“I will be here for you, Somewhere in the night. Somewhere in the night. I’ll shine a light for you, Somewhere in the night. I’ll be standing by, I will be here for you” (1992) “I Will Be Here For You” Recorded By: Michael W. Smith Composer: Michael W. Smith
It was late. I had been up since 3am. I traveled for 70 miles in a heavy downpour from a Texas autumn storm to reach a hospital in Greenville, Texas. I spent all day in a plastic chair in a small recovery room with three walls and a curtain. My plan was to drive back home that night, but Glaucoma has wrecked my night vision. Although I didn’t want to, I reserved a nearby hotel room. It was cheap, and on many levels, it should stay cheap.
The night didn’t go well at all. My mind and heart remained in that tiny recovery room at the hospital down the interstate. The last thing I heard, as my head hit the pillow, was a vacuum cleaner at work in the hallway at 10:21pm! I’ll spare you from the profanity which echoed off the concrete walls.
Drained of energy, I checked out around 8:30 the following morning. The rain had stopped, but the parking lot was littered with puddles to avoid. My heart was heavy, and my soul was dry. Somehow I felt I was on an internal cruise control as I opened the door to my parked SUV. My head hit the steering wheel as I placed the key in the ignition. There was no ignoring the craving for answers, the thirst for wisdom, and the starvation for comfort.
Not long ago, I wrote you a brutally honest post concerning my 77 year old mom who recently had been handed a diagnosis of dementia. Since I live in the Dallas area, and she lives in Greenville, we speak on the phone every day, sometime’s more than once. Over the past year or so, I have seen her begin to stumble on word processing during sentences over the phone. Just a few months ago she clearly began to experience hallucinations. When she began to forget the names of her granddaughters, I knew it was getting serious. She holds her cards close to her chest, so I am rarely aware of any specific assistance she needs. Slowly I have learned she can no longer do math, count money, or write well at all, etc. Stubborn and independent as the day is long, she slugs it out with life’s battles alone in her childhood home, the one she inherited from her deceased parents. Tough like a Texas oak tree, a woman made of steel, she raised me as a single mom through poverty, pain, and perseverance during the 60’s and 70’s. Not one CEO of any top 100 corporation could compare to her work ethic and drive to make a living.
And now…now, she is fading quickly. I’ve heard it said that it is like a great thriving tree losing its leaves in the fall, one by one. So true.
It’s not like my wife and I haven’t spoken to her about the need to sell the house and consider assisted living. She poops it right out of her noggin when the subject is presented. She’ll say, “No, I’m not near ready for that. I’m feeling much better today.”
Many hours have been spent wrestling just how I might be able to convince her to turn this page in her life, without her being forced. I walk a balancing wire because I do all I can to keep from upsetting her, or have her turn angry with me personally for pushing her too hard. My belief is she dreams to live long enough in that special house until she dies in her sleep in bed.
A little over a week ago, when I asked how her day was going, she was hesitant and sheepish. Her voice sounded tired and foggy. It took a few minutes to get her to confess that she had been sick at her stomach for a few days. There were a coup[e of phone conversations interrupted because she had to rush to the bathroom to throw-up. But then the next day she would tell me how well she felt, and how it must have just been a flu bug. Pressing her I could tell she wasn’t back to norms. On the 5th morning from the day she told me of her sickness, she confessed that she wasn’t better after all. My bootstraps were pulled up as I spoke to her like a parent, telling her she must go to a clinic, or ER. She barked at me saying some over-the-counter meds would do the trick, etc. I knew better. No bait was taken. I called her doctor, but she couldn’t see her for several days. I called my cousin, who lives just 5 minutes from her, and told him he needs to take her to get checked out. In the end, it was necessary.
A couple of hours rolled by when I received a call from my cousin who handed me over to a nurse in the ER. Tests were being run. Later in the afternoon, a surgeon called me. He informed me she had a concerning hernia near her navel. He mentioned there was trapped bowel material in the hernia, as well as, a traffic back-up in her GI track. Emergency surgery needed to be done within that very hour. I approved it over the phone. She would be in the hospital for at least 5 days as they attack the blocked GI track. All went well with the surgery. I arrived to be with her the next morning.
That was 8 days ago, as I write this post. Although the procedure went well, and the draining of her bowels was completed yesterday, she remains very weak and in need of rehab. My “Iron Lady” has quickly become frail and needy.
I wondered why she wouldn’t let me in the house when I would come for a visit throughout the last few years. I am her only child, just 16 years younger than she, and our relationship has been good. While she was in the hosp[ital, I was able to get into her house as I needed to retrieve her ID and documentations. The word “gasp” would fall short of what I walked into. Without getting into the horrific scenes I saw and walked through, I will just say, she has been living in filth and squalor, seemingly for a long time. My heart broke seeing and smelling the realities of how far my dear mom had spiraled. A dumpster will need to be delivered in order for us to clear and clean. That’s how bad it really is.
Life has been very tough. Without my life-long Christian-based faith, I know where I would be by now, and it wouldn’t be a place where you would want to be. In fact, I know of a few times suicidal thoughts were at play during some personal tragedies in my past. With that said, more than a plethora of times, God Himself reassured me of who I am in Him, and without Him I would be on skid-row, or worse several times over. Honestly, and you know this if you are a long-time reader of my blog, there have been near miraculous moments in my life, where in the darkened corners I found myself in, I was brought to my feet. It grieves me to type the next two words…AND YET, I still have faltered in my faith, even though God showed me His hand through the wind and waves. “AND YET”…don’t you just hate those words?
With my head on the steering wheel, along with waning droplets on the windshield from the night before, I felt spiritually empty. My “worry wart” was getting bigger as I sat there pondering what needed to be done. My mom is ill, and can never live alone again without assistance. Where will she go? My wife and I don’t have room for her, not to mention, she will need more care than what we will be able to do. Even now, she thinks she is going back home to live as she was living. I fear looking into her aged eyes to tell her she can no longer be alone. Frankly, I don’t know how to break it to her without crushing her spirit. I’ve already been taking over her finances. A Power Of Attorney will need to established on her behalf. The herculean job of tackling the house, cleaning, moving her out, selling furniture, then selling the house….arg! Sitting there in my vehicle, I only had less than a quarter of a tank left in my spiritual reserve. The tears began to flow with the current of loneliness taking me downstream to where I shouldn’t be.
My prayer-life has been eaten away, practically. Ashamed to say it, but it’s true. The realization of my forehead hitting the the steering wheel brought me to a place where I needed to scream-out to God. That’s exactly what I did. No dogma involved, no Christianese spoken, no pretense whatsoever was present. With a good old fashioned yelling, in concert with my belly-crying, I called out to God in despair.
Before I go any further, let me caution you on something. If you have not accepted God’s grace and mercy through what His son, Jesus did on the cross for our redemption, you may not get what I am about to write. Please, forgive me if I am describing you. Nevertheless, what I am about to proclaim is factual, even biblical. If you are a Jesus follower, and think of prayer as quietly spoken, laced with a “thee & thou” because it is your habit, or because you believe your prayer would not make it out of the room if not practiced in this way, you might find what I am about to advise somewhat sacrilegious. If you use ritualistic phrases in your prayers, often repeating them several times for punctuation, you may not like what I am about to suggest whatsoever. When in the cave, the belly of the great fish, or at hell’s gate itself, God wants to hear YOU, YOUR HEART, YOUR GUT-WRENCHING SOUL! Scream out to Him in your suffering, in your neediness, in your emptiness. He’s a BIG GOD, He can and will handle what you need to say. Maybe the words might not be so pretty, or elegant, that’s okay. In fact, that’s what He wants from you. In a personal relationship, that’s what you do in tense times. Reveal your passion of the moment to Him. My experience has been, when I do that, I hear from Him, strongly, directly, and timely.
During my prayer, through pouring tears, I reminded God of how much of a servant my mom has been in her faith-walk all of her life. My verbal slideshow to Him consisted of how faithful she has been to Him and His words. The pulse of her deep faith was so evident in her song, her servanthood, her sacrifices. Brutal honesty rolled out of my mouth as I fessed-up to God that I am helpless in facing this giant of an issue. He heard how I felt alone in this task, weak and feckless. In my yelling out to Him, I ended it by confessing how I needed Him to show-up. I admitted that I am clueless on just how to begin all that needs to be done, all that needs to be said, all that needs strength that I don’t seem to have anymore. My sincerity was brutal and blunt when I screamed out, “Lord God, I need to know you are with me! Not tomorrow, or even the next day, but today!”
At that moment, I cleared the drops from my eyes, reach out to turn the key in the ignition, and the radio was on my favorite classic hits station.
The very first sound coming out of my speakers as the engine turned over was…
“When you’re weary, Feeling small, When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all. I’m on your side…”
In that very moment of my darkened frame, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” began to air. Slotted at that precised juncture in time, not 5 mins before, or 10 minutes after, but right then and there, out of their 600+ songs in rotation, sprinkled in with news, weather, and traffic, the lyrics met me like a subway at the station. I spent about 30 years in radio and radio programming, and I can tell you, this just doesn’t happen at the whim of a programming clock with its categories of rotating songs, separation slots involving artists, titles, and production types. There is a true science to what you hear on the air. I recognized it as a, “God Thing”.
Recently, my wife and I read through a book on odds, the law of averages, chances, and frequencies of events. This would be a good study on the odds of this happening as a coincidence, happenstance, etc. Based upon the book we recently read, I can tell you that the odds are against me hearing the first verse of that song, programmed at the right hour, at the right minute, at the right second after my prayer.
Suddenly, I wept again, but for a different reason. My faith was bolstered as in times past. Because I was shouting out my guts to God in faith that He would hear my pleas, He responded using a medium so very precious to me and my life…music. He arranged all roads to converge at that moment to prove to me that indeed, He is there, and will be there.
When reaching out for God’s grip, look no further than fuel for the race.
“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13 (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)
“Oh, Stormy…Oh, Stormy. Bring back that sunny day…” Stormy (1968) Recorded by: Classics IV. Composers: Dennis Yost, James Cobb, Buddy Buie
As I write this, it’s a sunny day in Dallas, Texas with temperature hovering about 102/f degrees. The heat index, or what it feels like with humidity mixed into the works, is 118/f degrees. Great day to mow the lawn. LOL It’s July in Texas, and you can always count on the weather being oppressive. What I wouldn’t give for a bit of rain right now, but not HOT DROPS.
Our springtime was horribly rough. May and June alone were pelting us with several tropical storm-type winds, tornadoes galore, and thunderstorms ushering in hail. We had straight-line winds clocking at 71mph in one of our storms in June. The trees on our property lost several branches, large limbs, as well as, nerves. Around here, when the civil sirens go off, you run for shelter, never walk, during tornado warnings. We’ve had many this year thus far.
Photo: My cousin sits with a partial of a massive 100+ year old Sycamore, which was uprooted from my mom’s front yard, and landed on her roof. She was home at the time, but uninjured during the tornado. The house is about 164 years old. It took the brunt, with only roof and porch damage. Texas storms come as quickly as a fake news story cycle.
Meanwhile, at our house, our oldest dog, Sammie, is like bacon on a hot skillet during storms. I’ve written about this before.
Sammie goes bonkers at the smell of rain, not yet fallen. You can always tell by her attentive look with immediate cravings to cuddle.
The slightest sound of distant rumbling thunder will set her off with the quivers, shakes and shivers, like a 7.1 California earthquake. All the while, nestled safely in my arms for shelter. I’ve been told she runs to me because I’m the biggest one in the room. When it’s peaceful outside, she rarely notices me, unless I have a treat in my hand. Of course, I do what I can to calm her vocally, and sometimes it works, but often not. The storms just seem to override any audible efforts of comfort.
Frankly, I can understand her pretty well. I mean, growing up in Texas, I have seen what tornadoes, flash floods and hurricanes can do. Because of past experience, my heartbeat rises a bit during these storms. On the other hand, I have family and friends who are storm chasers. They absolutely adore the thrill of getting as close to a tornado as possible, without catching up with Dorothy and Toto. In my opinion, they are all mad as hares in a cabbage patch. Yet, I still love them.
Oh, how I wish I could link telepathically, with Sammie’s little brain. I wish she could know I will cover her with my own body if a tornado hit our house. I just don’t speak “dogness” as well as I should. If only my communication skills were on her level, maybe she would understand the kind of protector she has in me. But, Shorty, our other pal, knows what to say.
My communication skills might be lacking during Sammie’s times of trouble, but sometimes lyrics will hit me out of the blue…or the darkness.
Recently, my daughter’s band, Grosh, released their new album. The last song on the project is my favorite. The cut is entitled, “Piece of Mind”. Besides hearing my daughter deliver some terrific vocals once again, the original lyric touched me deeply. It speaks. Here’s a section for you:
“…Whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t. Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone. Give me a piece of your mind. Because whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t. Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.” (2019) Piece of Mind. Recorded by Grosh. Composers: Lougen/English (Her band-mates)
(Sample the cut at: groshband.com. Go to “Store”, click on the title of the song and turn up the volume. (Also available for downloads.) Tell me how it grabs you.)
There have been unexpected storms in my life when I desperately needed to be reminded I am not solo here in this life. Most of he time, I didn’t get a siren of warning before I was flattened by a down-burst. Car crash – no warning. Job loss – no warning. Health crisis – no warning. Death in the family – no warning. Can you identify?
How honest is this? At times, I have felt alone. At times, I felt alone in a crushing crowd of revelers. At times, I looked around for someone to find peace with and found a vacant place. At times, I searched for synthetics to numb my loneliness.
Life is so much like the weather. Lightning WILL clap just when you least expect it, and you WILL leap off the mattress about a meter or so. Sheets of hail, wrapped in a torrent of rain, WILL beat on the roof, and all you can do is wait to analyse the aftermath. You might sit at a table, with a fine wine accompanied by broiled brisket, when suddenly, an EF-4 tornado WILL rip the house apart with its 166+mph winds. (It’ll take about 3 seconds.) In those moments of oppression, in those moments of turmoil, in those moments of trying to grip the rug beneath your feet, like Sammie, it’s normal to feel a bit shaken. A bit at a loss. A bit bewildered. This is the stuff of life, and life’s surprises.
Because I am a Jesus “accepter”, I do what I can to keep from nursing on other means for quick fixes to sooth my nerves, my fears, my “what next”. Many times I fail. In those times I must remember all things I touch, taste, and see, are only temporary at their best. Synthetics are just that…synthetic. Who would depend upon a wedding ring fabricated out of a cigar-band?
Sammie runs to me for comfort, but I don’t mention to her that I can be blown away, just like she can. The comfort from my body is, well…uh…temporary. In the same way, I can run to my wife, a counselor, a friend, a chemical pacifier, but in the end, they are faulty, too. We all fall down physically, emotionally, spiritually. My proven rest relies on the One Who holds me up today, yesterday, and tomorrow. Why?
Where else could I go? He simply is the biggest person in the room. The storm may not be removed each time the radar turns red, yellow, and purple, but I do have the promise He will be with me through what comes my way. He alone called Himself, “The Rock”. In Exodus, when Moses was afraid to be God’s spoke-person to the enslaved Jewish community in Egypt, and Pharaoh, he challenged God.
He inquired, “Who shall I say sent me?” Wouldn’t you ask?
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NAS)
Someday I will write on the significance of the title, “I AM”. It’s a great study of the words in Hebrew. For now, my point is, scripture details Him as being all-in-all. Not only that, He goes so far as to invite us to PROVE Himself to be. Wow! That’s brave and bold, regardless of who sends the invitation. Outside of creation, and all things in it, before we began to put names on each other, our animals and plants, He “was” and always will be. A great reliable comfort in times of unsettled traumatic turmoil inside this sphere of existence.
Jesus was sent to our everyday, bluejeans and work-boots level. He came to speak our language for understanding of God’s mind, heart and love. He claimed that He and God were one. Yes, a heavy thing to say. And then He proved it several times. Some 700+ years before Jesus was born, it was foretold He would be referred to as, “Immanuel”. It wouldn’t be a surname, or a first name, but rather a description. It literally means, “God with us”, “With us is God”, or “God housing with us”. (Isaiah 7:14) That’s amazing in itself, but it also means I don’t have to shiver while cowering in the fetal position, stuck in a corner with my chosen toy for distraction.
Learning to lean on the Rock that is higher than I is the beginning of fuel for the race.
“Take My yoke (Guiding, instructive brace. IE: A cast on a broken bone.) upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-29 (BLB)
“Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel. And some rooms filled with reckless pride. And the walls have grown sturdy, and the halls have worn well, but there is nobody living inside. Nobody living inside…” Heart Hotels (1979) Recorded and composed by: Dan Fogelberg
You know how it is. You grow up in a place, or visit a place as a kid, while often driving by stunning landmarks, oblivious to their existence. Honestly, I still do it.
I didn’t grow up in Greebville, Tx, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, but I feel like I did. I was born there, but we didn’t stay. My mom’s family lived there, and still do. To describe it, I would say there are certain parts of town that still remind me of the old southern neighborhood scenes in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. My brain is sprinkled with fond memories of looking out the car window at the park I played in, the old gothic-style church on the corner near the downtown square, and the narrow street where I would grin from ear-to-ear as we drove toward my grandparent’s house. Those are the simple snapshots a little lonely kid recalls about a place. However, there are so many things this young one missed, probably because it was the loved ones in his focus.
One thing which escaped my interest was an old hotel on Washington Street, across from the old church.
The Washington Hotel – Greenville, Texas. Photo: Texas Historical Commission.
In its youth, it was called The Washington Hotel. Later in years it was changed to The Cadillac Hotel. In 2010, it was awarded a designation in the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1926, about two blocks down from the train depot, it stood as a gem, a glimmering star in the downtown Greenville landscape. She has six floors ascending up to what was a garden roof, with plenty of space for romantic evening dances. A monumental marble staircase rises from the lobby with iron railings. Celebrities, tycoons, and diplomats were served by the old place through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more. My mom and her parents attended a campaign speech delivered by President Harry S. Truman from the back of his train caboose at the depot near the hotel. (Apparently, it was customary to build a hotel within a short walking distance to the train depot. It makes sense, considering the times.)
The old Greenville train depot.
However, a gem no more. The Washington/Cadillac Hotel, in all of her history and glory, was closed long ago as the town grew. Time and neglect were her new caretakers. In fact, it was abandoned in the worst possible way through the years. Before you could say, “Texas tumbleweeds”, looters and vandals had their way with it. In the early 1990’s a fire was set, destroying much of the interior of the old royal lady. A couple of times in recent years, developers drew promising plans to refurbish her amidst intentions of a rebirth with condominium lofts, studios, and flats on the blueprints. Still, plans fell through for one reason or the other. And now it sits in an almost ruined state. Much of it boarded up, and if not, windows cracked or broken out. I have interior photos, but to be frank, it hurts my heart to look at them. I would rather dream of her glory days. My fear is, the city will give up on it, setting a date for a heartbreaking demolition. My hope is, some wealthy decision-maker will grab a new vision of what this queen could be with some funds and lots of loving care.
Photo: The Herald Banner
Realistically, it’s a long-shot. She sits at the threshold of a section of town in need of a gigantic face-lift. And I mean more than a simple Botox injection.
Recently I heard Dan Fogelberg’s very familiar “Heart Hotels” over a classic soft-rock radio station. You should google it to refresh your ear’s memory. Immediately the old Cadillac Hotel came to my mind. I began to listen to the lyric with larger lobes while realizing I sing-along to it all the time without allowing the lyric to penetrate. The late Fogelberg was an incredible, thoughtful lyricist. “Longer (Then)” was one I did for many weddings since 1979. It’s considered a classic now. He has so many greats in his music catalog. Many bring tears to my eyes. This is one of them.
He aligned his heart in the fashion of an old hotel with way too many windows for outside viewers. Of course, he chose a hotel because he spent his life on the road from city to city. Many artists are introverts. I know I am, to a degree. His lyrics speak of closing the shutters, pushing everyone out, leaving offers of synthetic love, hoping for true love to arrive. In the third verse, his lyric pressed him to include an admittance that the soul needed to be repaired. He wrote of craving the vacancy, while hearing distant echoing voices from the stairwells which brought memories of unanswered prayers. OUCH!
Man, the song hurts! It’s just like the interior photos of the Cadillac Hotel, which I refuse to add here. At the same time, I love heart-breaker songs. Performing them multiple times in my day, I know the powerful movements they deliver. (I trust that doesn’t make me a twisted, bad person in your eyes.)
Truly, he wrote what most of us won’t. I think Fogelberg was a very straightforward composer. His songs spotlight his honesty. If we were forthright with each other, as Dan was, we could relate to the lyric of “Heart Hotels”. Just like too many windows in this old hotel (heart), there are also too many jumping off the roof surrounded by a garden, dancing, and romance. Have you noticed?
The heart is a strong machine. We call the pumping muscle in our chest the strongest organ, but the heart of the spirit is even stronger. The rooms are full of reckless pride and the halls are worn well, but there’s nobody living inside… When empty we are left to our chosen devices.
Like Fogelberg, if there is an honest recognition of “soul repair“, I think Fogelberg would be the first to say, you can’t do this on your own. Sure, try all you want, but the carpet wears out in the pacing years of frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak. Soon there after, the present reality hits like a brass doorknocker where the echoing voices in the stairwell repeat the failures of the past. They do remind us, don’t they? What do we have to show for it? A worn-out carpet, wishing it were a magic carpet for flying. A quick trip to the fire escape proves to be a faulty idea, as the decades have rusted the old scaffolding. Thoughts of the roof flow in again, or medicate with the devices at hand for the numbing of our pain. Honestly, this song should be longer than Stairway To Heaven or Alice’s Restaurant, because it should be a theme and variation which is in loop.
Should I mention something worse than our own heart-sickness? Dare I?
How often do we drive by a dis-connected, seemingly empty person, who for whatever reason, has pulled down the shutters and rolled up the carpet inside? How many of us are shocked when someone we know, or someone we love, takes to the roof for a final inhale of the garden? The shock usually coats our minds because we thought they were doing just fine, as we occasionally peered through their many windows. Still, we drive by them, distracted by the gothic-style church building across the street, not noticing there’s a soul is in trouble and needs repair. Don’t kick yourself too badly. I am the first to say, I am sooooo guilty. My hull has been breached a few times by deliberate final exits of people I love.
Often in my life I have heard others speak of unanswered prayers, as the late Fogelberg penned. Like me, I bet you have, too. You didn’t ask for this, but allow me to quickly shed a laser light on this familiar topic. Prayer-life is a mystery. Make no mistake about it. Scripturally speaking, the problem is solved through three different camera angles.
#1 – Know God first. Read and study Him before you climb up His sleeve. The passage states:
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6 (Berean Study Bible)
#2 – We frequently petition God in a misdirected way. We envy, we crave, we itch for this and for that. In the old King James language, we “covet” in general. We also want a rabbit’s foot to stroke, or a genie in a bottle to grant us three wishes, or an item hanging from our rear-view mirror in which we trust to have some sort of empowerment. As often the case, what we ask for could bring us to an intersection which may be unhealthy for our future…the future we are hidden from.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)
Unfortunately, when we pray, asking for our “coveting” heart to be satisfied, it goes against God’s target for our lives. (IE: ” Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive porches, I must make amends…” (1971) Composers: Bob neuwirth, Janis Jolin, Michael McClure.) Fun song, yet the humor of it stresses a fundamental truth. One can be wealthy, socially honored, and in need of nothing, yet in reality, naked, poor in heart, and without spiritual sight. Jesus mentioned this many times. After all, God wrote it down so we would know, “Do not covet”. Asking for peace, safety, protection, insight, direction, needs, and most of all, His plans to rule over what we cannot see, is always well applied. Another way of putting it, sometimes our motives are off rhythm, as in an engine which lacks oil on its timing chain.
#3 – Unanswered prayer…at least that’s what we call it. We perceive a prayer hits the ceiling, bouncing back like a rubber ball. In reality, God promises to hear our prayers. If you don’t get what you want, like an angry kid on December 25th, it could be the answer is “No”, or “Not yet”. THIS has occurred in my life many times following premature prayers, where the answer came clearly months or years later. Retrospect is a supreme teacher. I could write a list of times this has happened in my life. Keep in mind, there’s a solid case for follow-up prayers, asking God why He didn’t answer, as you personally weigh answers. Other times, an immediate answer arrived during my prayer-life. In fact, I have had prayers granted before I even finished the prayer. The acknowledgement is always astounding to me, reminding me of my lack of 100% trust in God. There’s a bold statement from Jesus which speaks loudly…
A sweet friend of mine, a vocal harmonizer for Joan Baez, recently said she believed the “Universe” wants her to move to Texas. I should have explained the following, but I didn’t. Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t love her. The universe never reached out to counsel her. The universe never cared for her. The universe never burdens itself with restoration of life. The universe doesn’t oppose evil. The universe never offered a free gift of redemption. The universe never bothers itself to tend to her when naked, poor, and blind. The universe doesn’t have a count of every hair on her head. The universe never wanted to remove her transgressions and faults. The universe never protects her, defends her, or gives grace to her. The universe is faulty and proves to be imperfect, as we are.
Bottom line…the soul/heart, never has to be empty and alone. There is One who loves closer than a brother. Search the world’s religious history. After exhausting yourself, you will find religious systems demanding your “works”, your “efforts”, your climbing up Mt. Olympus to earn the favor of deities. It’s easy to accept because it’s based on our human nature to work, to earn what we want. Then there’s “touch this”, “burn this”, “kiss this”, or my favorite…”buy this”, etc. Do the research. If you know me, you already know I say this out of love, not hatred. I hurt for religious beachcombers. We’ve all been there. Some doctrines even demand starvation, suicide, murder, and self mutilation to achieve a cozy suite in an afterlife hotel. Have you noticed? Only God, through Jesus, who, as a baby, couldn’t find room in the inn, proves to be of this magnificent heart of love, without condition, and grace toward us imperfect people.
(Most recommend reading the book of John, in the Bible, to learn Who Jesus is, and why He is so different.)
Heart hotels don’t have to be vacant. Room service is available with fuel for the race.
“… For whatever reason there might be, Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.” – “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” (1973) Recorded by: Gladys Knight. Composer: James D. Weatherly
In some post, not that long ago, or far away, I stated something about how dogs teach us so much. They may not have a pointer (lol), or a marker (lol) board, but they teach nonetheless.
Meet Pippin! (Cover photo above)
Recently, I posted about a young family next door who are moving away. Steven and Amy are expecting twins, which means four little ones as a total, with only a small two bedroom house. Yet, they do have three little-bits in the backyard, as well. I affectionately nicknamed their very territorial duo Chihuahuas, Yipper & Yapper. (It’s actually, Molly & Pippin.) The third four-legged pal is a sweet, beautiful dingo. Her name is Freya, and she believes her main job in life is to try to hush the other two. They are fun to watch.
I have a new respect for Pippin. Here’s the scoop. In the turmoil and business of the family throwing things away, loading trucks, and cleaning the place, the canine trio have shown signs of nervousness. With all the dust flying in the air from the upheaval, the dogs have been like bacon-on-skillet. Freya, who doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the activity, tends to bark at the other high-strung Chihuahuas in efforts to calm their nerves. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) While the turnstile rotates back and forth from the old house, to the newly purchased house, the dogs are often left alone. No doubt they are puzzled, rattled, and bewildered as to why, what, and where. Transitions are never easy.
Getting to know them over the last 3 years, I’ve noticed Molly, the female Chihuahua, is more of a fighter, in lieu of a flyer. Pippin is the flyer. When their uneven gate has been jiggled to a position where the aligning posts don’t mesh very well, leaving about a 4 inch gap, Pippin takes the opportunity. Yep, three times in two days, Pippin has pushed the gate as hard as he can to gain more wiggle room in order to squeeze through the misaligned fence and gate posts. When he does, it’s off like a racehorse. Just as they are pulling out of the drive with the moving truck, they’ll see the little escape artist in the rear-view mirror. When that occurs, it’s all hands on deck to nab him.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Freya, the dingo, and Molly, the less adventurous Chihuahua, began a barking marathon in the early evening hours on Saturday. Our dogs, Shorty and Sammie, exploded in stereo. As we checked out the cause of the canine chorus, there stood Pippin at our front door. His human parents had been gone for a couple of days, leaving the dogs extra food and water. My wife carefully placed him over their fence, only to find him at our front door less than ten minutes later. Looking in his eyes, coupled with his constant trembling, it was clear what was happening. He was experiencing separation anxiety. He was craving love and attention from his frequently missing family. In fact, I surmise he was out to find them, which meant road hazards for the little squirt. We sent a text to the couple letting them know what had happened, along with how we would dog-sit until they came home. Our pal Shorty wasn’t pleased at first.
He had this look on his face, which spoke volumes. The dialogue bubble would read, “Hey, what the heck? Why is this little yapper in MY house?” As for Sammie, our Schnauzer/Chihuahua mix, it was different. Sammie seemed to ask if there would be enough food left in her bowl. She checked on it just before she hid from all of the clamber. She wanted no part of it. Sammie is an old lady. I don’t blame her.
After Shorty’s territorial greeting, he and Pippin began to play reindeer games around the house. Of course, they know each other between the fence, but now there was nothing to keep them from being fellow pack members. Although Shorty is a bit taller than Pippin, it didn’t stop the visitor from standing on his hind feet, placing his front paws on Shorty’s head, as a hard statement of dominance. That thought bubble was so evident, “Okay, I’m the boss here! YOU are NOT the boss of me!” Immediately, the horseplay…or rather, the dog-play, ensued.
The overnight went okay. Pippin was restless, even growled at times, but he liked getting under a blanket in a snuggle cave mode. No doubt, if you can’t see unfamiliar surroundings, it must not be there. Can you relate?
The following morning, all three dogs had some time in the backyard. The two next door, Freya and Molly, watched, whined, and howled as if left out, like there was more going on at our place. After awhile, Steven and Amy came home for another load of furniture. Ecstatic to see him, Freya and Molly were jumping up and down, getting in Steven’s way as he walked toward the fence-line. As soon as Pippin spotted his human dad, he raced to the fence, wagging his entire body, barking up a concerto. After Steven held him in his arms, Pippin was all about squirming with excitement, licking every inch of Steven’s face that he could possibly reach. Pippin never looked back. He never stopped licking to say thanks. It was as if we didn’t exist. Frankly, in his noggin, we probably didn’t, at that heartwarming moment. After all, we weren’t who he belonged to.
After Steven thanked us, I watched him walk away with our rough-n-tumble amigo, happy as a kid on Santa’s lap. Clearly, Christmas came early for the little yapper.
Later, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful for Pippin if Steven and Amy were with him all the time? Wouldn’t it be magical, if his parents cuddled him every minute of every day? Wouldn’t it be simply a miracle if Pippin felt the loving arms of his owner 24/7, feeling the surety that abandonment isn’t a word at all? In fact, wouldn’t it be miraculous if Pippin could always hear a loving response from his adopted owner on any, and all, barking episodes? If it were possible, wouldn’t it be terrific if Pippin had a tiny amount of faith in knowing his family would always come back? If so, dog-life would be more tolerable. Moreover, safety and security would never be in question, even while looking at the back of an increasingly vacant house.
Sometimes, I can be much like Pippin. In fact, maybe lots of times. I can identify. How much do I squirm in life, for the silliest of reasons? How often do I perceive, or imagine vacancy, with the first thought being, “It will never be full again?” Too many times I howl at the proverbial moon in sadness, as if there is no relief on the way, or that times will never change. Why do I forget about Christmas, the original?
“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL (Emmanuel),” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” (Angelic messenger to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed.) – Matthew 1:23 (NAS)
Our commercialized Christmas won’t get anyone to the answers. It’s only stuff. A watered-down Christmas only gets us wet and cold. It’s only seasonal foo-foo. Celebrating winter only throws curved-snowballs at shopping frenzies. It all is so unsteady, passing so quickly, leaving many in post holiday blues.
As a Jesus-follower, I revel in His arms daily. (Only if I choose not to get distracted by the movements around me.) My heart listens for His still small voice. Sure, I see vacancy at times, but all the while deeply knowing, with certainty, with intentional expectations, I will see Him soon. When I do, I rest in the promise that my obnoxious yapping, escaping techniques, and infractions, are all forgiven through grace alone. I’m always welcomed home. Now, THAT’S merry!
Dogs teach us so much about what is in the bowl of fuel for the race.
“…God has said: ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you…’ So we say with confidence: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’…” – Hebrews 13:5b-6a (Berean Study Bible)
With the exception of the panhandle, Thanksgiving in Texas is rarely a cold, frozen one. The Thanksgiving week of 1969 was different. Every once in a blue moon there will be snow, or any frozen precipitation, falling on Texans during the holiday festivities of Thanksgiving.
It was late Wednesday afternoon when nine year old Scotty, and his twenty-five year old single mom, were carefully driving down an east Texas county road on the way to a Thanksgiving family gathering. It was a tradition for Scotty’s two cousins, two pairs of aunts and uncles, and possibly a great-uncle and aunt, to descend on the old house of his grandparents for a big turkey feast with the usual trimmings. Sometimes, even his great-grandmother would also join the holiday visit. His grandmother always had a knack for tossing together decor for whatever holiday hit the calendar. Scotty could hardly wait. He knew there would be a two-on-two football scramble in the backyard, a children’s table all to themselves, and a heart-pounding afternoon watching the Dallas Cowboys vie for the Thanksgiving Day kudos. He loved his family dearly, especially his grandparents, who were more like parents to him, and young enough to be so. Only forty-five miles kept them apart. Weather conditions were not going to push this mother and son away.
Scotty, nor his grandparents, ever knew the poverty he and his mom survived in. His very independent mom had unique and creative ways of dressing-up the darker news of reality. Generally, his clothes were made by his mom during those times. She always let him pick out the bulk fabric. The block of cheese in the fridge — U.S. government issued due to her low wages — was made to look like a huge feast that mice could only dream about. He learned countless ways cheese could be used in the oven, the skillet, and with pasta. Little did he know, for several weeks, it would be his main diet. The old, broken-down rent house they currently called home, had only one gas stove to go with cold creaking wooden floors. The windows were original single pane, thin, and cracked. Honeysuckle grew through the cracks in his bedroom wall from outside vines. Because of her imaginative story-telling, Scotty saw it all as an adventure the kids at his school and church could never imagine. The honeysuckle vine in his bedroom was his vortex to a life as a cowboy, living out on the range, with nothing but a saddle for a pillow and a horse-blanket to shield himself from the cold prairie. The little gas stove in the living-room was the campfire built to warn-off the coyotes and mountain lions. In the spring, bees would hover over the honeysuckle blooms in his room. Were they actual bees? Not at all. They were flying dragons coming to battle his plastic dinosaurs and GI Joe, and what a battle they pursued. Since his mom worked overnights on an assembly-line at a factory, he had his imagination to keep his mind busy, away from fear and loneliness.
His mom’s car was a hand-me-down, 1964 Oldsmobile. She accepted it as a gift from her parents just a year earlier. It was in good condition, due to Scotty’s granddad being a top-shelf mechanic, who was well-known for babying his vehicles. For this little lad, it was a limousine. Although it was solid, and drove nicely in all weather conditions, using caution was his mom’s mantra.
Single motherhood was an overwhelming strain. Her first marriage, at the young age of fifteen to Scotty’s biological father, was a tumultuous, violent, and abusive relationship. In fact, it lasted less than three years. The young father was only a vague memory for the young boy, more like a vague mystery. About a year later, Scotty’s mom went on a blind date which led to a wedding, her last wedding, when Scotty was five years old.
The man was a gentle, intelligent, strict sort, but was incapable of love, as most know it. For four years, Scotty grew to understand not to approach his dad. He knew not to ask him to play ball, or watch him try the training wheels on his bike. It seemed the National Geographic, the checkbook, and the newspaper were priority. Scotty knew his dad to be distant, even in the same room. Yet, the boy loved him, in spite of the wall between the two. The thought passed Scotty’s nine-year-old mind that this would be the first Thanksgiving, out of the last four years, without his dad. Beyond the failed relationship, it saddened the boy, nonetheless. He was too young to understand the word “bittersweet,” but was beginning to learn the taste. The love he experienced, the love he learned, was plentiful from his mom and her family.
Ever since the summer divorce, from his adopted dad, Scotty’s mom engaged him with games, songs and stories to keep him distracted, occupied, and challenged. To say she was over-protective might be an understatement, but Scotty never detected it.
While on the road, the boy’s mind began to fidget. “Mom, let’s sing that Thanksgiving song you taught me,” as he leaned into the rhythm of the windshield wipers struggling with the fresh wintry mix. She was an outstanding, well-known singer in north Texas church circles. He loved hearing her pipes. The look in her face, in response, showed a quick hint of puzzlement, then a sudden burst of joy.
Reaching to turn off the radio, she replied, “You mean, (Singing.) ‘Over The River And Through The Woods To Grandmother’s House we go’?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” he said with a bounce.
They sang a few verses as he wiped the foggy condensation from his window to scout-out rivers and bridges to go with the lyrics. It was tough. The rain, mixed with sleet made it difficult to see past the road signs. Later, they would play the “I Spy” game, along with more songs in prep for a fabulous duo only grandparents could love.
As the late afternoon bled into the long shadows of early evening, the sleet and freezing rain beat against the hood and windshield. It was clear, the tires began to slip a bit at the curves in the road. A look of subtle concern crawled across Scotty’s mom’s face, but he was thrilled to see some white dusting by the roadside, as well as flocked barbed-wire posts along the mesquite trees.
Suddenly, and without the smallest of warnings, the car lost power.
“Oh, no,” she said with a start.
Scotty, unaware of the dangerous circumstances, sensed his mom’s concern. He quickly replied, “What’s wrong, mom?”
“Nothing, son,” speaking very calmly in a lower tone. “Something went wrong with the car. Everything shut down at the same time. We’ll pull over on the side for now.”
As the car began to coast slowly, she steered it carefully toward the icy shoulder until it came to a stop.
As she threw it into park, she said to the surprised lad, “Okay, I guess we’ll just wait for a kind stranger to notice we are stranded. There’s not a lot of traffic tonight, but people have to go somewhere for the holiday. We might be able to get a ride into town. We’re only about five miles out.” Scotty was fine with the idea of waiting things out. For him, it was just one more adventure, albeit unexpected..
Seeing his mom was somewhat disheveled, he thought of ways to pass the time. “Tell me the story about the donkey who talked to the man. Ya know, in the Bible,” said Scotty with wide-eyed excitement. He added with laughter, “And use your donkey-voice, too.”
Visibly gathering herself while masking her own insecurities of the moment, she smiled, replying, “Sure. Let’s visit with old-man Balaam and his miracle donkey.”
As was his custom, Scotty pitched her ideas of more stories and story-lines for her to retell. He didn’t see anything around him as threatening. Although, for a wisp of a nanosecond, he contemplated what his dad might have done in the situation they found themselves in. But the stories and songs once again swept him away from the creeping “what-might-have-been’s.”
As precious time passed, Scotty noticed the unique formations crystallizing from one end of the windshield to the other.
Watching his breath in the frigid air as he spoke, “Look, mom! How cool is that?”
Realizing the seriousness of the threat her son was pointing to, she chose, once again, to see it as a teachable show-and-tell. She reached out to touch the glass, saying, “Yes! Isn’t it beautiful? As the freezing rain collects on the windshield, it connects with the other icy droplets in this way, like a spiderweb. As it stretches toward its other family members, it causes this wonderful piece of artwork in nature. It’s a real show for us, don’t you think?”
His jaw dropped at the idea of a family stretching across the span of the windshield to reconnect after being separated from the sky. “It looks lots like grandmother’s fancy glass goblets. I bet she’ll have them ready for us when we get there,” he said with a shiver.
She could feel the chills run up her spine as she responded, “Love, real love is like that. Always looking for ways to reach out, even though miles apart.”
Looking at her watch, she realized an hour blew by like dry snowflakes. The young mother had a noticeable streak of naivety about her. Although tough times battered the last ten years of her life, she held to a rose-colored idea that all people are loving and kind. It was displayed once again when she exclaimed, “I am amazed at just how many cars have driven by us in the past hour, without one person stopping to ask if we need help.” She then recalled her dad telling her to raise the hood if she ever were to have car trouble.
She couldn’t get the words out quick enough, saying, “Scotty, you stay right where you are. I’m going to try to raise the hood.” He agreed with a nod. Nervously, she said under her breath, “I’ve watched your granddad do it many times. It can’t be too hard.”
As she opened her door, a loud cracking sound shattered the cold air as ice was forming on the exterior of the body of the car. She shut the door quickly in efforts to contain as much warmth inside as possible. Her feet told her the sheet of ice was beginning to glaze dangerously over the concrete of the road. She held on to the front fender of the car, to steady herself, as she slipped and slid toward the front of the vehicle. After she found the hand lever, just above the grill to release the hood, she lifted it twice with her cold, red fingers, but to no avail. She then noticed, along the edges of the hood, where it met the body of the fender, solid ice had formed over the edge, locking the hood in place. A sense of failure and despair poured over her like a bucket of paint. At her young age, she had toughened to the point of not accepting defeat in any way. Just then, from the belly of her spirit, she spoke out into the air, “Lord, help us! We need rescue.”
Before she finished the word, “rescue,” an old pick-up truck slowly drove by. She watched as the brake-lights engaged. The old truck maneuvered a slow, wide, slippery u-turn back toward the stranded car. Pulling up next to her, the driver rolled down his defrosted passenger-side window. Two large hound dogs, poked their heads out, barking and howling at her. The elderly man in overalls sharply yelled at the hounds, pushing the two aside, out of his line of vision.
“Get back, you two!” he yelled. “Hello, ma’am. Can I help y’all? If you’re trying to open the hood, good luck in this weather,” said the kind farmer.
Being so relieved, she inadvertently put her hand over her heart in gratitude. “Yes, thank God. My son and I have been stuck here for over an hour. The car suddenly went dead, completely without power. We’re trying to get to Mineola. Could you give us a lift?” stating the obvious as she shook in the chill.
As he looked down, shaking his head, he pushed his cap further back on his head and replied, “I’m so sorry, little missy.”
Seeing the disappointment in his face, she added, “Or, maybe you could let us off at the nearest service station with a phone booth. I could call my…”
He winced at her suggestion. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but there ain’t no phone booth between here and Mineola. To make matters worse, as ya can see, I’ve got a bed full of hay-bales, then there’s Yipper and Yapper here in the cab with me.” He saw the distraught in her eyes at his answer. He scratched the stubble on his chin for an unintended pregnant pause. “I’ll tell ya what I’ll do, little lady. You get back in that car where it’s safe, and bundle up with your boy there. Meanwhile, I’ll be headed just south of town where the Mrs is waitin’ fir me. More than likely it’ll take me…oh, let’s say, half an hour in this mess, and I can call somebody fir ya. How does that tickle ya?” He chuckled as he added, “We done got one of those new push-button telephones. Been just itchin’ to use it!”
Putting her ice-bitten hands under her armpits, she grinned with a chuckle saying, “Yes, sir! My parents have been waiting for us. I just know they’re getting worried.”
After writing down the phone number of her parents, he waited to watch her cautiously get back in the car before his tires gripped traction toward the horizon. Through the glazed windshield, Scotty and his mom watched the blurry red taillights of the truck fade away in the distance. She never got his name, or where he lived.
“It won’t be long now, son. Your granddad will be here in no time,” she stated through the cold, biting air.
Thanksgiving morning always came early at the old house in Mineola. It was 5:00 am when Scotty’s eyes opened slowly to the sounds of pots and pans rattling in the kitchen on the other side of the wall from the guest bedroom. This was the bedroom he claimed as his own when he was no more than a toddler. Floating through the early morning air was the scent of pecan pie, bacon, boiling eggs, and freshly baked biscuits right out of the oven. He smiled at the recognition of his loving grandmother, hard at work in the pre-dawn hours of the holiday once again. He could hear his mom’s voice explaining the weary traveler’s ordeal from the night before. Listening to her explanation from the kitchen served as a fog-lifter as he stretched his arms and sat up in bed, grateful for the toasty electric blanket surrounding his body. During an unanticipated yawn, he felt a bit of a sting coming from his lips. He could feel they were chapped from the frosty adventure in the car.
This would be the only time he would be alone for the day. Within six hours, or so, family would begin to arrive with a buffet of dishes in tow for the feast, filling the house with familiar voices, laughter and aromas.
In the stillness, he remembered his Sunday School teacher expressing the importance of being thankful, not just for one Thursday in November, but each and every day. He wrestled with the truth of it as he thought once again about his dad. Last year, he was next to him on the couch, watching the Dallas Cowboys play. Now, there would be an empty place. With a sudden bound, he recalled a technique taught by his mom. Scotty threw-off the covers, hopped out of bed, and put on his clothes as a renewed focus in thought. After putting on his clothes, he dashed out the bedroom door which led into the den. He expected to see his granddad sitting in his favorite chair by the fireplace, slurping his morning coffee from a bowl and saucer. The fire was lit, but he wasn’t there. Scotty thought to himself, “Surely he’s not out picking up pecans in the backyard before the sun comes up.” That was always reserved as a team-effort. It was a special time with his granddad he always looked forward to, especially when he watched him feed the squirrels right out of his hand. Curious, Scotty raced to the warm kitchen to join his mom and grandmother.
“Well, I’ll be switched! If it isn’t Frosty The Snowman. After last night, I just knew you’d have a hankerin’ to sleep late,” said his grandmother with a chuckle.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Scotty,” his mom said. She took a step toward him as she stared closely at his face. “Ooh, your lips are chapped. In fact, your entire face needs some lotion. Let’s get you fixed-up right now,” saying as she walked toward the kitchen door.
His grandmother, stirring the contents of a sauce pan asked, “Honey, are you hungry for a spot of breakfast?”
Hastily, as if she hadn’t spoken, he inquired, “Where’s Granddad?”
She replied through laughter, “Well, wouldn’t ya know, he got up before I did to go see about your mom’s car. He said something about an alternator, a battery, and a belt,” she said with frustration, “Goodnight in the morning, that man! I swear, he’ll be asleep in his recliner before halftime this afternoon. He’ll be back directly.”
Covertly looking out toward the bathroom where his mom was scanning the medicine cabinet, he turned to his grandmother. With a softened delivery, he asked, “Grandmother, where do you think dad is right now? I mean, do you think he’s driving out in the ice?”
The question caused her to pause from stirring. She wiped her hands on her apron, thoughtfully lifted his chin, and softly said, “Knowing your dad, I feel he drove out to his folk’s house out west, away from the bad weather. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me a smidgen if he left a couple of days ago. You know how he likes to hike up in those west Texas hills.” The boy looked down toward the floor in sadness. She didn’t hesitate to misdirect the subject matter, “While your mom hunts down the lip-balm, why don’t you go to the coffee table in the living-room and see about the horn of plenty. You remember what to do, right?”
With bottle-rocket exuberance, he acknowledged her suggestion, “Yes, ma’am!”
Scotty ran to the living-room where the annual horn of plenty graced the coffee table in front of the couch. His eyes got as big as half dollars when he spied the extreme variety spilling out of the wicker funnel-shaped basket. His grandmother had it overflowing with a mix of vegetables, several kinds of fruits, and a plethora of mixed nuts in the shell.
Kneeling beside the table, he shouted, “WOW!” His grandmother was right behind him with a mischievous grin on her face. “Now, do I need to remind you of the rules? Without touching any item in the horn of plenty, you have to decide what’s real and what’s fake,” she explained. “No cheating now.”
Through the years she filled the horn with plastic items of the garden, which appeared to be the real-deal, with only a few authentic items. One year, the horn was completely filled with real veggies, fruits and nuts. It always kept the family guessing what she had up her sleeve.
With a lack of decisiveness in his voice, “Ummm, I give up, Grandmother. Can I start to separate them?”
Not surprised, she said, “Sure, go for it!”
He dove right in with gusto, separating the true food items from the model versions. As he dug his way ever so much closer to the back of the horn, he saw gold-foil-covered chocolate coins. “Oh, cool,” he blurted out. He started to unwrap one immediately.
His grandmother quickly tapped him on the shoulder. “Well, if that don’t beat all. You know that’s not before breakfast, youngin’. I think you haven’t dug deeply enough just yet,” she hinted.
He took her cue. Reaching the far back of the horn, he found a crisp, twenty-dollar bill, folded up to resemble an acorn.
Holding it tightly in his hand, he showed his gratitude, “Thank you so much, Grandmother.”
His grandmother was an expert at holding her emotions close to her heart. But this particular Thanksgiving, she almost couldn’t hold back her tears.
About that time, Scotty’s mom walked in the room behind them. Seeing the touching moment being shared, she leaned against the french-door and quietly listened.
His grandmother knelt beside her young grandson. With thoughtfulness, “Ya know, Scotty. You will spend a lifetime scouring right and left for what is real, and what is not. Those gold coins are good to eat for a treat, but they last only for a few seconds. A ripened apple looks larapin, but if it’s hollow plastic, it does you no good. When you find what is the original article, then you know and taste the goodness of what God has made for you. Most of all, as you decide what is fake, or what is not, remember God will bring you a variety of days to come. Not one day will be like another. Some will be sour days, while another will be a day of blessings. That’s how life’s horn of plenty will be, full of variety. Your job is to dig for what’s real and right. God’s way is to change the horn of plenty into more like a tube, an open-ended tube of plenty. He just keeps on givin’ from His end, even in days when everything seems like hollow plastic. The scripture is true, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” – James 1:17 – (NAS) When those days of emptiness come too often, keep in mind, each day is not forever.”
That’s how Thanksgiving day of 1969 began for Scotty. He locked it away in his heart.
Later in life, forty-eight years later, after Scotty had children of his own, plus a granddaughter, he cherished the days when he could sit by the side of his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother. Now in her mid 90’s, she had suffered from the disease for about thirteen years. After he had been told she no longer recognized her loved ones, he refused to stay away from her bedside. On his final visit with her, in the same old house with a quiver full of memories, there she was. Only 78 pounds, waiting for the heavenly call to reunite with her husband, he pulled up a chair next to her bed. Reaching out, he held her thin, weak hand and spoke to her as if she were full of health.
With a lump in his throat, he addressed her, “Hello, Grandmother. It’s Scotty. You may not remember me. I’m your oldest grandson. I can’t stay long, but I just had to tell you something before I leave.” He paused to gain strength. “My horn has been so full. My life has been blessed with a variety of cultures, love, and laughter. My adventures have been plentiful, and my plenty has been an adventure. I have been wrapped in many fruits of the Spirit to this very day. Not all things in my days have been something to be thankful for, but I’ve learned to be thankful while enduring all things. I just want you to know, you were a big part of that. I’ve learned to pack them inside for when the wintry mix becomes seemingly unbearable, when it’s hard to see the road. Although I regret biting into some plastic fruit at times, I always kept in mind that a day is not forever.”
As he finished what he needed to say, her weakened hand squeezed his.
“Sayin’ goodbye is not easy. How will I ever explain? Everyone looks just like cardboard pictures, falling apart in the rain…Running, yes I am, wave goodbye to all the trains. If I’m looking for a river that goes on forever, then I guess I’ll have to go away. Sayin’ goodbye is not easy. How will I ever explain?…” – “I’ll Have To Go Away”, recorded by David Cassidy from, “Getting’ It In The Street” album, 2014. Composers: Renee Armand & Kerry Chater
1970 was an impact year for the young David Cassidy. The musical-sitcom, The Partridge Family, launched its first season on ABC. The story is of a single mom with five kids heading up a pop-rock band made up of the entire family. David Cassidy played the lead singer, Keith Partridge. He was only 20 years old at the time.
Although Mr. Cassidy had millions of residual fans spinning off from the TV show, after the series’ end he struggled to be taken seriously as an authentic rock star. Alcohol and substance abuse addictions plagued his journey throughout the next few decades.
Fast forward to the last couple of years, he began to experience dementia issues. While on stage, he tussled with recalling the lyrics of his own songs, and the city and venue in which he was performing. I personally was saddened when he passed away recently from organ failure. The comet of this star burned out quickly. David was only 67.
Family members of David Cassidy gathered around his bedside in ICU during his last days of life. The reports from various family members said, when awake from a coma, he was in good spirits, considering the circumstances. He lit up like a Christmas tree seeing many of his family walk through the door, albeit for a short time. His daughter, actress, Katie Cassidy tweeted out a heart-wrenching statement after her father’s death. She wrote that before his life ended, David’s final words were, “So much wasted time.”
Katie Cassidy states that she learned something from her father’s final words; may we, as well.
Singer/Songwriter, Jim Croce comes to mind from his “Time In A Bottle” classic. “If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do, is to save every day ‘til eternity passes away just to spend them with you.”
TIME! It’s not just the title of a magazine. It’s ruled by the orbits and rotations of the moon and planets, so precise that all humanity survives on it to the millisecond. Time is overwhelming in its weightiness. The poundage outweighs the earth’s oceans. You can’t buy it, barrow it, cheat it, shape it or maneuver it. You can’t retract it. You can’t delete it, displace it, delay it or deny it. Time is a raging creature, almost stealthy with a speed which cannot be reversed. During the trek of time, it only shifts to one gear: forward drive. If you believe you can do the above, in the end, time will rise up, chain you and place you in the town square while selling tickets to see the town fool. Time. It will overtake you like a steamroller.
If David Cassidy were able to communicate to us today, I believe he would speak through the filter of a time management consultant. Maybe he would advise us with the following. Find the time to fill in the blank. We are at the midnight hour of 2017. There is still time to hug more, kiss more, write more letters, Christmas cards and emails. There is still time to get clean and sober. Time says, “Make that apology while you can!” There is still more time to pick up the phone and call just to say, “I love you.” There is still time to give of your blessings to bless someone else. There is still time to stand in the Santa line with your favorite munchkin. There is still time to have lunch with that old friend who helped to change your direction in life. David might shout, “TAKE THE TIME!”
Scripture calls out the urgency of wisely using the time allotted to us. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’…” “And it came to pass…” “The time is at hand…” In fact, if David Cassidy could be with us today, I firmly believe he would agree with St Paul. “Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph 5:15-16)
“Once upon a time there was light in my life. But now there’s only love in the dark. Nothing I can say. A total eclipse of the heart.” – Composer: Jim Steinman, on Bonnie Tyler’s, Faster Than The Speed Of Night project- (1983)
Am I right? Flashback city! (At least for some of us.) It’s been reported that 66 year old Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 hit, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” made the current charts again this month all because of Monday’s solar eclipse. Good for her! I watched it, did you? How’s your eyes? I wonder if my retina specialist is super busy this week. Hopefully you can read this.
It’s always surprising to me, to an extent, how a cosmic event rouses the curiosity and exuberance of the general public. People from all corners of the planet spent thousands of dollars per person to make it to the American solar eclipse to view it in its totality. As for me, I went out to the front yard to watch a partial eclipse right here in the Dallas, TX area. It made for an eerie sky-show and a good Monday afternoon with my wife and daughter. The effects of the moon’s robbery of sun-rays are amazing indeed. Before I knew it, around 12:45 pm, the interior of our house faded to a dusk atmosphere. Nature was flipped on its ear. Animals were confused, temperatures dropped and the shadows did a mysterious dance. The media reported roosters crowing in bewilderment. Unlike some, I neglected to wear an aluminum foil hat. I’m happy to say I made out okay without one. All in all, it was a good Monday.
An old friend sent me good-natured message ahead of the galactic event. It read, “Mind the power of Monday’s eclipse crossing America coast to coast, positive energy for new beginnings.” One thing written there came true for a couple of hours: America stopped chewing on each other over politics and statues of old dead Americans. Like a great anticipated Star Wars movie debut, all eyes were fixated on the show in the sky. (Although a Star Wars sequel would’ve lasted longer.) Beyond that, have you had a renewal since Monday afternoon? Is your personal energy different than it was this past weekend? Will you never again in your rush to head out the door on time say to yourself, “I’ve got to get myself together!” In other words, are you together? Would the person who knows you best, and has seen it all, say you are in a personal…totality? Do you find you are made aware of a more positive outlook on the world, concerning things around you, since that good celestial and sequenced display above us? (I say “sequenced” only because we ourselves proved it to be so. We have expected it since, or before, 1918 as the astrophysicists calculated its clock-like arrival down to the synchronized millisecond. There was no chaos involved as observed in fragments from a bomb explosion. I’ll stop there.) If you have more positive energy with a sparkling new beginning in life since that 2:28 long eclipse totality, compliments of the orbit of the moon, I’m happy for you. I really am. Tell me your lasting euphoric secret. As for me, I don’t hang my spiritual joy hat on an eclipse. Just like the eclipse, whatever burst of positive energetic renewal experienced, it is momentary with a quick shelf-life. Just take a look at the news, or Facebook, to see what the truth is about the matter. In spite of my obvious nay-saying above, it made for a good Monday.
Let me ask you a question. If it’s too bold of a question, or too private, I will understand. Here goes. Are you ready for this? Have you ever used the word, “TOTALITY” prior to the days of the eclipse? Maybe you have. In all of my uneducated buffoonery and slaughter of the English language, I don’t believe I have ever even heard it. However, I like the way it sounds. Very brainy. Very scientific, don’t you think? NASA must utilize the word in common lingo in Houston, TX. If used, I think I should understand its definition.
For a 70 mile swipe across America, the eclipse certainly was seen in its…totality, its completeness, its conglomeration, its wholeness, its entire kit and kaboodle. The totality was part of the ingredients that mixed well for a good Monday had by all from Oregon to South Carolina.
Here’s the next hard question. First, allow me to ask, are you brave enough for this curve-ball I’m about to type? Inhale and hold it now……How is YOUR “totality”? How complete are you? When the lunar dust settles, are you all-together? Could it be you’re still looking for another eclipse to straighten out your existence? It truly is in that word…“TOTALITY”.
Totality truly does come interestingly close to another original word we get from classical Greek. The word that comes to mind is, “TETELESTAI”, (tuh-TELL-eh-sti), at least that’s how I recall it is pronounced.
My brilliant stepson, Alex, whom recently, after completing years of rigorous study and microscopic examinations, received his doctorate in computer science. After defending his dissertation he was awarded his PhD. A true completion. An earned accomplishment. A good day for Alex. An Australian man, after spending $4,000.00 (That’s a long flight), arrived at his destination in a field in Idaho to harness a totality view of the eclipse. A reporter asked him if there was a sense of completion, as he was folding up his pup tent in the crowded pasture, he answered in the affirmative. A good Monday for the Aussie. Whenever I wrote, cast, produced, directed, performed and finished post production on one of my radio theater plays, I always had this peaceful sense of accomplishment. Hundreds of excruciating hours ended in a release of tension, listening to the end product of the body of work. It always made for a good day. Completion, accomplishment, attainment or achievement can all fall under the definition of “tetelestai”, but they also fall shy of…you guessed it, totality.
How about this for “positive energy for new beginnings”?
Greek is a very colorful extended language. It shades, colors and deepens the vocabulary in multi-level arrangements. The word “tetelestai” was mainly used by accountants, bankers and merchants. During, and hundreds of years prior to, the first century, any country who used Greek as a first, second or third language, understood the labeling of “tetelestai” as written confirmation for the purchase of goods and the paying off of a debt. Some, after paying off a mortgage, have a mortgage burning party to celebrate the victory of completing the loan on their home. Before its tossed into the fireplace, somewhere on the paperwork, it is indicated the mortgage has been successfully paid for, completed, accomplished. The homeowner could shout, “TETELESTAI!”
This ancient Greek accounting term was used only twice in biblical scripture. Its final appearance in the original Greek text was translated by the English scribes as the word, “finished”. The text depicts a Friday afternoon. It’s found in John 19:30. “Then after He received the sour wine Jesus said, ‘It is (tetelestai) finished’, and bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” A Greek word, chosen by an eye-witness at the cross of execution, the Apostle John, literally points to a certificate of debt paid in fullness. That is probably the most profound theological statement in all of holy writ. NO MORE INSTALLMENTS, TEMPORARY COVERINGS, (eclipses) OR ETERNAL DAMNATION FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE AND RECEIVE! Fabulous news that shifts the earth’s tectonic plates to this day.
Totality simply isn’t strong enough a term to place in John 19:30. John was reflecting the last words of Jesus as He cried out the fact that the penalty, the price of the sin-debt owed by all humanity, had been “TETELESTAI”…PAID IN FULL! An offer no other “god” or ideology extends. What Jesus did was the zenith of uniqueness. A debt from my failures, my stupid leanings against God’s perfect road laid out for me, my infractions, my transgressions slapping up against of His holiness, not only had been forgiven, but the certificate of debt, the mortgage for this corrupt “house I live in” was burned away and placed in the fire of His grace of forgetfulness. It is in that correct biblical aspect of the divine pro-action He placed upon Himself, we see a gift card of sorts.
I still have a Starbucks gift card in my wallet I received from Christmas, nine months ago. Although, I have yet to receive my java. Someone loved me enough and went ahead of me to purchase it, not with MY wages, but out of his unconditional love for me. Jesus’ gift card has been offered to you, but it truly isn’t yours to “cash-in” until you take it to your own wallet of heart. The debt of all disobedient actions placed on your record is ready to be burned away forever because of “tetelestai”. If this is news to you, take note. Although tetelestai happened some 2, 000 years ago, the itemized list of infringements against God’s righteousness remains on your balance sheet. Being a great person, a good citizen or decent parent, falls short of the majesty of God’s holiness. NOBODY CAN OBTAIN IT! We are automatically in the red. It’s like someone saying, “Mind the power of Monday’s eclipse….positive energy for new beginnings” and now you find the eclipse didn’t perform such spiritual depths. Try going to the shores of San Francisco and make the leap to Hawaii. It can’t be done. It fails you every time, just like our good Monday of totality. The answer to this dilemma? (My paraphrase) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not eternally perish but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Yes, Virginia, there was a good Friday and those who believed and received continue to see perpetual fuel for the race.
“When I consider Your heavens, the works of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” – King David, Psalms 8:3-4 (NAS)
“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” – Five Man Electrical Band, released in 1971. Composer, Les Emmerson, Ottawa, Canada.
I just finished listening to that cut from 1970-1971. Wow, the kaleidoscope of memories from my “mind of mush” years came leaking in. Google it and hear this obscure anti-establishment lyric. It’s all about a rush of anger at signs, mainly signs of directives. The songwriter blathers about disobeying and mocking every sign he sees because…well….uh, because…I guess it was the hippie thing to do to “stick it to the man” and everybody that looks like him. (Actually, watching the news today, that old sentiment seems to be new again.) If you give it a listen with mature ears it’ll make you cackle, but when I was 11-12 years old I was singing it as a duo with my radio at the top of my lungs. But, ya know, it never caused me to act-out with sign damage or civil disobedience. I think it hilarious knowing after they recorded the tune, they drove up to a stop sign and stopped. It’s evident since they survived the journey home. I’m happy to report, Les Emmerson, the composer, is now almost 73 years old and still playing their old hits. After making a few million off his songs, he no doubt bought a mansion. I will assume here he must’ve hung a no trespassing sign somewhere on his high-walled gate. He, himself, turned out to be “the man”. ($$$$)
Signs are on my mind of late. My 18 year old daughter, D’Anna, is learning how to drive. She’s really doing very well. She’s learning how to interpret road signs galore. If she turns right on a red light where a “no right on red” sign is displayed, off comes the points on her upcoming driver’s test. If there were no signs of instruction, she certainly would be introduced to frequent collisions. And, of course, if there were a lack of signage concerning geography, she would wind up two states over in short order.
Almost 10 years ago, while living in Buffalo, NY, I had an evening business appointment in the southern tier close to Gowanda, NY. The “southtowns” beneath Buffalo are blessed with beautiful, picturesque countryside. You name it, they’ve got it, including ski resorts. I want to say it was December of 2007. From where I lived, I knew it was a good hour’s drive. I looked at the clock and off I went. As often true in the western New York frontier, in a moment’s notice, a lake effect snowfall began (compliments of Lake Erie) while on my journey. Dusk was done and I was being mesmerized by the gigantic, flakes flying toward my windshield with a velvet black background. A word to the wise. Exercise caution! One can fall asleep as the snow effect can seduce and hypnotize. I was in my trusted “Moose”, a stout Isuzu Trooper, and felt the 4-wheel drive would get me there on time….(said the all-knowing-Texas-born-and bred-fool). Fast forward about 50 minutes or so, I suddenly found myself lost as a flock of baby Canadian Geese. My cell phone, and that’s all it was back in those days, had zero bars showing. Dreams of the tragic movies about Mt Everest climbers raced through my mind as I realized I was experiencing a full-blown blizzard with very little light and very little speed. Truly, the depth of snow can reach a foot or more in an hour in that part of NY, and it did. I had printed directions from Mapsco. (Remember Mapsco? You may have to Google that one too.) I will tell now, it didn’t cover road directions in certain areas as you’re about to see.
Without too much detail on my wintry maze, I arrived at a sparse area. If I were to describe it, I would sum it up as an old gas station/general store in a wooden frame-style building that looked to be from Opie’s Mayberry, and then nothing for 6 miles. There was an old silver mobile home from time to time, but there were no street lights to aid my snowy vision. There was nothing but black and white. I noticed something else strange….NO STREET SIGNS! Wrong. I saw one small street sign at a tiny country road intersection, but it was encased in blowing snow making it illegible. I got out to see if I could wipe it off, but it was too tall, not to mention the snowbank was already to my hips. Every other country road, including the main road I was on, wasn’t labelled with signs. I was just about to give up and go back the way I came in the darkness when I saw a distant light. As I approached the light, I could make out a building with a few pick-up trucks in the parking lot. Unlike the gas station/general store a few miles behind me, this looked to be a modern building. My watch said it was about 9:30. I pulled up into the parking lot and saw it was a civic/recreational center of some kind. I made my way up to the front entrance and felt as if I were in another country altogether. Turns out, I was. I had somehow made my way onto the sprawling Cattaraugus Indian Reservation.
To say I was a flopping fish out of water would be an understatement. It was clear by the looks I received from the citizens there, I was no longer in Kansas with Dorothy’s old Auntie Em. Turns out it was domino night. A group of men, around a card table, looked at me as if I had a grass skirt on. I said, “Hi, how are ya? I could use some help.” One of the men responded in a frigid way that went nicely with the weather outside. When I said I was lost and couldn’t figure out why there were no street signs, the man said, “You don’t belong here, that’s why.” I’m the only one that chuckled at his reply. When I told them I was on my way to the town of Gowanda, they were slow to give me directions using landmarks only. Apparently, if you live on the reservation, you have no need for street signs. It went something like, “At the post, turn right. At the bear crossing sign, turn left, cross the log bridge…”, etc. It took a chunk of time, with the icy trek given me, but I made my way out of the reservation. Embarrassed and frozen, I arrived almost an hour and a half after my scheduled appointment. They accepted my apology as I warmed myself by their fireplace. Needless to say, I went back another direction at the end of the meeting.
Signs are important. A necessity, really. Scroll up and see the picture from an old friend who recently visited the canyons of Grand Junction, Co. Would Les Emmerson reject that sign and sing, “WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT?” Watch that last step, Les. It’s a long one.
How many signs will my D’Anna see as she drives out on her own? “No U-Turn, Green Arrow Turn Only, Duck Crossing, Elk Crossing, Deer Crossing, Gator Crossing, School Zone, No Passing Yellow Line, Comfort, Tx -7 miles, Cut And Shoot, Tx -5 miles, Woman Hollering Creek, Tx -10 miles, Hell, Michigan -4 miles, Paradise, Tx -25 miles, West, Tx -10 miles, Italy, Tx -6 miles, Fishkill, NY -50 miles, Welcome to Muleshoe, Tx” etc. She could see them all. They exist.
My most memorable signs were not posted on the road. Do you know what I mean? Have you been there, done that? You’re thinking of one now. How about the signs that whisper, “Don’t look at a solar eclipse without protection,” “Don’t go to their house tonight,” “Your buddy has an open can of beer in the cup holder. You shouldn’t be in the car,” “Slow down before rounding this curb,” “Get your eyes off of her/him,” “Don’t stay angry. Peace, be still,” “Apply for THAT job,” “Run from THAT job,” “Don’t invest in that offer,” “Don’t take that last drink,” “Oops, the label says Opioid,” “You’re sinking into a bad place here,” “Refrain from kicking his teeth in,” etc. Some of these can bring a laugh, but most can bring heartache, destruction and depression. Have you ever had a LOUD thought about turning here or there, only to find out later, a bridge collapsed or a tragic accident took place ahead of your intended direction, at that precise time? Your default inner response was something like, “Wow. I dodged that bullet.” I know, it helped to smooth over, to clumsily explain the obvious whisper that nudged you earlier. You physically shrugged and off you went with your day.
Some signs will be spoken softly to your heart while other signs can be heard aloud by a passerby, friend, family member or a teacher. Often, in amazement, you recognize it only in retrospect. Other signs can read like this one: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” -King Solomon, Proverbs 14:12 (NIV) Or, from someone who knows you and the road you’re on better than you know yourself, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” -Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV).
Without groveling — dishing out sin-sick self-history — I will say, I am living proof that a non-audible sign can be clearly given, that no one else hears, and then pushed off as silly fears of anticipation or imagination. Watch the footing, the edge is close by. Heeding such a sign will definitely add fuel for the race.
“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
“Like an island in the sea, I’m drifting your way and you land next to me. Will you stay the day?” – Phil Keaggy, “Like An Island” from “Getting Closer” album, 1985 on Nissi Records.
Go ahead, say it. I’m okay with your first thought. It’s blurry. I’ll give you another observation. It’s old too. Therefore, it should be blurry. I’m thinking it was my mom’s Instamatic camera. (You may have to Google that one)
It was the spring, possibly April of 1978. We were part of a rather large high school choir tour landing in Nashville, Tennessee. It was our last choir tour for the four of us seniors. We would perform here and there, including our final UIL high school choral contest for the year. On the way we toured Graceland, Elvis’ home, in Memphis. He had passed away just a few short months before that. We would take in the sights and sounds of Nashville, also taking in the Country Music Hall Of Fame where some of us bumped into the beautiful Crystal Gayle. (She did make some brown eyes blue.) It was mapped out that there would be four of us crammed into a hotel room. I was grateful to be teamed up with some of my closest friends.
Allow me to introduce to you some iconic people in my life. I have a reason for it, bear with me.
From left to right: Mike, Mark, Myself & Tommy, from the class of ’78 at R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton/Farmers Branch, Texas (north Dallas area). Before we settled and unpacked, I had the idea to take a picture to stamp our time together. At the final couple of seconds before the shutter clicked, I said something like, “Hey, let’s look like we’re thugs looking for trouble.” That statement became prophetic, I’m afraid. We wasted zero time for the usual shenanigans and pranks, most of which I can’t tell you about. However, one in particular haunts me. We had trapped one of our pals outside his locked room next door in only his nice white underwear. We had persuaded him to be brave enough to step outside in his jockeys for a five second count. With some collusion with his roommates, the poor soul took the dare but then heard the door shut behind him. (What’s worse, we were on the outside second floor with the walkway and doors facing the busy parking lot below.) Pretending to feel badly for him, we opened our door just enough for him to run to it for sanctuary, only to slam it in his face, while he was invited to the next room with an opened door, where his fate was the same. We didn’t let it go on too long….really. It was hilarious at the time, but now, in all of my maturity…..NO, IT WAS A HOOT!!!! Poor guy. I actually had remorse about it later. Then there would be the famous pillow fight where one of us obtained an unintentional fabric burn on the cheek. (We got in huge trouble for that one.) Today, we look at this picture that we’ve shared with one another and realize, by today’s standards, it looks more like an album cover for a young garage band.
I hear you loud and clear. In your most bored tone you’re saying, “Fine, but why is all that important enough to write about?” In response I would refer to a phrase above. “…iconic people in my life.”
If I were to spell-out my fondest memories concerning these men, each person would have their own novel. I won’t do that here, but I will point out some threads from the enormous fabric of recollections.
On the right, Tommy. We became solid blood-brothers in our freshman year. We were both rough around the edges in some areas and, to be frank, tough as nails. We were in the same Tae-Kwon-Do school, together morphing into the world of kickboxing before kickboxing was cool in American sports. We worked-out together and sparred privately, as well as in sessions at the dojo. Notorious for after school raids of his mom’s stash of frozen tater-tots, we knew our way around her deep fryer, all before she got home from work of course. We were runnin’ buddies in all seasons through high school. Starksy & Hutch had nothing on us. We always had each other’s backs and never stole each other’s girlfriends. (LOL) Again, there’s so much I could tell you about our adventures, but I would have to have you silenced. Not long ago, Tommy was at my side at my near-deathbed. Standing there looming over me in his now white hair, that day I was reminded of our in-tune hearts. We’ve both seen our share of health issues and many, many sorrows in adulthood. We remain close friends to this day.
To your left in the shot, Mark. Like Tommy, Mark and I became good friends during our freshman year. We were all talented musicians/singers and had lots in common when it came to making music. Unlike me, Mark was given the gift of songwriting. He has penned many through the years and I always enjoyed listening. He was my #1 choice for a duo partner on vocals. He played back-up guitar for me when I needed a good guy on the ax. I could always count on him. When I couldn’t sleep and had the urge to hit Denny’s for an overnight patty melt, I would call him up, “Hey man. You wanna go for a late night salad or patty melt?” No matter the time, I would drive over and off we went. One night, God would arrange us to be at Denny’s during the wee hours when we saw another high school friend there highly intoxicated. He wanted to drive home. We left there, escorted him home and put him to bed. We left a note for him to know just how he got home and that his car was safely parked in its place. (That would be the last time we would ever see him alive again. He passed away not too long afterwards.) However, we both knew we saved his life for that night. Fast forward, we were the best man in each other’s weddings, (his lasted, mine didn’t). He became a champion of adoption and foster parenting through the decades. He has been a pastor in Iowa now for many years where he should remain mum before his congregation lest he shares too much about our times together in the 70s.
To the far left, Mike. I’ve never personally known a more talented musical individual in my life. Mike was blessed with an amazing gift of musical abilities that placed him in the Paris Conservatory of Music. We all had a terrific sense of humor, but he had a very dry wit that could make White Sands, New Mexico jealous. With a stone face like a poker pro, he could blurt out an unexpected one-liner that had everyone in stitches within earshot. Overlooking his musical genius, he knew how to blow you away with one wisecrack. Involved in band, jazz band, orchestra, music theory and choir, there wasn’t an instrument he couldn’t play, a song he couldn’t transpose or arrange, or a pitch he couldn’t decipher. When I needed a horn section for a song for my band, I always counted on him and his abilities. We lost track, but I heard back in the 80s he was in France working his music wizardry for the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, I wish I could tell you about his latest composition. Many years ago, still in his 20s, Mike fell victim to a horrific car crash just outside Paris. To this day, I mourn the light that was snuffed out and taken from us. It forever broke our hearts.
Too many of us don’t realize that we are made up of our moments. We are formed by our times. We are shaped by our days of experience. How we need to remind ourselves of this fact. It has been said, no man/woman is an island. Have you ever endeavored to examine the idea, the picturesque power of that phrase? An island has its own limited mineral sources, its own limited trees and animals. It has its own fruits and flowers, as few as there may be. The beaches are exclusive, no matter how beautiful and rich with sunshine, but lonely in the broader view all the same. It is geographically pruned of allies without connectivity. Its one tsunami away from being erased off the map. Yet, across the causeway, some distance away, there is the mainland, a continent endowed with a wealth of vibrant fanfare, music and love. Its commerce, its glorious community, its outreach is known firsthand and admired by those linked with it. It is separate from the island’s attributes, while the island itself is void of the influence of the mainland’s depths, width, length and heights with its vast array of endless potpourri of lifestyles, genetics of creation and schools of thought. Lewis and Clark would understand the greater adventures of the mainland.
I have found there is something to be said for “old love”. I was at a loved one’s funeral in July of 1981 who was taken in a plane crash. He was a world renowned kickboxing contender and my martial arts trainer. Taking inventory of those who packed the funeral home’s chapel, I saw I was seated not far from Chuck Norris, an acquaintance in our circle of fighters. We listened closely to the reverend officiating when he said, “If you didn’t know the man, just look around the room and see his imprint on all of us here.” He was right. We affect one another. We may not realize it, but we invest in one another. Sure, sometimes in a way we ought not to go. But I can say now, I have been “added to” by my friends of the soul. As we continue to learn about how life works, it always seems to surround those we love who go through it with us. When we intersect, our roads veer and detour. Our journeys, in retrospect, were fashioned and wondrously altered because we met and meshed with a stranger. Your influence on me matters. My influence on you matters. It may surprise you that it is an ancient notion.
Yes, the photo may be blurry, but not in my mind, nor ever will it be. In fact, each time I recall the truths learned from those friends it adds fuel for the race.
“For none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself…” – St. Paul (Romans 14:7 ISV)