American Pie.

My mother always hailed Don MacLean as a genius for writing “Starry, Starry Night” about Vincent Van Gogh. However, he gets kudos from me for “American Pie”.

Picture this: One hundred and twenty idealistic teenagers seated on the floor of a fluorescent-lit mess hall of a summer camp, probably sometime in May. Dinner’s over, the dance has yet to start. We are fed. It’s Saturday night, so we know we are loved, we’ve felt it all day from new friends and old. We are young, sleep-deprived, we’ve had our convictions bolstered, and are therefore poised to tip into a preternatural state of being able to love anybody, anything.

Perched at the front of the room on a mess hall folding chair is a young man, blond curly hair escaping from underneath his little Ecuadoreans-wove-this- hat. He’s cradling a guitar in his arms, and there’s a little Fisher Price person lodged on one of the pegs.

He starts. “A long, long time ago…” and we’re off.

The wonderful thing about American Pie is that everyone knows the chorus. If people know the verses, they sing them with Zach, our guitar player. If not, they sing the chorus. We sing through the whole eight minutes, or whatever it is, and although our guitarist hits wrong notes, and we’re not always on pitch, and sometimes someone sings too fast, the crazy thing is, it’s still beautiful!

Sitting there, I realize that it’s because we’re singing together, like we’ve worked together all day. This time, though, we’re not building understanding or relationships. We’re building love. I still don’t know a lot of these people, but we’re singing together, and that creates a community for us.

Owing to the nature of Saturday night at Conference, I’ll know a lot of them before the night is over.

Habit makes me look back to check on my father. He sponsors the Vancouver group to come to conference, which is, of course, wildly embarassing to me, but everyone else thinks he’s the coolest dad on the planet.

I look closer. He’s crying.

After the final chorus, I make my way back to where he is sitting, perched on one of those long collapsible tables. I have clearly been overcome by the spirit of love and understanding, because the specter of my father, overcome with emotion, would otherwise have me tiptoeing away so he culd have some privacy.

“You okay?” I ask.

He just nods.

To this day, I’m pretty sure what he meant to say was, “I love you and I’m so glad you’ve has the chance to feel this kind of love and solidarity, with these people, even if the song is a few decades out of date. I am proud of you, and I am proud of myself for giving you the opportunity to experience this.”

I hope that’s what he was saying, anyhow. Sometimes, with my dad, it’s hard to tell.

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