But I was also pretty stressed. I was the weakest of the four voices, plus my second tenor part stretched a bit north of my baritone range. Fortunately, with days and days of practice, lots of warming up, and a whole handful of cough drops, it actually turned out really well. I hit all my notes and only confused lyrics one or two times. I didn’t nervously sing too fast or too loud. And the four of us really blended. More importantly, we really felt like we communicated something spiritual and compelling—something well beyond our limited talent.
We sang a Mormon hymn I’d never heard before. It’s an older one that is kind of a throwback to the earliest days in Mormonism. When the first Mormons traveled 13,000 miles and arrived in the Great Basin, they were leaving the United States and entering the territory of Mexico. They’d been rejected—sometimes violently--by their own people over and over again. And they had migrated from New England to Ohio then to Missouri and then to Illinois in less than two decades.
They settled into a huge area that spanned over parts of what later became Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and California. Most of it was high desert blanketed with sagebrush. It must have seemed so drab and uninviting to someone from the relatively lush areas of New England or the Midwest where most of these folks came from. And I can’t even imagine what it was like for many of my own ancestors who traveled all the way from Sweden, Germany, Scotland, and Wales.
But this new place was their home, and that made it beautiful. The hymn we sang today, O Home Beloved, describes that unique, subjective beauty that home always has above all other places. The lyrics describe a journeyer who is long from home in some spectacular and faraway place:
The flowers around me may be fairer
than those that bloom upon thy hills.
The streams, great, mighty treasure bearers,
more noted may be than thy rills.
No world renown my humble village,
like these great towns may proudly claim.
Yet my fond heart doth thrill with rapture
whenever I hear thy humble name.
…Words cannot tell how well I love thee
nor speak my longing when I roam.
My heart alone can cry to heaven,
“God bless my own dear mountain home!”
These words meant a lot to me this week. I traveled for work, as I often do. But when I travel, I usually don’t see much more than the inside of an airport, a hotel, an office, and a few hospitals. This week was different. I had planned on eating a simple dinner with some colleagues at a local place in Oakland. But they ganged up on me and let me know they’d decided that my plans were way too boring. As one of them said, pointing out across the evening horizon: “Do you see that? That’s San Francisco. And it’s only 20 minutes away.”
We had a memorable night. We drove all through the city on amazingly steep, narrow streets to see stunning views and beautiful architecture. We stopped at the Coit Tower to look across the bay and to peer in through locked glass doors at beautiful murals (which we wrongly attributed to Diego Rivera). We went down to the Fisherman’s Wharf to eat fresh cooked crab and lobster that had been boiled just minutes before in huge outdoor pots. Then we walked to Ghirardelli Square to eat a tremendous amount of ice cream and chocolate while we sat outside by the fireplaces.
It was such a relief the next night to land in Boise. I walked off the plane and just knew I was home. It’s the same way I’ve felt every time I’ve arrived at the airport since I first landed here almost five years ago for my job interview. It’s my home! The smiling people, the country roads, the maddeningly slow drivers, the unimpressively brown “mountains,” the cloudless skies, and the dry, thin air. I was home!
But we’ll be together. And we’ll be home. Nothing beats that.
God bless my own dear mountain home!