I’m going to reveal a secret. I think it’s time I confessed. Whenever I am alone at home, in the car, or at work, I am constantly singing. I can’t seem to stop. Lately, I have found myself bursting out in song even when I am at the grocery store. I will stand right in the frozen foods section and belt out a few verses of “Heat Wave.” My voice, however, quickly dissolves into a heavy sigh or raging cough whenever someone approaches. I don’t sing around other people. I don’t want anyone to tell me that I am off-key or out of tune. I already know my voice is weak and pitchy. But that doesn’t stop me when I am alone. I still continue to sing using my hairbrush or television remote as a microphone. It’s a childhood activity I have never outgrown.
So I continue to sing and scribble down lyrics on napkins or in my class notes. I have been writing songs since I was six-years-old. In high school, I would sit in the back of the room scribbling silly love songs in my notebook instead of paying attention to my history lesson. I had dreams of being a singer/songwriter back then. Unfortunately, the dreams are recurring. By all rights, I should be Shania Twain or Taylor Swift. I can close my eyes and see a complete picture of myself on stage dramatically singing my songs to a large cheering crowd.
In reality, though, when the dream ends, I’m not on stage. Instead, I am usually in the audience. I love to go to concerts. It is the only thing I splurge on. I will go without new clothes and shop for groceries at the 99 Cent Store just to have the extra money I need to buy a concert ticket.
Last Saturday night, November 1, I had a ticket to see Reba McEntire at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California. I have never seen Reba before and was excited for the show. I arrived at the venue early that night so I decided to go to the bowling alley snack bar and get a cup of coffee. Not being a gambler, I decided to just relax and read until the doors of the theater were open.
I sat at a small round table and alternately stuck my nose in my coffee cup and my paperback book. Suddenly, I heard a voice behind me say, “Where is the trash can? Is that the trash can?”
I looked up and saw an elderly woman standing behind me. She was slightly hunched over and she shuffled across the floor in a slow awkward tilted gait. The woman was wearing white pants and a blue striped shirt that was covered by a white cardigan. A little white hat that looked like a sailor’s cap turned inside out sat on top of her gray curly hair and drooped down around her large black framed glasses. I smiled at her for a moment and then pulled my chair closer to the table to make sure I was out of her way.
The woman thanked me and then dumped her trash in the metal can behind me. She turned slowly to go back to her table but then stopped and looked at me. She asked me if I was going to the concert that night. “Oh, yes, I’m really excited about this show,” I answered and the woman happily clapped her hands together.
“I’m going, too,” she told me. “I go see everybody. I don’t care if they’re white or black, gay, lesbian. It doesn’t matter. I just want to hear the music and see the shows. After every show I’ve ever seen I always thank God for blessing me so greatly. I got to witness the talents of so many great people and I always say thank you Jesus for blessing me so. I got to see Sammy Davis, Jr and Elvis Presley. I saw Librace four times! How lucky am I! I’m Marilyn.”
“Hi, Marilyn,” I told her as I reached out my hand. “My name is Jamie.”
“Oh, Jamie,” Marilyn stated as she grabbed my hand warmly. “How wonderful. We are going to witness a great talent together tonight. I’m 85-years-old and I’ve gotten to experience so much! God is so good!”
As I stared at Marilyn for a moment, I tried not to reveal my shock. This beautiful woman with this amazing spirit was 85? I know much younger people who don’t possess a fraction of her energy and enthusiasm. Marilyn was excited now and she couldn’t stop talking. I didn’t mind. I do the same thing when I am happy. So I put down my book and looked right at her as I listened to her voice that rattled, shook , and cracked as she continued on. “Yes, Barbara Walters turned 85 in September. I’m turning 85 in December. She retired. Why? I think I’m going to last longer than Barbara Walters. I’m so excited. I’m so lucky. What good fortune that I have seen so many shows and so much talent. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for creating all of the lovely talented people. Thank you for blessing me because I get to see all of the talent. I love to see these talented people. Black, white, gay, lesbian…I don’t care. I love them! And I’m so lucky. What a blessed life I have had to witness such amazing talent. Look how Jesus has blessed me! I’ve been in the audience at the best shows and witnessed the greatest talent.”
Marilyn’s great enthusiasm dimmed only once when she mentioned the government. Or as my friend Marilyn stated, “The fucking government…Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” She giggled as her small hands rose up to cover her mouth. I just laughed. I figure if someone is 85-years-old, he or she has earned the right to say anything. The light in Marilyn’s eyes returned as she continued to talk about all of the great shows she had seen.
A few minutes later, Marilyn’s friend arrived and they left the snack bar. I trailed them through the casino where Marilyn, who claimed to have stopped gambling four years ago, was walking around the slot machines cheering on the gamblers or offering them unsolicited advice. I felt brilliant in her presence and dazzled by her enthusiasm.
An hour later, I was sitting in the audience of the Fantasy Springs performance center listening to Reba’s amazing talent. And when the concert was over I thanked God for blessing me so. I walked by Marilyn and her friend on my way out. I leaned over and took her hand. “What did you think, Marilyn?” I asked her. “Did you have fun?”
“Oh, I used to be a schoolteacher,” Marilyn told me. “Reba gets an A plus plus plus. What an amazing gift she has. Thank you God. I have been so blessed.” I squeezed Marilyn’s hand then and left the theater after saying good night.
I walked out of the performance center with a prayer of my own. Thank you God for allowing me to witness so many amazing and beautiful spirits tonight. And thank you for the lesson I learned from my dear 85 year old friend, Marilyn. A gift is a talent we share with others; a blessing is the ability to appreciate those gifts. Thanks to Marilyn, I now know the difference. I may not be gifted like Shania or Taylor or Reba, but now I know God has continued to bless me endlessly.