One day a few years ago we conducted a fairly successful garage sale in which we made a little money, which was nice, but the real success story coming from that particular day was that we unloaded a ton of junk on a public that just so happened to willingly pay us money for it.
In all seriousness, I’m not really the guy you want handling the public relations for your garage sale, as I can be bargained down to the cheapest price for nearly anything, and in the waning hours of the sale I start doing the “10-things-for-the-price-of-1” pitch, and that usually sends people into a buying frenzy and rids us of more junk.
More importantly, I’m left with few items to haul back into the house and garage.
It was during one of these carnival barker moments that I sold all of our compact discs. Samantha and I had a fairly extensive collection of both secular and Christian music, but all of it had been transferred into our iTunes library and 100% of our listening came by way of our headphones that were connected to iPods or devices that could connect to them. I convinced Sam that we no longer needed the CD’s and that we could likely get a shiny quarter for each of them, or perhaps we could find someone to give us a hundred bucks for the whole lot.
She thought about it a little bit, and with dollar signs in her eyes agreed that selling them could result in a goldmine.
Okay, so as I watched the guy walking away with our life’s work of music collecting – all placed neatly in the giant laundry basket that I’d thrown-in as a part of the deal – I immediately had seller’s remorse and could barely look Sam in the eyes when I told her that I’d settled for forty bucks. I was happy to say goodbye to the collection, but I was somewhat convinced that I’d made a mistake.
What if our iPods got stolen?
What if our computer fried?
So many things could go wrong, and now I’d created a scenario where rebuilding our collection was now impossible.
I did consider that doomsday scenario just before taking the guy’s money, however.
Perhaps it was a little dishonest, or even a bit shady, but I reached into the basket and removed one lonely disc. I’m quite certain that the deal was not made because of the inclusion of Billy Joel’s The Stranger CD, and I’m relatively sure that the deal would not be called-off if I pilfered it from the collection, so I snagged it and kept it for myself.
Sorry pal. You can enjoy Men at Work. Huey Lewis and the News and even Fleetwood Mac, but this Billy Joel CD needs to stay here with me. Well, I didn’t say that, but I did think it as I shoved the disc into the pocket of my shorts…
I don’t have a lot of friends, but those few guys whom I call friend I typically call “brother,” because there is a bond and a trust that exists that invokes a sort of brotherly love that just seems worthy of the moniker. Because I don’t have a ton of brothers I tend to cling to the ones I have, and when a long-lost brother reappears on the scene it is with a sense of gladness that I embrace him, and there is also a little bit of sadness and remorse from lost time that leaves me wondering about what happened and where he has been. In the case of this particular friend I have a fairly decent idea where he has been and what he has been doing, but there are lots of blanks to be filled in. Still, I am glad that he is here and I treasure the time that we can spend together.
We’ve both gotten older, a little lumpier, and while I’m going bald he’s going gray. I remember him as a little, skinny guy, but now he is kind of burly.
Burly, but soft. He’s kind of like a gray teddy bear…
I was flipping through the contents of a boxed marked “Don’s Misc. Room Stuff” the other day, and the contents were a motley assortment of photos, tools, trinkets and keepsakes that probably would remain in the box until it’s time for the kids to deal with my belongings after my funeral, but on this day I was very much alive and well and looking for something.
Since I’m easily distracted I quickly forgot what I was looking for once I happened upon The Stranger.
Sure, I could play any of these songs on the iPod pretty much any time I desired, but suddenly I had the CD in my hand and it brought back a lot of memories. And it made me feel warm and comfortable.
Finding the CD was like running into a long-lost friend…
My teddy bear of a friend has made some mistakes in life and he has paid for them dearly. Prison has a way of changing people, hardening them to the point of being desensitized to the world and its pain. I remember going to visit the Teddy Bear when he was serving his sentence and seeing the hard walls that he’d put around himself. The smile was still there, but the optimism was gone. There was a distrust of everyone and everything around him. I recall walking away from that moment sad, but I also remember the dinner I had with him after he had served his time and watching him gulp down his food while surveying every set of eyes in the restaurant with suspicion and fear and being even sadder.
There was a feeling of despair that overcame me that night, along with the thought that I would likely never see him again…
The title track of The Stranger is my least favorite song on the album, but that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the tune. The theme that we all have a face that we hide away forever and only take it out and show it when nobody else is around is a compelling one, and there is a darkness to all of us that is shrouded in secrecy and shame that makes the song a little tough to listen to and fairly easy to skip over. Yet you listen to the song and embrace that it is a component of the album’s collection of music and take it for what it is. It’s the title track of a very good album and the reality of it is that as a song it can easily be disregarded but if you skip it you might just miss something…
Teddy Bear was married before and his ex-wife has moved along and now lives a life that barely acknowledges her time with him. But there is a reminder out there in the form of a now grown up, college graduate son that they had together. The son wants nothing to do with the Teddy Bear, even though there have been many attempts to bridge the gap with love, patience and understanding. Teddy Bear understands the grudge and forgives it. He has remarried and now has a little girl who he adores. He walks her to and from school every day and pitches to her at baseball practice. The hardness and the edge that come from being divorced, rejected and imprisoned is instantly softened at the mere mention of Teddy Bear’s daughter.
It brings about hope and promise that life is actually worth living. That there is more to life than regrets, pain and heartache…
“Vienna” is the best song on The Stranger, and that is saying something when you consider that the album brought us classics like “Movin’ Out,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “Only the Good Die Young” and “She’s Always a Woman,” and it was this collection wonderful, popular tunes that garnered Billy Joel the Record of the Year Grammy Award in 1978, still, “Vienna” seals the deal for me.
It is a song about slowing down to experience life, to look around and smell flowers and that ambition, desire and a fast-paced existence get you nowhere when you are paralyzed with fear. I recall being in attendance at the Honda Center in Anaheim many years ago for a Billy Joel concert and he actually put it to an audience vote: What song would we rather hear him play, “Just the Way You Are” or “Vienna.” My brother David and I were two of only a smattering of fans who were clamoring for him to belt out “Vienna.” Needless to say, we lost that one. There’s just something about the song that resonates in me personally, especially as a person who struggles with confidence and strong personalities who I allow to shove me into a corner. It’s always so easy for me to admit when I’m wrong but I have difficulty being confident in myself even when I know that I’m right. I need to slow things down and get a healthier perspective on things. There’s plenty of time – why do I sometimes run the race as though a clock is ticking?
Time. Teddy Bear had nothing but time to sit around and think.
Five years is an awfully long time to be away from friends and family. As his mother grew sicker and cancer ravaged her body, it hurt him to think that there was nothing he could do. He just wanted to get out and see his family. Once he got out and literally raced home he came to the realization that the clock had been ticking and that his dear mother was clinging to life just so she could see him out of prison. She wanted to say goodbye in a place that wasn’t labeled the “visiting area.” His time with mom was short-lived and before he knew it he was burying her.
Regrets, pain, suffering.
He thought long about the other pain he had inflicted. A wound that brought about blood and guts that were spilled onto the pavement was bad enough, but the emotional and psychological scaring of the victim, though unseen, was nonetheless evident. He’d pulled the trigger. He’d been filled with rage. Teddy Bear hardly recognizes that version of himself today. In fact, through gray-brown eyes you can see evidence of remorse when he talks about it.
In one moment he speaks of his mom passing away and in another he talks about wanting forgiveness – from her and the victim. At the end of the day he acknowledges that there are many victims of his poor life choices.
He’s thankful that our friendship is not one of them…
I greet my brother the Teddy Bear with an appropriate bear hug. Over the last few weeks the long, straggly gray hair has been trimmed short, nice and neat. He’s got a healthy pinch of tobacco between the cheek and gums and he is all smiles. There’s a sunny optimism about him as we toss the ball around. It is a bit surreal to be standing on the football field at Torrance High School and not just surreal because the field is now covered in astroturf, or because we are tossing around a softball rather than a football. It’s just awesome to be standing near him. It is amazing to call him friend again. It is good to have my brother back.
I’m not entirely certain if this is permanent or not.
We talk about everything, from Peyton Manning, to prison, to our daughters, our sons, our marriages, our struggles, pain and joy. As we throw the ball back and forth I struggle to openly and comfortably discuss Jesus Christ with him. He knows about my faith and I know at times while he was serving out his sentence that I was a little over the top in my witnessing to him.
I tell him a funny story about my recent run-in with the South High basketball coach, and in the middle of telling him about my confrontation I reveal my struggles with lashing out at the guy in a worldly fashion as it is completely counter to my faith by repeatedly plugging in that my thought bubble keeps reminding me that “I love Jesus!”
As in, I want to tell this guy that he’s a jerk, but I love Jesus! I want to get in this guy’s face, but I love Jesus! And so on and so on.
We both laugh at the story and shake our heads at the spectacle. It was a good moment…
The Stranger album (notice how subtle I went from CD to album? I’m old. I love albums!) concludes with a curious song that rarely even gets a mention in the lexicon of Billy Joel songs entitled “Everybody Has a Dream.” Billy Joel was a hit-maker in his day, so if the average listener were pressed to name 10 songs by him they would be hard-pressed to include “Everybody Has a Dream” in the top 100 let alone the top 10, but its inclusion on The Stranger works perfectly. It’s a song about wandering in search of inspiration. It’s about grasping the hope and meaning of words spoken.
It’s about being home…
In my best dreams the Teddy Bear finds peace and happiness.
He finds home to be a place where his wife and daughter love him and cherish his presence.
Still the dream lingers on and he receives the forgiveness of his mom and the victim of the crime, the one which impacted so many lives. His long-lost son desires to reconcile and there is no longer reason to search the faces of every person in a restaurant to see if they might want to harm him.
The dream features forgiveness, peace and reconciliation with God.
It’s a dream I think of often. It is one that has continually been on my mind since the day the Teddy Bear reappeared in my life…
The text came only a few hours after we had made our final toss on the football field. My throwing arm was already beginning to stiffen when my ancient cell phone buzzed on the counter.
I saw it was a quick note from the Teddy Bear and he’d tapped a few simple words that brought a smile to my face along with some tears of joy.
The text read: “I love Jesus too!”
Everybody has a dream. Mine seems to be coming true…