An Unlikely Dead Head

I became a Dead Head while working in Pakistan with displaced people at age 51. It was an unlikely love story.

I had embarked on the journey a week before, armed with medical supplies and a head trying to remember all my past nursing skills when in crisis clinical situations. I was in Pakistan, my childhood home, working in flood relief after millions of people had been moved into refugee camps because of losing their homes to the rising waters. I had not been sleeping well and woke up early on the one day off I would have in a two week period. I  was desperate for some relief. To make it worse, I kept on telling myself that it wasn’t that hard, that the patients we were seeing had a far more difficult time than me, and that I was a big baby. None of these were helpful in the current situation.

I went into the living room of the small apartment that served as our home during the two weeks. Sleepily I grabbed my iPod, dropped my tired body onto a chair, and scrolled through the play list, hoping to soothe my soul with worship music. I stopped scrolling after a short time, furious. None of my music was there! Instead I had my choice of 1,200 songs from Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes, Aerosmith, The Velvet Underground and lesser known bands that I had never listened to. In an instant I remembered that just before leaving Boston my 15-year-old son had told me he would charge my ipod before the trip. As he returned it, he had a smile on his face that I didn’t catch. I was too busy gathering passport, ticket and malaria medication. He had decided to give me a taste of his music on the journey, knowing that I would be unable to do anything about it.

There I was, eight thousand miles from the United States, bone-tired and I wanted to strangle my youngest child. In my frustration I happened to hit play on one of the songs from the Grateful Dead. As I listened to Jerry Garcia‘s folksy voice, the words from a song moved in a melodic moment  from iPod to soul.  “Reach out your hand, if your cup be empty. If your cup is full may it be again.” I began to cry. The sorrow and pain that had been a part of the journey as we daily tried to meet the needs of people in crisis came in a wave.

In what could only be described as a holy moment, the words and music worked their magic. God was present reaching out to fill my cup so I could move forward, meeting me in an unlikely way in the midst of exhaustion and inability.

On that day, in that time I knew two things. One – that I was an unlikely Dead Head, and two – that God’s creative ability to meet us through unlikely venues knows no bounds. Jerry Garcia will forever hold a holy place in my heart.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone


21 thoughts on “An Unlikely Dead Head

  1. What a great story! I love what your son did with the iPod. Sounds like something mine would do! God uses the most unlikely sources to speak to us – not always the storm, sometimes the quiet moments, too.


  2. LOVED this post. That sounds like something my little brother would do to my mom. I love how you can pull such a great lesson from something so simple (and frustrating)!


    1. Haha! Ask Stefanie about when Jonathan did the same for her – only she was able to get her worship music back. Loved catching up a bit with your blog Malori and love your style.


    1. It was Sophie. The whole trip was remarkable and I don’t know that I’ve ever had that many holy moments in one time period. Thanks for the “But God” post….it has stayed with me since I first read it.


  3. In one of my papers for New Testament in seminary I quoted freely from several rock artists and it seems it was a first for my professor. After scratching his head, he started coming around and while it certainly didn’t earn me an honorary doctorate, it did seem to widen his world view in a happy sort of way….


    1. I love the way our views are widened in happy ways – I wonder if that professor used you as an example (a good one) in future classes. There is great theology in the words of many of these songs!


    1. Absolutely right Petra. And I am so glad, in retrospect, that he did this. It was totally worth it and I’ve been educated on some great music.


  4. Hi Marilyn: These seems to tie into your sharings on Sunday and today. Our God is so awesome and full of surprises. A letter to the Vet who treated our rabbit.

    Dear Doctor Martin:

    We found you on Saturday, with an urgency to see our possibly injured rabbit, Savannah. We knew her for six weeks, shortly after her fourth birthday. A feisty little girl, difficult to handle as she bunked down every day for nine months at the Humane Society. She was well taken care of…we know that for sure because our family volunteers at the Shelter each week.

    During the Bun Fest Day there, we fell in love with this white with touches of grey rabbit. Trying to corral her was always a task. But when you got her in your arms, she melted and enjoyed being massaged and brushed.

    Savannah had full reign of our home, and we would round her up at night for bed. She seemed to eat more at that time. Being well acquainted with our son’s rabbit for eight years, we knew the ins and outs of these fine creatures. We didn’t think she ate enough and didn’t drink out of her bottle. We believe she got her water through her veggies. Putting her in her crate at night assured us of better nutrition.

    On Friday night, in trying to get her from the lanai she leaped out of our hands and was caught by her back legs. She acted unlike herself after that. The next morning we decided to take her to a vet. There weren’t any in our area who see rabbits. Then we thought, maybe she would do better as the day wore on.

    Instead we found you, Doctor Martin. You stated after your exam that she would probably shake it off. We felt so grateful and relieved that you took the time to see her. When we arrived home and placed her on the floor, as usual, she hid under the skirted dinning room chair…one of her favorite places to rest. When we checked on her the second time, we saw that she met her demise.

    We cried our eyes out for a very long time. We talked to her and told her how much she meant to us. We were utterly shocked at our reaction.

    There is beauty in this story, and we wanted you to know of it, because we became aware of your love and dedication to all of God’s animals.

    A few months ago a favorite friend of ours died, many miles away. We did not attend the funeral. My husband and he emailed every day…because Paul could no longer speak because of lung cancer. We realized grieving him and the closure of his death were never completed.

    My husband’s words of “Paul can take care of her now”, was the release of our sadness. Paul sent Savannah to us so we could embrace him in a beautifully mystical and spiritual experience.

    Seeing that she wasn’t okay in a physical sense, she remains okay in our hearts…and that is all we can ask for…



    1. thanks so much for sharing this story! I agree that God is full of surprises and opens our eyes in creative ways. thanks for reading, more so for commenting!


  5. Love this! Makes me smile and warms my heart. Also, I imagine the phrase about the cup and the fountain being engraved on a fountain in a lovely garden. “Dead Head Gardens” Oh dear, that’s a gardening term! (means to take off the dead blooms in order to encourage new growth) Thanks for blogging Marilyn!


    1. Love the picture you give of the Dead head garden. Thank you for that! And thanks so much for reading and commenting. I never take it for granted and you always add to the conversation!


  6. Ha! Thanks to your Jonathan’s surreptitious introduction: Welcome to the late-bloomer’s Dead Head Club, Marilyn! I also fell in love with much of the GD’s music late in life, mainly because of its direct “descendancy” from the blues & roots & rhythm–or Americana/folk music. Some of my favorite stuff is either Jerry Garcia solo (like on “Jerry Garcia – Live” – 2 CDs with many classics & covers or his “Almost Acoustic” CD) or Jerry Garcia & David Grisman–an amazing mandolinist–on CDs like “Shady Grove” or “Grisman & Garcia.” There are some really amazing songs on these CDs–not to mention a few great Dylan covers–some that are covers of classic spirituals and other traditional Americana folk songs. Not many people have any idea of the breadth & depth of Garcia’s musical knowledge–which goes way back to his Dad’s influence as a musician on him–and the early incarnation of the GD which was called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. Go deeper and you’ll find even more gems!


    1. So happy to hear of your late introduction as well! And love that I can be a part of the Late-bloomer’s Dead head club :) I picture annual conferences where we share stories about how Grateful Dead caught us mid-life just when we most needed to be challenged and rearranged. Thanks for the encouragement to go deeper. I have Attics of my life on as we speak!


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