On the Friday after the stroke, I picked up the bottle of Coumadin to give myself the first dose of the blood thinner not administered by a nurse. It was the generic version and I misread the name, Warfarin, dropping the first “r.”
I thought it was “wayfarin'” like “I’m just a Wayfaring Stranger.” And it reminded me of the first time I had ever heard it. I was very new to a church in the country and the widow requested the song. When she told me that Johnny Cash and Tennessee Ernie Ford had recorded it, I silently thought “Lord, have mercy,” but assured her that I would ask our pianist if she had the music for it. (It was before the internet was useful for these sorts of things.) When neither our pianist nor our music director had never heard of it either I was more concerned but the family assured me that the family friend who was going to sing could probably bring the music with him. Later, they informed me that he didn’t have the music either but he would just sing a capella.
The soloist had been a friend since before WW II when the man who had died and he had sung in glee club together. As a favor to the family, he was coming to sing at his funeral. I silently wondered how this was going to go since he wasn’t exactly a spring chicken. When he arrived in his motorized scooter, I again thought silently “Lord, have mercy!!!” I asked if he would like for me to bring a microphone down to the pew level knowing that the large, carpeted sanctuary absorbed sound and he quietly replied, “No, I think we’ll be able to make do.”
I had planned the service so that his solo was immediately before the sermon. When it was time, he wheeled the scooter to the front, sat a little straighter, opened his mouth, and filled the place with an incredible voice and words that proclaimed a resurrection hope so clear and profound that I had to gather myself before I could even stand up. “Lord, have mercy, I thought again but in a different way.”
Turns out the soloist was a music professor with a doctorate in vocal music. He had paid for graduate school singing in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. Through the years, they had stayed friends, planned vacations so they could spend time together when they lived too far apart from one another, and ran up the phone bill when something exciting happened. At the meal after the service, the soloist said, “Ever since I knew he was dying, I was determined that my last gift to him would be to sing at his funeral.”
I told that story to my sister sitting next to me on that first Friday after the stroke and I said, “I’m going to choose to think about wayfarin’ stranger every time I take this. And I have.