The walls were lined with instruments; beautiful, shapely, wooden maidens in staggered lines covering vertical planes, defining the space that held the circle. I took my place in the circle, feet forward, facing in, my faithful, dependable, sweet toned Collings cradled in my arms. The circle rang with music and laughter and a healthy measure of tears, all those emotions rising and falling as each of us took our turns in the song circle. When it wasn’t my turn I closed my eyes and held my body still, letting the songs infuse through my skin and into my bones where they echo still. When it was my turn, I allowed myself to free the songs that hovered in my chest, unsung, for such a long time. Old songs I have not sung for a while.
The circle held old friends and new, Dave and Carla, and Tom and Gael, Ken and Rio and a dozen others. Brian walked in in his green wool coat near the end, his hands carrying no instrument, his throat sore from a late winter cold. Old songs and new, delivered like courses of dinner in a smorgasbord restaurant, some of them ringing simple and earthy, some with dropped bass tuning delivering chewy red meat, and others twinkling like small petit fours for dessert. There were people in our circle who just wandered in, seeing the doors to the Great Salt Lake Guitar Company being open at such a late hour and wondering what was going on there in the back room. A couple fellas from eastern states, in town for a racquetball tournament, had heard about the circle and decided to stop in and offer up a tune or two. Ken told stories about riding the rails, about meeting the woman who would become his wife and asking her to ride, knowing there was something uniquely divine about her when she said yes. Stories about losing a pair of pants on the bed of a flat car, the speed of the train conspiring with the wind. Of riding through the night just to chase the sunrise. Tom talked about his recent obsession with dulcimers. Gael talked about how the perimeter of their bedroom was covered with them. It was Tom’s 60th birthday and The Eskeltone's offered a rousing rendition of a non-traditional birthday tune in folksinger fashion. One of the band members playing in a club down the street stopped in and gave us a tune during one of their breaks. We sang alone and we sang along. The one universal truth underlying each song was the guitar, each of us caressing our own like they were our our little ones on meet the teacher day before school starts. We sang into the late night until we decided the 70 mile drive home was hovering low over our heads. All the while the instruments balancing from their necks on the walls absorbed the stories and stored them in the grain of their wood. My own guitar holds many stories from such circles, deep in her belly. Sometimes I ask her to give them back to me in the form of new song, but she is rather selfish with them and will not give them up to me.
I am blessed to have found myself in many such circles. Blessed to have had good friends who refused to let me believe my own demons who insisted I did not belong. I am soft and fleshy, but still, like those wooden guitars covering the walls of that fabulous store in Provo, I am the product of every tune I have ever heard, every poem sung and unsung. Whether I am conscious of it or not, they are in me. We cannot not be changed by such things being repeated and repeated. Like a musical sacrament, I come to such sacred tables reverently and gratefully. The circle, in that square space, reminds me of the emblems on the Bountiful Temple. They’re all around that place, if you look: in the iron fence outside; in motifs on the painted walls; in cornices and in the carpet and in the ceiling; in the stained glass windows. The circle in the square: God in Man.
I am a part of many circles. We all are. Circles we are drawn to, and others we cannot remove ourselves from. Circles that move, and some which are silent and still. We are, in actuality, a crocheted piece of work, circle in circle interlocking one with another until we become a flexible fabric of our past.
I loved tonight’s song circle. Love God’s circles, too. Grateful to belong and grateful, too, that circles never end.