So when my brother and I were in high school, he at a boys’ school, I at a girls, we each had similar but different tastes in music. I went for some Rolling Stones, Doors, Led Zeppelin, both of us Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers, but he had some interests that appealed to me as well… Humble Pie, James Gang, Jethro Tull…
“Feeling alone, the army’s up the road, salvation a-la-mode and a cup of tea. Aqualung, my friend, don’t you start away uneasy. You poor old sot, you see, it’s only me…. “
We were not hard rockers at all but we did enjoy some of everything. Among of my favorite classical pieces were Dvorjak’s “New World Symphony”, or Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.
About 20 years ago my dad made a gift to me one summer to study at Oxford University. This was a fascinating little town, not just for its ancient history but the people. Nowhere else have I ever felt more separated from a people who basically speak the same language.
Up early one Sunday morning I walked to a nearby pastry shop for some coffee. On my way there I passed a homeless gentleman swathed in tattered blankets against the lee wall of a brick building just wakening to the sun’s early rays. It was first of June, warmer now and I gently stepped around so as not to startle him.
I bought 2 coffees at the shop, and a small pastry for myself. I added a much larger “pasty”, something like a big kolache, and headed out.
Sitting fully upright now he was awake and I slowed as I neared him, he suspiciously eyeing me with puffy slits for eyes, a toothless mouth slightly agape.
I slowly bent down to hand him my offering.
“I cahn’t drink milk!” he exclaimed.
“It’s coffee,” I replied, softly.
He took the nourishment, tucking them protectively to himself and I wandered on.
Two days ago I stopped in to the grocery store for a couple of items, and added canned goods, some peanut butter for the food pantry box by the door. As I left the store a man on an electric cart rushed me. “Can you spare some change for a sick veteran?”
Surprised I lost the presence of mind to go back into the store and purchase him some food. No idea whether he was either a veteran or sick. He reeked of cigarettes and squinted at me with bleary, bloodshot eyes. So I pulled out a bill and before handing it to him launched into a lecture the likes of which I’d no idea where it came from:
” Ok,” I said, “you are going to set this on fire, aren’t you?” He looked thoroughly confused, shaking his head no as I forged on:
“You will burn this up by using it to buy cigarettes! I worked hard for this and if I give it to you you’ll just burn it up, won’t you?!”
Still shaking his head he said, “Doctors told me I have 6 months to live, I can’t eat pork, I know I shouldn’t smoke… ” his voice wavered and broke as it faded in futility.
So at this point I’d no choice but to give him something. You see, he could be telling me anything but I engaged in this ridiculous argument with him probably because I knew I should do something and this wasn’t it, but what I needed to do –buy food for him– was not forthcoming. So I handed him the bill and said, “I love you.” After my scathing remarks it was all I could think of. He asked for a hug and I leaned over and carefully circled his frail shoulders asking God to bless him.
How does God bless someone who doesn’t know what that means? Or has so long forgotten kindness and comfort there is nothing left and hope’s ray has turned inward to a bleak heart?
So, my Aqualung, whether you are in Oxford, U.K. or the suburbs of my little coastal town, know you are loved if not by the likes of pitiful me then by the likes of a Power greater than this universe Who loves us all. I pray for the clarity that however I use His resources it is because of His love.
God Bless You.
Aqualung, Jethro Tull. Island Studios, 1971