Saturday, October 22, 2011

Redemption Has Stories to Tell

For most of this year, this blog has held thoughts, but few stories. But tonight I have a story for you... maybe more than one.

Last weekend, I had the chance to go see one of my very favorite bands. Twice, actually. The first time, they were at my school. Early afternoon, my friend Joy arrived, and we set off for the performance center together.

Despite the fact that Switchfoot has held a steady position in my top five bands for years now, I had only seen them once before, a year ago at a tiny show in Tyler that impacted me deeply. So when we got to watch soundcheck with the rest of the fanclub, it was with a beautiful feeling of awe. We sat to listen to them play Souvenirs and Afterlife for soundcheck, and I closed my eyes and felt the bass pulsing through the wood handles on the chairs. I closed my eyes and soaked it in.

Afterwards, we got a brief chance to talk to the guys. You might remember my story of meeting them a year ago, how I said a grand total of one sentence the entire time. This time I had things to say. Even in talking to Jon Foreman, who I have an extremely deep respect for, I wasn’t afraid this time. I had them sign my favorite hoodie, the one I wear almost every day, the one that carries memories stitched in the cloth.

That evening I worked merch, behind the table with one of the most chill, kind guys I’ve ever done merch for. I hadn’t worked merch in close to a year now, so it felt so much like coming home. We helped hundreds of eager fans. I answered questions about the band. I made a few people smile, but many more of them made me smile.

And when the lulls came, we got to go in for the music. First it was during Anberlin, another of my very favorite bands. At my university’s performance center, there are two sets of somewhat soundproofed doors separating the massive auditorium from the lobby. Past the doors are two long tunnels that curve beneath the second orchestra before spilling you out facing the stage. Every time I work merch it is the same. I shove the doors open. Immediately the music hits me like a wave. No matter how much I brace myself for the impact, it still sends shivers rushing over my skin. I run down the tunnel, seeing stage lights flicker at the end. It’s like diving into the ocean, deeper and deeper into the overpowering pulse of the waves.

And it was beautiful. I am prone to forget. I take a lot of roles in the music world now, wear many different faces, and I always carry the fear of failure in each. Photographer, writer/reviewer, merch volunteer, dedicated fan. These are names I wear. These are labels I struggle with at times, trying to learn to fit the job descriptions more fully. It’s terribly uncomfortable trying to slide into a partial skin never meant to be a complete shelter. So that night I let go of the skin, of the shells I hide inside until my soul dwindles to a sullen spark. Instead, I did the best job I could as myself... as someone who loves the music, who sees the music as a vessel for unimaginable beauty. And that freed me. I stood near the stage, singing along, every word familiar as it left my throat.

After the concert, many of us gathered around Switchfoot’s bus, as is tradition. Jon came and told us to meet him out front. After a few location changes, we gathered on the stairs facing the front of my campus. Jon came with his guitar, standing on a low brick wall, all of us gathered on the grass. He played and we sang, sending melodies into the face of midnight. And it was easy to believe then that sometimes life is terribly beautiful.

There was a day to recover before the next time. On a Monday morning I left work early and Joy left class early and we piled into a car with my sister Mercy and our friend Caleb to set off for Dallas. We reached the venue early, and soon Joy and I were in for another soundcheck and meet and greet. This time the group was small.

I had brought a Starbucks cup for the guys to sign, something I had planned a year ago. It prompted conversation, more places for memories. We had time to talk to each of the five guys, who remembered Joy and I from two nights earlier, despite how many faces they see every day.

When we talked to Jon, he asked us what they should play that night. I have never made a request of a band before, partly due to my almost painfully sharp desire to be respectful-- I never want to be “that one fan” who is eternally convinced that they know the setlist the band should be playing. But since he asked, after discussing the setlist for a few minutes, I mentioned a song called The Shadow Proves the Sunshine. We talked about it for a minute, and I faced again the complete impossibility of telling someone how a song they have captured can in turn capture me. He listened with so much kindness. He said they couldn’t play it that night, but they would try to soon.

Afterwards it was time for hours in line with new and old friends. It’s incredible, how many beautiful, broken, shining people you meet at rock shows. I was there as a photographer, but I didn’t want to separate myself, even when we got into the venue. There were good conversations. Even once I was in the photography pit, a place I never would have dreamed I would be able to go, I walked along the barrier talking.

And then for the music. Even in the mad dash of the first three songs, scrambling through the photography pit, learning the ins and outs of a beautiful camera loaned to me by a very kind friend, trying to capture the songs, I found myself singing. I couldn’t help myself.

After I left the photo pit, I stood near the front on the side, cradling two cameras. Switchfoot played one of my favorites, Thrive, for the very first time that night. And then I heard them begin playing an older song, We Are One Tonight. Jon climbed off the stage, slipping to lose himself in the crowd, as he often does. I know their habits well enough to know what they were doing with the song. They almost always play it as a medley. And sure enough, soon they slipped into a different chorus, and from deep in the chaos of the crowd I heard words saturating the thick air:

“We are crooked souls trying to stay up straight, dry eyes in the pouring rain where the shadow proves the sunshine. Two scared little runaways, hold fast to the break of daylight where the shadow proves the sunshine.”

A lot has happened in the year since I last saw Switchfoot play that full song live. There has been so much beauty and so much heartache. I would venture to say that this past year has held most of the deepest hurts and the most indescribable joys of my life, and it has been very, very hard. There have been deaths and friendships lost and dreams buried and shades of doubt threatening to drain the light from the sun. And so to come back, to find that the songs are still beautiful, still true, and still reaching...

Many of you have heard me quote Thrive over the past year, since Jon first played it at aftershows. There is a beautiful line there: “I come alive when I hear You singing, but lately I haven’t been hearing a thing.” I claimed that as my reality before these shows. I begged God simply to let me hear Him singing again, to grant even echoes of His true song. And it was in that moment, as Jon walked by me in the crowd, singing one of my favorite songs, that I heard again. I heard redemption singing in the incredible kindness of a band who barely knew me, in the gift of the pictures and the provision of a camera, in the conversations with friends, in these songs that the guys poured every drop of their souls into. The best music happens when the musicians boldly climb on stage and bleed. Switchfoot is good at this. They breathe hope from the deepest places of their lungs.

And so several minutes later when a sold-out crowd sang the lines of a song that continues to follow me through these long college years, I could believe it again, let the truth own me: “maybe redemption has stories to tell, maybe forgiveness is right where you fell. Where can you run to escape from yourself? Where are you going to go? Salvation is here.

Rain often comes on the days that mean the most to me, and tonight the rain found us and poured over the venue’s worn-out roof. We stood in the foyer talking with new friends until they closed the venue down. Then one of our new friends allowed four dripping almost-strangers to ride with him so that we didn’t have to walk the several blocks to our car.

Some of you reading this know me well, some of you barely know me at all. For those of you who don’t know much of my story: I have spent significant seasons of my life battling depression, a fight that has been crippling at times. It does not own me now, despite the most severe relapse in years swallowing the first half of this year, but the reality is that I can count the number of times that I have been honestly happy without being held back by a sense of guilt on one hand. This past weekend was one of them. And I could attribute it to many things. I could say it was the band, these songs that mean so much to me, that I sing to myself over and over again. I could say it was my friends, Joy, Mercy, Caleb, Emma, and William, these people who shared the beauty of the evening with me, who contributed more than they’ll ever know. I could say it was getting to talk to Switchfoot, I could say it was simply being away from school. But the reality is that all of that was simply a vehicle for carrying a deeper gladness.

It is the joy that comes from understanding beauty is still a possibility in middle of the deepening cold. It is the peace that comes from seeing that I am hopelessly flawed and yet my God is still good. It is the hope that comes from finally admitting I don’t have answers, and sometimes that’s alright-- sometimes simply knowing that redemption is real and that it knows my name is enough.

It was like my heartbeat restarted. I can hear the Song again... and I am more than ready to sing along until my lungs cave in.

Blessings tonight. May you hear redemption’s song... may you sing along.
- Elraen -

P.S. - I owe endless thanks to Mercy for dealing with her older sister’s over-excited behavior, Caleb for the ridiculous conversations on the way home, Emma for the conversations and sharing her beautiful camera, William for navigating crazy downtown Dallas streets in the pouring rain in middle of the night, every stranger who high fived me, hugged me, and sang with me. Nights like these are never mine alone.

1 comment:

Will Visalli said...

You are most welcome for the ride, I would do it any time for such great people. And just so you know, I know exactly what it is to battle depression (I've been doing it my entire life, sometimes it worse, once in a season it is better), I can honestly say I felt happy with you guys and giving you a ride and just laughing and talking with people, something I don't get to do very often with like-able people.

Thanks for letting a stranger be a part of your experience, and don't be a stranger in the future. I have, at the moment, an abundant amount of spare time and would love to 'waste' it on new friends.