Lean On Me

Driving back from a New Year’s visit to our best friends’ home in Charleston this past weekend I was, as usual, listening to 70s on 7 on Sirius/XM radio. The station was doing a countdown of the Top 300 Songs of the 1970s as voted on by their listeners. For four hours I listened to song after song, hearing only one or two I didn’t love. (I can do without Jimi Hendrix, for example.)

Since I was born in 1965, you would think my favorite music would be from the 1980s when I was a teenager, driving around in my first car. You would be wrong. Maybe it’s because I have a brother who is five years older than me and I fell in love with music early, listening to his vinyl albums, his eight track player in the 1965 Falcon Futura he inherited from our mother at age 16, or the boom box he would plug in and set on the top of the filter by our backyard swimming pool when he had friends over. I fell in love with Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Jim Croce, Carol King, James Taylor, Elton John, The Doobie Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire, Steve Miller Band, Chicago, The Eagles, Boston, ELO, Ambrosia, Bread, Steely Dan, America, Bill Withers, Santana, The Commodores, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Tom Petty, Kansas, The Carpenters, Rod Stewart, Bob Segar, Carly Simon, Eric Clapton … the list goes on and on. The singer-songwriters of the 70s are my favorites because their songs –– their stories –– speak to my heart.

Listening to James Taylor sing Carolina in My Mind made me feel an even greater affinity for my home state. Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend defined what friendship should look like for me. Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now broke my heart long before I even knew what love was. A very close friend introduced me to Billy Joel’s The Stranger Album in 1977. In 1979, the friend told me that Just the Way You Are explained perfectly how he felt about me and, to this day, I remember knowing for the first time that someone truly loved me. He didn’t have to say it in his own words, Billy said it for him. Here Come Those Tears Again by Jackson Browne played on a loop in my mind when the first guy I ever loved broke my heart, then came back, then broke my heart again.

I have often said I feel sorry for my nieces and nephew, for my friends’ kids, because they don’t have good music like we had growing up. What has passed for popular music in the 2000’s doesn’t hold a candle to the music I grew up with. (Interestingly, some of the kids I know like 70s and 80s music even though they were born in the 2000’s). There just aren’t many artists out there now that are really saying anything about life that moves me with their lyrics.

As I listened to the countdown on Saturday, number one hundred and something was the Bill Withers’ classic Lean On Me. As I listened to the song, I thought: Man, what a profound lyric! That is an anthem for our times right now! Mr. Withers wrote: “Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow. But, if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow.” I needed that message so badly right now. The past nine months have been brutal for most of us, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. This, too, shall pass.

Mr. Withers goes on to say, “Please swallow your pride if I have things you need to borrow, for no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show.” That line hit me right between the eyes. I am the worst at asking for help when I need it. I tend to suffer in silence, then resent that no one it noticing or offering comfort. My pride is exactly what keeps me from saying that I am lonely, sad, stressed out. I don’t want to be seen as weak or needy. The problem is that that wall I am putting up keeps out the sun and makes me lonelier and sadder and weaker. Hearing that song right then was a God Moment for me. I said a little pray of thanks for the message and promised myself and God that I will do better at not internalizing, better at sharing and asking for help … from Him and from the friends and family in my life. Right then, I needed to hear, “Lean on me when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on.” Thanks God, Bill Withers, and Sirius/XM.

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