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  • Writer's pictureKipper Ackerman

The MIA Harpist

The congregation hears soothing music coming from the strings of my harp, yet I hear nothing but the sounds of my inner voice reminding me that I know better. The groom looks over at me and seems to feel a welcomed sense of peace for a brief moment by the familiar melody that I am playing, but I feel nothing but the pounding of my heart that doesn’t seem to want to slow down. The bride begins her processional and glances my way and mouths “thank you” as she passes me before reaching her groom, while I want to shout out, “what were you thinking, Kipper?” Everyone is so relaxed by the sounds of my harp in preparation for this beautiful union except for the one seated behind it. There I sit. Frazzled. Exhausted. Sweaty. Winded. The definition of a hot mess. Period. Yet, despite my circumstances, the music is able to go beyond the place where I was struggling and provide just what was imagined for this beautiful, outdoor wedding. Little did they know just how close they were to not having a harpist at all.

You would think that after being a wedding harpist for over twenty-five years that everything would come naturally. Now the music is the easy part. Sitting behind the harp and providing the requested songs is a piece of cake. Even the loading of this large eighty-five pound instrument is a simple job. So what in the world could possibly happen to make this career difficult for a musician such as myself? Let me give you a hint before I share this most embarrassing story with you… a low gas tank and a low charge on my phone. Those two scenarios might as well be tattooed on my arms as they are just as much a part of me as is my first name.

The wedding was on my calendar for November 17 at 4pm and I was scheduled to start the prelude at 3:30pm. I had the address and directions for the Timmonsville wedding and had noted that it would take me forty-five minutes to get to the event site. I had all of the previously selected songs loaded onto my iPad and made sure it was fully charged. I had planned to arrive at 3:00 to unload and give myself plenty of time to prepare. At 2:00pm, I rolled the harp outside and loaded it into my small SUV. Music stand, check. Bench, check. Tuning key, check. iPad, check. Phone, check. With all things accounted for, I pulled out of my drive way at 2:15pm and feeling as if I had plenty of time to arrive safely in Timmonsville, only 38 miles away.

Now, I love my Chevy Equinox, but purchasing a car with the capability to inform me of how many miles I have until empty was the worst decision I have ever made. Twenty minutes into my trip and I can see that I have sixty miles until empty. Immediately my mind is thinking, “Great! I have enough to get there and plenty afterwards to find a gas station.” It never entered my thought process that my car would lie to me.

After traveling a few miles up I-95, I looked down at my directions that I had pulled up on my “smart” phone. I noticed that the exit I would be looking for said “Sardis.” Enough for now, so I sat my phone back down. Since Sardis has a population of roughly 2,000, I didn’t imagine that there would be more than one exit that would read “Sardis.” However, when I came to the first exit to Sardis, I didn’t recognize the exit number. I quickly looked down at my phone and came to terrible realization that I had allowed the battery to die. Taking the exit, I pulled over and sat for quite a while as my phone sat plugged into the charger. I was stuck and could go nowhere without further directions. You know, these “smart” phones can only be such if we are smart enough to keep them charged up.

As soon as the highly anticipated picture of the apple illuminated my screen, I was up and rolling again. I quickly learned that I had exited too soon, and placed myself back on the interstate. Just as I merged back onto I-95, the all too familiar sounded of “low fuel” range from the dashboard of my car. But, being the professional that I am, I know that means I still have forty miles until empty. Plenty of gas to finish out the remaining fifteen miles of my trip and to get gas afterwards.

My phone was accurately navigating me through the backroads of Timmonsville beautifully. I would now be arriving around 3:15pm, but I can unload and set up in no time and I was not concerned at all. I approached the final stop sign of my directions and would now be on the road that would take me to the wedding location. I turned right and headed toward the street number of my destination, 5800. As I looked to the left, I remembering seeing that the houses were somewhere around 5300. Not much further now. I placed my phone in the passenger’s seat, turned the radio up, and breathed a sigh of relief that I was….phuh, phuh, blugh, blugh, phoooosh, phoooosh, pssshh, psss….NOOO! Guiding the car to the shoulder of the road, I could feel my body grow hot and begin to tremble. This could not be happening. I still had at least 25 miles of gas left in my tank. I looked to the left and the closest mailbox read 5392. My insides were churching, my head was spinning, and I could feel my pulse in my left eye. But, somehow my favorite words came into my mind. “This is just a problem. We can solve it.” I kicked my survival harpist skills into high gear.

With black dress pants and three inch, velvet heels, I began to run toward the house across the street and knock on the door. No answer. I ran to the next door neighbors house and knocked on the door. There was a large boat parked in the back yard. Surely they would have a gas can available. No answer. Please note that neighbors in Timmonsville are not as physically close as my neighbors in downtown Sumter. I took a deep breath and ran a little faster through the field to the next house. My watch was now reading 3:15pm. I came to 5398. No answer. 5400. No answer. 5402. Are you kidding me? I know someone is in there! There are four cars in the drive way. My pulse is now close to 100 and I knock on the door of 5408. I hear the door knob make a sound and the door opens to reveal the face of an angel disguised as an elderly lady with short, curly, silver hair. There she stood with a halo of gold adorning her silver curls. I introduced myself and quickly told her my strange dilemma. She invited me inside and went into the next room and flagged her husband down and told him to stop vacuuming. I knew there was something different about this couple from the start. How many husbands do you know that are running the vacuum on a Saturday afternoon during football season? This couple acted as if they had been waiting on an opportunity to help someone in such a situation and kicked it into high gear. Operation Save the Wedding Music was in full swing. The Vacuuming Husband grabbed a gas can that was filled to the brim, and he and the Angel Wife put me in their car and drove me back down to my abandoned car.

Once we were out of their car and close to mine, the Angel Wife grabbed me by the shoulders, asked me to stop saying “thank you” and hugged me tightly. As the Vacuuming Husband poured the gas into my empty and depleted car, she asked me to take a few deep breaths and thanked me for the opportunity for them to have this privilege. She quoted John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and said, “Think of giving not as a duty, but as a privilege.” While one of my worst fears was turning into my reality, she was receiving a blessing by having the opportunity to give. And, now I was being doubly blessed with gasoline and the reminder of just how special it is to be able to help someone in need.

I never received their name, and I don’t know if I would have been able to remember it if they had told me. But, I will never forget their street address and mailed them a Christmas CD with a thank you note as soon as I made it back home. They are now permanently on my Christmas card list.

I arrived at the wedding destination at 3:32pm, and found the wedding party still making last minute adjustments and there wasn’t a guest in sight. I quickly unloaded my harp and put it in place. After a hurried tuning, I began to play the prelude at 3:39pm and the first guest did not take their seat until 3:45pm. And, with a pounding headache, a racing pulse, aching feet, and sweaty dress clothes, I provided the music that this beautiful bride had requested for her special day.

After the ceremony was finished, the mother of the bride walked over to thank me for being such a calm and peaceful addition to the wedding. If she only knew the hurricane that was raging inside of me at that time. And, as I loaded the harp back into my car and sat down behind the wheel, the biggest feeling of gratitude fell over my heart and I shouted out praises to the God who provided this wedding miracle. And, of course, to the precious couple who provided me with seventy-nine miles worth of gas in my car. Surely I could make it back to Sumter before filling up my gas tank, right?

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