By Tracy Renee Lee
Yesterday evening, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend a lovely intimate concert. Well, 20 minutes of it anyway.
My husband purchased tickets to a concert about three weeks ago and as the days past, we had a funeral scheduled for the exact same day. The concert began at 3:00 PM and was scheduled to end at 5:00 p.m. It was in a town almost an hour away from our home and the scheduled funeral ended around 3:45 p.m.
As we entered the concert hall, the performer stopped his performance, scanned the audience, found us with his gaze, and asked, “Did Y’all just get here? Maybe you were at church, you look like a Preacher.” My husband replied that we were funeral directors and had been delayed due to a family’s need. The performer replied, “Ah, same thing, it’s a ministry. I hope it was at least profitable for you.”
He then segued to a song that had been a big hit for his father. I do not know if his conversation with my husband influenced the selection, or if it was just the next song in his repertoire, however, it was about a man going to meet his death. The performer’s father had been in prison and had been befriended by an older man in the cell next to him. The older man was serving three consecutive life sentences and had decided, along with two other inmates, to escape San Quinton Prison. The performer’s father thought he might like to escape along with them, but his friend asked him to reconsider.
As the two inmates became friends, they both learned about the other’s life. The older more experienced criminal told the younger less experienced inmate that he needed not escape with him. He explained that he intended to never return to prison and that he would do whatever that goal required. He told his younger friend to get his life in order, to return to his family, and to follow his unshared talent of playing the guitar and singing with the world.
The older man escaped with his two inmate friends, but was hunted, and caught in a firefight with law enforcement. The two friends were killed in the encounter and the older man shot and killed a police officer. His sentence was capital punishment. He returned to San Quinton Prison for execution.
The older man had the opportunity to see his younger friend and asked for a favor. He requested that as he met his death, his friend play and sing a song that his mother had often sung to him?
The warden granted the older man’s last wish and as he walked the hall to his execution, the other inmates stood up for him as he passed their cells. When he approached his younger friend’s cell, he paused, and his friend sang his request.
The younger man served his sentence and returned home to his little family. His wife and two children were living in Bakersfield CA in an abandoned railroad car. The former prisoner began his career as a performer and wrote a song about his experience with the older inmate who had encouraged him. His son then sang “Sing Me Back Home.”
The story of Merle Haggard singing for a man walking to his execution touched my heart very deeply. It is miraculous that two people in prison are able to help each other see the other side of life.
The older inmate needed comfort on his way to meet God and the younger man needed to find his path in life. Through service to each other, they each fulfilled God’s purpose, “Love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34) Merle Haggard brought comfort and allowed God’s tender mercies to rescue the older inmate from the fear of death. In turn, the older inmate gave Merle Haggard purpose of life, encouraged him to share his gift as a talented performer, and motivated him to return to his struggling family rather than remain in a cycle of crime. How glorious life is when you follow the promptings of the spirit and help others in need.
As a funeral director, I see the miracles of goodness and mercy every day. As people near life’s end, they impart encouragement and life’s lessons to those they leave behind. They willingly share their love, wisdom, fears, and hopes with those who mean the most to them. In return, those who love them offer comfort, listen to their wisdom, witness the miracle of life’s passage, and, better understand God’s purpose in life’s journey.
The performer finished his concert with a personal song, “One Prayer Away.”
I hope you have prayer in your life, that you receive the glories of heaven, and that the mercies of the Savior grace your life with forgiveness and purpose. For Marty Haggard, “That’s how his day begins and the way it ends.” (One Prayer Away, Marty Haggard) I hope yours does too.