Got Fear?

Photo:  Pixabay

“…Just like a ghost
You’ve been a-hauntin’ my dreams
So I’ll propose on Halloween
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you, Spooky!”  (1967/1968)  Spooky.  Recorded by:  Classics IV (Later, The Atlanta Rhythm Section.)   Composers:  Instrumentals – Mike Shapiro & Harry Middlebrooks Jr.  Lyrics – J.R. Cobb & Buddy Buie

What spooks you?  According to the song, love can cause fear.  I’ve been there.  How about you?  Nevertheless, love was meant to be the opposite of spooky.

Me, KDB & Mom Wedding

After a few years as a single mother, my mom had remarried my adopted dad.  They were only married for four years, but I had zero fear in my heart concerning our new lives.  We have a good relationship to this very day and I love him.

Homestead Windmill

Fear wasn’t in my mind at all on one hot summer day in 1966.  One of my favorite things was our trips to Graham, Texas where his family resided.  It was in west Texas, rich in cowboy legends and Texas pioneer history.  Thick in Mesquite, cactus, and brush, the land is rugged.

Being a city boy at six years old, I loved visiting my new grandparents out in the rough and rustic hills.  The new adventures filled my imagination while I ran through the back pastures with their cows and horses in my canvas PF Flyers.  Usually in a cowboy hat with a toy pistol in hand, the hours would pass hiding from Comanches and Tonkawas on the warpath, while protecting the herd.  (Little did I know my great-grandfather did exactly that when he settled there in the late 1860’s.)

There was a sandy creek, mostly dry, running through the pastures where I spent lots of time playing in the sandy bottoms.  In my exuberance, during my brave stance fighting for the homestead, I found myself in an embarrassing, but spooky predicament.  Somehow, and I do mean “somehow”, I galloped my stick-horse to the very edge of a deeper bend of the creek.  By God’s grace I was able to stop my forward momentum before going over a vertical 8 foot drop down to the hard sandstone boulders in the creek bed.  After catching my breath, I could see the rubber tips of my sneakers were roughly two inches from the edge.  Between hard inhales, I said, “Wow!  That was close, Trigger.  Let’s get back to the herd where we belong.”  When I turned right, I found myself trapped by a wide sprawling cactus which couldn’t be negotiated.  Turning to my left, I found myself caged-in by a large amount of…well, I guess I’ll be honest here…cow poop.  Yep, a good pile blocking my only escape, spreading all the way to the prickly-pears.  So, there I was.  I couldn’t jump over the cactus.  I dared not try jumping over the pyramid of cow patties.  With things looking rather dim, I turned to analyze the depth of my chances to the bottom of the creek.  My fear began to build up inside.  A couple of times I considered the risk of breaking an ankle with a leap over the side.  Visions of starvation and coyotes filled my head as I went through a scenario where nobody would ever find me until this is all they would recover, minus the lamps.

Halloween Skeleton

Allow me to put some meat on the bones of my circumstance.

Of course, I know what you’re thinking.  There is the thought of, “This is easy.  He should’ve just walked out the way he romped in.”  True, but honestly, I couldn’t figure it out at the time.  You have to get in the mindset of a boy barely six years old.  To this little kid, there was no way out of the patch of ground I stood on.  But…someone had a different perspective.

Grandpa Brown

Photo:  W.R. Brown in his Sunday-go-to-meetin’-attire.  (He lived in his denim overalls and straw hat.)

After about four minutes, although it felt like four hours, I began to panic in fear.  Through my tears I started to scream out for help.  Unfortunately I was about half a mile from the farmhouse.  If someone was to hear me, it would be carried by a bird.  As I launched into yelling mode, the nearby cattle just stood there gazing at me as if I just arrived from Mars.  A lesson was learned.  They don’t take to commands like Lassie.  Not one bovine left for the farmhouse to alert the folks.  I don’t recall how much time ticked by when I heard a friendly chuckle on the other side of the cactus.

While trying his best not to let out too much cackling, in a very thick Texas accent the voice asked, “Well, what’s wrong, boy?”

Quickly I turned my head toward the voice to see my Grandpa Brown standing there with a farmer’s hoe in his hands.  He was a small, but rugged and weathered, kind, leprechaun-of-a-man with crystal clear light blue eyes.  The long hairs growing out of his ears always impressed me.  In my relief to see him, I explained my simple, but desperate situation.

He chuckled again, “Well I’ll be switched.  How did you get in such a fix?  Can’t you get out?”

After explaining how I boxed myself in, he began to slowly direct me through an escape route, which no doubt was the thin trail I used to get there.  As it turned out, he was working his garden not too far from that spot when he heard me cry out.  Poor guy.  He probably came running thinking I had been bitten by a Rattlesnake.  He was probably more relieved than I was.

Yes, I was embarrassed.  Yes, I should’ve figured a way of escape.  And yes, I worked myself up into a lather which wasn’t necessary.  But that’s what needless fear can do.

Of course, there are healthy fears.  You put some fear into a young child about the dangers of fire.  We have a healthy fear of walking out into oncoming traffic.  What?  You say you have a house for sale at the base of an active volcano?  My healthy fear says, no way.

Please don’t judge my six year old self too harshly.  What about that time you had needless anxiety over a job interview?  You may recall when you felt fear over a final exam.  How about the moments just before you walked down the isle with a wedding bouquet in your trembling hands?  It’s all so spooky.

Do you know how many phobias there are?  I googled the titles.  I was beside myself seeing the lengthy list.  They are real.  There’s the fear of leaving your house.  There’s a fear of lettuce.  There’s even a phobia involving bathtubs and shower stalls.  We all would strongly appreciate you obtain counselling for that one.  Spooky for some, but excessive and pointless.

‘Tis the season, says Halloween.  When you think about how we lather ourselves up in fear, every day of the year, it is all about anticipation.  Right?  We see a darkened line of trees at night, the vanguard of a wooded area, as the mind begins to imagine what “might be” waiting for us there.  Anticipation takes time, a moment or two on the clock to settle.  It all surrounds what we do in those moments before our imagination cooks up the horrid.  Naturally, there are those who orchestrate fright like a band of tubas.

While watching an interview with a so-called “expert” on Sasquatch, I was amazed at the push for fear in the following statement.  The authoritative man set the stage like this:

“Through the years we have learned that Bigfoot is attracted to campsites, and tents specifically.”

The vomit of laughter coming out of me continued for another minute or so.  Think about it.  He claims to be an expert on a beast that has never been found dead, never been captured, never been scientifically verified.  Zero DNA discoveries, or bone fragments.  It’s an animal that’s never been in a clear, sharp video production that wasn’t shaky, or solid focused photograph, all in order to keep the enhancements from detecting a zipper on the costume.  Moreover, any footage (excuse the pun) presented, the elusive Sasquatch always runs away from the photographer.  Very camera-shy.  Certainly, I’m no expert, but it seems to me, with all the footage thus far of a seemingly frightened beast, a human campsite is the last place it would want to invade.  However, it’s fun to be afraid.  Right?  Unless it’s true fright from actual danger.

Here’s my view.  I didn’t have to be afraid of the cactus.  I didn’t need to fear the edge of the creek.  I shouldn’t have been scared of the large pile of poop.  (Then again, I still shy away from poop piles.)  My viewpoint at the time was skewed at best.  My six year old self allowed panic to overtake the true scenario.  What saved me from it all was a gentle old man who saw me from a different perspective.  Love popped the fear-bubble and eased my troubled mind due to my Grandpa Brown.  And THAT made the difference.

When you belong to One who sees all, knows all, and dispatches guardians, the spirits of fear quake and shake.

Sometimes fear is very much like a Jack-o-lantern.  Fearful exterior, but all hollow on the inside.  Fearfulness isn’t heavy to push aside when lubricated nicely with fuel for the race.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ – God –  Isaiah 41:10 (NAS) 

 

 

Not Seeing Eye To Eye

Photo:  Thiago Matos via Pexels

“Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got…So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts.  So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date…Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye.” – (1988)  The Living Years,  Recorded by:  Mike and the Mechanics.  Written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson

The hallway was busy between classes that day.  The platform shoes were loud on the polished hard floor like horses on a brick street.  Everyone was running to their next classroom before the final bell rang.  I, in my bell-bottoms and bell sleeves, was coming out of the choral department rehearsal hall after an a cappella session.  My steps were already inside the broad hallway, but had yet to fully walk through the threshold as my hand remained on the thick heavy wooden door.  That’s when I looked up and saw her.  It was Lori Kennedy high stepping it toward the choir-room door from B-Hall.  She was running a tad late to get to her place on the rehearsal risers just inside the entrance for Women’s Select Choir.  It was a Friday, game-day at our north Dallas suburban high school of 3,500 students.  I recall it was a Friday because Lori was decked-out in her Lionette drill team outfit from a pep-rally earlier the same morning.  As she approached the doorway, I quickly made my way through the entrance while holding the door open for her.  By the time she was within two, or three steps from me, her dark brown eyes pierced mine as she sternly stated, “I can open my own door!” as she swiftly rushed by me.  OUCH!  That was unexpected.  It wasn’t like me to freeze, but I did due to shock.  It was best because it also kept my mouth shut.

Lori Kennedy 1978 RLT

Lori Kennedy, 1978 R.L. Turner High School Yearbook.

Lori and I were 16 at the time, in 1976.  She was about five weeks older than your’s truly.  Our social circles overlapped, so we had mutual friends, but the two of us were mere acquaintances.  In fact, I don’t think we ever had a conversation before that uncomfortable moment.  It’s not that we avoided one another, or even ignored the other purposefully while within earshot.  We both certainly knew about the other, but distantly.  From time to time, over four years, we even dated our close shared friends, but never one another.  There were multiple occasions where we hitched a ride with other friends while stuffed in a 1973 Chevy Camaro.  We were on the same bus during our music concert tours with the choral department’s Spring trip each year.  We also found ourselves sharing a bus for choral UIL contests performed in other cities.  Then there were gatherings at picnics, parties, and popular hangouts, etc.  I should stop here because as I write this I’m remembering many more circumstances where Lori and I shared space through high school.  We, for what ever reason, never made the effort to get to know each other.  One might say, we knew each other through our fellow classmates.

With all that said, it makes her stark, rude remark, (the first words she ever spoke to me), that much more odd.  Maybe she was having a bad day.  Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her.  Possibly life at home had hit a wall.  Could she had slipped on a banana peel in the cafeteria line?  Maybe there was a social undertow of knowing we didn’t see eye-to-eye on life itself.

full frame shot of eye
Photo by Vladislav Reshetnyak on Pexels.com

One thing is for concrete sure, she didn’t know my mom and granddad taught me how to treat the opposite sex going back to my toddler years.  Chivalry was the order of the day in my family.  I must have been three years old, when walking down the sidewalk with my mom and grandparents, my granddad gently instructed me to always walk closest to the curb when walking next to a lady.  When I asked why, in his rural Texas fashion and verbiage, he explained that if a tire splashes a muddy puddle onto the walkway, she will be spared from the splatter.  He followed it up with, “That’s what men do.”  He taught me to remove my hat if a lady enters the room.  If a lady walks by, you tip the brim of the hat.  If a lady is about to sit at a table, you pull the chair out for her, followed by the adjustment to table-side.  If the lady is ready to remove her coat or sweater, you help remove it from her shoulders.  When she is ready to wear the same, you hold it open for her as she slips her arms through.  You always allow the lady to walk in front, choosing second place.  You always open the car door for a lady before placing yourself in the car.  And yes, you always open the door for a lady as she approaches it.  In fact, I do that for men, as well as women.  To be honest, I still practice all of the above to this day.  It’s an act of courtesy, kindness, respect, and honor.  I’m branded with it.  So, what was up with Lori?

At the time, the women’s liberation movement was well above surging, at least in the U.S.  It would be foolish to believe that 100% of women living-out the movement appreciated chivalry with its old Victorian manners.  Because I neglected to get to know Lori, the real Lori, I may have missed my cue.  It very well may have been Lori was exercising her newly discovered rules of engagement as dictated by the women’s liberation movement of the times.  I would have been clueless.  Nevertheless, she may have very well been offended by my gesture of holding the door open for her entrance into the choir room.  Sure, I meant well, but she may have seen my action in another angle, unbeknownst to me.  Just like one can peek through a glass of water while another may see a different distorted view.  And here is where I went wrong.

My mind washed my hands of her as I walked away from the moment of friction.  Lori Kennedy and I never had a potential conversation throughout the balance of our school years together.  Never once.  In fact, I totally avoided her.  My misdirected thoughts went something like, “Well, if she’s going to treat me like a doormat, than I don’t have any use for her.”  This is what unchecked anger can do.  And so, in my bitterness over the incident, I made sure I ignored her each time our paths crossed, wherever it was.  And what’s worse, I allowed our very quick moment in 1976 to stain my view of her from that time forth.  Afterwards, the name Lori Kennedy was held in my grudge-peppered heart.  My new title for her was, Little Miss Rudeness.  Yes, it was wrong.  Very wrong.

One would think in adulthood, with all its twists, turns, and teachings, I would’ve eventually understood better, loved more, and forgave even if I never saw her again in life.  However, we did.  God had other plans.

Lori Kennedy 2018 RLT Reunion

Lori Kennedy at a 2018 casual reunion with old friends.

A year ago, I attended two reunions with old friends and classmates.  One was a casual gathering of about 200 as we paid tribute to a friend who had passed away the year prior.  Two months later, it was our 40th high school reunion.  Lori Kennedy and I bumped into each other at both events.  During the first reunion, I saw her before see saw me.  My first thought was to stay away from her, using my old searing angst as justification.  With so many people attending, it would’ve been easy to just remain on the other side of the large club.  Two months later, the 40th high school reunion gala would be upon us where most likely we would find ourselves in close proximity with mutual friends.  Deep inside, I hated the tensity felt over seeing her again.  Getting lost in the crowd was my first thought.

Miles White Reunion Shot

August 2018 at the casual reunion at the Fox & Hound Pub in Dallas.

Someone called out to her through the noisy event.  With a turn, my eyes caught her.  There she was, laughing, drinking, eating and enjoying a cluster of old friends.  My reaction was to look away to protect the sore spot in my psyche.  After looking down at my shoes for way too long, I filled my lungs with lots of air, slapped on my big boy pants, and made my way across the room of revelers.

She had changed so much since our teen years.  Age hadn’t been particularly polite to her.  Lori always lived fast and hard, so I just assumed it all caught up with her.  She was a bit pale and thin, and the spark in her dark eyes had faded.  Name tags are a gift from God in these cases, but not at this casual gathering.  Often, at our age, it’s guesswork.  I acted as if I wasn’t sure it was her.  “Lori?  Is that you?”  She turned toward me, cocked her head and smiled.  “Alan!  Well, as I live and breathe!  How are you?”  I initiated a quick shoulder-hug. (Still showing signs of my grudge in a tiny gesture.  I know, it’s all so stupid.)  We spoke very kindly for another couple of minutes.  After all, there’s not much to “catch-up on” when you didn’t really have a relationship to start with.  I found out she lived alone with her two beloved Chihuahuas.  Still, it was somewhat a relief to see her genuine greeting.  Surprisingly cordial with a true smile, we shared good words between us.  Simultaneously, there was this voice coming from deep inside me delivering a statement I never would’ve believed.  It was so clear.  Despite our differences, we could have been friends.  Part of me began to feel ashamed what I had secretly held against her over the decades.  Of course, I never brought up our one and only verbal encounter from the days of yore.  Actually, she may not even recall the day she was snarky to me, the “doorman” from early in our junior year.  Frankly, the thought had never occurred to me.  Just because I always remembered it, shelving her as a tyrant and a princess prude forever, doesn’t necessarily mean she remembered our game-day intersect whatsoever.

Monday morning, October 7th, I got in my car, turned on the radio to my favorite classic rock station, and there it was, Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young”.  It was the tripwire to heavy tears as I left my driveway for an hour’s drive to Lori Kennedy’s funeral.

After doing some digging, I discovered Lori was told by her doctor how early tests indicated she had Multiple Myeloma.  This form of blood cancer wasn’t new to me.  A church friend has been battling it for two years, as well as my brother-in-law, who is in the final stages of this life-sucking illness.  An MRI had found a mysterious spot on her pelvic bone a couple of years prior.  At that time tests were inconclusive.  Apparently, Lori shrugged it off.  She had been told most Multiple Myeloma patients have 3-5 years after diagnosis, maybe less.  She was looking forward to her first oncologist appointment to confirm, plus discuss various treatments.  That was during the last week of September.  She passed away in her sleep at home less than a week later.  After the very touching service I spoke with her parents.  They told me she had been suffering from symptoms for at least 2-3 years, but had no idea she had been stricken with cancer until a few days ago.

Before the minister spoke, they played Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven.  As it washed over the the ones gathered, I bowed my head and listened intently for the first time.

“…Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please, begging please…”

My hands trembled as I realized my judging heart.  Deeply convicted, I acknowledged my stupidity in not letting go of one moment in time of offense.  At my age, how could I have remained so immature?  When we engaged last year, I was unaware she was in severe pain throughout her skeletal structure.  As we stood there and chatted at the reunion, I was unaware Lori was constantly dehydrated, with bouts of deadly low blood pressure and visits to the ER.  Little did I know she was choking down powerful pain killers just to stand, walk, and sit.  As it turns out, she rarely left her house to socialize due to her struggle.  The reunions were a goal she wouldn’t deny herself.  And there I was, trying to be tempered, holding back my old resentment as she smiled at me, even though she should’ve been in the hospital.  What a moron I was.  So much time wasted.  So much life experience gone.  So many chances crumbled away in the living years.

After the service was complete, I approached the opened white coffin where an unrecognizable body was displayed.  The remains of this person looked as if she was some 25 years my elder, resting among the satin lace.  Even though it was way too late, I looked at the face, which once belonged to Lori, and whispered, “Forgive me, Lori.  Forgive me.”

As I drove back home, I asked the Redeemer to forgive my unsettled anger.

True lessons in life come at the most heartbreaking times.  Lessons of humility learned easier when filled with fuel for the race.

“And whenever you stand to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father who is in Heaven may also forgive you your faults.  But if you are not forgiving, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your faults.”  – Jesus –  Mark 11:25-26  (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Branching Out

“…In my thoughts I have seen
Rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who standing looking…”  (1971)  Stairway To Heaven.  Recorded By:  Led Zeppelin.  Composed by:  Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Have you ever found yourself on your back, underneath a tree, just looking through the branches as a breeze sways them from side to side?  Have you ever walked through a wooded area and heard the unique creaking of timber as the branches and limbs wave to the rhythm of the wind?  For me they are mesmerizing moments.

Then there are the wrecking storms which reverse the pleasantries of our trees.  Snap, crackle, and pop!  Suddenly those precious branches that speak in their unique language are left broken, split, and hanging from violent winds.  Afterwards, the clean-up is launched…if procrastination doesn’t have its way.

They say October is a good month for pruning select trees, depending upon where you live, although I know very little about it.  However, we had to swing into it recently.

Over the last several months we have had at least four damaging storms rush through our immediate neck of North Texas.  This blog tells of some of those trying times.  We have a few trees on our property, and they always suffer after major wind events.  If you came over for a backyard BBQ you would observe limbs and branches, some dead and dried up, left dangling, or loosely swinging from larger branches.  One rather large branch, maybe 20 feet in length, has been hanging vertically way above the back steps of our sun-room leading to the backyard.  Literally it has been clinging and swinging by a few strands of the broken timber up top.  Something had to be done.  When September proved to be a rather hot, but calm weather month for us, we felt like the gettin’ was finally good.

Tree - Pecan

A family owned lawn care service was recommended to us by a good friend who lives not even a mile away.  We called for an estimate.  They came out, took a look at the job, which involved a total of four large trees, and gave us an outstanding price.  I just love the sound of chainsaws in the morning.

Little did we know, the tree-trimming team wasn’t insured.  What’s worse, they only do lower hanging limbs and branches.  YIKES!  Okay, so they didn’t tell us that when they presented the estimate, but onward and upward they went.  I sat in a lawn chair under the pecan tree to observe.  After all, if there was going to be a Texas chainsaw massacre, I at least wanted to be an eye-witness for the litigation to come.  All-in-all, without too much trouble, (although there were some vertigo moments), they did a fine job.  I’ll give them a B+, considering the tree climber wore cowboy boots to scale the trunks.  There were some high limbs they felt were too risky, but we let it slide.  In less than two hours they cut on the troublesome trees, sawed up smaller lengths of the branches, placed it all in a pile by the curb, raked and swept-up residual twigs and leaves, and off in their truck they went.  Quicker than you can say sawdust, they eagerly took my $50.00 tip.

Tree Bench

Those in the know call it an “Umbrella Cut”, which sounds like something I might hear in a barber shop.  After the job was complete, I could see why they give it the name.  Of course, not only do the trees have a better appearance, but they will be healthier, not to mention safer.

As I looked at the pile of dead, or dying limbs and branches by the street, I couldn’t help but think about my own tree of life.  Inventory, a true, honest inventory of life, can suck.  Look, there is a dangerous branch up top from my past which still dangles when the slightest gust comes my way.  Duck!  If unaware that 45 year old lower limb, once badly-placed from wilder days, can knock you flat, and its got plenty of bark left.  Ah, on the other side, observe the crooked hanging limb in my years, ready to extract all the sap intended for the healthier, sturdier branches above it.  Careful, don’t walk under that long branch hanging vertically.  To this day it keeps the young branches stunted in growth.  Do I miss them all?  They were important in my life at one time, or so I imagined, but God broke them from the trunk because there was a danger to my house.  Except for that one right over there.  Do you see it?   Unfortunately, day and night, it nourishes my messed-up thought-life, spreading its twigs and seeds.  It shouldn’t remain. No doubt the great Arborist will remove it from my trunk when He decrees.  When He does, I will be a healthier person with rock solid roots.

Can you identify?  It’s true, we all need pruning sometimes.  A life pruned tends to hurt.  Why should the living be among the dead?  Right?  The dangerous, menacing dead wood needs to be taken down and shown to the curb.

Tree Branches Curbside

I’ve learned when it comes to a choice of life or limb…life is better.  After His chipper does its work, the mulch can be added to my fuel for the race.

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”  -Jesus-  John 15:1-2 (NLT)