Once upon a time, I was practicing the organ at St. Mark’s on the Campus in Lincoln, Nebraska. Unbeknownst to me, a stranger wandered off the street, and he managed to make his way, silently, up to the organ loft. I was in the middle of a passage that was giving me some problems. I lifted my hands and feet to give the section another try. In that brief moment, the stranger very softly said, “Hello.” I nearly leapt from the organ bench.
I turned to see him standing by some filing cabinets, and after taking a breath to calm down, I said, “Hello.”
“Oh,” he said. “I’m surprised you could hear me. I said that very softly.”
“Well,” I replied, “I am a musician. Listening to stuff is kind of what I do.”
I normally enjoy a good conversation with the odd sorts of people that wander into churches. I decided engagement was the best tactic, and began talking to him and walking him downstairs. He began griping about a judge’s order that gave his parents guardianship over him even though he was almost thirty. It did seem a little unfair that he couldn’t make decisions for himself, and I was sympathetic for a moment…and then it happened.
In a passing sentence, he managed to drop in an “I in I” and there was a “Selassie” not far behind. Whenever middle-class white people from the mid-West start dropping Rasta crumbs for me to follow, I am immediately on the hunt to find out where the trail begins. After a few more questions on my part, I got to the core of the thing. It was quite a beautiful little speech in its own way. As it began, a little bit of an affected Jamaican accent was peppered across a few words. By the end, he was speaking with a full on fake accent and interposing lots of “hey mon” between words.
“This is what I’m trying to explain to you about my parents, mon. They don’t understand the I in I. Just because someone likes all of Bob Marley’s music, and begins dressing in a Jamaican style, and speaking in a Jamaican accent, mon, and just because they start calling themselves Bob Marley, mon, and they only reply to people using lyrics from Bob Marley songs…just because they do all that stuff doesn’t mean, mon, that they actually believe that they are Bob Marley.”
“Yes,” I said, “but, you can see how someone might be confused about the difference.”
He could not see that and went away quite disappointed that I didn’t really see how the difference might have mattered.