A famous hymn made all the difference by lifting their spirits together.
- Posted on Oct 2, 2018
In this world is darkness, so let us shine—You in your small corner and I in mine.
I wasn’t totally surprised the lyrics to my favorite hymn, “Jesus Bids Us Shine,” popped into my head at that particular moment. They often ran through my mind. No, what surprised me was that I wasn’t just thinking the words. I was singing them out loud. Even stranger, I was singing them out loud on the phone to a man I’d never actually met.
It was the spring of 1989. I was working for the vice president of an engineering company in Scarborough, Ontario. Part of my job was communicating with our suppliers, and I got to know some of them quite well through our phone conversations. My favorite calls came from a guy named Thurman.
He phoned once a week from Houston. I always knew it was him because of his Texas twang. We joked about the differences in weather between Texas and Ontario. He asked me about my job, and I asked him about his elderly mother. We were more than 1,500 miles apart, but I felt close to him somehow. Our conversations left me feeling upbeat and recharged.
When he called on that warm spring morning, I could tell business wasn’t the first thing on his mind.
“How’s your mother doing?” I asked, following a hunch.
“Not so well.” He sounded so downhearted. He said he was going out of town on business and worried about leaving her.
“Why don’t you bring her with you?” I said.
Dead silence. Now I’d done it, poking my nose in where it didn’t belong.
“You know what,” he said, “that might be just the thing she needs. It could really lift her spirits.”
“Exactly,” I said. “Maybe you two could visit Ontario someday. It’s lovely in the spring.”
I have no idea what got into me, but that’s when I started singing the first verse of “Jesus Bids Us Shine.” I finished and Thurman didn’t say anything. I never talked about my faith at work.
“Thank you,” he finally said.
That was my last phone call to Thurman. Shortly afterward I left the engineering company and moved to another city to look after my father, who had become incapacitated. I thought about Thurman every so often, wondering if he ever did take that trip with his mother. I was beginning to appreciate what a caregiver goes through.
Two years later, I went back to Scarborough for a wedding. I stayed with a friend. We went to the grocery store to buy a few things. A familiar voice stopped me in my tracks.
That Texas twang... I listened for a moment, then followed the voice around the corner to the next aisle. An elderly woman walked beside a tall man pushing a cart. She reached for something on a shelf and several cans tumbled to the floor. One rolled all the way down the aisle and up against my foot. I picked it up and walked over to hand it to the man.
“Here you go.”
“Thank you,” he said. He seemed a bit flustered, and I helped him pick up the other fallen cans.
“Thurman?” I asked.
He paused. His face broke out in a smile and he burst into song. “You in your small corner and I in mine...”
I laughed and joined him on the last note. “You have a beautiful voice!” I said.
Thurman’s mother spoke up. “He used to sing in the church choir, but I hadn’t heard a note from him in years, not since some bad breaks and setbacks. Then one day he came home from work singing that song. A few weeks after that, he started coming back to church and it’s made all the difference.”
Thurman nodded and talked a bit about the past two years. He and his mother had started traveling together and eventually made their way to Toronto. He’d stopped by Scarborough to see colleagues and was disappointed to hear I’d moved away.
“I wanted to tell you I took your advice, but I couldn’t find you!”
“Someone made sure you did,” I said. The same one, on a spring day, who put that song in my heart.
This story first appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of Mysterious Ways magazine.