And be a simple kind of man
Oh, be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can
-Simple Man, Lynrd Skynrd (written by Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington)
I heard this song today and it took me back to that day 30 years ago when Andy died.*
A group of friends gathered at Saffire lake with our families for an end of summer cookout. Burgers, dogs, friends and fun. Nellie was a single mother with 3 children who was making it work on her own. Her children- 9 year old Myra, 13 year old Robbie and 16 year old Andy- were smart, independent, and well-behaved.
Late in the day two men struggled with their boat and fell overboard. They appeared to be in distress, and both Andy and Robbie swam out to help. They were able to help the two men, then head back to shore. Robbie made it. Andy didn’t. After scouring the waters and the shore, the Rescue Squad was called.
We sat on the shore for what seemed like forever, feeling helpless. Late that night they found Andy’s body a mile downstream.
Several of us went with Nellie to the local hospital to wait for them to bring in Andy’s body. She had to identify him, and she didn’t want to be alone. Another long wait, this time in a concrete room that smelled of antiseptic. By this point we were all numb, especially Nellie.
The entire time we sat there and waited, all I could think about was how fast things can change. One minute you’re spitting watermelon seeds with your daughter, the next you’re screaming your son’s name over and over again and praying to Jesus to hear him respond.
After seeing her son’s bloated body, she lost it. The hospital staff sedated her and a family member drove her home and stayed with her.
At the funeral service, Nellie had them play Simple Man. She said that’s all she’d ever wanted for her boys. I remember her sitting there, acting stoic for her other children as she said good-bye to her firstborn son.
We lost contact soon after that, so I don’t know what became of Nellie. Sorry, Andy, I didn’t keep my promise. But I know that song has had a profound effect on me, and since that day all I’ve wanted for all kids is they grow up to live a simple but purposeful life. I hope Nellie’s other two children were able to find that for themselves.
When I hear this song I feel grounded. I am reminded that living a good life is not about having the right job, lots of things or lots of money. Living a good life is to be satisfied with what is. Today. Because today is all you really have, isn’t it?
It also reminds me that it’s not the rich or those who aspire to be that will make the world a better place. It won’t be the one with the most guns or most social media followers. And it certainly won’t be those of us who remain angry at the hand we were dealt, and think through rage and intimidation that we can change the world.
But perhaps those of us who choose to live a simple life will encourage the others to put aside their grievances and love their fellow man.
I want to be a simple woman.
I want to wear jeans and tees in the summer, sweats in the winter.
I want a home that’s filled with laughter and love. And pet hair.
I want to say what I mean and mean what I say.
I want to do what I love, not what’s expected.
I want to be grateful for what I have, not covet what I don’t.
I want to be satisfied with this day.
*Names have been changed