Numbers tell me that I’ve got 10 years to go until I reach middle age. I think that means I’m still considered a young adult. But I don’t feel like it.
The winter thaw, here, has been slow in arriving. Normally in Detroit we have had a warm snap or two already, but this is truly one of the first days over 40 degrees since November. Each year I have noticed that the physical rust hangs on longer, the aches and pains of picking up outdoor activity again seem to linger longer than the year past. I can tell I’m getting older. I can feel it.But in the grand scheme of things, though, I’m young. If the life expectancy today is just shy of 80 years old, I’m young. But someday I’ll be old, and I wonder about that often.
I wonder because I listen to artists who have aged, and as they have aged they have wrestled with things of faith and death. The little annoyances give way to the questions about eternity, about health and the inevitable end for all of us. And sometimes those artists tell the aging process in their recordings, even if they don’t set out to do so.
Last week a 1980s set of Johnny Cash recordings was released, and one of the tracks is a Southern Gospel-styled hymn titled “I Came to Believe.” It’s upbeat, it’s catchy, and it is the type of song I can imagine singing when I was growing up in a small Wesleyan church.
Johnny wrote the track and recorded it (and the rest of the Out Among the Stars album) around 1980, when he was in his late 40s.
Fast forward until 2003. Johnny was recording several tracks with the producer Rick Rubin for the follow up to American IV. Johnny was 71 years old and died in September 2003 after recording several dozen tracks for what would become American V and American VI. Buried on American V is a recording of “I Came to Believe,” which would actually be the first version released when American V was released posthumously in 2006. Take a listen.
Johnny lived a full life. Drugs, divorce, two rounds of incredible fame and success, life with an incredible partner in June, wonderful children and friends. Through it all, Johnny had a faith. A faith that was sometimes rosy, and sometimes rough.
Faith still. Faith while looking death in the eye. At the end of his life, with death on the doorstep and knowing that all earthly things would be lost, for Johnny Cash, faith remained.