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Jim Bishop: On not despairing when life needs repairing

I saw it coming, but pretended it wasn’t happening. Eventually, the problem caught up with me.

Technology – specifically, nearly-outdated technology – stopped me in my (recording) tracks, mid-sentence and mid-music selection. I went back and started over repeatedly over a two-day period and finally told myself, “Houston – or Harrisonburg – we’ve got a problem.”

For more than 10 years, I’ve trudged up the hill every week to the former WEMC radio studio and pre-recorded the “Friday Night Jukebox,” an hour of music of the 1950’s for broadcast on, obviously, Friday night, on 91.7 FM (now on-line as well at

I’ve taken great pleasure in this musical rite. It’s a proven escape valve, a regular reprieve from the more routine aspects of my job of cranking out news releases and other materials for various web and print projects at my workplace.

But now, here I am, unable to record this week’s program. I leave my script, stack of CDs and several vinyl albums smoldering in the control room and shuffle back to the office, feeling a tad dismayed.

The question is: should effort even be made to discern the problem is with the malfunctioning equipment, given that it has been on its “last leg” for\ some time? And if the cause is identified, does it merit repairing or replacing, since no one but me uses this production studio anymore?

The same day, while continuing to fret over my technical dilemma, I took my personal camera, a Canon Rebel, to the repair shop. At work, I use an excellent digital camera, but still hang on to this 35 mm. camera because it works so well, takes sharp photographs and affords much satisfaction as I give prints to people. But with digital cameras the order of the day, should I bother having it fixed?

I did, and the repair bill was minimal. I’m back in business, surprising people who come up and pop the usual question, “Getting a lot of good pixs?” I reply, “I think so. I’ll let you know soon.” Nevertheless, even buying the type of film I like is becoming a hassle, and I expect to go digital in due course.

Later the same afternoon, I took the office digital camera to record a special little ceremony at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community. Resident Margaret Martin Gehman, 88, was donating her 1967 VW Beetle with some 176,000 miles on the odometer to Eastern Mennonite University. Dr. Martin is professor emerita of art, having served with distinction on the faculty from 1944 to 1987.

After snapping some shots of Margaret handing the keys and title to development officer Phil Helmuth, I asked her why she opted to part with her trusty, albeit rusty, mechanical steed.

“Well, the decision wasn’t easy, but when I need transportation, to church or other places, someone is available to take me,” she said. “But more importantly, I wanted to stop driving before I cause an accident or someone unintentionally runs into me.”

I admired Margaret’s unhesitating response. Surrendering driving privileges has to be a difficult decision for anyone who has enjoyed long and fruitful years on the road. Concluding any long-time activity that provides special meaning and purpose suddenly marks the end of a significant chapter of life. It means bidding farewell, letting go and moving on.

The end of the week, I sent off material, articles and photos to an annual college guide, knowing this was the last time to do this particular project as I continue moving through the final year at my workplace. Other similar projects and activities will follow in the days ahead.

I’m certain that my regular radio sprees, column writing, photography and other free-lance projects have helped keep me energized, plowing ground in the same journalistic field for nearly 40 years – 44 if one counts a previous related post – and all these years.

But, like it or not, certain routines we follow and equipment and other devices we use wear out . . . and so do we.

That reality was reinforced as I entered the weekend and attended the funeral of an uncle, 83, and a former work colleague, 72. There was much letting go and, as difficult and painful as it is, moving on. Life does not slow down to allow us to adequately catch our corporate breath.

I am taking the experiences of this past week – the production room breakdown, my interaction with Margaret Martin Gehman, and the two moving funeral services I just attended as signs from above that the time has come for the world’s second oldest teenager to unplug the colorful jukebox.

Perhaps this decisive act to close one door will help open some new window of opportunity. And, even if for me it’s the day the music died, like the hymn declares, how can I keep from singing?

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at