By Michael Ashcraft —
In his hurry to finish chores before organ practice, 13-year-old Greg McKenzie reached down to fix the lawnmower’s chain without turning the machine off, and his right index finger got caught and fingertip cut off.
“My sister was screaming. My mom thought my whole hand got chopped off,” he says.
In the long term, the accident didn’t impede his musical aspirations. Today, Greg, 58, is a professional musician in Japan. In the short term, he learned to see the bright side of life and apply his Christian faith.
“That was the beginning of a new journey, meaning my spiritual faith. I was kind of depressed as a 13-year-old. Why did this happen to me?” he told God Reports. “To make a long story short, I started talking to other patients. Some of them had missing limbs. Here I’m thinking of how bad I have it, and these people have it twice as bad. I went out of that doctor’s office thinking ‘I’m very blessed. I’m very grateful.’”
Greg McKenzie grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, in a family that never missed a Sunday service.
“Most of our ancestral background comes from spirituality,” he says. “That’s how we keep moving forward in hard times.”
With sheer determination, he pressed through the year-long setback of his missing fingertip to pursue music. He opted to not have the fingertip sewn back on because, as a pianist, he needed full sensitivity. He compensated when it was sore, as musicians often do.
“I was determined to play,” he says. “For at least one year, I couldn’t even use that finger.”
But by the time he entered conservatory, he was at full capacity with the same technique as other students. He graduated and began taking jobs.
A musician’s life took him far and wide. He worked on a cruise ship. He played in the ill-fated World Trade Center in New York. After trying his luck in Hollywood, he took a gig in Morocco.
“It was a shock going from Los Angeles to Morocco, from neon lights to people riding on mules and camels,” he remembers.
It also stirred his faith because he saw Moroccans praying all the time, even in the street. He picked up the habit of praying more. Today, he takes 2-hour walks during which he prays to Jesus. It changes him every day for the better, he says.
“The guy who begins that prayer walk and the guy who finishes are two different people,” he quips. “It’s where I get my strength from.”
The interminable search for jobs led him in 2003 to Japan where the Hyatt International paid him to put together a New York-style jazz and Latin jazz band. Japan paid well, and he paid off his outstanding Sally Mae debt.
Japan also provided him a wife. He was only supposed to be in Japan for six months, but he crossed eyes with an attractive doctor who was enjoying his performance. Actually, it wasn’t during the performance but after as they were leaving the hotel that she complimented his performance. He gave her a CD and she wrote him an email.
Now, they have two kids, Emma, 11, and Yumi, 13. Greg hasn’t left the eastern edge of the globe for 15 years (except for visits). In the era of covid, he’s doing solo performances for the Japanese-owned Palace Hotel. He knows enough Japanese to get by and do business, he says.
At the moment of crisis, when he lost his fingertip, it was his faith and optimism and kept him pursuing his dreams. His faith still propels him.
In addition to writing Christian news articles, Michael Ashcraft helps people plan financially for retirement, get out of debt, minimize taxes and avoid probate through living trust.