“Pressure: pushing down on me, Pressing down on you, no man ask for. Under pressure that burns a building down, Splits a family in two, Puts people on streets.” (1981) “Under Pressure” Recorded By: Queen & David Bowie.Composed By: Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie (Lyrics), John Deacon, Brian May.
Are you old enough to remember these?
I’m sorry. I’m referencing the bean bad chairs, not the kids.
I was so proud of mine. During my teen years, in the 70’s (1970’s, not 1870’s) I had one in my bedroom. It was royal blue (My high school colors.) and made of a shiny vinyl. It sat in the corner of my room, right next to my stereo record player and headphones. It lasted several years into my early 20’s until the tiny white Styrofoam beans began to escape the seams. That was tough on burnt orange shag carpet. I think I cried when I finally surrendered to tossing it in a dumpster. Recently, I have noticed ads for a bean bag chair revival, new and improved. Just like my old royal blue friend, I am sure the new ones will memorize the shape of your backside. They have a memory, ya know.
When the Star Trek franchise introduced, “The Borg” aliens to the Star Trek timeline in the late 80’s with The Next Generation, I was reminded of my old bean bag chair.
If you are unfamiliar with the Star Trek story-lines, the Borg is a race of collective drones, part android, part human, or other humanoid species. They are of one mind, no individual thinking or reasoning. Each drone hears only one dialogue from its members in the hive of collectives. Their purpose is to collect humanoid species by force to glean from their experiences and technologies in order to add to their own collective. Their very robotic vocal greeting to planets and space ships is ominous:
“WE ARE THE BORG. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED. YOU MUST COMPLY. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.”
Of course, the victims of such an assimilation means the humanoid species being spoken to will not only cease to live out their own culture and society as they know it, but will lose all identity and individual thought as they will be part of ONE MIND, ONE THOUGHT, ONE PURPOSE. In other words, it ain’t good.
Just like my bean bag chair, victims of The Borg must CONFORM, no longer keeping their own sovereign shape. I thought about this when after the summer Olympics were complete, I could see the outline of my derriere on the couch. Poor cushion, it had no choice but to comply.
What does it take to comply to the force facing you? If someone were to come out from the cavern they reside in, they may not see it. However, if you are plugged into what is going on around you, you will recognize it.
Whenever misinformation is given, the goal is to get you to conform. Whenever an alternative “truth” is unleashed in the media, academia, or from government, you can bet it is an effort to assimilate the “absolute truth” when conformity is the goal. Whenever free speech is attacked with vicious words, and even physical violence, conformity is the goal. Whenever you see a yellow sign and you are constantly told it’s a blue sign, the goal is conformity. Whenever a photo is forced upon you over and over again, accompanied by the word, “Racism” or “Crime”, and the photo clearly shows the absence of racism or crime, you can bet you are being groomed for conformity. Whenever you witness statues of significant officials and warriors, and founding fathers torn down and burned, conformity is the reward. Whenever an elected official, hired by you, the free citizen of democracy, stands behind the podium of significance and states that he/she is “losing patience” with you, conformity is in play. Whenever a growing mob tramples and burns down all that is wholesome and good for a community, conformity is on the menu. Whenever you are assaulted, or publicly showered with curses in order to shame you because of your ideology, theology, or your life-choices, the pressure is to squeeze you into conformity. Whenever shiny objects are dangled in the opposite direction of where I need to be looking, for safety and freedom sake, I am reminded misdirection is a tool which leads to conformity. (Just ask the catfish wrapped up in your local butcher shop.) Whenever righteousness, law & order, and right is rifled out to be evil, lack of justice, and wrong, conformity is the pressure.
My bean bag chair only conformed to my rear end due to the pressure of weight I applied to it. As for The Borg, well, conformity is the only option by way of force.
You might say conformity is the result of impression. To be impressed, whether good or bad, someone, or something must weigh heavily on you. Adam and Eve were introduced to the cleverness of a conformity campaign:
“…You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – The Serpent (Genesis 3:4 – 5) ESV
If I were a bean bag chair, before someone applied their weight to me, I would push back with the boldness of shouting out, “I know my shape! It’s how I was made! That’s the truth of it!” If I were to face The Borg, I would fight for the truth of who I am, loving the freedoms God gave to me. Why? Because with God, resistance is NOT futile! I’ve already been transformed.
When compliance is birthed from a lie, recognize the signs in fuel for the race.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2 (NAS)
“I feel the earth move under my feet. I feel the sky tumbling down, a-tumbling down…” (1971) “I Feel The Earth Move” – Recorded & Composed By: Carole King
“Of all the luck in the world…”, as my late grandmother always used to say.
Back in 2015, I was bored one summer afternoon, and decided to get out of my north Dallas house. It had been such a long time since I had taken in a movie at the local cinema. One of my weaknesses comes in the form of disaster/action films. However, not just any disaster/action production, but a really good one, without all the comic strip characters. Dwayne Johnson had a brand new flick out about THE earthquake, which many still call, “The Big One”. The movie was, “San Andreas”.
Getting out of the car in the parking lot, the air was heavy, hot, and still. I thanked the Lord for air conditioning as I briskly walked toward the ticket window. To sit in a dark theater, with a bag of buttered popcorn, along with an ice cold cola, waiting to feel the big speakers pump out chair-rattling sound was exactly what the doctor ordered.
No worries, I will not give any spoilers here.
Deep into the film, maybe 20 minutes before the ending, Dwayne Johnson’s character was frantically doing all he could to find and rescue his daughter from a collapsing high rise building after the major quake. He finds she is trapped on a floor of a sinking multi-story structure partially submerged under water. Us movie-goers were on the edge of our seats as she was swimming under water unable to escape, trapped by a glass wall. (It was difficult to hear over the loud sound system, but I could hear thunder and heavy rain outside the theater, which just added to the drama of the script.) Johnson’s character dives down to the area to retrieve her from a watery demise, only to find himself on the other side of the glass wall, which was almost totally submerged with water, as well. There they were, daddy and daughter, both holding their breath while treading water as they make underwater attempts to break through the glass wall to no avail. With major trimmers from the earthquake, which put them in this precarious place of danger, they placed their hands together with the glass between them, looking at the fear in one another’s eyes with a look of, “What if we give up?”, when suddenly…the power goes out in the theater. One audience member actually shouted, “NO!” I kid you not!
After a few silent minutes, with the exception of popcorn crunching, an usher came in to announce that they were trying to get the power back on. Our instructions were to sit tight as only the emergency lights in the multiplex were working. And that we did. Maybe 25 minutes went by. Another announcement was given saying that a bad storm had zapped all the power in the shopping mall (the theater is inside a mall) and they had received an “all-clear” to exit the building. I thought to myself, “An all-clear? What does that tell us?” As we all left the darkened cinema, theater management graciously offered rain check tickets to be redeemed at any time. As I walked outside, it was very clear just what had occurred while shaking, rattling, and rolling with Dwayne Johnson.
As it turned out, a tornado went right over the mall during the movie. The sky still had a greenish/yellow cast to it, with debris all over the parking lot. There was some evidence of hail, but my vehicle didn’t have any major damage.
Although protected by the storm, I still wrestled with the fact I never saw the resolve of the fix the character and his daughter was in, not to mention the outcome of the entire film. Did they give up and die looking at each other through the glass? Did he watch her die, and in sorrow swam back up to the surface? How would he explain it to his estranged wife, her mother? Did he have a firearm to shoot out the glass wall for rescue, or would the weight of the water quench ballistic attempts? Was there another aftershock which broke the glass wall, allowing a quick escape? Did he and his estranged wife reconcile afterwards? Drama, drama, drama.
Although I had a free ticket, life got in the way of a quick revisit to the theater. In fact, I didn’t much want to have to watch the whole first 80 minutes of the production to get to the underwater scene. So, by the time I could get back to the theater, the film had moved on to world of cable, streaming, and DVD. I was left to hold my breath until I could catch it someday, and hope all the while, nobody would spoil it for me.
How long did I wait? Almost 2 years later, I had the opportunity to stream the movie. I made myself a date to sit, with remote in hand, and fast forward to the literal cliff-hanging scene I had been deprived of.
How often I have been where Dwyane Johnson was, under water, desperately trying for a rescue, an escape, in a place where hopelessness sets in. Pain weaves in the dreams at night concerning how to get out, or what might be the key to release, or asking the question, what will tomorrow bring. Like Dorothy, caught up in a vortex, the waiting place is nothing short of haunting. Have you been there, wondering how life, or a scene in life, will play out? For you, it might have only been a 2 minute wait. For others, maybe it was a 2 year wait. For many, the ending to an issue remains hanging on the reels in life’s projection room.
When I say I am a, “person of faith”, I may be fudging on the truth of it. Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I believe in God, and His son, Jesus. Yes, I have trust in the theology of scripture. So, in that sense I am telling the truth. I am a, “person of faith”. Still, I have a major fault line. My tectonic plates shift in life sometimes, often revealing the weaknesses of a faulty faith. Much like Simon Peter, distracted by the wind and the waves of Galilee, it’s easier to sink below the surface than to walk upon the water, even when Jesus is right there making Himself known. Testings can truly smack like a side kick in the UFC.
Unknowns are out there which can be highly disturbing, disrupting, and derailing. My nature is to FIX IT. I want to overcome the impossibles in life on my own internal engine power. No doubt, you feel the same. However, just when you are in the middle of an impossible situation, paradigms suddenly shift and sometimes waiting is required. Many who feel they control everything around them, along with, whatever comes their way, are scheduled for a wake up call from reality. Others fear the future so much, they hide in the cave of inwardness, jumping at each and every shadow.
As a “person of faith”, I must review where I stand in the treading of life’s waters. If I choose to live by faith, and not on my outward circumstances, then I will be brought to hard glass walls for testing. During those spiritual examinations, I have the opportunity to rest, not scramble like egg on skillet. In a faith-driven life, the writer of my script is God, The Great I Am. It’s acknowledging His power in my life, power I do not muster on my own fortitude.
One of the titles of God which eases me is, “Alpha And Omega”. He is A-Z and every letter in between. Scripture states that He calls Himself, “The Beginning And The Ending”. Peace comes when understanding He knows my ending, and was there in my beginning. In all scenes of my life, rather in unrest, or rest, I cannot beat that title. If I ignore such a truth, my weight is on my fault lines just waiting for the plates to shift.
A true test can be conquered where the answers are found in fuel for the race.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43;1b (EVS)
“I see trees so green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.” (1968) “What A Wonderful World” Recorded By: Louis Armstrong Composers: Robert Thiele & George David Weiss
Me, being more of a landmark hunter while driving, never even noticed. It was my very observant wife who rang out the news as we pulled into the driveway toward the garage earlier this month. It was a sad moment.
It had been an average sleepy weekday for the most part, when we decided we would treat ourselves to one of our favorite Tex-Mex restaurants for dinner. (For those who may not recognize the word, I will define. Tex-Mex is more of a Texas altered fare of Mexican food. Real Mexican food is not so desirable to the average American palate. Still, if you like tripe, cow tongue, goat, mole sauce, or cactus on your plate, then you may enjoy some authentic Mexican dishes. We enjoy whatever we grow up eating.) We had a pleasant dinner. The clock told us it was time to go home and catch the new episode of, “This Is Us”.
It was about dusk, but light enough to see details. Arriving back at the house we turned onto the driveway. The headlights brightened up the garage doors a bit more than the setting sun. That’s when she said, “It looks like that corner tree didn’t survive the February freeze.” I had not noticed this smaller tree wasn’t blooming like all the others.
(Don’t be fooled by the splash of green on the right side of the photo. That is a branch from our neighbor’s tree leaning over for a photo bomb.)
Our place isn’t a large strip of land, but we do have 12 trees. We have 4 large, older trees in the backyard, some mid-sized, and some even smaller. By the way, the further you drive west in Texas, the less trees you will find. Then there are all of the various plants and flowers decorating the property. My wife is a green-thumbed lady. She should have been a landscaper. It’s a bit astonishing, most everything survived the freak wintry zero degree blast we received in Texas, which shutdown our state for a couple of weeks in February. Many Texans are still recovering from all the frozen calamity.
Much of the plant life here has been delayed a tad due to the winter storm from two months ago. Even the grass on our lawns hesitated to wake up. Even so, I find myself cocking my head while gazing at the brown leaves still clinging to the branches of our dead tree. Why THIS tree? We have another one just like it, although bigger, on the opposite corner at the front of the house and it thrives. The tree from our neighbor’s front lawn is only about ten feet away, and doing fine. Why was this tree unable to survive? It’s a mystery to me.
I should mention, as I silently mourned the death of our little corner tree, my wife surprisingly said, “Oh well. I never liked that tree anyway. We need to dig it up and get it to the curb.” I didn’t know she felt that way about the tree. In hopes of a resurrection of sorts, I told her we should at least give it the month of May and see if it’s just in shock. Well, here it is, knocking on May’s door, and still no signs of life.
If you’ve not read the details, I wrote about our winter surprise when it occurred back in February. It may help to explain why there’s a corpse in our yard.
Life is like that. One day you are experiencing the average comfortable days of life, with all its subject matters and routines, then WHAM!!! Just like that, an unexpected fierce winter hits you blindsided without warning. You know what I mean. My step-daughter, my brother-in-law, and my mother-in-law, all were diagnosed with cancer within a period of four years. Each one of them can tell you how winter blasts can take your breath away just as you are enjoying the warmth of a Texas sun. Yesterday, my kidney doctor gave me some disturbing news concerning a recent lab test result. I shed tears on my way home. Maybe your wintry blast came by way of a disrupting phone call which cracked the windshield of your life. Some might have faced the frozen chill as they held the hand of a dying love in a cold ICU room. Maybe it’s the memory of a sudden loss of a job, a steady income, or fire, or theft. I will tell you, the sudden loss of a marriage, home, and all that goes with it, can be a piercing sharp icicle to the heart and mind. The management of such frozen squalls is the true test. When you can’t trust others, or the fluctuating elements, or even yourself, where do YOU turn?
As for me, I can tell you, I do tend to “freeze-up” when life dishes out a gust of February. This is a trend I’ve discovered about myself. Too many times, I can testify to hitting the bed shortly after the icy hand of trauma grabs me. Please understand, I mean hitting the bed and staying there for days. Call me nuts but it’s happened. Professionals from the medical field tell us depression, depending on the degree, can lead to a shortened lifespan, or even sudden death. It is vital to shake off the icy particles, get out of bed, and begin the journey to healing. If not, we will not produce the way God intended. We become stagnant, bitter, angry, and yes…icy. The leaves on my tree speak volumes about life’s unexpected oppressive winters.
As we dig up the roots, break off the brittle branches, and put the saw to the limbs, I will remember the blooms it once delivered. I will visualize the Robins singing in its branches. I will recall the small shade it cast around the corner in which it lived. In doing so, I will keep in mind my perspective on the harshness of life, and the winters of life still to come. It will be a true test of Who I trust to guide me through such days. For on my own strength, I will shrivel, I will dwindle, I will wither.
Discover His branch, your vine, your bloom of fruit in fuel for the race.
“Because in joy you shall go out and in peace you shall go on, and the mountains and the hills shall break out before you in song, and all the trees of the field shall clap hands!” – Isaiah 55:12 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)
“Can’t buy me love, oh, Everybody tells me so. Can’t buy me love, oh, No, no, no, no.” (1964) “Can’t Buy Me Love” Recorded By: The Beatles Composers: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Here we go again. Or, maybe I should say, here “I” go again.
The memory of Easter weekend is still fresh as a chocolate bunny in the fridge for most minds of the faithful. And so it’s no wonder someone on my friends list on Facebook was so excited that she posted the below.
Ah, yes. You might say, “Alan, calm down. Don’t get so over-the-top over a statement about a candy sale.” You would probably be right in admonishing me during my little fit I’m having. After all, I understand the heart of what this friend was trying to say. At a local supermarket, there is a sale on all things Easter, ie: eggs, bunnies, and jelly beans. No biggie.
Still…it’s the way she worded it. “Easter…reduced to less than…”
You know the word “reduced”. Pull out the thesaurus. You’ll find, decreased, diminished, shortened, liquidated, compressed, subtracted, and so on.
As I write this, I had just finished watching the very respectful funeral for England’s Prince Philip at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. The service was more than God-honoring. I was struck and uplifted by the many hymns, prayers, and scripture passages. It was a grand send-off to a historic man in the royal family. Most notably, the words that rose up often in song and in reading was, “resurrection”, and “eternal life”.
Photo: St. George’s Chapel of Windsor during the funeral for Prince Philip from Fox News.
Easter itself, the core of it’s meaning, can never be reduced. Sure, it can be a faded holiday memory, as the calendar flips to other pages, but the substance of Easter is for every day. It cannot be lessened, devalued, or compressed to a lower definition. Cancel culture can’t touch it. Slanderers can try, but the resurrection of Jesus is like the Rock of Gibraltar. You and I could never chop down its value.
Resurrection is a word you can never label over the tombs of Buddha, Zoroaster, Muhammad, or Chairman Mao. Every one of those men remain in their graves. It is only unique in the hearts of a Jesus follower.
What is the true value of the resurrection of Jesus? It is multilayered. For me, I want to mention just one of the greatest treasures of the empty tomb of Jesus.
Dare to seriously consider the following. His body was almost emptied of blood. Water poured from His heart due to His horrific injuries on the cross. Six hours on the cross, only after hours of beatings and floggings. Pathologists who have studied what the body of Jesus went through are amazed He lasted as long as He did, much less to stay conscious. His dead body was sealed in a small dugout tomb on a hillside. On the earliest part of the third day, an earthquake, the millstone sized stone, hewed from a boulder, was rolled away, revealing His body wrappings laying in place as if His body vanished from inside the strips while Roman guards froze in fright.
He immediately visited all of His closest followers, and continued to do so over several weeks to hundreds of people. Suddenly, the cowardice Jesus followers, who were hiding in fear they were next to be executed, became brave, outspoken in the public square, testifying how they were witnesses of His resurrection. Some were killed right away, while others testified for the following 4-6 decades. They were ridiculed, jailed, tortured, beaten, stoned, and killed for not stopping their testimony of the resurrection. Easter morning changed them all.
Would you be willing to go through all that for a hoax, a prank, a lie? Sure, many will die for a lie when they believe it is the truth, but no one will die for a lie they set-up themselves for no personal gain.
The impact for most is the fact that Jesus proved He was Who He said He was. He displayed the power over His own death, just like He did when commanding other dead bodies to come back to life. This is something only God Himself can perform. For thousands of years it was foretold the Messiah, the One true Messiah, would have this power over the finality of life leaving the body. And because this is evident, it also means I can trust His words about my own eternal life. My coffin will not be my ending.
Photo: Prince Philip’s Coffin in St. George’s Chapel from Fox News.
So, no. Easter cannot be reduced. So, toss your dollar up on the counter for a couple of chocolate bunnies. Christ’s tomb remains empty. Eternal life remains the highest of values.
Eternal death is also available when lacking a decision offered in fuel for the race.
(The below was recited at the service for Prince Philip.)
“‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'” – John 11:21-27 (NIV)
“When the night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long, and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong. Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies the seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes the rose.” (1979) “The Rose” Originally Recorded By: Bette Midler Composer: Amanda McBroom
After a heartbreaking divorce, my 15 year old daughter, Megan and I, found ourselves in suburban Buffalo, NY, frantically hunting for a cheap apartment within the school district she had been living in. My oldest daughter had already flown the nest, and my 2nd grade daughter had moved back to Texas with her mother. (That was my idea, which I regret to this very day.) Our lives seemed to be devastated, destroyed. We lost so much in the storm of it all.
It was in the blur of November, 2006. Megan dearly loved her school, along with her nearby friends. We were also looking for an apartment that would accept our family pet, Jojo, a tiny Yorkie, and Megan’s best buddy. With about 10 days to a foreclosure move-out deadline for our house, we found the apartment needed. That sounds like a quick, smooth transition, doesn’t it? Keep reading.
I will always remember, after a two week search, Megan, Jojo and I were sitting in our SUV with a heavy cold rain pounding on the roof of the vehicle in a drug store parking lot. We had just grabbed the latest edition of a local newspaper with a very small apartment ad section. Our area had very few apartments within it. My ex-wife was a white-collar criminal, among other things which I won’t go into, and had ruined my credit rating due to the record of crimes she committed over a 26 year period. I wasn’t sure a landlord would take me after a credit check. We were brokenhearted, exhausted, wet and worried.
As a dad, I feared homelessness. Something inside me boiled up with a fierce fight to keep my child from living under a bridge, or in a foster home away from me. As the lake-effect rain fell like artillery shells, prior to opening up the newspaper, I told her we should pray first. Through giant tears, we prayed together for a place to fit our needs in the area within the boundary lines of the school district, and the scope of the deadline. The odds were tremendously against us. The uttered prayer was a desperate one coming from my gut. My voice shook, my body trembled. My heart was wrenching, and my mind was at war with the facts fighting my faith. After the prayer, as we wiped our wet faces, we opened the ad section to immediately find an apartment which seemed tailored to our needs. Fast forward, it was exactly the right place for the three of us. The property manager graciously heard our story of desperation with all the pain in our bellies. She was a single mom with a history which included a nasty divorce. Even a move-in date of 10 days was accommodated. It was the right place at the right time, with the right person overseeing things at the right location. We stayed there while getting Megan through the high school years. Talk about a Godsend! It’s a crux forever etched in my mind and heart.
Why did I open up this very dark scene of my life to you? I’ll explain.
Recently, I walked into a CVS drugstore to find this candy display…
As much as I love Reese’s, this sign for the display upset me the second I read it. I’m not a legalistic, dogma consuming, strict, uptight, letter-of-the-law guy who rages on at anything written or said which hints at erasing Jesus. We live in a world that pulls away from God, that’s clear. Jesus Himself taught us that we are to expect to be ridiculed, mocked, and even sent behind bars in some cases. So, I understand a world, a culture, a marketing plan of Godless thoughts and intentional secular mandates which ignores the truth of Easter. That’s what a lost society will do. It’s natural for them. I get it. However, will I rely on peanut butter and chocolate to remember Easter on April 4th, 2021? Actually, the opposite happens. I tend to forget candy, plastic grass in baskets, and sugar eggs wrapped in colorful noisy cellophane on Easter. There’s nothing wrong with those things at all, but it’s not my reminder to observe this…
The empty Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.
Memories can be sparked by almost anything. A bubble of a recollection may arise simply with the aid of a song, a movie, or a pressed flower in the pages of a yearbook. What a pleasure when that happens…if it’s a good memory.
Today, I looked up at a basket full of dead flowers on top of a curio cabinet in the corner of our living room. It dawned on me that although I knew the basket was there, I never really took a great deal of notice.
A bit embarrassed of my neglect, I asked my wife about the basket of what appeared to be dead flowers. She kindly educated me without reacting harshly at my lack of awareness. She told me they are some selected flowers I had given to her over the years. Instead of tossing them out when the blooms die, she collects them in the basket above a cabinet full of precious items from the past. These will not spring to life at this time of year, but they do spark living memories. The colors may be faded, and the petals fragile, but they are still valuable. Frankly, I felt like a jerk. I should’ve noticed that about her. It warmed my heart, just like when I see a local newspaper being offered at a drug store stand.
Much like these memorable flowers from days gone by, a Christian, (This is one who accepts, and believes, in the death of Jesus as the substitute for sin, and has faith that He rose again from the tomb.), I remember the cross of Christ, but I celebrate His bodily resurrection. He died in my place, for my space in His eternal family. His death on the sacrificial cross was indeed dark. Yet, His resurrection is bright, and colorful to this very hour. He displayed the knockout punch over guilt, sin, and death itself, which is the penalty for sin which entered humanity’s DNA in the beginning. How could I forget? I am redeemed, spiritually rescued, stamped by His righteousness. The fine folks at Reese’s can’t help me with that.
Because of this resurrection, His guiding Spirit is present in my bright and dark days. If you are not a believer. it would be impossible to truly grasp this.
Remember when you were broken after the death of a loved one? He was there. Remember when you lost that job? He was there. Remember when you suffered that miscarriage? He was there. Remember when you found out your spouse was cheating on you? He was there. Remember when you held your firstborn in your arms for the first time? He was there. Remember when you looked into the eyes of the one you loved and said, “I do”? He was there. Remember when the abuse came when you were an innocent child? He was there. Remember when you narrowly escaped an attack which came out of nowhere? He was there. Remember when you were involved in that car crash? He was there. Remember when your savings ran out and you didn’t know how to pay the next bill? He was there. Remember when you found yourself dazed from a sudden collapse of your reputation? He was there. Remember when you were afraid as you walked in to a new school? He was there. Remember when you found yourself in the hospital, not knowing what was to come? He was there.
The better question might be…Did you look for Him there?
Easter comes with a curious wordplay. In English, when we see a single rose, we say, “It’s a rose”. As English tends to do, sometimes words can sound the same, but spelled differently. You can look at the empty tomb of Jesus and say, “He arose“. Both brilliant and beautiful. Fresh flowers, alive and thriving, can remind the redeemed person of faith, as well as, everlasting love blooming from Easter’s original event. No faded blossoms here.
So many reasons to remember His resurrection power over all circumstances can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.
Jesus replied to them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” – Jesus – John 12:23-24 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
“Sometimes even now, When I’m feelin’ lonely and beat, I drift back in time and I find my feet, Down on Mainstreet… Down on Mainstreet” (1977) “Mainstreet” Written & Recorded By: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
(I’ve always wondered if Bob Seger meant to write, “Main Street” vs “Mainstreet”. Oh, well.)
Deep Ellum is an old section of Dallas, Texas, just off the east cusp of the downtown area. The “main” street is Elm Street. However, over the decades, during the development and expansion of what is now known as Deep Ellum, it is a full-blown artsy neighborhood of small businesses dishing up terrific nightlife, complete with restaurants, sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, and live music clubs. You can also expect a plethora of outdoor festivals. A pedestrian’s party haven.
The last time I was there, I was enjoying my daughter’s band at a quaint brick-walled night club. She was on a national concert tour that year out of Buffalo, NY.
Deep Ellum was one of the scheduled gigs before performing at the annual SXSW Fest in Austin, Texas.
There’s nothing like the sound of live music, Texas sunshine, and the smell of street tacos in the air. In a bohemian part of any large city, you can always expect street vendors.
Allow me to introduce you to one of Dallas’ most beloved street vendors, 60 year old, Leobardo Torres Sanchez.
Like a ripple of joy expanding out into the streets of Deep Ellum from Leobardo’s goodies cart-on-wheels, comes the opportunity for cotton candy in a bag, or on a stick, (He always wants you to know it was grown right here in Texas. Come to think of it, I might have seen a crop or two myself). He’s also loaded down with apples, popcorn balls, and often in the summer, balloons on a stick. Along with the tasty treats, he has a gift for dancing up a storm, including a pretty mean moonwalk. Those who frequent Deep Ellum know of the exuberant Leobardo very well. He is hard to miss…or hard to miss hearing.
Originally from Mexico, Leobardo has been selling his stuff on the curbs of Dallas for over eight years now. Like many men south of the border, Leobardo left his poor village, leaving his family behind, to find work away from home. He did just that with his focus on chipping-in on the American dream. According to his daughter, Miriam Torres Leon in Mexico, he faithfully sends money back to his family. He is seen as wealthy to others back home. He lives alone in a rented room, lives humbly, but considered blessed. He is a man who truly loves what he does each day.
If you visit this section of Dallas, you not only will hear good things concerning Leobardo from the business owners, their patrons, and the cops on bikes or horses assigned to the streets of Deep Ellum, but also the homeless and fellow street vendors. Many of the homeless have had their hands filled with free goods straight from Leobardo’s cart. Another street vendor mentioned recently to the Dallas Morning News how when he was robbed, Leobardo gave him 40 bags of cotton candy to sell to help stretch the dollar. That is a good reflection of the kind of heart you can expect from this man of commerce on wheels.
As you may have heard, Texas was hit in mid February with a freak winter 100 year storm with temps plunging to zero and single digits for much of Valentine’s Week. Leobardo, and street entrepreneurs like him, were forced off the streets. Being concerned after hearing of the Texas freezing storm, his daughter in Mexico called him. On the 12th, he told her the plummeting temperatures was unbearable to him. He told her not to worry, even though he lost electrical power due to an unprepared power grid, explaining to her that he was in his rental room wearing several jackets and had wrapped himself in layers of blankets. His circumstances was not unique here. Millions of Texans lost power, water, and sometimes gas.
After several days, Leobardo’s daughter could not contact her dad. However, she did put out a message on social media about the situation in hopes the Deep Ellum community might be able to locate him. Unfortunately, his daughter, Miriam, didn’t know his address, or just what part of Dallas he lived in. A couple of street vendors who knew Leobardo, and his location, heard of her digital posts and fought through the frigid weather to check on him.
On Tuesday, the 22nd, as the thawing was welcomed in Dallas, the police did a welfare check on Leobardo. He was found deceased in his frozen room. His body was found in his bed under several layers of blankets and wearing multiple coats. This poor man was one of a multitude of Texans who did not survive the single digit blast from a very rare weather tragedy. The heartbreak is real. Leobardo and I were the same age.
As the news of Leobardo’s death began to circulate, the mourners responded in droves with cash funds for his family in Mexico, flowers, written tributes, and a Go-Fund-Me account. It seems Leobardo was indeed a man of poverty. but wealthy in heart.
As I read of Leobardo’s passing, I was awestruck by the outpouring of the kind citizens affected by this man with what many would consider an insignificant life. Knowing that sounds harsh to read, or say aloud, I must state the following. Many who walked by his cart-on-wheels, maybe even purchased an apple from him on a hot summer day, might have seen him as a “lower rung” individual. Those who drove by Leobardo’s cotton candy stand, while on their way to Del Frisco’s for a $350.00 dinner, may have smirked at his efforts to scrape out a buck, or laughed at his dancing in the dust around his cart. Tears filled my eyes when imagining a man or woman seeing Leobardo ahead at the corner, crossing Elm Street just so they wouldn’t hear him ask in his broken English if they would like a popcorn ball. You know why, right? Because if one avoids someone like him, they are conveniently cancelled in one’s mind, as if they don’t exist. It’s that easy to put someone under the foot.
Then, at some point in my thoughts and imagination of these things, I remembered the outpouring of love from gentler hearts. Some of which who knew him, some who just gave him a smile as they walked around his cart, or perhaps some who bought one of his balloons for their child. I read more of the comments made by the many he impacted with his humble life. That’s when I smiled through a tear which had escaped.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne’s Devotions (1624)
A pebble can be so insignificant under foot. The sound of a hiking boot crushing many pebbles, as the weight is distributed, has a unique tenor. Yet, when the sole applies weight to just one pebble, the resonance is hardly noticeable. But, pick up that single insignificant pebble, toss it into a still street puddle then count the ripples from the point of contact to the outer edges on all sides. Isn’t that all God asks of us while we walk our various pavements? Impact others around you. Sway individuals with your light, so that everyone will see how God works in your heart. In doing so, we make waves.
Making a ripple around you has a blueprint in fuel for the race.
“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” Romans 14:7 (NIV)
“There’s always tomorrow, For dreams to come true, Tomorrow is not far away.” (1964) From the TV production, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Composer: Johnny Marks
Our 2021 looks just like what we see in my cover photo above the title. A blank sheet, a clean slate, a fresh page. Notice the pen still has its cap over the business end.
I, for one, will be happy to kiss 2020 goodbye. What a nasty year. I mean that, too. Hard, harsh, disgusting, rude, violent, diseased, and dark. And yet, we were responsible for it all. Sure, we could blame others, and we do. But when in retrospect, the wise ones will say, “We made a terrible mess.” And we did.
My middle daughter, Megan sent me a couple of photos from her house in Buffalo, NY over the Christmas week. Here’s one for you.
I love a fresh snow. It’s the darkened, oily, old snow I look away from. Lots like 2020.
More than the blank sheet of paper, 2021 may resemble more like this…
Isn’t it true? Do you see it? If you don’t see it, you would be right. There’s 2021 right there in that shot. A fresh mound of virgin snow…lacking footprints.
With all of our flaws, our faults, our flubs, God has seen fit to graciously hand us a frsh new year for us to walk carefully onward. In a way, the Creator is saying, “Here you go. I’m allowing you another year, fresh and clean. Now walk in my ways and just see where your footprints lead.”
Our footprints will tell us not only where we go, where we’ve been, and just how heavy our stomping has been, but we will discover more about our ways.
God knows the beginning and the ending. He knows our A through Z. He knows our pre-historic days, and our eternal lives. Isn’t it fair to say, The Ancient Of Days is also, The Maker Of Our Days? With Him, the crooked is made straight. The gift of free-will demands that we choose how to walk in 2021.
It is up to us.
Tomorrow’s trek requires fuel for the race.
“You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days…” – Deuteronomy 5:33a (NAS)
“…But time makes you bolder Even children get older And I’m gettin’ older, too….” (1975) “Landslide” Recorded by: Fleetwood Mac Composer: Stevie Nicks
Way before I was chronologically gifted, at 15 years old, Fleetwood Mac came out with the song “Landslide”. Being swept off my feet then, I find myself still mesmerized by it. In fact, about seven years ago, while on what we all thought was my deathbed, my rock star daughter flew in from New York to be by my side.
There in ICU, I indicated (I couldn’t speak with all the tubes down my throat.) I wanted her to sing the Fleetwood Mac song while holding my hand. She did. Nurses and doctors stopped out in the hallway, gathered at the door of my ICU room. I cried, she cried, they cried. You could’ve heard a pin drop. Afterwards, I asked her to sing it for my memorial service. Although I came back to life, after six weeks in the hospital, my request still remains.
My friend Ann from the blog entitled, “Muddling Through My Middle Age”, often speaks so well about getting older, complete with everyday events in her life, humor, while all laced in wisdom. I’m not sure I can do so well about this topic.
While doing so, allow me to age six decades right in front of your eyes.
Recently, a friend on social media asked what was the first television image you remember in childhood. Quickly I realized I was a tad older than her readers when answers tended to be, “The space shuttle explosion”, “When JR got shot on Dallas”, or “The Bill Clinton impeachment hearing.” Mine was easy. My first TV recollection (Black & white) was watching King Kong climb the Empire State Building when suddenly the old movie from the 1930’s was interrupted by Pres. Kennedy’s funeral march. It stuck out to me visually because there was a horse hitched to a wagon, with a coffin on the bed, wrapped in the American flag. No doubt, a sight very different from the norm. I was three years old.
I don’t say “chronologically challenged”, but rather I am “chronologically gifted”, so to speak. Have there been challenges in my winding road of life thus far? Sure, way too many. But I wish to lean into what has been good in my life, along with what taught me. Although I must remind myself to do so. Follow me on this. Perhaps you can identify with me.
You may be chronologically gifted if you recall the sound of the old rotary dial telephone.
You may be chronologically gifted if you rode a stingray bike with a banana seat.
You may be chronologically gifted if you ate candy cigarettes.
You may be chronologically gifted if you remember the theme song to the old television show, “Family Affair” with Buffy and Jody.
See what I mean? If none of the above makes sense, it could be you are not yet chronologically gifted.
They are all just little delights from an era gone by.
Thank you, Kodak for the film for special cherished moments in life. I bumped into rock legend, Roger Daltrey of The Who in north Dallas. He was cheery and didn’t mind me taking a picture. It was 1975, right after a run of the cinematic version of the rock opera, “Tommy”, as well as a new solo album, “Ride A Rock Horse”. Although 16 years my senior, he looked very…youthful at 31.
Another gift to recall, how it feels to hold your first born.
It’s a gift to recall holding HER firstborn, my first grandchild, 27 years later.
You’re pretty gifted if you have fond memories of your first full-time job.
You can be gifted if you can look back on loves, life, and lacerations and still smile.
You might be chronologically gifted if you are close to wrapping up mortgage payments.
You can be gifted even if you were known for playing elderly characters, and now you save money on the old-age stage make-up.
My old stage make-up bag is not that heavy anymore. It’s okay. Counting the worry lines isn’t what I do anymore.
There was a time, a few years back, while at the check-out counter in the grocery store, the attendant bagged-up four plastic grocery bags worth of essentials for me. Then the young lady at the scanner looked at me a couple of times and asked, “Sir, would you like help getting these bags out to your car?” Bless her little pointed head. There was a second or two of collecting my cobwebbed gray matter and replied, “Awe, no thanks. I think I can handle it.” I grumbled to myself like an old man all the way to the car.
But then, there are terrific gifts that come along when chronologically gifted. Like the very first time I approached the cinema box office window at a time I found it unnecessary to “act” like a senior citizen.
Of course, the unwanted gift of being a chronological surfer are the funerals added to the schedule. Too many come my way. Friends, family, and familiar ones on your street gone before me. A childhood pal, one of my very best friends, just spent his last day of suffering with ALS. His battle was only two years in length. That’s nothing but God’s grace and mercy..
Because I am a person of faith, a Jesus follower, getting older can be seen as a gift. I am just that much closer to entering His eternal promises than when I watched JFK’s funeral procession. He said He came to offer a life that was more abundant than what it would’ve been like without His provisions, His nurtures, His guiding hand. I have noticed His road signs. Too often, I ignored them, leading me down darker rocky roads. Signs like…
When you find yourself chronologically gifted, maybe a landslide in life will be more survivable. And when you find you are indeed chronologically gifted, and you look back and see your younger reflection in the snowy hills just before a landslide brings it down, there’s the Almighty’s Voice within stating the truth, “See, I brought you through that one, and that one, and this one.”
The finish line has promise when the tank is topped with fuel for the race.
” I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and save you.” Isaiah 46:4 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
“Sister Suzie, brother John Martin Luther, Phil and Don Brother Michael, auntie Gin. Open the door and let ’em in…” (1976) “Let ‘Em In” – Recorded by: Wings. Composer: Paul McCartney
Only God knows what dangers they faced, or what turmoil and unbearable strife they endured. Nonetheless, they made their mark.
Back in the 1970’s, on a lonely hill, on what we knew were the outskirts of our Dallas suburb, where there were still pastures in the area, was a new church building where I was active in my youth group as a teenager. Just on the other side of the west-side driveway, which leads from the main road to the parking lot in the back of the building, was our makeshift baseball diamond. I don’t even think we had a backstop fence behind home-plate. It was more of a sandlot style field to play ball, and practice for the local softball church league. We spent some hot summer days out there, as we wiped our sweaty faces with the leather of our baseball gloves. Just west of home-plate, maybe twenty yards or so, was the edge of a wooded area. Actually, it was more like a dark thicket, dense in brush, Mesquite trees, along with assorted older kinds of trees. The unkempt tangled mass was so thick, nobody dared walk through it without a machete. Therefore, none of us paid any attention to the small wooded clump of pastureland. In fact, if an overthrown ball made it into the thicket, you couldn’t retrieve it without getting scratched by all the branches, briers, and twigs. Little did we know at that time the historical significance submerged beneath.
However, communities grow, realtors have their blueprints for a bustling expanse of a commonwealth. Planning and zoning took their grip as contractors began to clear pastureland for new streets, neighborhoods, and shopping centers.
And so it was, the northern sector of our suburb developed with NASCAR speed in the 1980’s. I lived here during this wave of development and still held my mouth open in awe of all the changes.
One of those changes was my former church selling a sector of their land just west of the building, where our baseball diamond was. It wasn’t long afterward, the bulldozers began to roll, making way for a new subdivision of upscale homes. As they did, they proceeded to clear the wooded area next to our old sandlot. All the machinery came to a halt when a foreman yelled out, “Hey, wait! Hold up there!” As it turned out, there in the midst of all the overgrown thicket, a small cemetery, long forgotten by generations past.
When first discovered, rumors flew around the community. One such rumor was an old graveyard of black slaves with unmarked graves had been discovered. My heart sank just thinking about it. Although it turned out not to be the case, it was the only story I heard about the forgotten patch of a cemetery. It’s what I handed down to my kids, as well. Not once did I visit the place throughout the years. Don’t ask me why. If you did, I guess I would tell you it was because it’s not a very convenient spot to get to. And that is still true today. Nevertheless, I put an end to my procrastination a couple of weeks ago. The historical cemetery sits less than a mile from my street.
It took several years, and some civic struggle, but after the research was done, and the zoning commission had their hearings concerning the old cemetery, it was agreed to preserve the plot. So, in a way, they did just that. They built the new neighborhood around it. Literally, between two of the new homes built at the edge of the new subdivision. There is a marker out by the curb of a very busy street. However, if you blink, while doing 45 MPH, you would never know it’s there. And yet, it is. Nestled between a couple of fabulous homes, on a street of the same, lies a small patch of ground about the size of a small frame house, about the length and width of the average front yard of homes from the 1930’s-1940’s. You might be able to park four or five large SUV’s on the strip of land.
To sum it up, in 1858, a pioneer in a covered wagon, brought his wife and four children across the Midwest reaching the plains, from Illinois to the prairies north of Dallas, Texas. His name was Snyder Kennedy. He was one of the first founders of our town, close to, what was then called, the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, approximately three miles west of my house. On this small spot of land, where his family cemetery is now preserved, over thirty people are possibly buried there, including several infants. (I say, “possibly” because there are over thirty names listed, but it has been said, only twenty-three are confirmed in the plot.) There are no longer any individual markers due to the work of vandals during the 1950’s. There are no outlines designating grave plots, or any other markings highlighting where a final resting place can be located. It left me in a saddened state.
Snyder Kennedy’s headstone was later moved to a local community cemetery a couple of miles away, but no graves were exhumed or transferred. The first person buried there is his wife. In 1859, she was laid to rest under an oak, only one year after they arrived to homestead.
A large stone marker chronicles at least thirty names, with birth/death years. One of the family members who rests there is the grandson of a man who helped to finance a great deal of the United States Revolutionary War. At the bottom of the list of family members spanning over five decades, a lone sentence reads, “And others only known to God.”
There is so much story missing here. I wish I knew more about this family, their lives, loves, and adventures. I’m sure a novel could’ve been written of the life and times of these Texas pioneers. But, isn’t this the nature of abandonment?
So, what’s my point?
It’s disturbing to me in knowing this hallowed ground was literally just a baseball’s toss away from me as a teenager, and I wasn’t aware. Moreover, it’s disturbing to me how I drove by this place of honor a thousand times through the decades, never making the attempt to educate myself, and my three daughters, about this courageous Texas homesteading family. Lost ones, forgotten by the community they helped to launch before the Civil War.
It’s disturbing to me knowing the simple truth that generations of my fellow citizens didn’t care enough to keep this ground of grief as a special historic place of honor. For whatever reason, Carrollton’s apathy directed inaction which fertilized the thicket encasing these 30+ interned so long ago.
Likewise, It’s disturbing to me when it’s reported that refrigerated 18-wheelers sit outside many American hospitals storing COVID-19 victims in body bags.
It’s disturbing to me when I hear of our WWII vets falling to COVID-19 while in nursing homes, due to poor management, poor care, or simply unattended. The gravity of the fact that many Coronavirus patients were sent to nursing home communities, infecting others who were sitting ducks, is a hefty weight to digest.
It’s disturbing to me when reports hit the news of funeral homes stacking the bodies of virus victims against storage room walls, due to poorly directed funeral companies.
This is not a political posting, railing against certain politicians, or public health admins, or even a particular nation. I fear we daily count the departed, and toss them aside as a number for the tote board. However, if a famous person falls prey to COVID-19, we acknowledge and mourn that person in every news outlet from here to there. But what about the mom, the dad, those grandparents, that co-worker, and a few 98 year old war heroes? They had sweet memories, loving families, hopes, and dreams. NEVER should one of these be “stacked” on top of another in a body bag.
Unfortunately, I feel the overcooked politicization of COVID-19 has become the dark thicket overshadowing the lives cut short during this pandemic. Beyond that, this Memorial Day in the United States will be less than what it should be due to the restrictions laying upon us.
Yes, it’s disturbing. What may be even more disturbing, is none of this may be disturbing to many in our society.
God help us if memorializing the lost ones becomes blase while in the jaws of this crisis. A memorial will be needed. As on September 11th, names should be recited. Never should it be said, “And others only known to God”. We are created in His image. Humanity deserves more than this.
Is it not true, looking for that silver lining sometimes takes a telescope?
Remembering our lost ones is a dignity taught in fuel for the race.
“Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’” – John 11:32-36 (NAS)
“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free. Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…” (1968) “The Weight” Recorded By: The Band. Composer: Robbie Robertson
By: Alan Scott Brown
There’s nothing like heat in the desert rising off a paved road. They’ll say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat.” Just tell that to the sweltering backpacker, Levon “Fanny” Gates. He shockingly found himself in the middle of a wilderness, on the road to a place called, Nazareth, just on the other side of the state line. I say, “shockingly” because before his boots felt the searing concrete of this wasteland, he had been dreaming of the village with its rolling hills, orchards, and well-established vineyards. His freshly cut front lawn was the launching point for a pleasurable outdoor hike through the pines, the cool brooks, and lavish meadows.
As if he had awakened from a dream of the plush land of plenty, he now absorbs the dangerous sunrays, feeling every drop of sweat rolling down his torso. His canvas hat certainly covered his head, but the scorching heat invaded his scalp as if he wasn’t wearing anything at all. Even his denim backpack was soaked in sweat. If it wasn’t 112 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be soon, when the afternoon sun comes piercing through.
Not much vegetation thrives out here, with the exception of sage, cactus, and the occasional Yucca plant. Refreshing rains are welcomed, but scarce and quick. Fanny prayed for, what they called back home, a “gully-washer.”
With each step, he seriously worried about the soles of his old hiking boots. The baking surface of the road is far from friendly, and he felt the waves all the way up to his sunburned face. At first, he wrestled with the thought of his soles melting in the staggering temperature. Then, as he caught up with his fast-forward mind, he envisioned a potential hole in the rubber sole. None of the options were comforting to imagine in this desolate landscape.
Prior to walking into this wilderness, he knew how many miles he had traveled, but now all had changed. His harsh surroundings overwhelmed his calculations, thrusting him into a mystery without a map. A solitary roadside sign mentioned a couple of towns being 200 miles ahead, but they were unfamiliar to him. The miles seemed unending, without a mile marker. Disorientation was setting in as a menacing reality.
Rather than stopping for rest, he made the decision to push himself forward in hopes the next curve, the next hill, or the next valley in the road, would reveal a much needed oasis. Hooked to his belt, he had one full canteen of water, which needed to last longer than anticipated. Fanny was self-rationing his meager provisions with intent.
“I can do this,” he whispered with uneasiness.
Keeping his eyes on the road ahead seemed to help him psychologically. Yet, wild stallions in search for water, a lone service station, or another traveler with a tent would be a sight for soar eyes. But each time he glanced to the left or the right, it proved to be discouraging. In fact, most of the view reminded Fanny of NASA’s photos of the surface of Mars.
The feeling of abandonment was authentic, bleeding from his inspirational thought bubbles of solitude. He tried to be hopeful by telling himself Nazareth must be within 3 miles, 5 miles, or maybe 10 miles. The attempt to distract himself from the tide of broiling air failed at every turn of the road. Before the desert sun could bake his mind completely, he scanned through multiple thoughts, thoughts which could fill a library, only to fool himself with wisps of self-constructed hope.
While pushing his legs to walk an incline in the road, he noticed something he had felt once before on this journey. A pain, a specific pain in his back. Of all the body aches he had endured, this backache was king of them all. Hiking slowly up the side of a hill introduced him again to the racking misery coming from his lower back muscles, mainly from the right of the spine. It was a bit of a mystery in that he hadn’t injured himself, and never had an old trauma from his athletic history. He suddenly was reminded of the adage, “No pain, no gain” from his high school baseball coach. He said it aloud, thinking it would be a magic charm the universe would accept. It wasn’t. Still, his inward need to persevere pushed his weary bones onward.
As he reached the plateau, he celebrated his efforts shouting into the hot breeze,
“BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!”
As the late afternoon sun played havoc with his vision, Fanny cocked his head to one side as he caught a distant rumble of an engine. Since he had begun to adjust to the mirage of water puddles on the pavement, he tossed it up to “hearing things” due to a bit of dehydration. After a chuckle, he took a couple of strides when he stopped in his tracks. The sound was getting louder. He looked up in the blue sky to see which direction the plane was coming from. It sounded like a single engine airplane from the 1920’s. As he was hunting for the aircraft, he recognized the distinct sound wasn’t a plane at all, but rather a vehicle approaching from behind. He quickly turned to scope out where it originated. Wiping, then squinting his tired eyes, he saw an old blue pickup truck bouncing down the road toward him with its radio blaring a 1940’s big band tune with heavy brass. He wondered where it came from since the area was void of ranches or farms. As it approached, he could see only one occupant in the cab. There was nothing impressive about the old truck, with the exception of the fact it was an older model one might see in a vintage car show, and overly worn, to boot.
As the truck began to downshift, coasting slowly as it pulled alongside him, he could see more clearly the one behind the wheel. The driver looked as if he had just fallen off a hay trailer. He was donning faded grey pinstriped overalls, like the old train engineers used to wear. His misshaped straw hat went well with the old beat-up truck as it, too, had seen better days. With a metallic squeak, the truck came to a halt. It was clearly in much need of a muffler replacement. The ragged driver turned down the radio and leaned over to roll down the passenger side window. It was then Fanny could take-in what the man looked like. He was an old-timer with a weather-beaten face. His bushy eyebrows were salt & pepper mix. His chest-length beard was white and wiry. He had piercing ice-blue eyes which displayed a kindness, all by themselves. Before Fanny could speak, the old man greeted him.
Spoken with a healthy snicker, “Howdy there, young man. Nice day for a stroll in the badlands, wouldn’t ya say?”
The backpacker detected an accent, which reminded him of the deep south of the United States. He wasn’t sure if he was being mocked by the question, or if it was an attempt at levity.
“Yes, sir. It would seem so,” said Fanny, as he took his hat off and wiped his wet forehead.
Without hesitation the elderly man asked with a nod, “What’s your name, kiddo?”
“I’m Levon. Most everyone calls me, Fanny,” revealed the traveler.
The old man broke out in a belly laugh, “Well, who on earth pinned that nickname on ya?”
Fanny grinned, uncomfortably so, looked away and explained, “Yeah, that’s a long story, I’m afraid.”
“I bet so,” replied the old man. “The name’s, Christopher. Through the years, lots of folks have called me by a slew of other names. But, Christopher will do. So glad to meet ya…Fanny.”
“Happy to meet you, Christopher,” the young man said. “Hey, where did you come from? I’ve been on this road all day and I’ve not seen one house, truck stop, or vehicle coming or going in either direction.”
“Oh, don’t ya know?” asked Christopher.
“Know what?” inquired the trekker.
Pushing his hat back to the crown of his head, the old man responded, “Well, it’s very possible you were never informed. This is a one way road you’re on in this dust. Always been that way. It’s true, only one-way traffic on this stretch. That’s the reason why I drove up behind ya. I’ll tell ya, that afternoon sun is brutal through the windshield.”
“Tell me about it,” agreed the young hiker. “You know, maybe you can tell me something. Would you know how far Nazareth is from here? I really thought I would have spied it by now on the horizon, but nothin’ doin’.”
“Nazareth?” inquired the old one with one raised eyebrow. “Is that where you’re off to?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Fanny.
While pointing his finger, the old man said, “Well, kiddo. I can tell ya this, ya won’t get there carryin’ that anvil.”
Puzzled, the young man froze. He looked behind him, turned back again and asked, “Anvil? What anvil?”
The elderly one broke out in laughter once again at Fanny’s answer. “Boy, it’s that 95 pound chunk of solid iron at the end of the rope, the rope draped across your right shoulder there,” Christopher pointed out.
“Ah, yes. THAT anvil,” Fanny stated with pride. “Frankly, I forget it’s there.”
The elder wrinkled up his nose in an inquisitive expression, “You mean to tell me you’ve not felt every muscle in your body burning from the weight you’re towin’?”
“Come to think of it…yes. Yes, I have,” Fanny admitted.
“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Christopher said in response. “I’ve got the perfect solution for ya, Fanny. Take a look inside the bed of my truck.” Seeing the young man’s hesitation, he continued sharply, “Go ahead, son. The Loch Ness Monster ain’t gonna jump out and bite ya. Feel free, take a look.”
Fanny took a cautious small step toward the side of the pickup. As he leaned closer to get a peek, his mouth fell open with a hushed gasp.
The old man said, “Tell me what ya see, boy.”
Fanny took a big swallow to say, “It’s a truck bed full of…well…full of anvils!”
“A whole stack of ’em, I’d say,” described the old driver.
In amazement, the young man questioned, “But, why are they there? I mean…what are you doing with all of those anvils? Are you selling them? Do you work for a salvage yard or something? I’m shocked this old antique can carry the load.”
“Fanny, I guess you could say I collect ’em,” answered the old rugged driver. “In fact, I’ve been addin’ to my collection for many moons now. I could tell ya how many travelers have allowed me to take the load off their backs, but you’ve been sun-baked enough today to appraise anything.”
The young traveler concurred, “You’re right. I’m a bit fried. However, these travelers you’re talking about, are they on this road? I’ve not seen a soul until you drove up.”
“Yes, but everyone has their own journey, and most have similar burdens,” replied the old man. “At the same time, some heavier than others. As you can see, there’s various sizes of anvils here.” After a brief pause of silence, Christopher added, “Here’s my offer, kiddo. If you trust me with your anvil, every pound of it, I’ll help ya toss it behind us, addin’ to the pile. You can unload, and load-up in the cab with me for a straight shot to where you’re meant to be. I just love playin’ the Uber out here. But…keep in mind, the anvil stays in the back. Alligators aren’t allowed in the cab with me neither, ha-ha-ha…”
Fanny looked down at the scorching concrete between his hiking boots and bit his chapped lips in thought.
Christopher, seeing the struggle to find words, added, “There’s rockslides out here, ya know. As ya get close to a hillside, or an upcomin’ canyon, ya might stumble over a stone in your path. When your strength is wrenched, you’ll find it difficult to keep your stance. It’s even worse to find footing after a heavy fall with nobody around to shoulder the load.”
Shaking his head with a look of uncertainty he replied, “No, sir. I have made this trip on my own strength, and I intend finishing it on my own. Besides that, you’re a stranger to me in a beat-up old clunker. No offense, but who’s to say you could get me to Nazareth? I’m sorry, sir, but your offer doesn’t look promising from where I stand. I will do this on my own fuel, and navigation!”
The old man smiled, put his right hand on the stick-shift, looked deeply into Fanny’s eyes and said, “Boy, ask yourself why. Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”
After a quick mental search, Fanny answered with a tone of resolve, “Christopher, the only honest answer I can come up with is, I’ve grown accustomed to my anvil.”
With a serious timbre in a lower register, Christopher asked, “And the weight of it?”
“I deal with it, just like this unexpected desert,” explained the young one. “Do you understand, old man?”
“Oh, I do, son. I really do understand,” replied Christopher. “Listen, dusk is knockin’. No need for walkin’ in the darkness. I’d say, grab some winks for a fresh start in the mornin’.”
As the elderly man began to roll up his window, he grinned through his long mustache and said, “Well, I know you’ll give it your all. Still, keep in mind, it’s needless for ya to take this desolation, with all its loneliness, and the weight you’re carryin’ solo.” With that, he put the truck in gear, turned up the radio, and off toward sundown he drove.
Fanny continued his trek with a bit of angst in his steps. Christopher somehow offended him with the offer of a free lift, as if the old man thought him weaker, frail, and without survival skills.
He began grumbling to himself, “How dare that ancient dinosaur-of-a-coot say I needed help through this parched piece of earth.” Still, in the attempt to bolster his decision, he raised his voice a notch, “Who does he think he is? He’ll see me in Nazareth, sitting under the shade of an apple tree, sipping on a glass of their best vintage. He’ll be shocked to see me resting on my anvil, without any aid from his sorry rack of rust.”
With all his energy depleted by his rant, Fanny began to look for a safe spot to sleep for the night. Darkness had fallen, but the moonlight helped in the hunt for a place to bed-down. Soon, he located a soft sandy mound with his name on it. He found sun-dried chaparral fit nicely for kindling.
Overnight hours passed and the silence was deafening. As usual, he used the anvil as a pillow, even though the shape was not friendly for his head. He found the surface of the iron was still warm from the sun, which was welcomed as desert nights tend to issue a chill. Unfortunately for the camper, as the nature of anvils, its surface turned cold.
From time to time he heard a small rock roll off the side of a rise just feet from where he was laying. Another time, he was awakened by what he thought was the flapping of large wings. He imagined buzzards mistaking him for a dead man. He then tried to keep one eye opened, but exhaustion won the moment. Another awakening caused him to jump when he heard an insect scratching on his ear. He began to inwardly acknowledge his sleep would be thin at best.
Without knowing why, he opened his eyes from a sound sleep. It was just before dawn. Across the road from where he camped, he swore he caught a shadow figure racing from the road into a ravine on the other side. Startled, he bounced up to a sitting position while fixed on the area where it vanished. What he wouldn’t do for a pair of night-vision goggles. After a minute or so, and a few hyper heartbeats, he shook his head and took a helping from his canteen.
Unable to go back to sleep, Fanny stretched his legs, and his sore back, in preparation for the day ahead.
“The sun is winking at me from over the hills, ” he said as he reached for his anvil. “There’s no time like the present.”
He peeled back the wrapper of an energy bar from his cargo pants thigh pocket, finishing it in record time.
With the young morning sun at his back, and the anvil dangling once again from the rope hoisted over his right shoulder, Fanny felt new aches making themselves known in his calves, ankles, and feet. He thought to himself that if he just put one foot in front of the other, the pain would work itself out.
As he made his way, his mind was flooded with the movements and sounds he heard overnight. He convinced himself that he was in no real danger…or was he? Like a video clip running through his mind, he couldn’t erase the glimpse of the unknown shadow figure dashing away from his makeshift pallet. As hard as he tried, he remained at a loss concerning its identity. In the end, he boldly rationalized the thought. He determined the quiet swiftness indicated a cougar, or a coyote. The “what might have beens” gave him a sense of authentic fear he had not felt before.
Hill after hill, ridge after ridge, no sight of his goal. With every turn, curve and valley, he had hopes of seeing the ornate village painted in his mind as the heated hours wore on.
During the mid-morning, the searing winds kicked up with a devastating blow of a wall of dust and sand from the west. Immediately, it became a battle for each inhale. Fanny pulled his hat over his nose and mouth for protection. Vision became sparse. Tiny grains of sand stung his skin like miniature darts speeding from a horizontal projection. Through the torrent of hot dust and sand, he spotted a boulder nearby and ran to the east side of it, blocking the onslaught of the turbulent blast. After what seemed like an hour or so, the sandstorm passed. With tremendous relief, Fanny came out from behind the boulder, grateful he had discovered it when he did.
With a couple of clearing coughs, he thought to himself, “What else can happen on this journey?”
By early afternoon, he was running low on water. His fear rose each time he shook the canteen to hear the lessening of the swish. His quads were beginning to burn in his thighs. His shoulder was bruised from the rope slung over it, cradling the anvil. A growing headache, once only a nuisance, now pounded from the top of his head. Realizing he was experiencing a deeper dehydration, he guarded against panic. He was beginning to despise the constant mirages of heatwaves appearing as glimmering bodies of water. Suddenly, he heard Christopher’s words from the day before, challenging him with the question of why. “Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?” He found himself flirting with the question.
Mid afternoon descended. After following a sharp curve in the blistering road, Fanny peered into the shadow of a small canyon wall just ahead. The shade spread all the way across the road, and then some. There, on the shoulder of the roadway, about 40 yards away, was a figure of some kind. Cautiously advancing toward it, there, in the shadow of the rock wall, he saw Christopher casually leaning against the tailgate of his blue pickup.
“It seems we meet again, kiddo,” shouted Christopher with a wave. “The shield of a nice-sized rock in a desolate place is mighty fine, wouldn’t ya say? It’s nice and comfortable to me. Come on over, I’ve been waitin’ for ya.”
Fanny found he was somewhat relieved to see the old man, and a convenient shade. He smiled, shook his head in amazement, entering the cooling shadow of the canyon.
As Fanny got closer to the truck, he scratched his head and asked, “How did you know I would be here at this time of day? Are you stalking me, old man?”
Christopher laughed at the question and replied, “Who knows? Maybe the old truck is equipped with radar for weary travelers.”
Wiping his hands on the front of his well-worn overalls, the elder turned to the pile of anvils in the bed of the truck where he pulled out ice cold bottles of water from a Styrofoam ice chest.
“Here ya go! Fanny, take a load off. You deserve it.” ordered Christopher.
Right away, before breaking the cap seal, Fanny first put the cold bottle against his neck, and then his forehead. With a deep heavy sigh, an expression of relief fell over his face.
“Ahhhhhh, that feels so good,” said the hiker.
“No doubt,” answered Christopher. “Tell me, how did ya sleep last night?”
After opening the bottle for his first couple of gulps, the backpacker responded, “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that great.”
“Oh, really?” replied the old man.
Delaying his answer with another long swig of water, “Let me tell you, the desert may not be my kind of surroundings. I heard noises I couldn’t examine. There were sounds coming from everywhere, including what I think were buzzard wings. That’s way too close for comfort.”
“Is that right?” Christopher said slowly. “What else?”
“You may think I’m nuts, but I spotted a quick shadow I couldn’t identify just on the other side of the road,” described Fanny. “It’s not something I look forward to seeing ever again. By the way, just how many miles is it to Nazareth from this canyon? As far as I can tell….”
“Ya know, owls are night hunters,” Christopher interrupted. “They keep rabbits and rats on the run for sure. Wingspans can be impressive. Such a wonderful creature. As for nocturnal critters in general, I could write volumes on the kinds and species out here. They’re everywhere in the cool of the night. Some folks just let their imaginations run away with them like a train on grease. Truth is, they all were created with excellent night vision. In that respect, they’ve got a leg up on ya.”
The young traveler admitted, “It sure made for an uneasy night.”
While checking the lose left side of his back bumper, the elderly man stated, “Ya know, fear is an enemy. Fact is, it comes in many forms. You might even compare it to a parade coordinator-sending one flatbed float rollin’ by after another, all designed to frighten every person from every walk of life. Your walk of life happens to be on this very road, in this very desert. But always remember, fear is a liar. It promises the worse case scenario in most all situations under heaven, and yet rarely delivers. Son, it’s always best to think of all things as fleeting.”
Fanny laughed and belted out, “FLEETING? Ha, this desert isn’t fleeting Did you see that sandstorm?”
“Hang on now. A liar’s performance is to convince his audience,” stated the old one. “The sudden desert you approach will be full of woes. Hard things happen. Expect it. It’s part of the learnin’ curve. Oppression bubbles up. Depression develops. Illness lurks here and over there. Pain arrives, creeping into your skin, your muscles, your mind, and even your very soul. Soon, a lacking drains your strength, your joy, and eventually, your reasonin’. Yes, the desert is all of that and more. It’s a beautiful place, too…in its own way. The colors and scattered shades are brilliant. Yet, there’s danger out here. There’s isolation expected, married to obscurity. It’s all about who ya face it with. But the sweet truth is, when journeying through the desert, like ya are, you’ll find it’s only temporary. All parades must end, even sandstorms.”
The young man paused for a moment before speaking, “But if there is a learning curve to suffering, what and where is it? I mean, where’s the final exam in this hellish classroom?”
Christopher stroked his wiry beard for a moment. He turned toward a scenic view of the desert and explained, “The better question would be…Why experience it alone? Look out at this barren ground. Each step is a test. You are gettin’ an education, albeit in a lesser degree without an instructor. My offer still stands, kiddo. Let’s take this anvil off your back and put it where it belongs…behind ya, without a rope attached.”
Fanny bent down to tighten his boot laces during an uncomfortable silence. He then stood up, adjusted his canvas hat, looked at Christopher and responded, “No, sir. I will finish this challenge I’ve walked into. It’s not that I don’t appreciate your free offer, but, there’s something to be said about knowing my own conditioning will push me to my destination.”
The elderly man’s ice-blue eyes twinkled as he challenged the young traveler, “And when your anvil of comfort breaks your fleeting, temporary strength, with no one there who is stronger to save ya…what then?”
“Thus far, I’ve adjusted to its weight. It’s okay, really it is,” said Fanny in a softer, kinder delivery. “It may take me a while, but I will get through this desert. But, I can’t wait to feel the soft, cool blades of grass in Nazareth under my bare feet The universe will give me strength.”
“Don’t count on the universe. She’s unforgivin’, and unable to love, ” said the old one. “You, my young man, will find you’re bein’ schooled in the land of waitin’.”
With that said, Christopher watched Fanny strap on his anvil for the journey out of the shadow of the rock wall. Just then, the old man pulled out a brown paper bag and two more bottles of water from the bed of his truck.
“Okay, kiddo,” holding out the items. “Here, ya take these. You’re gonna need it.”
Fanny displayed a large grin at the kindness Christopher displayed. “What’s all this?”
“Well, there’s various items of protein in the bag, some nuts, dried figs, jerky, and some cold sliced pineapple you’ll wanna eat pretty soon,” explained the elder.
Laughing, the hiker inquired, “Pineapple???? Where did you get pineapple out here?”
Christopher just giggled with a lovely childlike delivery as he opened the door to the truck, got in, and started the rattling engine with a backfire.
“Here’s to hopin’ we will see one another again, ” said the old man. “Ya know, hope is a healin’ thing. Even in a deserted place.”
Fanny replied quickly, “I could use that for sure.”
“I know ya do, son. I know ya do,” stated Christopher as he put on his sunglasses. “Be aware of the shadow figures, Fanny. It’ll serve ya well. But, with that said, I’ve never read an obituary where a shadow killed anybody.”
With a whistle on his lips, and his hands on the wide steering-wheel, Christopher began to slowly drive back into the punishing sun. The young trekker raised his hand slowly to wave the old man off. Just then, Fanny realized he never thanked Christopher for the provisions.
Two days and nights passed. It was about noon when Fanny found himself dragging his feet, literally, across the baked concrete in near total exhaustion. With each painstaking stride, he began scanning the horizon for the old man’s pickup. His energy was virtually depleted, and he knew it. The morning delivered some scattered clouds, which aided the weakened young rambler, but now, nothing but abusive piercing sun shutdown all effort. He felt himself wanting, even craving, a visit with the caring driver.
Just as Fanny journeyed down a slope, from a crest in the roadway, he tripped on something. As if in slow motion, he fell forward, hard onto the hot pavement, in unison with a loud ringing thud as the anvil met the road. He screamed in pain from the impact and fierceness of the raging temperature of the road. He quickly turned over on his backpack as a buffer from the concrete. It took him a minute to collect his mind. He looked for wounds, finding a few scrapes and cuts to his elbows, cheek, and the palms of both hands. He noticed his pants were ripped at the left knee as blood began to find its way through the khaki fabric. Troubled at what caused him to lose his traction, Fanny looked around to find the object which caused the fall. There was nothing there. Unable to bend his left knee, he struggled to push himself up on his right leg. With the rope still in his hand, he tested his body for limping to the side of the road. The pain in his knee was crippling. It was a mammoth project as he slowly hopped his way to the sandy shoulder, dragging the anvil against the hot pavement.
Assessing his ability to trek ahead, he noticed something protruding from the bottom of the toe of his right boot. A closer look revealed a piece of the sole of the boot had come loose, and had partially folded back while dragging his feet during the endeavor to keep walking. Whether it was heat exhaustion, the brutal conditions, or a pure wake-up call from injuries, the young hiker admitted being trapped, for the remainder of the day, right where he sat.
As the sun slowly descended into the western sky, Fanny tried to lift his spirits. Finding a small bit of shade under some brush, he began to sing every hit song he could recall from his teen years-songs that made him smile. He busied himself mentally listing his family tree as far back as the war of 1812. With each mental exercise he was surprised at the slowness to fire-off a thought, or memory. He wondered about heat stroke.
“It would seem the elements are doing a number on you, Mr. Gates,” he sarcastically mumbled to himself. In pain, the hiker laid under the tiny shade of the brush for any relief he could manage.
Sounds seem louder when sleeping. Fanny jumped with a start from a nap he didn’t intend on taking. After a few seconds of clarity, he realized he was hearing the tail of a rattlesnake. By sheer instinct, Fanny turned over from his position, discovering in the sand to his left a five foot rattler, curled up maybe 12 feet away. Fear raced through his senses.
Somehow the young man pulled himself together and looked around for a rock. There, by his left boot, were five golf ball-sized sandstones. His eyes once again shifted back to the poised snake. Visions of film footage of how quickly snakes can crawl and strike ran through his head. Unable to bend his left knee without shooting pain, he grabbed the anvil rope, tossed it at the rocks, maneuvering one within reach. He thought to himself, “I have one shot at this and it better be right, or I’m toast.” He methodically, but slowly, reached the rock, grabbed it, then threw it at the rattler with a shout, all in one motion like a professional shortstop. Speedily, the snake reacted, slithering out to the middle of the road and stopped. Fanny trained his eyes on the reptile as it turned its head toward him again. The hiker pitched another rock toward the snake, but this time unmoved.
“Oh, no you don’t, you little beast! Don’t even think about it!” threatened Fanny.
Keeping his eye on the snake, he examined his precarious position. Unable to move quickly, due to his knee, and without a weapon at his disposal, he knew he was a sitting duck. The unexpected desert miles had been cruel, but he covered much ground. Just as he began to question his endurance to reach the other side of the wilderness, he now might see it end-thanks to a new enemy-and a damaged sole.
Surveying every item within reach for a defense, the young traveler’s anvil caught his eye. His mind landed on the reality of the weight of it. Mentally, he began to blame it for his current dilemma. Ninety five pounds of iron needlessly held him down from where he wanted to be. In the assumption he could’ve run from the snake just minutes prior, the anvil would’ve proven to be the end, holding him back for the snake’s lunge. However, in a sick, twisted thought process, his admiration for the useless anvil melted the angst.
Late afternoon approached, and Fanny’s nemesis remained vigilant in a curl, with its expressionless cold stare from the road. The scene was looking darker for the injured young man. He imagined the worst.
Feeling a bit delirious, the trapped hiker’s anger boiled, “So, do you have a nest around here? Maybe you have a brood nearby you’re protecting. Is that why you’re gawking at me? They’ll all make terrific belts, you pile of scales! How does that make you feel? Tell me, is your crawl really quicker than my hop? Look, I know what you’re waiting for. You can’t fool me,” he said, taunting the rattler. “When darkness comes, you’ll slither your measly self over here and take chunks out of me, as I slowly kill over from your venom. I know your kind. I was married to someone like you!”
Fanny was massaging his emotions to accept his coming death. Dreams were dashed, hope only a dream, and his efforts toward his goal had been wasted energy. In a moment of clarity, he looked over at his companion: the anvil. In the light of his circumstances, he knew it suddenly didn’t seem to hold much value. True, Fanny had grown accustomed to the weight on his back, but in the reevaluation, it seemed foolish to have imagined it to be part of himself in daily life. In an odd, and maybe an ironic way, it took a trauma in a desolate place to see the fulfillment of the truth.
Another hour slipped by, closer to the coming dusk. Fanny suddenly had gained a fever. He could feel chills and cold sweat rolling down his chest. His time waned in the growing darkness. His new enemy seemed to detect Fanny’s weakened state, raising its head off the pavement. Desperation danced through the stranded hiker as he grabbed the empty canteen, the only defense against the waiting venomous reptile.
During a somewhat morbid consideration, Fanny pictured where the fangs might sink in first. Like a strategist, he began to maneuver his body so that the strike of the rattler would target closer to his hands and arms for a better shot at defense. About that time, his ears detected a familiar remote sound. He cocked his head as he zoomed-in on the distant echo of what appeared to be a big brass band, combined with the hum of an engine. The young man smiled as he identified the modulation of old pistons, pushing an antique pickup in his direction. Fanny caught a glimpse of the old blue truck rounding a curve, where it began to slow down with its radio blaring away, until coming to a complete stop. As it did, the right front tire crowned the head of the cunning rattler with a defining crunch. The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Christopher.
“Well, if it ain’t young Fanny restin’ on his laurels,” he said with warm grin as he walked toward the young man.
Fanny had gasped when the truck’s tire parked on the snake.
Christopher sarcastically asked, “Son, are ya hungry? Your mouth is wide open like a newborn sparrow in the nest.”
“You…uh, I guess you know, you rolled right on top of that rattlesnake. How did you manage to do that?” quizzed the injured traveler.
“Oh, practice, I suppose. It happens,” answered the lighthearted elder. “I see ya got yourself all banged-up there.”
Sheepishly, Fanny began to explain, “Yes, sir. Earlier today I was so spent. Not realizing my toes were dragging, my sole separated a bit from my left boot, causing me to trip and…well, here I am.”
While scoping out the young man’s injuries, Christopher mentioned the obvious, “Ya fell on your face, I see.”
“In a manner of speaking, I sure did.” admitted Fanny.
The old man knelt down to get a closer look at Fanny’s damaged boot.
“Hmmm, yep, I’m no cobbler, but I see what happened,” speaking slower and in a softer tone, “Ya know, where the ‘soul’ separates is a lonely place to be. What have ya learned, kiddo?”
One side of Fanny’s bruised lip raised as he said, “Seeking shelter is a wise thing.”
“Is it now?” stated Christopher.
“No doubt, ” admitted the young trekker. “I have come to realize that I’m not ‘all that’.”
“Now, give yourself some credit in this journey of yours,” the old one said.
“What?” asked Fanny.
Christopher explained, “Ya didn’t think about how ya said it. In all your boldness and anger, ya once shouted, ‘BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!‘”
Beside himself, Fanny raised his voice in astonishment, “Hey! How did you know about…I mean…that was a few days ago now…and on top of that, I was in…”
“In the desert, all by yourself. I know,” interrupted Christopher. “You might as well have had on a wireless microphone. That was actually the beginning of your learnin’ while on this path. With all the wreckage in your life, you were searchin’ for solitude. Most people do. Ya see, there’s a big difference between solitude, and isolation. It’s ironic, isn’t it? In your isolation, ya never really were alone.”
The young man being perplexed raised his voice, “Excuse me, but I still don’t understand how you…”
Christopher interrupted again, “Not many do understand, kiddo. Even the ones who are most scholarly, with all those initials after their names, can’t get their arms around it all. Some, the honest and most humble, will even admit it. I’d say you’re in good company.”
Fanny still reclined there, looked down at his skinned hands and torn pants in a sense of surrender.
Breaking the uneasy moment, the old one spoke up, “Now son, here’s the deal for this time, for this place of desolation; will ya accept my offer? You’re in the middle of this trip, but near the end of your journey. I won’t return to these parts for some time, and here, in the waitin’, is the opportunity for decisions. Trust me on this. Take my hand and I’ll give ya a lift to where ya wanna be. As a brash up-and-comer, a lad once told me, ‘It doesn’t look promisin’ from where I stand.'”
The young man accepted without delay, “Yes, sir. I’m ready to move out of this God forsaken place.”
“Uh, not really… ‘forsaken’,” Christopher said with a familiar snicker. “You have much to learn, young Fanny Gates. Come on, I’ll help carry ya to the truck. Ya ain’t heavy.”
With Fanny’s left arm around Christopher’s neck, and the anvil hanging from his sore right shoulder, the duo methodically made their way to the old truck.
After a couple of steps, Fanny asked Christopher a simple question, “I take it you know where Nazareth is, right?”
The old man opened the passenger side door, helped the younger into the truck and informed him, “Well, of course I know where Nazareth is. As far as the eye can see from this spot, it’s nothin’ but desert. Still, Nazareth is not too far from here.”
Just before Christopher closed the passenger door, he asked, “Uh, son, aren’t ya forgettin’ somethin’?”
Fanny looked bewildered until he saw Christopher gazing at the anvil sitting in his lap.
He responded, “Christopher, do I really need to give it up? It’s been with me for as long as I can remember. Over my lifetime I’ve adjusted to its weight.”
“This is the very crux of my offer, Fanny,” Christopher uttered with a straight tone. “Somewhere down the line, you were lied to. You only ASSUMED ya needed this weight. Ya must unload what has weighed ya down in order to come with me. Now, tell me straight up. Are ya willin’ to allow me to toss it behind us, to put it to bed?”
Seeing the sincerity in the old one’s ice-blue eyes, understanding it meant everything to him, Fanny agreed to let go.
With the anvil among the others discarded in the bed of the old truck, the aged one cranked-up the engine, took control of the steering wheel, and began to make a u-turn.
“Hey, Christopher, you’re going in the wrong direction!”, the traveler said with alert.
“You were hopin’ to go to Nazareth,” stated Christopher. “Number one, ya wouldn’t have been able to get there by your own power. Number two, I’m your only Uber out this way. Number three, you were headed west on a one-way road. Nazareth is east of here. Always east.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, I’ll just have to trust you on that.” said Fanny.
With that, the old man replied, “Yep, yep ya must.”
“Christopher, there’s just one thing of concern here,” Fanny said. “I don’t have any cash on me for your fuel.”
After a satisfying smile on his old weathered face, along with a slight shaking of the head, Christopher replied, “That’s another thing, kiddo. Ya never could’ve purchased your way to Nazareth. It’s all been paid for ahead of your arrival. Burden-free, son. Burden-free.”
When loaded down, crushed with the stuff of life’s curses, unload with fuel for the race.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowlera and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”– Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV)