Sometimes, it’ll come up in conversation among family. We’ll repeat it. We’ll remember it. But we’ll still struggle to understand it.
In every prayer we ever heard Daddy utter publicly — either in church, at a family gathering, or as he blessed the food — he’d always say, “Dear Lord, we thank you for the trials and tribulations of this life, knowing they bring us closer to thy almighty hand.”
What? Thankful for the trials and tribulations? He never wavered. He said it always and practiced it faithfully. In the hardest of times, Daddy thanked God openly and often. He’d say, “Let us learn what you’d have us to learn in the midst of this storm.”
Let me be frank: 2018 has not been my favorite. It seems like most days have been a struggle in one way or another. Deadlines were unrelenting. Too many at one time. Aggravations of this or that. The kudzu grew at a record pace. Burt Reynolds died. This, after I’d spent a week trying to chase him down, two months earlier, in Jupiter, Florida. My migraines increased and stomach pains were so strong for so long that I began to think I could feel cancer eating away at the lining. It turned out to be ulcers from a bacterial infection that was so serious that it took four weeks, twice daily, massive antibiotics to heal.
Tink would say, “But look at how blessed we are.”
Sometimes when I was pressing toward a hard deadline, and I’d sigh, Tink would ask, “What’s wrong?”
“Well,” I’d reply. “I don’t feel good.” Pause. “And Burt Reynolds died.”
I sought to find what there was to learn and why I should be grateful. Yes, I was closer to the Almighty’s hand. The Lord and I talked pretty constantly even as I was running from the jaws of a growling deadline.
Then one day, in the midst of much gnashing of teeth, I thought of Thomas Dorsey. Suddenly, Daddy’s words of thanksgiving made sense.
In 1932, Dorsey, born in Villa Rica, Georgia, was on the road, making a living as a blues singer when he received word that his wife had died in childbirth. His baby boy died two days later. He came home to Atlanta, struck to his knees with grief. Dorsey, the son of a black preacher, turned to the roots of his upbringing. One afternoon, he sat down at the piano and with one hand began to tap out a haunting melody as tears ran down his face. In a moment, his heartbreak gave way to words.
“Precious Lord, take my hand; Lead me on, help me stand. I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn.”
From his anguish would be born one of the most famous gospel songs in history. It was Elvis’ favorite. Dr. Martin Luther King’s last words before the shots rang out in Memphis were, “Play it real purdy,” after asking that it be sung at the next day’s rally. Mahalia Jackson sang it at his funeral and, later, President Lyndon Johnson was laid to rest as it was sung, as well.
Once I heard Darrell Waltrip singing it as he sauntered through a parking lot toward a restaurant. “That’s my favorite hymn,” he said.
It is sung faithfully at every family funeral of ours. It’s powerful. It’s tears-inducing. But it’s mighty in its comfort.
Dorsey would further channel his grief into another gospel standard, “(There Will Be) Peace In The Valley.”
One man’s torment, his trials, his heartbreak gave to the world two of the most comforting hymns in history. For this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for that. Let me close with the words that ended every public prayer of Daddy’s:
“Now, dear Lord, we bow our unworthy heads and give you the honor, the praise and the glory for it all.”
That includes migraines and stomachaches.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.