Dad told me a long time ago that if I ever needed to have a serious conversation with God, I should go fishing. Feeling in need of some much needed reflection, I took a few days off and headed out of town in search of a quiet spot by the water, not really sure where I was going or what I would find when I got there.
After a weary day of travel, a sign for a place boasting good food, great music, cold beer and down home hospitality caught my eye. Feeling hungry and with no place I really needed to be, I decided to drop in and give it a try.
I’m not really sure what I expected, but the place was packed. As I waited on the hostess, I scanned the dining area and didn’t see a single open table, but there were a few seats at the bar. Being alone, when the hostess returned to the counter I asked if I could sit at the bar. A wide smiled crossed her face, a thankful smile I believe, at not having to tell me I’d have to wait for a table. But it was a smile I was appreciative of as she motioned me toward the U-shaped bar along the back wall as she told me to take any open seat I wanted.
My timing was perfect. The bartender handed me a menu and gave me a memorized spiel about all the different beers they had on tap. I ordered a glass of one of microbrews he recommended and just as I began scanning the menu, the band began setting up on the stage in the corner of the room.
I say band, but it was really a man and woman duet. They introduced themselves as they set up, but I don’t remember their names. I guess I was too busy looking at the different kinds of cheeseburgers on the menu to pay attention. But when they told their story, they had my undivided attention.
They were aspiring artists, and talked about their CD available for purchase during their break. He played guitar and was the spitting image of Jimmy Fallon. She had a voice that sounded like Alison Krauss and when she played the fiddle I got goose bumps. They had a good sound — not polished — but certainly pleasing to the ear and enjoyable to hear.
As I listened, it made me think of my own journey, and back in the days when I was trying to get my big break into the career I believed God was calling me to do. I remembered the struggles and the days I pushed my very small portfolio, wondering if I’d ever get the opportunity to do what I love. I remembered all the people who told me my dream was too big, my goals were too high and I needed to be more realistic about my expectations. As I watched the two young musicians on stage, wanting nothing more than an opportunity for their talent to be heard, I felt an appreciation for their music as well as their journey.
They finished performing a Tracy Lawrence song and the guitar player who looked like Jimmy Fallon said they were open for requests. A man at the end of the bar yelled out for a Chris LeDoux song. The guitar player smiled and told the story of another guitar player he performed with and how he had gotten him hooked on Chris LeDoux, then began playing “Tougher than the Rest.”
Enjoying the music, I sipped my beer and noticed the man dressed in an Armani suit sitting at the bar across from me. He was in his late 20s or early 30s, taking bites of his Cobb salad with the dressing on the side as he answered emails on his phone, totally oblivious to the band or the rest of the patrons in the establishment. From his mannerisms and expensive clothes, I guessed he was on his way to somewhere important to meet with other important people about important things.
I took another sip of beer from my glass and caught myself beginning to grin as I remembered there was a time when I too was like the young man sitting across from me at the bar. It was after my big break, after earning a ton of awards for my work and what seemed at the time like I was receiving endless stream of job offers asking me to share my talents in a different market.
I learned the hard way that fame is fleeting. I thought about striking up a conversation with that young man, but I could see he was too self-absorbed to give me more than a polite greeting. Having been in his shoes, I could have shared the lessons learned from my journey, but I knew it wouldn’t have mattered. When you’re on top of the mountain, you never think you could possibly fall.
I picked at the plate in front of me and took the last swallow in my glass. On cue, the bartender asked if I wanted another one. I nodded my head and he reached for a clean glass as I scanned the room, noticing a new face that had filled the empty chair to my left. I did a double take because the man looked like Charles Johnson — a much slimmer Charles Johnson, but he had the same facial features and wavy, thick salt and pepper hair as the Waxahachie native I greatly respected and admired. The man was even wearing a sweatshirt, just like Charles did. Charles was one the first friends I made in Waxahachie, and we remained close until his passing from cancer in the mid-2000s.
The bartender sat the fresh glass in front of me and I took a long swig just as the female musician began playing a Union Station tune on her fiddle. When she began to sing, I had to grab a napkin to dab a tear beginning to pool in the corner of my right eye as I remembered Charles, missing both his friendship and sage counsel.
As I sat on my barstool quietly tapping my toes to an original song entitled “Trying to Get to Heaven,” I scanned the crowded room and looked at the faces. Each one has a story to tell. There were two couples at a table laughing and enjoying each other’s company. There were businessmen and women on their way to some place important. Travelers enroute to an adventure, or on their way home from a trip. Locals who just wanting to eat a good meal, listen to good music and enjoy some down home hospitality.
I took another sip from my glass and thought about the journey I was on and how I came to find myself in a place I never planned to be. All of our lives and all of our stories were intersecting at a single point and time.
I had left town that morning on a quest to commune with God by the water. Instead, I found myself in a weight station of souls — all going in different directions, yet all on the same journey.
I thought of a story I had written several years ago on Rand Blair, a documentary filmmaker who gave up a very lucrative career to become a missionary in Africa. I remember him telling me that he first went to Uganda to film a documentary about a missionary project to save the souls of a struggling village torn apart by famine and civil war. During that trip, he told me that God whispered in his ear, telling him to become a fisher of men. So, Rand and his family moved to Uganda and began building fish farms — and saving souls as he helped build the lives of those around him. In the process, he said, he became a fisher of men. It was the “God whispered in my ear” part that had me thinking.
The guy with the guitar who looked like Jimmy Fallon began singing a John Denver song and I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a deeper reason for me being in this restaurant.
I took the final swallow from my glass, and then shook my head no as the bartender pointed to the glass, asking if I wanted another.
I stood up and was putting on my coat when it hit me that the answers I was searching for had been all around me for the past hour while I had been sitting in God’s weight station, eating good food, listening to good music, sipping a cold beer and enjoying down home hospitality. The epiphany nearly made my knees buckle as I realized that life is a never-ending, constant series of small journeys — each taking us in a different direction at certain times of our lives, yet each moving us forward toward a destination we can’t possibly presume to know. But as I zipped up my coat, I’m sure I heard a voice whisper in my ear, telling me that where my journey takes me is entirely up to me.
I reached into my pocket and fished out a $10 bill for a tip, handed it to the bartender and thanked him for his service.
Neal White is the Editor and General Manager of Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. His recent novel, “Crosswinds” published by The Next Chapter Publishing, is available at Amazon.com. Contact Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-517-1470. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.