This I Believe: Troy Stein (2021)

Good morning. I am Troy Stein. I’m 53 years old, married for 29 years and I have three kids. I work in IT for the State of Minnesota. I was raised in rural North Dakota, and I moved here in 1990 and my life changed for the better when I met my wife in 1991.

One of my proudest accomplishments is my work as a professional ghost writer. I worked with a local author and together we wrote eight mysteries. I love telling stories. So this is my UU story.

About 40 years ago my friend, Scott, asked me to join him as a duo to play “Taps” for military funerals. The plan was for the two us to start the following Monday (Memorial Day) when we would join a handful of American Legion members, drive around in a rusty gray van and visit all the township’s cemeteries. At each cemetery, we would have a flag ceremony, a twenty-one-gun salute and Scott and I would play “Taps.” I would be paid five dollars and a bottle of Coke for my time. This began the period of my life where I could be honest when I told every girl I met that I really was a professional musician.

On Memorial Day, prior to visiting a dozen or so cemeteries, Scott and I were on the schedule to perform at a ceremony at the local baseball field. Scott would be playing front and center on the pitcher’s mound, while my role was to play “Taps” as the echo – unseen. Our roles were due in part to Scott being a better trumpeter than I, and I was small for my age, so it was easier for me to hide underneath a car in the parking lot. Over the years, I got quite adept at playing flat on my back behind tombstones, bushes and underneath parked cars. I was essentially Garfunkel and Scott was Paul Simon in our duo.

After each funeral, Scott and I would take our five dollars and rush over to the local drive-in and spend our money on more Coke. So like a lot of my fellow professional musicians back in the Eighties, I too spent the bulk of my earnings on coke.

As summer turned to fall, Scott joined the basketball team leaving me to perform alone till he would rejoin us in the spring. That winter, we did a number of funerals at the local Catholic church. As a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I was forbidden by my minister, congregation and parents from entering a church other than my own. During each funeral, I found myself sitting outside on the church steps, freezing cold trumpet in my hands trying to stay warm while everyone else congregated inside the warm building. I felt alone and lost. Part of my perceived isolation was because my church community believed, and I was told, that God was the only reason I was able to do anything. Ironically, my confirmation Bible verse was – John 15:5 – “Apart from me you can do nothing.” I was useless, abhorrent and a “wretch.” I felt alone for a long time.

Feeling alone seemed to be normal, but I didn’t know it at the time I was dealing with depression. Throughout those years, I experienced some suicidal ideation with a few close calls. So I’m very familiar with the darkness. During those times, faith and fear existed on an equal plain. I felt I had to live in fear of a God that was eternally disappointed in me. I was forever reliant on the unearned mercy of an angry deity. This belief put my wisdom into a proverbial state of checkmate. I still play that game of chess against the darkness every day. I know better, but not all the time.

I met my wife in 1991, and she’s the best person I know. My kids are better people than I am, so I’m proud of them in ways I can’t even begin to explain. My first experience at our church was when the teens were hosting the service. One of the young girls speaking that day was so eloquent, kind, grounded and genuine, I told myself that I wanted my children to be like that. My next visit was on a “This I believe” Sunday. One of the women speaking listed off the Seven UU principles. The fourth principle spoke to me on a level I hadn’t experienced before. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning seemed so fundamental to me. The seven principles speak to me as a Christian credo – one I can get fully behind since I’ve felt that way for as long as I could remember, and it fits perfectly into what I believe Christianity is about.

Coming into our church was like, I don’t know if you’ve seen those videos where people who are colorblind see colors with the help of specialized glasses. To me it was like I knew what “green” should look like, but I’d never really seen it. When I came to this Church, I said “oh, that’s what green looks like.” That was what it felt like for me. I was seeing colors as I thought they were for the first time! I was seeing works in action like I’d always expected from the people of faith I’d grown up with. My Christian faith is strengthened by this church because I want to be part of a congregation that respects the individual journey while adhering to the UU principles where every person is valued and respected. Tolerance isn’t enough, people of faith or spirituality must be called on for more than simple tolerance even when it’s really hard.

So if I saw my thirteen year old self sitting on the bench outside this church, I’d go sit with him and quietly say to him, “Really reconsider the mullet you’re going to get in a few months.” There’d be some convincing that I’m really me, since at thirteen, I was dead certain, I’d be six foot one and the lead singer of Aerosmith. I’m not . . . Yet. But after some convincing, I’d bring young Troy inside and introduce him to Dick Ottman at the front door. Dick would shake my hand and make me feel welcome. With his assistance, I know I’d come inside out of the cold.

So thankfully the darkness I experience has been temporary. It comes often, but I always have to remind myself to be in the moment and believe the light will come back. I know how dark and heavy and impenetrable it feels, but the sunlight always seems brighter after leaving the dark. I hope no matter what you’re going through that you will find the light again. Because here – in this church – we walk together and you will never be alone.