Some glad morning when this life is o’re, I’ll fly away. To a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.
My grandparents on my father’s side and I were very close while I was growing up. My grandfather preached in Victoria, Texas, which is only 30 minutes away from where I grew up, and after my grandfather retired, they started to worship with my family in Yoakum. On Sundays they would come over for morning services and then stay the afternoon with us until the evening service, which led to countless lunches filled with laughter, good conversation, Memaw’s rolls, and occasionally, singing hymns. Sadly, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer when I was a teenager and would go on to endure several years of battling the illness until she finally was put on hospice. One afternoon, close to her final days, my family and I went to visit my grandmother to surround her on her deathbed and sing songs of encouragement to hopefully lift her spirits. I can remember singing “This World is not my Home”, “Unclouded Day”, “When we all get to Heaven”, and others. I’ll never forget two specific things about that day. First, my grandfather wasn’t in the room as we sang because it was too difficult to bear, and my grandmother said, “where’s my friend?” asking for my grandfather. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. They were married 67 years. Secondly, though my grandmother was in pain, and knew her days were short on this earth, she sang along with us as much as she could. I remember watching her while we sang one song; she was singing and smiling. It was “I’ll Fly Away”.
When the shadows of this life have grown, I’ll fly away. Like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away.
Albert Brumley was born in Oklahoma in October of 1905 into a family of sharecroppers, and so, he spent much of his early life chopping and picking cotton on a farm. Sharecroppers were at the mercy of the landowners in many ways, which led to suboptimal conditions. In 1931 sharecroppers began to form unions protesting poor treatment by landowners, which helps to paint the picture of the environment Albert lived in. In 1926 Albert enrolled in the Hartford Musical Institute and studied there until 1931. The institute was led by Eugen Monroe Bartlett, the owner of the Hartford Music Company and composer of a song we often sing… “Victory in Jesus”. Though Albert was doing well in school, evidenced by his eventual writing of songs such as “Jesus, Hold my Hand”, “This World is not my Home”, and “If we Never Meet Again (This Side of Heaven)”, he couldn’t escape from having to return home some summers to help on the farm. I can imagine a young Albert longing to escape the hot, monotonous, and pain staking work of picking cotton on someone else’s land to a place where lyrics and music paved the way to sustenance and sustainability. It was while working on the farm feeling this frustration and desire to flee the entrapment of painful, laborious work, that Albert started to write the famous hymn “I’ll Fly Away”.
Just a few more weary days and then, I’ll fly away. To a land where joys shall never end, I’ll fly away.
Albert would go on to purchase the Harford Music Company in 1948, fully detaching himself from the life of a sharecropper. The trapped youth found a “land where joys shall never end”, but we know, since his life was not over on this earth, that he was not truly in the land of joy and peace. Not even close. My grandmother had known true pain, true heartache, for much of her life. My father was one of three boys given to my grandparents by God to be stewards of. Brad, the oldest, I never met. He was killed in a motorcycle accident as a young teenager. Though my grandmother almost always wore a contagious smile, at times one could tell she was thinking about her boy. Sadly, I remember a Sunday morning when I unknowingly led Brad’s favorite hymn. After the song, I took my usual spot next to my grandparents, and I saw my grandmother sobbing. She still missed Brad deeply some 45 years after the accident. Fast forward to the day we all gathered around her to sing songs such as “I’ll Fly Away”. She was ready to go home. To truly go home. To fly away to a land where joys shall never end. To a land where there is no night and where she can hold her son’s hand once again. Won’t it be wonderful there!
Psalm 55:6 “And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”