Published on January 21st, 2021 | by Randy Weeks0
The View From The Balcony: Wake Up!
In the wee hours of last Thursday morning I woke thinking that I wanted to update my profile pic on Facebook. I remembered a specific old photo that would be perfect. I searched for three days but the photograph eluded me. Like I so often find, though, when I’m looking for one treasure a greater one emerges. While emptying the filler pages of an old scheduling notebook in search of the picture I struck gold in the form of a letter addressed to me, dated June 8, 2004.
Dr. James C. Downey was my music history professor at William Carey College (now University). With his black and grey hair that was a little longer than any other teacher’s, his salt and pepper beard, his pipe smoking on a Baptist campus, and his mysterious philosophical air, he was the cool professor on campus. Kind of like James Dean in a turtleneck.
Dr. Downey was the teacher we could never quite figure out, and he was the person who made me fall in love with conversation. His influence was central to the birth of this column. (See my first “The View from The Balcony” column, published April 20, 2017 in issue #277, and online here).
In 2003 I wrote Dr. Downey to tell him how much I appreciated him and how thankful I was to have been one of his students. About a year later he responded. One of the two professors I admired most and the one I feared most was inviting me to a new relationship.
“I would like for us to have a correspondence dealing with some of the elements of mankind’s searching for truth…I need students—someone to fire questions, observations at me…I took your questions seriously in the past.”
I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t think I ever responded to Dr. Downey. I imagine I was “too busy,” like the father in Harry Chapin’s legendary song “Cat’s in the Cradle.”
Not too long after his letter to me, Dr. Downey was the victim of a freak accident on his farm and lost much of his ability to carry on any correspondence, especially the kind he had proposed to me. His health steadily declined until 2010 when he breathed his last.
Shortly before his death I visited Dr. Downey in his nursing home. His wife was there and told me that, as much as she appreciated my visit, I couldn’t stay long, and that Dr. Downey’s cognitive condition had deteriorated to the point that he probably wouldn’t know me. He didn’t remember or recognize many people at all.
I walked into the room. Mrs. Downey told Dr. Downey that one of his former students, Randy Weeks, had come to visit. Dr. Downey raised his head from his pillow a bit and squinted, his eyes in search of better sight. His countenance lifted and he spoke with verve. “Weeks!” he said. He remembered!
Being careful not to tire Dr. Downey, I didn’t stay long. But I was able to tell him to his face how important he had been in my life, how thankful I was for him, and how grateful I was for the many good things he had given me. It was a holy moment for me, and I hope for him, too.
My late cousin Ruby Jean was a nurse at the Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield, Mississippi in the 1960s. There was one story she told about a mentally ill patient that I’ll always remember.
This patient was zigzagging through the hallways, arms extended like Frankenstein’s monster, screaming, “I can’t see! I can’t see!” Ruby Jean rushed to the patient, grabbed her shoulders, and shook her. “Open your eyes!” Ruby Jean shouted. “Open your eyes!” The woman opened her eyes and said, “Oh!”
We are often blind to what is right in front of us simply because our eyes are closed. We only get one chance at this life. We can go blindly through it or we can open our eyes, wake up and live it. I was in search of an old photograph, and still am. In my quest my eyes were opened to a gold mine and to a missed opportunity.
Maybe we should all stand in front of a mirror every day, look ourselves in the eye, snap our fingers in front of our face, and say, “Wake up!” Who knows what we’d find? Who knows what would find us?
Randy Weeks is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Life Coach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.