by Kevin Burton
On Sept. 9, 1972 a song by Texas-born musician Johnny Nash entered the US Hot 100 at number 84. In Newsday, rock critic Robert Christgau later called it, “two minutes and 48 seconds of undiluted inspiration.”
The song is called “I Can See Clearly Now.” Christgau also called it, “the kind of record that can get you through a traffic jam.”
It got me through more than that.
That September I had just been enrolled at the Ohio State School for the Blind, a residential school for blind children in Columbus. I was now 90 minutes away from my home and family at least five days a week.
To say the change was jarring is an understatement. I had no history with anyone or anything at the blind school, no moorings, no heart ties at all, except with the voices coming from my transistor radio.
Sending me there was the right move for my parents. I know that now, but I wasn’t buying it then.
That’s a bigger understatement.
Nash’s song got heavy play on AM radio and raced up the chart, hitting number one Nov. 4. It stayed at the top for four weeks.
On the soundtrack of my life (we all have one) “I Can See Clearly Now” is the sonic essence of my new life turn. It could have been any song perhaps, but the song’s references to seeing and blindness make it especially meaningful.
Spin things forward through what seems like several lifetimes to the present. We’re on the brink of 2020, a year that would have smacked of science fiction back then.
You will no doubt hear many making note of 2020, the obvious visual connotations of the year, to make this point or that. I’m sure it will be overdone, but it does give us all a chance to ask some questions.
Nash’s song hit me as a child on many levels. I sit as an adult very different but yet very much the same.
Question to self, and for you to borrow, “can I really see clearly now? At least more clearly?
Well, I can’t answer that one in 600 words. Sorry.
Without getting too tangled in the concept, let’s turn to Nash. He sings “I can see all obstacles in my way.” The obstacles are not removed, but he can see them now.
He sings, “Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright sunshiny day.”
That level of optimism is beyond me right around 99 percent of the time. But Nash also sings, “Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for.”
The rainbow as explained in Genesis 9:13-17, is a promise from God to all humans that there will be no more floods on the scale of the great flood that wiped out nearly all of humanity. It is an “everlasting covenant” (v 16).
So when Nash sings “Look all around, nothing but blue skies,” is it not with that promise from God in mind? Regardless of what Nash was thinking, what will we do with these questions?
With God’s covenant still in place in 2020, if I open my eyes and see more clouds and obstacles than sunshine I am not seeing clearly. My particular tendency to overlook the blue skies will just have to give way to God’s truth of ultimate sunshine.
That was pretty easy to type, but will be much harder to live out.
Also, God’s rainbow is part of the story, not the whole of it by any means. I told you, 600 words is not enough space to wrestle this all down.
But there’s nothing like the dawn of 2020 to have us all examining our vision of self, life and afterlife, what we “see” and what it really means.