“Sister Suzie, brother John Martin Luther, Phil and Don Brother Michael, auntie Gin. Open the door and let ’em in…” (1976) “Let ‘Em In” – Recorded by: Wings. Composer: Paul McCartney
Only God knows what dangers they faced, or what turmoil and unbearable strife they endured. Nonetheless, they made their mark.
Back in the 1970’s, on a lonely hill, on what we knew were the outskirts of our Dallas suburb, where there were still pastures in the area, was a new church building where I was active in my youth group as a teenager. Just on the other side of the west-side driveway, which leads from the main road to the parking lot in the back of the building, was our makeshift baseball diamond. I don’t even think we had a backstop fence behind home-plate. It was more of a sandlot style field to play ball, and practice for the local softball church league. We spent some hot summer days out there, as we wiped our sweaty faces with the leather of our baseball gloves. Just west of home-plate, maybe twenty yards or so, was the edge of a wooded area. Actually, it was more like a dark thicket, dense in brush, Mesquite trees, along with assorted older kinds of trees. The unkempt tangled mass was so thick, nobody dared walk through it without a machete. Therefore, none of us paid any attention to the small wooded clump of pastureland. In fact, if an overthrown ball made it into the thicket, you couldn’t retrieve it without getting scratched by all the branches, briers, and twigs. Little did we know at that time the historical significance submerged beneath.
However, communities grow, realtors have their blueprints for a bustling expanse of a commonwealth. Planning and zoning took their grip as contractors began to clear pastureland for new streets, neighborhoods, and shopping centers.
And so it was, the northern sector of our suburb developed with NASCAR speed in the 1980’s. I lived here during this wave of development and still held my mouth open in awe of all the changes.
One of those changes was my former church selling a sector of their land just west of the building, where our baseball diamond was. It wasn’t long afterward, the bulldozers began to roll, making way for a new subdivision of upscale homes. As they did, they proceeded to clear the wooded area next to our old sandlot. All the machinery came to a halt when a foreman yelled out, “Hey, wait! Hold up there!” As it turned out, there in the midst of all the overgrown thicket, a small cemetery, long forgotten by generations past.
When first discovered, rumors flew around the community. One such rumor was an old graveyard of black slaves with unmarked graves had been discovered. My heart sank just thinking about it. Although it turned out not to be the case, it was the only story I heard about the forgotten patch of a cemetery. It’s what I handed down to my kids, as well. Not once did I visit the place throughout the years. Don’t ask me why. If you did, I guess I would tell you it was because it’s not a very convenient spot to get to. And that is still true today. Nevertheless, I put an end to my procrastination a couple of weeks ago. The historical cemetery sits less than a mile from my street.
It took several years, and some civic struggle, but after the research was done, and the zoning commission had their hearings concerning the old cemetery, it was agreed to preserve the plot. So, in a way, they did just that. They built the new neighborhood around it. Literally, between two of the new homes built at the edge of the new subdivision. There is a marker out by the curb of a very busy street. However, if you blink, while doing 45 MPH, you would never know it’s there. And yet, it is. Nestled between a couple of fabulous homes, on a street of the same, lies a small patch of ground about the size of a small frame house, about the length and width of the average front yard of homes from the 1930’s-1940’s. You might be able to park four or five large SUV’s on the strip of land.
To sum it up, in 1858, a pioneer in a covered wagon, brought his wife and four children across the Midwest reaching the plains, from Illinois to the prairies north of Dallas, Texas. His name was Snyder Kennedy. He was one of the first founders of our town, close to, what was then called, the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, approximately three miles west of my house. On this small spot of land, where his family cemetery is now preserved, over thirty people are possibly buried there, including several infants. (I say, “possibly” because there are over thirty names listed, but it has been said, only twenty-three are confirmed in the plot.) There are no longer any individual markers due to the work of vandals during the 1950’s. There are no outlines designating grave plots, or any other markings highlighting where a final resting place can be located. It left me in a saddened state.
Snyder Kennedy’s headstone was later moved to a local community cemetery a couple of miles away, but no graves were exhumed or transferred. The first person buried there is his wife. In 1859, she was laid to rest under an oak, only one year after they arrived to homestead.
A large stone marker chronicles at least thirty names, with birth/death years. One of the family members who rests there is the grandson of a man who helped to finance a great deal of the United States Revolutionary War. At the bottom of the list of family members spanning over five decades, a lone sentence reads, “And others only known to God.”
There is so much story missing here. I wish I knew more about this family, their lives, loves, and adventures. I’m sure a novel could’ve been written of the life and times of these Texas pioneers. But, isn’t this the nature of abandonment?
So, what’s my point?
It’s disturbing to me in knowing this hallowed ground was literally just a baseball’s toss away from me as a teenager, and I wasn’t aware. Moreover, it’s disturbing to me how I drove by this place of honor a thousand times through the decades, never making the attempt to educate myself, and my three daughters, about this courageous Texas homesteading family. Lost ones, forgotten by the community they helped to launch before the Civil War.
It’s disturbing to me knowing the simple truth that generations of my fellow citizens didn’t care enough to keep this ground of grief as a special historic place of honor. For whatever reason, Carrollton’s apathy directed inaction which fertilized the thicket encasing these 30+ interned so long ago.
Likewise, It’s disturbing to me when it’s reported that refrigerated 18-wheelers sit outside many American hospitals storing COVID-19 victims in body bags.
It’s disturbing to me when I hear of our WWII vets falling to COVID-19 while in nursing homes, due to poor management, poor care, or simply unattended. The gravity of the fact that many Coronavirus patients were sent to nursing home communities, infecting others who were sitting ducks, is a hefty weight to digest.
It’s disturbing to me when reports hit the news of funeral homes stacking the bodies of virus victims against storage room walls, due to poorly directed funeral companies.
This is not a political posting, railing against certain politicians, or public health admins, or even a particular nation. I fear we daily count the departed, and toss them aside as a number for the tote board. However, if a famous person falls prey to COVID-19, we acknowledge and mourn that person in every news outlet from here to there. But what about the mom, the dad, those grandparents, that co-worker, and a few 98 year old war heroes? They had sweet memories, loving families, hopes, and dreams. NEVER should one of these be “stacked” on top of another in a body bag.
Unfortunately, I feel the overcooked politicization of COVID-19 has become the dark thicket overshadowing the lives cut short during this pandemic. Beyond that, this Memorial Day in the United States will be less than what it should be due to the restrictions laying upon us.
Yes, it’s disturbing. What may be even more disturbing, is none of this may be disturbing to many in our society.
God help us if memorializing the lost ones becomes blase while in the jaws of this crisis. A memorial will be needed. As on September 11th, names should be recited. Never should it be said, “And others only known to God”. We are created in His image. Humanity deserves more than this.
Is it not true, looking for that silver lining sometimes takes a telescope?
Remembering our lost ones is a dignity taught in fuel for the race.
“Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’” – John 11:32-36 (NAS)
This was not the post I was planning for upload today. Literally, I sat down at my desk to construct a post I’ve mulled over for three weeks now, when suddenly I remembered to try again to reach my mom on the phone. It would be the fourth attempt today. This time it worked. She answered. We spoke. Afterward I felt the sliding of my emotions which tends to be the norm of late.
In the past, on Mother’s Day weekend, I have told her story. Each year I gained morsels of bravery to shed more light on our tapestry. It’s a unique, heroic recounting of a strong, courageous single mom.
At 15, she found herself fighting off, or attempted to fight off, her rapist. I was the product of that violent attack. Being out of her crushed mind, heart, and spirit, she attempted suicide twice while pregnant with me, but survived. She was unaware God had His plans of destiny beyond the messy road she was on. I told this story with a great amount of reveals a year ago. I invite you to look at May’s archives from last year to get a sharper camera angle of her torn life. (“If I Were…” From May 10, 2019)
In the last 20 years she took-on the role of caregiver for her parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Nancy Reagan called this disease, “The Long Good-bye”. She was right. My mom retired as early as she could to move-in with her ailing parents, giving up her life to hold them up, as best as she could, as they faced the monster of this disease. My granddad passed away first with complications of dementia in 2008. My grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s, struggling with it for about 14 years before she passed.
My mom aged quickly while being a soldier for her folks. It was difficult to see her own physical health decline during those years of tremendous servanthood. I was never more proud of her battling away in those times.
Around 2014, her oldest brother, 4 years older than her, began to show signs of the same disease. Today, he is deep in the jaws of the struggle, rendering him to a shell of a man, vacant in many ways. A couple of years ago, my mom’s other brother, 2 years her senior, began to mentally deteriorate with the same invader of the body. Trust me, it is no respecter of persons, or brilliance.
My mom is only 16 years older than I. (I’m turning 60 in a few short days.) Over the last 2 years, I became aware my mom was changing, and not for the better. She lives alone about 70 minutes from me in the house she grew-up in. At first, I felt the changes I observed were simple gaffs of the aging process. Our communication often left me scratching my head. There were occasions where she got lost while traveling to our part of the Dallas Metroplex, a way she knows like the back of her hand. About 2 years ago we were to meet at a halfway point, as we have done many times before. Her sense of direction was totally absent. She had to call me for help to walk her through which way to turn at each intersection. When I instructed her to turn left, she would turn right, not understanding the mistake. It was on that day I realized she…we had a problem. It would be a problem that would grow.
Recently, almost overnight, she found herself unable to spell the simplest words. Her cell phone texts became more difficult to read as the days rolled on. She began having issues with sentence construction and word retrieval during our conversations. Items would come up missing in her house. She blames it on her dog. Asking if I can help is a loss. She no longer allows me in the house. Her excuse is it’s too messy for company. In the last few months, she has had losing battles in operating her cell phone, including prompts, icons, and modes. Today, in our telephone exchange, she expressed an urge to give it up and order a simple landline phone. I hope it helps because she has trouble answering the phone these days.
There are also other health issues of concern I recognize as side symptoms of dementia. She is a proud, independent woman, and holds these cards close to her chest as I attempt to decipher how her daily life is changing.
Frankly, I know where this is going. As she shrugs it off as amusing, even humorous, I am accepting the fact that my mom is fading before my eyes.
Somewhere in the thicket of my mind, I knew this day was coming. Although there was a 20 year span as my grandparents experienced massive declining health, there were also wonderful times of mysterious joy in the midst of it all. I must remember this as I tend to my mom’s needs today and tomorrow. Currently, I just don’t know how, or where to begin.
So, what’s the purpose of this particular post? Unaware of the true answer, all I can do is display brutal honesty of how I feel on this Mother’s Day weekend. Because I didn’t have a dad around, most of the time in my life, I saw her as my touchstone. I liken it to a small child in a swimming pool, with an inflatable tube around his/her torso. He/she feels much safer holding on to the side of the pool with his/her waterlogged wrinkled hand grasping tightly to the concrete edge.
I’m turning 60 years old now. It’s time to let go of the concrete edge. Scripture tells us not to hold too tightly to this world, especially what we deem as “concrete”. Even concrete crumbles.
As the concrete crumbles in my grasp, I am reminded once again, God is the life-saving tube around my torso.
My days are filled with the reminder that I need to top off my tank every day with fuel for the race.
“So I said: ‘Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations. In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.'” – Psalm 102: 24-27 (NIV)
“I need you like water Like breath, like rain I need you like mercy From heaven’s gate There’s a freedom in your arms That carries me through I need you” (2000) “I Need You” Recorded by: LeAnn Rimes Composers: Dennis Matkosky & Ty Lacy
This is embarrassing, but I need to share one of the craziest knuckleheaded things I’m guilty of. Keep in mind, I was only 15 years old, full of adventure and vigor, with constant daredevil brainstorms. And of course, I was indestructible in the summer of 1975. Weren’t you at 15?
I was at a summer camp, with church friends, from my youth group on the banks of the sprawling, Lake Texoma, on the Texas side. Lake Texoma is huge, as it spans parts of southern Oklahoma, as well as, north-central Texas. In fact, it’s one of the largest reservoirs in the United States. It’s a fisherman’s haven, about 74 miles north of Dallas, Texas. You should Google it to get a better picture of what I’m about to reveal to you. Sightings of alligators are rare there, but they are there.
Tied-up along the banks, were a few blocks of Styrofoam, the largest about 5’x5′ square, and approximately 2-feet in thickness. I think they used them for some sort of “King of The Hill” games in shallow waters. Difficult to keep one’s balance if standing on top.
Three of my extremely bright friends, and I, came up with a brilliant plan. Like calculating convicts, planning an elaborate overnight escape from prison, we carefully planned out a scheme to barrow some brooms, make our way down to the Styrofoam blocks under the cover of night, board it, and paddle our way to Oklahoma and back before sunup. Three of us were athletes. I was a trained tournament fighter in karate/kickboxing. One was a state award-winning gymnast, headed for the Olympic trials. One was a football player. The other was…well…a guitar player. What could possibly go wrong?
About midnight, we quietly freed ourselves from our barracks. We made our way to the maintenance worker’s shed. There we discovered only two brooms, one mop, and a fan rake. We figured it’s all we had, so we borrowed what God gave us. What could possibly go wrong?
Like four teenage ninjas, we quietly made our way down to the shore, untied the biggest block of Styrofoam available, and with each one sitting on each of the four corners, with our legs hanging over the sides, we began to row like madmen on a quest. Of course, the brooms worked better than the mop and rake, but we strategically placed the two guys with brooms (I was one of them.) on the opposite diagonal corners for better rowing balance. So, off we went, in our dark clothes into the dark waters, lacking life jackets, flashlights, reflectors, or flares. What could possibly go wrong?
We had a blast, rowing 90-to-nothin’, talking about girls, our camp counselors, the mess hall’s food, our youth pastor, and…alligators. What could possibly go wrong?
Believe it or not, we made good nautical mileage in short order. To this day I have no true sense of how far out we went, but I will guess two miles, or so. What we didn’t realize is how far across the Oklahoma shore was from our campsite. I will say, it looked a lot closer than reality.
I don’t believe we made it even halfway across when we all decided to take a break. We laid back, with our empty pointed heads meeting in the middle, looking up at the stars with the sound of water licking the sides of our…yacht.
At that time, we all knew we had bit-off more than we could chew, but didn’t speak it into the overnight air. After a time, in our exhaustion, we debated the idea of defeat. Someone brought up the thought that if we got caught we would all be sent back home in a shame wagon. On the other hand, someone brought up the fact that if we didn’t start paddling back, the sunrise would beat us, revealing our naval escapade. We would be exposed to those headed for breakfast. The skinniest guy said he didn’t have the strength to paddle with his mop any longer. Silently, each of us began to consider the danger we were in, sitting on a piece of Styrofoam in the middle of Lake Texoma, without safety flotation devices, not to mention…alligators. Personally, I was more worried about the lake legend of the wild goat-man who lurks about the shores looking for young campers, no doubt since the days of Moses.
Bravely, one by one, we agreed to make a 180 to paddle back before dawn. With arms feeling like rubber, half dead on our feet, we made it to shore while it was still dark. We swore we would never tell anyone. The four of us made a pact. What could possibly go wrong? You guessed it, the week wasn’t over until one of us (Not me.) bragged about it to a girlfriend. Before you could say, “Gator-bait” everyone on the campgrounds heard about it. We narrowly escaped an early trip home. And some, didn’t believe we did it. I’m grateful I am still here to write about it. God’s mercy and grace are real, in real-time.
Photo: I’m on the right, with another fearless one acting like fools.
The 1975-Forging Foursome came to mind recently during our current COVID-19 crisis. That still night out on Lake Texoma involved four teenagers who relied on each other to stay afloat, to stay alive. Whether one had a broom, a mop, or a rake, we depended on each other, even though we were pooped in the dark on top of 100 feet of water. For us, we were a team to be reckoned with. We were essential to one another.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. In this pandemic crisis, only essential businesses, essential workers, essential volunteers were called upon to keep America afloat. The non-essentials were/are under “Shelter-In-Place” orders. Truly, there was/is a good reason for it. The virus we battle is like a team of alligators in darkened waters. I, for one, am extremely grateful for first responders, medical staffers, fast-food services, grocery stores, truckers, farmers and ranchers, gas station managers, sanitation workers, postal workers, etc…. They are all rowing in unison as fast as they can to protect the rest of us. They were all placed on their jobs for, “such a time as this”.
However, in the end, WE are ALL “Essential”. Much like pieces of a puzzle, we are all essential to one another. Where would we be if not for the shoe salesman, the record producer, the librarian, the barber, the DMV clerk, the house painter, and the carpet layer? Sure, in the crunch-time of paddling through the dark waters of the COVID-19 battle, some jobs are needed to be on the front lines of the viral war. I get that. I agree with that. However, in the end, after life is done, there will be a ditch-digger, a candle-maker, a school janitor, a tool & die maker, who will realize they were part of God’s assorted massive toolbox. There are no non-essentials here.
God Himself will say to some, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
Each one is precious, and needed. Each one has an essential place with fuel for the race.
“…Whatever you might do, work from the soul, as to the Lord and not to men…” – Colossians 3:23 (excerpt) – (Berean Literal Version)
“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free. Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…” (1968) “The Weight” Recorded By: The Band. Composer: Robbie Robertson
By: Alan Scott Brown
There’s nothing like heat in the desert rising off a paved road. They’ll say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat.” Just tell that to the sweltering backpacker, Levon “Fanny” Gates. He shockingly found himself in the middle of a wilderness, on the road to a place called, Nazareth, just on the other side of the state line. I say, “shockingly” because before his boots felt the searing concrete of this wasteland, he had been dreaming of the village with its rolling hills, orchards, and well-established vineyards. His freshly cut front lawn was the launching point for a pleasurable outdoor hike through the pines, the cool brooks, and lavish meadows.
As if he had awakened from a dream of the plush land of plenty, he now absorbs the dangerous sunrays, feeling every drop of sweat rolling down his torso. His canvas hat certainly covered his head, but the scorching heat invaded his scalp as if he wasn’t wearing anything at all. Even his denim backpack was soaked in sweat. If it wasn’t 112 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be soon, when the afternoon sun comes piercing through.
Not much vegetation thrives out here, with the exception of sage, cactus, and the occasional Yucca plant. Refreshing rains are welcomed, but scarce and quick. Fanny prayed for, what they called back home, a “gully-washer.”
With each step, he seriously worried about the soles of his old hiking boots. The baking surface of the road is far from friendly, and he felt the waves all the way up to his sunburned face. At first, he wrestled with the thought of his soles melting in the staggering temperature. Then, as he caught up with his fast-forward mind, he envisioned a potential hole in the rubber sole. None of the options were comforting to imagine in this desolate landscape.
Prior to walking into this wilderness, he knew how many miles he had traveled, but now all had changed. His harsh surroundings overwhelmed his calculations, thrusting him into a mystery without a map. A solitary roadside sign mentioned a couple of towns being 200 miles ahead, but they were unfamiliar to him. The miles seemed unending, without a mile marker. Disorientation was setting in as a menacing reality.
Rather than stopping for rest, he made the decision to push himself forward in hopes the next curve, the next hill, or the next valley in the road, would reveal a much needed oasis. Hooked to his belt, he had one full canteen of water, which needed to last longer than anticipated. Fanny was self-rationing his meager provisions with intent.
“I can do this,” he whispered with uneasiness.
Keeping his eyes on the road ahead seemed to help him psychologically. Yet, wild stallions in search for water, a lone service station, or another traveler with a tent would be a sight for soar eyes. But each time he glanced to the left or the right, it proved to be discouraging. In fact, most of the view reminded Fanny of NASA’s photos of the surface of Mars.
The feeling of abandonment was authentic, bleeding from his inspirational thought bubbles of solitude. He tried to be hopeful by telling himself Nazareth must be within 3 miles, 5 miles, or maybe 10 miles. The attempt to distract himself from the tide of broiling air failed at every turn of the road. Before the desert sun could bake his mind completely, he scanned through multiple thoughts, thoughts which could fill a library, only to fool himself with wisps of self-constructed hope.
While pushing his legs to walk an incline in the road, he noticed something he had felt once before on this journey. A pain, a specific pain in his back. Of all the body aches he had endured, this backache was king of them all. Hiking slowly up the side of a hill introduced him again to the racking misery coming from his lower back muscles, mainly from the right of the spine. It was a bit of a mystery in that he hadn’t injured himself, and never had an old trauma from his athletic history. He suddenly was reminded of the adage, “No pain, no gain” from his high school baseball coach. He said it aloud, thinking it would be a magic charm the universe would accept. It wasn’t. Still, his inward need to persevere pushed his weary bones onward.
As he reached the plateau, he celebrated his efforts shouting into the hot breeze,
“BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!”
As the late afternoon sun played havoc with his vision, Fanny cocked his head to one side as he caught a distant rumble of an engine. Since he had begun to adjust to the mirage of water puddles on the pavement, he tossed it up to “hearing things” due to a bit of dehydration. After a chuckle, he took a couple of strides when he stopped in his tracks. The sound was getting louder. He looked up in the blue sky to see which direction the plane was coming from. It sounded like a single engine airplane from the 1920’s. As he was hunting for the aircraft, he recognized the distinct sound wasn’t a plane at all, but rather a vehicle approaching from behind. He quickly turned to scope out where it originated. Wiping, then squinting his tired eyes, he saw an old blue pickup truck bouncing down the road toward him with its radio blaring a 1940’s big band tune with heavy brass. He wondered where it came from since the area was void of ranches or farms. As it approached, he could see only one occupant in the cab. There was nothing impressive about the old truck, with the exception of the fact it was an older model one might see in a vintage car show, and overly worn, to boot.
As the truck began to downshift, coasting slowly as it pulled alongside him, he could see more clearly the one behind the wheel. The driver looked as if he had just fallen off a hay trailer. He was donning faded grey pinstriped overalls, like the old train engineers used to wear. His misshaped straw hat went well with the old beat-up truck as it, too, had seen better days. With a metallic squeak, the truck came to a halt. It was clearly in much need of a muffler replacement. The ragged driver turned down the radio and leaned over to roll down the passenger side window. It was then Fanny could take-in what the man looked like. He was an old-timer with a weather-beaten face. His bushy eyebrows were salt & pepper mix. His chest-length beard was white and wiry. He had piercing ice-blue eyes which displayed a kindness, all by themselves. Before Fanny could speak, the old man greeted him.
Spoken with a healthy snicker, “Howdy there, young man. Nice day for a stroll in the badlands, wouldn’t ya say?”
The backpacker detected an accent, which reminded him of the deep south of the United States. He wasn’t sure if he was being mocked by the question, or if it was an attempt at levity.
“Yes, sir. It would seem so,” said Fanny, as he took his hat off and wiped his wet forehead.
Without hesitation the elderly man asked with a nod, “What’s your name, kiddo?”
“I’m Levon. Most everyone calls me, Fanny,” revealed the traveler.
The old man broke out in a belly laugh, “Well, who on earth pinned that nickname on ya?”
Fanny grinned, uncomfortably so, looked away and explained, “Yeah, that’s a long story, I’m afraid.”
“I bet so,” replied the old man. “The name’s, Christopher. Through the years, lots of folks have called me by a slew of other names. But, Christopher will do. So glad to meet ya…Fanny.”
“Happy to meet you, Christopher,” the young man said. “Hey, where did you come from? I’ve been on this road all day and I’ve not seen one house, truck stop, or vehicle coming or going in either direction.”
“Oh, don’t ya know?” asked Christopher.
“Know what?” inquired the trekker.
Pushing his hat back to the crown of his head, the old man responded, “Well, it’s very possible you were never informed. This is a one way road you’re on in this dust. Always been that way. It’s true, only one-way traffic on this stretch. That’s the reason why I drove up behind ya. I’ll tell ya, that afternoon sun is brutal through the windshield.”
“Tell me about it,” agreed the young hiker. “You know, maybe you can tell me something. Would you know how far Nazareth is from here? I really thought I would have spied it by now on the horizon, but nothin’ doin’.”
“Nazareth?” inquired the old one with one raised eyebrow. “Is that where you’re off to?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Fanny.
While pointing his finger, the old man said, “Well, kiddo. I can tell ya this, ya won’t get there carryin’ that anvil.”
Puzzled, the young man froze. He looked behind him, turned back again and asked, “Anvil? What anvil?”
The elderly one broke out in laughter once again at Fanny’s answer. “Boy, it’s that 95 pound chunk of solid iron at the end of the rope, the rope draped across your right shoulder there,” Christopher pointed out.
“Ah, yes. THAT anvil,” Fanny stated with pride. “Frankly, I forget it’s there.”
The elder wrinkled up his nose in an inquisitive expression, “You mean to tell me you’ve not felt every muscle in your body burning from the weight you’re towin’?”
“Come to think of it…yes. Yes, I have,” Fanny admitted.
“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Christopher said in response. “I’ve got the perfect solution for ya, Fanny. Take a look inside the bed of my truck.” Seeing the young man’s hesitation, he continued sharply, “Go ahead, son. The Loch Ness Monster ain’t gonna jump out and bite ya. Feel free, take a look.”
Fanny took a cautious small step toward the side of the pickup. As he leaned closer to get a peek, his mouth fell open with a hushed gasp.
The old man said, “Tell me what ya see, boy.”
Fanny took a big swallow to say, “It’s a truck bed full of…well…full of anvils!”
“A whole stack of ’em, I’d say,” described the old driver.
In amazement, the young man questioned, “But, why are they there? I mean…what are you doing with all of those anvils? Are you selling them? Do you work for a salvage yard or something? I’m shocked this old antique can carry the load.”
“Fanny, I guess you could say I collect ’em,” answered the old rugged driver. “In fact, I’ve been addin’ to my collection for many moons now. I could tell ya how many travelers have allowed me to take the load off their backs, but you’ve been sun-baked enough today to appraise anything.”
The young traveler concurred, “You’re right. I’m a bit fried. However, these travelers you’re talking about, are they on this road? I’ve not seen a soul until you drove up.”
“Yes, but everyone has their own journey, and most have similar burdens,” replied the old man. “At the same time, some heavier than others. As you can see, there’s various sizes of anvils here.” After a brief pause of silence, Christopher added, “Here’s my offer, kiddo. If you trust me with your anvil, every pound of it, I’ll help ya toss it behind us, addin’ to the pile. You can unload, and load-up in the cab with me for a straight shot to where you’re meant to be. I just love playin’ the Uber out here. But…keep in mind, the anvil stays in the back. Alligators aren’t allowed in the cab with me neither, ha-ha-ha…”
Fanny looked down at the scorching concrete between his hiking boots and bit his chapped lips in thought.
Christopher, seeing the struggle to find words, added, “There’s rockslides out here, ya know. As ya get close to a hillside, or an upcomin’ canyon, ya might stumble over a stone in your path. When your strength is wrenched, you’ll find it difficult to keep your stance. It’s even worse to find footing after a heavy fall with nobody around to shoulder the load.”
Shaking his head with a look of uncertainty he replied, “No, sir. I have made this trip on my own strength, and I intend finishing it on my own. Besides that, you’re a stranger to me in a beat-up old clunker. No offense, but who’s to say you could get me to Nazareth? I’m sorry, sir, but your offer doesn’t look promising from where I stand. I will do this on my own fuel, and navigation!”
The old man smiled, put his right hand on the stick-shift, looked deeply into Fanny’s eyes and said, “Boy, ask yourself why. Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”
After a quick mental search, Fanny answered with a tone of resolve, “Christopher, the only honest answer I can come up with is, I’ve grown accustomed to my anvil.”
With a serious timbre in a lower register, Christopher asked, “And the weight of it?”
“I deal with it, just like this unexpected desert,” explained the young one. “Do you understand, old man?”
“Oh, I do, son. I really do understand,” replied Christopher. “Listen, dusk is knockin’. No need for walkin’ in the darkness. I’d say, grab some winks for a fresh start in the mornin’.”
As the elderly man began to roll up his window, he grinned through his long mustache and said, “Well, I know you’ll give it your all. Still, keep in mind, it’s needless for ya to take this desolation, with all its loneliness, and the weight you’re carryin’ solo.” With that, he put the truck in gear, turned up the radio, and off toward sundown he drove.
Fanny continued his trek with a bit of angst in his steps. Christopher somehow offended him with the offer of a free lift, as if the old man thought him weaker, frail, and without survival skills.
He began grumbling to himself, “How dare that ancient dinosaur-of-a-coot say I needed help through this parched piece of earth.” Still, in the attempt to bolster his decision, he raised his voice a notch, “Who does he think he is? He’ll see me in Nazareth, sitting under the shade of an apple tree, sipping on a glass of their best vintage. He’ll be shocked to see me resting on my anvil, without any aid from his sorry rack of rust.”
With all his energy depleted by his rant, Fanny began to look for a safe spot to sleep for the night. Darkness had fallen, but the moonlight helped in the hunt for a place to bed-down. Soon, he located a soft sandy mound with his name on it. He found sun-dried chaparral fit nicely for kindling.
Overnight hours passed and the silence was deafening. As usual, he used the anvil as a pillow, even though the shape was not friendly for his head. He found the surface of the iron was still warm from the sun, which was welcomed as desert nights tend to issue a chill. Unfortunately for the camper, as the nature of anvils, its surface turned cold.
From time to time he heard a small rock roll off the side of a rise just feet from where he was laying. Another time, he was awakened by what he thought was the flapping of large wings. He imagined buzzards mistaking him for a dead man. He then tried to keep one eye opened, but exhaustion won the moment. Another awakening caused him to jump when he heard an insect scratching on his ear. He began to inwardly acknowledge his sleep would be thin at best.
Without knowing why, he opened his eyes from a sound sleep. It was just before dawn. Across the road from where he camped, he swore he caught a shadow figure racing from the road into a ravine on the other side. Startled, he bounced up to a sitting position while fixed on the area where it vanished. What he wouldn’t do for a pair of night-vision goggles. After a minute or so, and a few hyper heartbeats, he shook his head and took a helping from his canteen.
Unable to go back to sleep, Fanny stretched his legs, and his sore back, in preparation for the day ahead.
“The sun is winking at me from over the hills, ” he said as he reached for his anvil. “There’s no time like the present.”
He peeled back the wrapper of an energy bar from his cargo pants thigh pocket, finishing it in record time.
With the young morning sun at his back, and the anvil dangling once again from the rope hoisted over his right shoulder, Fanny felt new aches making themselves known in his calves, ankles, and feet. He thought to himself that if he just put one foot in front of the other, the pain would work itself out.
As he made his way, his mind was flooded with the movements and sounds he heard overnight. He convinced himself that he was in no real danger…or was he? Like a video clip running through his mind, he couldn’t erase the glimpse of the unknown shadow figure dashing away from his makeshift pallet. As hard as he tried, he remained at a loss concerning its identity. In the end, he boldly rationalized the thought. He determined the quiet swiftness indicated a cougar, or a coyote. The “what might have beens” gave him a sense of authentic fear he had not felt before.
Hill after hill, ridge after ridge, no sight of his goal. With every turn, curve and valley, he had hopes of seeing the ornate village painted in his mind as the heated hours wore on.
During the mid-morning, the searing winds kicked up with a devastating blow of a wall of dust and sand from the west. Immediately, it became a battle for each inhale. Fanny pulled his hat over his nose and mouth for protection. Vision became sparse. Tiny grains of sand stung his skin like miniature darts speeding from a horizontal projection. Through the torrent of hot dust and sand, he spotted a boulder nearby and ran to the east side of it, blocking the onslaught of the turbulent blast. After what seemed like an hour or so, the sandstorm passed. With tremendous relief, Fanny came out from behind the boulder, grateful he had discovered it when he did.
With a couple of clearing coughs, he thought to himself, “What else can happen on this journey?”
By early afternoon, he was running low on water. His fear rose each time he shook the canteen to hear the lessening of the swish. His quads were beginning to burn in his thighs. His shoulder was bruised from the rope slung over it, cradling the anvil. A growing headache, once only a nuisance, now pounded from the top of his head. Realizing he was experiencing a deeper dehydration, he guarded against panic. He was beginning to despise the constant mirages of heatwaves appearing as glimmering bodies of water. Suddenly, he heard Christopher’s words from the day before, challenging him with the question of why. “Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?” He found himself flirting with the question.
Mid afternoon descended. After following a sharp curve in the blistering road, Fanny peered into the shadow of a small canyon wall just ahead. The shade spread all the way across the road, and then some. There, on the shoulder of the roadway, about 40 yards away, was a figure of some kind. Cautiously advancing toward it, there, in the shadow of the rock wall, he saw Christopher casually leaning against the tailgate of his blue pickup.
“It seems we meet again, kiddo,” shouted Christopher with a wave. “The shield of a nice-sized rock in a desolate place is mighty fine, wouldn’t ya say? It’s nice and comfortable to me. Come on over, I’ve been waitin’ for ya.”
Fanny found he was somewhat relieved to see the old man, and a convenient shade. He smiled, shook his head in amazement, entering the cooling shadow of the canyon.
As Fanny got closer to the truck, he scratched his head and asked, “How did you know I would be here at this time of day? Are you stalking me, old man?”
Christopher laughed at the question and replied, “Who knows? Maybe the old truck is equipped with radar for weary travelers.”
Wiping his hands on the front of his well-worn overalls, the elder turned to the pile of anvils in the bed of the truck where he pulled out ice cold bottles of water from a Styrofoam ice chest.
“Here ya go! Fanny, take a load off. You deserve it.” ordered Christopher.
Right away, before breaking the cap seal, Fanny first put the cold bottle against his neck, and then his forehead. With a deep heavy sigh, an expression of relief fell over his face.
“Ahhhhhh, that feels so good,” said the hiker.
“No doubt,” answered Christopher. “Tell me, how did ya sleep last night?”
After opening the bottle for his first couple of gulps, the backpacker responded, “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that great.”
“Oh, really?” replied the old man.
Delaying his answer with another long swig of water, “Let me tell you, the desert may not be my kind of surroundings. I heard noises I couldn’t examine. There were sounds coming from everywhere, including what I think were buzzard wings. That’s way too close for comfort.”
“Is that right?” Christopher said slowly. “What else?”
“You may think I’m nuts, but I spotted a quick shadow I couldn’t identify just on the other side of the road,” described Fanny. “It’s not something I look forward to seeing ever again. By the way, just how many miles is it to Nazareth from this canyon? As far as I can tell….”
“Ya know, owls are night hunters,” Christopher interrupted. “They keep rabbits and rats on the run for sure. Wingspans can be impressive. Such a wonderful creature. As for nocturnal critters in general, I could write volumes on the kinds and species out here. They’re everywhere in the cool of the night. Some folks just let their imaginations run away with them like a train on grease. Truth is, they all were created with excellent night vision. In that respect, they’ve got a leg up on ya.”
The young traveler admitted, “It sure made for an uneasy night.”
While checking the lose left side of his back bumper, the elderly man stated, “Ya know, fear is an enemy. Fact is, it comes in many forms. You might even compare it to a parade coordinator-sending one flatbed float rollin’ by after another, all designed to frighten every person from every walk of life. Your walk of life happens to be on this very road, in this very desert. But always remember, fear is a liar. It promises the worse case scenario in most all situations under heaven, and yet rarely delivers. Son, it’s always best to think of all things as fleeting.”
Fanny laughed and belted out, “FLEETING? Ha, this desert isn’t fleeting Did you see that sandstorm?”
“Hang on now. A liar’s performance is to convince his audience,” stated the old one. “The sudden desert you approach will be full of woes. Hard things happen. Expect it. It’s part of the learnin’ curve. Oppression bubbles up. Depression develops. Illness lurks here and over there. Pain arrives, creeping into your skin, your muscles, your mind, and even your very soul. Soon, a lacking drains your strength, your joy, and eventually, your reasonin’. Yes, the desert is all of that and more. It’s a beautiful place, too…in its own way. The colors and scattered shades are brilliant. Yet, there’s danger out here. There’s isolation expected, married to obscurity. It’s all about who ya face it with. But the sweet truth is, when journeying through the desert, like ya are, you’ll find it’s only temporary. All parades must end, even sandstorms.”
The young man paused for a moment before speaking, “But if there is a learning curve to suffering, what and where is it? I mean, where’s the final exam in this hellish classroom?”
Christopher stroked his wiry beard for a moment. He turned toward a scenic view of the desert and explained, “The better question would be…Why experience it alone? Look out at this barren ground. Each step is a test. You are gettin’ an education, albeit in a lesser degree without an instructor. My offer still stands, kiddo. Let’s take this anvil off your back and put it where it belongs…behind ya, without a rope attached.”
Fanny bent down to tighten his boot laces during an uncomfortable silence. He then stood up, adjusted his canvas hat, looked at Christopher and responded, “No, sir. I will finish this challenge I’ve walked into. It’s not that I don’t appreciate your free offer, but, there’s something to be said about knowing my own conditioning will push me to my destination.”
The elderly man’s ice-blue eyes twinkled as he challenged the young traveler, “And when your anvil of comfort breaks your fleeting, temporary strength, with no one there who is stronger to save ya…what then?”
“Thus far, I’ve adjusted to its weight. It’s okay, really it is,” said Fanny in a softer, kinder delivery. “It may take me a while, but I will get through this desert. But, I can’t wait to feel the soft, cool blades of grass in Nazareth under my bare feet The universe will give me strength.”
“Don’t count on the universe. She’s unforgivin’, and unable to love, ” said the old one. “You, my young man, will find you’re bein’ schooled in the land of waitin’.”
With that said, Christopher watched Fanny strap on his anvil for the journey out of the shadow of the rock wall. Just then, the old man pulled out a brown paper bag and two more bottles of water from the bed of his truck.
“Okay, kiddo,” holding out the items. “Here, ya take these. You’re gonna need it.”
Fanny displayed a large grin at the kindness Christopher displayed. “What’s all this?”
“Well, there’s various items of protein in the bag, some nuts, dried figs, jerky, and some cold sliced pineapple you’ll wanna eat pretty soon,” explained the elder.
Laughing, the hiker inquired, “Pineapple???? Where did you get pineapple out here?”
Christopher just giggled with a lovely childlike delivery as he opened the door to the truck, got in, and started the rattling engine with a backfire.
“Here’s to hopin’ we will see one another again, ” said the old man. “Ya know, hope is a healin’ thing. Even in a deserted place.”
Fanny replied quickly, “I could use that for sure.”
“I know ya do, son. I know ya do,” stated Christopher as he put on his sunglasses. “Be aware of the shadow figures, Fanny. It’ll serve ya well. But, with that said, I’ve never read an obituary where a shadow killed anybody.”
With a whistle on his lips, and his hands on the wide steering-wheel, Christopher began to slowly drive back into the punishing sun. The young trekker raised his hand slowly to wave the old man off. Just then, Fanny realized he never thanked Christopher for the provisions.
Two days and nights passed. It was about noon when Fanny found himself dragging his feet, literally, across the baked concrete in near total exhaustion. With each painstaking stride, he began scanning the horizon for the old man’s pickup. His energy was virtually depleted, and he knew it. The morning delivered some scattered clouds, which aided the weakened young rambler, but now, nothing but abusive piercing sun shutdown all effort. He felt himself wanting, even craving, a visit with the caring driver.
Just as Fanny journeyed down a slope, from a crest in the roadway, he tripped on something. As if in slow motion, he fell forward, hard onto the hot pavement, in unison with a loud ringing thud as the anvil met the road. He screamed in pain from the impact and fierceness of the raging temperature of the road. He quickly turned over on his backpack as a buffer from the concrete. It took him a minute to collect his mind. He looked for wounds, finding a few scrapes and cuts to his elbows, cheek, and the palms of both hands. He noticed his pants were ripped at the left knee as blood began to find its way through the khaki fabric. Troubled at what caused him to lose his traction, Fanny looked around to find the object which caused the fall. There was nothing there. Unable to bend his left knee, he struggled to push himself up on his right leg. With the rope still in his hand, he tested his body for limping to the side of the road. The pain in his knee was crippling. It was a mammoth project as he slowly hopped his way to the sandy shoulder, dragging the anvil against the hot pavement.
Assessing his ability to trek ahead, he noticed something protruding from the bottom of the toe of his right boot. A closer look revealed a piece of the sole of the boot had come loose, and had partially folded back while dragging his feet during the endeavor to keep walking. Whether it was heat exhaustion, the brutal conditions, or a pure wake-up call from injuries, the young hiker admitted being trapped, for the remainder of the day, right where he sat.
As the sun slowly descended into the western sky, Fanny tried to lift his spirits. Finding a small bit of shade under some brush, he began to sing every hit song he could recall from his teen years-songs that made him smile. He busied himself mentally listing his family tree as far back as the war of 1812. With each mental exercise he was surprised at the slowness to fire-off a thought, or memory. He wondered about heat stroke.
“It would seem the elements are doing a number on you, Mr. Gates,” he sarcastically mumbled to himself. In pain, the hiker laid under the tiny shade of the brush for any relief he could manage.
Sounds seem louder when sleeping. Fanny jumped with a start from a nap he didn’t intend on taking. After a few seconds of clarity, he realized he was hearing the tail of a rattlesnake. By sheer instinct, Fanny turned over from his position, discovering in the sand to his left a five foot rattler, curled up maybe 12 feet away. Fear raced through his senses.
Somehow the young man pulled himself together and looked around for a rock. There, by his left boot, were five golf ball-sized sandstones. His eyes once again shifted back to the poised snake. Visions of film footage of how quickly snakes can crawl and strike ran through his head. Unable to bend his left knee without shooting pain, he grabbed the anvil rope, tossed it at the rocks, maneuvering one within reach. He thought to himself, “I have one shot at this and it better be right, or I’m toast.” He methodically, but slowly, reached the rock, grabbed it, then threw it at the rattler with a shout, all in one motion like a professional shortstop. Speedily, the snake reacted, slithering out to the middle of the road and stopped. Fanny trained his eyes on the reptile as it turned its head toward him again. The hiker pitched another rock toward the snake, but this time unmoved.
“Oh, no you don’t, you little beast! Don’t even think about it!” threatened Fanny.
Keeping his eye on the snake, he examined his precarious position. Unable to move quickly, due to his knee, and without a weapon at his disposal, he knew he was a sitting duck. The unexpected desert miles had been cruel, but he covered much ground. Just as he began to question his endurance to reach the other side of the wilderness, he now might see it end-thanks to a new enemy-and a damaged sole.
Surveying every item within reach for a defense, the young traveler’s anvil caught his eye. His mind landed on the reality of the weight of it. Mentally, he began to blame it for his current dilemma. Ninety five pounds of iron needlessly held him down from where he wanted to be. In the assumption he could’ve run from the snake just minutes prior, the anvil would’ve proven to be the end, holding him back for the snake’s lunge. However, in a sick, twisted thought process, his admiration for the useless anvil melted the angst.
Late afternoon approached, and Fanny’s nemesis remained vigilant in a curl, with its expressionless cold stare from the road. The scene was looking darker for the injured young man. He imagined the worst.
Feeling a bit delirious, the trapped hiker’s anger boiled, “So, do you have a nest around here? Maybe you have a brood nearby you’re protecting. Is that why you’re gawking at me? They’ll all make terrific belts, you pile of scales! How does that make you feel? Tell me, is your crawl really quicker than my hop? Look, I know what you’re waiting for. You can’t fool me,” he said, taunting the rattler. “When darkness comes, you’ll slither your measly self over here and take chunks out of me, as I slowly kill over from your venom. I know your kind. I was married to someone like you!”
Fanny was massaging his emotions to accept his coming death. Dreams were dashed, hope only a dream, and his efforts toward his goal had been wasted energy. In a moment of clarity, he looked over at his companion: the anvil. In the light of his circumstances, he knew it suddenly didn’t seem to hold much value. True, Fanny had grown accustomed to the weight on his back, but in the reevaluation, it seemed foolish to have imagined it to be part of himself in daily life. In an odd, and maybe an ironic way, it took a trauma in a desolate place to see the fulfillment of the truth.
Another hour slipped by, closer to the coming dusk. Fanny suddenly had gained a fever. He could feel chills and cold sweat rolling down his chest. His time waned in the growing darkness. His new enemy seemed to detect Fanny’s weakened state, raising its head off the pavement. Desperation danced through the stranded hiker as he grabbed the empty canteen, the only defense against the waiting venomous reptile.
During a somewhat morbid consideration, Fanny pictured where the fangs might sink in first. Like a strategist, he began to maneuver his body so that the strike of the rattler would target closer to his hands and arms for a better shot at defense. About that time, his ears detected a familiar remote sound. He cocked his head as he zoomed-in on the distant echo of what appeared to be a big brass band, combined with the hum of an engine. The young man smiled as he identified the modulation of old pistons, pushing an antique pickup in his direction. Fanny caught a glimpse of the old blue truck rounding a curve, where it began to slow down with its radio blaring away, until coming to a complete stop. As it did, the right front tire crowned the head of the cunning rattler with a defining crunch. The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Christopher.
“Well, if it ain’t young Fanny restin’ on his laurels,” he said with warm grin as he walked toward the young man.
Fanny had gasped when the truck’s tire parked on the snake.
Christopher sarcastically asked, “Son, are ya hungry? Your mouth is wide open like a newborn sparrow in the nest.”
“You…uh, I guess you know, you rolled right on top of that rattlesnake. How did you manage to do that?” quizzed the injured traveler.
“Oh, practice, I suppose. It happens,” answered the lighthearted elder. “I see ya got yourself all banged-up there.”
Sheepishly, Fanny began to explain, “Yes, sir. Earlier today I was so spent. Not realizing my toes were dragging, my sole separated a bit from my left boot, causing me to trip and…well, here I am.”
While scoping out the young man’s injuries, Christopher mentioned the obvious, “Ya fell on your face, I see.”
“In a manner of speaking, I sure did.” admitted Fanny.
The old man knelt down to get a closer look at Fanny’s damaged boot.
“Hmmm, yep, I’m no cobbler, but I see what happened,” speaking slower and in a softer tone, “Ya know, where the ‘soul’ separates is a lonely place to be. What have ya learned, kiddo?”
One side of Fanny’s bruised lip raised as he said, “Seeking shelter is a wise thing.”
“Is it now?” stated Christopher.
“No doubt, ” admitted the young trekker. “I have come to realize that I’m not ‘all that’.”
“Now, give yourself some credit in this journey of yours,” the old one said.
“What?” asked Fanny.
Christopher explained, “Ya didn’t think about how ya said it. In all your boldness and anger, ya once shouted, ‘BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!‘”
Beside himself, Fanny raised his voice in astonishment, “Hey! How did you know about…I mean…that was a few days ago now…and on top of that, I was in…”
“In the desert, all by yourself. I know,” interrupted Christopher. “You might as well have had on a wireless microphone. That was actually the beginning of your learnin’ while on this path. With all the wreckage in your life, you were searchin’ for solitude. Most people do. Ya see, there’s a big difference between solitude, and isolation. It’s ironic, isn’t it? In your isolation, ya never really were alone.”
The young man being perplexed raised his voice, “Excuse me, but I still don’t understand how you…”
Christopher interrupted again, “Not many do understand, kiddo. Even the ones who are most scholarly, with all those initials after their names, can’t get their arms around it all. Some, the honest and most humble, will even admit it. I’d say you’re in good company.”
Fanny still reclined there, looked down at his skinned hands and torn pants in a sense of surrender.
Breaking the uneasy moment, the old one spoke up, “Now son, here’s the deal for this time, for this place of desolation; will ya accept my offer? You’re in the middle of this trip, but near the end of your journey. I won’t return to these parts for some time, and here, in the waitin’, is the opportunity for decisions. Trust me on this. Take my hand and I’ll give ya a lift to where ya wanna be. As a brash up-and-comer, a lad once told me, ‘It doesn’t look promisin’ from where I stand.'”
The young man accepted without delay, “Yes, sir. I’m ready to move out of this God forsaken place.”
“Uh, not really… ‘forsaken’,” Christopher said with a familiar snicker. “You have much to learn, young Fanny Gates. Come on, I’ll help carry ya to the truck. Ya ain’t heavy.”
With Fanny’s left arm around Christopher’s neck, and the anvil hanging from his sore right shoulder, the duo methodically made their way to the old truck.
After a couple of steps, Fanny asked Christopher a simple question, “I take it you know where Nazareth is, right?”
The old man opened the passenger side door, helped the younger into the truck and informed him, “Well, of course I know where Nazareth is. As far as the eye can see from this spot, it’s nothin’ but desert. Still, Nazareth is not too far from here.”
Just before Christopher closed the passenger door, he asked, “Uh, son, aren’t ya forgettin’ somethin’?”
Fanny looked bewildered until he saw Christopher gazing at the anvil sitting in his lap.
He responded, “Christopher, do I really need to give it up? It’s been with me for as long as I can remember. Over my lifetime I’ve adjusted to its weight.”
“This is the very crux of my offer, Fanny,” Christopher uttered with a straight tone. “Somewhere down the line, you were lied to. You only ASSUMED ya needed this weight. Ya must unload what has weighed ya down in order to come with me. Now, tell me straight up. Are ya willin’ to allow me to toss it behind us, to put it to bed?”
Seeing the sincerity in the old one’s ice-blue eyes, understanding it meant everything to him, Fanny agreed to let go.
With the anvil among the others discarded in the bed of the old truck, the aged one cranked-up the engine, took control of the steering wheel, and began to make a u-turn.
“Hey, Christopher, you’re going in the wrong direction!”, the traveler said with alert.
“You were hopin’ to go to Nazareth,” stated Christopher. “Number one, ya wouldn’t have been able to get there by your own power. Number two, I’m your only Uber out this way. Number three, you were headed west on a one-way road. Nazareth is east of here. Always east.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, I’ll just have to trust you on that.” said Fanny.
With that, the old man replied, “Yep, yep ya must.”
“Christopher, there’s just one thing of concern here,” Fanny said. “I don’t have any cash on me for your fuel.”
After a satisfying smile on his old weathered face, along with a slight shaking of the head, Christopher replied, “That’s another thing, kiddo. Ya never could’ve purchased your way to Nazareth. It’s all been paid for ahead of your arrival. Burden-free, son. Burden-free.”
When loaded down, crushed with the stuff of life’s curses, unload with fuel for the race.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowlera and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”– Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV)
“…So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief thatthe only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”– Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933
Due to retinopathy and glaucoma, I have experienced many an eye surgery over the last five years. No fun whatsoever. As part of the give & take, my natural night vision has been damaged, bit by bit. I still drive at night, but I don’t unless it’s necessary. Craving light is what I do. If the road I’m on is dimly lit, or without reflectors along the stripes or curbs, my vision struggles to pierce the velvet blackness just on the other side of the headlight’s reach. At home, I am so grateful for the little nightlights plugged into the wall sockets for an easier overnight walk to the bathroom, or kitchen. With a portion of my night vision missing, the difference is truly noticeable.
Let’s say you blindfold yourself, just for a personal experiment. Once your eyes are covered you begin the attempt to navigate through your house. Better yet, try this in a home you are unfamiliar with. Each step is carefully placed as you bump into the baseboards and steps. Your hands search the walls for maneuvering safely, or the hope of it. Slowly your feet pioneer themselves across an unknown room, when suddenly they trip over the edge of a rug. You fall as if it were in slow motion. On the way down you think to yourself, “It would be helpful if the owner of the house, who knew this floor-plan, were in front of me, guiding me with their vocal directions.” As you get back up on your feet, you find within yourself a growing emotion…fear. The fear of falling again. The fear of breaking your nose on a door. The fear of knocking out a tooth on the staircase. The fear of…the unknown ahead.
We have been dreading the essential drive to the grocery store ever since the Coronavirus began its crawl across the USA. Droves of unreasonable citizens have been raiding the store shelves as if there was a run on dwindling inventory, buying more than average cupboards could hold without thinking of their neighbor’s needs. The day came. My wife fought through the mob to buy staples for the week. She found a severe lack of eggs, milk, meat, rice, pasta, to name a few. Just amazing for the average grocery store in America. The funny part of it is…there’s no real shortage of anything. She witnessed frantic shoppers racing about with wrinkled foreheads and frowns. The store was filled with consumers tied up in knots on the inside. We’ve seen this type of hysteria with gasoline in the past, haven’t we?
There must be a study somewhere within the bowels of a sociology think-tank which can tell us how mass hysteria occurs. Unfortunately, part of the reason for empty market shelves is greed. There are those who are so full of themselves that they purchase in large quantities of a targeted item for the purpose of private resale with an enormous price hike for others to pay. Trust me, this type of individual will receive their reward. However, the majority of consumers overstock in a crisis for another reason.
What fuels the tanks of the one who fills two or three basket-fulls of toilet paper during a pandemic is…fear itself.
There is a healthy fear each of us possess. It’s evaluated when you pull away from the edge of a cliff. We jerk our hand back when a fire ignites. A healthy fear reminds us to drive under 90 MPH. Then there are wonderful moments where healthy fear is suppressed by the weight of love. You see it when a parent runs into a burning house in efforts to save their child. Fear is quenched when assisting an elderly parent when they are down with the flu. Fear is pushed aside when a dog owner runs out on the a frozen lake to rescue their four-legged pal who fell through a patch of a thin layer. Stories like this are inspiring, along with soul searching.
Those prone to unreasonable, unjustified fright are minds that have conjured up scenarios which most likely are not realistic. Sure, COVID-19 is real. It is upon us all. The remedy is on its way, but not yet available. Citizens are to take precautions. It is a healthy fear to do so. Yet, we should guard against being tied up in knots during the panic.
An unhealthy fear is to fill a home up to the crown molding with a few thousand rolls of toilet paper while not have any produce in the fridge. A person who does this is one who feeds on the extreme as they envision it to be. Even though retailers, the retail workers, the CEO’s, the government itself, implores consumers to think reasonably with the news that there is no shortage of goods, they dive into a darkened place where they believe they will be in want for all things. The lack of “items” is the constructed fear.
Photo: Star News Online
FDR wisely raised the issue of unhealthy fear in his inaugural address in 1933. Yes, people where going through an economic depression. Americans were going hungry, losing jobs, standing in line at soup kitchens. The fear was real. Yet, he sensibly pointed out the deadliest fear facing the nation at the time. The most costly was, “fear itself”. He knew, all too well, unhealthy fear can bring someone to harmful illnesses, anxiety, even insanity. In fact, it was a contagious anxiety. He was aware unhealthy fear grows hurtful selfishness. FDR saw the men and women of his nation were not standing strong in the stiff winds of a fierce depression which carried many to suicide, murder, and hatred of neighbors. Truly costly. Even the children of those who tied themselves in knots began to lose hope. In essence, FDR was saying…“FEAR KNOT!”
Fear itself is like being blindfolded in a house not your own. It’s like driving a dark road at 4am while wearing thick sunglasses. When blind to the unknown, it can cause delusions. Fear itself develops a mental picture of what might occur, what could happen, what possibly would be in store, all without remedy. So many who have studied fear say about 90% of what we fear never happens. In that perspective it gives something to wake-up to tomorrow.
If only we had the owner of the house, who built the floor plan, to give us strong directions just ahead of each step we dare take in the darkest of moments.
I know Who that is. He is the Author of light, direction, and hope. He is the One who promised there were new mercies on the shelf every morning.
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Jesus – (Matthew 6) (ESV)
Certainty can be defined as this: Filling a tank with fear is contrary to fuel for the race.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of instruction.” – Apostle Paul – 2 Timothy 1:7 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
“You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show…” (1976) “You Don’t Have To Be A Star”. Recorded by: Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. Composers: James Dean & John Glover.
It’s called, 52768 (1998 IR2). It’s not named after an astronomer, or a mythical Greek god from ancient history, but rather a cold, non-personality number. Its title may reflect the unimpressive appearance as it tends to resemble a giant potato spud. Through a powerful telescope it may have a bit of light reflecting solar rays off its surface, but nothing as brilliant as a star. It lacks the synchronized rotations of the planets and moons. There are some which become mini-moons, caught in a planet’s orbit, but for the most part, they travel seemingly aimlessly in space. You might say, if it were a person with feelings, it would be an introverted loner, a Sad Sally. Let’s face it, she ain’t nothin’ to write home about…or is she?
First tracked by scientists in 1998, our friend, 52768 (1998 IR2), has been studied ever since, and for good reason. She’s a gigantic space rock almost the size of Mount Everest. She measures up to 2.5 miles wide and travelling at 19,461 miles per hour. A very impressive stone to say the least. What’s more impressive, is her current trajectory. Not unlike a nail-biting science fiction movie, this gargantuan potato-like stone is headed close to our own planet. NASA estimates it will pass within 3,908,791 miles of the earth. It’s way out there. Right? After all, the distance between the earth and the moon is a mere 238,900 miles. That may sound like a Herculean hurdle from here, but in astrophysicist’s standards, NASA considers 3.9 million miles a near miss. No doubt, everyone with a telescope will be out looking for it come next month, on April 29th to be exact.
I am unsure the size of the asteroid which hit us in the Yucatan, back in the day, but those seemingly in the know tell us it changed our entire planet. In fact, many believe it somehow killed off the entire dinosaur species. (I always thought it funny that the Yucatan Asteroid killed off Dino and friends, but not the balance of living species on the planet. Crickets to whales and elephants should’ve all be sunk in the impact as well, along with the nuclear winter which naturally followed. Oh, well. Of course, we are never to question scientific theory, right? If you do, the science police will come in the attempt to shut you down, until you agree to nod yes to everything they print.)
Nevertheless, NASA has sent out an asteroid alert. Even though this killer, almost the size of Mount Everest, will only visit our neighborhood. Still it is good to be alerted. A traffic alert is needed for an alternative route. A tornado alert is a must to warn people on the ground. Just ask the poor folks hurting in the Nashville, Tennessee area right now.
At the risk of appearing to be overly dramatic here, there is an alert of this nature written on papyrus some 2,000 years ago. See if this lines up with NASA’s description.
“…and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood,9 and a third of the creatures which were in the sea [f]and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed….” – Apostle John – Revelation 8:8-9 (Now there’s some climate change for the record books.) It’s interesting that in the following verse (Rev 8:10) is a description of an enormous falling “blazingstar” which poisons the planet. I will say, it’s not for the faint of heart if this planet is considered the highest treasure.
Some may not realize the significance of the writings of John in the scroll of Revelation. In fact, many try to ignore it altogether. A study of it requires one of understanding, so says its writer. The text defines it is an unfolding of times and events concerning the earth. John, the writer, was given strict instructions. “Write, therefore, whatever you have seen and those things that are, and that are going to come to pass after these things.” – Revelation 1:19 (Aramaic Translation Bible) In other words, the ending of the age is detailed. If you plan on a read, expect much imagery and foreshadowing within its pages. It’s not a good bedtime read for the kids. Alerts are a good thing. It means, it’s not happened yet. That’s a good thing. Most agree, knowledge is power.
How many times have you seen a personal asteroid headed your way, and you felt like all you could do is gaze at its approach? Maybe it was a mountain you were up against. You knew it was coming, you were alerted, your radar and telescope captured it, but all you could do is wait for the impact. Maybe it was a loved one, or a dear friend, who came to you with an alert about a person you were letting into your orbit. Maybe you disregarded their warning only to find yourself broken and damaged afterwards. It could be your body has been sending you alerts. You’ve not felt normal while wrestling with the idea of going to a doctor for a test or two. Many are in quarantine with the mountainous asteroid of Coronavirus. It could be that one day you hear a knocking under the hood of your car. A warning alert flashes on the instrument panel. After the mechanic does a diagnostic, you are alerted of a serious issue which needs to be repaired. In the end, we are left with the choice of heeding alerts, or ignoring them, sometimes at our peril.
“Forassuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.Therefore I say to you,whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” – Jesus – Mark 11:23-24 (NKJV)
There are many moments in life where faith kicks in. Times of your back touching the corner behind you. Someone wise once said, “Prayer is a mystery”. Yet, sometimes, a wise person finds leaning on the mysterious unseen, is the answer.
Here’s to waving along Sad Sally.
Wandering stars, as scripture describes, are never sturdy and safe. But there is stability standing still on The Solid Rock within fuel for the race.
“…I Seek in myself the things I meant to say,
And lo! the wells are dry.
Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The Listener’s role, and through
My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew…”
An excerpt from, “A Poem Prayer” – CS Lewis (1964)
“We three kings of Orient are Bearing gifts, we traverse far Field and fountain Moor and mountain Following yonder star…” (1857) Composer: John Henry Hopkins Jr.
Yeah, the cover photo above is backstage when I played a wise man in a Broadway style Christmas musical in Buffalo, NY in 2003. That’s me in the red and yellow. Lucy was the camel. She was terrific. Somehow, I often found myself positioned right behind her…behind. She didn’t care about blocking scenes, apparently. Her owner/handler told us although Lucy was mild-mannered, camels have been known to lock their jaws over a human’s head and bite them right off the necks. In this shot, I had no idea she had her face turned toward me. I do wonder what she was thinking. However, she seems to be smiling. My hope is she just liked my peppermint colored hat. Nevertheless, I’m telling you right now, riding a camel while singing at the same time is not a great combination. Zero comfort. And, poor baby, she stunk! There’s no way I would, or could, ride Lucy over field and fountain, moor and mountain.
Speaking of mountains…take a look at this.
Photo: Chicago Tribune
One of my fondest memories with my single mom were rare times when we shared a summer vacation. When we did, it meant a road trip. One of the joys was to learn the history under our feet. When we saw signs about approaching historical markers, we would faithfully stop and read the history of that particular place. It was a great way to close your eyes while imagining placing yourself back in time on the landmark where we stood.
When I was 13 years old, or so, we headed west for an adventure through far west Texas, New Mexico, and Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico. While driving closer to one of the first mountain ranges, along the Texas/New Mexico border, we stopped at a roadside historical marker. It directed the reader to look up at one of the mountains off in the distance. It went on to mention a well-traveled pioneer wagon route which went through the area and over the mountains. It was complete with dates, names, and pioneer stories. With the info, it pointed out a place carved out of the incline of a mountain where the covered wagon wheel ruts were still visible. Lo and behold, there they were some five miles away going up and over the top of a particular mountain, not too unlike the photo above.
I loved the old wild west history, and still do. Yet, seeing where the brave, tough families made their way from east to west in nothing but covered wooden wagons, was vastly different than reading about them.
There are multitudes of old wagon and stagecoach trails, where pioneers made a way across the terrain, which remain visible to this very day. There are some more visible than others. We can literally track their treks.
I feel the same exuberance when I read about the wise men from the east who made their way to Bethlehem, Israel in efforts to visit a single small house of a poor young family.
They have a mysterious story. Most feel they were from Persia, modern-day Iran. (The study on why is remarkable and in depth. Too much of it to write here.) Also, at this time of year we sing about three of them. There are three names given for each traveler which are from tradition, not historically accurate. Because three very expensive gifts are listed among their inventory, the centuries have placed “three” wise men in the biblical story. Yep, you guessed it. The stretchers and benders of history assigned one gift to one wise man. However, the Bible doesn’t number the wise men, or those in the caravan. There could have been two, or two hundred. The account doesn’t tell us. No matter how many wise men, or Magi, as they are also called, we do know they are described in many ancient middle-eastern and Asian documents, some of which are literally carved in stone.
Magi (wise men) were of a nobility, or an aristocratic clan. They were widely known for being highly educated with collections of vast libraries. Magi were scholars, well-versed in multiples of subjects like, astronomy, astrology, science, mathematics, literature, religions, even medicine, and magical arts. You could point to Camelot’s Merlin as one like the ancient Magi. In fact, it was a bit of a luxurious priesthood, a fraternity of royal order, living their lives alongside kings and queens in palaces. One thing is certain, history places them with royals and heads of state, serving the crown for the duration of a lifetime.
The Old Testament prophesied of these kingly types, along with their gifts of high value, hundreds of years prior to the birth of Jesus. The star they had studied from Persia was also prophesied in the Hebrew text. In fact, they arrived at King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem to ask where this newborn King of Israel was because they saw His prophetic star from their country in the east. Apparently, they told Herod about how old the baby would be by that time. (Close to toddler range.) Herod commanded his scribes to find the prophetic passage of the location where the new king would be born. They looked up the text. They read from, what was then, a 700+ year old scroll found within the minor prophets. It was Micah 5:1 – “But you, Bethlehem Ephrath, who are little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of you shall come forth to Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days.”
Nativity sets, as well as artsy Christmas cards, have the wise men in the cave-like stable bowing before the manger. Actually, they weren’t there. Again, they studied the new heavenly body in the sky, the old Hebrew prophetic texts, and apparently put forth a travel plan after the birth occurred. Scripture tends to lean in such a timeline. When they arrived to worship the baby boy and present their gifts, the scripture says they didn’t approach a stable, but rather arrived at “the house”. In the original text it indicates they saw a “boy”, not a newborn. So, the famous painting of the visitation has it about half right.
“The Adoration of The Magi”, By: Bartolome Esteban Murillo
For as long as I can recall, I was always fascinated by the journey of the wise men. Most all scholars have their origin as Iran, and for good reason. Some have them residing in modern-day Iraq. Both Persia and Babylon have long historical records concerning Magi. There are many scholars placing them south in the regions of modern-day Qatar or Oman because of an ancient trade route there which trailed northwest. It is interesting that there are Old Testament prophecies stating origins like, Arabia, Sheba, Median, Tarshish, etc. In the book of Song of Solomon there is a description of nobility approaching in a long caravan resembling a smokestack. This is why many artist renditions show various ethnic groups represented in the wise men. In fact, because of the fraternal order of the Magi, I can imagine many from other nations might have joined the caravan. I could go on about this incredible event, but it is not the point of my post.
I wish there were wagon wheel ruts we could study and map-out detailing their yellow brick road journey. For such a long journey on camel, and/or horseback, or donkey, lots of prep had to be made. I guess in a way, we can at least trace their actions. If so, we could identify with them even more. Come on, consider the evidence with me.
Think of it. This team of Magi, first had the ancient Hebrew scrolls full of directives on how to find the baby Messiah. More than likely left by the Jews when in captivity in the region hundreds of years prior. In other words, they had in their possession, and researched, the known Hebrew Bible of that day, among others.
Their testimony was clear. They told all of Jerusalem they studied the scrolls for direction, for awareness, for identification and verification. When they saw the mysterious, newly illuminated “lower atmosphere” body, which moved ahead of them, leading them to where they should go, they loaded up. It was no small thing. Prep consisted of saddling their camels, assembling their attending slaves, possibly communicating their find to neighboring wise men among surrounding kingdoms, and mapped the course. Before you think it odd, there’s something to keep in mind. From the ancient Torah, specifically the book of Numbers, Balaam, the only gentile prophet in scripture, wrote a two-fold prophetic delivery, “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel…” Numbers 24:17a (Douay-Rheims Version)
These doctors of astronomy knew the difference between a celestial conversion, a comet, a meteor, and all other natural universal laws of astronomy. They understood what they discovered was unnatural, planted for their eyes only. Keep in mind, it moved as they traveled, like a laser or a drone, vanishing when they arrived in Jerusalem, reappearing only after they left King Herod. At that point, the illumination directed them south to Bethlehem where it rested over a designated house. Of course, you realize this was a floating body of light hovering in the lower-atmosphere with actions of intelligence. So many lose the details of this mystery by not matching up the physical attributes of the object. Otherwise we are left with a comet, meteor, or a star from millions of miles away hovering over a house among hundreds. It doesn’t pass the smell test to reasonable readers. Personally, I believe it was an illuminated angelic being. But, that’s just my take on it.
They read, they researched, they believed, they saw, they followed.
Do you want to identify with them even more so? Dare we? Should we?
Wise men Facts:
They left their comfort zone to make their way to be by His side…on faith! For those who believe Christianity is a cakewalk, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. No, it’s not always rosy complete with a comfort bubble in today’s world. Jesus told us it wouldn’t be a walk in the park to follow Him.
How dangerous was it? They proclaimed a new King of Israel to the face of the murderous, and insane King Herod, a puppet king for Caesar in Rome. That fact right there can give us some wagon ruts to view. He could’ve tied them to wagon wheels for a good flogging. But, he wanted them to report back to him after they located the boy so he could destroy Him. Killing babies was nothing for Herod. He was famous for killing his own family members that he wanted out of the way. (He did make an attempt to murder the boy-Messiah , but it didn’t work out that way.) All that to say, the faith of the foreigners was incredibly stout. They didn’t have to see to believe. They were already in expectation based on the Old Testament prophet’s writings of the timing Jesus when He would be born found in the book of Daniel, the eternal kingship, the place, the moving star, etc.
So there they were, in a house of a couple with a young toddling boy…THE Boy, THE Spiritual Redeemer of The World, THE Ancient Of Days in an earthsuit.
It’s important to note they just didn’t high-five the Boy, dump their Santa gifts, eat ham & gingerbread cookies, and head back to their countries. Instead, they bowed their knees in their royal robes, face-to-floor worshiping Him, even with what they prepared…the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In other words, it cost them something. They unloaded what they attributed as value.
In hindsight, the Magi found Jesus very similarly as many do today. They read, they researched, they believed, they saw, they followed.
Frankly, I think I see more clearly their wagon wheel ruts, and I’m right behind them. Somehow I always seem to be looking at a camel’s behind.
Whenever the wheels of the spirit turn, it’s powered by pistons of fuel for the race.
“…What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, If I were a Wise Man I would do my part,— Yet what I can I give Him, Give my heart.”
From: In The Bleak Midwinter (1872) – Christina Rossetti
“I Went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends, a chance to share old memories and play our songs again. When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name. No one recognized me, I didn’t look the same.
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.” Garden Party (1972) Written and Recorded by: Ricky Nelson
Did I catch you singing? I know. It’s got a terrific hook on the chorus. Truly, it’s the iconic song Ricky Nelson was known for at that stage of his short life. The lyrics sound as if it was a pleasurable garden party with old famous pals, but it was birthed out of rejection and sourness.
It was October of 1971, the Richard Nader’s Rock ‘n Roll Revival Concert was a huge gathering at Madison Square Garden in New York. It was billed to showcase older American Rock ‘n Roll giants, prior to the British invasion, from the 1950’s and early 1960’s, with acts like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell. They were among many kickin’ it on stage that night. Back stage, and in the audience, the ultra-famous were in attendance from various corners of the entertainment and sports realm. The lyrics in the song, “Garden Party” point that out.
It was his turn at the mic. Ricky Nelson came out on stage in the fashion of the times, bell bottoms, velvet shirt, complete with bell sleeves, and long hair down to his shoulders. Keep in mind, the order of the concert event was to reminisce with early American Rock ‘n Rollers, so the look was expected, too. Well, unfortunately for Nelson, he didn’t take it to heart who the nostalgic demographics were holding tickets. He performed some of his early songs from the late 50’s and early 60’s. But then he played a peculiar country rendition of The Rolling Stones’, “Honky Tonk Woman”. At that, the crowd began to boo, and boo, and booed some more. He wrapped up his set and left the venue, not even waiting to show up for the all-star finale at the end of the night. However, it worked out because he wrote a song about the experience in, “Garden Party”. And I must admit, “…ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”
In the late 1990’s I created an award-winning radio theater department for Criswell Communications Network. I absolutely adored those years writing, acting and building those audio movies. Later, I did the same in Buffalo, NY for the Crawford Broadcasting Network. From time to time I am asked to voice a character for special commercials, promos, or projects. But back then, life got in the way and now it’s been a few years since I was a regular working voice actor.
About a year ago, I was asked to voice a character for a dramatic read of a new novel and CD due to be released simultaneously. Although it was a small walk-on role, I was thrilled to do it. It was like going home again for me, even though I wasn’t the author or director. What was very different, and a bit nerve-racking, was the author himself was in studio with me. Being a hands-on kind of guy, he directed me while I fashioned the vocals needed for this particular character. Don’t get me wrong, the author was/is a terrific guy. I’m sure we will be working together in the future for more projects.
This morning, before I could pour my first cup of java, I got a voicemail. It was the author. He made me aware of the recently released book and audio version. He then invited me to a cast party he was hosting at his very lovely home. I responded before lunch, letting him know how much I enjoyed the recording session, developing the character, and his invitation. Then I politely declined to attend the party. Why, you might ask?
For as long as I can recall, I have never been good at cocktail parties, social dinners, or dances were strangers want me to do the Macarena. Sure, I can act my way through it, which is what I’ve always done, but that’s work, not pleasure, and certainly not comfortable. Being an old stage actor and radio personality, you would think I would be a hoot at a gathering of pre-friends. Trust me, I’ll be the quiet guy in the corner with a china saucer full of chilled shrimp in one hand and a cup of punch in the other. Yes, there’ll be clusters of revelers in a circle laughing, kissing cheeks, along with lines like, “What do you do when you’re not acting?”, or “What a lovely tie. Who are you wearing, sweetie?”, or “So what project are you working on now?” I just don’t mingle well. It’s as simple as that. There, I’ve said it. Arg! I would likely run off stage left like Ricky Nelson.
Cast parties are fine, in fact I have attended lots of them through my acting days, even hosted many myself. Most all cast parties I’ve been a part of were packed with fellow cast-members I had the pleasure of working with face-to-face. Those were actors and crew in which I developed relationships with, or at least decent acquaintances. Those were parties where we could let our hair down and enjoy reminiscing about lines being dropped, favorite scenes, and wardrobe malfunctions. (In 1978, while playing Johnny Brown in The “Unsinkable Molly Brown”, I walked out on stage singing with my fly opened. Thank the Lord it was only a dress rehearsal. Orchestra members noticed it first down in the pit.) Cast parties are always a grand time laced in lots of laughter. Here, the difference is, I never played against another actor in last year’s session. My recorded lines were like a looping studio session where the dialogue was digitally dropped into scenes in post production. There was no actor but me, myself, and I. I played to a mic and a music stand. I never met any of the actors on the bill. To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of session, it happens more often than not. At the upcoming get-together I would know the author, his wife, and the recording engineer/producer. It’s not that I am really anti-social…or am I? Ouch! What am I admitting?
If you’re a psychologist, you probably know why I am bent this way. The ugly truth is, I am probably afraid of rejection, even eyes of rejection. I’ve been at award shows, green rooms, and backstage at concert venues where you’re chatting with someone who won’t look you in the eye because they’re way too busy scouting out the next celebrity to be cornered. You find yourself answering their question about family, career, or which hotel you’re staying at when suddenly they quickly interrupt with, “Oh, there’s Amy Grant with Vince Gill right behind you. Gotta go.” Is it just me, or is that not rude? I’m guilty of that behavior as well. So awkward. Again, I say, Arg! In the end, I dislike “…players who only love you when they’re playin'” (Fleetwood Mac)
Has it occurred to me that maybe I’m wrong about all this? Maybe by now you’re saying silently, “Hey, this is weird. He needs to loosen up.” Okay, I’ll accept that. But as I’m being super honest with you, hear me out.
To truly engage with another is to be associated with, connected with, to be in tune with the other, even if in a small way. This is me. If you and I are having coffee at a local spot, I will fully hear you, see you, and meld with you. In fact, I like to make people feel that they are the only person in the room, complete with eye-contact and real chuckles, not out of nervous laughter for the sake of sound to fill up dead air. This is how I was raised to believe.
Poor Ricky Nelson. Every time I hear “Garden Party” I listen for the rub, the angst, the sore spots between the words. Bottom line, he didn’t “know” his audience. Moreover, he didn’t take in serious consideration of the theme of the event. Of course, the audience lacked true love for Mr. Nelson. They only loved him when he played what he was known for ten years prior. In those quick tunes he scratched their itch until he ventured onto something new from a British band. It was a mismatch moment, a sting he took with him to his grave. He died in a tragic plane crash on New Year’s Eve 14 years later.
In the end, I believe it’s all about “knowing” someone, or at least making faithful efforts in doing so. Because inside that other person is a story which comes from their hearts. A story worth the fidgeting, even if booed. If we “play” at socializing, we do not do justice in the connection. How else will we learn to love others, as God would have us to love?
Still, I remain shy with strangers in close settings. I shared an elevator today where my total sum of verbiage was, “Third floor. Thanks.”
Engaging another may start out with “How are you?”, but if they begin to tell you about their gout, making you’ll want to slip away with, “Ya know, I need a refill.” If so, then where is the honest interest?
More and more I understand why Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves, and to treat others as we want to be treated.
You know, maybe I should go to the cast party after all. If I do, the boldness won’t come from my clipped persona, but from a deep well of fuel for the race.
“If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for this? Even tax collectors love their friends.If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about this? Don’t even unbelievers do that?” – Jesus – Matthew 5:46-47 (Contemporary English Version)
“Oh, Stormy…Oh, Stormy. Bring back that sunny day…” Stormy (1968) Recorded by: Classics IV. Composers: Dennis Yost, James Cobb, Buddy Buie
As I write this, it’s a sunny day in Dallas, Texas with temperature hovering about 102/f degrees. The heat index, or what it feels like with humidity mixed into the works, is 118/f degrees. Great day to mow the lawn. LOL It’s July in Texas, and you can always count on the weather being oppressive. What I wouldn’t give for a bit of rain right now, but not HOT DROPS.
Our springtime was horribly rough. May and June alone were pelting us with several tropical storm-type winds, tornadoes galore, and thunderstorms ushering in hail. We had straight-line winds clocking at 71mph in one of our storms in June. The trees on our property lost several branches, large limbs, as well as, nerves. Around here, when the civil sirens go off, you run for shelter, never walk, during tornado warnings. We’ve had many this year thus far.
Photo: My cousin sits with a partial of a massive 100+ year old Sycamore, which was uprooted from my mom’s front yard, and landed on her roof. She was home at the time, but uninjured during the tornado. The house is about 164 years old. It took the brunt, with only roof and porch damage. Texas storms come as quickly as a fake news story cycle.
Meanwhile, at our house, our oldest dog, Sammie, is like bacon on a hot skillet during storms. I’ve written about this before.
Sammie goes bonkers at the smell of rain, not yet fallen. You can always tell by her attentive look with immediate cravings to cuddle.
The slightest sound of distant rumbling thunder will set her off with the quivers, shakes and shivers, like a 7.1 California earthquake. All the while, nestled safely in my arms for shelter. I’ve been told she runs to me because I’m the biggest one in the room. When it’s peaceful outside, she rarely notices me, unless I have a treat in my hand. Of course, I do what I can to calm her vocally, and sometimes it works, but often not. The storms just seem to override any audible efforts of comfort.
Frankly, I can understand her pretty well. I mean, growing up in Texas, I have seen what tornadoes, flash floods and hurricanes can do. Because of past experience, my heartbeat rises a bit during these storms. On the other hand, I have family and friends who are storm chasers. They absolutely adore the thrill of getting as close to a tornado as possible, without catching up with Dorothy and Toto. In my opinion, they are all mad as hares in a cabbage patch. Yet, I still love them.
Oh, how I wish I could link telepathically, with Sammie’s little brain. I wish she could know I will cover her with my own body if a tornado hit our house. I just don’t speak “dogness” as well as I should. If only my communication skills were on her level, maybe she would understand the kind of protector she has in me. But, Shorty, our other pal, knows what to say.
My communication skills might be lacking during Sammie’s times of trouble, but sometimes lyrics will hit me out of the blue…or the darkness.
Recently, my daughter’s band, Grosh, released their new album. The last song on the project is my favorite. The cut is entitled, “Piece of Mind”. Besides hearing my daughter deliver some terrific vocals once again, the original lyric touched me deeply. It speaks. Here’s a section for you:
“…Whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t. Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone. Give me a piece of your mind. Because whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t. Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.” (2019) Piece of Mind. Recorded by Grosh. Composers: Lougen/English (Her band-mates)
(Sample the cut at: groshband.com. Go to “Store”, click on the title of the song and turn up the volume. (Also available for downloads.) Tell me how it grabs you.)
There have been unexpected storms in my life when I desperately needed to be reminded I am not solo here in this life. Most of he time, I didn’t get a siren of warning before I was flattened by a down-burst. Car crash – no warning. Job loss – no warning. Health crisis – no warning. Death in the family – no warning. Can you identify?
How honest is this? At times, I have felt alone. At times, I felt alone in a crushing crowd of revelers. At times, I looked around for someone to find peace with and found a vacant place. At times, I searched for synthetics to numb my loneliness.
Life is so much like the weather. Lightning WILL clap just when you least expect it, and you WILL leap off the mattress about a meter or so. Sheets of hail, wrapped in a torrent of rain, WILL beat on the roof, and all you can do is wait to analyse the aftermath. You might sit at a table, with a fine wine accompanied by broiled brisket, when suddenly, an EF-4 tornado WILL rip the house apart with its 166+mph winds. (It’ll take about 3 seconds.) In those moments of oppression, in those moments of turmoil, in those moments of trying to grip the rug beneath your feet, like Sammie, it’s normal to feel a bit shaken. A bit at a loss. A bit bewildered. This is the stuff of life, and life’s surprises.
Because I am a Jesus “accepter”, I do what I can to keep from nursing on other means for quick fixes to sooth my nerves, my fears, my “what next”. Many times I fail. In those times I must remember all things I touch, taste, and see, are only temporary at their best. Synthetics are just that…synthetic. Who would depend upon a wedding ring fabricated out of a cigar-band?
Sammie runs to me for comfort, but I don’t mention to her that I can be blown away, just like she can. The comfort from my body is, well…uh…temporary. In the same way, I can run to my wife, a counselor, a friend, a chemical pacifier, but in the end, they are faulty, too. We all fall down physically, emotionally, spiritually. My proven rest relies on the One Who holds me up today, yesterday, and tomorrow. Why?
Where else could I go? He simply is the biggest person in the room. The storm may not be removed each time the radar turns red, yellow, and purple, but I do have the promise He will be with me through what comes my way. He alone called Himself, “The Rock”. In Exodus, when Moses was afraid to be God’s spoke-person to the enslaved Jewish community in Egypt, and Pharaoh, he challenged God.
He inquired, “Who shall I say sent me?” Wouldn’t you ask?
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NAS)
Someday I will write on the significance of the title, “I AM”. It’s a great study of the words in Hebrew. For now, my point is, scripture details Him as being all-in-all. Not only that, He goes so far as to invite us to PROVE Himself to be. Wow! That’s brave and bold, regardless of who sends the invitation. Outside of creation, and all things in it, before we began to put names on each other, our animals and plants, He “was” and always will be. A great reliable comfort in times of unsettled traumatic turmoil inside this sphere of existence.
Jesus was sent to our everyday, bluejeans and work-boots level. He came to speak our language for understanding of God’s mind, heart and love. He claimed that He and God were one. Yes, a heavy thing to say. And then He proved it several times. Some 700+ years before Jesus was born, it was foretold He would be referred to as, “Immanuel”. It wouldn’t be a surname, or a first name, but rather a description. It literally means, “God with us”, “With us is God”, or “God housing with us”. (Isaiah 7:14) That’s amazing in itself, but it also means I don’t have to shiver while cowering in the fetal position, stuck in a corner with my chosen toy for distraction.
Learning to lean on the Rock that is higher than I is the beginning of fuel for the race.
“Take My yoke (Guiding, instructive brace. IE: A cast on a broken bone.) upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-29 (BLB)
“…Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind. Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were…Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time rewritten every line?…” (1974) The Way We Were. Recorded by; Barbra Streisand. Composers: Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch.
There’s much to learn from a simple photograph. I adore antique photos, always have. They are even more special when you find images depicting your own flesh and blood. If you love family history, then you and I could share some time over a few cups of java.
Check out the cover shot I placed above. This is a 1902 family reunion from my paternal side. No doubt it’s from the summer time in Texas, yet there’s all that clothing. Look at all stiff high collars, neckties and gowns that crawl up to the chin, along with the hats. Summers in Texas can reach 100+ degrees easily. How did they do it? In all honesty, the southern tradition was to have an event like this right after church on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe that’s why everybody is in their Sunday-go-to-meetin’-clothes. I see watermelon slices, cakes, pies, etc. And then there’s that guy on the back row, just right of center, swigging a big bottle of….well…uh…Okay, who knows. But remember, church was over. LOL
Being from the south, there is a depth of Confederate soldiers in the family.
Photo: Meet Great Uncle Alexander Ambrose Timmons (1865) Now THAT’S a knife!
Photo: Meet my Great Grandpa Lewis Pinkney Brooks (1866) After the war, he rode a mule from Georgia to west Texas to stay. He found himself to be a cattle drover, pioneer settler, homesteader, 2nd sheriff of Young County, Texas, stage coach inn owner, and Indian fighter.
Yes, sometimes inside family history one can find skeletons which may not be politically correct by today’s self-imposed standards. I’m not one to erase history. In fact, I gaze at it, study it, and recognize the truth of the way we were. We need to see how far we’ve come. We need to discover how and why issues in society arose. We are in need of understanding before we repeat some aspects of our history which may stain us as a culture. We also should value perspectives. One can title a person an “Indian fighter” but often neglects the realities of circumstance. As for my my great-grandfather Brooks, he dealt with the pains of pioneering. Tonkawa and Comanche often raided his barn overnight to steal horses, cattle, and mules. Another time, he and his cousin were building a three-foot herd wall, made of stone, when they were attacked unprovoked. Grave plots had to be topped in layers of large stone to discourage grave-robbing for clothes and jewelry. Outlaws are outlaws, no matter the culture. Yes, it was a lawless wild country in very different times. Only after years of fighting back in defense of his wife and children did peace began to rise.
Pioneer women were of a different breed. They were tough as brass doorknobs while growing and nurturing families in the harshest conditions.
Photo; Meet my Great Grandma Mary Lucinda “Cinnie” Moore-Brooks (1877). She was not a doctor, but performed medical aid for the citizens of the county when needed. There are stories of her alone on foot, in late night hours, traveling to attend to women in labor miles away. Once a young family in a covered wagon, headed for the western frontier, stopped at the homestead asking for medical aid. The couple had a baby who was ill. The family lodged in their house for a good couple of weeks as Mary Brooks tended to the infant. Sadly, the child couldn’t be saved. They buried the baby in our family cemetery on the land. Brokenhearted, the couple got back on the trail and was never heard from again. She was not only a woman of great courage, but a woman of heart.
Photo: Let me introduce you to my Great Aunt Alverse Brooks (1905ish). I don’t know much about Aunt Alverse, I just love her face. I do know she liked to swim in the Brazos River with her sisters. She lived as a single woman. (The men must have been pushed away, or simply stupid.)
Photo: Say hello to my Grandma Bessie Brooks-Brown, with her two sisters, swimming in the Brazos River just below the family homestead (1909ish). This lovely refreshed and digitized shot is nothing but a joy to look at. My grandma is on the left. Notice the swimwear where EVERYTHING is covered. How many layers do you think they were wearing? However, it didn’t keep that guy behind them from gawking in his ten gallon hat. Yes, times were different.
You might be asking yourself, “Why is Alan forcing all these family pics on us?” There’s a method to my madness.
Have you seen those DNA test commercials? How can you miss them? You know the ones where the actor says something like, “I thought my family came from Scotland, so I bought this kilt. Then I had my DNA tested and found out I’m actually German!” Recently I had been given a birthday gift card encouraging me to get my DNA tested. It’s something I always wanted to do. One of my thrills comes from reading family trees. This is a notch above the tree. So, I ordered a DNA kit.
Not long ago I was reviewing some of my medical lab work from a blood and urine sample. There was an indicator of a possible unknown ethnic bloodline hidden in my genes. I was shocked. I do know of some Native American on my maternal side, but I just assumed Anglo-Saxon was the balance of my strand, due to surnames. The DNA test will spell out the surprises. It will be nice to get to know the authentic “me”….or will it?
I find it funny how some of these DNA test ads speak of “…finding the real you”, or “I never knew I was this, or that.” One TV spot had an actor speaking a line similar to, “I ordered my kit because I wanted to know the true me.” Of course, I understand what the meaning is behind such scripted lines. I get it. My issue is the idea of “the true me”.
Lately I’ve been deeply diving into Larry McMurty’s novel series, Lonesome Dove. I guess I enjoy tales of the state from which I call home. Reading of its wilder, unsettled times is a blast. Frankly, it helps me to understand my family in our photos. One main character, a former Texas Ranger and drover from the Texas Republic years, lost a leg and an arm in a shootout with a Mexican train robber and serial killer. After he realized he would live as an amputee for the rest of his life, his bolt, staunch personality changed. He became more withdrawn. I guess you could say the heart of the man shrunk. His words often consisted of how “HE” was no longer who he was, or used to be. He saw his missing limbs as tools that identified his toughness, his persona, and his legacy. It’s not unusual for depression to invade an amputee’s psyche shortly after the vacuum of trauma. Yet, why look at an amputated limb on a table and think, “Hey, that’s me over there on the table?” It’s a terrible mistake that tends to haunt. A disabled vet can testify to this depression-fed mindset.
A leg, an arm, even a DNA strand does not say WHO you ARE. These things do not relabel the soul and spirit of the individual person. After a tragic plane crash, or the sinking of a ship, they do not report, “100 bodies were lost.” Traditionally it’s printed, “100 souls were lost.” One can be robbed of a limb, a featured look, or a physical profile, but the person inside has not been altered on the operating table…unless the individual cuts away at it by choice. Whether I am a burn victim, a man of extreme age, facially mutilated, newly unemployed, or an amputee, I know WHO I am deep inside where flesh doesn’t live, grow, or die. MY DNA doesn’t alter the ME which turns me to the right or the left. My genes have no power over the ME which molds behavior, or makes eternal decisions. No bloodline rules and reigns over the ME who chooses to love, serve, or share. No bloodline from my family tree can measure up to the ME I select in life. After all, flesh turns to dust in a future grave, or ashes spread by the winds atop a west Texas bluff.
Have you ever heard someone’s final words on their deathbed to be, “Oh, how I wish I had a Celtic slice in my DNA strand. I would have been a better person?”
We all have our choices, no matter the accent, skin color, cultural slants, or the soil of our birth. Even a surname doesn’t register the YOU inside your core. The heart is key. It’s what God said He evaluates, nothing else.
I look forward to the DNA reveal concerning the body I host. I know this because of the intake of fuel for the race.