Love Lifted Me! from Dripping With Love in a Sea of Hate

by on July 31, 2019 · 2 comments

in From the Soul

By Bird in the Hand

by Ernie McCray

Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me!

Oh, how I used to love hearing Sister Lillie Walls light up Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church singing that song on many a Sunday morn.

She had a silky deeply sincere voice that ranged between soprano and contralto that just settled into your bones and got you up on your feet and got you through the week until the next Sunday came along and love could lift you again.

We needed that like a junkie needs heroin. To “maintain,” as we used to say, considering we lived day to day in Tucson, Arizona, a Jim Crow town, where we, not to get into any detail at this point, were expected to, basically, stay in our “place”: out of sight.

Before I even started school I knew that wasn’t right.

Love Lifted Me, of course, was all about being stained within due to our sins and giving thanks to Him and clinging to Him and living in His blessed presence.

But as a little boy I didn’t come close to understanding all that, and I still don’t, but that song resonated with me. Deep down in my soul.

I liked the way Sister Walls played with the word, love, in the song, how she made it sound, singing it with just the right power and nuance that made it seem to stand out as a phrase of its very own.

The word itself soothes me, gives me a glow, like a good meal when I’m hungry or a drink that quenches my thirst.

But I never really knew how necessary for the state of my well-being love is, particularly the act of loving, until my wife, Nancy, passed away, much too suddenly, on an otherwise beautiful day, on July 22nd, 2009.

Oh, I missed her terribly beginning the moment I heard she had died but I realized that what I missed the most about her being gone was I didn’t have her around to love anymore. Loving her was one of the great joys of my life.

And I also learned that when you lose somebody you dearly love, your ability to love suffers – for a while. Especially in the early moments and days of your grief.

I mean our friends literally overpowered me with their gestures of love, saying to me: “If there’s anything I can do let me know”; “Just call me if you need a shoulder to cry on”; “I know a wonderful counselor who does these amazing things with people who have lost a treasured loved one”…

And I just wanted to scream “Thanks! But isn’t there somewhere you could go right now? Like away? Could you please give a man drowning in more sorrow than he thought could exist a break for heaven’s sake!”

But loving people don’t do that. They say “I appreciate your concern but I’m cool right now. And thanks for that week long supply of spaghetti.”

Hey, I didn’t know my house, let alone my refrigerator, could hold as much food as my friends brought to me.

And that was great because one thing you definitely don’t feel like doing, when you’re extremely sad, is cooking. Especially when you’re not that good at it.

That was as great an outpouring of love as I’ve ever seen and as I struggled to be loving in return I found that a good way to go about it was doing what I’ve always done in a spirit of love: I wrote.

I began one piece thusly because of a major question that occupied so many of our friends’ minds:

“Oh, I can’t keep my mind off my baby,
off my girl,
off the best thing that’s happened to me
in this world.
And to keep her
from having died in vain,
I’ll try to answer a question
that’s been asked of me
again and again:
“Why? Why did Nancy choose to die?”

They, like me, were mystified that Nancy would take her own life because they had, for years, seen with their own eyes that her family was the joy of her life.

They knew with her energy that she had many more miles of waterways to swim and trails to hike and pictures to take and more wounded or abandoned animals to save or sick and shut in friends to tend to.

They knew that Nancy would never have just taken her life without something terribly wrong going on inside her.

So I had to let them that know that something terribly wrong had taken place inside her, that she was felled by an eerie dark dank secret created by a dad who, starting when she was about ten through her teens, crossed a line that should never be crossed – making her his “special girl.”

Nancy told me about this deplorable chapter in her childhood early in our relationship. At the time I was already deeply in love with her anyway but my love grew a hundred fold just knowing that she loved and cared about me and trusted me enough to share this horrible story from her past.

Until those moments I don’t think I had ever empathized more with another person’s pain. My goodness, with a father having his way with you and your mother blaming you for the relationship what do you do? Who do you go to? Who will believe you when you report your dad’s misdeeds, dad being Mister Man about town, pillar of society, Rotary Club President, successful soil engineer, big shot oil man, major donor to a camp for “disadvantaged” youth nestled in the Redwoods in the Sequoias? How can a little powerless girl make herself heard considering all of that?

I’ve always marveled at how well Nancy seemed to have endured such a shameful and degrading situation.

I’ve marveled, too, at her forgiving spirit, at how she managed to maintain a relationship with her father, including him in our family life wherein he took on the role of grandfather to our children in great fashion, joining Nancy and me for their soccer games and dance recitals and camping trips and birthdays and holidays and graduations.

Nancy and I would talk about her past every now and then but I didn’t realize how much it had haunted her over time until her dad’s last year of life when we drove to Orange County every Friday for months to help care for him. She thought that somewhere in our routine of reading books and magazines to him and playing music for him and wheeling him to a remarkable view of the ocean at a wonderful place called Pines Park – well, she thought somewhere in the mix he would give her what she had been wanting from him for so long: a simple apology for his sins.

What she got, though, in a moment that seemed so appropriate for what she desired, was: “You’re still my special girl.” Then he asked for her forgiveness.

From that moment on, as I look back in reflection, in retrospect, something died in Nancy. She started gradually breaking down. Her hip bothered her and then her knees and then the months of sleeplessness crept in and the depression came on deep and heavy. The medicines that were prescribed for her didn’t help and when doctors tried to tend to her mental state by asking her to look back in time, to see a shrink, she just couldn’t go there. She could not revisit the intense pain and the crippling shame.

But in the last couple of months she seemed to be in relatively good spirit, perhaps already resigned to bring her life to an end.

So I believe my sweetheart died of an unrequited wish, of heartbreak. I feel certain she would be alive today if her dad could have softly whispered in her ear: “I’m sorry.”

I think I covered the “Why.”

But to speak to the power of doing something with love in your heart I was blown away with how many people thanked me for sharing Nancy’s sordid tale and told me stories of sexual misbehavior on their family trees.

Some of them vowed to themselves to bring the subject up with their older brothers and uncles and fathers and grandfathers who needed to make amends for such high levels of indecency – so their lives can regain some semblance of normalcy.

That’s love for you, as uplifting as anything can be.

Especially “When,” as Sister Walls would sing, “nothing else can help.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Barbara Lewis August 1, 2019 at 5:14 pm

Yes.

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Avatar david beekman August 5, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Ernie…. I am so sorry for your loss. You are very brave to tell this ‘first person’ story and the tragedy it begat.
It’s a story unfortunately many can relate to and it needs to be told so as to bring awareness to the plague of family related sexual abuse and lead to early detection and help for victims and perpetrators alike.
Nancy was so lucky to have a person such as you in her life… dB

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