Throughout each season, the weeks and days have their ebbs and they have their flows. Some weeks are easier to feel grateful for, to stay present in, while other weeks feel like I’m a firefighter running around franticly putting out fires. And some days, despite starting off gray and dreary. The kinds of days that fill me with dread for a long day of meetings or appointments or dealing with the less pleasant parts of our collective humanity, these days then end up surprising me with their sunny afternoons and meaningful moments. The ones I pull out my journal for and write down a few moments or conversations to remember.
This week has been a contemplative week. Nothing too dramatic happened within the work arena of my life, but I did have some meaningful conversations with some of our girls. These conversations do take an emotional toll on me sometimes, but in a good way, a satisfying way. The kind that leave you feeling like you might have helped add something to somebody’s life instead of stealing things away like our society so often does to us.
I met with one of my cousins this week and despite not seeing each other face to face for a few years now, we went ahead and decided to jump into the deep end of the emotional pool right away. As I talked through the last few years of my life, I was struck by just how heavy so much has been for me. I know this, of course, but just talking through it all like I did in such a short period of time, sheesh. The next morning I had a hangover. Not from alcohol, but from the conversation itself. I felt dazed a bit by it all. It helped remind me of how family, even after not seeing each other for a few years, still can understand details about each other, the deeply personal, intimate parts of ourselves, that not even our closest friends can truly understand. That’s special.
Despite my emotional hangover, Sarah and I had to attend a meeting with a team of people from Micah’s elementary school to discuss his behaviors at school, and what we need to be thinking about proactively to make sure that we are all doing everything we can to be thoughtful to help address him individually, and appropriately. He’s had some aggressive outbursts at school, and that requires meetings like these to discuss what is best for him and for the other kids in the classroom.
The meeting was two-hours long, but it felt like it lasted two days. It’s a humbling thing to spend two hours talking about your son’s needs and disabilities at length with five other adults. That’s a lot of time and resources to one child. One child in which we try to figure out ways to adapt to fit him into the box of our education system here in the United States, an education system built for a narrow portion of learning styles and abilities.
Directly after this meeting, feeling somehow even more emotionally depleted, Sarah and I had our normal weekly consultation with our boss to discuss the behaviors of the girls in our home for two hours. Strategizing, planning, giving and receiving feedback, brainstorming — these are all parts of each week’s consultation. And that is always draining to some degree, but when you’re already running on emotional fumes, it’s hard to stay in any sort of analytical mode.
The long hours aren’t the hardest part of our job. It’s the emotional demands of working with teenagers day in and day out. Teenagers who, for the most part, have no interest in receiving our help or advice or teaching, despite needing it very much.
Well, like I said, it wasn’t an especially emotionally taxing week with the girls, but it was a full week, nonetheless. Sarah and I did have to encounter some emotional situations outside of work this week, though, and we needed to balance that with the joys of Ezra’s birthday at the same time. And so by Friday night, I was emotionally depleted. I considered what would fill my cup back up again and Googled local concerts and saw that Iris Dement was playing at a local venue, show starting at 8:00. I can’t really escape from my work responsibilities until around 8:30 because we have to help the girls get to bed by 9:30 as well as the boys, who go to bed around 8:00 and fall asleep around 8:30.
Sarah and I alternate our nights with who helps with the boys’ night routine versus the girls’. Tonight was my night with the boys, but Sarah was at the mall helping one of our girls get a prom dress for next week’s prom. I didn’t know if I’d be able to escape on time to make it to the show.
When Sarah got back home, she gave me a loving nod of affirmation and said I could go. She’d finish up with the night routine with the girls. (These sorts of gestures are incredibly meaningful, and feel like much bigger sacrifices than they sound). I thanked her, hoping she knew how much it meant to me, and sped out the door to my car. My ETA was 8:48, and I figured I’d be able to park and get into the venue before Iris started her set.
The name Iris Dement didn’t mean a lot to me when I first saw she was in town. I mostly know her from her song “Let the Mystery Be,” which was the theme song for one or two of the seasons of the TV show The Leftovers on HBO, (one of my favorite shows of all time). The song itself is tremendous, too. It turns out that this was the very first song on her very first album. It was very fitting for the show, though.
I figured Iris was probably known for her unique-sounding voice. John Prine described her voice as “a voice like one you’ve heard before–but not really.” Another person described it as “a timeless voice, a voice that’s rooted in the ancient, keening cries of mourning women, trained around a campfire in the Ozark Mountains, and produced in a Nashville music studio 50 years ago. It’s a voice that can bleed with pain or burn with anger. It’s somehow harsh and sweet and whiny and lyrical all at the same time. And for all those reasons, it’s a voice that compels a person to listen.”
Don’t you wish you could go hear her play now, too?
I found a parking spot and jogged to the venue. I had to park a few blocks away because it was a Friday night and this is one of the few hip neighborhoods in the city. I just allowed the smell of weed to guide me to the concert.
When I got into the venue they were in between sets. The opener had finished and Iris hadn’t gotten on stage, yet. Exactly how I had hoped. I walked in and the guy at the ticket counter asked to see my ticket. I told him I didn’t have one. He was surprised and told me that they were $40. I gave him my credit card and he told me it was cash only. I did not bring cash with me. I had considered this to be a possibility, though it didn’t say anything about it being cash only on the website. But in my rush to get out the door, I forgot to bring cash. (I don’t typically carry cash with me).
He motioned to the ATM and said I could get cash from there. Now, I know many credit cards have the ability to request cash up to a certain limit, but either mine does now allow that or I do not know the correct pin because I was not able to withdraw any cash.
I hung my head and told them I wouldn’t be able to purchase a ticket after all.
The guys at the ticket counter saw my disappointment and had pity on me.
One of them looked at me and said, “I tell you what, let me make you a deal…”
The other one said, “Oh hey, what do you know. You’re on the list.” He was holding the list of people allowed to get in without a ticket.
The other guy said again, “We’ll let you in without a ticket, if you promise to tip the bartender real good.”
“I can do that!” I said.
If you know me, this is a very Andrew Seaman sort of story. I’m unsure of how these sorts of things happen to me so frequently.
Just my presence there brought down the average age of the concertgoers, I’d say to about fifty-eight. The show was a seated show. They had flimsy chairs in rows, and I sat towards the back.
When Iris came out, the crowd was fairly tempered in their applause. I’m used to shows where the fans kind of go wild when they even see a roadie come out. The mood of the entire evening was fairly reserved, and Iris even commented on this a few times. She said we were making her nervous. Someone yelled out, “We’re just polite! It’s Nebraska!”
Her songs resonated with me more that I even anticipated. They were challenging to our current society, (she’s clearly been haunted by the Trump presidency), but I also found them incredibly inspiring and empowering. In many ways I thought that rare and lovely thought “this person is my people.” Iris sees the details and events of our world in similar ways that I do. Her religious references and nods are from a seasoned believer who is far ahead on life’s journey of faith: the acceptance, the wrestling, the deconstruction, and cautious reconstruction.
Her lyrics resonated with me in ways that I’m not sure many other lyrics have. I was so surprised by just how much I felt seen and inspired. I belonged to this group of people. I was at the right place. I was so thankful for Sarah enabling my escape, and through the course of events from my initial Googling, to the pity of the bouncers, it all felt serendipitous that I was in attendance.
At the beginning of the show I pulled out my little pocket camera I take with me where I know photography probably isn’t allowed, or I don’t want to draw attention to my camera. I held it up quickly and snapped a test shot to see how I’d need to adjust my settings for the lighting. One of the bouncers walked up to me and said there was no photography allowed due to copyright. I realized that I hadn’t seen a single glowing screen in the room. A rarity at concerts these days, it would seem.
As I left I snapped a photo of the marquee outside, not realizing I accidentally nudged my shutter speed dial, making it much too fast. So, the two photos I took the entire night turned out extremely poorly. But that’s ok. The experience of the night was what I was there for anyway.
She played a three-song encore in which she played “Let the Mystery Be.” She the night with “Our Town,” which was predictable and appreciated by all in attendance. The lights brightened and everyone, who were all standing in applause, kind of looked around in appreciation. A large man wearing an old ball cap at the end of my row hooked his thumbs in the straps of his overalls, leaned back and said, “I reckon that was pretty good.”
I had to chuckle to myself at the caricature of that moment.
What led me to look up who was playing on a Friday night in Omaha, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was talking with my cousin about how much music means to him, how it speaks to him and comforts him in ways nothing else really does. Perhaps it was simply the knowledge that my emotional cup was completely empty and desperately needed to be filled. Perhaps my antenna picked up on the orchestration of God and it was just meant for me to be there. Who knows?
It’s all the same to me. I think I’ll just let the mystery be.