Microphone in my left sweaty palm, and tambourine clenched in my right. Fifty-four people on deaths doorstep, each in their designated chair, sit looking up at me and the four others on stage. Each one has their own tale to tell of how they wound up here, but I know I wouldn’t be able to understand them unless I had a translator. One thing I did know was that most of the people in front of me lived under some of the worst shame a Taiwanese can be slapped with. Their families had abandoned them. Like an Eskimo released into the wild ocean near life’s end, drifting off into the darkness on a small plot of icy land, sitting and awaiting death.
Retirement homes, if you could call this place one. Where the old are dropped off to see life’s end, alone. I have never heard of anyone wanting to live out their last days in a stale facility but regardless of what these folks wanted, they were here to stay. The short version of Taiwanese life cycle goes like this: parents welcome their youngsters into life, wipe their bottoms and raise their kids to get good grades so that they can get a high paying job. The kids, now grown up with high paying jobs, are supposed to take care of their parents, wipe their bottoms, and walk them into the next life.
It did not end up that way for all fifty-four people in front of me. Some didn’t have kids, some lost their kids, some of their kids abandoned or tricked them, and the list only goes on. I sat in a row with five Taiwanese men passing out a ration of crackers like it was a pack of smokes being distributed secretly amongst the other inmates. I watched them, and hoped to one day be surrounded by my own grown kids with their kids running about, not rationing a bag of crackers with four others, waiting to receive the end of life’s reward.
Going to the retirement home was short notice and goal was to entertain those who awaited death for two hours. Microphone in my left sweaty palm, tambourine clenched in my right, I asked myself, “How the heck did I end up here, performing in a language most of the audience does not understand?” I don’t even “do” tambourine, and generally avert from every and all situations that include humiliating myself. At least this dish of humiliation would be shared between five people.
We burned through the set quickly, and it became apparent that the Fifty-four wanted more music. But we didn’t have any more music. We could have opted for the facilities in-house karaoke set up. It had been a while since I last sang “Hungry Like The Wolf” and since I had already gone past my daily intake of humiliation what could it hurt? Apparently “Hungry Like The Wolf” had not made it to Taiwan…yet. The rest was in a language I couldn’t even pretend to fake. We chose free styling over a guy playing drums. Free styling is actually quite easy if the audience has no idea what you are saying.
“What am I doing here….? I could be doing something else more productive. Something that fits my “giftings.”
Then it hit me.
Just over a year ago, I was sitting next to a guy named Max. Armed with a computer and listening ears, Max was traveling across America searching for what faith he had left. Chowing down some of Spokane’s finest grub we ended up entering into a conversation I would remember a year later in front of the Fifty-four. “Maybe this is not about you.” Maybe this time spent in front of the Fifty-four, this time in Taiwan, my life… maybe it’s not actually about me. Would God possibly bring me half way across the globe to struggle through a freestyle rap session, with a tambourine as my weapon of choice?
Are not men supposed to grow into fierce cosmopolitan warriors?
Could Nick’s life be lived for the purpose of being here, in this facility, next to the karaoke machine, performing for the abandoned Fifty-four? Would I be okay if God’s entire plan for my life, all the joy, all the hardship, was to lead me to this moment, in front of this dying neglected woman, to share one smile with her?