"Greenwich Mean Time"

Full lyrics and listening links below (scroll down for story behind song). Buy cd and note cards of lyrics from "Store".

Dear old friend, you’re my prime meridian
Grounded in space—no change of attitude
marking one place. While I travel the Latitudes
and broaden my views. But when I’m confused
you guide me along. You're my 0 and 360
My Greenwich Mean Time       
I can navigate a vessel,
but that don’t make me special
I only see my one piece of sky
And all the miles between
make it hard for us to see eye to eye.
But you can’t deny you were there in the beginning,
and you’ll be there till the end
You're my 0 and 360. My Greenwich Mean Time.                            
When the clouds block out the sun
and the moon refuses to shine. 
If you'll be my East and West,
 I’ll be your North and South. 
And together we’ll find our way
The length of my days is written in your hands
and the curve of your smile like that old brass line
calling me home. No matter how far I roam. No matter where I lay my head. 
It’s you, my dear oldest friend can set me back on Mean Time

We were sitting at the dinner table in Burlington, NC relaxing after all the wedding festivities were over. My parents and sister had flown across the country and another family had driven eleven hours—all to help friends of fifty years with a wedding in their home. Toward the end of the meal, the father of the bride looked around the table at all of us gathered there and exclaimed: “What is it about old friends?”

The three couples at the wedding have been friends since the 1960’s, and the friendship continues strong today. In the late 60s, my Dad began serving as pastor of a little church outside of Oxford, Mississippi. We lived in an asbestos-shingled house on a dirt road, complete with a cattle gap on the driveway. The second couple and their family lived about three miles away; they farmed cotton. When the third young couple and their family moved to the community a couple years later the friendships gelled for life. Whether for church events, weekday dinners, or neighborhood parties, my parents and their friends all worked together to grow, build, bake, or sew whatever needed doing—creating something grand and beautiful from meager resources.

I was 8 when we left Mississippi for South Carolina. My Dad subsequently pastored churches in Atlanta and Missoula, MT. The third family moved to NC where they worked in construction and organic farming. The cotton farmer eventually retired and lives in the same house that still looks almost exactly as I remember it from childhood; most of their children and grandchildren live just a few miles away with the exception of one grandchild who lives in England. My parents’ and their friends’ lives have diverged from each other over the past 45 years in almost every way imaginable, and yet the friendships have lasted.

It takes a lot of work and good intentions on both sides to be friends with those who are different from you. It seems these days that fewer and fewer people are willing to put in that hard work. The value of diversity and difference as a goal unto itself is being questioned and undermined at every turn. In fact, in almost every decision we make these days whether online (listening to music, reading an article, watching tv, buying goods or services) or in the physical world (buying a house, choosing a school for our children, or our jobs and social activities), we encounter forces (both active and passive) that funnel us into groups of people who are “like” us. It may make things easier in the day-to-day to habitually choose sameness (and it certainly makes it easier to get us to “click” and “buy”), but I think “sameness” causes us to lose our way—our sense of purpose and direction—both individually and collectively.

My answer to the question “What is it about old friends?” is the song “Greenwich Mean Time” (on my latest cd “Play Me”). Old friends (and family) orient us in our own lives. They help us understand who we are, and how we got here. We remember each other in childhood or youth and are reminded of choices we have made then and now. They are also the people we have potentially diverged from the most in our lives. And yet, if we are lucky, they still accept us as we are. I have a lot of fun in the song using the metaphors of time and measurement to explain friendship. My prior blog post of four years ago goes into more detail about Greenwich, England (the location of the “prime meridian”—or 0 degrees longitude) and some of the other metaphors I wrote into the song. One of the main points I make in the song is the importance of difference. We can’t know where we are in the world without two measurements: longitude and latitude. Those are very different kinds of measurements, but only lines at different angles can intersect. Parallel lines never converge. The intersecting and diverging lines of longitude and latitude help us learn where we came from, where we are, and where we are headed.