I’ve Got Friends In Low Places

During my tenure as a high school chemistry teacher, one of my first tasks each year was to learn students’ names.

On the first day of school, I asked each student what he or she would like to be called and made a note of it on my seating chart. Peter or Pete? Melissa or Missy? Daniel or Dan? I wanted to know each student’s preference.

One year, I had a Joshua in class. “Josh?” I asked him.

Garth,” he replied.

I  didn’t think much of the disparity. People are sometimes known by their middle names, which were not included in my class roster.

Garth, as it turned out, was a charismatic and outgoing student, a backslapper, a joker, and a character.  He had a personality as sizeable as the big black cowboy hat he wore on Hat Day. Students were typically not allowed to wear hats to class. On Hat Day, that rule was suspended. Most students wore baseball caps or knitted beanies, but not Garth.

Chemistry is not a subject that lends itself to the instructor standing in front of the classroom and spouting forth wisdom for students to absorb. Chemistry is a subject that requires doing.

Most classes began with me briefly describing the assignment of the day. The rest of the period consisted of students performing a lab, working through calculations, or completing an activity. Time spent with students sitting quietly at their desks was at a minimum.

Garth and his lab partner liked to work at a lab table. When circulating around the room answering questions, I could often hear him singing quietly, “I’ve got friends in low places…” as they performed their tasks.

One day, several months into the school year, Garth was missing from class but not listed on the absentee sheet. “Where’s Garth?” I asked his lab partner.

Mrs. Hess, why do you call him Garth?” his partner responded.

Isn’t that his name? Doesn’t everyone call him that?

No. You’re the only one who does. We call him Josh.

Just then, “Garth” walked into the room with a late pass. I fixed him with a one-raised-eyebrow stare. “Why did you tell me your name was Garth?

I didn’t tell you my name was Garth,” he replied. “You asked what I would like to be called, and I told you.

Not a fan of country music, I didn’t put together the song, the black cowboy hat, and the name. Josh idolized Garth Brooks. He loved everything about him – his music, his persona, his business acumen. He loved Garth so much, in fact, he appropriated his name.

I have been thinking lately about the scandal of particularity.

This is what one of my favorite authors, Annie Dillard, has to say on the subject:

That Christ’s incarnation occurred improbably, ridiculously, at such-and-such a time, into such-and-such a place, is referred to—with great sincerity even among believers—as “the scandal of particularity.” Well, the “scandal of particularity” is the only world that I, in particular, know. What use has eternity for light? We’re all up to our necks in this particular scandal.

Why, theologians ask, was Christ born, specifically in the town of Bethlehem, precisely during the reign of Caesar Augustus?

I have never known any time or place that was not a specific time and place, nor a man who was not a specific man.

God is love. It’s too hard for us to love the abstract. Love always begins and ends with specifics. I love this man, these children, this slant of light, this dog, this friend, this Jesus.

Falling in love with an idea, a concept, is challenging. We are human. We need the concrete, the specific, the particular to focus our love. We love individuals. Our hearts open to the substantial, the corporeal.

God knows this. That’s why we have a friend here in our low place, why we wait at Advent for Love to come into the world.

I called him Josh for the rest of the year. Most of the time. Sometimes I accidentally reverted to the name I learned in September.

Occasionally, I called him Garth on purpose.

Garth,” I would say to him, “sing ‘Friends in Low Places’ for us“. And he would, quietly, his heart full of love and admiration.

I think this year, rather than singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I am going to sing a different hymn to celebrate God with us.

It goes something like this:

You can find the places I link up here.

104 comments

  1. As writers know, particularity is the proper way to tell a story. Without particularity, there’s no hook. It’s doubtful the story would have spread and grown without it. That’s why Garth is such an important piece of this story.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. as a child, I asked everyone to call me Ann not LeeAnn. Only my sister’s MIL did and she called me that til she passed on. I loved her for it.
    Then for a while I wanted to be called Barbara. It incensed my mother and she wouldn’t let anyone call me that. As an adult I was told I was adopted from a woman named Barbara…
    names are so important, they lead to identity. I have friends who changed their names. My sister asked to be Patti with an i not Patty with a y after she was in her late 60’s. I love that the boy asked for what he wanted and you did it for him.
    your message was not lost on me, just the name part was what intrigued me

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow! Wanting to be called by your birth mother’s name is an incredible coincidence! Names certainly are important. I have had friends who changed the spelling of their names when they became adults.

      Like

  3. Teenage boys always make me smile – I loved your Josh/Garth story and I hadn’t heard the song before so that was new too. I’ll stick with my Christmas carols though – it’s the one time of the year I get to enjoy them, so I make the most of these couple of weeks leading up to Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jesus, and it seems “Garth,” are two one-of-a-kind men, Laurie! And I’m so grateful for your funny, inspiring and unique story about Garth and, most of all, for our peculiar and AMAZING Savior! Merry Christmas to you, my friend!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What a fun story – with a good lesson in it. Josh/Garth sounds like quite a character. So very glad that this Jesus made a way for all of us – his friends in low places – to be with him.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this story. I am always fascinated by nicknames. Mostly how and when they started. My family was big on nicknames when I was very young. Josh must have loved it every time you referred to him as Garth.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I guess we have to be very specific with our questions to some people. 🙂 Garth seems like he was quite a character. I love the lesson you pull out of this story, Laurie. “That’s why we have a friend here in our low place, why we wait at Advent for Love to come into the world.” Yes, me, too.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You made me go back to a time in 1970 when I first graduated from college and taught 5th grade down in Georgia. I still carry some of those kids in my heart and wonder if they are alive and weill. Friends in low places indeed. Go Garth! #MMBC

    Liked by 2 people

  9. If I have a earworm with this song over the next few days, it will be your fault, Laurie. I love Garth Brooks!
    And I love how you connected this story and this song with the promise of Christmas – the God-with-us – our ultimate friend in low places.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I love this for so many reasons – one because of how well you loved your students and let one shine in the manner he wanted to shine – and two because Jesus came for those of us in low places, for those who need the light to shine on them! The reason for the season! Blessings to you, Laurie! ~ Maryleigh

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I bet you were a fabulous chemistry teacher, Laurie. I was lucky to pass the class in high school … I couldn’t grasp a single concept.

    I have a feeling that if you had taught me, I would have done a whole lot better!

    ;-}

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love this Laurie, great post. I also like that you asked your students what they wanted to be called. I do this with parishioners and pre=covid anyway, use people’s names for communion ,because it is important. Advent blessings, Michele
    p.s. sharing this post on my FB page and my church FB page.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. lol I wondered where you were going for a while but you definitely gave us food for thought.

    Like Josh I also have a liking for Garth Brooks, especially his rendition of Friends in Low Place

    Take care – Stay safe – and keep washing those hands 😊

    Cathy. #lifethisweek

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So much to love about this post. First – asking kids what they want to be called is so honoring. And I love that quote – can you tell me the source. I am going to be pondering this all day

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed the post. The quote is from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I have read that book so many times, I practically know it by heart! 🙂

      Like

  15. I love this, Laurie. On a completely unrelated topic, I also enjoy the headlines you come up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen your posts on link-ups, not knowing they were yours, and thought, “I bet that’s Laurie’s” just by the title. Back when I was a newspaper business editor, writing headlines was never my strong suit, so I appreciate that skill when I see it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ahhhh, Laurie. You are a gifted storyteller. I love how you saw the heart of Josh/Garth, and I’m sure he appreciated it too. I never thought about “Friends in Low Places” as a Christmas song, but I can see it after reading your thoughts.

    Have a wonderful Christmas, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Ah teaching, the gift that keeps giving. What a character Garth was/is.
    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek on my blog. Next week it’s the final week for 2020. I have appreciated the bloggers who visit regularly to link up and to comment on my post as well. Next Week: 51/51 Own Choice. 21.12.2020
    #LifeThisWeek Returns on Monday 4 January 2021. May the festive season be kind to you and yours. Denyse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, you are so right, Denyse. Teaching IS the gift that keeps on giving and Garth WAS a character! Thank you so much for hosting the weekly link-up. You should be proud of the vibrant blogging community you have brought together!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. That was so sweet! I bet your students would have loved you, Isn’t it such a great way of making your students comfortable-asking them what they wanted to be called! Loved how you brought Jesus into the story !

    Liked by 1 person

  19. It sounds like you had a fun bunch of students from what I’ve read in the years I’ve been following you. I like Josh saying to you “you asked what I wanted to be called ….” (Even if you didn’t remember it quite like that.) Nothing wrong with his choice … like you, I’m not familiar with Country-Western music, except what my parents listened to over the years. In fact when Charley Pride, the first Black country singer lost his battle with COVID last weekend, I remembered his songs I heard so often on a Sunday when the “hi-fi” was going all day long. Your human interest stories are always so good Laurie.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve told this story before, hopefully not to you Laurie, but the diner jukebox had a song by Conway Twitty called “Linda on My Mind” … it was a number one hit for a long time so it was left on the jukebox for probably a year. A lot of customers came in and said “Hey Linda – I’ll play your song.” It was kind of funny. Probably still know all the words by heart. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • If you listened to it, you probably got a chuckle. I was going to send the link, but I figured it would go to SPAM then and you’d need to fish it out of there. I heard that song easily hundreds of time when it was popular. At Christmas the jukebox man would put on one song: “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee. Customers that never played the jukebox the rest of the years, would say “what’s on here for Christmas?” They’d have to play it.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I heard that song (Rocking Around the Christmas Tree) several times this morning while Bill and I were driving for Meals on Wheels. We were listening to 2 radio stations playing Christmas music.

        Liked by 2 people

      • It still is pretty popular … we had two stations with wall-to-wall Christmas music and one just went to alternative rock. I enjoy it – it puts me into the holiday spirit. My canaries loved anything by Karen Carpenter. They would sing along with her.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Your canaries had good taste in music! 🙂 We have 2 stations with all Christmas music right now too. One started playing it right after Halloween. Ugh! Too soon!!!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, they used to go a mile a minute with the Christmas music. 🙂 Same here – the two stations would rush to see who got their Christmas programming on first, always midnight November 1st which I agree is too early.

        Liked by 2 people

  20. Hello,

    You are a great storyteller and sounds like a great teacher too. I am familiar with the Garth Brooks song, thanks for sharing! Take care, have a happy day!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Garth explains your message perfectly. Those bold personality students are always my favorite. Even in primary school their personalities shine through! Thanks for linking up today.

    Liked by 1 person

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