I met Herchell “Herm” Newman through the Lifestory YahooGroup, (now the Life-Story-Writing Group) about five years ago. Finding one of Herm’s stories in my inbox has always brightened my day. Three years ago I was thrilled to hear that one of his stories had been chosen for inclusion in Chicken Soup for the African American Soul. Now, that’s quite a distinction!
Herm’s stories revolve around his family, his faith, and sometimes his career as a fire fighter — an occupation he retired from a few years ago. They are tender to the bone, with just the right balance of meat and sweetness, well-seasoned with humor. They warm both heart and soul.
I especially liked this story he recently posted to the YahooGroup, and asked his permission to share it in the blog:
Sunday’s choral experience was massive joy. From the time the curtain opened, the first musical chords were struck and the first words sung...the heart of the congregation moved toward us like a tide of smiling faces. Soon they were on their feet clapping their hands and singing along.
Director Adams had me seated in the middle of the front row. Before the curtain opened he said to me, “Herchel, after you sing two verses, pass the mic back to your father and he'll sing a couple.” I replied, “I'm gonna have a mic!?” Everybody laughed. He said, “Perhaps I should have just passed it to you at the appropriate time. Seems I’m putting too much pressure on you.”
Thomas (aka Tommy) Adams, has been a man of music for about thirty-five years in and around Columbus,Ohio. This day was to be his last because he is relocating to LA. I wanted to honor God by honoring his musical servant. This meant putting my lack of confidence aside and giving from my heart in unison with the congregation.
Tommy, has a great sense of humor. It endears him to people. When it was time to sing “All That I Own", Jesus gave it to me, He built up the introduction. “...and leading this song will be Brother Herchel Newman!” He handed me the mic without meeting my eye. Singing was as joyful and easy as singing in the kitchen waiting for the apple pie to come out of the oven.
I saw Tommy glance my way so I passed the mic back to Dad. His voice is as strong as ever and those who know him get excited when he stands before them to sing. First timers are always amazed. I looked to see the faces of first timers in the audience. When we finished the chorus I was nudged on the shoulder. Dad, had passed the mic back to me. I gave myself to the song and then some after the music stopped. At that point we were a choir and church on one a-chord . He later said, “You were really feeling the song. It was yours to sing.”
The song ended with an Amen. The musicians added the final notes. The curtain closed. Tommy Adams, is moving on. God, is always creating. The curtain will open again.
This isn’t a fancy story, but it is a powerful one. It comes straight from the center of his heart and truth. I share it for a reason beyond its simple elegance. Many people hesitate to write about their own triumphs; their Inner Censor screams loudly that humility is a virtue and these stories amount to bragging. Triumphs are important parts of our lives. They are our moments of intense joy, and no portrait of our inner self is complete without them. They empower future generations to face their own demons and excel in their own ways.
Herm’s story is a virtual template of how to do this, in a tasteful, humble way. He shares his angst, clues us in on the method he used to rise above it. Along the way, he pays tribute to others, and finally takes us with him as he soars. Although I did not verify this, his purpose seems more to pay tribute to Tommy, his father, and the power of love and faith than to glorify himself.
Write now: about a triumph of your own; a time you overcame your fears.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal