Simple Joy in the Face of Challenges

Last night I was feeling sorry for myself and perhaps a little depressed. I tend to be a glass half-full kind of guy, so usually I can talk myself out of a bad mood but as I have indicated here before, there are certain circumstances of my life right now that I simply wish were not. So, it was with a slightly downcast spirit that I walked into Jakob’s Well, again last evening to check out the open mic/karaoke night.

I arrived just before the advertised start time of 7:00 pm and what I found when I walked through the door set me back on my heels. To put this delicately, I discovered a short-bus load of well… grown up short-bus riders. Okay, maybe that wasn’t very delicate. The fact is I have never been politically correct and I happen to think that some of the pc terminology can be more offensive or confusing than straight talk but I guess the current language is either “developmentally delayed” or “developmentally challenged.” Perhaps as I have heard it’s not “developmentally disabled” but “other abled.” Whatever terminology you prefer, feel free to do a pc edit in your own mind – I won’t be offended.

Now, the reason I rocked back on my heels and took this in so quickly is that two of the challenged folk were up on stage singing karaoke with far more enthusiasm than their vocal talents warranted. For a moment I wondered if I had stumbled into one of those American Idol first audition deals. While I fear I may have stood agape for too long, I think in reality I processed the scene far more quickly and my slack jaw face turned to a smile in a mere second or two. I continued to absorb and process the scene as I walked to the counter, ordered a coffee and made my way to a seat.

As I sipped my coffee, my smile broadened (in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I was laughing on the inside but it was not a derisive laughter at all) taking in the whole scene. Please excuse my feeble attempt at painting this picture with words, but Imagine if you can, a rail thin man in his thirties with wispy thinning hair and thick glasses, dressed in tight tan shorts, a red t-shirt and shod in converse sneakers, with his hips canted slightly when still, but moving rapidly to the music belting out Alabama’s, “roll on eighteen-wheeler, roll on!”

As soon as he finished his set, he went to the DJ and ordered up a song for one of his compatriots to sing and it became self-evident that this man was the alpha-male of the room. As further proof of this fact, since the song now being sung was a slow song, I watched as he went to the girl who was clearly “his woman” and led her to the dance floor. As they swayed in rhythm to the music, her head on his chest, I was enthralled. Just when I thought I was witnessing the epitome of simple, joyous love, she leaned back, gazed longingly in his eyes, and he bent to give her the sweetest kiss I think I have ever seen. Nicholas Sparks could not capture with words what I saw with my own eyes.

Well the night was still young and I began to ponder what else was in store. I was quite certain I had been told that a regular crowd of un-churched folks came to perform for open mic and as some of them began to shuffle in I kind of wondered how they would respond to the group that was already there. What would this interaction look like? Would there be disgust? Would there be a clear distinction between the “normal” people and the “challenged” folks. Would the room be evenly divided and segregated? Would there be rivalry? How would the staff keep order since it had been pretty much a free for all to this point? Perhaps it was my previous mood that conjured up these negative speculations but any fears of tensions I held were quickly put to rest, for the interaction between the have’s and have not’s was one of casual comfort and mutual respect.

I watched as a hipster dude with a baldpate, partially hidden beneath a fedora, and neatly trimmed goatee warmly greeted the alpha-male. This was clearly not the first time these two groups had mingled. While the karaoke continued, Mr. hipster dude tuned his guitar, waiting patiently for his mic time. When he was ready and it was his turn to perform, along with his buddy on the snare drum, the entire audience listened with rapt attention.

After he played three or four songs, Tim, the manager, announced that he needed a couple volunteers (he wound up with four or five). He instructed his team of volunteers to choose a song – any song – for Tony (one of the guys in the Daytona Outreach Center program) to sing. This was a little game they call “karaoke roulette” and the idea is to find a song that’s hard to sing in an effort to embarrass Tony. Alpha-male huddled his troops to discuss the matter and when they broke he clapped his hands pointed to Tim and said, “Eighteen Wheeler,” the song he had earlier performed. Tony accepted the challenge but it was painfully clear he did not know the song as well as the previous performer.

While Tony struggled to sing, the music played and the hipster dude danced across the floor inviting a blond haired woman with Down’s syndrome to join him. Though she was at first flustered, she stepped out and tried to follow his lead. He gently spun her and swung her around the floor and she began to relax enjoying the attention and doing her best to mimic his moves. The room was filled with an air of pure delight.

Now, some of you might think that Jesus would never dance and make such a spectacle of himself, but I’m pretty sure I saw the reflection of Christ last night.

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Authors note: It is difficult to capture in little more than a thousand words all I witnessed, for there was so much more worthy of cataloguing. Yet, I fear that my descriptions of some of the other characters I saw would come off sounding snarky, like I am poking, fun when my desire is just the opposite. I truly was taken by the simple joy exhibited by these folks who face life’s challenges with their own special kind of dignity. They helped put my problems in perspective, lifted my mood and caused me to give thanks to God for so many good things in my life. My glass is more than half-full — in fact, “my cup overflows.”

 

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