This has taken far longer to finish than I meant. But this is the second of three posts on a trip I took back to LaGrange, Georgia recently, a city I lived in during high school.
The trip from Charlotte is a straight shot down I-85. I’ve long marveled how the course of my life has poetically stayed in close proximity to this interstate with the exception of my year and a half in Charleston. Grantville, LaGrange, Newnan, Anderson, Greenville and Charlotte are all cities that are not just accessible by 85, but 85 runs straight through them like points on a constellation.
Friday evening we arrived in LaGrange, Ga, right off of West Point Lake where Micah’s parents still live. Micah asked me if I recognized it, and I didn’t. But when we walked inside, memories rushed back in. The one I’ve never forgotten is the time that Micah convinced me in an act of piety to destroy all of my secular CDs. I’m not sure how much of this act was for the sake of purity and how much was for the sake of the exciting colors and shapes that CDs make when you burn them with a cigarette lighter. But we took my CDs out into the back yard and sacrificed them unto the Lord, as a burnt offering. The moment we walked into Micah’s old room I felt as though I could see all the burnt CDs, and I could remember listening to Johnny Q. Public and the W’s and the Supertones. Micah told me that one reason he liked me being around is because he could just say “play this song” and I would start playing and singing it. For him it was like having live music following him around. That was actually gratifying for me to hear.
Saturday was when all the festivities were planned at the school. The deal was that there would be a girls basketball game and a guys basketball game, old students versus current or recent students. I had no part in this, but after the games there was a concert with former students performing. I was really excited to play a couple of my own songs for this, as well as accompany a couple of other pieces. But more on that in a moment, just one more excursion. While watching the games, I had a moment to catch up with Mr. Cippola, the principal of WGCA then and LCS now. I never had a particularly close relationship with Mr. C. but he walked up to me after 12 years and knew who I was. I was grateful to be able to share a memory I had of him that left a mark on me. When I was in 9th or 10th grade, someone from a newspaper in LaGrange contacted me and asked if they could take some photos of me for a back to school fall fashions bit they were doing, I won’t even attempt to try to explain this because I never understood it. My personal style was just rebellion and I never knew why they had my name and number. But I kept at what I find to be a hilarusly unlikely situation. Somehow, though, mew ended up at my school, taking pictures of me in my safety pinned hoodie and cut off dress pants in front of the school sign. The article ran and Mr. C. started getting angry phone calls. So he called me in his office to talk about it. I was geared up ready for “the man” to tell me what I could and couldn’t do, and how small minded people were upset because I, in one fell swoop of fashion iconoclasm had deconstructed their perfect worlds of pleated khaki shorts and polo shirts that all Christian kids wear to Christian school. (Insert anarchistic punk rock anthem here)
But Mr. C. handled me in a different way. He didn’t tell me I was wrong or berate me for being “different.” He talked about the concept “deference” and what it means to willingly lay down rights out of love for others. This was a category I didn’t have, and it stuck with me. I’m not sure how much of this idea sunk in and effected change in my life, but I’ve never forgotten it.
Onto the concert. It was a surprisingly diverse performance base spanning from a classical aria to folk music to praise and worship to hip hop. Organizing the music was a dear lady who was one of the most important people in my life, Mrs. Darlene Shaw. I’m not sure I could overstate the influence this woman had on me as a musician, singer, performer, and worship leader. She was the head of music and drama at WGCA and she encouraged and validated me like few ever had. Micah asked me what about Mrs. Darlene impacted me so much. After some consideration I said that Mrs. Darlene was an amazing musician who made me feel like an amazing musician. Something about that encouraged me to work and excel and to think of myself as capable of a higher goal musically.
After going out for some drinks, we retreated back to the Vickery’s. Before going inside, Micah, Blair and I laid down on his driveway to look at the stars. I don’t see a lot of stars in Charlotte because of the city lights but from Micah’s house the heavens were overflowing with an army of radiant celestial sentinels. We laid there just silent watching shooting stars and still stars and planets and feeling very small and just a part of something very big. We must have laid there for an hour, and we were all just hoping for one final shooting star to end the night. Instead, a bat flew right over our faces and scared us to death. We jumped up with stifled screams and started running and flailing our arms frantically finding our way safe inside, still human, to sleep.