Nobody Knows

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen;
Nobody knows my sorrow.”

Third grade music class.  It was 1965.  Mrs. Jones was trying to kill two birds with one stone.  I’m not sure the attempt was all that successful.

We were in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, a national crisis which went almost entirely over the heads of the riff-raff with which the dear lady held court on a twice-weekly schedule.  She was doing her part to teach us about the past.

The old player on her desk spun the records and the airy timbre of the diamond needle riding along the scratchy vinyl grooves brought the voices from the past to our ears.  The words spoke of trouble and sorrow and loneliness.

Spirituals, they called them.  We were to learn that they were actually songs of protest, the meanings clear to the singers, but hidden to the slave-owners who loved to sit on their porches and listen as the cool, late-night breezes wafted the melodies up from the squalid shacks that served as slave’s quarters. Surely, people who sang like that couldn’t be unhappy with their plight.

We were learning music.  What’s more, we were learning about the resilience of the human spirit amidst the cruelty of humans to humans.  We didn’t care much about either.  We just knew that nobody was cramming arithmetic or grammar down our throats for an hour or two.

Life was good.

We sang along.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.  Nobody knows…

I had an epiphany in the grocery store awhile back.  Yes, I know that’s a shocking statement.  Not that I had an epiphany; those come when they will.  The shock is that I went to the grocery store.  I usually find a project that needs doing about the time the Lovely Lady is headed out the door.

She’s not all that disappointed I’m not tagging along.  I embarrass her at the grocery store, as I organize the contents of the cart.  Frozen goods have their place, cans stay in their corner, and the fruits and vegetables are carefully stacked around each other, so as to maintain their pristine condition.  And, don’t get me started with the chips!

But, I’m rambling, aren’t I?  Yes, I thought I would.  It is becoming a habit of mine, as the years have piled on a bit.  I tend to repeat myself and lose my train of thought.  Where was I?

Oh yes!  An epiphany.

I was struggling with the placement of bags of pecans (Vegetables?  Chips?) when I heard her.

“Don’t buy those.  You won’t eat them anyway.  They’re never fresh.”

The voice was tired-sounding and exasperated.  I couldn’t see her, since she was on the other side of the shelves, but I immediately had a picture in my mind.  Gray hair, frown on her face, she would be the personification of the grumpy old lady, complete with a shiny leather purse hanging over her arm.

Soon, she came into view, and I nodded my head.  Just as I expected.  Well, maybe the frown was a little more pronounced than I anticipated.  Several times more, as we shopped, I encountered her voice wafting through the air.

“No. I don’t like that brand!”

“Don’t take so long.  I don’t want to be all day shopping.”

As we headed for the checkout counter, the Lovely Lady by my side looked at the length of the queue and suggested that I go ahead and get in line. She had forgotten an item, but would be right back.  I noticed the unhappy woman got behind me in line, her husband in tow.

A thought hit me.  I would give them my place in line.  I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t get anything close to whatever it was.

I moved aside and suggested my wife might not make it back in time, so I would be happy for them to take my place.  A little surprised, they moved forward to put their groceries onto the conveyor-belt.  There was not a word of thanks.  Not a word.

Well, there was a little conversation.  But, it was only a stage whisper from the grumpy one to the silent one.  It was delivered as the speaker kept shifting her eyes from me to her husband’s handiwork at unloading the cart and back to me again.  Obviously, she didn’t like what she saw either place.

“I wonder what he wants.”

I smiled and kept quiet.  I think my keeping quiet was only because the light was beginning to dawn.  I knew it wasn’t about me.  She had been grumpy long before I came onto her radar screen.  It wasn’t her husband; she treated him no differently than she treated me.  Why, she even treated the food she didn’t want the same way.

No.  There was something more.  Come on, Paul.  You can get this!

Aha!  The breaking of the dawn came in a flash.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Is it still too muddy?  Not quite crystal clear?

I stood and complained to my friend just yesterday.  Someone had taken words I had said in the wrong way and was unhappy, not because of the words, but because of a situation in their own life.

“Why can’t people realize that just because they’ve experienced bad things, it’s no reason to take it out on people around them?  Life goes on!”

I stopped short and looked up into the face of my friend.  I saw it in her eyes, and was sorry for the words.  I want them back.

I saw her brother, struck down by a massive heart attack before he was forty-five years old.  I saw her father and mother, both gone well before they reached old age.  Daily, she cares for a husband who is in poor health.  One doesn’t experience that much loss without paying some sort of price.

Nobody knows the trouble

Is the picture coming into focus?

Was somebody short with you at work today?  Did that guy yell at you on the highway?  Did she just completely disrespect me on the telephone?

Here’s what I learned in the grocery store.

It’s not about you.  It’s not about me.

People carry around unseen burdens from their lives that they will never shake.  Never.

Nobody knows

No.  That’s not quite true.

There is one other thing to understand from the old spiritual you were humming along with me at the first of this little essay.  You see, it’s not a song of defeat.

It’s not a song of loss.  It’s not a song of poor, poor pitiful me.

Listen again:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.
Nobody knows like Jesus.
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.
Glory Hallelujah!

Glory Hallelujah?

Those words, Glory Hallelujah, don’t belong in a lament.  They don’t fit into the blues at all.  The writer of this song is celebrating, not whining.

Me too.

Nobody knows like Jesus.




“Be nice to mean people.  They need it the most.”

“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”
(I Peter 5:7 ~ NIV)



© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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