Serendipity and “Solsbury Hill”

Solsbury Hill
Sols­bury Hill

Grow­ing up with the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I wasn’t too famil­iar with Peter Gabriel’s work. But I lis­ten to the oldies radio sta­tion and, alas, now 80’s and 90’s music is old. So I was pleased one day last sum­mer when I heard Gabriel’s song “Sols­bury Hill”. I was enchant­ed by the beat and the cheery melody. And the words…well noth­ing stuck out until I heard “Grab your things , I’m going to take you home”. Those cer­tain­ly struck a chord with me. I thought of Father Michael and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of his ‘going home’. I found myself lis­ten­ing atten­tive­ly each time the song played.

Those oldies sta­tions seem to group these songs in bunch­es and some then get played more fre­quent­ly. I was hear­ing “Sols­bury Hill” prob­a­bly every oth­er day. It was a trig­ger for some kind of med­i­ta­tion . First I enjoyed it and just thought it was beau­ti­ful. Then I’d some­times focus more on the words and I would find it omi­nous . Peter Gabriel would belt out “my heart going boom, boom, boom,” and I would loud­ly sing over it, yelling “no, no, no!”. The song became a kind of anthem of Father Michael’s can­cer jour­ney for me. Even­tu­al­ly I reached a point where I’d hear the open­ing bars and a mel­low­ness would come to me, a peace­ful­ness. Instead of yelling “no, no, no”, I found myself smil­ing, join­ing in enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly at “you can keep my things , they’ve come to take me home!”

So, in Jan­u­ary this year, I wrote my week­ly note to Father M. I wrote about how my expe­ri­ence had ‘evolved ‘ with this song — and how it always made me think about and pray for him. We nev­er dis­cussed it in per­son, though. Our time vis­it­ing was very lim­it­ed and was con­stant­ly being inter­rupt­ed. Play time of “Sols­bury Hill” seemed to be wan­ing on the radio.But it picked up again in Feb­ru­ary and March. As Father Michael’s jour­ney began to wind down, the song was play­ing quite a bit once again.

March 27 was the day Father Michael died. It hap­pened close to 9 am, but was nev­er spec­i­fied. I had attend­ed Mass and for the very first time prayed for Father Michael’s “hap­py death”. Up till then I‘d held true to my promise of always pray­ing for his com­plete heal­ing. The pre­sid­ing priest was quite frank about Father M’s state, so I knew it was time to change my prayer. I stayed after for a bit then went to my car and did my usu­al text to Father Michael. It was about 8:35. I drove home and pulled in front of my house. I was about to turn the car off, when “Sols­bury Hill” start­ed to play. I wait­ed and lis­tened and won­dered “have they come to take him home?”

I got in the house, straight­ened up, made cof­fee and then looked at my com­put­er. There was an email from the parish  :“Father Michael goes home to the Father”. I wept , but also prayed in thanks­giv­ing. Lat­er I won­dered if “Sols­bury Hill” had been play­ing short­ly before 9.….a bit of serendip­i­ty? The oldies sta­tion has a web­site that pub­lish­es their playlists, past and future. I found March 27, scanned the time from 7am to 11am. The song was not list­ed! I sup­pose it was an omis­sion or cler­i­cal error, but I also won­der if my hear­ing it that day wasn’t a spe­cial sign. It cer­tain­ly felt that way and I believe in those things.

Father Michael always said he was a ter­ri­ble dancer, but that his moth­er liked to dance with him,as songs played on the radio. She’d told him “You’re the only one with rhythm”. I used to say to him “ I bet you were a good dancer, Father M. I’m sure, because your own moth­er saw it”. He’d say “Oh,no, no”, but as his con­di­tion wors­ened, he loos­ened up and final­ly told me, “ You know, I real­ly was a great dancer “. I ‘ll bet he’s danc­ing now…maybe to “Sols­bury Hill” !