September 15, 2023

Joyful Witness / Kimberly Pohovey

Mourning a musician dedicated to sharing happiness

Kimberly PohoveyTake it all in. … It’s as big as it seems. Count all your blessings. Remember your dreams. There are so many great quotes and song lyrics one of my favorite singers left behind when he passed away on Sept. 1.

Whether you’re a Jimmy Buffett fan or not, you probably know him for his

laid-back, beach persona. While I was certainly attracted to that in my youth, through the decades, I grew to appreciate him more for his capacity for joy and sharing it with others.

While I read countless tributes to him the weekend after his death, I noted how many people knew and loved him for the happiness he brought to their lives. It was evident that he encouraged others, was generous with so many and genuinely lived life to the fullest. Another thing I admired about him was his appreciation for the vast beauty of our world, most especially the ocean. His lyrics describe the ocean in such poetic terms, you can almost feel the ocean breeze brush your cheek as you listen.

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” (Jimmy Buffett)

I was especially struck by an online tribute penned by Sir Paul McCartney, who said he recently played on Jimmy’s track, “Bubbles Up.” This is a common diving term. If you get into trouble deep in the water, follow the bubbles up and it will take you to the surface. What a fantastic metaphor for looking to God for help.

And I loved a cartoon I saw depicting Jimmy arriving at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter hands Jimmy a halo and wings, and adds, “and here’s a new pair of flip-flops.”

“Wrinkles will only go where the smiles have been.” (Jimmy Buffett)

While his music was oftentimes silly and non-sensical, more often than not, I found his lyrics soulful and metaphorical for life’s journey. Yes, a few songs are definitely salty, but overall, he invented a whole genre of laid-back, feel-good, beach and sailing music based on his life lived at the ocean, on the ocean and dreaming of the ocean. For someone who doesn’t live at the beach, his music always had me dreaming of returning to the ocean for my next vacation.

“Oh, yesterdays are over my shoulder, so I can’t look back for too long. There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me, and I know that I just can’t go wrong.” (Jimmy Buffett)

After hearing news of his death, I went hunting for a long-forgotten photo from the first Jimmy Buffett concert I attended in 1989 at River Bend Music Center in Cincinnati. Three friends and I are piled in the back of a pick-up truck, decked out in Hawaiian leis. To my surprise, I’m pictured arm and arm with my friend Mark, whom I married years later. I suppose I have Jimmy to thank for that too! It was just the first of many Buffett concerts I attended through the years in Cincinnati, where, in his heyday in the ‘90s he would sell out five straight nights. My hometown of Cincinnati is also where the term “Parrotheads” originated, coined to describe Buffett’s fans.

“I’d rather die while I’m living than live when I’m dead.” (Jimmy Buffett)

Fast-forward to when my sons were teenagers. They often made fun of my love for Buffett songs, but when my oldest son was in college, he worked security at Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville. He was scheduled to work a Jimmy Buffett concert. He texted me halfway through the concert, basically saying, “I get it—it’s a whole vibe—everyone is happy, singing and swaying to the music together” (fins to the left, fins to the right, of course). A convert, he even later bought a Buffett T-shirt. I felt vindicated, but more important, I was glad my son could experience the same joy I always derived from a Buffett concert.

His concerts attracted folks from all ages and walks of life—just thousands of people gathered to enjoy the chill music, beach balls by the dozens batted about by the crowd, goofy beach attire, a margarita or two, and a collective feeling of happiness. I’m not sure it was exactly what Jesus had in mind when he came here to create a community, but I bet he too tapped in time to Jimmy’s music and couldn’t help but smile.

Very relevant today are Jimmy’s lyrics: “Some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.” I can imagine Jimmy will have the heavenly choirs singing “Cheeseburger in Paradise” in no time. Rest in peace, Jimmy, and enjoy the new flip-flops.

(Kimberly Pohovey is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. She is the director of major and planned gifts for the archdiocese.) †

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