I woke up this morning with the sunlight peeking in. The news was announcing the death of Kenny Rogers.
My mind flashed to the first time I ever heard his raspy voice. I was standing on top of a crumbled down wall of an old French fortification just outside of Quang Tri, Vietnam. His voice was coming to us through one inch speakers of tiny transistor radios propped up on those walls. They were tuned to the only station that played our music.
His voice was speaking directly to me and the way I was feeling. “I tripped on a cloud and fell eight miles high. I tore my mind on a jagged sky. I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”
My condition was not too good. But it was physically better than the G.I.’s we were treating every day, all day. It was the 18th Surgical Hospital, 15 miles from the DMZ. My psychological condition was damaged, shell-shocked with demands for blood and eyes that looked to you to somehow perform a miracle that would bring them back from their fade to the blackness of death. My condition was only bolstered by the smoke of burning grass during all waking hours.
My twelve hour shift ended at 7:00 p.m. Every night we congregated inside and on top of those roofless, crumbled walls, passing joints, trying hard to forget the bloody day’s work, relaxing a bit now, listening to the voice of Kenny Rogers, whose words cut personally into our hearts like a scalpel…
“I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in.
I watched myself crawlin’ out as I was a-crawlin’ in.
I got up so tight I couldn’t unwind.
I saw so much I broke my mind.
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”
The depressive lyrics were speaking to me, wafting through my injured senses. But we were lucky, blessed really. The soldiers who have fought history’s wars didn’t have the luxury of Kenny Rogers’ voice commiserating their plight. The Romans clashing with the Germanic tribes, the Persians and Greeks, the North and the South—they all did not have Kenny Rogers singing directly to them, saying, “I know how you feel.” So now I commiserate with all the soldiers of history. Their deaths are now forgotten, their slaughter now concealed in names like “the Roman army” or “the Spartans.”
Kenny Rogers first sang to me back in March 1968, a few days before my unobserved 21st birthday. It might have been today’s very date, the day now that Kenny Rogers has died. And as I first heard his voice, I looked up into the heavens, and I asked, “Why?”
My search for the answer to that question began right there in Vietnam. And after many decades of seeking, I have some answers. In God’s plan and purpose, there is a time and a purpose for everything under the heaven. That includes perceived “good things” and “bad things.” There is a time for peace and a time for war. A time for the laughter of life and a time for the moans of death. And our great Creator and Savior rations those times. He uses those times to mold and shape us, like a potter uses a delicate touch at times on the spinning clay. And at other times he smashes it down into a clump, hopefully for re-purposing.
We are either the clay that stands up in our beauty or our ignominy and shouts at our Creator, “What do you think you are doing?” Or we are that special yielding and grateful human being who understands the Master’s touch.
I have learned that our Creator, who knows the number of hairs on our heads, knows what we need and has prescribed the minutiae of every hour, that we “should seek the Lord, if haply [we] might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17: 27).
There was a time for Kenny Rogers’ voice to speak to us somewhere out there in a land that was far, far away from Mom and Dad and the world we once knew. Time has come for Kenny Rogers’ living voice to cease now. But there is a voice from above, though faint, that is still speaking to us with words that will answer that universal question—“Why?” If we believe that we can hear that voice, we will hear it. Kenneth Wayne Hancock