The sun arises

After the meeting my son came into the bedroom and picked up the small electric guitar his grandparents had purchased for him. It had been over a year since he had tried to play it. I tuned it and showed him a few chords. He plays piano and has math chops, so the concepts came quickly—more so than the last time. I grabbed my acoustic and started playing. Most of the songs I know now are the ones I wrote in high school and college.

I grew up in the Seattle area, but when I was fourteen, I moved with my parents to the mid-west. All of our relatives lived in Utah, and I had integrated my Seattle upbringing into my identity in an attempt to assert a measure of superiority to myself over the difference. When I arrived in rural Missouri I was more than odd—socially incompetent, a Pacific Northwesterner, and Mormon. I eventually got over it and thought it unlikely that I would ever return to the Coast.

Several weeks ago I walked through the halls of the middle-school I attended. By a measure of providence or cosmic sardony my oldest son is in his first year at the school. For him, it is perfect. He has a set of skills that qualify him for the curriculum that is quite unrelated to the geographic compulsion of my attendance. As we walked, he was full of joy while I was full of dread. My failures as a human being, while not isolated to that time and space, are of a particular character there. And I would prefer not to remember.

I didn’t really think about what I played. My son keenly picked out that the chord structure of E minor worked over my riff. I started to sing the song I wrote when I was seventeen—three years after leaving the place that located so many of the regrets the meeting had conjured. It wasn’t really technical. I had written it to try my hand at the 3/4 jingo-folk style of John Denver:

Me and my boy went down to the riverside.
I told him, “Son, you better stay to the line.”
“Just look in my eyes, you will see why.”
“Please understand me, son. You were chosen to fly.”

Way down by the riverside,
The sun arises. The sun arises.


  1. J., whatever you think your failures as a human being are, rest assured you have a legion of fans here who can’t see them because we’re too busy admiring you. Now I find out you play the guitar. One person shouldn’t be so cool….

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks Karen.

  3. I’m not sure what to say about this post because it’s so odd and wonderful at the same time. But as someone whose son has attended all the same schools I attended, and who also tries to play guitar, I just want to say thank you.

  4. “…so odd and wonderful at the same time.” Yes, indeed. J, I love it when you wax poetic and give us glimpses of other sides of who you are. Yes, admiration is the right word.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, guys.

  6. My daughter is so talented, in several different mediums, and has so much less fear than I did at her age … I’ve pretty much decided that I’m just a genetic stepping stone. (

  7. Oh … language warning about 2/3 down … sorry, Mormons.

  8. This stayed with me last night as I was trying to sleep. J., I wish I could say i was grateful for the sleepless night, but I am not.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    Splendid sun.

    Excellent, J.

  10. This makes me so happy. Rock on J & Son!

  11. You have been kind to me, Brother Stapley. And that makes you A1 in my book. Because of frequent and severe depressive episodes all my life, I occasionally exaggerate my failures as a human being. It isn’t true. We are all getting along as best we can. And I’m sure the Lord’s definition of a failure is radically different from the one we generally use. Being a kind person is a monumental achievement in this world. And of course, as one who has said positive things about me in the past, I tremendously admire your intelligence and good taste.

  12. I guess the Splendid Sun blog is now defunct. Or did it move?