I met him in the Summer of 1997. Rich Mullins was in town for the Christ in Youth Summer Conference at Milligan. I had become a huge fan of his in the few years leading up to that summer. The honesty and depth of his lyrics touched me like few (if any) other artists I’d encountered. And the music? How could anyone not love the sound of his hammer dulcimer? He never considered himself a star. Maybe that was another part of him that made his music so appealing to me. His albums and his concerts felt so…real.
The Summer of ’97 was the year I stuck around at Milligan and took summer classes. I was walking into the Student Union Building (commonly referred to as the SUB…I know – creative, isn’t it?) for a reason that I can’t recall. I do remember that it was hot and I had on my Chewbacca t-shirt. As I walked in, I saw Rich walking with someone else (I had no idea who the other guy was…still don’t). Rich had on some jeans and a plain white t-shirt. He walked by me and said, “Hey, nice shirt!”
All I could muster was, “Thanks,” as he walked out the building. I’ll never wash this shirt again, I thought to myself. Then I kicked myself for not grabbing him and thanking him for the influence his music had been in my life.
I accomplished my mission in the SUB and had to go up to the Chapel for some reason. I really don’t remember why I was supposed to be doing something in the Chapel – but I went there. I accomplished whatever mission I was on in the Chapel and walked out the door, face-to-face with Rich Mullins and his colleague.
“Hey! Didn’t I just see you down there?” Rich asked as he pointed down the hill towards the SUB.
Yes, the Rich Mullins remembered me! I’m sure it was because of my stellar good looks and the way my personality just lights up the room. In reality, I know it’s because there weren’t very many people on campus at the time and I had on a very memorable (and very cool) shirt.
I mumbled something, trying (and failing) to come up wtih a witty response. I turned and walked away and then turned back around. “I just want to tell you that your music has really impacted my life.”
“Thank you,” he said. Or something to that effect.
“There are rumors going around that you’ll be singing tonight. Is that right?”
“Yeah,” he said as he shrugged. “I think I’m supposed to after the kids are finished dedicating their lives or something like that.” He chuckled.
I chuckled. “Well, I hope to see you again tonight,” I said as I turned and walked away.
I never saw him again. I had to work late at Baskin Robbins that night. And apparently he didn’t sing as much as the rumors had suggested. I was disappointed, but figured I’d get another chance to hear him sing.
That didn’t happen. He died just a few months later in a car crash. That was eleven years ago today – and it rocked my world. I remember hearing the news, going to my apartment, and just sitting on my couch for what felt like an eternity. Numb. Speechless. Christy was there, too. And neither one of us could say anything. We just stared at the wall.
Up until that point, I had mocked people who cried and mourned when people like Elvis or John Lennon died. After all, their fans didn’t really know them. Why cry for someone you didn’t know? Sitting there on my blue couch that evening, I finally undertsood.
I listened to one of his albums today and celebrated the legacy left by the ragamuffin musician. It was only a man like Rich Mullins who could turn something as ancient as the Apostles’ Creed into a memorable song. Bands like Third Day have tried, but I’m sorry. It just isn’t the same.