One of my favorite things growing up was listening to Mr. Tiger sing “Amazing Grace” at church.
Mr. Tiger didn’t have a particularly strong voice or even much of a stage presence. In fact, he’d just go up to the front of our little wood-paneled church, stand between the pulpit and the congregation and start to sing in Creek, the language of his boyhood.
It wasn’t often that I got to hear Creek or Cherokee or other Native American languages because for many of my classmates, those were the native tongues of their grandparents, of older aunts and uncles – languages that were at least one generation removed from us, even in a place once known as Indian Territory. So for me, hearing Mr. Tiger was a treat, a rare glimpse inside a wise and beautiful culture.
Eventually, of course, Mr. Tiger passed away, and I stopped looking for him at church. But I think of him often now that I’m 1,200 miles from where I grew up and am surrounded by people who don’t talk like me and who might never have seen the sun set over a wheat field that seems to stretch from one end of the Earth to another.
I don’t pretend to know what life was like for Mr. Tiger as he started to bridge the two cultures, one red and one white. But I do know that when he stood in front of us and sang in Creek it must have felt a lot like home to him. Sometimes he’d close his eyes, and I think the melody carried him back to times past like only music and language can.
I can never seem to adequately describe the power of music, but I know it preaches a good sermon all on its own and works like prayer to draw me closer to God and to remind me of sacred moments.
If I close my eyes, sometimes I can still hear the music of my childhood: the sound of a fiddle played late at night on a rickety front porch; the piano keys practically melting under my brother-in-law’s fingers when he adds a little kick to old Southern hymns; my precious daddy singing loudly off-key. Suddenly, like Mr. Tiger, I’m home again.