Behind his cubicle, which sits beyond the circulation desk on
the third floor of Woodruff Library, Myron McGhee flips through
a stack of about 20 photographs. Most are of a funeral that took
place in April.
The remainder are of the site of a plane crash in Ventura, Calif.,
that took the life of his friend Mike Norman, a Navy aviator. The
two had known one another while students at Western Carolina University.
Norman’s plane flamed out less than 10 seconds before landing.
He never had a chance.
“I hadn’t talked to him for 15 years, but he’s
constantly on my mind,” says McGhee, a circulation desk supervisor.
“I haven’t been able to figure out what to do with these
photos,” he says, continuing to leaf through them.
“The regret I have is not pushing forward enough to pick up
the phone and call him. I sent him an e-mail that didn’t get
a response and I just let it go.”
McGhee is a pretty cerebral guy. Soft-spoken, in conversation his
voice remains at one quiet cadence no matter the subject. The wheels
in his mind appear to be turning constantly, and despite the fact
he doesn’t make a lot of eye contact, there is always the
sense that he is engaged.
“He died doing the very thing he wanted to do since he was
12 years old. He wanted to be a pilot,” McGhee says. “I
think at some level all of us know what we’re supposed to
be doing, though we might not always have the courage to do it.
I believe really deep down inside, we know what we’re really
passionate about. Part of the test of living this life is to figure
out how to do it.”
After several years of drifting and working with only a smattering
of satisfaction, McGhee, who turned 40 earlier this year, finally
found out what he was supposed to be doing.
“I used to facetiously say that I went to seminary to figure
out that I wanted to be an artist,” said McGhee, who graduated
from the Candler School of Theology in 1995. “I don’t
want to take the high road about being an ‘artist,’
but I like creating things, I like making people think and get in
touch with their emotions and inner feelings—the things that
matter, things of substance.”
Well, if there ever was a time when McGhee was drifting, it’s
over now. His debut CD, Between, an accessible mix of bluesy,
mellow, acoustic guitar-based pop songs was released in August,
and a month-long exhibit of his photographs—which were displayed
at the Starbuck’s in Decatur Square just closed this past
weekend. Several will reappear at an artist’s market in Buckhead,
“When you can sit down and do something for eight or 10 hours
and have no concept that you been doing it that long—it’s
cool,” he says. “You know that you’re in your
passion. You know that you’re doing the thing that’s
deepest within you.”
McGhee has been writing and playing songs since his early teens;
the photography came a bit later. He played in some bands when he
was younger, but his musical career didn’t get churning until
theology school, when he was able to perform.
One fan he made was the Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers, who sought
him out after a performance to tell him she liked his work (“She
doesn’t remember,” he jokes, but one person who does—her
father, theology’s Don Saliers—played piano on one of
the Between’s songs.)
Most of McGhee’s live performances have been of the coffee
house variety—just him and his acoustic guitar—but he
played two well-received songs to close out Emory Sept. 11 commemoration
program. He also will perform at the Unity Week Kickoff, Nov. 1.
For the most part Between has sold by word of mouth. The
only place it is available for retail purchase locally is the Cokesbury
Bookstore at 2495 Lawrenceville Highway. Eventually McGhee said,
he would at least like to have the CD available at all local Cokesbury’s.
“I would love to be doing music and photography full time,”
McGhee says. “Music in particular, because it seems to be
the way I connect with people. There’s only one person with
this voice, there’s only one person who plays the guitar the
way I do; there are a lot of photographers who take very similar
shots. So I think the music has a particular singularity.”
Somehow, McGhee manages to mix his full-time job, his music and
his photography with his home life. He and his wife, Juana Clem
McGhee, met while students at Candler, married in 1993, graduated
in 1995 and now have two daughters, 6-year-old Cana and 3-year-old
Like her husband, Juana is an Emory employee. She is special programs
coordinator for the Institute for Comparative and International
Studies. On weekday afternoons, she journeys to the library to pick
up the two girls, which Myron hands off when he begins his evening
shift at the library.
Another thing the McGhees share is guidance of the Ajalon Group
(The word “ajalon” a variation of a Hebrew word that
means “place of gazelles.” The web address is www.
ajalon.org) The nonprofit organization, which
Myron and Juana cofounded mixes classes and artistic endeavors aimed
at promoting personal wellness, artistic vision and self-realization.
Myron says the eventual goal is build a sanctuary—a place
where people could come to relax, where artists could find inspiration,
where anyone who needs to reconnect with themselves inspirit could
find the solitude to do just that.
“Life’s all about connecting with people,” McGhee
says. “The details. The small things. The things that matter.”