The Lost Ones

Cover Photo:  “Saving Private Ryan” – Dreamworks/Paramount/Amblin/Mutual Pictures

“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.

Kennedy Sign

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.”

Kennedy Family Marker

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)

 

 

 

When Mom Fades

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.

Mom 1962 Grandmother's Kitchen

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)

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

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.

Mom salon

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)

 

 

 

The Essentials

Cover Photo:  Pexels

“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.

Lake Texoma Map Pinterest

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?

Brooms etc

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?

lighted building near body of water at nighttime
Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

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.

Me and Tommy

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)

The Journey On Highway COVID-19

Cover Photo: t0.gstatic.com

“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…”  (1968)  “The Weight”  Recorded By:  The Band.  Composer:  Robbie Robertson

The Anvil

By:  Alan Scott Brown

There’s nothing like heat in the desert rising off a paved road.  They’ll say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat.”  Just tell that to the sweltering backpacker, Levon “Fanny” Gates.  He shockingly found himself in the middle of a wilderness, on the road to a place called, Nazareth, just on the other side of the state line.  I say, “shockingly” because before his boots felt the searing concrete of this wasteland, he had been dreaming of the village with its rolling hills, orchards, and well-established vineyards.  His freshly cut front lawn was the launching point for a pleasurable outdoor hike through the pines, the cool brooks, and lavish meadows.

As if he had awakened from a dream of the plush land of plenty, he now absorbs the dangerous sunrays, feeling every drop of sweat rolling down his torso.  His canvas hat certainly covered his head, but the scorching heat invaded his scalp as if he wasn’t wearing anything at all.  Even his denim backpack was soaked in sweat.  If it wasn’t 112 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be soon, when the afternoon sun comes piercing through.

gray concrete road
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Not much vegetation thrives out here, with the exception of sage, cactus, and the occasional Yucca plant.  Refreshing rains are welcomed, but scarce and quick.  Fanny prayed for, what they called back home, a “gully-washer.”

With each step, he seriously worried about the soles of his old hiking boots.  The baking surface of the road is far from friendly, and he felt the waves all the way up to his sunburned face.  At first, he wrestled with the thought of his soles melting in the staggering temperature.  Then, as he caught up with his fast-forward mind, he envisioned a potential hole in the rubber sole.  None of the options were comforting to imagine in this desolate landscape.

Prior to walking into this wilderness, he knew how many miles he had traveled, but now all had changed.  His harsh surroundings overwhelmed his calculations, thrusting him into a mystery without a map.  A solitary roadside sign mentioned a couple of towns being 200 miles ahead, but they were unfamiliar to him.  The miles seemed unending, without a mile marker.  Disorientation was setting in as a menacing reality.

Rather than stopping for rest, he made the decision to push himself forward in hopes the next curve, the next hill, or the next valley in the road, would reveal a much needed oasis.  Hooked to his belt, he had one full canteen of water, which needed to last longer than anticipated.  Fanny was self-rationing his meager provisions with intent.

“I can do this,” he whispered with uneasiness.

landscape photography of rock formation near highway
Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

Keeping his eyes on the road ahead seemed to help him psychologically.  Yet, wild stallions in search for water, a lone service station, or another traveler with a tent would be a sight for soar eyes.  But each time he glanced to the left or the right, it proved to be discouraging.  In fact, most of the view reminded Fanny of NASA’s photos of the surface of Mars.

The feeling of abandonment was authentic, bleeding from his inspirational thought bubbles of solitude.  He tried to be hopeful by telling himself Nazareth must be within 3 miles, 5 miles, or maybe 10 miles.  The attempt to distract himself from the tide of broiling air failed at every turn of the road.  Before the desert sun could bake his mind completely, he scanned through multiple thoughts, thoughts which could fill a library, only to fool himself with wisps of self-constructed hope.

While pushing his legs to walk an incline in the road, he noticed something he had felt once before on this journey.  A pain, a specific pain in his back.  Of all the body aches he had endured, this backache was king of them all.  Hiking slowly up the side of a hill introduced him again to the racking misery coming from his lower back muscles, mainly from the right of the spine.  It was a bit of a mystery in that he hadn’t injured himself, and never had an old trauma from his athletic history.  He suddenly was reminded of the adage, “No pain, no gain” from his high school baseball coach.  He said it aloud, thinking it would be a magic charm the universe would accept.  It wasn’t.  Still, his inward need to persevere pushed his weary bones onward.

As he reached the plateau, he celebrated his efforts shouting into the hot breeze,

“BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!”

As the late afternoon sun played havoc with his vision, Fanny cocked his head to one side as he caught a distant rumble of an engine.  Since he had begun to adjust to the mirage of water puddles on the pavement, he tossed it up to “hearing things” due to a bit of dehydration.  After a chuckle, he took a couple of strides when he stopped in his tracks.  The sound was getting louder.  He looked up in the blue sky to see which direction the plane was coming from.  It sounded like a single engine airplane from the 1920’s.  As he was hunting for the aircraft, he recognized the distinct sound wasn’t a plane at all, but rather a vehicle approaching from behind.  He quickly turned to scope out where it originated.  Wiping, then squinting his tired eyes, he saw an old blue pickup truck bouncing down the road toward him with its radio blaring a 1940’s big band tune with heavy brass.  He wondered where it came from since the area was void of ranches or farms.  As it approached, he could see only one occupant in the cab.  There was nothing impressive about the old truck, with the exception of the fact it was an older model one might see in a vintage car show, and overly worn, to boot.

 

blue single cab farm truck on brown grassland
Photo by Renato Abati on Pexels.com

As the truck began to downshift, coasting slowly as it pulled alongside him, he could see more clearly the one behind the wheel.  The driver looked as if he had just fallen off a hay trailer.  He was donning faded grey pinstriped overalls, like the old train engineers used to wear.  His misshaped straw hat went well with the old beat-up truck as it, too, had seen better days.  With a metallic squeak, the truck came to a halt.  It was clearly in much need of a muffler replacement.  The ragged driver turned down the radio and leaned over to roll down the passenger side window.  It was then Fanny could take-in what the man looked like.  He was an old-timer with a weather-beaten face.  His bushy eyebrows were salt & pepper mix.  His chest-length beard was white and wiry.  He had piercing ice-blue eyes which displayed a kindness, all by themselves.  Before Fanny could speak, the old man greeted him.

Spoken with a healthy snicker, “Howdy there, young man.  Nice day for a stroll in the badlands, wouldn’t ya say?”

The backpacker detected an accent, which reminded him of the deep south of the United States.  He wasn’t sure if he was being mocked by the question, or if it was an attempt at levity.

“Yes, sir.  It would seem so,” said Fanny, as he took his hat off and wiped his wet forehead.

Without hesitation the elderly man asked with a nod, “What’s your name, kiddo?”

“I’m Levon.  Most everyone calls me, Fanny,”  revealed the traveler.

The old man broke out in a belly laugh, “Well, who on earth pinned that nickname on ya?”

Fanny grinned, uncomfortably so, looked away and explained, “Yeah, that’s a long story, I’m afraid.”

“I bet so,” replied the old man.  “The name’s, Christopher.  Through the years, lots of folks have called me by a slew of other names.  But, Christopher will do.  So glad to meet ya…Fanny.”

“Happy to meet you, Christopher,” the young man said.  “Hey, where did you come from?  I’ve been on this road all day and I’ve not seen one house, truck stop, or vehicle coming or going in either direction.”

“Oh, don’t ya know?” asked Christopher.

“Know what?” inquired the trekker.

Pushing his hat back to the crown of his head, the old man responded, “Well, it’s very possible you were never informed.  This is a one way road you’re on in this dust.  Always been that way.  It’s true, only one-way traffic on this stretch.  That’s the reason why I drove up behind ya.  I’ll tell ya, that afternoon sun is brutal through the windshield.”

“Tell me about it,” agreed the young hiker.  “You know, maybe you can tell me something.  Would you know how far Nazareth is from here?  I really thought I would have spied it by now on the horizon, but nothin’ doin’.”

“Nazareth?” inquired the old one with one raised eyebrow.  “Is that where you’re off to?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Fanny.

While pointing his finger, the old man said, “Well, kiddo.  I can tell ya this, ya won’t get there carryin’ that anvil.”

Puzzled, the young man froze.  He looked behind him, turned back again and asked,  “Anvil?  What anvil?”

The elderly one broke out in laughter once again at Fanny’s answer.  “Boy, it’s that 95 pound chunk of solid iron at the end of the rope, the rope draped across your right shoulder there,” Christopher pointed out.

“Ah, yes.  THAT anvil,” Fanny stated with pride.  “Frankly, I forget it’s there.”

The elder wrinkled up his nose in an inquisitive expression, “You mean to tell me you’ve not felt every muscle in your body burning from the weight you’re towin’?”

“Come to think of it…yes.  Yes, I have,” Fanny admitted.

“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Christopher said in response.  “I’ve got the perfect solution for ya, Fanny.  Take a look inside the bed of my truck.”  Seeing the young man’s hesitation, he continued sharply, “Go ahead, son.  The Loch Ness Monster ain’t gonna jump out and bite ya.  Feel free, take a look.”

Fanny took a cautious small step toward the side of the pickup.  As he leaned closer to get a peek, his mouth fell open with a hushed gasp.

The old man said, “Tell me what ya see, boy.”

Fanny took a big swallow to say, “It’s a truck bed full of…well…full of anvils!”

“A whole stack of ’em, I’d say,” described the old driver.

In amazement, the young man questioned, “But, why are they there?  I mean…what are you doing with all of those anvils?  Are you selling them?  Do you work for a salvage yard or something?  I’m shocked this old antique can carry the load.”

“Fanny, I guess you could say I collect ’em,” answered the old rugged driver.  “In fact, I’ve been addin’ to my collection for many moons now.  I could tell ya how many travelers have allowed me to take the load off their backs, but you’ve been sun-baked enough today to appraise anything.”

The young traveler concurred, “You’re right.  I’m a bit fried.  However, these travelers you’re talking about, are they on this road?  I’ve not seen a soul until you drove up.”

“Yes, but everyone has their own journey, and most have similar burdens,” replied the old man.  “At the same time, some heavier than others.  As you can see, there’s various sizes of anvils here.”  After a brief pause of silence, Christopher added,  “Here’s my offer, kiddo.  If you trust me with your anvil, every pound of it, I’ll help ya toss it behind us, addin’ to the pile.  You can unload, and load-up in the cab with me for a straight shot to where you’re meant to be.  I just love playin’ the Uber out here.  But…keep in mind, the anvil stays in the back.  Alligators aren’t allowed in the cab with me neither, ha-ha-ha…”

Fanny looked down at the scorching concrete between his hiking boots and bit his chapped lips in thought.

Christopher, seeing the struggle to find words, added, “There’s rockslides out here, ya know.  As ya get close to a hillside, or an upcomin’ canyon, ya might stumble over a stone in your path.  When your strength is wrenched, you’ll find it difficult to keep your stance.  It’s even worse to find footing after a heavy fall with nobody around to shoulder the load.”

Shaking his head with a look of uncertainty he replied, “No, sir.  I have made this trip on my own strength, and I intend finishing it on my own.  Besides that, you’re a stranger to me in a beat-up old clunker.  No offense, but who’s to say you could get me to Nazareth?  I’m sorry, sir, but your offer doesn’t look promising from where I stand.  I will do this on my own fuel, and navigation!”

The old man smiled, put his right hand on the stick-shift, looked deeply into Fanny’s eyes and said, “Boy, ask yourself why.  Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”

After a quick mental search, Fanny answered with a tone of resolve, “Christopher, the only honest answer I can come up with is, I’ve grown accustomed to my anvil.”

With a serious timbre in a lower register, Christopher asked, “And the weight of it?”

“I deal with it, just like this unexpected desert,” explained the young one.  “Do you understand, old man?”

“Oh, I do, son.  I really do understand,” replied Christopher.  “Listen, dusk is knockin’.  No need for walkin’ in the darkness.  I’d say, grab some winks for a fresh start in the mornin’.”

As the elderly man began to roll up his window, he grinned through his long mustache and said, “Well, I know you’ll give it your all.  Still, keep in mind, it’s needless for ya to take this desolation, with all its loneliness, and the weight you’re carryin’ solo.”  With that, he put the truck in gear, turned up the radio, and off toward sundown he drove.

silhoutte of a man
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

Fanny continued his trek with a bit of angst in his steps.  Christopher somehow offended him with the offer of a free lift, as if the old man thought him weaker, frail, and without survival skills.

He began grumbling to himself, “How dare that ancient dinosaur-of-a-coot say I needed help through this parched piece of earth.”  Still, in the attempt to bolster his decision, he raised his voice a notch, “Who does he think he is?  He’ll see me in Nazareth, sitting under the shade of an apple tree, sipping on a glass of their best vintage.  He’ll be shocked to see me resting on my anvil, without any aid from his sorry rack of rust.”

With all his energy depleted by his rant, Fanny began to look for a safe spot to sleep for the night.  Darkness had fallen, but the moonlight helped in the hunt for a place to bed-down.  Soon, he located a soft sandy mound with his name on it.  He found sun-dried chaparral fit nicely for kindling.

Overnight hours passed and the silence was deafening.  As usual, he used the anvil as a pillow, even though the shape was not friendly for his head.  He found the surface of the iron was still warm from the sun, which was welcomed as desert nights tend to issue a chill.  Unfortunately for the camper, as the nature of anvils, its surface turned cold.

From time to time he heard a small rock roll off the side of a rise just feet from where he was laying.  Another time, he was awakened by what he thought was the flapping of large wings.  He imagined buzzards mistaking him for a dead man.  He then tried to keep one eye opened, but exhaustion won the moment.  Another awakening caused him to jump when he heard an insect scratching on his ear.  He began to inwardly acknowledge his sleep would be thin at best.

Without knowing why, he opened his eyes from a sound sleep.  It was just before dawn.  Across the road from where he camped, he swore he caught a shadow figure racing from the road into a ravine on the other side.  Startled, he bounced up to a sitting position while fixed on the area where it vanished.  What he wouldn’t do for a pair of night-vision goggles.  After a minute or so, and a few hyper heartbeats, he shook his head and took a helping from his canteen.

Unable to go back to sleep, Fanny stretched his legs, and his sore back, in preparation for the day ahead.

“The sun is winking at me from over the hills, ” he said as he reached for his anvil.  “There’s no time like the present.”

He peeled back the wrapper of an energy bar from his cargo pants thigh pocket, finishing it in record time.

With the young morning sun at his back, and the anvil dangling once again from the rope hoisted over his right shoulder, Fanny felt new aches making themselves known in his calves, ankles, and feet.  He thought to himself that if he just put one foot in front of the other, the pain would work itself out.

As he made his way, his mind was flooded with the movements and sounds he heard overnight.  He convinced himself that he was in no real danger…or was he?  Like a video clip running through his mind, he couldn’t erase the glimpse of the unknown shadow figure dashing away from his makeshift pallet.  As hard as he tried, he remained at a loss concerning its identity.  In the end, he boldly rationalized the thought.  He determined the quiet swiftness indicated a cougar, or a coyote.  The “what might have beens” gave him a sense of authentic fear he had not felt before.

Hill after hill, ridge after ridge, no sight of his goal.  With every turn, curve and valley, he had hopes of seeing the ornate village painted in his mind as the heated hours wore on.

During the mid-morning, the searing winds kicked up with a devastating blow of a wall of dust and sand from the west.  Immediately, it became a battle for each inhale.  Fanny pulled his hat over his nose and mouth for protection.  Vision became sparse.  Tiny grains of sand stung his skin like miniature darts speeding from a horizontal projection.  Through the torrent of hot dust and sand, he spotted a boulder nearby and ran to the east side of it, blocking the onslaught of the turbulent blast.  After what seemed like an hour or so, the sandstorm passed.  With tremendous relief, Fanny came out from behind the boulder, grateful he had discovered it when he did.

With a couple of clearing coughs, he thought to himself, “What else can happen on this journey?”

bird s eye view photography of road in the middle of desert
Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

By early afternoon, he was running low on water.  His fear rose each time he shook the canteen to hear the lessening of the swish.  His quads were beginning to burn in his thighs.  His shoulder was bruised from the rope slung over it, cradling the anvil.  A growing headache, once only a nuisance, now pounded from the top of his head.  Realizing he was experiencing a deeper dehydration, he guarded against panic.  He was beginning to despise the constant mirages of heatwaves appearing as glimmering bodies of water.  Suddenly, he heard Christopher’s words from the day before, challenging him with the question of why.  “Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”  He found himself flirting with the question.

Mid afternoon descended.  After following a sharp curve in the blistering road, Fanny peered into the shadow of a small canyon wall just ahead.  The shade spread all the way across the road, and then some.  There, on the shoulder of the roadway, about 40 yards away, was a figure of some kind.  Cautiously advancing toward it, there, in the shadow of the rock wall, he saw Christopher casually leaning against the tailgate of his blue pickup.

“It seems we meet again, kiddo,” shouted Christopher with a wave.  “The shield of a nice-sized rock in a desolate place is mighty fine, wouldn’t ya say?  It’s nice and comfortable to me.  Come on over, I’ve been waitin’ for ya.”

Fanny found he was somewhat relieved to see the old man, and a convenient shade.  He smiled, shook his head in amazement, entering the cooling shadow of the canyon.

As Fanny got closer to the truck, he scratched his head and asked, “How did you know I would be here at this time of day?  Are you stalking me, old man?”

Christopher laughed at the question and replied, “Who knows?  Maybe the old truck is equipped with radar for weary travelers.”

Wiping his hands on the front of his well-worn overalls,  the elder turned to the pile of anvils in the bed of the truck where he pulled out ice cold bottles of water from a Styrofoam ice chest.

“Here ya go!  Fanny, take a load off.  You deserve it.” ordered Christopher.

Right away, before breaking the cap seal, Fanny first put the cold bottle against his neck, and then his forehead.  With a deep heavy sigh, an expression of relief fell over his face.

“Ahhhhhh, that feels so good,” said the hiker.

“No doubt,” answered Christopher.  “Tell me, how did ya sleep last night?”

After opening the bottle for his first couple of gulps, the backpacker responded, “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that great.”

“Oh, really?” replied the old man.

Delaying his answer with another long swig of water, “Let me tell you, the desert may not be my kind of surroundings.  I heard noises I couldn’t examine.  There were sounds coming from everywhere, including what I think were buzzard wings.  That’s way too close for comfort.”

“Is that right?” Christopher said slowly.  “What else?”

“You may think I’m nuts, but I spotted a quick shadow I couldn’t identify just on the other side of the road,” described Fanny.  “It’s not something I look forward to seeing ever again.  By the way, just how many miles is it to Nazareth from this canyon?  As far as I can tell….”

“Ya know, owls are night hunters,” Christopher interrupted.  “They keep rabbits and rats on the run for sure.  Wingspans can be impressive.  Such a wonderful creature.  As for nocturnal critters in general, I could write volumes on the kinds and species out here.  They’re everywhere in the cool of the night.  Some folks just let their imaginations run away with them like a train on grease.  Truth is, they all were created with excellent night vision.  In that respect, they’ve got a leg up on ya.”

The young traveler admitted, “It sure made for an uneasy night.”

While checking the lose left side of his back bumper, the elderly man stated, “Ya know, fear is an enemy.  Fact is, it comes in many forms.  You might even compare it to a parade coordinator-sending one flatbed float rollin’ by after another, all designed to frighten every person from every walk of life.  Your walk of life happens to be on this very road, in this very desert.  But always remember, fear is a liar.  It promises the worse case scenario in most all situations under heaven, and yet rarely delivers.  Son, it’s always best to think of all things as fleeting.”

Fanny laughed and belted out, “FLEETING?  Ha, this desert isn’t fleeting  Did you see that sandstorm?”

“Hang on now.  A liar’s performance is to convince his audience,” stated the old one.  “The sudden desert you approach will be full of woes.  Hard things happen.  Expect it.  It’s part of the learnin’ curve.  Oppression bubbles up.  Depression develops.  Illness lurks here and over there.  Pain arrives, creeping into your skin, your muscles, your mind, and even your very soul.  Soon, a lacking drains your strength, your joy, and eventually, your reasonin’.  Yes, the desert is all of that and more.  It’s a beautiful place, too…in its own way.  The colors and scattered shades are brilliant.  Yet, there’s danger out here.  There’s isolation expected, married to obscurity.  It’s all about who ya face it with.  But the sweet truth is, when journeying through the desert, like ya are, you’ll find it’s only temporary.  All parades must end, even sandstorms.”

The young man paused for a moment before speaking, “But if there is a learning curve to suffering, what and where is it?  I mean, where’s the final exam in this hellish classroom?”

Christopher stroked his wiry beard for a moment.  He turned toward a scenic view of the desert and explained, “The better question would be…Why experience it alone?  Look out at this barren ground.  Each step is a test.  You are gettin’ an education, albeit in a lesser degree without an instructor.  My offer still stands, kiddo.  Let’s take this anvil off your back and put it where it belongs…behind ya, without a rope attached.”

Fanny bent down to tighten his boot laces during an uncomfortable silence.  He then stood up, adjusted his canvas hat, looked at Christopher and responded, “No, sir.  I will finish this challenge I’ve walked into.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate your free offer, but, there’s something to be said about knowing my own conditioning will push me to my destination.”

The elderly man’s ice-blue eyes twinkled as he challenged the young traveler, “And when your anvil of comfort breaks your fleeting, temporary strength, with no one there who is stronger to save ya…what then?”

“Thus far, I’ve adjusted to its weight.  It’s okay, really it is,” said Fanny in a softer, kinder delivery.  “It may take me a while, but I will get through this desert.  But, I can’t wait to feel the soft, cool blades of grass in Nazareth under my bare feet  The universe will give me strength.”

“Don’t count on the universe.  She’s unforgivin’, and unable to love, ” said the old one.  “You, my young man, will find you’re bein’ schooled in the land of waitin’.”

With that said, Christopher watched Fanny strap on his anvil for the journey out of the shadow of the rock wall.  Just then, the old man pulled out a brown paper bag and two more bottles of water from the bed of his truck.

“Okay, kiddo,” holding out the items.  “Here, ya take these.  You’re gonna need it.”

Fanny displayed a large grin at the kindness Christopher displayed.  “What’s all this?”

“Well, there’s various items of protein in the bag, some nuts, dried figs, jerky, and some cold sliced pineapple you’ll wanna eat pretty soon,” explained the elder.

Laughing, the hiker inquired, “Pineapple????  Where did you get pineapple out here?”

Christopher just giggled with a lovely childlike delivery as he opened the door to the truck, got in, and started the rattling engine with a backfire.

“Here’s to hopin’ we will see one another again, ” said the old man.  “Ya know, hope is a healin’ thing.  Even in a deserted place.”

Fanny replied quickly, “I could use that for sure.”

“I know ya do, son.  I know ya do,” stated Christopher as he put on his sunglasses.  “Be aware of the shadow figures, Fanny.  It’ll serve ya well.  But, with that said, I’ve never read an obituary where a shadow killed anybody.”

With a whistle on his lips, and his hands on the wide steering-wheel, Christopher began to slowly drive back into the punishing sun.  The young trekker raised his hand slowly to wave the old man off.  Just then, Fanny realized he never thanked Christopher for the provisions.

Two days and nights passed.  It was about noon when Fanny found himself dragging his feet, literally, across the baked concrete in near total exhaustion.   With each painstaking stride, he began scanning the horizon for the old man’s pickup.  His energy was virtually depleted, and he knew it.  The morning delivered some scattered clouds, which aided the weakened young rambler, but now, nothing but abusive piercing sun shutdown all effort.  He felt himself wanting, even craving, a visit with the caring driver.

Just as Fanny journeyed down a slope, from a crest in the roadway, he tripped on something.  As if in slow motion, he fell forward, hard onto the hot pavement, in unison with a loud ringing thud as the anvil met the road.  He screamed in pain from the impact and fierceness of the raging temperature of the road.  He quickly turned over on his backpack as a buffer from the concrete.  It took him a minute to collect his mind.  He looked for wounds, finding a few scrapes and cuts to his elbows, cheek, and the palms of both hands.  He noticed his pants were ripped at the left knee as blood began to find its way through the khaki fabric.  Troubled at what caused him to lose his traction, Fanny looked around to find the object which caused the fall.  There was nothing there.  Unable to bend his left knee, he struggled to push himself up on his right leg.  With the rope still in his hand, he tested his body for limping to the side of the road.  The pain in his knee was crippling.  It was a mammoth project as he slowly hopped his way to the sandy shoulder, dragging the anvil against the hot pavement.

Assessing his ability to trek ahead, he noticed something protruding from the bottom of the toe of his right boot.  A closer look revealed a piece of the sole of the boot had come loose, and had partially folded back while dragging his feet during the endeavor to keep walking.  Whether it was heat exhaustion, the brutal conditions, or a pure wake-up call from injuries, the young hiker admitted being trapped, for the remainder of the day, right where he sat.

As the sun slowly descended into the western sky, Fanny tried to lift his spirits.  Finding a small bit of shade under some brush, he began to sing every hit song he could recall from his teen years-songs that made him smile.  He busied himself mentally listing his family tree as far back as the war of 1812.  With each mental exercise he was surprised at the slowness to fire-off a thought, or memory.  He wondered about heat stroke.

“It would seem the elements are doing a number on you, Mr. Gates,” he sarcastically mumbled to himself.  In pain, the hiker laid under the tiny shade of the brush for any relief he could manage.

Sounds seem louder when sleeping.  Fanny jumped with a start from a nap he didn’t intend on taking.  After a few seconds of clarity, he realized he was hearing the tail of a rattlesnake.  By sheer instinct, Fanny turned over from his position, discovering in the sand to his left a five foot rattler, curled up maybe 12 feet away.  Fear raced through his senses.

close up photo of a brown sidewinder snake on sand
Photo by Miri on Pexels.com

Somehow the young man pulled himself together and looked around for a rock.  There, by his left boot, were five golf ball-sized sandstones.  His eyes once again shifted back to the poised snake.  Visions of film footage of how quickly snakes can crawl and strike ran through his head.  Unable to bend his left knee without shooting pain, he grabbed the anvil rope, tossed it at the rocks, maneuvering one within reach.  He thought to himself, “I have one shot at this and it better be right, or I’m toast.”  He methodically, but slowly, reached the rock, grabbed it, then threw it at the rattler with a shout, all in one motion like a professional shortstop.  Speedily, the snake reacted, slithering out to the middle of the road and stopped.  Fanny trained his eyes on the reptile as it turned its head toward him again.  The hiker pitched another rock toward the snake, but this time unmoved.

“Oh, no you don’t, you little beast!  Don’t even think about it!” threatened Fanny.

Keeping his eye on the snake, he examined his precarious position.  Unable to move quickly, due to his knee, and without a weapon at his disposal, he knew he was a sitting duck.  The unexpected desert miles had been cruel, but he covered much ground.  Just as he began to question his endurance to reach the other side of the wilderness, he now might see it end-thanks to a new enemy-and a damaged sole.

Surveying every item within reach for a defense, the young traveler’s anvil caught his eye.  His mind landed on the reality of the weight of it.  Mentally, he began to blame it for his current dilemma.  Ninety five pounds of iron needlessly held him down from where he wanted to be.  In the assumption he could’ve run from the snake just minutes prior, the anvil would’ve proven to be the end, holding him back for the snake’s lunge.  However, in a sick, twisted thought process, his admiration for the useless anvil melted the angst.

Late afternoon approached, and Fanny’s nemesis remained vigilant in a curl, with its expressionless cold stare from the road.  The scene was looking darker for the injured young man.  He imagined the worst.

Feeling a bit delirious, the trapped hiker’s anger boiled, “So, do you have a nest around here?  Maybe you have a brood nearby you’re protecting.  Is that why you’re gawking at me?  They’ll all make terrific belts, you pile of scales!  How does that make you feel?  Tell me, is your crawl really quicker than my hop?  Look, I know what you’re waiting for.  You can’t fool me,” he said, taunting the rattler.  “When darkness comes, you’ll slither your measly self over here and take chunks out of me, as I slowly kill over from your venom.  I know your kind.  I was married to someone like you!”

Fanny was massaging his emotions to accept his coming death.  Dreams were dashed, hope only a dream, and his efforts toward his goal had been wasted energy.  In a moment of clarity, he looked over at his companion: the anvil.  In the light of his circumstances, he knew it suddenly didn’t seem to hold much value.  True, Fanny had grown accustomed to the weight on his back, but in the reevaluation, it seemed foolish to have imagined it to be part of himself in daily life.  In an odd, and maybe an ironic way, it took a trauma in a desolate place to see the fulfillment of the truth.

Another hour slipped by, closer to the coming dusk.  Fanny suddenly had gained a fever.  He could feel chills and cold sweat rolling down his chest.  His time waned in the growing darkness.  His new enemy seemed to detect Fanny’s weakened state, raising its head off the pavement.  Desperation danced through the stranded hiker as he grabbed the empty canteen, the only defense against the waiting venomous reptile.

During a somewhat morbid consideration, Fanny pictured where the fangs might sink in first.  Like a strategist, he began to maneuver his body so that the strike of the rattler would target closer to his hands and arms for a better shot at defense.  About that time, his ears detected a familiar remote sound.  He cocked his head as he zoomed-in on the distant echo of what appeared to be a big brass band, combined with the hum of an engine.  The young man smiled as he identified the modulation of old pistons, pushing an antique pickup in his direction.  Fanny caught a glimpse of the old blue truck rounding a curve, where it began to slow down with its radio blaring away, until coming to a complete stop.  As it did, the right front tire crowned the head of the cunning rattler with a defining crunch.  The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Christopher.

“Well, if it ain’t young Fanny restin’ on his laurels,” he said with warm grin as he walked toward the young man.

Fanny had gasped when the truck’s tire parked on the snake.

Christopher sarcastically asked, “Son, are ya hungry?  Your mouth is wide open like a newborn sparrow in the nest.”

“You…uh, I guess you know, you rolled right on top of that rattlesnake.  How did you manage to do that?” quizzed the injured traveler.

“Oh, practice, I suppose.  It happens,” answered the lighthearted elder.  “I see ya got yourself all banged-up there.”

Sheepishly, Fanny began to explain,  “Yes, sir.  Earlier today I was so spent.  Not realizing my toes were dragging, my sole separated a bit from my left boot, causing me to trip and…well, here I am.”

While scoping out the young man’s injuries, Christopher mentioned the obvious,  “Ya fell on your face, I see.”

“In a manner of speaking, I sure did.” admitted Fanny.

The old man knelt down to get a closer look at Fanny’s damaged boot.

“Hmmm, yep, I’m no cobbler, but I see what happened,”  speaking slower and in a softer tone, “Ya know, where the ‘soul’ separates is a lonely place to be.  What have ya learned, kiddo?”

One side of Fanny’s bruised lip raised as he said, “Seeking shelter is a wise thing.”

“Is it now?” stated Christopher.

“No doubt, ” admitted the young trekker.  “I have come to realize that I’m not ‘all that’.”

“Now, give yourself some credit in this journey of yours,” the old one said.

“What?” asked Fanny.

Christopher explained, “Ya didn’t think about how ya said it.  In all your boldness and anger, ya once shouted, ‘BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!‘”

Beside himself, Fanny raised his voice in astonishment, “Hey!  How did you know about…I mean…that was a few days ago now…and on top of that, I was in…”

“In the desert, all by yourself.  I know,” interrupted Christopher.  “You might as well have had on a wireless microphone.  That was actually the beginning of your learnin’ while on this path.  With all the wreckage in your life, you were searchin’ for solitude.  Most people do.  Ya see, there’s a big difference between solitude, and isolation.  It’s ironic, isn’t it?  In your isolation, ya never really were alone.”

The young man being perplexed raised his voice, “Excuse me, but I still don’t understand how you…”

Christopher interrupted again, “Not many do understand, kiddo.  Even the ones who are most scholarly, with all those initials after their names, can’t get their arms around it all.  Some, the honest and most humble, will even admit it.  I’d say you’re in good company.”

Fanny still reclined there, looked down at his skinned hands and torn pants in a sense of surrender.

Breaking the uneasy moment, the old one spoke up, “Now son, here’s the deal for this time, for this place of desolation; will ya accept my offer?  You’re in the middle of this trip, but near the end of your journey.  I won’t return to these parts for some time, and here, in the waitin’, is the opportunity for decisions.  Trust me on this.  Take my hand and I’ll give ya a lift to where ya wanna be.  As a brash up-and-comer, a lad once told me, ‘It doesn’t look promisin’ from where I stand.'”

The young man accepted without delay, “Yes, sir.  I’m ready to move out of this God forsaken place.”

“Uh, not really… ‘forsaken’,” Christopher said with a familiar snicker.  “You have much to learn, young Fanny Gates.  Come on, I’ll help carry ya to the truck.  Ya ain’t heavy.”

With Fanny’s left arm around Christopher’s neck, and the anvil hanging from his sore right shoulder, the duo methodically made their way to the old truck.

After a couple of steps, Fanny asked Christopher a simple question, “I take it you know where Nazareth is, right?”

The old man opened the passenger side door, helped the younger into the truck and informed him, “Well, of course I know where Nazareth is.  As far as the eye can see from this spot, it’s nothin’ but desert.  Still, Nazareth is not too far from here.”

Just before Christopher closed the passenger door, he asked,  “Uh, son, aren’t ya forgettin’ somethin’?”

Fanny looked bewildered until he saw Christopher gazing at the anvil sitting in his lap.

He responded, “Christopher, do I really need to give it up?  It’s been with me for as long as I can remember.  Over my lifetime I’ve adjusted to its weight.”

“This is the very crux of my offer, Fanny,” Christopher uttered with a straight tone.  “Somewhere down the line, you were lied to.  You only ASSUMED ya needed this weight.  Ya must unload what has weighed ya down in order to come with me.  Now, tell me straight up.  Are ya willin’ to allow me to toss it behind us, to put it to bed?”

Seeing the sincerity in the old one’s ice-blue eyes, understanding it meant everything to him, Fanny agreed to let go.

(CLANG!)

With the anvil among the others discarded in the bed of the old truck, the aged one cranked-up the engine, took control of the steering wheel, and began to make a u-turn.

“Hey, Christopher, you’re going in the wrong direction!”, the traveler said with alert.

“You were hopin’ to go to Nazareth,” stated Christopher.  “Number one, ya wouldn’t have been able to get there by your own power.  Number two, I’m your only Uber out this way.  Number three, you were headed west on a one-way road.  Nazareth is east of here.  Always east.”

“Oh, yeah?  Well, I’ll just have to trust you on that.” said Fanny.

With that, the old man replied, “Yep, yep ya must.”

“Christopher, there’s just one thing of concern here,” Fanny said.  “I don’t have any cash on me for your fuel.”

After a satisfying smile on his old weathered face, along with a slight shaking of the head, Christopher replied, “That’s another thing, kiddo.  Ya never could’ve purchased your way to Nazareth.  It’s all been paid for ahead of your arrival.  Burden-free, son.  Burden-free.”

When loaded down, crushed with the stuff of life’s curses, unload with fuel for the race.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’   For He will deliver you                                                from the snare of the fowlera and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”  – Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear Itself

Cover Photo:  South Bend Tribune

“…So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  –  Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

Due to retinopathy and glaucoma, I have experienced many an eye surgery over the last five years.  No fun whatsoever.  As part of the give & take, my natural night vision has been damaged, bit by bit.  I still drive at night, but I don’t unless it’s necessary.  Craving light is what I do.  If the road I’m on is dimly lit, or without reflectors along the stripes or curbs, my vision struggles to pierce the velvet blackness just on the other side of the headlight’s reach.  At home, I am so grateful for the little nightlights plugged into the wall sockets for an easier overnight walk to the bathroom, or kitchen.  With a portion of my night vision missing, the difference is truly noticeable.

Let’s say you blindfold yourself, just for a personal experiment.  Once your eyes are covered you begin the attempt to navigate through your house.  Better yet, try this in a home you are unfamiliar with.  Each step is carefully placed as you bump into the baseboards and steps.  Your hands search the walls for maneuvering safely, or the hope of it.  Slowly your feet pioneer themselves across an unknown room, when suddenly they trip over the edge of a rug.  You fall as if it were in slow motion.  On the way down you think to yourself, “It would be helpful if the owner of the house, who knew this floor-plan, were in front of me, guiding me with their vocal directions.”  As you get back up on your feet, you find within yourself a growing emotion…fear.  The fear of falling again.  The fear of breaking your nose on a door.  The fear of knocking out a tooth on the staircase.  The fear of…the unknown ahead.

black metal window frame
Photo by Octopus soul on Pexels.com

We have been dreading the essential drive to the grocery store ever since the Coronavirus began its crawl across the USA.  Droves of unreasonable citizens have been raiding the store shelves as if there was a run on dwindling inventory, buying more than average cupboards could hold without thinking of their neighbor’s needs.  The day came.  My wife fought through the mob to buy staples for the week.  She found a severe lack of eggs, milk, meat, rice, pasta, to name a few.  Just amazing for the average grocery store in America.  The funny part of it is…there’s no real shortage of anything.  She witnessed frantic shoppers racing about with wrinkled foreheads and frowns.  The store was filled with consumers tied up in knots on the inside.  We’ve seen this type of hysteria with gasoline in the past, haven’t we?

There must be a study somewhere within the bowels of a sociology think-tank which can tell us how mass hysteria occurs.  Unfortunately, part of the reason for empty market shelves is greed.  There are those who are so full of themselves that they purchase in large quantities of a targeted item for the purpose of private resale with an enormous price hike for others to pay.  Trust me, this type of individual will receive their reward.  However, the majority of consumers overstock in a crisis for another reason.

What fuels the tanks of the one who fills two or three basket-fulls of toilet paper during a pandemic is…fear itself.

There is a healthy fear each of us possess.  It’s evaluated when you pull away from the edge of a cliff.  We jerk our hand back when a fire ignites.  A healthy fear reminds us to drive under 90 MPH.  Then there are wonderful moments where healthy fear is suppressed by the weight of love.  You see it when a parent runs into a burning house in efforts to save their child.  Fear is quenched when assisting an elderly parent when they are down with the flu.  Fear is pushed aside when a dog owner runs out on the a frozen lake to rescue their four-legged pal who fell through a patch of a thin layer.  Stories like this are inspiring, along with soul searching.

Those prone to unreasonable, unjustified fright are minds that have conjured up scenarios which most likely are not realistic.  Sure, COVID-19 is real.  It is upon us all.  The remedy is on its way, but not yet available.  Citizens are to take precautions.  It is a healthy fear to do so.  Yet, we should guard against being tied up in knots during the panic.

An unhealthy fear is to fill a home up to the crown molding with a few thousand rolls of toilet paper while not have any produce in the fridge.  A person who does this is one who feeds on the extreme as they envision it to be.  Even though retailers, the retail workers, the CEO’s, the government itself, implores consumers to think reasonably with the news that there is no shortage of goods, they dive into a darkened place where they believe they will be in want for all things.  The lack of “items” is the constructed fear.

Shelves - Star News Online

Photo:  Star News Online

FDR wisely raised the issue of unhealthy fear in his inaugural address in 1933.  Yes, people where going through an economic depression.  Americans were going hungry, losing jobs, standing in line at soup kitchens.  The fear was real.  Yet, he sensibly pointed out the deadliest fear facing the nation at the time.  The most costly was, “fear itself”.  He knew, all too well, unhealthy fear can bring someone to harmful illnesses, anxiety, even insanity.  In fact, it was a contagious anxiety.  He was aware unhealthy fear grows hurtful selfishness.  FDR saw the men and women of his nation were not standing strong in the stiff winds of a fierce depression which carried many to suicide, murder, and hatred of neighbors.  Truly costly.  Even the children of those who tied themselves in knots began to lose hope.  In essence, FDR was saying…“FEAR KNOT!”

Knot Pinterest

Photo:  Pinterest

Fear itself is like being blindfolded in a house not your own.  It’s like driving a dark road at 4am while wearing thick sunglasses.  When blind to the unknown, it can cause delusions.  Fear itself develops a mental picture of what might occur, what could happen, what possibly would be in store, all without remedy.  So many who have studied fear say about 90% of what we fear never happens.  In that perspective it gives something to wake-up to tomorrow.

If only we had the owner of the house, who built the floor plan, to give us strong directions just ahead of each step we dare take in the darkest of moments.

I know Who that is.  He is the Author of light, direction, and hope.  He is the One who promised there were new mercies on the shelf every morning.

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”      – Jesus – (Matthew 6)  (ESV)

Certainty can be defined as this:  Filling a tank with fear is contrary to fuel for the race.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of instruction.”   – Apostle Paul –   2 Timothy 1:7  (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Delivering a Great Plumbline

Cover Photo:  Painting by Bob Niles, my father-in-law.

[ Just a quick note to you, my reader.  Please take honest, strict care of yourself and those you love.  Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the globe.  Medical experts are reporting it will get worse before it gets better.  Guard your health and don’t stop. Trust in the One in control even during what seems to be chaotic times from this side of the darkened glass.   – God’s grip, Alan ]

“…And I feel like a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford.
I’m low as a paid assassin is.
You know I’m cold as a hired sword…”    (1976 release)  “I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford)”   Recorded By:  Elton John   Composers:  Elton John & Bernie Taupin

The infamous outlaw, Jesse James, and his brother, Frank James, were raised in the home of a Baptist minister, Rev. Robert S. James.  The Baptist preacher also was one of the founders of William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri in 1849.

Rev. Robert S. James findagrave.com

Photo:  Rev. Robert S. James  – findagrave.com

Rev. James was a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention.  Although Rev. James passed away during the rearing years, one can only assume Jesse & Frank grew up hearing multiple sermons in and outside the home by a very strict, hell, fire, and brimstone father.  No doubt the preacher’s wife must have been a Bible-mother as well.  Of course, their private home-life behind closed doors is unknown.  Although he had earned his Bachelor of Arts, Rev. James commuted from Clay County, Missouri to Kentucky to gain his Master of Arts from Georgetown College.  It would appear the preacher was away from the home much of the time due to his academic pursuits.  One thing is clear, in the case of the preacher’s kids, it seems being frightened out of hell didn’t take.

If you’ve ever read the bio of the James brothers, or have seen a movie about their lives, then you already know how dipped they were in a serious life of crime after the Civil War.  In fact, some consider Jesse James to be one of the most notorious gangsters in American history, if not at the top of the list.  From Texas to Minnesota, the James boys, and gang, left bloodshed and ruin in their wake.

After years of shocking crime sprees, there were dead gang members left in the dust, or swinging from prison gallows.  Replacements were being vetted by Jesse all too often.

Jesse James and Bob Ford

Photo:  History.com  (Rare photo of Jess James with his killer, Bob Ford.)

Two young recruits looked promising to Jesse, in fact they were good friends.  Bob and Charley Ford were brothers very familiar with a life of crime.  The James family, and the Ford family, spent time together as if in the same clan.  Jesse even invited the outlaw brothers to move into his house.  What Jesse seemingly didn’t know, the Ford brothers had dollar signs in their eyes as the Missouri Governor, Thomas T. Crittenden, had offered up to $10,000.00 to anyone who could “capture” the James brothers.  In the Ford case, Gov. Crittenden went as far as to offered amnesty for past crimes as well.

On April 3, 1882, after breakfast at the James family dinner table, Jesse, Bob, and Charley went to the living room to talk business.  It seems there was a robbery being planned for that week.  Some say Jesse was suspicious of the Ford’s intentions and loyalty.  That remains a mystery.  What happened next has been debated since the event.  Some write that Jesse observed dust on the frame of a painting on the wall and wanted to wipe it down.  Others claimed the frame was crooked on the wall and Jesse intended to straighten it.  (The latter is the story I grew up with.)  One thing is certain, Jesse James left his pistols on the sofa, walked across the room, placed a chair just under the framed painting, stepped up to reach it when Bob Ford pulled his gun shooting Jesse James in the back of the head.  Zerelda Mimms-James, Jesse’s wife, was just in the next room of the small house.  Jesse was 34 years old.

Two years later, in May of 1884, a suicidal Charley Ford shot himself.  He was 26 years old.  On June 8th of 1892, a man named, Ed O’Kelley, walked into a tent saloon, owned by Bob Ford, and shot him in the throat with a shotgun.  Bob was 30 years old.  In January of 1904, you guessed it, Ed O’Kelley was shot dead by a police officer he was trying to kill.  Ed made it to 46 years old.  Amazing domino effect, isn’t it?  Let’s hope the policeman lived to see his 90’s.

In the end, Jesse James was an outlaw, but he was also a teacher.  Let me show you what I mean using the simplicity of an item in many a tool box.

Plumbline Alamy

Photo:  Alamy

The plumbline is an ancient builder’s tool.  It is also used by surveyors.  You can find this instrument mentioned with tremendous intention in the Old Testament book of Amos (Amos 7:8).  Today it is usually a stainless steel or solid lead pointed weight attached to a string.  It is used to align anything which stands vertically, a wall, a beam, a door, etc.

plumb_line

Photo: theworldflu.wordpress.com

When building a brick wall, if aligned geometrically with a plumbline measuring an upright line, as the center of gravity shows it to be without faulty readings, that wall will stand perfectly straight.  If the walls stand perfectly straight then the entire frame of the building will have integrity.  On the other hand, if the wall is built via an eyeball’s view, it will lean at some point in the process leading to the failure of the entire structure.

The crooked picture frame, which Jesse James was obsessed with on that fateful morning, reveals an outstanding irony.  Jesse and Frank were raised hearing all about the straight and the narrow.  A student of the Bible, their father, and mother, obviously taught them of a great plumbline for living, yet they grew up to be crooks.  A crooked life has its toll.  If the leaders of a home are crooked, or altogether absent, more than likely the home will not stand with endurance.  No matter how much stolen cash is accumulated, the crooked life has a higher price.  Jesse James has taught us this truth by example.  A choice was made and the James brothers ran from the measurements of society, which were based on law, making the allurement of crime something to be at risk for.  You might say the wall Jesse built leaned heavily, doomed for gravitational collapse.  Fame and fortune destroyed his life, the life of his killer, and the life of his killer’s killer.  “…and be sure your sin will find you out.” – Moses – (Numbers 32:23b) 

Teaching our children well is our responsibility.  Afterwards, the choices are their’s.  It’s good to be measured for structure-sake.

Unlike sand, when building on a solid rock, there are different results.  It can all be found, measured and delivered in fuel for the race.

 “I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron…..so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.…”  Isaiah 45:2-3b  (NKJV)
I

Asteroid – April 29, 2020

Cover Photo:  NASA

“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.

Asteroid NASA

Photo:  NASA

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, 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 “blazing star” which poisons the planet.  I will say, it’s not for the faint of heart if this planet is considered the highest treasure.

EarthSome 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.

For assuredly, 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)

 

 

A Quiet Hero

Cover Photo:  findagrave.com

“…Well I thought about it, you know I’m not playing.  You better listen to me,
every word I’ve been saying.  Hot is cold, what’s cold is hot.  I’m a little mixed up, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got.  Don’t want your money, don’t need your car.  I’m doing all right, doing all right so far.  I’m givin’ it up for your love – everything.”  (1980) – “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” – Composer & Recorded:  Delbert McClinton

Merriam-Webster defines “Invest” with three different entries.  The third is this:  “To involve or engage especially emotionally.”

Most see it like this…

Coins

I was given a gift when I was about 10 years old.  It was a piggy bank, but not in the traditional.  It wasn’t in a “piggy” shape at all.  It was transparent glass cylinders melded side-by-side.  There were four of these cylinders, each just the size of each denomination of American coins.  Much like a rain measurement gauge, the cylinders were marked-off to indicate how much was accumulated, depending upon how high the stack of coins.  Unlike the old piggy bank, I could see and count how much my investments added up to based on my deposits.  What a great teaching tool for a little kid.  Within this profile of the man below, I will get back to the transparent bank of deposits.

Today, the north Dallas suburb where I live has a population of around 140, 000 citizens.  When my mom and I moved here in the summer of ’73, it was far smaller.  The suburb is clustered with other suburbs to the point of not knowing which one you are driving through if you are unaware of the borders.  It’s always been a busy place with lots to do for whatever interests you might have.

Perry Road was between our apartment complex at the time, and the school I went to.  It was explored the first week we arrived so we would know the route to my school.  I walked that road every day during my 8th grade school year.  Later, I would consider it my jogging street.

I often saw a little old African-American man walking down Perry next to the curb in a brisk gate.  At first I didn’t really pay much attention to the man as we drove by.  After seeing him a few more times, as the summer went on, I took a bit more notice of the old man.  Once I got a good look, he appeared to be a vagrant, a poor homeless man, with weathered skin like leather.  He looked to be in his 70’s.  The idea of “Mr. Bojangles” came to mind.  His thin faded shirt was oversized, ragged and dirty.  His pants were either old cotton khakis, or worn-out bluejeans, complete with holes in various spots.  There were times he was seen wearing a postal carrier’s uniform, but it was old and frayed.  I always wondered where he got it, as I knew he wasn’t working for the post office.  He always wore an old sweat-stained baseball cap.  After awhile, it was the norm to see him with a burlap bag, or an old army duffle bag, swung over his shoulder with a couple of baseball bats sticking out.  Being new in town, and knowing I would be walking to school, my mom was hoping we had moved to a neighborhood where transients wouldn’t be an issue.  Seeing this old man caused her pause.

After the school year started, from time to time I would see this old man at my school’s baseball diamond swinging bats, hitting old lopsided beat-up baseballs with the stitching unraveling.  There were always kids around him, from 6 year olds to teenagers.  One day, I watched him from behind the backstop knocking one ball after another to whatever part of the field he pointed to.

Jimmy Porter Baseball

I wasn’t into baseball, but this old man was surprisingly talented at the sport.  They say from time to time a kid would beg him to hit one over the fence.  A crooked grin would launch from his sweating weathered face, followed by a soft chuckle, then pick up a ball and at will, knock it over the fence.  Two things come to mind.  First, he did it with ease.  Secondly, he looked far too skinny and old to put one over the fence.  Like a finely tuned choir, the kids would say, “Wow!  Cool!  Far-out!”  I could’ve hung around longer but, there were other things to do, places to go, people to see.  Plus, baseball just wasn’t my sport.

Jimmy Porter - Newspaper - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

The kids in the community knew him simply as, Jimmy.  You could say he was like the Pied Piper, leading countless boys and girls to home plate and the pitcher’s mound.  He was well-known for walking to various elementary schools, as well as the Jr. High schools, and city parks to start pick-up games for whoever wanted to play.

Little did I know he had been doing this for the neighborhood kids since the 1960’s.  This mysterious old black man would come walking to these various baseball fields from seemingly out of nowhere.  Out of his old worn-out bag came a couple of old baseball bats which he held together with screws and nails after being split or cracked.  An armload of old baseballs, three or four ancient left-handed baseball gloves would fall out of the bag.  He coached.  He taught.  He umpired.  He pitched.  He chose players for the teams.  It didn’t matter to him if girls showed up.  Jimmy saw them as no different than the boys.  They all played their roles on the diamond, or outfield.  If there was a kid who struggled at the game, he spent more time with them for encouragement and personal growth.  Many an afternoon was spent teaching the art of baseball to the young community of our suburb.  He loved the kids.  They truly idolized the man.  Jimmy would stay until the very last child had to go home.  After waving the last player homeward, he would gather his baseball equipment in the bag and off down Perry Road he would go.

A few of my friends grew up being coached by Jimmy in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  It’s amazing to me that I never really learned about Jimmy until I became an adult.  Little did I know we had a baseball star in our midst.

Jimmy Porter was born September 2, 1900 somewhere in Tennessee.  For some unknown reason, Jimmy Porter came to Carrollton, Texas in the 1920’s.  Prior to his journey he had played for the old Negro Baseball League in St. Louis.  When he arrived in Carrollton, he was unemployed, uneducated, and didn’t have a dime to his name.  Considering the times, he was what they called a “hobo”, destined for a pauper’s life out on the streets.  On top of that, being a black man in the south, life was not promising in the 1920’s.  At the same time, he was rich in talent with a higher vision.

Shortly after he set foot in our community in the 1920’s, he formed a black semipro baseball team known as, The Carrollton Cats.  He played and coached The Cats for several years until they eventually disbanded.  Later, Jimmy convinced the leaders of the community to found a Carrollton Little League for the children.  As expected, Jimmy coached the league for many years.  Even after the Little League grew way beyond what it was in the beginning, after he no longer was the “official” coach, he continued to coach outside the league through pick-up games, not only in Carrollton, but also in the neighboring suburb, Farmers Branch, Texas.  The games were casual, friendly, and educational.  Jimmy was a small man, so he always made sure the smallest kids got to bat first.  Everyone was welcome to use his old baseball supplies.  Often at the end of the games, he hugged all the players with the warmth of approval.  They say he always left them with a wave and yelled out, “Everybody just love everybody”.  It’s ironic in that his motto described who he was.

Jimmy Porter - Glove Color - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

Jimmy’s coaching grew some fruit.  For many years, our high school’s baseball team was considered one of the best in all of Texas.  In the trophy-case on campus, you can check out the championship trophies racked-up through the years.  Some players went on to terrific college teams and minor league teams across the nation.

Although he was poor, he didn’t ask for money for any of his work with the kids.  He was never seen begging in the streets.  Jimmy did receive high praise from the community through the decades of his selfless work.  Many offered him jobs.  He was known for odd-jobs when he could get them.  He did yard work, janitorial jobs, and grunt-work nobody wanted.

Despite his state in life, there would be awards of honor given, parades where he would be featured, as well as, a front row seat just behind home plate at all Little League games where he would hoop & holler encouragement to the players.  In 1973 a city park, named in his honor with a beautiful baseball field, was built which included a Jimmy Porter monument.  Jimmy didn’t have a family, so in 1977, Jimmy was awarded a lifetime membership by the Texas PTA.  He was featured in several newspapers, local television, as well as, the NBC Today Show in 1982.  Each year there is a recipient who is elected to receive The Jimmy Porter Award for outstanding community service.  Today, some of Jimmy’s old baseballs, caps, bats, and gloves can be seen under glass at the Carrollton Historical Museum.

Little did I know at the time, Jimmy Porter lived in an abandoned railroad boxcar just off the depot about 3 miles from most of the ball-fields he visited.  Frankly, I don’t believe most of the town knew where he lived.  In the early 1980’s, Jimmy’s health began to decline.  A few civic leaders, who once were under Jimmy’s wing in the dugout, built him a small frame house.  It was way overdue.  This old, quite hero shed a tear or two as the keys to the humble house were given to him.

At this point, I must admit I have some lingering anger.  It spews from the fact that decades went by before this community offered Mr. Porter decent room and board.  Think of it.  In 1973, when he was 73 years old, they built a city park for the man and named it Jimmy Porter Park.  Afterward the ceremony, they watched him walk back to his boxcar.  I’ll leave the subject here.

Jimmy Porter - House - Findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

Mr. Jimmy Porter softly left us December 11, 1984, just about a year after moving into his new home.  He was 84 years old.  The community purchased a modest plot in one of our cemeteries, on Perry Road, where he wore out his shoes walking to and fro the school’s ball-fields.  His humble headstone features two baseball bats crossed.

Mr. Porter had no idea how important he would be to Carrollton and Farmers Branch, Texas.  Sure, he was a pauper, an uneducated man, a man seen as a vagrant in the eyes of the misled and misdirected.  Yet, as poor as he was, he gave.  Much like the Apostle Paul in scripture, he was willing to be poured out for others, and the generations to come.  Jimmy Porter gave of his personal value, the God-given special wealth inside of him.  Like a transparent piggy bank, he lived long enough to see the dividends of a lifetime of deposits from his heart and talents.  Multitudes who are now between 40-70 years old, who were raised in my neck of the woods, were, and are, his treasures.  His investment was enormous.  I would say, not so poor.

Like any good teacher, Jimmy Porter left an indelible mark on young lives that can be seen to this day.

Often I drive down Perry Road for old-time sake.  It never fails, I admit to looking down the street for an old tattered black man with worn-out baseball bats slung over his shoulder.

Investing in the lives of others, without seeking anything in return, pours out in fuel for the race.

“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.’ – Ecclesiastes 11:1 – King Solomon  (New American Standard Bible)

A special thanks to Dave Henderson for some of Jimmy Porter’s memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19

Photo:  Corona Virus – NPR

“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.

pexels-photo-460617

Photo:  Pexels

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…

Corona Virus Prayer at Western Wall in Israel from Israel National News     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) 

 

L-O-V-E

Photo:  My grandparents as newlyweds in 1938, nesting at the Brazos River, Texas.  They were married 69 years until his death.

“Ohh, whatever happened to old fashioned love, the kind that would see you through? The kind of love my Momma and Daddy knew. Yeah, whatever happened to old fashioned love, the kind that would last through the years, through the trials, through the smiles, through the tears.  (Bridge)   For now the tenderness has been replaced with something less, and it’s hard to find what we left behind…..”                         

(1983) “Whatever Happened To Old-Fashioned Love?”  Recorded By: B.J. Thomas  Composer: Lewis J. Anderson

I love the truthful lyrics in the bridge section.  “…the tenderness has been replaced with something less…”

There I go again, using the highly overused word, “L-O-V-E” when I didn’t mean it.  Oh, sure, I like the lyric, but I can’t say I “love” the lyric…or can I?  Come on, you know what I mean.  My brain, my emotions, my gut, truly holds the lyric close to my heart.  Is that love, or infatuation?

Valentine’s Day can be so cute in so many ways.  The little Valentine cards we used to swap out in out elementary school days cause me to chuckle now.  Just like the little heart candies, “Be Mine”, “I think you’re cool”, “Here’s a heart for you”, etc.  It was all so very innocent, wasn’t it?  Then, we grow into our hormone-owned teen years.  Yikes!  Us guys can truly be a grand example of what love is NOT.  You girls seemed to have a better handle on it.  Maybe I’m wrong about that.  You tell me.  It reminds me a bit when I think of the old TV show, “The Love Boat” from 1977-1986.  You remember the first couple of lines to the theme song, “Love Boat”.  Singer, Jack Jones piped it out:

“Love, exciting and new.  Come aboard.  We’re expecting you….”  (1977)  Composers:  Charles Fox & Paul Williams.

I think that has been one of the distractions about the definition of love in our culture.  Love can be ‘exciting and new’, but usually not.  In fact, ask any couple who just celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary about “excitement” or “newness”.  They will laugh at you.  But wait a minute.  Isn’t passion, sexual desire, and infatuation exciting and new?  My twist would be, yes.  Passion, sexual desire, and infatuation can be exciting, especially if it has just redirected your focus in life, a new focus, even if only for a brief amount of time.  But….is passion, sexual desire, and infatuation, L-O-V-E?  Let’s ask the British rock band, 10cc from 1975…

“I’m not in love, so don’t forget it.  It’s just a silly phase I’m goin’ through.  And just because I call you up, don’t get me wrong, don’t think you’ve go it made.  I’m not in love, no-no…..”

Actually, some of the lyrics in this hit can be downright hurtful, like:

“I keep your picture upon the wall.  It hides a nasty stain that’s lying there.  So don’t you ask me to give it back.  I know you know it doesn’t mean that much to me.  I’m not in love, no-no.  It’s because…”  Composers:  Eric Stewart & Graham Gouldman

OUCH!  I wonder if he was that honest to her face, or if the song was just therapy written on the road in a cheap hotel?

couple walking on city street
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Valentine’s Day can be a danger for some unsuspecting romantics out there.  (I know of what I speak.  I can write about this with real-world experience.)  Let’s face it, we want to be loved…right?  That desire is in the human heart even before birth.  Like an empty blender just waiting for the colorful mix of goods to be poured into us.  Am I right?  Come on, be honest with me.

So, sure.  We love dogs.  We love cats.  We love horses.  We love romantic movies.  I love that color on you.  I love a brilliant, blazing sunset.  I love Tex-Mex and Chinese food.  Boy, do I love that ’68 Ford Mustang.  What kind of L-O-V-E is that?

Resturant Table tomesto.ru

How ’bout this?  You see him/her from the other side of the restaurant, munching on a burger.  The view is of a nice looking specimen of humanity.  You toss away your slightly tomato-stained napkin and walk briskly straight for him/her.  You only have two words in your vocabulary at the moment as you lock eyes on this beautiful person.  As you arrive at the table, your mouth opens and out comes the channeling of David Cassidy…“Hi, I think I love you.”  He/she chokes on a slice of onion.  After the Heimlich Maneuver, he/she is bold enough to ask…“How do you know?”  Good question.  I guess you could say, “It’s your crystal blue eyes, your matching blue suit, the tattoo of the hammer and sickle over the entire left side of your face.  I love everything about you!”  Okay, got it.  A wise person, with a head on their shoulders, might say you idolize the look of this person.  What you don’t know is, he/she is a closet Neo-Nazi, an axe murderer, and someone who leaves their filthy Mini Mouse socks on the floor.  So, after he/she reveals these details of “WHO” he/she is, you lower your head with embarrassment, turn and walk slowly back toward your table to rejoin your spouse and five children.

It took me decades to reevaluate using the word, “love”.  If you THINK you’re in love because of what the other person can do for you and your life, you should reevaluate.  Too often this is the case.  Or, you love the “idea” of falling for someone with an Irish accent, or someone from your hometown, or someone with red hair.  So, you go on a hunt to find an Irish redhead who just happens to live where you grew up.  Careful.  That smell is from a dead relationship.  Take inventory of your motives and fantasy life.   

I’m grateful for the letter “L”.  It launches both “Love” and “Like”.  If you start to say “love”, and don’t truly mean it, you can easily self-edit as you evolve your pronunciation into “like”.  Try it.  “I need you to know I really, really LLLLike you.”

Are you confused yet?

Scripture defines love as a verb, not a feeling.  Some reveal they didn’t understand love until they had a child added to their lives.  Getting into the weeds of original root word languages, you could discover there are different brands of “love”.  Yes, we should love our neighbors as ourselves.  We should love our families with all that we are.  And yes, we should love our enemies.  “That’s hard”, says Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump.  There’s a picture burned into my mind, from the Desert Storm War in Iraq.  It captured the image of U.S. Marines feeding and hydrating Iraqi POW’s in the sands of southern Iraq.  What high bar to hurdle.

Jesus labelled the highest, premium degree of authentic love.

““There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends.”  – Jesus – (John 15:13 (Amarmaic Translation)

Literally, if you cannot agree to die, or be tortured, or to take-on someone’s cancer (if possible) for another person’s well-being, their life, their health, than most likely the highest shelf of the zenith of love is not an active agent in the relationship.  Would you give a kidney to an old friend with stage 5 kidney failure?  Would you run into a burning complex to rescue a co-worker?  I think all various levels of love can be measured starting with the definition given by Jesus, Who loved you enough to do just what He said.

No, I am not willing to be sacrificed for a plate of tacos & egg rolls.

Be careful little mouth what you say.  Be careful little hand what you write.  If Valentine’s Day causes someone to misread your true heart for them, it isn’t kind.  In fact, it would be cruel.  Honesty is always best.  It might be best to find a stain on the wall as you decide which 8×10 should go there.

One thing is certain, love is the very theme of fuel for the race.

Love ya!  Mean it!

 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.   It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs.   Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.  – Apostle Paul –  1 Corinthians 13:1-8a  (Berean Study Bible)