He Keeps Me Singing

I was a sad girl when I met Jack Pelham in November of 1998. My younger brother (and best friend) had died from cancer in July, and my grief was unbearable at times. Three months after my brother’s death, I left New York, my home of the previous 11 years, with its memories of several visits from him, and moved to Tennessee to be near my family. Jack Pelham had left Florida for a fresh start in Nashville the week before I arrived from New York. We met some time in the next few weeks when in rehearsals for a charity show that the church we both had joined would be doing at the Ryman Auditorium.

Jack was finishing up his 17 year Bachelor’s degree in Music from Florida State. For this particular show, he directed a small chorus and maybe did a solo or duet. I did some solo piano pieces. The following year we did the show at the Grand Ole Opry House, and either before or after I became a regular member of Jack’s chorus in Nashville. Unbeknownst to him, Jack was slowly filling up the huge hole in my heart left by the loss of my brother. Jack was putting music and singing back into my life.

But I was still lonely for a friend like my brother James had been. Someone who cared about ideas and wanted to read about and think about and talk about ideas. About truth. About goodness. About beauty. This church that we were a part of was a very busy church. More about that some other day. People who genuinely wanted to study out and dig deep into ideas were very rare in this group. In 1999, after a few months break from this busy church, I returned and met Kathryn. Kathryn was more than a decade my junior and had cystic fibrosis. You wouldn’t know it upon first meeting her until she told you about it. I remember her telling me her life-expectancy was 31 years. I found it interesting, as I told her, that she has known this her whole life, and my brother died at 31, not knowing his whole life that 31 was his final year. Kathryn was very real, very smart, and cared about truth. Kathryn didn’t let her “death sentence” stop her from living. Kathryn had also been dating Jack Pelham. They had recently broken up but were trying to work things out. Long story short….really! …. although Jack and I had known each other through the music ministry in the church, it was through our mutual friendship with Kathryn that we became friends. And through this I discovered that Jack was way more than a very good musician. He cared about real things like Kathryn did, like my brother James had. Whether or not I would have gotten to know this about Jack without having known Kathryn, I will never know, but I sure am glad Kathryn was there. I am digressing a bit, but really, Kathryn was a big part of restoring my sanity. And at some point when she saw it just wasn’t going to work for them, she said, “You know, you two should be together.” To which I replied, “Oh, that would just be weird.” She did give her blessing in person to Jack to pursue a relationship with me. Kathryn passed away at age 34 in 2011.

Home. One of the things that would come up in chats with Jack was wanting to find “home”. We would know we had found “the one” when we felt we were at home. I made a travel cassette tape (remember those?) for Jack in that first (and only) summer of our dating. A few of the selections had the theme of Home. Linda Ronstadt sang “feels like home to me, feels like I’m all the way back where I belong”; Shawn Colvin, “Home, that’s where I want to be….because I can’t tell one from the other, did I find you or you find me….out of all those kinds of people, you got a face with a view. And I am just an animal looking for a home to share the same space for a minute or two…” I felt that I had found Home. We cared about the same things. We wanted to keep learning and asking questions about our beliefs. He knew who Cousin Pearl was! I was so comfortable with him. There’s a lot of peace when you don’t have to work your brain trying to not talk about what you want to talk about. You know what I mean? Small talk wears me out.

Wishing to record a song for our 19th anniversary, I found sheet music for some of the home-themed songs I had put on that cassette of long ago, but the one I ended up choosing is a recent find through one of my piano students. Here is (the unedited-until-I-can-get-help-from-JackorJames, and certainly unenhanced version of) Runnin’ Home to You.

Runnin’ Home to You, words and music Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

I started singing with Jack in 1999, some of our Nashville choir joined us to sing at our 2002 wedding, and today we have our Freedom Choir. He began filling up that musical part of my heart 22 years ago, and he still keeps me singing all these years later. And thinking, and reading, and studying, and talking about all the true, good, and beautiful things of this life.

Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . . ~CS Lewis, “The Four Loves”

Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction. ~Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, “Airman’s Odyssey”

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