Last Sunday night Todd and I gathered with friends from our Presbyterian church to celebrate the Protestant Reformation. I served myself from the potluck of Swiss steak and chicken, fondue, and a punchbowl of iced Swiss rum (all in honor of Zwingli), and I sat next to my friend Marj.
“I brought a DVD of the 1971 Billy Graham Crusade,” she said conspiratorially. “A fan sent it to me.”
“No way,” I said. “You opened for Billy Graham?”
Marj nodded modestly.
You see, Marj cut her first album in 1971, at seventeen. She was something of a star in the Jesus People movement
“When you watch the video—when you see that girl, do you remember being in her skin?” I asked. “Do you feel like she’s still there inside you, like you’re the same person?”
“I do,” Marj said. “And I want to tell her not to act so silly, that she’s singing a little flat.”
After dinner we watched the video, and I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen, from the girl singing to me and to her grown self standing beside me.
“My mom sewed that dress,” grown Marj whispered as teen Marj smiled a small smile and strummed while the breeze lifted her long hair.
I almost felt the breeze, felt the dreams and questions running under and through the lyrics. She’d found Jesus, found peace while trouble surged around and through her generation. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, and I reached my arm around Marj as she watched herself.
Even now I cannot put words on what I felt.
As the DVD was pulled from the player and our friends applauded, Todd said to me, “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” And at the end of the evening, as we walked out to our car, Todd asked, “Why was it so moving to see young Marj sing?”
“It’s like time travel.” I said. “Or magic.”
We were, for a few moments, back in Oakland in 1971, when a girl with her whole life ahead of her stood with a guitar slung over her body, eyes down, long hair lifted by the breeze, singing to a future she couldn’t see. Marj would become moderately famous, would cut several albums, but, as one fan puts it, “she was a great talent that was never really discovered.”
Marj toured and sang in the U.S. and Europe. She married at 34, started a family right away and had four children by forty. Now her grown kids—musicians, all of them—perform at coffeehouses, at pubs, at festivals. Last summer I sat in the back row at an outdoor concert while Marj’s kids performed. Marj sat a row ahead of me, tapping a foot and nodding, smiling her small smile, hair lifting in the breeze.
I am always watching. I see the people in this town, my friends and acquaintances. I’m moved by their lives, by their dreams and disappointments, by what I know and what I don’t. This is community—not just knowing one another, but watching the years pass and superimposing the past on the present. When we’ve known each other long and longer, there is an element of time travel—of transcendence to our relationships.
It is 1971. The girl on the cusp of her fame, her life, sings to me. I hear her voice on the ocean breeze of my own Southern California home. I am seven years old and I have no idea who Billy Graham is or that a girl old enough to be my babysitter will one day open her heart to me and become my friend.