No man can estimate what is really happening at the present. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labors with vast power and perpetual success- in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in. ~ J. R. R. Tolkien
I live with my family in east Nashville, an area many metro residents hold in high suspicion—if not mild caution—for its reputation of crime, theft, and urban decay. Such is its contemporary late twentieth-century history, and though facets of theft remain, at the heart of this eclectic neighborhood are folks who, in some measure, wish to make their homes within the creaking old bones of Victorians, bungalows, cottages, and Craftsmen dwellings built in the years between the World Wars. It is an area reflecting a healthy cross-section of American society. Many of the homes have been reclaimed and restored from neglect, ruin, and abandonment. As the bumper sticker claims, “East Nashville will steal your heart, then your lawnmower.” Though the story I am about to share is, on the surface, a story about crime and an ill-meaning person or two, it is much more about the Kingdom Come, and the voluminous and unexpected goodness of people—friends, fans and strangers alike—on a corner lot one block from the Shelby Municipal Golf Course.
By day I am an artist and touring singer-songwriter. In 2011, after nearly twenty years as an under-the-radar musician with two kids, a mortgage, and the behemoth that is health insurance, we needed the extra income, and since I knew my soul would rot in retail, I started a side lawncare business to help make ends meet. Mowing lawns became, in effect, my “night” job. The work afforded me the opportunity to be outdoors, boss-free, sweating, and, last but far from least, getting paid to put my detail-oriented OCD tendencies and meticulousness to good use. As any homeowner knows, there is nothing at all glamorous about cutting grass, but the work manages to scratch my itch for seeing a thing to completion, in taking something that previously looked ragged, and wrestling it into a manageable sight again, perhaps even making it pretty. The work is as much about restoration as it is about trimming blades of grass, and I don’t know a soul who doesn’t desire restoration.
With a total of three lawns, I began my side lawn business with an archaic, smoke-emitting push mower, a homeowner-grade weedeater, and a 1965 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia towing a tiny trailer. Since that time, I’ve picked up a few more clients, and though the VW has been retired, I now drive a small truck and have managed to upgrade trailer and equipment to more or less commercial-grade quality. It remains, however, very much a small mom-and-pop operation.
Early on the morning of May 22, 2013, cup of coffee in hand, I peered out the front door only to discover that my trailer along with the entirety of its locked contents were nowhere in sight. My first thought was, “I could’ve sworn I left the trailer out there locked to my truck. I guess I forgot I parked it in the back yard.” A quick glance there, however, and the full reality of the moment sank in. If you’ve ever been the victim of theft, you no doubt are familiar with the empty, hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach. Of course, I invited the police over for a visit, provided serial numbers, filed a report, and called my insurance (none of it was covered), then settled into the reality of the situation: all of it was gone, some $5000 worth of gear for which I had worked, saved, and paid cash. Barring an unexpected and otherworldly repentance on the part of the thieves, I resigned myself to defeat and loss—empty-handed, with a slate of lawns still to tend to. I had no idea how or even if I would move forward with my lawn business.
Like any contemporary grumbler, I took to social media and spewed a quick though tame “thanks” to the thieves who took my stuff. I expected nothing from that public gripe other than to simply get it off my chest. Within minutes, however, folks began responding to ask how they could help, some even offering to loan me their lawn mower in the interim. At first, owing to pride, I dismissed it as pity, not responding to anyone’s good intentions. But two fans of my music, each living in different cities, took it upon themselves to spearhead a restoration campaign they dubbed “Goats of Relawncation,” a witty take on my most recent album titled “Birds of Relocation.” That very day, without consulting me, they set up a donation fund via an online platform, explained the situation, set a goal of $5000, and asked folks to support me, claiming that my music had, in its way over the years, held them up in dark times, and perhaps now they could hold me up. Had the story ended there, it would have been enough to encourage me in knowing there were still people living in the world that genuinely cared. But the story did not end there. It only got better.
In something that can only be described as an abundant gesture of generosity, within twelve brief hours the goal was not only reached but was thoroughly surpassed. What one thieving soul meant for selfishness, a community rallied around intending to hold me up, to waylay me with good. Fully intent on pushing back against the darkness and the subtle or outright greed of the world, they reinforced the oft-dismissed notion that there are still good and caring people, that it has not, as some claim, gone to hell in a hand basket, reminding me that restoration is not only reserved for antique clocks and cars or overgrown lawns, but equally for us forgetful people.
Just as a restored antique piece has a story and memory, my own history needs Ebenezer stones. Those markers of reversal remind me that though adulthood and the world we inhabit hurls its hypercritical stones, though it attempts to steal from us every vestige of childlike bright-eyed joy, there is still much flagrant goodness, breathtaking generosity, and fertile soil eager to bring forth unexpected majesty. Fields full of wide-hearted souls care and seek to restore that which life attempts to steal and forever bury in darkness. There is much in our first-world lives for which to be thankful, princely amounts of good of which we need to be reminded, and much, as neighbors, to offer one another in altruism to fend off the cynicism, to push back against the darkness, to brighten one another’s sky, to stack Ebenezer stones marking the way for one another. Though the light is small, the darkness has not yet overcome it, and as far as I can tell that is a majesty all its own.
Image by: Rebecca Reynolds