Stage left and out the side door, the front man leaned on a speed limit sign in the rain. It was raining hard and misting intermittently, the drops pouring from his face under the city street lights. I hadn’t quite succumbed to feeling too old to wait around to tell bands I liked their sets yet, so I strategically pretended that I didn’t know who he was. He was just some black man on the sidewalk late at night in downtown Dallas—nothing out of the ordinary. Certainly, I was too old, too married, too over being obvious to be so direct.
So a young wiry early twenty-something beat me to it because he was so nervous that it was hard to tell whether or not he was shivering or trembling in the downpour. By the time I reached him and my chance interview, I could tell that he was looking for more than an autograph because the singer was glancing from side to side, looking for his band mates and finding no escape. If I hadn’t seen him inch toward the pole and look just one more time toward the heavy stage door, I would have given up and kept walking. There was no need to look like I actually cared enough to offer a paltry congratulation; yet I paused because I heard the frantic guy, sucking in air and spitting out his depression, asking his idol for advice about how to keep from killing himself when he felt so low day after day. At that moment, I wasn’t sure who I should pity more: the guy who was being so imposing with his struggles, or the man now unwillingly accountable for choosing the right antidote for his distraught fan.
“Just take it day by day, man—one day at a time,” was the answer, and seeing my husband and me, he told the guy that all he had to do was just make it one more day and turned to address us with thanks in his eyes.
It was still raining, and all I could say was that it was a great show, and we shook hands. He thanked us for coming out before ducking inside.
He didn’t need to know that, to me, it was more than a great show. It was the first time I’d felt like me in months. Even if it were only to last for those three hours, it didn’t matter. In the street, on the way to the car as we walked away from the venue, I felt my skin again. The rain sneaking inside the collar of my jacket, my fingers locked and swinging with my husband’s, my feet sore from dancing through the opening act and the headliner.
At that time, no matter how many church services I attended, I couldn’t sing a hymn without bursting into tears or leaving the sanctuary fuming. I wasn’t sure how long this would last or if it would end, but I kept going anyway, believing that maybe someday I’d feel differently.
But that night at one of those fast food chain music venues, among hundreds of the lost, I felt free, and closer to found than I’d felt for a long time. I’d gone from dry bones to wet, uncovered raw organs, and hit then a plateau. Not even I knew I was healing, and the skin that had been ripped off my back was growing again.
I don’t think I found the answer in the rhythm of the music or that there was some mysterious power in the corporate worship of rock’n’roll in a crowd of too many people high on overpriced beer and other substances. In a way, I felt guilty about knowing that the first time I’d been able to sing a word to God in a year was right after the lead singer of the opening act dropped an enthusiastic “F” bomb into a sentence introducing a song.
Even now, I sometimes wonder if I’m not “Christian enough” because of things like this. I’ve had some people tell me that it’s not that exactly. It’s that I’m not “mature in the faith” enough to be offended or to find such joy in secular music is a sign of being too immured in the world. I don’t know, but I’m more open to criticism these days than I used to be because at the very least, it gives me something to think about. It challenges me. I do know, however, that there are some times when knowing God is there in times of pain doesn’t make life any easier. In those moments, simply knowing that the God of the universe cares and that the injury remains somehow targets every little tangible thing you cling to and it tears it away. All earthly protection from the things that ache disappear. Then, more than naked, you’re rubbed down to pulp or almost burned up and exposed to the Elements right when eternity is too big, too holy, too awesome, and too terrible when contrasted with life here, as is, broken, and unable to return.
That night I needed my skin back, and God gave it to me in a rock hall. That night, there was a young man waiting outside, looking for a way to throw off the desperation of his flesh so he could brush against something transcendent and meaningful.
It’s a funny dichotomy, this dual life. Although I’m not sure how, I know we need our skins just thick enough to know we’re here and just porous enough to know it’s all temporary.