own memories that I had never heard. You were such a strong person, for us all, in those last days, and for that I will always be thankful!

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    1. Dearest Ashley, thank you for the kindness. No doubt his life was richer for you being in it. All those years when he had talked of you, I never “got it”, I never knew, until we were able to meet and become closer during that brief time afterwards. Then I understood why he was so taken with you, and all the other girls there—so much love to give, so much of one needing the other, and both being better because of each other. I am grateful.

      He did what he could for us, brother, sister, and me—then he got to be the father-figure all over again, twice in a lifetime, and doubly blessed because of it. That was because of you, and the other girls that he so adopted as his own.

      The memory that never fades, indeed. But for me, even now I whisper in my mind the same as I did that last night to him—when we meet again, and we most certainly will—the spirit never fades or disappears, but grows more into what it always has been—that I expect more of the same from him even there, the love he so freely gave even in his most simple actions and words, and a special place all built-up anew, an open and airy house of sorts, with a natural and expansive landscape, and the golden waters of a nearby pond twinkling like sunlight, and plenty of room for the children to play and explore.

      A slice of heaven tucked away in its own corner of the universe and All That Is God. It may take time to get there, or it may not, but the moment will come when we all get to laugh and cry with joy once again, all together, and a new beginning that will be so strangely familiar, as if we had known it all along but merely forgotten for awhile so that we could experience this one single lifetime here in this world. That we can have others to share the journey, no matter how brief the walk, is a true and real miracle. Thank you, again and again, thank you.

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  2. Uncle Michael, thanks for making me cry my eyes out! But not tears of sadness; tears of overwhelming great memories of pawpaw. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about. My favorite part of this message is the mention of the “magic” of just living the best life possible. There is a book I have read many many many times called “Did I Ever Wake Up?” Only enough, the author is a rapper known as “ModSun” that correlates perfectly with the “magic” already within ourselves.

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    1. Thank for the recommendation. I will check into it. I’m not deterred that the author is a rapper—some people call them poets, which they are. As Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Art too is a way of living”, and don Miguel Ruiz says that every person who has ever lived is an artist creating their life experience. And as a poet in the family recently said, “If you are positive, you will lift people up”. Our point of view becomes important then, and how we see things.

      I am still finding memories at times about Pop, things that were overlooked or missed, that still humble me. He made life look like it was so easy, or at least how he dealt with what life brought, seemed like it was so easy for him. Maybe that was his own “magic”, living naturally and making Life seem easy as it should be. Humble—he never preached such “faith”, he just lived that way. As each person’s path is unique and their own, it’s encouraging to come across other footprints and hear other footfalls along the way, crisscrossing and going further on their own way, to know that it’s possible to make the journey after all.

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  3. To my darling son Michael, I am so proud to call you my son. The things you said about your dad, well you hit it right on the money. It was such a touching piece you wrote about your dad. I think it is the best thing you have ever written. When I read it, it sure tugged at my heartstrings. The whole time I read it, I could just vision your dad and see his beautiful face. I have such wonderful memories with your dad. We all loved Bill and thought he was so special.

    People use to ask me if I was jealous when he went to see Ashley and Brooke so much. I told them no because Bill Schronce has a lot of love to go around to everyone! I think of the times and the good memories he and I had when we took Tylor and Taylor to Gatlingburg. They would laugh at their pawpaw because he was always checking the girls out for Taylor. Taylor would tell him that one girl was about 21 and he would tell his pawpaw he was only 13! Tylor and Taylor would hide his cigarettes, his glasses, his teeth, and his lighter. They could push his buttons then and he would threaten them that we were going home.

    I remember when you, Susie, and Troy was little and we would play in the snow. We would all gang up on your dad and have snowball fights! We three usually got the best of him. I also remember when Tylor and Taylor and I had a bunch of snowballs ready and we hid behind a tree and when your dad stepped out of his truck we got him good! I remember one time when you, Susie, and Troy were in something on the same day. He and I figured out how to go to your game, Susie’s beauty pageant, and Troy’s game too. That was the kind of man your dad was, he didn’t want to miss anything his children were in. I remember him helping Susie’s softball team at church. I know that was special to her because they had special quality times together. I remember us going to your art shows and how proud your dad was of you. I remember how proud your dad was when Troy pitched in baseball .

    I used to tell your dad that Susie and Troy looked just like him but acted like me but that you had a lot of his ways and was quiet like him. He would just smile that beautiful smile of his! You know after you dad died later on, people would come up to me and share something that he had did for them that I did not even know about. I guess now everyone knows why when I first laid eyes on Bill, I fell hard for him. I thank God for putting him in my life and having so many wonderful years with him. Michael, you are so much like your dad in ways that you don’t even know, and I am sure you will carry his legacy on. I pray for you every day and I love you. Love mom

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. You made me ball my eyes out at work! Your father was the greatest man I have ever and will ever know. Like Ashley said, he was also my only father figure I had in my life. You’re really blessed to have him as your father. I absolutely loved this story you shared and it brought back many many of my memories with your dad. He was such a strong man! He was never too open about anything, but he was open just enough. But again, this is a very wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing!’

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    1. Your welcome dear, and thank you for the kind words. I miss him also. The sound of the truck when brother is getting closer to the apartments here is such a strong reminder. It takes time, but for a brief moment it seems that I am expecting someone else. It’s a good feeling though, and there’s room for those memories, and they grow and change as well. The connection isn’t lost—the past is alive within them. Someone wise once said that as long as we remember our past it stays alive, and those who were in it as well. It’s comforting to think that we still have that, and so we do.

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      1. Michael we loved your Dad so very much. He was a quiet man and a strong man. He was always so very happy and loving to all of his family. I can remember him always being there for his Mom. Mom loved him dearly and it was so very hard for her to say good bye. He was a super hero to his sister Betty and to his other sisters. They all loved him Dearly. His sister’s Betty, Mildred, Vernell, Becky and Kathy all adored him. His brother’s Robert and Harold loved him dearly too. We have lost our Uncle Robert today and he will be with your Dad now. His nieces and nephews loved to see him coming. He was like a Dad to Ashley and Brooke. We miss his kindness and his laughter. He was always worrying about FM and Me during his sickness. He would come and knock on the door to wake FM to make sure he was okay. He was amazing worrying about FM when he was so very sick. He would come over and sit with us and watch the food channel. I remember the last Christmas at Moms when I gave him a Christmas present he reach over and gave me a kiss and this thrilled me because I loved Uncle Bill so much and so did FM. We miss him so much. He loved Grandma and Grandpa Schronce so very much. He was the kind of son everyone dreams of. Terry was loved so much by them and by all of us too. She is so kind and loving to all she meets. I cried when I read your story about your Dad. You really honored this Great man well. We all love you and are so proud of you just like your wonderful Pop.

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      2. Those are some nice words and memories. Thank you for that.

        Yes, His brother Robert passed away, and like Jeff said, he’s there now with Bumper, Grandpa, and Pop. I remember Robert coming over to see Pop on his last day, and Jeff with him. I know that Pop was comforted to see him, and I was happy to see Jeff, being closer to him in age.

        Pop talked of them sometimes, when he would go visit them. That was Pop, always visiting and seeing his family. I’m glad that Mom and I was able to visit over at Carol’s and be there for them in whatever way they needed for a time. It’s good to see family, and brings back all kinds of memories when we were all gathered together. Someday, in some way, we may all meet again and remember how much love there is for one another, a love that’s just there and doesn’t even have to be said, that comfort and joy we have to just be around people who are part of one big family, through the good times and the tough ones.

        Love you, bunches and bunches, and take care of you and your own growing family as well! —–michael

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