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Thanksgiving Blues

(by James M. Gilbreath)

(copyright 2006)

(Old man sitting on train trestle playing blues on slide guitar using bottle as slide)

            Down in this part of town we do a lot of recycling. (holds up bottle/slide) Last week this was a bottle of capers. Now I call it a slide. It’s just a name. No matter what you call it, it’s just a piece of glass. The older I get, the less important names are.

            When I was a kid I tried so hard to get a nickname, but nothing would stick. I was so jealous of Buck, Red, Ace, and, of course, Fingers. He was a great guitar player. Had fingers about 12 inches long. I was even a little bit jealous of Booger. At least he had a nickname. Of course, Booger wasn’t so bad when you considered his real name was Ignatius Xerxes Davis.

            It took over 60 years, but now, I’ve got a nickname. I’m the Old guy on the Bridge. It’s simple how I got the name. I got old and I sit out here on this bridge. It’s funny. All those years wanting a nickname and then, when I don’t care anymore, I get one.

            Now, you may ask, “why do I sit out here on this bridge?” I come here to think, read, write down my thoughts, play my guitar. Sometimes people come out here and talk to me. I guess I’m getting to be a bit of a landmark - sight to see when you’re in this part of town. People think, because I’m old, I’m wise. If I am wise, it’s not because of the years alone, but because of what each year left in its wake; the comings and goings, the trials and tribulations, if you will. I guess you could say this is where God led me. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful that God led me, but I’ve got the blues over how He led me. (play Summertime blues licks)

            Of course, as most life stories go, many of my problems were my own fault, but some of them were pure providence. My father was one of those men, who let his wife, my mother, make all the decisions in the home. He was happy to be at work 10-12 hours a day, at least 6 days a week. And I don’t believe he was doing it for us. I believe he just loved his work more than he loved his home and family. When I was 12, he died and I think I saw him more during the 3 days before he was buried than I ever did while he was alive. He talked to me almost as much as he had before, too.

            My mother died while I was in college and I had no other family. I was all alone…until I met her. Those years with her were the happiest years of my life, even with all the sad times. She wasn’t what some men would call pretty, but she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She had a servant’s heart and she led me to the Lord without even knowing it. She never talked to me about her Christian life or her Christian walk. She just lived it and walked it.

            She never said it, but I just knew she wouldn’t marry me if I wasn’t a Christian and I have to admit, I lied like a Clinton in the Whitehouse. But when I saw her light, that’s when I saw God’s light. I went to church with her for all the wrong reasons, but God used those wrong reasons and my salvation was the result. I told her I had lied to her, but she forgave me and married me anyway. I had a hard time believing it of her, but she told me that everyone had sinned, but, she said, those who believe are forgiven.

            We had been married 10 years before she became pregnant. That child died before its birthday. I believed it was my fault because of my sinful life. She would smile through her tears and assure me that was not the reason. She had me convinced that God knew our baby’s future and loved that child so much He knew it was best that it never saw sin. I still believe her.

            God later gave us another child. He grew to be a man. A good man who died for his country in Desert Storm. Three months later, my Godly wife went to the doctor with chest pains. She died on the operating table. I never even got to say goodbye. In my grief I made a horrible mistake at work that, not only cost me my job, it cost me my career. Nobody in my field would even consider hiring me. 

            And then…it was Thanksgiving. (angry blues licks)

            I laughed, then I cried, then I cursed God for the irony. Was He laughing? Did He think it was so funny to give me beauty and joy in my life, then take it all back and wave Thanksgiving in my face?

            That was when I just happened to find this bridge. Just an old abandoned train trestle about 60 feet over a dry creek bed. And I was there on this bridge for one reason and one reason only. I was going to end the pain. I was not going to let God hurt me anymore.    (plays some easy-mellow blues)         

            I had my plan, but God had another plan. And I have discovered over the years, when God has a plan, it always works, despite us. And when the dust clears, God’s always in control.

            You see, I started to step out onto one of those steel I-beams and was shocked to see a young man already standing out there where I was going. He looked kinda out of place in his Armani suit and Gucci tie. I think he was more shocked to see me than I was to see him.

            Seeing him in my stead kinda ticked me off and I spoke with definitive rudeness, “If you’re gonna do it, then git her done. There’re people waiting in line.” He just stared at me like he couldn‘t believe someone else might have troubles, too. I guess I was just a bit insensitive, but he had my spot and he was stealing my thunder.

            “Having a bad day, huh?” I finally said. He just continued to stare at me. So I asked him, “Did your wife die?” More staring. “Did your children die?” Still nothing. I looked at that expensive suit and his Bruno Magli shoes. “Did you lose all your money?” Well, that got his gums to flappin’.

            He told me all his troubles, which were only a couple of days old. Up until Monday his life had been perfect. He was worth several million dollars and making more everyday with his investments. He was a stock market genius, at least up until Monday.

            One little mistake and he said he lost everything. And I said, “I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

            He looked incredulous. “How would you know what it’s like to lose millions of dollars?” he asked.

            “I don‘t,” I answered. “But I know what it’s like to lose everything. And everything is the same, whether you’ve got a little or a lot.”

            There was that stare again. This time he didn’t follow up with words, so I continued. “Do you have family?”

            He finally answered. “Yea. A wife and two kids. Boy and a girl.” He looked away as his face seemed to soften somewhat.

            “So,” I said. “You haven’t really lost everything, have you?” He stared again, but this time he had a different look as a tear rolled down his cheek.

            “My wife married me for my money,” he said, “and she’ll take the kids and leave, when she finds out the money’s gone.”

            Now it was my turn to stare and look incredulous. “If you haven’t talked to her, how do you know what she’ll do? You haven’t really lost everything, yet. You’re gonna jump off that bridge purely on speculation?”

            His voice was a little softer when he said, “My job, my life, is speculating.”

            “And you’ve obviously been wrong sometimes, haven’t you?” I just had to ask. “It could be you’re wrong again.” I added. He wasn’t staring at me in his silence this time, which made me think I may have said something right.

            After several minutes I broke the silence. “Do you believe in The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit?” Well, he was back to staring at me again. “I only ask, because you’re apt to see all three of them on your way down and it might be good if you actually believed in them.”

            And then he gave me this wisdom. “I believe in me,” he said with a strange air of arrogance that seemed very out of place while standing on a bridge about to jump. So I told him what I thought. After all, he was a captive audience.

            “You’re standing on a bridge thinking about jumping, telling me you believe in you. You ain’t doing you much good right now, is you?” I thought for a minute he was gonna come off that bridge, just so he could hurt me. But he just stood there staring at me like he was trying to make a decision and I was beginning to worry that it might be the wrong one.  This is a poem I wrote a few days later.                        


 The Blood is on the Ground

Decisions made everyday

How will you choose -when you always seem to lose

And the blood is on the ground

See the man on the bridge

On a November day -he threw it all away

And the blood is on the ground

You who are so innocent it seems, living inside your dreams

Your ivory towers they seem so sound. Is that your blood on the ground?

A man nailed to a cross

How can it be-that He died for me

And the blood is on the ground.

Even though He left

His blood on the ground-He will never be bound

To the grave

            What I said next, I didn’t know where it came from, at the time. And at face value it didn’t sound like it was from the Lord, but God doesn’t usually work on face value. I said, “Be careful. That Eye-talian leather is mighty slippery.” That’s when I saw concern in his eyes and, perhaps, a little doubt.

            I told him, “You know, I came here today on speculation, too. I didn’t think I could live without my wife. Now, I think I can make it.” It seemed that I had been listening to what I was saying. Or perhaps what the Lord was saying through me

            After a while, he asked me, “What happened to your wife?”

            Up to that moment, I wasn’t sure I could answer that question without breaking down. I just told him she had died very suddenly. There was a silent pause as we stared at each other. The reaction to that admission was different than I expected. Instead of breaking my spirit, it seemed to break his.

            I reminded him, “Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Why don’t you spend it with your family and tell your wife what happened. She might surprise you. I mean, you can always come back here and finish what you started today. But I might suggest you try one of those tall buildings over there. (points at downtown skyline) Jumping off this bridge might not kill you. It could just cripple you. And if you’re right about your wife, then who’s gonna take care of you?” Well, he was thinking, now, so I added one more little jab. “What if on the way down you changed your mind? It seems like it would be a lot easier to change it before you jump.”

            Well, I think that did it. He finally started working his way toward me. I said, “Be careful. I wasn’t kidding about that eye-talian leather.”

            He had a lot on his mind, so I didn’t let it bother me when he just walked right past me without a word. I just watched him walk away with his head down. He was about a hundred feet away when he turned around like he had forgotten something. “Hey!” he shouted. “You gonna be alright?”

            It was my turn to stare at him. “Yea,” I smiled. “Thanks to you, I’m gonna be alright.”

            He looked a bit confused, but he didn’t ask the question. He just turned and walked toward the street. I was betting that fancy car that looked so out of place in this part of town was his. And sure enough, after a while, I heard the engine start up and he was gone.

            Then it truly hit me. If he hadn’t been on that bridge, I would have surely been lying at the bottom of that creek, either dead or worse yet, crippled. And who would have taken care of me? Well, God did. He brought 2 desperate people together that day on this bridge and, without really knowing, they saved each other. It’s all about God’s amazing grace. Isn’t it?

            (picks out bluesy version of Amazing Grace)

            You know, I’ve discovered over the years that no matter what happens to you, no matter what you’re going through, you can find something to be thankful for. You may have to search for it, but it’ll be there, just like tomorrow morning to a live man. The first step to finding it is to stop focusing on yourself and your pain. That’s how you wind up out there on that bridge. As long as you’re looking at your pain, you’ll never see somebody else’s. And when you see somebody else’s pain, that’s when you find something to be thankful for. You can always find somebody who’s worse off than you. When you find them, you start wanting to help them, then you start to forget your own problems. By helping them, you just might help yourself…at least long enough to get down off that bridge.

            (pick out more Amazing Grace)

            Let me leave you with one thing before I’m through. Think about such things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. See, if your thinking about things like that, how can bad thoughts get into your mind?

            (start to play, then stop) Oh, by the way, in case you’re wondering what happened to that young man. I saw his picture on the front page of the paper about a year or so later. At first, I was afraid he had finished what he started. But it turned out to be a good story. His success, his failure, and his struggle to climb back to the top. The reporter asked what turned him around. He said his wife stuck by him the whole time and she was a great encouragement. They grew closer together through the struggle. But, he added, the thing that turned his life around was…some old guy on a bridge.


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