Once in a while from out of nowhere
When you don’t expect it, and you’re unprepared
Somebody will come and lift you higher
And your burdens will be shared
That’s the first half of the last verse of “Gone At Last”, written by Paul Simon and performed with the late Phoebe Snow. This is one of my favorite gospel songs by a contemporary (to me) artist and whenever I hear it, I remember the women in the choir of the church I attended as a child. It was impossible to remain downcast while listening to those ladies. There were a few men in the choir, but you never really heard them. Those women rocked for Jesus. Each week, they prepared, they practiced and they performed with the singular ambition of raising our spirits.
Ours was a small Methodist church, with a tiny choir but those women had a big voice. In fact, the whole congregation could crank the volume up on hymns. I’m not saying that the congregation or the choir for that matter was made up of good singers. Rather, they weren’t embarrassed about singing. I’ve taken both my wife and daughter there for a visit, and they both looked around to see where the singing was coming from, as if there were 20-30 people tucked away in the back.
We were taught to sing early in that church. We sang hymns in Sunday school, we had a junior choir and every year at Christmas, the Kindergarten Sunday School class performed “Jesus Loves Me” for the congregation. Frail timid voices standing in front of the church, the big people church, the upstairs church, under the tireless direction of Mrs. Merssing. We half sung and half mumbled our way through all three verses “…yes Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.”
By the time we were able to join the church as youth members, we were expert singers. Some of us had awful voices but we weren’t afraid to sing out loud in public.
Years later, when I first attended church with my wife, it was a Roman Catholic Church where they don’t really sing. Yeah, they sing a verse here, a verse there, but never all four verses and never loud enough to shake the foundation. I’m not sure if my wife was impressed or frightened by the fact that I didn’t have to open the Hymnal. The song was an old standard. I know the first verse of almost all of those. I can make it through 2 or 3 verses of some favorite ones like Amazing Grace without cracking the book open. Of course I was singing louder than anyone around us and I was a bit sad when the organist stopped playing after that first verse. On a hot day our minister might have said “let’s close by singing verses 1, 2 and 4 of…” but we never only sang one verse, never.
OK, enough of my trip down musical memory lane, let’s get back to people who can really sing, Paul and Phoebe.
Gone at last, gone at last
I’ve had a long streak of that bad luck
But I’m prayin’ it’s gone at last
Paul Simon wrote “Gone at Last” in 1975 and it was one of four Top-40 hits on the album “Still Crazy After All These Years.” When I first heard the song, I was still living my long streak of bad luck. I might have been prayin’ it would end, but the end wasn’t near. Several years later, events brought me to New England and I met what my boss calls “my trifecta.” Within a 1-hour period I met the woman who would eventually become my wife, my best friend and my barber. 33 years later, those three people are still in those roles and they are still sharing my burdens. When I met them, I sensed my long streak of bad luck finally coming to an end.
Marriage, among other things is the art of sharing burdens and my wife has been sharing mine for over 30 years. Some burdens are real and some are the result of the fact that men don’t handle burdens as well as women; men define things as burdens that women accept as life. The difference in the amount of weight we carry doesn’t seem to matter to her; from paper cuts (ooh I hate those) to career challenges, she’s been there to help shoulder all of them. The rest of the verse that is posted at the top is the real point of the song for me, the part I wish I could sing as well as Phoebe Snow:
Yes I do believe, if I hadn’t met you
I might still be sinking fast
I’ve had a long streak of bad luck
But I’m praying it’s gone at last
Phoebe Snow died on April 26th in 2011 – R.I.P. Phoebe. By the way, here’s the studio version of “Gone At Last” – give a listen, that’s my favorite way to hear that song and I think it might lift your spirits.