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