Expressing gratitude

I like Dolly Parton. I really do.

That’s quite an admission from an old ’60s revolutionary and city-slicker whose taste in popular music is permanently calcified in the Kingston Trio, the Beatles, the Stones, and Simon and Garfunkel.

It’s not Dolly’s music so much — though forgive me John and George, her stuff really is pretty good. But it’s her personality, her style, her old country manners and her old country faith that I find so appealing. This here is a good lady.

I found some redemption for this decidedly unhip perspective on a country-singing idol in a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly. Dolly was being interviewed and the lead question she was asked was the name of the first song she became obsessed with. Her answer: the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

“This girlfriend of ours,” she explained, “had an old trap car; so we used to ride around ... I just remember us hearing that on the radio any time we had a chance, because they played it night and day when the Beatles first came on the scene.”

In 1964, I got thrown out of a bowling alley in Yonkers, New York, for playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” 10 straight times on the jukebox. I know where you are coming from, Dolly.

At the end of the interview, they asked her what song she wanted at her funeral. “If We Never Meet Again” she answered, an old country-gospel song that Elvis and Johnny Cash, among others, had covered in their time. She said it was “my daddy’s favorite. We did sing it at his funeral, and I would like it to be sung at mine.”

I didn’t know the song. See above: 1960s, city-slicker, Rolling Stones. And, might I add, Catholic. We didn’t do much old-time gospel music during the Latin Mass of my youth.

So I looked it up:

“Soon we’ll come to the end of life’s journey\ And perhaps we’ll never meet anymore\ ’Til we gather in heaven’s bright city\ Far away on that beautiful shore ... Where the charming roses bloom forever\ And where separation comes no more\ If we never meet again this side of heaven\ I will meet you on that beautiful shore.”

I don’t plan on writing about this again, but I’ve been wrestling with the sickness, as my mother used to say, for the last six months, give or take. Swallowed whole by the medical establishment, it can be a long and draining journey as many of you no doubt know.

What has struck me through all this, however, is not the frailty of the human condition, but the joy of shared faith. And the decency of people.

I have heard from hundreds — you can probably make that thousands — of people. Cards, notes, emails. All kind. All wishing me well. I have heard from the people next door; I have heard from people that I haven’t seen hide nor hair of in decades.

They all promise me their prayers, even the ones who, shall we say, don’t have the most active prayer life. But they know what I would want to hear, and they are willing to say it.

We touch so many people in our lives. And sometimes it is the bad times that remind us of that. We talk so much about the New Evangelization. But all it really comes down to is touching the lives of those around us with our faith. And letting them touch our lives with their faith.

I don’t know how I am going to be able to thank everyone who wrote, everyone who reached out to me and mine during this whole mess. But maybe Dolly gave me the answer with that simple song she shared:

“If we never meet again this side of heaven/ I will meet you on that beautiful shore.”

Bless you, Dolly. And God bless all of you.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.