Every once in a while, life hands you an experience that is pristine and beautiful.
I recently had one that I’d like to share with you. First, I need to tell you about one of the most important people in my world, Jack Keith. We met as band mates in the band Shades of Sound up in Logan during the years 1994-1995. He was the vocalist / rhythm guitarist. Jack and I instantly got along. When Jack is present, you know it. Growing up as an LDS kid, you get inundated every week with talk about people who “radiate light”, are full of love, have “the spirit of God” with them, etc etc etc. Jack was the first person I had met that actually WAS these things.
…but he wasn’t LDS.
…and he had long hair.
….and he drank beer.
….and what’s worse – his mom actually used to be LDS, but had her name removed from the records. To the uninitiated, this is a “very bad thing”.
Jack grew up in Cache Valley just like I did. His family was not LDS. In Jack’s own words, “I thought everyone in the world was LDS except for my family”. Oh, the irony…. Jack and his family presented me with a glorious dilemma. We rehearsed at his parent’s house, and thus, I got to know his family pretty well. Jack nor his family are perfect, but they were the best family I’d ever seen. They LOVED each other. There was that “special feeling” in their house that every stupid piece of LDS-family propaganda spoke of, but no mormon home ever seemed to deliver. These people were a good, loving family – leaps and bounds better than any faithful LDS family I had ever encountered. Certainly far better than my own family. The words “love” and “authenticity” and “fun” come to mind when I think of the Keith family culture.
But how could someone who wasn’t obeying the “Lord’s commandments” be experiencing the benefits of doing so? How could this be? (A damn fine question – and it would take me about a little over 10 years to figure it out).
For instance, when our band, Shades of Sound played one of our first gigs, we performed at a huge music festival at Utah State University. Our time slot was midnight – 1am. There were still plenty of students milling around, listening to music. A few of our friends even stayed out late for us. As we took the stage, I remember looking out to see Jack’s Mom, Dad, and GRANDMOTHER. Yes, his 80 year old grandmother was out past midnight, listening to us play our super loud raucous music. My parents, on the other hand, did not give a shit about my musical accomplishments if they did not involve playing the trumpet. (This may have something to do with why I don’t spend much time with my trumpet anymore. It represents the conditional approval and support of my mother). Wow – so that’s what good families do!
Jack and I would spend many evenings staring at the night sky, contemplating our place in the world. One of the embarrassing features of my life is that I looked at Jack as a great “missionary opportunity”. Though I believe Jack had the grace to forgive me of that, even back then, I am still embarrassed that I had the audacity to try to “improve” the life of someone that obviously was living better than I was. A few weeks ago I was having dinner and drinks with his family. My attempt to convert him came up. We laughed about it and chased it down with some good beer. I’ll consider that sin washed away.
I turned 19 and prepared to go on a mission. At my mission farewell sacrament meeting, my band, Shades of Sound, sang the hymn “I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go” as a quartet. One of my other best friends, Jon Hibshman, played piano to accompany us.
Fast forward many years. Jack gets married to a wonderful girl, Sarah. They just had their first baby, and came to SLC for the annual Keith family Snowbird ski vacation. While they were in town, I had the honor of photographing their new son, John Keith (whom I refer to as “baby Jack”, or “sidecar of Jack”). Baby John is the 4th or 5th generation of John E Keith’s in the family (I lost count) (Jack’s legal name is John). (I love parentheses) (a lot).
There is something magical about seeing two people come together and start a family with so much care and intention. The world is so full of people who mindlessly take on the role of parent; seeing it done deliberately and after much preparation is a real joy. I think you can see the pure joy radiate from Jack as he holds his new son. Of this I am totally confident: That little boy is going to have an amazing life.
I am beyond happy for Jack and Sarah. When Jack holds his son, you can see that he’s really feeling fully alive in the world. I’ll never forget him telling me years ago, during one of our many late night conversations, that he had felt the paternal instinct for the first time. Seeing that manifest in real life is a truly marvelous experience. You can see more of this awesome family here: http://www.paulduanephoto.com/2012/04/john-e-keith/
It’s a rare privilege to have friends like Jack. Bonaciacci, here’s to many more years of life well lived.