Listening for the secret of life

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Nov. 28, 2002

Dear Adams family,

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time, James Taylor says in one of his songs.

At my first James Taylor concerts at the beginning of the 1970s, the audience was mostly my age (about 20) along with some much younger girls who kept screaming at him to sing "You've Got a Friend." He was awkward being up there in front of thousands of people, but his self-effacing humor endeared and his tender songs held a heartbroken yearning irresistible in youth.

I tried to play the guitar like James Taylor and pretended to know, as "Fire and Rain" describes, what it felt like to lose a friend to suicide. Paul McCartney said recently that at 60 he now knows what he was talking about in the songs he wrote in his 20s.

Year by year, concert after concert, people in the audience at James Taylor concerts began bringing along their children to meet their old friend. We all sang "Good night you moonlight ladies, rockabye Sweet Baby James" together and went home.

When DC and I saw James Taylor again last week, the parents were still bringing their children, but now the children are all grown up. Doubtless the grandchildren were asleep at home, dreaming of the day they will be included in the tradition.

The secret of love is in opening up your heart, James Taylor also says.

Cleaning out a closet earlier this week as she readied the house for Thanksgiving, DC came across my black leather jacket from the 1970s. When I was 25 I found a new friend, Bruce Springsteen. He was tougher, more willing to howl and drawn to thunder. His albums were rock 'n' roll operas about growing up in America. If I couldn't learn how to make a guitar talk like he did, at least I could wear the same black leather jacket.

That was decades ago, of course, but I was stricken when DC told me she had taken the jacket and some other clothes to the Salvation Army store. Certain articles of clothing remind me of times and places, of whom I have been before who I am now. This particular piece of clothing was like a talisman that had traveled with me through dark times.

I wore it every day and everywhere.

Maybe DC just couldn't imagine me in a black leather jacket. Since she'd never seen me wear it, she figured I didn't care about it. Besides, she added, I doubt if it fits you anymore.

Every good marriage I know seems to produce an incident or two that one or both of the partners holds against the other, some slight that leaves them secretly thinking, "I knew I shouldn't have married you."

Was this mine? She must not really know me if she could give away my black leather jacket, I thought.

The next day on the way to the Salvation Army store to beg for my jacket back, I saw a man a decade or more older than me on the street wearing a black leather jacket. It wasn't my black leather jacket, but I was struck by how poorly it suited him. He wasn't a black-leather-jacket guy.

I realized that I'm not either anymore. I'm not that guy anymore. Maybe it was time to let him go. I went home instead of to the Salvation Army.

The thing about time is that time isn't really real, James Taylor says. It's just your point of view.

That night when I saw DC she told me she went back to the Salvation Army. They still had the jacket. They said she was the second person this week who'd come looking for something that shouldn't have been thrown away.

DC gave them a donation and says I'm getting the jacket for Christmas. It will be our gift of the Magi.

This day, surround yourself with family and friends, and enjoy the passage of time.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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