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"Can You Tell Me"

I met Dave Hepler in the fall of 1974, when we lived next door to each other in the dorm at IU. We have stayed in touch over the years, but recently bonded more closely when each of us lost someone very dear to us. Dave is a very talented musician, and recently wrote a song, “Can You Tell Me,” which touches me deeply. Here is a link to the song, set to a montage of photographs of Jack with family and friends. Below the link, Dave tells the story of how “Can You Tell Me” came to be.

— Steve Shockley

Serendipity is what we many times think is behind what seem to be chance encounters or random events in our lives.

My Mom passed away in August, 2019. While caring for her, I was able to spend time reading my Bible. Psalm 31 jumped out at me like words coming off the page: “In Thee, O Lord do I put my trust. Never let me be ashamed. Deliver me in your righteousness.” It’s a daily mantra for me now. While Mom was sick, most of my spare minutes were devoted to another love of my life: playing, writing and starting to sing music. I wrote one for Mom while she was alive. Thankfully, she heard me play and sing it many times.

The 19 months since losing Mom have been a lot. Losing your mother is never easy for anyone. And sometimes you find out who really cares when you encounter deep personal loss. Steve Shockley was one of those who was there in my tough time of mourning and transition. And when I learned of Jack’s passing, just nine days shy of a year after Mom left us, I felt so bad. I have included the Shockleys in my prayers ever since. To not understand why, yet to hold deep empathy, I believe is God working in us. So I (subliminally, in working through my own grief) really felt deeply about my personal loss and the Shockleys’.

Steve called me after I lost another old friend, and it was apparent that our connection and friendship long ago was to be revitalized and continued. We started taking hikes and walks together. One day we hiked by the White River, near Butler University. The trail steered us next to a view I had joked to myself about before. I had to lay it on Steve at his first sight of this large maple tree, surrounded by water, seemingly by itself in the river. I proclaimed, “No man is an island but THAT TREE IS!” Steve immediately recited the John Donne poem to my delighted surprise.

No man is an island, entire of itself;

Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.


I have not written many songs since losing Mom. “Can You Tell Me” was one of them. When it presented itself to me, I know I was deep down asking God, or anyone, to reveal unknown impressionistic things. “What do each of us have left? Why do certain things turn out to be? What do each of us have in precious moments ahead?” And yet the middle part of the song may be telling us to absorb everything we can with each conscious moment, that there is SO MUCH to be taken in and so much to give all the time. A void, an emptiness, contributed to “Can You Tell Me,” and I believe my need to express true sentiment based what is real and the emotions evoked created this culmination of a song.

Soon after our walk along the White River, I told Steve about the song. It was important to me for him to hear how prominent the “bell toll” sound was in “Can You Tell Me.” Our walk was the day before my 65th birthday. And so the morning of my birthday, I thought “I gotta call Steve and let him hear the song.” I was really glad he liked it. So then, I asked Steve, “If I ever release the song publicly, would you have any objection to me telling the backstory about our hike?” He not only agreed, but said he would like to put it on Jack’s website.

I was deeply honored. It all seemed to come together. What John Donne is saying is that we all are one, and that we are there for each other. Maybe part of being there for each other is to inspire us to breathe deep, look and listen and be astounded! AND to share that with our friends and loved ones!

— David Hepler


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