The Journey On Highway COVID-19

Cover Photo: t0.gstatic.com

“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

The Anvil

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.

gray concrete road
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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.

landscape photography of rock formation near highway
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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.

 

blue single cab farm truck on brown grassland
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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.

silhoutte of a man
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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?”

bird s eye view photography of road in the middle of desert
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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.

close up photo of a brown sidewinder snake on sand
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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.

(CLANG!)

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Is To Become Of Us?

Photo:  target.com

“What is to become of us,” said Jehanne, “if that is the way children are made now?” – (1831)  Hunchback Of Notre Dame  Author:  Victor Hugo

Depending on your age, you may not recognize the subject in the cover photo above.  I loved mine from the 60’s.  It probably was a Christmas gift from my grandparents.  I guess you could call it the first modern-day tablet.  Etch A Sketch, still available, was wildly popular in the pre-tech world.  You, the would-be artist, would turn the knobs to etch horizontal and vertical lines, but never true diagonals with any integrity.  My preference was creating cool looking mazes.  When you messed up, or drew as much as you could, you simply turned it face-down, as it made a sand-spilling noise, then back to face-up, for magically erasing all you had worked on.  It was a brilliant invention at the time.  In those days it bordered close to science fiction.  What a prize it was, and still is.  One thing it can’t do is take pictures.

Brooks-Brown Homewstead Sky

Many years ago, I took this shot at my ancestral homestead along the Brazos River in Graham, Texas.  If I were to ask you if it was a shutter moment of dawn or dusk, what would your answer be?  My guess is you’re thinking because you are unfamiliar with the area, the angle, and the direction, you would shrug it off.  It could be dusk, or dawn.

Our view of the new 2020 is very much like this shot.  Many look at our world and see failure, fear, and folly for the near future.  Some think we will all be under icecap water by the end of the new roaring 20’s.  Many see this sphere we call earth is in need of medical care.  Some believe a nuclear disaster is near.  Some feel we are due for a devastating asteroid impact, equally destructive.  Others feel overall internal violence and rage will overwhelm societies.  The geopolitical scene looks as if it needs emergency surgery.  As I write this, Russia, China, and Iran are playing navel wars games for the first time.  For biblical scholars, this is alarming indeed as the three nations are mentioned as allies in world-ending wars foretold in Ezekiel and Revelation.  Morality has hit the skids.  What was once forbidden, or unexceptionable in the last generation are now commonplace with an urgency to be accepted where you live, work, and play.  Frankly, all as a convergence can happen during the roaring 20’s to come, and all will add to the fear in every culture.  Yeah, 2020 can be a pretty dark view through the lens.

So, how do you see 2020?  Will it be a sunrise, or sunset?

Maybe Hugo’s Jehanne, in Hunchback Of Notre Dame, has a valid question that rings true for us and our kids today,  “What is to become of us…?”

Don’t look at me, I’m no Ezekiel.  I’m just a watcher on the wall.

Individually, I do believe much of what occurs in 2020 relies on you and me.  Could it be that each of us are given an Etch A Sketch by the Prince Of Peace, Who filters all things through His hands?  The One Who marks out the days, seasons, and times, the One Who it is said “…the government shall be upon His shoulder…” (Isaiah 9:6)  has His calendar.  Still, He places in our hands the ability of free-will to plan-out our lives, as allowed, but with stipulations and warnings, like a parent cautioning a child about unlit matches, busy streets, and stranger-danger.  As we plan, we should keep in mind and heart, the horizontal and the vertical, and the differences between the two.

2019 may not have been out best year, but we can turn it face-down, then face-up for a new clean screen.  After all, starting anew is required when living off fuel for the race.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in His wonderful face.  And the things of this world will grow strangely dim by the light of His glory and grace.”  (1922)  Hymn writer, Helen Lemmel

 

 

Time In A Bottle

“If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
‘Til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you”   Recorded: 1972  Released: 1973  “Time In A Bottle”  Written and Recorded by:  Jim Croce

Have you ever spent time in a bottle?  (Maybe that’s for another post someday.)

I have fond memories of performing this stirring song in the late 1970’s as a duo with a fellow musician.  It’s really a wonderful premise, don’t ya think?  Maybe here is a way to save time in a bottle.  How about this?

Bottle Ship Etsy.com

Photo:  Etsy.com

Jim Croce has left us with somewhat of a mystery here.  The lyric itself was written at a happy time in the life of Croce.  In 1970 he and his wife had just discovered they were going to have a baby when he put pen to paper, but didn’t produce the song for two more years.  Simultaneously there is a blueness about the lyric, accompanied by a smattering of minor chords.  In fact, if you read all the verses you will hover in a hazy fog of wanting, lacking, with a tint of cost.  In Crose’s case, my theory is he was on the road with gig dates, away from his pregnant wife.  Not too vastly different from the overtones of the idea KISS brought us with the rock ballad, “Beth” from 1976.  The composers of both songs seem to be relationally available to their loved ones, and yet not — leaving a sense of sadness, of loss, with a shadow of emptiness.

There is a powerful scene in the 1998 WWII movie, Saving Private Ryan.  It’s a haunting scene, shot without audible dialogue.  Spielberg’s masterful direction begins with Mrs. Ryan, Private James Ryan’s mother,  busy in her farmhouse kitchen, donning her well-worn apron.  Out the kitchen window a telegram messenger drives up the dusty country road, stopping in front of her house.  Spielberg’s frame follows her to the front screen door which she opens.  The camera angle is positioned from behind her, as if the viewer is a member of the household.  (A brilliant choice by Spielberg.)  She steps out the threshold to greet the messanger.  The telegram is handed to her.  An unanticipated intense moment passes as she stands frozen in time.  Suddenly, her knees buckle as she falls faint to the porch floor as she’s informed of the deaths of three of her sons, all killed in combat.  Only one son remained alive, serving on the battlefield somewhere in France, her son James.

No other film moves me so like Saving Private Ryan.  Much of it is hard to watch as it was produced to place the viewer there in the thick of battle alongside the U.S. warriors in efforts to stop Hitler.  I recommend a showing for Veteran’s Day Week.  (Not for younger kids.)

The one and only scene with Mrs. Ryan is etched in my head.  It’s easy to imagine how just seconds prior to the telegram, she was happy, focused on the task at hand, proud and comfortable with a quiver full of valiant sons serving overseas in difficult times.  In those moments, I can understand why she would want to save that time in a bottle, to be poured out in measure at will, to once again revel in her family.  As I watch, knowing what’s coming, I too hold her sense of quiet joy all the way up until the tragic news breaks.  When she collapses, I shed tears of grief for her every single time.

“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” ~ C. S. Lewis

The news alert popped up on my television screen a couple of days ago.  I sat in my chair stunned as it was reported how three American mothers, along with six of their children, were mercilessly gunned down and burned on a road in northern Mexico, just south of the Arizona border.  Reports from surviving children, who escaped the scene, revealed mothers shielding their young, begging the attackers not to shoot.  Members of the Mexican cartel unloaded their weapons of war on the innocent, along with burning the bodies, some children still alive in the flames.  In an instant, I was enraged, followed by heartbreaking pain, followed by immense grief.  All within a minute.  “If words could make wishes come true…” – I believe the three moms would’ve wanted back the time of peace they had just prior to the attack.

Isn’t that the way grief goes?  One moment in time there is happiness, joy, or even the mundane, the ordinary.  Suddenly, it can be remembered no more when tragedy strikes rolling over heart and mind like a steamroller over hot tar.  We reach back for it all if possible.  If we had time in a bottle, in our onslaught of misery and mourning, we could uncork the reserve just to sample out some of what was once there before disruption, before loss, before pain.  The word “before” is massive.

Bottle with lamp

When you come across some unwise lecturer spouting out how the enlightened person of faith is care-free, without tears, only living the successful, prosperous life, I urgently suggest you keep searching for the authentic, the truthful.  Jesus Himself made this perfectly clear concerning the above.   “I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33  (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)  Several times, Jesus displayed His own hardships, struggles, sorrow, pain, and even tears.  It was written down on scrolls so we would know He understands what it’s like to live in a painful, sunken, fallen world.  Isaiah’s prophecy was clear.  We would recognize Messiah by certain red flags He would exhibit in His life, in His character.   –  “…a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…” – – Isaiah 53:3 (KJV)

Scroll Isaiah

Capturing the good times, the beautiful moments in life, is a terrific thing, even a healthy thing to do.  When they come, store them away in a special place only accessible to you, maybe in the bottle of the heart.  Fill it up, cork it as the days of memorable peace arrive.

As for Mrs. Ryan, along with an American family, with duel citizenship in Mexico can attest, times of quaking will come to a fault-line near you.  Whether it be financial, physical, mental, or relational, shatterings will come in life.  When they do, you might have a bottle of tremendous days reserved for reflection.  And as the tears fall, retrieve this passage from your bottle of times:

Bottle Biblical

“You have kept record of my days of wandering. You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.” – Psalm 56:8  (Contemporary English Version)  * Many versions add:  “…Are they not in your book?”

Grief, grief held to, can overwhelm the vibrant mind, poison the hopeful spirit, destroy physical health, divert from a career, and breakdown the life of the body.  We MUST grieve, for there IS a time for it.  Wisdom says to embrace it as it comes, bidding it farewell before it spoils like moldy bread.  You’re reading from one who suffers the failure of letting go.

When holding to the biblical promise with the invitation to “…toss ALL cares, ALL anxiety, loading-up on Him because He cares for you” – 1 Peter 5:7 (My paraphrase), one’s bottle will be filled with fuel for the race.

“For thus said the high and exalted One, Inhabiting eternity, and holy is His name: ‘In the high and holy place I dwell, And with the bruised and humble of spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of bruised ones.‘” – Isaiah 57:15  (Young’s Literal Translation)

 

Lost & Found

“…Okay, so no one’s answering.  Well, can’t you just let it ring a little longer, longer, longer?  Oh, I’ll just sit tight through shadows of the night.  Let it ring forevermore…Yeah, yeah, yeah…”  (1976)  Telephone Line.  Recorded by:  Electric Light Orchestra (ELO).  Composer:  Jeff Lynne

Frantically, in the chill of the frozen air, he yell out, “Kids, help me find it!  Tabitha, you look over there where we were throwing snowballs.  Megan, you look over by the Suburban.  D’Anna, you stay here with me.  Help me push the snow away.  We’ve got to find it before we lose daylight.”

It was this week in August of 2001 when my family and I had experienced an unanticipated devastating blow in our lives.  Today, it still hurts.  Frankly, it lingers in my heart and mind all these years later.  Truly, the person, which caused the groans in my spirit, to this very day, has accomplished that individual’s purpose.  To dive into what occurred would just add to my painful memories, which I try to keep beneath my feet.  Forgive me for keeping it from you just now.  I will not bathe you here in the memory of it.  However, I’ll describe a tad of the domino impact from the personal trauma.

The vicious personal event was quickly followed by America’s incredibly disturbing attack on September 11th.  I must admit, the depths of my depression was a vast, velvet black abyss.  I spent my days in bed, sleeping as if on a sedative.  My marriage had ended years prior, but still living together for the kid’s sake.  My filing for divorce was already being planned through much heartache.  Thoughts of suicide knocked on my door a few times in stages of complete emptiness.  (How honest is that?)  The only thing God used to keep me living was my three precious daughters.

As the months rolled on, my depression continued to eat my lunch, but I was an experienced actor with the ability to hide the pain when needed.  I noticed I had a tremendous urge to wrap myself up in my kids.

By December, I felt a new bravery to take the family on a vacation.  We would wait for Christmas to come and go, and then pull out all the stops to begin a 12-day road trip starting the day after Christmas.  My intention was to use it like a balm for our hurting hearts.  It was money we didn’t have right after Santa’s visit, but it was so needed.  Stupidity or not, I cashed in my 401K.  (I know, it’s not a wise thing.)  We rented a huge Chevy Suburban, packed it up, and off we went.  We left Dallas for a day spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Then north to Colorado Springs, Colorado we drove.  It would be our jumping point for all surrounding areas of note, and then up to Denver.  What a blast!

Pike's Peak Dec 2001

R-L:  Tabitha, Megan, D’Anna in front.  Pike’s Peak in the faded background.

One by one we visited the normal sites of awe.  We were holiday tourists and it showed.  We even rode horses during a lite snowfall through the Garden of The Gods National Park.  The red rocks were brilliant up against the white snow.  The photos I rediscovered do not do it justice.  While in the area the snow became heavy through the days.  Yet, that didn’t slow us down.

New Year’s Eve came rather quickly.  We decided to hit the great Seven Falls tourist attraction in the Pike’s Peak area.  (Google Seven Falls to wet yourself down with its picturesque majesty.)  Alas, they were officially closed on New Year’s Eve, but we still were able to drive to the overlook scenic platform, just across the canyon from the high, frozen long falls.  As you can imagine, we had the place all to ourselves.  Along with the frozen famous falls, I adored the silence in the air, also created by the audio-absorbing snow.  The temperature was about 4 above zero that afternoon.  That’s tough for any Texan to endure for very long.  So we took pictures, looked at the frozen falls trough binoculars, until the girls started to beg for the warmth of the SUV.  The fog of my long sigh rolled out of my mouth and up over my head.  Oh, how I wanted to stay and soak it all in.

Seven Falls Frozen Dec 31, 2001

Megan & D’Anna, and your’s truly.  (Tabitha was taking the picture.)

It was almost dusk, so we drove out of the opened gates of Seven Falls. (See cover pic over the title above.) With the tires crushing the hardening snow, we passed a little picnic area with a trickling brook close to the drive leading out toward the main road.  We decided to stop and have ourselves a snowball fight, which the girls had been pleading for ever since we arrived in snow country.  That’s exactly what we did.  My camcorder was in full-swing as I climbed out of the vehicle.  The snow was up to my shins in some places as we dropped to make snow angels with our arms and legs.  Three year old D’Anna was getting too cold during our snowball fight, and didn’t want to stay out any longer.  She wanted back in the warm SUV where her mom remained during our adventure.  Her timing was just about right.

Seven Falls Park Dec 31, 2001

Tabitha and Megan in the park ready to launch snowballs at the man holding the camera.

It was beginning to get dark.  The moonlight was spectacular bouncing off the sparkling snow.  We took the time to climb a small 25foot-30foot hill in the park where we could see the trained colored spotlights skimming off the frozen falls off in the distance.  It was just a magical moment for us.  But all good things must come to an end.  Whoever came up with that phrase must’ve been a recluse.

As I reached the vehicle, I began to search my coat pockets for my cell phone.  Back in 2001/2002 cell phone casings were thicker, with antennas which rose above the scalp when pressed against the ear.  I figured if it fell out I would feel it.  There were only three pockets large enough for placement.  I searched all of them.  My hunt in the Suburban came up empty as well.  I ordered everybody out of the vehicle to form a search party.  It was dark, but the moonlit snow would be a big help in locating a hole in the drifts in the shape of a flip cell phone…or so I thought.  We must’ve spent half an hour walking square foot by square foot of the area where we had been playing, even the roadside hill we climbed.  We came up with nothing.  Obviously, in our wintry frolicking it escaped quietly out of my coat pocket.  We returned to the SUV wondering all the while how we would communicate with the outside world.  In those days, it was the only cell phone we had.

Cell Phone old

After we fell into bed, back at the hotel, I called our family members in Texas to tell them of our adventures, along with the misfortune of the cell phone loss.  We continued our snowy trip throughout the following days, thoroughly enjoying a life-long memorable vacation which was good for our souls.  It was the right thing to do.  No regrets, even now.

One afternoon in late April of 2001, our landline phone rang.  It had a Colorado Springs area code.  I picked up the phone to hear a man’s voice asking if I had been in Colorado Springs recently.  Curiously, I mentioned our Christmas/New Year’s trip.  He then asked me if we had visited Seven Falls.  The bell wasn’t ringing in my head just yet when I heard his question.  With a confusing sound in my voice I said, “Yes, we were at Seven Falls.  They were closed on New Year’s Eve, but we had a fun time hopping around in the deep snow just outside of the falls in a park.  Who is this?  Why are you asking?”  He introduced himself, then explained he was a Colorado Springs police officer who jogged the same road alongside the park outside Seven Falls.  He went on to reveal how he found a frozen mobile phone next to his jogging route and retrieved it.  He had me describe the phone and when he was satisfied that I was the owner, we both had a good laugh about it.  He said after the snow melted in April, it was sitting there in plain sight by the brook.  He went on to tell me he took it to the police lab to charge it up, not knowing it would even take a charge after thawing.  In his surprise, as he looked through the contact index, he found a number that was entitled, “Home”.  He jotted down the number and called us from his cell.  He then graciously asked if I wanted it back.  By that time I had already replaced my mobile phone and really didn’t need it any longer.  He offered to mail it to me at his expense, but I discouraged it.  I thanked him, then gave my permission to use it as a trade-in for another phone for himself.  He said he might just do that.  I hope he did.

To this very day, I pray for guidance in various corners of my daily life.  One subject I pray for are teachable moments in my own life.  Later it hit me concerning an ancient truth written so long ago.

Have you heard about the old woman from Israel, some 2,000 years ago?  She wasn’t a poor woman.  She actually had ten silver coins stored up.  In that day, it signified wealth.  By deduction, she probably didn’t earn the silver coins, as most women of that time wouldn’t have had income reaching such a total.  There’s no mention of a husband, so some surmise she might have been a widow.  If so, in the Middle East during the first century, it would have been the inheritance from her dearly departed husband.  The silver coins must have been precious to her heart, more than the marketplace.

On a cloudy day, the woman reached into a space in her hearth where she had hidden the small drawstring pouch of coins.  Carefully, she poured the collection of silver pieces onto her small dining table for polishing.  As she counted them she stopped at nine.  She counted again, but stopped at nine.  There were ten in the pouch, but only nine rested in the pouch.  One had been stolen, or simply misplaced.  Frantically, she lit a lamp and placed it just a hair’s width from the floor.  With a roving sharp eye she explored every inch of the cold floor on her hands and knees.  She then hastily grabbed her broom to slowly swept each corner, under every chair, bed and table.  She was determined not to give up her search.  With one swipe of her broom in a darkened place, she heard the sound of a coin slide against her stone floor.  The neighbors and friends down the street were unaware she was in great distress, as she hunted for this one lost coin.  She was so elated, she ran outside in almost hysterical laughter and yelled out to her clueless friends and neighbors,  “Celebrate with me!  I had lost this one silver coin and now I have finally found it!”

The parable of the Lost Coin is a story Jesus told.  (I paraphrased and expanded it for a modern dramatic rendition.)  He taught a few things concerning items lost from God’s arms.  A sheep, a prodigal son, a priceless peril, etc.  It must mean a lot to Him.  It speaks of His heart toward those of us who are not close, or in tune with God’s love, along with the righteous rescue He offers.  When He taught about “lost things” He describes them as out of sight, or in a hidden, darker place from clear view.  Even now, I have a beautiful red sock somewhere in a darker, out of clear viewing locale.  Every time I see the mate, I remind myself to turn my house upside down.  Even though it’s here somewhere, I still cannot see it, touch it, or consider wearing it.  In other words, my lost sock is useless to me.  However, I love those red socks!

Unlike my choice, concerning the future of my lost phone, God treasures the soul who He sees as lost.  He never “trades in” for another more fetching, or more accepting.  Many who recognize the vacuum in their world to be a life without spiritual reconciliation, find peace and comfort in His arms.  In God’s view, there are no lost causes.  THIS, is the true purpose for the humble birth in Bethlehem.  God’s way of searching out the lost precious ones.

“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His…”  2 Chronicles 16:9a  (NAS)

After many months under the Colorado snow, the frozen phone was without juice for communication.  Yet, when plugged into the source of power by a rescuer, it gained life, a resurrected life, so to speak.

My old mobile phone and I have something in common.  After the well-intended butchery of our lives that August, I froze-up.  One might even say I was useless.  For months I crawled into an emotional fetal position with the mental coil of wanting the bury myself in a snow cave somewhere, never to be seen or heard from again.  In a way, I did just that.  I even stopped doing chores, trips to the grocery store, and hid from friends and family outside my walls.  Trust me when I say, it was difficult as I had a very public career as a radio personality.  Climbing on the air became a dreaded thing to me.  I had to “put on” a character, a character I once was.  You might say I was frozen without a charge.  Psychologically I was damaged, altered, and empty.  It went on for years.  I fought to stay alive.

Some relief began to diminish the bubble (somewhat) by 2004.  You can align it to a snow-melt causing me to reappear.  Thank God for the power of resurrection.

You might discover the falls may be frozen, but there’s always a scenic platform available.  It comes with a free viewfinder prepared with the essence of fuel for the race.

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, comes home, and calls together his friends and neighbors to tell them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep!’ In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones…” – Jesus –  Luke 15: 3-7a  (Berean Study Bible)

 

Crank It Up

Photo:  spotify.com

“If you start me up, if you start me up I’ll never stop…” (1981)  Start Me Up.  Recorded in 1978 & 1981 by:  The Rolling Stones.  Composers:  Mick Jagger & Keith Richards.

From a radio/record perspective of Start me Up, it truly has one of the biggest hooks in rock & roll history.  It sticks to the ear.  Even now you probably are hearing it in your head.  From a rock composer’s perspective, the instrumental is carefully crafted.

Recently, I have been astonished at the musical icons still on tour, or performing stop-and-go dates.  The Stones are a great example.  76 year old Mick, along with Keith, Ronnie, and Charlie are still cranking it on stage across the planet.  Then there’s Roger and Pete from The Who continue kickin’ the boards worldwide.  Of course, Barry Manilow, Joan Baez, Willie Nelson (86), and Ann (69) & Nancy (65) Wilson of Heart are like well oiled machines.  Brian and Roger of Queen are dotting the world in song still.  I would be neglectful if I didn’t mention Mick, John, Stevie, and Christine of Fleetwood Mac raising the arena roofs.  Gene Simmons of KISS recently stated that he will be 70 in August.  By the time their End of The Road Tour wraps, he will be 72 and believes he will be cooked well-done by then.   There’s no way I would leave out Elton, Paul and Ringo wowing concert goers on every continent.

Joan Baez in Spain 2019. Grace Stumberg took pic.

Photo:  Joan Baez in Spain.  Concert by the sea, July 2019.  Photo by my friend, Grace Stumberg from upstage.

A buddy of mine, near Green Bay, WI, worked part-time in security for major concert events.  One recent night he found himself in charge of the green room back stage for the band, Kansas.  While they were on stage performing Dust In The Wind, he got a good look at all their drugs sitting out, completely exposed.  He was surprised to find a mix of Levemir, asthma inhalers, an assortment of beta blockers for blood pressure, and statins for cholesterol.  Signs of the times?  (LOL)  Most all of the above, with a few of exceptions, are artists who range from 75 years old and older.  Mick Jagger made major news, not long ago, with heart surgery holding back the current tour.  He got through it nicely and is hopping around on stage like a young rabbit.  Being an old performer myself, I know how tough it is to be on your energetic stage toes as you get older.  There’s just certain things I just can’t do as well as I once did.

Eastern Hills Buffalo NY 2007 II

Vocally, I’m fine.  But too many times lately, I find I lean on my mic stand for support, or sit on a bar stool to finish a set of music.  After decades of performances, I know I could probably never take on a major role in a musical again.

Homecoming Production 1999ish Playing John Walton.

Or, it could be these are photos of my imaginary son. (LOL)

Molly - Me at Saddlerock

The truth bites.  Honestly, I don’t know how these long-in-the-tooth artists are able to take the wear & tear of concert touring.  Most all of these acts have 15 years minimum jump on my age.  I guess Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine was right with the lyric, Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.

All of this came to mind earlier this month when it was 120f degrees inside my 2008 Nissan Xterra.  It’s been a terrific vehicle since I bought it about 9 years ago.  One July afternoon I got in the oven…uh, rather the SUV, turned the key as it tried to start, but was denied.  Knowing it wasn’t the starter or the battery, it left me bewildered, and hot.  Try, try again they say.  After the third attempt, it turned over.  So, off to the auto shop it went for diagnosis.  Right away they gave me the bad news.  It was the actual crankshaft, and with it, crankshaft sensors.  If the crankshaft doesn’t spin, the pistons won’t engage.  Arg!

I hate car trouble.  After a couple of days, and $750.00 later, it drove as if right off the assembly line.  On the way back home, I heard Start Me Up on a classic rock radio station.  I thought it was most coincidental.  The laughter came tumbling out of my mouth.  Wouldn’t you know, I turned it up and sang along, using my best Jagger accent, of course.

Some say age is all in the mind.  Maybe that’s true to a certain extent.  Then again, why isn’t 79 year old Chuck Norris competing in the MMA?  I certainly see how the mind can overcome many rusty, slow-moving items in life.  On the flip-side, there are times when the mind says, “I know how to do this.  I’ve always done this.”  Yet, the body doesn’t get that memo.  Parts rust, wear and tear, and the muscles weaken with stiffness to boot.  Age is what it is…age.

So, for now, I will grab the energy God gives in His installment plan.  He does say to rely on Him for strength, even physically.  The One who makes all things new is the best physical trainer.  My job is to nurture and exercise this aging earthsuit while I’m still in it.  The turning of the key to Divinity is all about trusting what He promised to those who acknowledge and follow Him.

Wisdom says, get to know your body and its limits.  It’s prudent to explore the boundaries when starting up the day.  Who knows, maybe you’ll never stop.

If I do sing and dance on stage when I’m 76 years old, it will only be because I consumed fuel for the race.

“Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you.” – God   Isaiah 46:4 (NAS) 

Construction Ahead

Photo:  Bartek Wojtas

“..This much I know is true.  That God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you…” – (2004)  Bless The Broken Road   Recorded by:  Rascal Flatts  Composers:  Jeff Hanna, Marcus Hummon, Robert E. Boyd.

Does this sound familiar to you?  A few days ago, as I was on my way to an appointment, I was driving north on one of the main streets in the suburb where I live.  There are three lanes northbound, and three lanes southbound.  It is a very well-known, heavily traveled boulevard.  The speed limit norm allows cruising around 40-45mph.  Suddenly, I am hampered by bumper-to-bumper traffic.  With a rather large exhale, I said out loud in frustration, “Arg!  A standstill.  Figures!”  Inch by inch, foot by foot, I finally arrived at the intersection I was driving toward.  The traffic congestion delayed me for some twenty minutes.  As I was able to get a clearer view of the problem, which caused the bottleneck, it angered me even more.  Yes, I admit, flew off the handle inside my car.  It was unexpected road construction at the busiest time of day for commuters.

Construction-2 Rodolfo Quiros

Photo:  Rodolfo Quiros

Hours later, as I returned home and caught up on social media, I read a notice from the city concerning the specific intersection slowing all of us drivers down to a halt.  It stated that workers were widening the lanes, turn lanes, and reconstructing the curbs, etc.  That’s actually good news, if not for the last part of the traffic notice.  The city was good enough to let us in on just how long the project would take….December of 2019!  That’s a lot of wet concrete, jack-hammering, sawing, frame-working, and all that goes with it.  A tad less than six months for that one intersection.  Ouch!

Well, at least the old pavement itself doesn’t have emotion, pain, and a way to calculate its own history.  It’s very much unlike the way we are constructed.

I don’t know about your life, but I have been hammered, sawed, and broken up a few times.  Even my “No Passing” stripes have been redrawn.  Can you identify?

Shortly after I checked my social media, I locked onto a TV documentary on the National Geographic Channel.  It was a two hour thrill about the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  Stunningly brilliant cinematography, it was a an eye-popper.  It was shot by a hiking crew which began their adventure from the floor of the Grand Canyon.  Not only did they have shoulder cameras, but they also shot their POV scenes from helmet and body cams.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.  It was more than fascinating, it was awe-inspiring.  And then the unanticipated spooky moments came.  As they slowly ascended up the canyon walls, mile by mile, their trek involved tiny narrow ledges, some barely seven inches in width.  One misstep, and it’s at least a 500-foot drop.  Yes, I looked away at times.  My mouth couldn’t hold back the words, “Nope, not for me.  Never!”  I decided, right then and there, I would take road construction tie-ups any time of day.

Not unlike the well-planned professional hikers, engineers for the road construction have a blueprint to adhere to.  The mapped-out details will take the more narrow sections of lanes and broaden them for future traffic.  Their scope involves a turn ramp for easy right turns with only a yield sign for safe merging.  Of course, new curbs will be built to accommodate the widened street.  For night driving, good solid curbs have kept my tires from meandering off the road to where I’ve needed to be.

The times my life have been broken-up, jack-hammered, and cut away, were always for a refashioned purpose.  Mainly in retrospect did I ever see it clearly.  Like those adventurous Grand Canyon hikers, I often found myself trying to balance my stride on very thin ledges, step by step.  It seems to me, during those jaunts, I never noticed the drop-off danger just to my left or right.  But the reality was, my boots were on a potential life-ending, risky trail before the constructive remodeling came about.  Like surgery, life construction often is full of hardships.  There’s breaking, bending, stripping, and scraping, all in the process.  Old paint must come off.  Guardrails which aren’t high enough are torn down.  Stubby curbs often aren’t visual enough.  With a journey on that street, one can easily be distracted causing a kissing of the ditch.

Right now, you might be thinking of some tough steamrolling in your own life.  It may be from your past, or your present.  If you believe it’s never happened…it will.  Possibly you thought you might not get through it all before the new cement dries.  Just gazing at the new scaffolding was a mystery at the time.  In fact, it could be you hunted for a detour, but in the end, you had to go through the unsettled intersection to see more clearly.  Am I right?  Usually reconstruction delivers you more easily to where you are meant to be.  Sometimes, the process WILL temporarily hurt, and maybe lengthy on the calendar, but the destination is the goal.

Sign- Cliff warning

Meanwhile, it’s wise to observe the warning signs on the beaten path ahead.  Sure, it may cause a bottleneck, slowing you down from where you set the cruise control, but in the end, it serves.

There’s one thing to keep in mind.  Nobody ever remodels to design a smaller product.  God doesn’t work that way either.  Count on it.  I know do.

When getting the rough places straightened in life, fill-up with fuel for the race.

“You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.” – Psalm 18:36 (NAS) 

DNA And Me

Photo:  “Our” family reunion of 1902.

“…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.

Alexander Ambrose Timmons Great Uncle-in-law 1866ish

Photo:  Meet Great Uncle Alexander Ambrose Timmons (1865)  Now THAT’S a knife!

Lewis Pinkney Brooks Great Grandpa 1866ish

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.

Mary Lucinda (Cinnie) Moore-Brooks Great Grandma 1877ish 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.

Great Aunt Alverse Brooks 1905ish

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.)

Grandma Brown with two sisters 1911ish

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.

“…Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  – Jesus – Luke 12:6-7  (Berean Study Bible) 

If I were…

“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be.  So we grew up together…mama-child and me.  Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby.  Recorded by:  B.J. Thomas.  Composers:  Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.

With age, I have learned that…

If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.

If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.

If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.

If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.

If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.

If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.

If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.

If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.

If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.

If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.

If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.

If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.

If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.

If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.

If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

From my granddad’s cedar coin box.  The two of us from 1969.

If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.

If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.

If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.

If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.

If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.

Mom & Megan 1992ish

My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)

If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.

If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.

If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.

I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…”  The reason being, I simply could never measure up.  The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.

Mom salon

I am her portrait.  I am her monument.  I am her novel.  I am her screenplay.  I am her statue.  I am her champion.  I am her armored soldier.  I am the medal of honor.

To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.

“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah –   I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)

 

 

Our Irene

“Farewell, Irene, where your dreams abound…You dream of the north, Irene.  Well then that’s where you oughta be…”  (2016)  Irene.  Recorded and composed by:  Courtney Marie Andrews

WARNING:

As I introduce you to my fabulous cousin, Irene, allow me to lay down a teaser right here.  In a few lines I will deliver a shocker, a twist in my spotlighting of this precious and beloved lady.

When I think of cousins, my memory projects mental Super 8 footage of summer days chasing each other with water guns.  I have snapshots in my childhood haze riding double on horses, bareback through the pastures.  Notably, there’s always visions of playground swings, chasing the ice cream truck down the street, family reunions in the park, and visiting our grandparents together.  Cousins were, and are, so much fun.

Entering stage left, my cousin, Irene.

When I was little, I had trouble calling her, “Irene”.  My understanding the word, “Ring” came out of my mouth.  I was able to overcome that problem.

Over the Easter weekend, the old band got together for a bit of a reunion performance for a Messianic Passover event way north of our home in Dallas.  For a Texan, Oklahoma is north-enough.  I drove myself up to Enid, Oklahoma, in the northwestern part of the state, for our musical adventure.  The long drive gave me lots of time to freshen up my vocals before arriving at the venue in the late afternoon.  We had played there two years ago.  At that time, after a Facebook posting about the gig in Enid, my cousin, Irene, replied with a tad of chastisement for not informing her.  It was my mistake in that I was under the impression she and her husband resided in southwestern Oklahoma, closer to Altus where her mom lived.  Turns out, she lives closer to the Kansas/Oklahoma border, in Tonkawa, OK, just another thirty miles or so north of my turn-off for Enid.  So, I promised her then I would contact her ahead of time if I’m in that area again.  As you can see, we finally got together.  Here’s the beauty with two of her pals and my ugly mug.

Irene (77) Me (58)

(We have Cherokee in our family tree.  The features show up so much more through her branch of the family.  Her mother, my Aunt Evelyn, was very much the same way.)

Although we had kept in touch over the decades, it was always through emails, texts, and Facebook.  Rarely were we hanging out for family picnics.  Literally, the last time we physically sat together was at our uncle’s memorial service in 1977.  It’s such a shame to only see the ones you love at times of sorrow.  Do you know what I mean?

What a terrific visit.  It’s amazing what you can learn about others when you actually sit and talk face to face.  I knew she was an artist, photographer, and an avid activist, a gifted musician, but there’s so much more to my cousin, Irene than I once knew.  Part of her artwork is landscaping.  Her property is a testament to the fact.

Irene Backyard

Irene Front Yard

I must say, it’s vastly different from the natural brush country in that part of the state.  She’s turned it into a showplace.  It reminded me so much of the Dallas Arboretum Park.  (Google for photos.)  Truly a professional would be amazed.

Part of her array of gifts surrounds being active in charity work and fundraisers.  She has donated many items for local charity auctions.  One of the things she is known for is her artwork on chairs.  You saw the cover photo at the top, by the title, of her in action.  Here’s another example of her artsy eye on old unwanted furnishings.

Irene & Gene Doughtery Artwork

(Collaboration Art by:  Irene Ackerson & Gene Doughtery)

Irene Art

These chairs go for a few hundred dollars at various auctions.  You can see why.

Irene stays very busy.  She is well traveled and well educated.  She and her husband were teachers, loving the craft of education.  She is a talented canvas painter.  An active animal lover, Irene rescues dogs, as well as, dog-sitting for others in the community.  Somehow she walks multiple dogs at the same time.  I struggle walking two of them.  My dear cousin collects items of interest, much in the realm of artwork, from all over the world, decorating her home with such.  She’s a volunteer for civic and church events.  She can be found in the throws of various social and charitable occasions.  She probably makes animal balloons, too.  These are just some of the things I have missed out on in not getting to know her better.

We both have a good sense of humor, which has been handed down through our family tree.  One day, back in the 90’s, she got a real kick when I called her the “Kate Jackson (Charlie’s Angels) of our family.”  The resemblance was authentic.  There was a lot of truth to my title for her when we were younger.

Irene & son,

(Irene with her oldest son, Jeff.)

Now for the twister of this story about my cousin, Irene.  We never played in the playground swings together.  We never rode bareback horses through the Texas pastures.  We never chased down the ice cream truck.  Irene and I never once shot each other with water guns.  It’s certainly not because she lived so far north from my stomping grounds.  So what’s the mystery?

If you have seen my Facebook page, (Connect with me anytime – Alan Brown, Carrollton, Texas.)  then you know she’s not shy about her age.  In a recent public post on my Facebook page, Irene mentioned the occasion where we first met.  In fact, there is a photo of the moment, which currently I cannot locate in my stacks of family photos.  It was 1964.  I was four years old, shaking hands with Irene, the beautiful bride!!!  (YES, scroll back up for another look at us from Easter weekend.)  Irene is actually my mom’s cousin, my 2nd cousin.  Not willing to publish her actual age, I will reveal that I will turn 59 in a few days, and Irene is two years older than my mom!  Maybe I should add, she’s never had work done. (Haha)

Let it be known, she can run circles around me.  We had a very sharp aunt who lived to be 103 who walked faster than I did.

Truly, there’s lots to be said about staying active.  There’s lots to be said about keeping the mind youthful and open.  There’s lots to be said about nurturing the body, and keeping it moving.  Irene has done all of that, and more.

I also think love has much to do with the “youthening” process.  Do you agree?  Have you noticed?  Irene pours out love for others as a way of life, including the animal kingdom.  I believe those who chew on hate have bitter, shortened lives.  Frankly, that is a biblical concept.

Jesus taught to love one another as we love ourselves.  He also went further.  He taught we should love the ones we perceive as outcasts, or socially despised.  He said so because that is how God loves.  In following suit, we find life to be more palatable altogether.  Life is sweeter when my mind chooses to love those I normally might not even notice.

Maybe Irene’s teaching days aren’t over.  Turns out, I’ve learned a few things observing our Irene.

Love and youthful endurance are grand products of fuel for the race.

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles.  They will run and not get tired.  They will walk and not become weary.” – Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

 

In The Waiting

“And all this time I’ve been staring at the minute hand.  Oh, what a crime that I can’t seem to understand that life is in the waiting.  Life is in the waiting…”  (2000)  In The Waiting, originally Recorded by:  Greg Long.  Composer:  Kina Grannis

It was early in 1998.  There I was, with two copies of my new script in a saddle-leather briefcase with the strap over my shoulder.  A friend of mine (I will call him Jon, because that’s his name LOL.) agreed to meet me at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Arlington, Texas (Between Dallas and Ft Worth.) for a pre-production lunch meeting.  As a producer, director, writer, actor, I was acquainted with wearing all the hats way too often for my productions.  In this case, circumstances required an executive producer to help me launch my next three-act stage play.  Frankly, I was relieved.  But I needed someone I could trust.  Jon was always pitching the idea to bring a production to his suburban community.  We had been in musicals together, as well as, duos on stage, and choral work.  Off the stage, together we produced an original song for a scene in one of my radio theater plays.  So, it seemed right to ask him to be my executive producer while I agreed to take care of everything else.

After scheduling arrangements through phone calls, complete with email confirmation, we were to meet for lunch at 11:00.  Double checking our emails, I knew the exact time to leave my house, which was some 35 minutes away from Arlington.  My radio drive-time show began at 2:30, but the radio station was only a quick 10-15 minutes from the restaurant.  If the meeting went long, the clock gave me a buffer.

I am always early for everything.  That’s just who I am.  I’ve always hated rushing around in the attempt to arrive on time.  If I don’t, I can get scatter-brained.  Plus, being a radio guy, I was living and dying by the broadcast clock.  Literally, half-seconds are counted on-air when back-timing for hard commercial breaks, or news drops.  It’s something you tend to take home with you.

11:00 rolled around as I checked my watch.  No Jon.  Cracker Barrel has a gift shop inside their front door.  You have to wade through all the candies, gadgets, and silk-screened t-shirts to arrive at the front counter, as well as, the host/hostess station for seating.  So, I browsed away at the pecan logs, moccasin style coin purses, and plastic bobble-head dashboard figurines way beyond my actual curiosity.

I checked my watch…11:27.  No Jon.  Hummmm.  So, I remembered that the restaurant had a selection of wooden rocking chairs outside on the porch area.  After exhausting myself among the peanut brittle and beef jerky, off I went to explore the various rustic patio furniture.  It was a cool morning, but tolerable.  I walked among the presentation of rocking chairs, looking at the price tags while talking to myself.  Suddenly, realizing they were all just about identical styles and colors, I chuckled at myself for doing all I could to kill time as I rocked in one of the chairs.

Rocking Chairs

Photo:  decorpad.com

By that time the watch said 11:45.  No Jon.  I checked my cell phone only to find I hadn’t received any texts or missed phone calls.  Hummmm.  I didn’t want to call him, knowing he was probably driving like a mad hatter to get there.  After counting all the cars and pick-up trucks in the parking lot, I began counting all the green cars and trucks, vs the blue cars and trucks.  Yep, it was getting a tad stupid.  Thinking I should spend my time more productively, I pulled out a copy of my script and began reviewing like a script editor.  (Any actor that has worked with me knows that’s dangerous.  I tend to find words I want to add, or rearrange scenes, or dump a character.  I also tend to remove myself from my surroundings when this occurs as the clock gets devoured.)  Halfway through the script, about where I placed the intermission, my watch read 12:52!  NO JON!  I must admit, miffed is a kind way of interpreting how I felt.  My 2:30 radio show obviously was to happen without show-prep, or a fresh pot of coffee at that point in the waiting.  The next thing on the docket would be my frantic producer/co-host calling me in a panic wondering where I was.  Arg!

By now you must be wondering why I didn’t give up and leave the place.  I’m quirky that way, I guess.  Nobody can accuse me of one who gives up easily.  However, there was a thought to give him until 1:10 for the drop-dead time.

About 1:00, two hours after our scheduled lunch appointment, Jon pulled leisurely into the parking lot.  As I waved away the steam coming out of my ears, I could see him walking up toward me, totally relaxed and unhurried with every hair in place.  Go figure.

Jon said with a smile, “Hey, Alan.  The food smells great out here.  I’m starved.”

I grinned, as I bit my tongue, “Boy, me too.  I’m short on time, but I can woof down a burger quicker than anyone I know.”  And with that greeting, in we went.  With the two hour gap, I wondered if he had made a trip to L.A. forgetting to change his watch back to central time.  Who knows?

The funny thing is, he never said why he was late.  He never apologized for keeping me waiting.  The scripture passage says, “Wait on the Lord…”, but not Jon.  I avoid confrontation whenever I can.  Never did I mention the late hour at all.  It seemed okay just to play off his mindset of the moment in the attempt to hide my angst.  After all, there was much to discuss with few tick-tocks to do it in.

Have you been there…in the waiting?  For you, maybe it was that time when you were in a hospital waiting room, counting the rectangular panels on the ceiling, hoping all would go well in the O.R.

Waiting Room POV

It could be something as benign as sitting in traffic everyday, or that long traffic light at your most hated intersection.  How about when you’re in a jury pool, with scads of other citizens, waiting all day for your name to be called?  How many outdated magazines can one read in a day?  Maybe you’re thinking of the time you waited up for a very late, non-communicative teenager on a Saturday night.  (Oh, don’t get me started on that one.)  Maybe it was after a first diagnosis, while in the waiting for test results to confirm, or a second opinion.  The cruel clock can just be a mocker sometimes.

However, it’s up to the individual to caress the realities of this journey between beginning and ending.  It’s the duty of each to embrace the joy in the journey, even during times of hardship, pain, and frustration.  It’s what we make of our speed-bumps and the cliffs ahead.  We can stroll among the identical rocking chairs, comparing the price tags, or burn them all in anger because they’re not different.

One thing is for certain.  Above all else, time marches on.  The famous Rolling Stones lyric is wrong.  Time is NOT on our side.  Mick Jagger just discovered this in his own life.  As much as we want it to be, time is not a respecter of persons.  Ask any plastic surgeon.

There is a beginning, and it assures us there will be an ending.  Everything in the middle proves to be just the space between the certainties of beginnings and endings.  With the exception of a sphere, or circle, all has a beginning and ending.  In jazz you will discover chords can be created with dissonance.  Often the time signature has these chords sustained for the ear to grasp the clash of pitches.  Oftentimes, the ending of a score in jazz does not resolve, leaving the ear hunting for a major key chord of solution.  Not so much in life.  Endings are not always pleasant, or wanted, but they push through the maze of waiting.  Expect a resolution to all things in this physical world.  In the middle of our stage entrance and exit, we find ourselves in the waiting…sometimes listening to jazz.

How often have you heard an elderly person say they inwardly feel like they did as a teen, spry, energetic, with youthful thoughts?  There’s a purpose for that testimony of the aged.  It’s all about the soul, or the spirit.  I’ve written about this before, and for good reason.  Often interchangeable in print or speech, the soul/spirit, is eternal.  (I often think of the spirit as the emotion, or intellect.  This disappears when the brain is dead, diseased, or damaged.  Yet, the soul is far deeper.)  In fact, some medical researchers have put a weight to the soul as it leaves the body.  It’s been documented at 21 grams.  No matter how the wrinkles and lines redraw the face and hands, the soul remains timeless.

In a lengthy post, found in my archives, I shared my near death experience.  (See “Confronted By Death…” dated Feb 11, 2018.)  Actually, I should say, “death” experience, as I was found dead and brought into the E.R. dead.  Let me just say, they call it “Passing Away” for a reason.  Literally meaning, “Moving Out (in motion)”.  That event changed my outlook and daily life.  Since I have written about it exhaustively, I won’t do so here, but I will repeat something I KNOW to be true.  This body we live in is an EARTHSUIT.  It is a shell created for this planet’s temps and atmosphere, exclusively.  The more we discover other planets, the more certain this becomes.  We rent this thing we call “the body.”  It begins to degrade the moment we are born.  When “it” dies, “YOU”, the person in whom you are, the soul of yourself, moves out.  You leave your remains behind like an old apartment you once knew and took care of.  When the old ’72 Chevy gives up the ghost, it’s time to get out from behind its steering wheel.  Later, in a salvage yard, someone might be able to use its hubcaps, or dipstick if not too corroded.  But the realization is, “YOU” are no longer in that rusted-out car.  It’s like the discarded empty cocoon, left to degenerate on the branch.  Look at it this way; the body that dies has come to the end of the waiting.  Not unlike Elvis, the being has left the building.

Meanwhile, soul/spirit/body wrestles in the waiting, before shedding what corrodes, to be who we are inwardly, discarding the waiting.  You can visit my grave after my body fails to revive, but don’t ever say, “Buried here is Alan.”  Say hello.  I won’t answer.

Meanwhile, the waiting may be long, or short.  My personal Act I, Act II, and Act III have their moments, their twists and turns, leaving me to wonder how much longer to curtain call.  The Executive Producer, the Ancient Of Days, of my life may seem late, but He’s always on time.

Jon and I worked together very well, selling out each show later that year.  Moreover, we went on to sing together in various venues, as well as, stage musicals.  It was worth being in the waiting.

When discovering and accepting the Author of Easter, one never waits for fuel for the race.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  – Jesus –  In John 3:16-18. (NAS)