Bill Withers, the great American Songwriter, died this week after heart complications. Bill became a singer/songwriter after a career in the Navy as an aircraft mechanic. He was born and raised in Slab Fork, West Virginia. The name of the town sets a pretty distinct picture of what I imagine it looks like. Bill set out to avoid a life in the coal mines so he joined the Navy and became a mechanic. After discovering his musical talents from inspiration from Lou Rawls, Bill bought a guitar from a pawn shop and focused his life on learning to write songs and become a performer. His songs became beloved by many people, and his song “Lean on Me” became a connecting song for my friends from high school.
Growing up I had a few friends through school, church, and martial arts classes I took. But over my junior and senior years of high school I developed a strong group of friends, who I am still friends with today, over 25 years later. Starting in high school and extending through weddings, birthday celebrations, children’s birthdays and many other events my friends and I have stayed close. At nearly every one of those events we have played the song “Lean on Me”.
Three weeks ago, as the Coronavirus Pandemic started to grip our communities, my friend Kevin sent out an invitation to our group of friends to join a weekly online happy hour. There are six of us and our wives who are connected through this group. One of our friends is an Emergency Room Doctor, and based on his schedule he has not been able to join us. Although our concern and admiration for him is the topic and worry of many of our conversations. It has been great to join the conversation each week. We each discuss the struggles of our new schedules, the stress of handling our lives with parents and children who are struggling with the new reality.
My connection with this group of friends is the longest and strongest connection of friendships in my life. At times we have lost the constant contact, but the depth of long term connection is always present. Reconnecting in these times is a source of comfort and strength for me. Hearing that Bill Withers had passed away connected me to my friends even more. His songs are heartfelt and warm and I’m sure have connected so many people.
Lean on Me is always in my mind when I think about friendship, dedication and love. As I thought back on how Bill Withers’ song impacted my life I remember the desire to always be there for my friends throughout the struggles of life. Through my divorce, through friend’s loss of parents, strained relationships, and very difficult times, I have always known I can lean on my friends Kevin, Byron, Alton, Kevin and Mick. I thought about all the good times for which they have been present, the weddings, birthdays, children’s birthdays, and other celebrations. As we each struggle through the Covid-19 life change, we each have the strength of our relationships to help us through, to lean on.
In fly fishing I have developed a hobby I hope lasts me a lifetime. I hope to share it with all my friends and family. I have fished several times with my wife, which is a wonderful time to share. I hope to be able to spend more time fishing with my children and to connect with my father while fly fishing. I feel like I’ve already connected to my grandfather-in-law, posthumously, through fly fishing. My friend Kevin has already asked about getting out on the water, and my friend Byron’s son, Owen is already an avid fly fisherman in Michigan. I hope to fish with Kevin, Byron and Owen soon. As I mentioned in my past blog on Heroes, I already lean on Brian and Mark in my fly fishing growth and learning and I love the time I spend on the water with them. I have developed new connections with people I admire through YouTube and social media connected to fly fishing, like Scott from PA Woods and Water, whose great instruction and positive outlook is a great inspiration. I hope to fish with him some day. All these things I lean on and appreciate.
Beyond fly fishing, as I spent the day spreading mulch, working on the yard and barbequing with my kids and wife, I felt appreciative for the time we have and the fortunate lives we have led. We are able to have a great house and yard and to be able to enjoy each other’s time and help each other as a team. It’s not always smooth sailing, it doesn’t always match the imagined postcard pictures, but we know we can lean on each other when we’re not strong, and we can help each other carry on. Thank you Bill Withers and thanks to everyone in my life who I lean on.