“Sister Suzie, brother John Martin Luther, Phil and Don Brother Michael, auntie Gin. Open the door and let ’em in…” (1976) “Let ‘Em In” – Recorded by: Wings. Composer: Paul McCartney
Only God knows what dangers they faced, or what turmoil and unbearable strife they endured. Nonetheless, they made their mark.
Back in the 1970’s, on a lonely hill, on what we knew were the outskirts of our Dallas suburb, where there were still pastures in the area, was a new church building where I was active in my youth group as a teenager. Just on the other side of the west-side driveway, which leads from the main road to the parking lot in the back of the building, was our makeshift baseball diamond. I don’t even think we had a backstop fence behind home-plate. It was more of a sandlot style field to play ball, and practice for the local softball church league. We spent some hot summer days out there, as we wiped our sweaty faces with the leather of our baseball gloves. Just west of home-plate, maybe twenty yards or so, was the edge of a wooded area. Actually, it was more like a dark thicket, dense in brush, Mesquite trees, along with assorted older kinds of trees. The unkempt tangled mass was so thick, nobody dared walk through it without a machete. Therefore, none of us paid any attention to the small wooded clump of pastureland. In fact, if an overthrown ball made it into the thicket, you couldn’t retrieve it without getting scratched by all the branches, briers, and twigs. Little did we know at that time the historical significance submerged beneath.
However, communities grow, realtors have their blueprints for a bustling expanse of a commonwealth. Planning and zoning took their grip as contractors began to clear pastureland for new streets, neighborhoods, and shopping centers.
And so it was, the northern sector of our suburb developed with NASCAR speed in the 1980’s. I lived here during this wave of development and still held my mouth open in awe of all the changes.
One of those changes was my former church selling a sector of their land just west of the building, where our baseball diamond was. It wasn’t long afterward, the bulldozers began to roll, making way for a new subdivision of upscale homes. As they did, they proceeded to clear the wooded area next to our old sandlot. All the machinery came to a halt when a foreman yelled out, “Hey, wait! Hold up there!” As it turned out, there in the midst of all the overgrown thicket, a small cemetery, long forgotten by generations past.
When first discovered, rumors flew around the community. One such rumor was an old graveyard of black slaves with unmarked graves had been discovered. My heart sank just thinking about it. Although it turned out not to be the case, it was the only story I heard about the forgotten patch of a cemetery. It’s what I handed down to my kids, as well. Not once did I visit the place throughout the years. Don’t ask me why. If you did, I guess I would tell you it was because it’s not a very convenient spot to get to. And that is still true today. Nevertheless, I put an end to my procrastination a couple of weeks ago. The historical cemetery sits less than a mile from my street.
It took several years, and some civic struggle, but after the research was done, and the zoning commission had their hearings concerning the old cemetery, it was agreed to preserve the plot. So, in a way, they did just that. They built the new neighborhood around it. Literally, between two of the new homes built at the edge of the new subdivision. There is a marker out by the curb of a very busy street. However, if you blink, while doing 45 MPH, you would never know it’s there. And yet, it is. Nestled between a couple of fabulous homes, on a street of the same, lies a small patch of ground about the size of a small frame house, about the length and width of the average front yard of homes from the 1930’s-1940’s. You might be able to park four or five large SUV’s on the strip of land.
To sum it up, in 1858, a pioneer in a covered wagon, brought his wife and four children across the Midwest reaching the plains, from Illinois to the prairies north of Dallas, Texas. His name was Snyder Kennedy. He was one of the first founders of our town, close to, what was then called, the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, approximately three miles west of my house. On this small spot of land, where his family cemetery is now preserved, over thirty people are possibly buried there, including several infants. (I say, “possibly” because there are over thirty names listed, but it has been said, only twenty-three are confirmed in the plot.) There are no longer any individual markers due to the work of vandals during the 1950’s. There are no outlines designating grave plots, or any other markings highlighting where a final resting place can be located. It left me in a saddened state.
Snyder Kennedy’s headstone was later moved to a local community cemetery a couple of miles away, but no graves were exhumed or transferred. The first person buried there is his wife. In 1859, she was laid to rest under an oak, only one year after they arrived to homestead.
A large stone marker chronicles at least thirty names, with birth/death years. One of the family members who rests there is the grandson of a man who helped to finance a great deal of the United States Revolutionary War. At the bottom of the list of family members spanning over five decades, a lone sentence reads, “And others only known to God.”
There is so much story missing here. I wish I knew more about this family, their lives, loves, and adventures. I’m sure a novel could’ve been written of the life and times of these Texas pioneers. But, isn’t this the nature of abandonment?
So, what’s my point?
It’s disturbing to me in knowing this hallowed ground was literally just a baseball’s toss away from me as a teenager, and I wasn’t aware. Moreover, it’s disturbing to me how I drove by this place of honor a thousand times through the decades, never making the attempt to educate myself, and my three daughters, about this courageous Texas homesteading family. Lost ones, forgotten by the community they helped to launch before the Civil War.
It’s disturbing to me knowing the simple truth that generations of my fellow citizens didn’t care enough to keep this ground of grief as a special historic place of honor. For whatever reason, Carrollton’s apathy directed inaction which fertilized the thicket encasing these 30+ interned so long ago.
Likewise, It’s disturbing to me when it’s reported that refrigerated 18-wheelers sit outside many American hospitals storing COVID-19 victims in body bags.
It’s disturbing to me when I hear of our WWII vets falling to COVID-19 while in nursing homes, due to poor management, poor care, or simply unattended. The gravity of the fact that many Coronavirus patients were sent to nursing home communities, infecting others who were sitting ducks, is a hefty weight to digest.
It’s disturbing to me when reports hit the news of funeral homes stacking the bodies of virus victims against storage room walls, due to poorly directed funeral companies.
This is not a political posting, railing against certain politicians, or public health admins, or even a particular nation. I fear we daily count the departed, and toss them aside as a number for the tote board. However, if a famous person falls prey to COVID-19, we acknowledge and mourn that person in every news outlet from here to there. But what about the mom, the dad, those grandparents, that co-worker, and a few 98 year old war heroes? They had sweet memories, loving families, hopes, and dreams. NEVER should one of these be “stacked” on top of another in a body bag.
Unfortunately, I feel the overcooked politicization of COVID-19 has become the dark thicket overshadowing the lives cut short during this pandemic. Beyond that, this Memorial Day in the United States will be less than what it should be due to the restrictions laying upon us.
Yes, it’s disturbing. What may be even more disturbing, is none of this may be disturbing to many in our society.
God help us if memorializing the lost ones becomes blase while in the jaws of this crisis. A memorial will be needed. As on September 11th, names should be recited. Never should it be said, “And others only known to God”. We are created in His image. Humanity deserves more than this.
Is it not true, looking for that silver lining sometimes takes a telescope?
Remembering our lost ones is a dignity taught in fuel for the race.
“Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’” – John 11:32-36 (NAS)
This was not the post I was planning for upload today. Literally, I sat down at my desk to construct a post I’ve mulled over for three weeks now, when suddenly I remembered to try again to reach my mom on the phone. It would be the fourth attempt today. This time it worked. She answered. We spoke. Afterward I felt the sliding of my emotions which tends to be the norm of late.
In the past, on Mother’s Day weekend, I have told her story. Each year I gained morsels of bravery to shed more light on our tapestry. It’s a unique, heroic recounting of a strong, courageous single mom.
At 15, she found herself fighting off, or attempted to fight off, her rapist. I was the product of that violent attack. Being out of her crushed mind, heart, and spirit, she attempted suicide twice while pregnant with me, but survived. She was unaware God had His plans of destiny beyond the messy road she was on. I told this story with a great amount of reveals a year ago. I invite you to look at May’s archives from last year to get a sharper camera angle of her torn life. (“If I Were…” From May 10, 2019)
In the last 20 years she took-on the role of caregiver for her parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Nancy Reagan called this disease, “The Long Good-bye”. She was right. My mom retired as early as she could to move-in with her ailing parents, giving up her life to hold them up, as best as she could, as they faced the monster of this disease. My granddad passed away first with complications of dementia in 2008. My grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s, struggling with it for about 14 years before she passed.
My mom aged quickly while being a soldier for her folks. It was difficult to see her own physical health decline during those years of tremendous servanthood. I was never more proud of her battling away in those times.
Around 2014, her oldest brother, 4 years older than her, began to show signs of the same disease. Today, he is deep in the jaws of the struggle, rendering him to a shell of a man, vacant in many ways. A couple of years ago, my mom’s other brother, 2 years her senior, began to mentally deteriorate with the same invader of the body. Trust me, it is no respecter of persons, or brilliance.
My mom is only 16 years older than I. (I’m turning 60 in a few short days.) Over the last 2 years, I became aware my mom was changing, and not for the better. She lives alone about 70 minutes from me in the house she grew-up in. At first, I felt the changes I observed were simple gaffs of the aging process. Our communication often left me scratching my head. There were occasions where she got lost while traveling to our part of the Dallas Metroplex, a way she knows like the back of her hand. About 2 years ago we were to meet at a halfway point, as we have done many times before. Her sense of direction was totally absent. She had to call me for help to walk her through which way to turn at each intersection. When I instructed her to turn left, she would turn right, not understanding the mistake. It was on that day I realized she…we had a problem. It would be a problem that would grow.
Recently, almost overnight, she found herself unable to spell the simplest words. Her cell phone texts became more difficult to read as the days rolled on. She began having issues with sentence construction and word retrieval during our conversations. Items would come up missing in her house. She blames it on her dog. Asking if I can help is a loss. She no longer allows me in the house. Her excuse is it’s too messy for company. In the last few months, she has had losing battles in operating her cell phone, including prompts, icons, and modes. Today, in our telephone exchange, she expressed an urge to give it up and order a simple landline phone. I hope it helps because she has trouble answering the phone these days.
There are also other health issues of concern I recognize as side symptoms of dementia. She is a proud, independent woman, and holds these cards close to her chest as I attempt to decipher how her daily life is changing.
Frankly, I know where this is going. As she shrugs it off as amusing, even humorous, I am accepting the fact that my mom is fading before my eyes.
Somewhere in the thicket of my mind, I knew this day was coming. Although there was a 20 year span as my grandparents experienced massive declining health, there were also wonderful times of mysterious joy in the midst of it all. I must remember this as I tend to my mom’s needs today and tomorrow. Currently, I just don’t know how, or where to begin.
So, what’s the purpose of this particular post? Unaware of the true answer, all I can do is display brutal honesty of how I feel on this Mother’s Day weekend. Because I didn’t have a dad around, most of the time in my life, I saw her as my touchstone. I liken it to a small child in a swimming pool, with an inflatable tube around his/her torso. He/she feels much safer holding on to the side of the pool with his/her waterlogged wrinkled hand grasping tightly to the concrete edge.
I’m turning 60 years old now. It’s time to let go of the concrete edge. Scripture tells us not to hold too tightly to this world, especially what we deem as “concrete”. Even concrete crumbles.
As the concrete crumbles in my grasp, I am reminded once again, God is the life-saving tube around my torso.
My days are filled with the reminder that I need to top off my tank every day with fuel for the race.
“So I said: ‘Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations. In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.'” – Psalm 102: 24-27 (NIV)
“I need you like water Like breath, like rain I need you like mercy From heaven’s gate There’s a freedom in your arms That carries me through I need you” (2000) “I Need You” Recorded by: LeAnn Rimes Composers: Dennis Matkosky & Ty Lacy
This is embarrassing, but I need to share one of the craziest knuckleheaded things I’m guilty of. Keep in mind, I was only 15 years old, full of adventure and vigor, with constant daredevil brainstorms. And of course, I was indestructible in the summer of 1975. Weren’t you at 15?
I was at a summer camp, with church friends, from my youth group on the banks of the sprawling, Lake Texoma, on the Texas side. Lake Texoma is huge, as it spans parts of southern Oklahoma, as well as, north-central Texas. In fact, it’s one of the largest reservoirs in the United States. It’s a fisherman’s haven, about 74 miles north of Dallas, Texas. You should Google it to get a better picture of what I’m about to reveal to you. Sightings of alligators are rare there, but they are there.
Tied-up along the banks, were a few blocks of Styrofoam, the largest about 5’x5′ square, and approximately 2-feet in thickness. I think they used them for some sort of “King of The Hill” games in shallow waters. Difficult to keep one’s balance if standing on top.
Three of my extremely bright friends, and I, came up with a brilliant plan. Like calculating convicts, planning an elaborate overnight escape from prison, we carefully planned out a scheme to barrow some brooms, make our way down to the Styrofoam blocks under the cover of night, board it, and paddle our way to Oklahoma and back before sunup. Three of us were athletes. I was a trained tournament fighter in karate/kickboxing. One was a state award-winning gymnast, headed for the Olympic trials. One was a football player. The other was…well…a guitar player. What could possibly go wrong?
About midnight, we quietly freed ourselves from our barracks. We made our way to the maintenance worker’s shed. There we discovered only two brooms, one mop, and a fan rake. We figured it’s all we had, so we borrowed what God gave us. What could possibly go wrong?
Like four teenage ninjas, we quietly made our way down to the shore, untied the biggest block of Styrofoam available, and with each one sitting on each of the four corners, with our legs hanging over the sides, we began to row like madmen on a quest. Of course, the brooms worked better than the mop and rake, but we strategically placed the two guys with brooms (I was one of them.) on the opposite diagonal corners for better rowing balance. So, off we went, in our dark clothes into the dark waters, lacking life jackets, flashlights, reflectors, or flares. What could possibly go wrong?
We had a blast, rowing 90-to-nothin’, talking about girls, our camp counselors, the mess hall’s food, our youth pastor, and…alligators. What could possibly go wrong?
Believe it or not, we made good nautical mileage in short order. To this day I have no true sense of how far out we went, but I will guess two miles, or so. What we didn’t realize is how far across the Oklahoma shore was from our campsite. I will say, it looked a lot closer than reality.
I don’t believe we made it even halfway across when we all decided to take a break. We laid back, with our empty pointed heads meeting in the middle, looking up at the stars with the sound of water licking the sides of our…yacht.
At that time, we all knew we had bit-off more than we could chew, but didn’t speak it into the overnight air. After a time, in our exhaustion, we debated the idea of defeat. Someone brought up the thought that if we got caught we would all be sent back home in a shame wagon. On the other hand, someone brought up the fact that if we didn’t start paddling back, the sunrise would beat us, revealing our naval escapade. We would be exposed to those headed for breakfast. The skinniest guy said he didn’t have the strength to paddle with his mop any longer. Silently, each of us began to consider the danger we were in, sitting on a piece of Styrofoam in the middle of Lake Texoma, without safety flotation devices, not to mention…alligators. Personally, I was more worried about the lake legend of the wild goat-man who lurks about the shores looking for young campers, no doubt since the days of Moses.
Bravely, one by one, we agreed to make a 180 to paddle back before dawn. With arms feeling like rubber, half dead on our feet, we made it to shore while it was still dark. We swore we would never tell anyone. The four of us made a pact. What could possibly go wrong? You guessed it, the week wasn’t over until one of us (Not me.) bragged about it to a girlfriend. Before you could say, “Gator-bait” everyone on the campgrounds heard about it. We narrowly escaped an early trip home. And some, didn’t believe we did it. I’m grateful I am still here to write about it. God’s mercy and grace are real, in real-time.
Photo: I’m on the right, with another fearless one acting like fools.
The 1975-Forging Foursome came to mind recently during our current COVID-19 crisis. That still night out on Lake Texoma involved four teenagers who relied on each other to stay afloat, to stay alive. Whether one had a broom, a mop, or a rake, we depended on each other, even though we were pooped in the dark on top of 100 feet of water. For us, we were a team to be reckoned with. We were essential to one another.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. In this pandemic crisis, only essential businesses, essential workers, essential volunteers were called upon to keep America afloat. The non-essentials were/are under “Shelter-In-Place” orders. Truly, there was/is a good reason for it. The virus we battle is like a team of alligators in darkened waters. I, for one, am extremely grateful for first responders, medical staffers, fast-food services, grocery stores, truckers, farmers and ranchers, gas station managers, sanitation workers, postal workers, etc…. They are all rowing in unison as fast as they can to protect the rest of us. They were all placed on their jobs for, “such a time as this”.
However, in the end, WE are ALL “Essential”. Much like pieces of a puzzle, we are all essential to one another. Where would we be if not for the shoe salesman, the record producer, the librarian, the barber, the DMV clerk, the house painter, and the carpet layer? Sure, in the crunch-time of paddling through the dark waters of the COVID-19 battle, some jobs are needed to be on the front lines of the viral war. I get that. I agree with that. However, in the end, after life is done, there will be a ditch-digger, a candle-maker, a school janitor, a tool & die maker, who will realize they were part of God’s assorted massive toolbox. There are no non-essentials here.
God Himself will say to some, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
Each one is precious, and needed. Each one has an essential place with fuel for the race.
“…Whatever you might do, work from the soul, as to the Lord and not to men…” – Colossians 3:23 (excerpt) – (Berean Literal Version)
“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free. Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…” (1968) “The Weight” Recorded By: The Band. Composer: Robbie Robertson
By: Alan Scott Brown
There’s nothing like heat in the desert rising off a paved road. They’ll say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat.” Just tell that to the sweltering backpacker, Levon “Fanny” Gates. He shockingly found himself in the middle of a wilderness, on the road to a place called, Nazareth, just on the other side of the state line. I say, “shockingly” because before his boots felt the searing concrete of this wasteland, he had been dreaming of the village with its rolling hills, orchards, and well-established vineyards. His freshly cut front lawn was the launching point for a pleasurable outdoor hike through the pines, the cool brooks, and lavish meadows.
As if he had awakened from a dream of the plush land of plenty, he now absorbs the dangerous sunrays, feeling every drop of sweat rolling down his torso. His canvas hat certainly covered his head, but the scorching heat invaded his scalp as if he wasn’t wearing anything at all. Even his denim backpack was soaked in sweat. If it wasn’t 112 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be soon, when the afternoon sun comes piercing through.
Not much vegetation thrives out here, with the exception of sage, cactus, and the occasional Yucca plant. Refreshing rains are welcomed, but scarce and quick. Fanny prayed for, what they called back home, a “gully-washer.”
With each step, he seriously worried about the soles of his old hiking boots. The baking surface of the road is far from friendly, and he felt the waves all the way up to his sunburned face. At first, he wrestled with the thought of his soles melting in the staggering temperature. Then, as he caught up with his fast-forward mind, he envisioned a potential hole in the rubber sole. None of the options were comforting to imagine in this desolate landscape.
Prior to walking into this wilderness, he knew how many miles he had traveled, but now all had changed. His harsh surroundings overwhelmed his calculations, thrusting him into a mystery without a map. A solitary roadside sign mentioned a couple of towns being 200 miles ahead, but they were unfamiliar to him. The miles seemed unending, without a mile marker. Disorientation was setting in as a menacing reality.
Rather than stopping for rest, he made the decision to push himself forward in hopes the next curve, the next hill, or the next valley in the road, would reveal a much needed oasis. Hooked to his belt, he had one full canteen of water, which needed to last longer than anticipated. Fanny was self-rationing his meager provisions with intent.
“I can do this,” he whispered with uneasiness.
Keeping his eyes on the road ahead seemed to help him psychologically. Yet, wild stallions in search for water, a lone service station, or another traveler with a tent would be a sight for soar eyes. But each time he glanced to the left or the right, it proved to be discouraging. In fact, most of the view reminded Fanny of NASA’s photos of the surface of Mars.
The feeling of abandonment was authentic, bleeding from his inspirational thought bubbles of solitude. He tried to be hopeful by telling himself Nazareth must be within 3 miles, 5 miles, or maybe 10 miles. The attempt to distract himself from the tide of broiling air failed at every turn of the road. Before the desert sun could bake his mind completely, he scanned through multiple thoughts, thoughts which could fill a library, only to fool himself with wisps of self-constructed hope.
While pushing his legs to walk an incline in the road, he noticed something he had felt once before on this journey. A pain, a specific pain in his back. Of all the body aches he had endured, this backache was king of them all. Hiking slowly up the side of a hill introduced him again to the racking misery coming from his lower back muscles, mainly from the right of the spine. It was a bit of a mystery in that he hadn’t injured himself, and never had an old trauma from his athletic history. He suddenly was reminded of the adage, “No pain, no gain” from his high school baseball coach. He said it aloud, thinking it would be a magic charm the universe would accept. It wasn’t. Still, his inward need to persevere pushed his weary bones onward.
As he reached the plateau, he celebrated his efforts shouting into the hot breeze,
“BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!”
As the late afternoon sun played havoc with his vision, Fanny cocked his head to one side as he caught a distant rumble of an engine. Since he had begun to adjust to the mirage of water puddles on the pavement, he tossed it up to “hearing things” due to a bit of dehydration. After a chuckle, he took a couple of strides when he stopped in his tracks. The sound was getting louder. He looked up in the blue sky to see which direction the plane was coming from. It sounded like a single engine airplane from the 1920’s. As he was hunting for the aircraft, he recognized the distinct sound wasn’t a plane at all, but rather a vehicle approaching from behind. He quickly turned to scope out where it originated. Wiping, then squinting his tired eyes, he saw an old blue pickup truck bouncing down the road toward him with its radio blaring a 1940’s big band tune with heavy brass. He wondered where it came from since the area was void of ranches or farms. As it approached, he could see only one occupant in the cab. There was nothing impressive about the old truck, with the exception of the fact it was an older model one might see in a vintage car show, and overly worn, to boot.
As the truck began to downshift, coasting slowly as it pulled alongside him, he could see more clearly the one behind the wheel. The driver looked as if he had just fallen off a hay trailer. He was donning faded grey pinstriped overalls, like the old train engineers used to wear. His misshaped straw hat went well with the old beat-up truck as it, too, had seen better days. With a metallic squeak, the truck came to a halt. It was clearly in much need of a muffler replacement. The ragged driver turned down the radio and leaned over to roll down the passenger side window. It was then Fanny could take-in what the man looked like. He was an old-timer with a weather-beaten face. His bushy eyebrows were salt & pepper mix. His chest-length beard was white and wiry. He had piercing ice-blue eyes which displayed a kindness, all by themselves. Before Fanny could speak, the old man greeted him.
Spoken with a healthy snicker, “Howdy there, young man. Nice day for a stroll in the badlands, wouldn’t ya say?”
The backpacker detected an accent, which reminded him of the deep south of the United States. He wasn’t sure if he was being mocked by the question, or if it was an attempt at levity.
“Yes, sir. It would seem so,” said Fanny, as he took his hat off and wiped his wet forehead.
Without hesitation the elderly man asked with a nod, “What’s your name, kiddo?”
“I’m Levon. Most everyone calls me, Fanny,” revealed the traveler.
The old man broke out in a belly laugh, “Well, who on earth pinned that nickname on ya?”
Fanny grinned, uncomfortably so, looked away and explained, “Yeah, that’s a long story, I’m afraid.”
“I bet so,” replied the old man. “The name’s, Christopher. Through the years, lots of folks have called me by a slew of other names. But, Christopher will do. So glad to meet ya…Fanny.”
“Happy to meet you, Christopher,” the young man said. “Hey, where did you come from? I’ve been on this road all day and I’ve not seen one house, truck stop, or vehicle coming or going in either direction.”
“Oh, don’t ya know?” asked Christopher.
“Know what?” inquired the trekker.
Pushing his hat back to the crown of his head, the old man responded, “Well, it’s very possible you were never informed. This is a one way road you’re on in this dust. Always been that way. It’s true, only one-way traffic on this stretch. That’s the reason why I drove up behind ya. I’ll tell ya, that afternoon sun is brutal through the windshield.”
“Tell me about it,” agreed the young hiker. “You know, maybe you can tell me something. Would you know how far Nazareth is from here? I really thought I would have spied it by now on the horizon, but nothin’ doin’.”
“Nazareth?” inquired the old one with one raised eyebrow. “Is that where you’re off to?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Fanny.
While pointing his finger, the old man said, “Well, kiddo. I can tell ya this, ya won’t get there carryin’ that anvil.”
Puzzled, the young man froze. He looked behind him, turned back again and asked, “Anvil? What anvil?”
The elderly one broke out in laughter once again at Fanny’s answer. “Boy, it’s that 95 pound chunk of solid iron at the end of the rope, the rope draped across your right shoulder there,” Christopher pointed out.
“Ah, yes. THAT anvil,” Fanny stated with pride. “Frankly, I forget it’s there.”
The elder wrinkled up his nose in an inquisitive expression, “You mean to tell me you’ve not felt every muscle in your body burning from the weight you’re towin’?”
“Come to think of it…yes. Yes, I have,” Fanny admitted.
“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Christopher said in response. “I’ve got the perfect solution for ya, Fanny. Take a look inside the bed of my truck.” Seeing the young man’s hesitation, he continued sharply, “Go ahead, son. The Loch Ness Monster ain’t gonna jump out and bite ya. Feel free, take a look.”
Fanny took a cautious small step toward the side of the pickup. As he leaned closer to get a peek, his mouth fell open with a hushed gasp.
The old man said, “Tell me what ya see, boy.”
Fanny took a big swallow to say, “It’s a truck bed full of…well…full of anvils!”
“A whole stack of ’em, I’d say,” described the old driver.
In amazement, the young man questioned, “But, why are they there? I mean…what are you doing with all of those anvils? Are you selling them? Do you work for a salvage yard or something? I’m shocked this old antique can carry the load.”
“Fanny, I guess you could say I collect ’em,” answered the old rugged driver. “In fact, I’ve been addin’ to my collection for many moons now. I could tell ya how many travelers have allowed me to take the load off their backs, but you’ve been sun-baked enough today to appraise anything.”
The young traveler concurred, “You’re right. I’m a bit fried. However, these travelers you’re talking about, are they on this road? I’ve not seen a soul until you drove up.”
“Yes, but everyone has their own journey, and most have similar burdens,” replied the old man. “At the same time, some heavier than others. As you can see, there’s various sizes of anvils here.” After a brief pause of silence, Christopher added, “Here’s my offer, kiddo. If you trust me with your anvil, every pound of it, I’ll help ya toss it behind us, addin’ to the pile. You can unload, and load-up in the cab with me for a straight shot to where you’re meant to be. I just love playin’ the Uber out here. But…keep in mind, the anvil stays in the back. Alligators aren’t allowed in the cab with me neither, ha-ha-ha…”
Fanny looked down at the scorching concrete between his hiking boots and bit his chapped lips in thought.
Christopher, seeing the struggle to find words, added, “There’s rockslides out here, ya know. As ya get close to a hillside, or an upcomin’ canyon, ya might stumble over a stone in your path. When your strength is wrenched, you’ll find it difficult to keep your stance. It’s even worse to find footing after a heavy fall with nobody around to shoulder the load.”
Shaking his head with a look of uncertainty he replied, “No, sir. I have made this trip on my own strength, and I intend finishing it on my own. Besides that, you’re a stranger to me in a beat-up old clunker. No offense, but who’s to say you could get me to Nazareth? I’m sorry, sir, but your offer doesn’t look promising from where I stand. I will do this on my own fuel, and navigation!”
The old man smiled, put his right hand on the stick-shift, looked deeply into Fanny’s eyes and said, “Boy, ask yourself why. Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”
After a quick mental search, Fanny answered with a tone of resolve, “Christopher, the only honest answer I can come up with is, I’ve grown accustomed to my anvil.”
With a serious timbre in a lower register, Christopher asked, “And the weight of it?”
“I deal with it, just like this unexpected desert,” explained the young one. “Do you understand, old man?”
“Oh, I do, son. I really do understand,” replied Christopher. “Listen, dusk is knockin’. No need for walkin’ in the darkness. I’d say, grab some winks for a fresh start in the mornin’.”
As the elderly man began to roll up his window, he grinned through his long mustache and said, “Well, I know you’ll give it your all. Still, keep in mind, it’s needless for ya to take this desolation, with all its loneliness, and the weight you’re carryin’ solo.” With that, he put the truck in gear, turned up the radio, and off toward sundown he drove.
Fanny continued his trek with a bit of angst in his steps. Christopher somehow offended him with the offer of a free lift, as if the old man thought him weaker, frail, and without survival skills.
He began grumbling to himself, “How dare that ancient dinosaur-of-a-coot say I needed help through this parched piece of earth.” Still, in the attempt to bolster his decision, he raised his voice a notch, “Who does he think he is? He’ll see me in Nazareth, sitting under the shade of an apple tree, sipping on a glass of their best vintage. He’ll be shocked to see me resting on my anvil, without any aid from his sorry rack of rust.”
With all his energy depleted by his rant, Fanny began to look for a safe spot to sleep for the night. Darkness had fallen, but the moonlight helped in the hunt for a place to bed-down. Soon, he located a soft sandy mound with his name on it. He found sun-dried chaparral fit nicely for kindling.
Overnight hours passed and the silence was deafening. As usual, he used the anvil as a pillow, even though the shape was not friendly for his head. He found the surface of the iron was still warm from the sun, which was welcomed as desert nights tend to issue a chill. Unfortunately for the camper, as the nature of anvils, its surface turned cold.
From time to time he heard a small rock roll off the side of a rise just feet from where he was laying. Another time, he was awakened by what he thought was the flapping of large wings. He imagined buzzards mistaking him for a dead man. He then tried to keep one eye opened, but exhaustion won the moment. Another awakening caused him to jump when he heard an insect scratching on his ear. He began to inwardly acknowledge his sleep would be thin at best.
Without knowing why, he opened his eyes from a sound sleep. It was just before dawn. Across the road from where he camped, he swore he caught a shadow figure racing from the road into a ravine on the other side. Startled, he bounced up to a sitting position while fixed on the area where it vanished. What he wouldn’t do for a pair of night-vision goggles. After a minute or so, and a few hyper heartbeats, he shook his head and took a helping from his canteen.
Unable to go back to sleep, Fanny stretched his legs, and his sore back, in preparation for the day ahead.
“The sun is winking at me from over the hills, ” he said as he reached for his anvil. “There’s no time like the present.”
He peeled back the wrapper of an energy bar from his cargo pants thigh pocket, finishing it in record time.
With the young morning sun at his back, and the anvil dangling once again from the rope hoisted over his right shoulder, Fanny felt new aches making themselves known in his calves, ankles, and feet. He thought to himself that if he just put one foot in front of the other, the pain would work itself out.
As he made his way, his mind was flooded with the movements and sounds he heard overnight. He convinced himself that he was in no real danger…or was he? Like a video clip running through his mind, he couldn’t erase the glimpse of the unknown shadow figure dashing away from his makeshift pallet. As hard as he tried, he remained at a loss concerning its identity. In the end, he boldly rationalized the thought. He determined the quiet swiftness indicated a cougar, or a coyote. The “what might have beens” gave him a sense of authentic fear he had not felt before.
Hill after hill, ridge after ridge, no sight of his goal. With every turn, curve and valley, he had hopes of seeing the ornate village painted in his mind as the heated hours wore on.
During the mid-morning, the searing winds kicked up with a devastating blow of a wall of dust and sand from the west. Immediately, it became a battle for each inhale. Fanny pulled his hat over his nose and mouth for protection. Vision became sparse. Tiny grains of sand stung his skin like miniature darts speeding from a horizontal projection. Through the torrent of hot dust and sand, he spotted a boulder nearby and ran to the east side of it, blocking the onslaught of the turbulent blast. After what seemed like an hour or so, the sandstorm passed. With tremendous relief, Fanny came out from behind the boulder, grateful he had discovered it when he did.
With a couple of clearing coughs, he thought to himself, “What else can happen on this journey?”
By early afternoon, he was running low on water. His fear rose each time he shook the canteen to hear the lessening of the swish. His quads were beginning to burn in his thighs. His shoulder was bruised from the rope slung over it, cradling the anvil. A growing headache, once only a nuisance, now pounded from the top of his head. Realizing he was experiencing a deeper dehydration, he guarded against panic. He was beginning to despise the constant mirages of heatwaves appearing as glimmering bodies of water. Suddenly, he heard Christopher’s words from the day before, challenging him with the question of why. “Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?” He found himself flirting with the question.
Mid afternoon descended. After following a sharp curve in the blistering road, Fanny peered into the shadow of a small canyon wall just ahead. The shade spread all the way across the road, and then some. There, on the shoulder of the roadway, about 40 yards away, was a figure of some kind. Cautiously advancing toward it, there, in the shadow of the rock wall, he saw Christopher casually leaning against the tailgate of his blue pickup.
“It seems we meet again, kiddo,” shouted Christopher with a wave. “The shield of a nice-sized rock in a desolate place is mighty fine, wouldn’t ya say? It’s nice and comfortable to me. Come on over, I’ve been waitin’ for ya.”
Fanny found he was somewhat relieved to see the old man, and a convenient shade. He smiled, shook his head in amazement, entering the cooling shadow of the canyon.
As Fanny got closer to the truck, he scratched his head and asked, “How did you know I would be here at this time of day? Are you stalking me, old man?”
Christopher laughed at the question and replied, “Who knows? Maybe the old truck is equipped with radar for weary travelers.”
Wiping his hands on the front of his well-worn overalls, the elder turned to the pile of anvils in the bed of the truck where he pulled out ice cold bottles of water from a Styrofoam ice chest.
“Here ya go! Fanny, take a load off. You deserve it.” ordered Christopher.
Right away, before breaking the cap seal, Fanny first put the cold bottle against his neck, and then his forehead. With a deep heavy sigh, an expression of relief fell over his face.
“Ahhhhhh, that feels so good,” said the hiker.
“No doubt,” answered Christopher. “Tell me, how did ya sleep last night?”
After opening the bottle for his first couple of gulps, the backpacker responded, “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that great.”
“Oh, really?” replied the old man.
Delaying his answer with another long swig of water, “Let me tell you, the desert may not be my kind of surroundings. I heard noises I couldn’t examine. There were sounds coming from everywhere, including what I think were buzzard wings. That’s way too close for comfort.”
“Is that right?” Christopher said slowly. “What else?”
“You may think I’m nuts, but I spotted a quick shadow I couldn’t identify just on the other side of the road,” described Fanny. “It’s not something I look forward to seeing ever again. By the way, just how many miles is it to Nazareth from this canyon? As far as I can tell….”
“Ya know, owls are night hunters,” Christopher interrupted. “They keep rabbits and rats on the run for sure. Wingspans can be impressive. Such a wonderful creature. As for nocturnal critters in general, I could write volumes on the kinds and species out here. They’re everywhere in the cool of the night. Some folks just let their imaginations run away with them like a train on grease. Truth is, they all were created with excellent night vision. In that respect, they’ve got a leg up on ya.”
The young traveler admitted, “It sure made for an uneasy night.”
While checking the lose left side of his back bumper, the elderly man stated, “Ya know, fear is an enemy. Fact is, it comes in many forms. You might even compare it to a parade coordinator-sending one flatbed float rollin’ by after another, all designed to frighten every person from every walk of life. Your walk of life happens to be on this very road, in this very desert. But always remember, fear is a liar. It promises the worse case scenario in most all situations under heaven, and yet rarely delivers. Son, it’s always best to think of all things as fleeting.”
Fanny laughed and belted out, “FLEETING? Ha, this desert isn’t fleeting Did you see that sandstorm?”
“Hang on now. A liar’s performance is to convince his audience,” stated the old one. “The sudden desert you approach will be full of woes. Hard things happen. Expect it. It’s part of the learnin’ curve. Oppression bubbles up. Depression develops. Illness lurks here and over there. Pain arrives, creeping into your skin, your muscles, your mind, and even your very soul. Soon, a lacking drains your strength, your joy, and eventually, your reasonin’. Yes, the desert is all of that and more. It’s a beautiful place, too…in its own way. The colors and scattered shades are brilliant. Yet, there’s danger out here. There’s isolation expected, married to obscurity. It’s all about who ya face it with. But the sweet truth is, when journeying through the desert, like ya are, you’ll find it’s only temporary. All parades must end, even sandstorms.”
The young man paused for a moment before speaking, “But if there is a learning curve to suffering, what and where is it? I mean, where’s the final exam in this hellish classroom?”
Christopher stroked his wiry beard for a moment. He turned toward a scenic view of the desert and explained, “The better question would be…Why experience it alone? Look out at this barren ground. Each step is a test. You are gettin’ an education, albeit in a lesser degree without an instructor. My offer still stands, kiddo. Let’s take this anvil off your back and put it where it belongs…behind ya, without a rope attached.”
Fanny bent down to tighten his boot laces during an uncomfortable silence. He then stood up, adjusted his canvas hat, looked at Christopher and responded, “No, sir. I will finish this challenge I’ve walked into. It’s not that I don’t appreciate your free offer, but, there’s something to be said about knowing my own conditioning will push me to my destination.”
The elderly man’s ice-blue eyes twinkled as he challenged the young traveler, “And when your anvil of comfort breaks your fleeting, temporary strength, with no one there who is stronger to save ya…what then?”
“Thus far, I’ve adjusted to its weight. It’s okay, really it is,” said Fanny in a softer, kinder delivery. “It may take me a while, but I will get through this desert. But, I can’t wait to feel the soft, cool blades of grass in Nazareth under my bare feet The universe will give me strength.”
“Don’t count on the universe. She’s unforgivin’, and unable to love, ” said the old one. “You, my young man, will find you’re bein’ schooled in the land of waitin’.”
With that said, Christopher watched Fanny strap on his anvil for the journey out of the shadow of the rock wall. Just then, the old man pulled out a brown paper bag and two more bottles of water from the bed of his truck.
“Okay, kiddo,” holding out the items. “Here, ya take these. You’re gonna need it.”
Fanny displayed a large grin at the kindness Christopher displayed. “What’s all this?”
“Well, there’s various items of protein in the bag, some nuts, dried figs, jerky, and some cold sliced pineapple you’ll wanna eat pretty soon,” explained the elder.
Laughing, the hiker inquired, “Pineapple???? Where did you get pineapple out here?”
Christopher just giggled with a lovely childlike delivery as he opened the door to the truck, got in, and started the rattling engine with a backfire.
“Here’s to hopin’ we will see one another again, ” said the old man. “Ya know, hope is a healin’ thing. Even in a deserted place.”
Fanny replied quickly, “I could use that for sure.”
“I know ya do, son. I know ya do,” stated Christopher as he put on his sunglasses. “Be aware of the shadow figures, Fanny. It’ll serve ya well. But, with that said, I’ve never read an obituary where a shadow killed anybody.”
With a whistle on his lips, and his hands on the wide steering-wheel, Christopher began to slowly drive back into the punishing sun. The young trekker raised his hand slowly to wave the old man off. Just then, Fanny realized he never thanked Christopher for the provisions.
Two days and nights passed. It was about noon when Fanny found himself dragging his feet, literally, across the baked concrete in near total exhaustion. With each painstaking stride, he began scanning the horizon for the old man’s pickup. His energy was virtually depleted, and he knew it. The morning delivered some scattered clouds, which aided the weakened young rambler, but now, nothing but abusive piercing sun shutdown all effort. He felt himself wanting, even craving, a visit with the caring driver.
Just as Fanny journeyed down a slope, from a crest in the roadway, he tripped on something. As if in slow motion, he fell forward, hard onto the hot pavement, in unison with a loud ringing thud as the anvil met the road. He screamed in pain from the impact and fierceness of the raging temperature of the road. He quickly turned over on his backpack as a buffer from the concrete. It took him a minute to collect his mind. He looked for wounds, finding a few scrapes and cuts to his elbows, cheek, and the palms of both hands. He noticed his pants were ripped at the left knee as blood began to find its way through the khaki fabric. Troubled at what caused him to lose his traction, Fanny looked around to find the object which caused the fall. There was nothing there. Unable to bend his left knee, he struggled to push himself up on his right leg. With the rope still in his hand, he tested his body for limping to the side of the road. The pain in his knee was crippling. It was a mammoth project as he slowly hopped his way to the sandy shoulder, dragging the anvil against the hot pavement.
Assessing his ability to trek ahead, he noticed something protruding from the bottom of the toe of his right boot. A closer look revealed a piece of the sole of the boot had come loose, and had partially folded back while dragging his feet during the endeavor to keep walking. Whether it was heat exhaustion, the brutal conditions, or a pure wake-up call from injuries, the young hiker admitted being trapped, for the remainder of the day, right where he sat.
As the sun slowly descended into the western sky, Fanny tried to lift his spirits. Finding a small bit of shade under some brush, he began to sing every hit song he could recall from his teen years-songs that made him smile. He busied himself mentally listing his family tree as far back as the war of 1812. With each mental exercise he was surprised at the slowness to fire-off a thought, or memory. He wondered about heat stroke.
“It would seem the elements are doing a number on you, Mr. Gates,” he sarcastically mumbled to himself. In pain, the hiker laid under the tiny shade of the brush for any relief he could manage.
Sounds seem louder when sleeping. Fanny jumped with a start from a nap he didn’t intend on taking. After a few seconds of clarity, he realized he was hearing the tail of a rattlesnake. By sheer instinct, Fanny turned over from his position, discovering in the sand to his left a five foot rattler, curled up maybe 12 feet away. Fear raced through his senses.
Somehow the young man pulled himself together and looked around for a rock. There, by his left boot, were five golf ball-sized sandstones. His eyes once again shifted back to the poised snake. Visions of film footage of how quickly snakes can crawl and strike ran through his head. Unable to bend his left knee without shooting pain, he grabbed the anvil rope, tossed it at the rocks, maneuvering one within reach. He thought to himself, “I have one shot at this and it better be right, or I’m toast.” He methodically, but slowly, reached the rock, grabbed it, then threw it at the rattler with a shout, all in one motion like a professional shortstop. Speedily, the snake reacted, slithering out to the middle of the road and stopped. Fanny trained his eyes on the reptile as it turned its head toward him again. The hiker pitched another rock toward the snake, but this time unmoved.
“Oh, no you don’t, you little beast! Don’t even think about it!” threatened Fanny.
Keeping his eye on the snake, he examined his precarious position. Unable to move quickly, due to his knee, and without a weapon at his disposal, he knew he was a sitting duck. The unexpected desert miles had been cruel, but he covered much ground. Just as he began to question his endurance to reach the other side of the wilderness, he now might see it end-thanks to a new enemy-and a damaged sole.
Surveying every item within reach for a defense, the young traveler’s anvil caught his eye. His mind landed on the reality of the weight of it. Mentally, he began to blame it for his current dilemma. Ninety five pounds of iron needlessly held him down from where he wanted to be. In the assumption he could’ve run from the snake just minutes prior, the anvil would’ve proven to be the end, holding him back for the snake’s lunge. However, in a sick, twisted thought process, his admiration for the useless anvil melted the angst.
Late afternoon approached, and Fanny’s nemesis remained vigilant in a curl, with its expressionless cold stare from the road. The scene was looking darker for the injured young man. He imagined the worst.
Feeling a bit delirious, the trapped hiker’s anger boiled, “So, do you have a nest around here? Maybe you have a brood nearby you’re protecting. Is that why you’re gawking at me? They’ll all make terrific belts, you pile of scales! How does that make you feel? Tell me, is your crawl really quicker than my hop? Look, I know what you’re waiting for. You can’t fool me,” he said, taunting the rattler. “When darkness comes, you’ll slither your measly self over here and take chunks out of me, as I slowly kill over from your venom. I know your kind. I was married to someone like you!”
Fanny was massaging his emotions to accept his coming death. Dreams were dashed, hope only a dream, and his efforts toward his goal had been wasted energy. In a moment of clarity, he looked over at his companion: the anvil. In the light of his circumstances, he knew it suddenly didn’t seem to hold much value. True, Fanny had grown accustomed to the weight on his back, but in the reevaluation, it seemed foolish to have imagined it to be part of himself in daily life. In an odd, and maybe an ironic way, it took a trauma in a desolate place to see the fulfillment of the truth.
Another hour slipped by, closer to the coming dusk. Fanny suddenly had gained a fever. He could feel chills and cold sweat rolling down his chest. His time waned in the growing darkness. His new enemy seemed to detect Fanny’s weakened state, raising its head off the pavement. Desperation danced through the stranded hiker as he grabbed the empty canteen, the only defense against the waiting venomous reptile.
During a somewhat morbid consideration, Fanny pictured where the fangs might sink in first. Like a strategist, he began to maneuver his body so that the strike of the rattler would target closer to his hands and arms for a better shot at defense. About that time, his ears detected a familiar remote sound. He cocked his head as he zoomed-in on the distant echo of what appeared to be a big brass band, combined with the hum of an engine. The young man smiled as he identified the modulation of old pistons, pushing an antique pickup in his direction. Fanny caught a glimpse of the old blue truck rounding a curve, where it began to slow down with its radio blaring away, until coming to a complete stop. As it did, the right front tire crowned the head of the cunning rattler with a defining crunch. The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Christopher.
“Well, if it ain’t young Fanny restin’ on his laurels,” he said with warm grin as he walked toward the young man.
Fanny had gasped when the truck’s tire parked on the snake.
Christopher sarcastically asked, “Son, are ya hungry? Your mouth is wide open like a newborn sparrow in the nest.”
“You…uh, I guess you know, you rolled right on top of that rattlesnake. How did you manage to do that?” quizzed the injured traveler.
“Oh, practice, I suppose. It happens,” answered the lighthearted elder. “I see ya got yourself all banged-up there.”
Sheepishly, Fanny began to explain, “Yes, sir. Earlier today I was so spent. Not realizing my toes were dragging, my sole separated a bit from my left boot, causing me to trip and…well, here I am.”
While scoping out the young man’s injuries, Christopher mentioned the obvious, “Ya fell on your face, I see.”
“In a manner of speaking, I sure did.” admitted Fanny.
The old man knelt down to get a closer look at Fanny’s damaged boot.
“Hmmm, yep, I’m no cobbler, but I see what happened,” speaking slower and in a softer tone, “Ya know, where the ‘soul’ separates is a lonely place to be. What have ya learned, kiddo?”
One side of Fanny’s bruised lip raised as he said, “Seeking shelter is a wise thing.”
“Is it now?” stated Christopher.
“No doubt, ” admitted the young trekker. “I have come to realize that I’m not ‘all that’.”
“Now, give yourself some credit in this journey of yours,” the old one said.
“What?” asked Fanny.
Christopher explained, “Ya didn’t think about how ya said it. In all your boldness and anger, ya once shouted, ‘BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!‘”
Beside himself, Fanny raised his voice in astonishment, “Hey! How did you know about…I mean…that was a few days ago now…and on top of that, I was in…”
“In the desert, all by yourself. I know,” interrupted Christopher. “You might as well have had on a wireless microphone. That was actually the beginning of your learnin’ while on this path. With all the wreckage in your life, you were searchin’ for solitude. Most people do. Ya see, there’s a big difference between solitude, and isolation. It’s ironic, isn’t it? In your isolation, ya never really were alone.”
The young man being perplexed raised his voice, “Excuse me, but I still don’t understand how you…”
Christopher interrupted again, “Not many do understand, kiddo. Even the ones who are most scholarly, with all those initials after their names, can’t get their arms around it all. Some, the honest and most humble, will even admit it. I’d say you’re in good company.”
Fanny still reclined there, looked down at his skinned hands and torn pants in a sense of surrender.
Breaking the uneasy moment, the old one spoke up, “Now son, here’s the deal for this time, for this place of desolation; will ya accept my offer? You’re in the middle of this trip, but near the end of your journey. I won’t return to these parts for some time, and here, in the waitin’, is the opportunity for decisions. Trust me on this. Take my hand and I’ll give ya a lift to where ya wanna be. As a brash up-and-comer, a lad once told me, ‘It doesn’t look promisin’ from where I stand.'”
The young man accepted without delay, “Yes, sir. I’m ready to move out of this God forsaken place.”
“Uh, not really… ‘forsaken’,” Christopher said with a familiar snicker. “You have much to learn, young Fanny Gates. Come on, I’ll help carry ya to the truck. Ya ain’t heavy.”
With Fanny’s left arm around Christopher’s neck, and the anvil hanging from his sore right shoulder, the duo methodically made their way to the old truck.
After a couple of steps, Fanny asked Christopher a simple question, “I take it you know where Nazareth is, right?”
The old man opened the passenger side door, helped the younger into the truck and informed him, “Well, of course I know where Nazareth is. As far as the eye can see from this spot, it’s nothin’ but desert. Still, Nazareth is not too far from here.”
Just before Christopher closed the passenger door, he asked, “Uh, son, aren’t ya forgettin’ somethin’?”
Fanny looked bewildered until he saw Christopher gazing at the anvil sitting in his lap.
He responded, “Christopher, do I really need to give it up? It’s been with me for as long as I can remember. Over my lifetime I’ve adjusted to its weight.”
“This is the very crux of my offer, Fanny,” Christopher uttered with a straight tone. “Somewhere down the line, you were lied to. You only ASSUMED ya needed this weight. Ya must unload what has weighed ya down in order to come with me. Now, tell me straight up. Are ya willin’ to allow me to toss it behind us, to put it to bed?”
Seeing the sincerity in the old one’s ice-blue eyes, understanding it meant everything to him, Fanny agreed to let go.
With the anvil among the others discarded in the bed of the old truck, the aged one cranked-up the engine, took control of the steering wheel, and began to make a u-turn.
“Hey, Christopher, you’re going in the wrong direction!”, the traveler said with alert.
“You were hopin’ to go to Nazareth,” stated Christopher. “Number one, ya wouldn’t have been able to get there by your own power. Number two, I’m your only Uber out this way. Number three, you were headed west on a one-way road. Nazareth is east of here. Always east.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, I’ll just have to trust you on that.” said Fanny.
With that, the old man replied, “Yep, yep ya must.”
“Christopher, there’s just one thing of concern here,” Fanny said. “I don’t have any cash on me for your fuel.”
After a satisfying smile on his old weathered face, along with a slight shaking of the head, Christopher replied, “That’s another thing, kiddo. Ya never could’ve purchased your way to Nazareth. It’s all been paid for ahead of your arrival. Burden-free, son. Burden-free.”
When loaded down, crushed with the stuff of life’s curses, unload with fuel for the race.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowlera and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”– Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV)
“You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show…” (1976) “You Don’t Have To Be A Star”. Recorded by: Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. Composers: James Dean & John Glover.
It’s called, 52768 (1998 IR2). It’s not named after an astronomer, or a mythical Greek god from ancient history, but rather a cold, non-personality number. Its title may reflect the unimpressive appearance as it tends to resemble a giant potato spud. Through a powerful telescope it may have a bit of light reflecting solar rays off its surface, but nothing as brilliant as a star. It lacks the synchronized rotations of the planets and moons. There are some which become mini-moons, caught in a planet’s orbit, but for the most part, they travel seemingly aimlessly in space. You might say, if it were a person with feelings, it would be an introverted loner, a Sad Sally. Let’s face it, she ain’t nothin’ to write home about…or is she?
First tracked by scientists in 1998, our friend, 52768 (1998 IR2), has been studied ever since, and for good reason. She’s a gigantic space rock almost the size of Mount Everest. She measures up to 2.5 miles wide and travelling at 19,461 miles per hour. A very impressive stone to say the least. What’s more impressive, is her current trajectory. Not unlike a nail-biting science fiction movie, this gargantuan potato-like stone is headed close to our own planet. NASA estimates it will pass within 3,908,791 miles of the earth. It’s way out there. Right? After all, the distance between the earth and the moon is a mere 238,900 miles. That may sound like a Herculean hurdle from here, but in astrophysicist’s standards, NASA considers 3.9 million miles a near miss. No doubt, everyone with a telescope will be out looking for it come next month, on April 29th to be exact.
I am unsure the size of the asteroid which hit us in the Yucatan, back in the day, but those seemingly in the know tell us it changed our entire planet. In fact, many believe it somehow killed off the entire dinosaur species. (I always thought it funny that the Yucatan Asteroid killed off Dino and friends, but not the balance of living species on the planet. Crickets to whales and elephants should’ve all be sunk in the impact as well, along with the nuclear winter which naturally followed. Oh, well. Of course, we are never to question scientific theory, right? If you do, the science police will come in the attempt to shut you down, until you agree to nod yes to everything they print.)
Nevertheless, NASA has sent out an asteroid alert. Even though this killer, almost the size of Mount Everest, will only visit our neighborhood. Still it is good to be alerted. A traffic alert is needed for an alternative route. A tornado alert is a must to warn people on the ground. Just ask the poor folks hurting in the Nashville, Tennessee area right now.
At the risk of appearing to be overly dramatic here, there is an alert of this nature written on papyrus some 2,000 years ago. See if this lines up with NASA’s description.
“…and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood,9 and a third of the creatures which were in the sea [f]and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed….” – Apostle John – Revelation 8:8-9 (Now there’s some climate change for the record books.) It’s interesting that in the following verse (Rev 8:10) is a description of an enormous falling “blazingstar” which poisons the planet. I will say, it’s not for the faint of heart if this planet is considered the highest treasure.
Some may not realize the significance of the writings of John in the scroll of Revelation. In fact, many try to ignore it altogether. A study of it requires one of understanding, so says its writer. The text defines it is an unfolding of times and events concerning the earth. John, the writer, was given strict instructions. “Write, therefore, whatever you have seen and those things that are, and that are going to come to pass after these things.” – Revelation 1:19 (Aramaic Translation Bible) In other words, the ending of the age is detailed. If you plan on a read, expect much imagery and foreshadowing within its pages. It’s not a good bedtime read for the kids. Alerts are a good thing. It means, it’s not happened yet. That’s a good thing. Most agree, knowledge is power.
How many times have you seen a personal asteroid headed your way, and you felt like all you could do is gaze at its approach? Maybe it was a mountain you were up against. You knew it was coming, you were alerted, your radar and telescope captured it, but all you could do is wait for the impact. Maybe it was a loved one, or a dear friend, who came to you with an alert about a person you were letting into your orbit. Maybe you disregarded their warning only to find yourself broken and damaged afterwards. It could be your body has been sending you alerts. You’ve not felt normal while wrestling with the idea of going to a doctor for a test or two. Many are in quarantine with the mountainous asteroid of Coronavirus. It could be that one day you hear a knocking under the hood of your car. A warning alert flashes on the instrument panel. After the mechanic does a diagnostic, you are alerted of a serious issue which needs to be repaired. In the end, we are left with the choice of heeding alerts, or ignoring them, sometimes at our peril.
“Forassuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.Therefore I say to you,whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” – Jesus – Mark 11:23-24 (NKJV)
There are many moments in life where faith kicks in. Times of your back touching the corner behind you. Someone wise once said, “Prayer is a mystery”. Yet, sometimes, a wise person finds leaning on the mysterious unseen, is the answer.
Here’s to waving along Sad Sally.
Wandering stars, as scripture describes, are never sturdy and safe. But there is stability standing still on The Solid Rock within fuel for the race.
“…I Seek in myself the things I meant to say,
And lo! the wells are dry.
Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The Listener’s role, and through
My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew…”
An excerpt from, “A Poem Prayer” – CS Lewis (1964)
“See me. Feel me. Touch me. Heal me.”(1969/1970) “See Me, Feel Me” Recorded by: The Who. Composer: Peter Townsend (Later, this song was part of “Tommy”, the rock opera.)
Embedded in my mind are the regular visits I would make to an old cemetery, a couple of blocks away from my grandparents house in Greenville, Texas. Maybe it was a morbid curiosity, but I really don’t think so. I first recall walking among the old, weathered tombstones at about 7 years old, enamored with the dates of births and deaths. I had a love of history even then which continues today. Among some of the headstones are many which are no longer legible. The Texas weather, which tends to be extreme at times, has become a giant eraser for engraved letters and numbers, especially with sandstone. Yet, the old stones remain as monuments of someone who lived in the community long before it was a certified town. The oldest tombstone you can still read is of a man born the same year George Washington died, 1799. Here in Texas, that’s old, considering Mexico owned the land at the time, and largely uninhabited by white pioneers from the east. One thing is for sure, he was a brave soul, staking out land belonging to the Caddo Indians and Mexico.
One summer day, I ran from the old cemetery, to my grandparents house, crying all the way. My grandmother, being concerned, asked why all the tears. I told her how I had discovered scores of tombstones of babies, toddlers, and kids my age (at the time), all passed away together, or around the same year. When I told her they died in 1917/1918, she told me of the horrid story of the Spanish Flu pandemic which thrived toward the end of WWI. The numbers are staggering. Globally, approximately 500 million were infected. 20 million to 50 million perished, with 675,000 being Americans. Of course, the elderly, the young, and the weak, were highly susceptible to the pandemic’s reach. The shared grief among the towns and communities must have taken its toll. As a little kid I understood it.
Of course, the new Coronavirus, also labelled, COVID-19, doesn’t even come close to those numbers. As I write this, China quarantined over 60 million people, roughly the size of Italy. It’s unprecedented. Again, as I write this, approximately 1,400 have died from the virus in China. 60,000 confirmed cases recorded in China. Unfortunately, I should mention there are rumors the numbers have been downsized by the Chinese government, and that the actual totals are far above and beyond what they have reported. Adding to speculations, rumors are growing concerning how and why the outbreak occurred. Some say it originated from a military bio lab where experiments with bio-weapons takes place. Others spread rumors that it was done by the Chinese government to distract from the news of the freedom protesters in Hong Kong clashing with the Chinese military and police. I truly hope it is not the case.
What is without rumor, are hard facts like, no cure, no medical answers, no recourse for the cases but isolation. Case numbers are growing all across the planet. Cruise ships have been quarantined. Ports have been shutdown. Many cases, who recovered and released, have returned for medical help after resurrected symptoms. Frankly, the news is bleak, dark, and grave.
In one hundred years, will there be a little kid astounded at the number of tombstones displaying “2020” as a collective death year? Let us all pray this will not be true.
Check out this inspiring picture…
Photo: Western Wall in Jerusalem. Israel National News.
This photo shows a prayer gathering at the sacred Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It’s not the average prayer meeting among the people of Israel, but a poignant one. This shot displays an organized prayer assembly for the COVID-19 victims, as well as, medical organizations working around the clock to defeat it. The question is…why aren’t we doing this?
When Jesus walked the grounds of the ancient temple there in Jerusalem, He saw multitudes of the infected, the “unclean” outcasts due to leprosy. Like the quarantined cases, victims of leprosy were bound by law to keep away from the general public. There were leper colonies where they spent their final days. If one got too close to the general population, he/she had to yell, “UNCLEAN!”. Jesus had great compassion for these unnamed cases. Against the enforced law, He went to them, touched them, healed many, and showed love and grace toward the “Unclean”. Someone who hasn’t read about Jesus, or maybe not have taken the opportunity to study about Him, may be asking why He would do such a thing. It’s a fair question. Why would Jesus risk His own health, and His physical life to see, feel, touch, and heal desperate infected outcasts. After all, it was hopeless, or so they thought. There is an answer.
Have you noticed in this post, when referring to COVID-19 victims, I often use the word, “cases”? For the most part, the media, and the medical community, are doing much of the same when reporting on this expanding concern. Why not? Unlike a little kid looking at the name of John Lee Anderson, son of James & Mary Anderson, who died of influenza at 2 years old in 1918, we see a number. Today we would see the next victim of death in China as 1,401 of 1,401. The dead one (case) is taken outside of town, to a COVID-19 fire dump, where the bodies piled up and burned. So much for #1,401. A cruise ship of 2,000 vacationers may have 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19, quarantined away from shore. No name, no age, no grandma or grandpa of 18 kids back in Knoxville, Tennessee. We are just counting the diagnosis leaving out “who” they are and what they are to the loved ones waiting to hear of their condition.
It’s sad, don’t you think? In these colder times of humanity, we tend to not care of the hurting hearts involved, or the hardships others must take on to themselves.
Jesus saw “the individual” and their need. Being Who He was, He knew their names, their children, their hopes and dreams. He knew intimately little John Lee Anderson from 1918.
Count on this. There are never any “cases”, any “42 0f 57’s” inside fuel for the race.
“And having seen the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were wearied and cast away, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then He says to His disciples, ‘The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the workmen are few.'” – Jesus – Matthew 9:36-37 (Berean Literal Bible)
“…The rain may never fall till after sundown. By eight, the morning fog must disappear. In short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering than here in Camelot.”– (1959/1960) Camelot (Musical score theme song.) Composers: Lyrics, Alan Jay Lerner Music, Frederick Loewe
I’ve never been a big basketball fan, unless the Dallas Mavericks are in the playoffs (Still waiting). However, I am a fan of humanity.
Tragic, so very tragic, the recent taking of 9 lives aboard Kobe Bryant’s leased helicopter. NBA star, Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old daughter, Gianna were among the diseased. It’s not just NBA fans who are mourning the sudden loss, but literally multitudes around the globe are feeling the sting of this horrific event.
You might have been spending time in a cave somewhere if you’ve not heard the news of this helicopter crash from Sunday morning, January 26th. In the Los Angeles area, after an early morning church service, Kobe and his daughter boarded the helicopter with 7 other friends, including their well-experienced pilot. They were planning to attend a youth basketball tournament scheduled for later in the day in Thousand Oaks, California. Unfortunately, a few minutes after takeoff, the pilot made a maneuver to rise above the morning fog for clearer vision. He had asked permission from the control tower to fly under “special visual flight rules”, literally flying by vision only. After getting approval, air traffic officials say that the craft reached 2,300 feet then took a fast dive at 2,000 feet per minute, crashing head-first into the side of a steep mountainside. Officials report they were 20-30 feet from clearing the mountain. Truly heartbreaking.
As I write this, the investigation is ongoing. There’s lots to be learned. Two facts are certain, there was a thick morning fog which couldn’t be negotiated for lower altitude flights, and no terrain awareness warning system on board to notify the pilot of the mountain in his flight-path. Experts say the helicopter basically disintegrated on impact. Death for all on board was instant.
The loss is simply tremendous. Mourning now are scores of family members from each of the 9 victims from all over the map. Then there are the friends of each of the 9 deceased passengers from every corner of the globe. Of course, there are acquaintances of each of the lost ones. Naturally, there are those who mourn from the ranks of basketball fans, teammates, coaches, millions of fans who never met Kobe, or the others on board. Each life always touches a multitude of other lives. A falling rock in a still pond makes wide ripples which travel to its various shorelines. I guess you could call it, the George Bailey Effect.
There’s always one question finding its way first when tragic news hits in such a disastrous, unexpected exit. What killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter? Some will say, the pilot. Some will point out the helicopter with no warning system. Others might say the control tower staff. Those in the valley below, watching the smoke rise from the crash site, might announce the mountain destroyed their lives. I’m afraid the debate will be long lasting.
God bless the loved ones left behind. May they find true peace and comfort from the Name Above All Names.
A couple of days before the crash, here in the Dallas area, we experienced soupy conditions as well. This is what downtown Dallas looked like from a commercial flight coming in for a landing.
Photo: Ross Hardin, via Dallas Morning News
Have you ever driven in such a fog? Have you ever taken a walk, or a jog on a trail in dense fog? Imagine being in the air with 50 feet of visibility. It’s highly disorienting. You might find yourself without your barings of left/right, up/down. This may have very well been the enemy of the pilot, the killer of the flight.
Allow me to say bluntly, there have been times when my foggy conditions had nothing to do with humidity, or the weather in general.
Too many times in my life of twists and turns, I invited fog to encroach on my path. My walk with God became hazy, disorienting, and unable to see His flight-path for my life. Have you ever been there? A shinny object over there brought in the haze of a spiritual backslide down a steep slope I never thought I would ever experience. Rounding the corner on my designated path… look…a beautiful rabbit to chase. So, in my distraction, I put on my Alice In Wonderland shoes and off I went into a misty cloud of darkness where my vision, my focus was lost. Over the hill, you spy a gorge below, filled with a blur of a whipped cream-like fog-bank. Immediately I ponder what it would be like to climb down into such a chasm to get up close and personal inside the misty haze. Once there, you realize it’s not the chosen path where safety lies waiting. The climb back up to the clear view is so far away. Instead, you can’t see above, around, or through the muck. You can flash your lights on bright, but it only bounces back by the wall of fog. No need to use your shadow as a compass, for the fog offers no shadows.
Fog is not our friend. Fog lacks grace. Fog lacks love. Fog serves up misdirection. It cares not who you are, or how many halls of fame you have been inducted. One thing fog does possess…a weakness.
Ask any ship captain. The foghorn is imperative when on the sea. The tiny partials of H2O, making up the low-hanging, ground-loving cloud, is perfect for carrying audio. Sound waves board these tiny morsels of water within mist as if they were minuscule microphones which transmit quickly to the nearest ear. The foghorn is set at a very low frequency where the vibration skims off the surface of the water like a thin stone gliding on the exterior of the deep. The low frequency pierces the dark, murky mist. It bellows out, “I’M HERE! ALTHOUGH YOU CAN’T SEE ME, I’M AFLOAT HERE IN THIS CLOUD!” Soon, a lighthouse ashore, beams its blinding lamp toward the sound of the foghorn, guiding the ship to port.
Photo: My wife’s, Michelle Niles-Brown very first painting.
My flight-path in life has met with mountainsides a few times. When I segue into the fog of this world, I will be, and have been, disoriented, adrift from my control tower, unable to hear its wise words. Count on it happening when you seek only “special visuals” from your own judgement.
No matter how thick the cloud bank, no matter how wide the fog may be, no matter if the visibility is only 5 feet, when I hear the cutting foghorn of my Creator, I not only sense my built-in warning system, my flight-path is rediscovered. The choice is mine to make the correction on faith, and not by sight.
Learning from life’s tragedies can first be navigated by fuel for the race.
“My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me. And I am giving them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them from my hand.” – Jesus – John 10:27-28 (Aramaic Bible Into Plain English)
“Please, Mister, please, don’t play B-17 It was our song, it was his song, but it’s over. Please, Mister, please, if you know what I mean, I don’t ever wanna hear that song again.” (1975) Please Mr. Please Recorded by: Olivia Newton-John Composers: Bruce Welch & John Rostill
Mama’s Pizza came to my north Dallas suburb in 1976, or so. It was the first New York style pizza to land in our area and it was a true hit. In fact, my single mom and I were one of their very first customers after they opened for business. The interior was very much like the no-frills, old pizza joints in New York City. It had its dark maroon painted brick walls kissing the eight or ten booths lining the long dark narrow dining area. There were three, maybe four tables for those that preferred them. The kitchen was out in the open with its used pizza ovens. (I say “used” because they didn’t look brand new to me.) Two brothers ran the place, both from New Jersey. They were both in their 20’s and going to school. One was in dental school, the other in business studies. They often fought publicly, but it only added to the atmosphere. They didn’t care how loud they were, or who could hear them. I smile thinking about witnessing shouts of, “DON’T BOTHER ME WITH THIS!”…”I CALLED MA LAST TIME. IT’S YOUR TURN, BOZO!”…”AH, FORGET ABOUT IT!”
One of my favorite things Mama’s Pizza had, there on the far back wall, an authentic mounted moose head, possibly a caribou, hanging out from the brick wall. It’s nose was just about eye-level. A couple of friends of mine had a tradition of kissing the nose of the poor beast. Just beneath the animal’s mounted head, an old classic jukebox. My classmates and I almost wore that thing out over our high school years. It looked something like this…
From what I recall, you could select your song for a dime, or a quarter if you wanted to push more buttons for a few more tunes. It seems they had current hits from the 70’s, as well as, some hits going all the way back to the late 50’s. Zero country songs. Very seldom did you ever see a goat-roper (Our word for cowboys back in those times.) come in for NY pizza. That’s was fine with us. We didn’t like country-western music.
Mama’s Pizza hasn’t been here in many years now. I miss it.
One thing Mama’s didn’t have was this…
Photo: Dallas Memories Facebook Group
Now, depending on how you are, you might not recognize what this is. Back in the day many small diners often sported these little treasures. Although most have thrown them out as the years marched on, from time to time you can still find some table-side jukeboxes. It seems like the last one I saw was at the Lake Effect Diner in Buffalo, NY.
Photo: Lake Effect Diner, Buffalo, NY. curtinresturants.com
As a kid, and as an adult, sheer excitement would take over whenever I spotted these babies. In fact, I remember searching for songs even before picking up the menu.
I will pretend you’ve never seen one. So, allow me to describe the experience. tThere is a knob, or lever, which turns the pages of the lengthy song-list. As you scan the titles and the artists, you should have your dime ready for your selection. Suddenly, you find your favorite tune, “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog” by Elvis. Next to the song is a letter or number, or both, that you would push the coordinating button for choosing. Boom, somewhere in the building is a jukebox remotely playing your selection over the speakers at your table. But usually there are speakers mounted in the ceiling for everyone’s listening pleasure…or hatred. And there’s the rub.
Like Olivia, there always seems to be a B-17 in our memory. Maybe you dislike Elvis, and there he comes, forced on your ears because some button-pushing customer in booth #3 selected it without consulting you first. What’s worse, he might have added a couple more Elvis tunes with a quarter in the slot. By the time your selection comes around, it may be time to tip the waiter and leave. Before you know it, just about the time the second verse of “Blue Hawaii” comes around, you’re thinking of taking your sliced tomato off your burger and throwing it toward booth #3. Do the math. B-17 + Communal Music = Internal Sour Notes.
For me, the heavy remains to be my personal B-17’s. You know what I mean. It’s not so much a disliked artist, but rather a song. There’s nothing like music that drags you back to a memory, whether it be a good one, or a bad one. It could be a relationship that went south and the song on B-17 in the selector was what you called, “Our Song”. Tell me about it, I know it very well. I could cry a river a few times. Maybe it was the song on the radio you were singing along with as a truck pulled out in front of you, leaving you in a body-cast for a few weeks. Someone might think of a song sung at a funeral for a loved one. That’s what happened to me with Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful”. To this very day, I sink in sadness when it plays over the air. The song was performed over the coffin of my friend and mentor back in July of 1981. All these years later the song stings me. Music has Velcro. It’s the way God created it. Music stamps visuals, times, and places. So many songs do deliver sweet mental-videos of first cars, first dates, weddings, births, and graduations. If the guy in booth #3 selected one of those I might be persuaded to buy his grilled cheese sandwich.
Sometimes being in a community isn’t always a pleasant thing. Am I right? It’s all about how you handle what you don’t want to hear, or see. Maybe the group of kids in the corner booth are dropping the F-bomb for all of us to enjoy. Maybe the idiot cutting people off in traffic gets your match lit. It simply might be a neighbor with a political sign in the front yard you wouldn’t vote for. Yep, sometimes being communal isn’t always tasteful. What’s your B-17?
So Olivia is spot-on with, “Please, Mr. please, if you know what I mean, I don’t ever want to hear that song again.”
Grace, living out grace, handing out grace overcomes a lot of B-17’s in life. Biblically speaking, it means giving favor to someone, or some thing, who you feel doesn’t deserve favor. Grace fuels merciful action and thought.
“Lady” by Kenny Rogers is a B-17 for me. It brings up a life-long choice which turned out to be a youthful mistake. For many moons the sound of the song angered me, literally. However, when hearing now, I work hard on hunting for the true value the lyrics have for others, not focusing, or feeding on the sour notes of my own past decision-making. What’s history is history, grace would say. I for one, need grace all the time, every day. So glad the Creator invented it, and distributes it. It’s what’s on God’s menu for us, the consumer.
Before selecting that button, it’s wise to order-up a good warm cup of fuel for the race.
“Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over–will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” – Jesus – Luke 6:38 (Holman Christian Standard Version)
“Every time I see your face It reminds me of the places we used to go. But all I’ve got is a photograph And I realize you’re not coming back anymore…”(1973) Photograph. Recorded by: Ringo Starr Composers: Richard (Ringo) Starkey and George Harrison
I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?” There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew….When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.
Forgive me if there’s nothing really valuable to use in what I’m about to write. I just know I have to. I MUST write about it.
Meet Terry Sindle. Terry was a dear friend of mine. We were the same age. He, his younger sister, Joan, and their newly divorced mom, had just moved into the apartment complex where my mom and I lived. It was 1973 and the Sindle family were fresh off the moving van from Staten Island, New York. They had such heavy NY accents that this Texas lad could hardly decipher. But nevertheless, Terry and I had so much in common.
(Terry Sindle in high school, 1977/1978.)
He was a bit from the wild side, and I was far more conservative. He was a casual pot smoker and pill-popper, and I chewed gum. He was into Led Zeppelin, and I was into Manilow. I was a spiritually plugged-in church member, and Terry was agnostic at best. He wore long wavy hair, and my cut looked like a Wall Street lawyer. I was a martial arts student and tournament fighter, while he could care less about any sport. Yet, we both experienced our parents divorcing. We both had poor single moms. We both loved music, and music performance. And we both loved pizza…or so I thought. Being from Staten Island, NY, I figured he liked pizza. So, another friend and I introduced him to what was the best pizza in our neighborhood, Pizza Inn. When the cardboard-thin, scantly-topped crispy crusted pizza came out, Terry looked at it and said in astonishment, “WHAT IS THIS? THIS isn’t pizza!” Here in Texas we thought pizza was pizza. We thought Pizza Inn could do no wrong. Terry had to educate us in what real NY pizza consumers enjoy. It would be two years later before a NY style pizza joint opened up in our suburb, and we’ve never been the same since.
One thing Terry and I didn’t have in common was the guitar. He was an incredible guitarist. I was strictly a vocalist, although dabbled lightly in piano and guitar. His musicianship was keen, to the point where I could call him a “master technician”. Terry’s grade of musicianship was well beyond the average teenage garage band. In two days he learned all of the Beatles music catalog. TWO DAYS! He, at 14 years old had begun to compose original music, as well as arrangements of cover songs. He joined the school band and mastered the French Horn. He was playing for local parties, filling-in with other local bands, and eventually started his own rock band before he was 16.
You could say we looked like a duck and a hawk side-by-side, but we knew we were a team of the same feather. I was in the top choir in high school always urging him to audition. I told him it would help sharpen his vocals, along with sight reading. It didn’t take him long before he realized you can study classical while using what you learn for other genres of music. He sheepishly did audition, and made the choir in 1977. He naturally squirmed terribly so when having to wear a tux for serious choral performances.
Meanwhile, my band was more soft rock and ballads. Naturally when it came time to add a lead guitarist, Terry was my guy. Musically we knew what each other wanted without discussing it fully. We both had terrific ears, as well as, the same quality control standards. With that said, on stage he would hear an extra lick or riff in his mind, then would add it in real time on the fly, often distracting me from my lyrics. (That was a good and bad problem when singing something like, Manilow’s “I Write The Songs”.) Frankly, with Terry as my lead guitarist, I knew whatever came out of the amp speakers was going to be a top-shelf sound.
Not long after high school, I moved out to get my own place across town. Meanwhile, Terry was wanting to move back to NY to further his rock career. We performed a couple of times together during the summer after graduation, but I was pursuing music theater by that time and he was going deeper into metal rock. Before you could say, “Y’all”, he moved back to NY to execute just what he set his sights on. We lost track of each other by 1980.
Later in the 1980’s I heard from Terry a couple of times. It turned out he continued to grow as a spectacular studio artist, and stage act. He had even prepped for a move to England with the idea of joining a band there.
(Terry Sindle with his band in NY during the 1980’s.)
Then…all went silent.
About 10 years ago, I began a search to find my old friend. By that time I was on Facebook which is where I started scrubbing for a friend link. Nothing came up. Internet searches came up empty. It was as if Terry Sindle had vanished from the planet.
Then one day, and I hesitated to do it, I launched a national obituary search. With a deep saddening, while swallowing back the lump in my throat, I found my friend’s obit. Terry died back in 1997 at the age of 37. What’s worse, the obit was short and simple, without surviving family member names, or details about his passing. May God forgive me, I first thought his substance abuse finally caught up with him. My thirst for more info grew almost to the unbearable. All it gave me was the place of his death…Florida. All other searches came up zero. It was highly frustrating. I gave up and the years went by.
A couple of months ago for Throw-Back Thursday, I posted the picture below on Facebook and gave tribute to two members of my band who left us early in life.
(My Alan Brown & Co Band. Later affectionately referred to as my “Come & Go Band”)
In my defense, this shot goes back to Oct of 1977. That’s the excuse for my tablecloth sports jacket and sailor pants. Terry Sindle is seen on the far right in a black shirt with his Gibson guitar, standing in front of his stack of speakers.
Right after the post, a couple of old mutual high school friends contacted me asking if I knew whatever happened to Terry. I told them what I had discovered, but it didn’t seem enough. So, I lit a fire under my chair.
Somehow, someway, through a search, I found Joan Sindle, Terry’s younger sister. I messaged with her right away. Afterwards we spoke on the phone. Pushing back tears, she caught me up on Terry’s short adult life and sudden death. Terry was a victim of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He beat it once in his life only to return years later like an overnight thief. After not feeling well, and unable to shake it, he had a check-up with an Oncologist. Shockingly, after running tests, the doctor gave him less than a week to live. In fact, he died 3 days later.
Terry did well with his music while here. In NY, he made radio airplay with one of his records. Terry’s last album was cut just 3 months before he passed. His bands always did very well in NY, and later in Florida after moving there. He met a Floridian girl while in AA, fell in love, and got married. They eventually were blessed with 3 boys.
While in the cancer ward, both times, he played songs for the other fellow-cancer patients. That didn’t surprise me a bit. He had a huge heart. As for his substance addictions, they did strengthen their grip on his life. He checked himself into rehab while in his 20’s. He was clean for many years, fell off the wagon, and became clean again. At some point, early in his marriage, both Terry and his wife, opened their hearts to God and His redemption offered through Jesus. AA was good for Terry, but Divinity resting within, gave him the power to control the monkey on his back. Remembering those days, Joan said he was excited about his new-found faith.
Recently Joan asked if I would hook-up with Terry’s youngest son, Matthew (now 25), who was only 3 years old when Terry passed. She said because of his young age, he is always wanting to know more about his dad and thought it would be great if an old high school friend could shed light on his dad’s teen years. I was thrilled! I did so. Matthew and I had a few terrific exchanges back and forth over cyberspace. You might find it isn’t surprising to know that Matthew, along with one of his brothers, are musically talented to the hilt. In fact, they can play any instrument they pick up. Matthew also has all of Terry’s guitars and amps, as well as his French Horn from high school.
(Sorry for the flash reflection on this shot. Terry and his boys less than a year before his death.)
A few days ago, Joan called to tell me Matthew was coming here to Dallas for a visit and wanted to know if we could meet. Once again, I was thrilled! I asked 3 other mutual high school friends, who knew Terry, to join us. They were itching to show up.
When Joan first asked me to connect with Matthew, I could hardly describe the feeling. It was so strange. All I can say to paint this canvas with a stroke or two, is I felt a compelling, a strong, very strong tug to reach out to Terry’s son with all that was within me. As each day rolled on I had this gnawing, this obsession propelling me with the thought that somehow I was doing this for Terry himself, as if he were here asking me to do this as a favor. Truly, that feeling launched me into an overdrive to find pictures, Terry’s handwriting, and refresh every stand-out memory I could muster. They were going to bring some pictures of Terry, (as you have seen) in his adult years. We agreed to meet at a local pub, The Fox & Hound in north Dallas.
I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?” There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew. Joan and I hugged as if we were siblings removed at birth. When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son. The others drove up shortly after.
(My phone died while we were together, so Joan took this shot. I’m the Celtic-looking guy sitting on the right with Mathew in the middle and some old high school friends.)
For several hours we spoke, laughed, cried, and ate and drank with Terry on our minds and hearts. The guys poured out all their memories of Terry. No one could recall anything sour to add concerning our younger times together. Matthew and Joan shared more about the life and heart Terry displayed to others in his adult years. He dearly loved his wife and sons. Terry even wrote letters to his boys to help them understand who there dad was, what he consisted of, and how he wished he could be there to see them grow up. After his prognosis, he told Joan how he couldn’t die because he had three sons to raise. That was his concern while preparing to leave this life. He also wrote to his sons of his spiritual awakening, sharing the love he found in God.
Afterward, Joan said she felt as if Terry had been with us around the table in the pub. I told her it’s because she was meeting with his close friends that reflect Terry’s touch on our lives, still expressing it after 4 decades. Of course, I know what she meant. Again, I felt a rushing swift current of an urge to visit with Matthew sharing personally about his dad. His eyes lit up as I described our days together. He laughed at all of our funny stories about Terry. He showed a great deal of pride displaying the family pictures, and describing the instruments he inherited. He spoke of what he knew of his dad’s faith, adding that he too was in a music ministry with a desire to pursue a pastoral outreach.
As I looked at the pictures of Terry as an adult, I was nothing short of mesmerized. It seemed like yesterday we were music-making teens, taking music theory class together, rehearsing quietly in his room, and doing laundry duty. And now, I see the man in the pictures bringing me smiles, seeing he was a success in fatherhood and being a loving, loyal husband. When the time was right, he was man enough to realize he had substance abuse issues and sought help. So many don’t. He showed love, grace and benevolence toward other hurting cancer patients, even while his own life was ebbing away. To me, a hit record seems tiny in comparison.
As we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, as the sun was setting, I looked into his son’s eyes and told him, “We knew your dad very well. I can certainly say, with all confidence, he would be very proud of you, and who you have become. You are an impressive young man, Matthew. And somehow, I just can’t help but believe your dad is being told about our gathering today.” Yes, we all teared-up, and rightly so.
Someone once wrote how we are not islands, living our lives separated, disconnected from others. If the life of Terry Sindle taught us a couple of things, it’s that we are all peninsulas, connected to one another, which aids us in knowing what is most important.
One day I will see Terry again. And when I do, I think he will say something like, “Thank you for helping me tell Matthew who I am.”
A life well lived is available from the vast cistern of fuel for the race.
“For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.” – Apostle Paul, from Romans 14:7 (Berean Study Bible)
“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.
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