“If I lose that camera,” I said adamantly, “I will buy him a brand new one before the day is over with.”
Those were big words coming from the mouth of an eighteen-year-old college student gainfully employed through only a minimum wage, after school part-time job. I was on my way to a concert in the Superdome and wanted to use my brother’s new Nikon FM camera. 35mm SLR cameras were hard to come by back in the day, but my brother did not seem to mind if I borrowed his. We had worked it out. (He is my little brother) The problem surfaced when my parents objected to the loan. After all, our destination was New Orleans, which was considered a septic tank of hedonism and crime even back during the early 1980’s.
A group of my friends and I drove to New Orleans that afternoon, camera in hand. (My egregious boast having finally swayed my parent’s minds) It was a big concert bill for our area of the country: Charlie Daniels and the CDB, Kansas, Molly Hatchet, and the surviving Lynyrd Skynyrd band members on stage not too far removed from their tragic accident. A concert whose memories would surely last me a lifetime and something I believed I would be telling stories about to my grandchildren far away in the illustrious future I was certain awaited me.
Yes, the concert was fantastic! It was everything I imagined it would be and more, and was only topped several years later when I saw my guitar-hero Joe Walsh live at the Coast Coliseum. In fact, I would tell you today that the night in general was special – six young friends venturing out into the real world on their own for the first time to see a major concert in a big city. (New Orleans remains a big city to me even today, and I’ve lived in New York) It was magical. At least until the last hour or so, at which point the unthinkable happened.
My best friend and I left the group and took the vacant tunnels that led up to the unoccupied terrace level of the Superdome. Our goal was to get pictures of Lynyrd Skynyrd from an almost overhead angle, or at least a lot closer than our vantage point allowed us to do from the crowded floor. In those dark corridors we were assaulted by what would be known by modern standards as 'a gang', and the mayhem that followed I remember very little about today. We emerged from the tunnels beaten and bruised, yet lucky to be alive, I guess. However, the camera was missing, and all I had to show for it was a broken strap. The police were no help, of course. It turned out that sort of thing happened all the time in the big city, and they smugly informed us rubes that we were fortunate not to have been seriously hurt or even killed in the incident.
Tails tucked between our legs, wiser but nonetheless lighter in our pockets, we took a dismal ride back to Picayune in the by now early morning hours. As we switched cars in a local parking lot, a policeman drove up and asked us where we had been and what we were doing, etc. They do that sort of thing in a small town. As we related our sorrowful epic of woe, he smiled. He wasn’t smiling at our misfortune - I’m sure of that today looking back with the hindsight of many years since that night. He was smiling at our naiveté in the overall situation – six lost souls trapped awkwardly in those painful years between boyhood and becoming an adult. Other than the smile, I remember something else about that unnamed but obviously kind hearted policeman. He explained, specifically to me, that any time you learn a valuable lesson in life, it will cost you something.
With not a little chagrin, I faced my parents and my brother the following day. And I did in fact buy a new camera for him, although it was not easy to do on my part-time salary at the time. But I learned a lot more than just how to be safe in the city on that dark night so many years ago. I learned volumes about the pitfalls of boasting, and how frivolous it can be to brag about a future plan that may or may not ever be.
Solomon writes: “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” I cannot be assured of anything beyond what I am able to see right now and only here in the present. My life, my breath, and my very heartbeat are all in G_d’s hands. He decides by His will what will or will not come to pass and only He can control those things in my life. That may sound as though I believe there is nothing I can do to change what is known as fate in my life, and in many, many ways I know this to be true. However, I can hedge my bets on tomorrow by how I live my life today. By staying within what I know to be His will, or at least by doing my utmost best to do so, I’ve learned that things will always have a funny way of working themselves out in my life.
After all, Someone was with me in those dangerous tunnels that night, and the only proof I need is that I am still here to write about it today.