By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published June 25, 2015
His name was John. We grew up together on the same street and went to grammar school together. We both came from large families—seven kids.
John lost his dad when we were in the eighth grade, and from then on he took on the roles of oldest son and father to his younger sisters and brothers. We played together in a rock and roll band in high school and those years were among the happiest in my life. I sang with my twin, Jimmy, and we would pack up a car on weekend nights and hit the road, heading for small places to play and holding onto a dream that we would one day hit the big time. That never came to pass. Our paths in life would be an ongoing immersion in the little but no less thrilling hit parades of ordinary life.
John played the piano and organ. We used to practice our music in the basement of his house, and I can still hear the voice of his mom calling down the stairs to tone down the instrument. John had a genuine gift for music. He could not read a note of music and picked up the complexities of the black and white keys with ease. And he sure knew how to keep the beat. His hands would glide over the keys, and his right foot would glide back and forth in rhythm to the music. While he played, his Newport cigarette burned to the filter in an ashtray on the piano. The ashtray was actually a big metal cylinder from a car engine. John was into cars, too, and loved taking apart engines of old cars.
He wrote a song he called “Only for a While.” I sang it with Jimmy. Jimmy sang the melody, and I sang the harmony. I still remember how the song went, how the melody rose and fell. I cannot remember a lot of the words, but the melody is as clear to me as if I heard it only yesterday.
John died a few days ago. His sister Mary wrote to me and said that John had moved peacefully from this life to the life to come. He had been sick for a long time, and I knew that from letters he had sent over the years. We are both in our 67th year. John has moved on ahead of me. Jimmy is gone, too. Our songs together stopped when he was killed in a car accident in 1966. Also killed in that accident was Walter, who was our manager and who booked weekend dates for us.
John’s death brings home to me the truth that we are all here only for a while. Life as we know it is a passing gift on this earth. I believe there is more to come. But the deaths of family members and close friends remind me that it is important to make goodness while we can, while we have each other. And I suppose that is what we are here for—to allow the goodness of God to express itself through our loves, our talents, our hopes and aspirations. John married, and he and his wife raised two daughters. I know how deeply their hearts must be aching now. In a way, the song his life was for them remains unfinished—to be resumed again at a later but never-ending date. A date I am sure to keep. And maybe we can get together again in Paradise, and the forgotten words will come back to me, and John will light a Newport, place it gently in the heavenly metal cylinder on a piano made of solid gold.
Jimmy will find us because Walter was very efficient with dates and locales. And we will play and sing “Only for a While.” Hopefully, John’s mom will let the music blast. When I come to think of it, I am sure she will.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.abbeystore.com.