A Not-So-Glorious Morning

After awhile, being the laziest person on earth loses its appeal and changes have to be made.  Overcoming the inertia isn’t easy, but it is possible.  The weekend had come and the sixteen year-old boy was looking for a challenge.  The local newspaper had featured a picture of the smiling man, standing beside the sign that read, “Most Beautiful Lawn Award”.  Now, there was something to aspire to, the pinnacle of achievement for anyone who had ever pushed the old Briggs & Stratton around the yard.  It was to be a short-lived aspiration.

The property wasn’t well suited  for growing any good turf, so there was a mixture of St. Augustine and Bermuda grass, along with a fair representation of crabgrass and grass burrs.  I’ve realized in my later years that the Bermuda grass, which was cultivated and watered there, is considered to be a common weed by many lawn snobs, but in that hot climate, they didn’t have the luxury of turning up their noses at any grass that would cover the ground and thrive.  The grass burrs, on the other hand, were either a bane or a God-send, depending on your circumstance.  If you were inclined to walk across yards barefoot, they were most certainly a bane, causing considerable discomfort.  Conversely, if you were looking for ways to annoy your big brothers, the grass with it’s head abristle with prickly seedpods was perfect for picking a stalk and hurling it at someone’s back before beating a quick retreat out of reach.  The victim would be in pain for a moment and then would perform the most entertaining gymnastics and contortions attempting to remove the offending attachment from his shirt back.

No, the grass in the lawn wasn’t going to help win any awards, but the overgrown mess in the backyard was more of an immediate issue, so the young man started there.  Unfortunately, this would be the task which would short-circuit his good intentions of whipping the yard into shape.  With the help of a machete and a pair of hedge trimmers, he started to clear all the unsightly undergrowth below one tree.  It was a tough job, with the many vines which grew up into the tree and from there, into a couple of other trees nearby.  He hacked and hacked at the large vines, some of them almost like small tree trunks themselves, measuring close to an inch in diameter.  After a couple of hours of work, the boy was satisfied that the job was done and sat down to cool off and admire his work.  Drinking a glass of Kool-Aid and feeling pleased with himself, he noticed his mom peering out the back door.  Proudly, he got up and showed her the pile of debris which he would be carrying out to the brush pile later.  She didn’t seem to be very happy.  He even noticed that there were tears in her eyes.  Without a word, she turned away and went back into the house, leaving him standing there in disbelief.

What in the world?  Did she not know how hard he had worked here?  Where was the praise?  Where was the pat on the back?  He threw the implements back into the garage in disgust, carried off the trash, and was done with his aspiration to have the Yard Beautiful.

It was years later that the subject of his short-lived experience with clearing the backyard came up.  As they talked, he asked his mom if she knew how disappointed he had been with her reaction to his efforts.  She gently asked if he remembered the beautiful Morning Glory that had blossomed in the back yard for many years as he grew up.  “Sure,” the man replied.  “It was growing on….ohhhhhh…”  The light finally came on.  He had worked hard for those hours with the intent to improve the yard, but had succeeded in destroying a beautiful shroud of vines which she had been nurturing for the better part of fifteen years.  The brilliant blue blossoms could be seen in the early morning adorning the limbs of those trees, a perpetual veil of nature’s elegance; there because of those unsightly vines which rose in the air under the single tree from which he had chosen to “clean out the undergrowth”.  At last, he understood his mother’s tears.  She didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so she turned away to hide her sadness at the loss of all those years of her work and loving sustenance of the amazing plant.  There were tears in her eyes again as they talked of it, as there were in his.

I still get a little misty eyed about the realization that I had killed my mother’s Morning Glory on that morning so many years ago, but more importantly, I am in wonder that she had thought it essential to bear it privately, without excoriating me for my carelessness.  What a lesson in selflessness, from a lady who was not given to an overabundance of such examples.  Mom was always teaching, expecting better, even demanding it.  This time, she chose to let the error pass, opting instead to keep quiet to achieve a greater good.  It’s a lesson I’ll never get over.

We’ve all known people who, like that young man, don’t think before they act.  Their intentions are good, but the result is still chaos.  It’s good that we have the examples of life experiences, like the one above, to help us to understand that sometimes we must show more concern for the motivation which drives the person than for the disaster which ensues.  Love, it seems, overlooks a multitude of wrongs.

These days, I always ask the Lovely Lady before cutting strange plants in the yard.  It appears that there were other lessons to be gleaned from that disastrous day.  Experience is a pretty effective teacher.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
(Philippians 2:4)

“I want some day to be able to love with the same intensity and unselfishness that parents love their children with.
(Shakira~Colombian singer/songwriter)

Breathe In, Breathe Out (Take 2)

It’s hard to believe, but today’s post marks the two hundredth posting in the short life of this blog.  I somehow thought that I would run out of words long before this, but I think there may be more to say.  In spite of the uncharted territory ahead of us, it seemed to make sense to take this opportunity to select one of my favorites of the first two hundred and give you another chance to either love it or hate it, or even to say “Meh, still not interested…”  Either way, I hope you’ll forgive the regurgitation of old material.  I’ll try not to make it a habit. 

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Growing up wild in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, I learned lessons as a youth (both good and bad) that still inform this soon-to-be senior adult of life’s truths.  When I say “growing up wild”, I don’t want you to infer that I was a carouser or a gang-banger.   I don’t even mean to imply that my parents didn’t have discipline, because they did have that.  We’re told, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” and let’s just say that I wasn’t spoiled!  However, we did have full run of the neighborhood, and by neighborhood, I mean anyplace within walking, and later on, biking distance.  During summer vacations and after school, we ranged far and wide and discovered all the hiding places, the best locations for dirt clod fights, and climbing trees that were to be found.  We got into a little trouble too, but we’ll leave that subject for another day.

In those days, when the city hadn’t spread out into the local farmland, there was wildlife galore.  Garter and bull snakes were common, and lizards beyond count.  My favorite was a strange-looking creature that in those days of innocence, we called a horny toad.  One day, I’ll rant about how our language has been hijacked by double entendres and gutter-discourse, but suffice it to say, the round, tubby lizard was called that because of the myriad of sharp horns all over its sand-paper rough body and for no other reason.  It’s real name is the Texas Horned Lizard, with some tongue-twister of a scientific title tacked on, but we called it simply a horny toad.  These placid creatures, for all of their ferocious appearance, wanted nothing else but to be left alone.  They had no real defenses; they weren’t lightning fast like those we called racers (Whiptails), nor could they change their body’s skin hue to match the ambient surroundings, like those we labeled chameleons (Green Anoles).  They were doomed to lumber along amongst the grass and rocks and rain-parched earth, eating the big, red ants that lived in abundance on the ground and keeping an eye out for the passing coyote, dog, or snake.

 They did however,  have a couple of defense mechanisms that made them undesirable to predators.  The first one I observed on any number of occasions, since to these little critters, I looked like a predator.  When approached by their enemies, they would first try to flee.  Failing that, since they just weren’t built for speed, they would stop and turn toward the dangerous party, pushing themselves up away from the earth and then, puffing themselves up with air, would expand to a much larger size than they were originally.  I don’t know all the data, but I’m guessing that more than one young bullsnake, when faced with this “giant” lizard, would give up and move to easier prey.  It probably wouldn’t seem appetizing to think about that sliding down one’s gullet.  So, the little so-ugly-it’s-cute varmint goes on its way again, with one less danger to worry about today.  The other defense mechanism?  Well, I never saw it happen, but the books tell us that when the ruse of “Big” horny toad doesn’t convince the attacker, he can actually shoot blood out of the corners of his eyes at them.  The blood has a chemical which is unsavory to its attacker and discourages further confrontation.

I’m thinking that there are multiple examples in the animal kingdom who make themselves bigger to defeat their attackers.  Any number of non-venomous snakes threaten attack by spreading out and raising their heads as if to strike.  The cute little puffer fish, which has the same spiny appearance as the horned lizard, is perhaps the most famous of these pretenders.  He is not in any way equipped for sustained speed and so, is the target of many predator fishes in the ocean.  But not many of them want to swallow that spiny balloon when he’s puffed up in his intimidating pose. 

So, what is the point of this nature lesson, you may ask?  I’ve been thinking about the comparison of these natural responses in animals to our own response to perceived “attacks” on ourselves.  Speaking purely for myself (you are free to draw your own conclusions),  I know that when threatened with exposure of my inadequacies, my immediate reaction is to “make myself bigger” and do my best to impress the would-be attacker with my abilities.  Rather than suffer the exhibition of my true incompetent self, I will build an awe-inspiring facade to head off the embarrassment.   My puffed-up, spiny exterior will often keep the assailant at bay.  The real dilemma of using this sham to protect yourself,  even occasionally, is that in order to sustain the perception, you have to stay “big” more and more frequently, until at last, you’re wearing this false persona anytime you’re around people.

There’s been lots of talk about bullying recently, especially in our news.  I’ve been bullied, as have most of you at one time or another in your lives.  I remember way back, while still in elementary school, one kid was shoving me around on the playground, as he did on a regular basis.  I finally had enough and shoved back, prompting him to challenge me, “I’ll meet you across the street after school!”  This was the well-known code for arranging a fight off school grounds and I wasn’t about to back down (in spite of the fact that I’d never been in a fistfight).  “I’ll be there!”  I snapped and stalked off, hands in pockets to demonstrate my machismo (failing miserably, I was sure).   Evidently, the horny toad impression worked though, because 10 minutes later, he was back, mumbling, “I just remembered, I have to be someplace after school, so I won’t be there…”  So, no fight (whew), but a lesson learned, only to be used many, many times in my life, and not always for the right motives.  It’s a little discussed fact that many times bullies have been bullied themselves.  They’ve just learned how to make themselves big and they like the power it gives them over others.

I don’t have much advice on how to avoid this behavior, but sometimes, just recognizing what we’re doing that is wrong is the first step to recovery.  Additionally, I do remember reading a great little saying that Chuck Swindoll quoted in one of his books.
The sign was posted in a kid’s clubhouse for their house rules:   
Nobody act big.
Nobody act small.
Everybody act medium.

Pretty good advice.  I’ve just got one more piece of advice to add to it.


“The fool shouts loudly, thinking to impress the world.”
(Marie de France~Medieval poet)

Let another praise you and not you yourself…
(Proverbs 27:2)


The wide-eyed little two-year old stared up at me from my lap as the excitement passed.  “Let’s do it again, Daddy!”  Part of me, that tiny portion of my brain that still retained its own little kid spirit of adventure, agreed with the sentiment.  But a much bigger and older part shouted out (internally, at least), “No!  I don’t ever want to feel like that again!”  What came out of me in a quieter, shaky voice was, “I don’t think that would be good idea.”

My little family was traveling by air to visit the children’s grandparents in Texas.  Most of the flight had gone smoothly, with no problems from the children at all, as well as good conditions for flying.  All of a sudden, the “Fasten Seat belts” light had come to life and within moments we were in the worst turbulence I had ever encountered in my limited flying experience.  First a violent upward movement, followed by a rapid loss of altitude, then back up again, with the accompanying “losing the stomach” feeling.  This happened several times in rapid succession, with a few sideways tosses of the plane thrown in for good measure.  Terrified might be too strong a word, but we weren’t relaxed, by any measure.  As the plane leveled out and flew smoothly on, we expected the children to be frightened, but were relieved to be greeted by the words from our daughter, almost amused even.  We arrived at our destination without any other incidents and were happy to touch down.

I’ve thought of the occasion many times since that day, a lot of years ago.  My thoughts are captured, not by the turbulence we experienced; many travelers experience much worse on a regular basis.  No, my thoughts are held captive by the words of the sweet curly-headed tot as adults around her were gasping and recovering their equilibrium from what had been a frightening episode.  There was no sense of fear, no realization of danger; simply a knowledge that the sensations of the ride had been pleasant and a little exciting.  She wanted more of that!   I have come to a determination about the sweet girl’s response to the situation.  She was in her Daddy’s lap, being held in his strong arms.  How could she have come to any other conclusion?  What was going to hurt her there?  Her Daddy would never allow her to be harmed.

The grown-up perspective is very often a jaded, cynical one.  We mature, watching events unfold around us; seeing the horror, the destruction that is possible, and we lose our childlike belief, our faith in Someone who is bigger than we.  I’ve seen that.  I’ve even felt that.  But, I keep thinking about that little girl enjoying the journey, bumps and all, ready for whatever came, as long as her Daddy was there.

Like the little blondie’s thinking, the conclusion is obvious, not only in life, but also in this blog.  You don’t need me to carry this any further right now, so I’ll leave you to your own resolution.  For me, even though the trip gets bumpy now and then, there are strong arms holding me.  “Let’s do it again, Daddy!”

“Let God’s promises shine on your problems.”
(Corrie Ten Boom~Dutch Holocaust survivor~1891-1983)

Something to Chew On

I was the king of the control room!  “We’ve been listening to 101 Strings playing a beautiful rendition of  ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from South Pacific.  Stay tuned for today’s weather coming up after these announcements.”  What an ego trip!  Sitting in front of the suspended microphone, I was flipping switches and turning “pots” to move from the mic to the turntables (yeah, vinyl even), to the cart machine with it’s stack of PSAs (public service announcements) lined up for each scheduled break of the afternoon.  I just knew there were thousands of avid fans glued to their radios at home and in their cars.  They had to be riveted by my voice and style.  Casey Kasem had nothing on me!

It was 1972 and I was volunteering at a little Christian FM radio station which was broadcast throughout south Texas and northern Mexico.  The management was so desperate for weekend workers that they allowed this fifteen-year old geek to sit at the controls and spin easy listening records, along with reading the news from the old teletype.  That’s right…A teletype, exactly like the one in “Good Morning, Vietnam”, only without the red lines drawn through the stories.  It was a dream come true for this nerdy, musician type.  I sat there, a faceless voice, and didn’t worry at all about anyone teasing me about being skinny, or wearing unfashionable glasses, or even noticing an acne problem.  It was me and the equipment, being transmitted sans visuals into the homes and vehicles of listeners all around the area.  This, I could get used to!

My work had its boring side too, since I had also obtained a provisional license to run the transmitter which was in the big warehouse-like area just outside the control room.  Actually, my duties were limited to taking readings of the meters every hour and making minor adjustments to the ancient dials if any levels were amiss.  I usually did this for a few hours on Saturday afternoon, just after my stint at the control board.  Sometime during those hours, the broadcast would switch to the Spanish language until later in the evening.

Did I say it was boring?  Well, that was generally true, but one evening I was reminded that, like the Boy Scouts, I needed to “Be Prepared.”  No, there wasn’t a disaster with the equipment; I was ready for that eventuality.   It seems that it’s always the things for which we don’t plan that cause us the most problems.  As the Spanish language announcer talked to his audience in the next room, I passed the time in an activity I always enjoyed.  I had brought a book of piano transcriptions with me and I sat down at the wonderful Yamaha piano in the big studio which was used for broadcasting large groups and live music programs.  As the Spanish words droned on through the tiny monitor on the wall, I turned to a familiar page and began to play.  My skill level was not stupendous, but as my late Father-In-Law used to put it, I enjoyed playing “for my own amazement” from time to time.  I went through one song and began on the next.

Happily engrossed in the music, I didn’t notice that the droning voice had stopped, nor did I see the red “on-air” light shining on the wall for several minutes.  When I finally became aware of the changes, I glanced through the big soundproof plate glass into the control room, to see the announcer smiling at me and pointing to the microphone beside the piano.  I was on air!  A near-perfect rendition of “It Is Well With My Soul” became unrecognizable for a few seconds as the stage-fright hit me.  Then realizing that he wasn’t going to relent and turn off the mic, I settled in and ably finished the last few pages of the transcription I had been practicing, but was now performing.  When I finished, I took my hands off the keys and raised one up to my throat, bringing it across in the universal signal to “cut” the broadcast.  The announcer shook his head in refusal, so I was forced to begin another arrangement.  It went pretty well, with just a minor glitch as I turned a reticent page.  As the notes died out from the second song, I once again signaled the man to turn off the microphone.  This time, I refused to put my hands on the keys again and he was forced to return to his monologue to avoid any more dead air.  The red light was extinguished as I heard the voice in the monitor saying something about  the “station engineer, performing on the piano in Studio C” and then I moved away from the piano.  My first and last live piano performance on the radio was over that quickly.

As I look back, I remembering being angry…and proud.  I would never have agreed to be in that position if he had asked, but I was pleased that I was able to finish well.  It wasn’t a radio-worthy performance, but it certainly wasn’t a disaster.  It’s funny – the conflicting thoughts that go through your head after such an incident.  “I hope no one heard me.”  “I hope all my friends were listening.”  “That was the stupidest thing!  Why in the world would he do that to me?”  “That was kind of neat!  I did okay!”  When I got home, my Mom told me she had heard the incident.  I could tell she was proud of me.  As usual, the praise went to my head, but she counterbalanced that quickly as she said, “It would have been nicer if you had quit chewing your gum so loudly while the microphone was on.”  Then I remembered…the mic had been set up for a vocalist at the piano and was not aimed right at the instrument.  It picked up the notes just fine, but it did a better job of amplifying the smacking of my Dentyne gum, which kept rhythm the whole time.

I’ve heard the saying all my life:  “The devil is in the details”, meaning that it’s the details that trip us up.  We get the main thing right, but the little things we forget about cause the problems. What might have been a memorable performance in its triumph, was simply turned into another life lesson about keeping my mind on the whole job, not just the flashy, impressive parts.  Actually, I’ve learned that the original saying was “God is in the detail” and it has been turned around only in later years.  I like the original better.  It reminds us in a positive way that all of what we do is important to Him.  Every minute detail has the potential to bear fruit, has promise of producing a positive result.

In spite of the gum smacking, I still fancy that I did okay for a fifteen-year old.  I like to think that I would do better now.  That said, I’m not sitting at a piano anywhere near a microphone, especially not in a radio studio.  I really don’t want to find out if I’m right or wrong.

“It’s the little details that are vital.  Little things make big things happen.”
(John Wooden~American basketball player and coach~1910-2010)

Diva? Who, Me?

Technological incompetence rules supreme.  Did that say “save to disk”?  Or was it “clear all files”?  What does “critical error” mean?  Can I keep surfing the web anyway?  Evidently not, since the screen is now frozen.  Control, alt, delete.  Control, alt, delete.  CONTROL, ALT, DELETE! 

I joke about it, but once again the situation is very real.  Our accounting computer has corrupted files on the hard drive.  No chance of a restart, since the files are critical to rebooting.  The Lovely Lady has fled the region, gallivanting off with her grandchildren.  My clumsy attempts to fill her shoes are almost laughable, but I’m not amused.  I struggle to cope with customers streaming in the doors, while the telephone clamors for its share of attention, sometimes two lines at once.  “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you what your account balance is.  The computer is indisposed.”  “I’m sorry, but she’s not here today and won’t be placing an order this week.” I try to remember to smile.  All the experts say that even people talking to you by phone know when you’re smiling.

The comedy of ineptitude is magnified by the woes of folks at the other end of the phone or in front of me.  One of our main suppliers has no power, thus no ability to answer the phone or receive a FAX.  Them, I did have an order to share with (of course, prepared by the Lovely Lady before her exit), but it will not be forthcoming.  The lady in Virginia needs the product tomorrow for a funeral, the fellow standing pleadingly in front of me has to have the guitar repaired by tomorrow evening.  And all the while, that dead computer sits there, nibbling away at the edges of my still outwardly calm demeanor.  What am I going to do?  Miraculously, the work day comes to an end; the light of the “OPEN” sign is extinguished and the door locked against further intrusion.

KNOCK! KNOCK!  Someone is at the door and wants in.  I cower in the darkness at my desk and consider my options.  Could I slink out of my chair and into the back room without being seen?  Maybe I could just yell, “We’re closed!” and let them leave angry.  Neither choice seems to be appropriate, so I open the door to find my computer-guru son standing there.

We start the process to retrieve the information lost and decide to go get some supper while the files are being exchanged between sources.  As we get in the car, the Lovely Lady calls to announce that she and her captors had made it safely to their destination.  Already, the load is lifting.  A good meal and good company complete the process.  I recall the candy bar commercial, currently being shown in different incarnations, where one of the characters is  portrayed as a “diva”, a demanding, complaining attention-hog.  His friends hand him the candy bar and all is right with the world once more.  No more complaining, apologies all around, and peace reigns.  How did I become that diva?  And, how many times do I personally need to see the truth to recognize the situation when it begins, instead of after it’s settled?

Regardless, I’m content tonight in the knowledge that our lives are one experience of grace after another; one more chance to do better than the last time.  Hard things come into our lives for a reason.  Hopefully, we grow and learn from them.  Some of us are more stubborn than others and have to work our way through the lessons more often.

I’m not really a quick study, I guess.  I am coming to greatly appreciate those people who come alongside and hand me a candy bar.  That’s a lesson learned today.  We’ll see what comes tomorrow.

“When God give us tribulations, he expects us to tribulate.”

“Trouble is temporary.  Time is tonic.  Tribulation is a test tube.”
(William Arthur Ward~American pastor and teacher~1921-1994)

The Trouble with Tractors (and trousers)

Twelve years old.  My first time to drive a tractor.  Or anything with a clutch, for that matter.  It was the summer between elementary and junior high school and we were making a tour of relatives I had never seen, as well as several I knew only vaguely.  Great aunts and an uncle along with my Mom’s cousins, all in Kansas, and then on to Illinois to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins there.  It may have been a trip of only a couple of weeks, but in my memory it was much longer, probably due to the many different beds in which I slept.  Southern Kansas was our first stop on the long trip and we were at Uncle Paul’s farm.  The lanky old farmer was married to my grandmother’s sister, so technically he was “great” uncle, and I think the title fit.  He shook his head at the antics of four rowdy would-be delinquent boys (of course my sister behaved herself perfectly), but I think he loved every minute of it.

We wandered the fields where we found Native American arrowheads, fished the pond (keeping an eye out for cottonmouths), and swam in the river while digging up fresh water clams.  Then he pulled us over the hill and along the dirt roads, riding on the flatbed trailer behind the old tractor.  Unbeknownst to him, we even took more than a few turns jumping out of the loft of his century-old barn into the corn bins down below.  What an adventure for this young man, about to enter the perplexing stage of being a teenager, inevitably leading to the awkwardness and angst so characteristic of those difficult years.  But, that was all in the future; no need to borrow from its troubles.  For those few days, the joy of country adventures was enough.  Add in the amazing meals, when the table bowed under the weight of the food Aunt Edna cooked, and we were content.

I’m not sure how it came about, but Uncle Paul became convinced that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let us learn to drive his old farm tractor.  Thus it was that on that fateful summer afternoon, I waited impatiently for my turn to drive the suddenly very sporty vehicle (beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder).  My first time to drive anything bigger than a mini-bike!  Of course, I would be great at it; that went without saying.  Since my oldest brother was already driving a car with a manual transmission, he was allowed to teach us to drive the machine.  The two brothers just older than me had no problems, learning the trick of revving the engine just enough to have the torque to engage the gears when the clutch was released.  Back and forth, up the dusty driveway, the little red tractor chugged, never out of control, never emitting a sound of  disapproval, until finally it was my turn.

I clambered into the wide seat, designed for comfort and not for looks, glancing over the controls.  As my brother stood behind the seat on the hitch, he explained the different pedals.  “That one on the left is the clutch.  You let it out to engage the drive gears.  The middle one is the brake.  Push it when you need to stop quickly.  The far right one, on the other side of the steering column?  That’s the accelerator.  You won’t need to use it much, except to get the engine revved up when you’re engaging the clutch.”  I listened, but I guess I didn’t hear.  I was too excited!  I was going to drive this puppy!

The next few moments are kind of a jumble in my mind.  I remember revving the engine with the accelerator and popping the clutch.  Miraculously, the engine kept running and we leapt forward.  The only problem is that I kept my foot on the accelerator and we went faster and faster.  Big brother was shouting, “The clutch!  Push in the clutch!”  I complied, engine still roaring, but then he yelled, “The brake!  Push the brake!”  The only problem with this maneuver was that I had to remove my foot from the clutch, to comply.  The machine jerked forward again with plenty of power still being supplied by the wide open throttle.  For the next few seconds, I kept hearing, “The brake!  The clutch!” over and over.  By this time, he was trying to climb over the seat to turn off the ignition, but on a small tractor, the huge back tires are quite close to the seat, so his pants leg somehow got entangled in that rotating part of the out-of-control vehicle.  Through my fog, I finally got my foot off of the accelerator and hit both the brake and clutch at the same time, slowing the lumbering, ugly old farm implement (you see how quickly perceptions can change?) to a stop.

My own embarrassment at my failure to tame the unruly beast was only surpassed by my brother’s mortification at having to walk the length of the driveway to the farmhouse, right past the onlooking family, holding his jeans closed.  The moving tire had ripped his pants leg, right from the lowest hem all the way up to the inseam and it was flapping in the wind.  He refused to speak to me for the rest of the day.  I was not foolish enough to ask for another chance at driving the maleficent machine which had defeated me.

I never recall that summer without at least a chuckle at the vista my memory opens before me.  As a family, we have laughed about that comedy of missteps again and again, but invariably, the laughter turns to silence as we contemplate the danger and horrors which could have been the outcome.  In my mind’s eye, I see my oldest brother lying on the dirt lane, body shattered by the big wheel which could have pulled him under it, just as easily as it ripped his bluejeans.  Or, equally as bad, both of us trapped under an overturned tractor after it leaves the level drive and wildly careens into the ditch beside it.  But, just as quickly as the dark clouds dim the spectacle, the realization that neither of those possibilities actually happened hits again, and the laughter is back.  The payback for borrowing trouble is never profitable, but the benefits of counting the blessings we have been given are always multiplied exponentially.

I think that the teaching of Jesus, when he warned against worry and fretting, includes the “if onlys” of the past.  “Sufficient unto the day, is the evil thereof.”  We get through the bad times with the strength He provides, and are blessed by Him in the good times.  What more can we ask?

Split pants and damaged pride both make for some mighty good memory sharing.  I bet you’ve got a few of your own to get you started counting your blessings.

“Every evening I turn my worries over to God.  He’s going to be up all night anyway.”
Mary C Crowley~American entrepreneur and writer~1915-1987

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
(Charles Dickens~English novelist~1812-1870)

Holding the Coats

They called her the “Sweater Lady”.  It wasn’t a term born of respect.  I’m not sure why, but the era in which I grew up was a time of odd fads and weird events driven by peer pressure.  All you have to do is look at the amazingly outlandish clothes and hairstyles of the sixties and seventies to understand that what I say is factual.  As ashamed as I am to admit pursuing some of those stupid fashions, the event I speak of today is really shameful, while the fads are now simply embarrassing. 

We had noticed the young lady before, walking or standing in her yard beside the well-traveled rural road, where she lived with her aging parents.  She wore unfashionable clothes; almost always long skirts, with socks sticking out over the tops of her old tennis shoes.  Her blouse was always covered with a cardigan sweater, even in the hottest of weather.  Her hair was unkempt and the look on her face made it clear that she was mentally handicapped.  Probably about twenty-five years old (or maybe forty, I never really knew), she stayed in her yard, never bothering anyone else, once in awhile actually climbing one of the trees with low-hanging limbs near the edge of the yard.  My parents had taught us to respect all people, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.  So, when we passed by, there was never a disparaging word spoken, never a teasing remark forthcoming.

Such was not the universal experience for the teenagers in the local high school.  One day, some bright kid had a great idea.  “Hey, let’s go by and see the Sweater Lady!”  And, thus the poor lady’s nightmare began.  It wasn’t much at first, just a car or two of kids driving slowly by to take a look.  There were probably some things yelled at her, but she didn’t understand.  Little by little, it escalated.  The kids began to tell their friends at school, “Hey, we saw the Sweater Lady after school yesterday.  You want to come today?”  Before you knew it, the largest part of the kids in high school who had cars were cruising up and down Ware Road, yelling and catcalling, perhaps even throwing things.  The woman’s world was turned upside down and she knew fear and torment, perhaps for the first time in her life, but certainly her home and yard were no longer a safe haven.

I was too young to be in one of those cars, but my childhood home was within a mile of hers and I had ridden by on my bicycle many times.  As the kids at school exclaimed about the spectacle of a grown woman climbing up a tree, in spite of my upbringing I found myself bragging about seeing her and how ridiculous she was.  No, I didn’t participate in the actually torment, but I wasn’t repulsed by the idea enough to buck the trend and speak for the victim.  Saul of Tarshish comes to mind as he held the coats of those who stoned the martyr Stephen.  No stone-throwing for him, but agreement with the act appears to me to be the same as committing the action.  Such was my involvement in this travesty.

Both the civil and school authorities caught wind of the afternoon activity and put a stop to it as quickly as possible, but the damage was done.   The family’s quiet life had been devastated, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the edict which ended this one episode was of no benefit in changing the perpetrators’ viewpoint or treatment of mentally handicapped persons.  They were not normal, not like “real people”, so the bias and stigma remained unchanged.

I’m not a social campaigner, not motivated to change the whole of our culture’s fabric.  That’s not my mission in life and not my purpose in writing this.  I simply recount the memory of that sad time in hopes that it will trigger a response.  We have a responsibility to learn from the past and to let it inform our present and future actions.   I have personally looked at those long ago events many times in my memory and have realized that I can’t go back and undo them.  As a parent though, I had the opportunity to break the pattern and help my kids to be better people than I was.  As a grandfather, I have the same opportunity.   As I experience life, it becomes clearer to me that children and teenagers are, contrary to popular belief, naturally unkind to anyone who is different and who doesn’t fit in.  We hear that kids have to be taught to hate, but my experience is just the opposite; they have to be taught to be loving and respectful.  It is in our nature to dislike anyone who is out of the mainstream, who is different from ourselves.  The adults in children’s lives have a responsibility to help them overcome that nature and learn to accept each other.  Does that mean that we don’t teach them to discriminate between good and bad, right and wrong?  Not at all!  We teach them the foundational principles, certainly, but we also help them to love people, no matter what their abilities or disabilities.  We do that in our actions, our words (all the time), and our attitudes.

Well, once again, I’ve managed to get up into the pulpit and preach at you.  I hope you’ll look past that.  It is in my blood.  The preaching helps to keep me on the right track, too.  Maybe tomorrow will bring something more entertaining and less weighty.  You should check back then.

“All the world is odd, save me and thee; and sometimes I think thee is a little odd.”
(Anonymous saying)

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn”
(John Cotton Dana~American librarian~1856-1929)

Who Wrote the Book of Love?

Have you ever seen love up close?  No, I’m not talking about the mushy, touchy-feely, here-today-gone-tomorrow kind of love.  That, you see on television, depicted in graphic detail again and again every day.  The popular notion of love is in our faces relentlessly, but gives no clue of what love really is.  Still, I think I saw it the other day.  No, I’m sure I saw it the other day.

The Lovely Lady and I had spent a couple of days in a lazy unhurried non-schedule, soaking in the experience of people-watching and unwinding at a popular breakfast restaurant, wandering into and out of countless “antique stores” (read: “collections of old junk”) and hock shops in pursuit of everything and nothing, and pretty well finding just that.  We stayed in a posh downtown hotel, thanks to a discount travel service, getting up whenever we wanted and going wherever we wished.  I have to admit, the banjo museum was an original treat, but I was thankful that all the banjos were behind glass where no one could play them.  The walk along the river was relaxing, in spite of the 103 degree temperature, and the movie was tolerable.  We did have one item that was scheduled and we made sure to keep the appointment.

The symphony was giving a holiday concert with a guest vocalist whom we have always enjoyed, so 7:00 in the evening found us striding along the city streets, folding canvas chairs slung over our shoulders, toward the events center parking lot for the free entertainment which wouldn’t start until 8:30.  The streets were crowded with folks headed the same direction and there were more than a few policemen and “ambassadors” posted about to make us feel safer.  As we passed one such post, I casually commented to the cheerful older gentleman that it was a bit warm.  He replied, “Well one good thing…you don’t have to worry about goose-bumps out here!”  Boy, was he wrong!

I won’t bore you with the long wait on the hot pavement, the searing sun on our necks, the futile waving of the advertising paper fans in an attempt to keep cool.  But, as the sun plunged below the horizon and the temperature moderated a little, the musical sounds wafted through the air, first the individual warm-ups, a horn here, a viola there, then the corporate tuning session, and finally, the blending of a hundred or so individual instruments’ voices fused into one beautiful conglomeration of sound and purpose.  We were content and sat in rapt attention, unmindful of the cacophony of crowd noise around us and the non-musical folks who moved to and fro through the crowd, themselves unaware of the beauty which flowed from the stage.  It was an apt ending to a great relaxing weekend.

What?  Did I leave something out?  Oh, yes!  The goose-bumps.  Two things during the evening inspired those little raised spots on my neck and my arms.  The vocalist (and audience) was responsible for them at a couple of junctures; once when she sang a beautiful rendition of that old hymn “How Great Thou Art” (you should have heard that huge crowd singing along) and later when she invited us to join her on “God Bless America”.  Music has such a capacity for moving the human spirit and it certainly achieved that for many on that night.

This capacity was partly responsible for the other case of the chicken-flesh on that hot summer evening, but only partly.  The orchestra was playing an upbeat, rhythmic piece, one which just invited the body to move.  We patted our feet, maybe even tapped on our legs with our hands a little, but public decorum demanded that we go no further and we acquiesced.  Not so with one fellow a few feet away from us.  My eyes were drawn away from the lighted stage in front of us to glance at the man.  The glance was enough to notice that he was an adult, but that he was mentally handicapped.  I hope that term is acceptable.  The landscape keeps changing so I’m not sure if “gifted” is more correct, or possibly “special needs”, but I use the term simply as descriptive, not as a pejorative.  This young man, probably 25 or 30 years of age, clearly was moved by the music and he was not to be denied.  Joyously, he was on his feet and dancing, waving his American flag, wonderfully unaware of the rules of decorum and concert etiquette.  Those of us around watched him, and most smiled, but a few laughed.

Love makes you do strange things, things you wouldn’t normally do.  As I worried about those unkind people laughing, I noticed that another man got up from his chair and began dancing along with the young fellow.  Within moments, the young man’s mother and his sister were also up with his father and were dancing, every bit as energetically as he, spinning around him, taking his hand and urging him on in his joyous abandon.  There was no embarrassment, no reticence in their celebration of their son and brother, no concern for reputation, simply a declaration of their unwavering love.  The goose bumps were back, along with a little stray moisture in the corner of my eyes.  I’m not sure, but I think I saw others wipe away a tear or two.  Maybe it was just perspiration.

We have been conditioned to think of love as an emotion, a physical reaction to the wiles of the opposite sex.  Our whole lives are tied up in the thought of fulfilling our desires and needs with love.  When the reality doesn’t fit our expectation, we move on to the next relationship and start our impossible quest all over again.  I would submit to you that love has nothing whatsoever to do with selfish desire and perceived need, and everything to do with living for someone else.  In the unselfish actions of that young man’s family last Sunday night, I saw love.  And it appeared to me that they enjoyed the dancing every bit as much as he did.  What a great concert!  It wasn’t the best music I have ever heard, but there were some amazing moments, both on and off the stage.

I’m not sure if the tank is full, but there’s certainly enough fuel now to keep going for a few more miles.  We don’t always find the filling station where we expect it to be…and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Love always protects, always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres.”
(I Corinthians 13:7)

“We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love.”
(Mother Theresa)

Out of Gas

The vehicle rolled into the parking lot today a little oddly.  Most drivers power on up to the front of the store, hitting their brakes only at the last minute, seemingly to avoid scraping their bumper on the front wall of the building.  This SUV rolled off the street slowly, losing speed as it traversed the asphalt, finally easing its way to a stop almost in a parking spot, but not quite.  The man got out of his vehicle, talking on a cell phone and walked around to the passenger side, gesturing with his hands, as if the person on the other end of the connection could see his emotional state.  Taking a little girl out of the child seat, he hung up the phone with a final exaggerated motion and headed into the music store.

I greeted him and told him I would be happy to help if he needed anything, half expecting the perennial, “I’m just looking.”  To my surprise, he didn’t beat around the bush at all.  “I ran out of gas and wanted somewhere to get my girl out of the heat while someone brings me some more.”  We talked a minute.  I offered to give him the couple of gallons I had available, but he demurred, saying that a family member was already on the way with some.

I got busy with other things and didn’t think about how long he had waited, until I heard his cell phone ring.  He wasn’t happy as he explained (not quietly) to the caller that, no he didn’t want the small container, it had oil mixed in it.  He wanted the 3 gallon can, and why wasn’t it already here?  Since it was obvious that I couldn’t have missed the gist of his “private” conversation, I again offered help in the form of a couple gallons of gas, which were stored in a can about 20 feet away from where our conversation was occurring.  Again, he refused and I went about my business.  Quite some time later, while I was talking with other customers, he noticed a familiar vehicle turning in.  Exclaiming, “It’s about time!” he went out the door, once again with his arms gesturing his displeasure at his predicament and the extended time it had taken for the young man, obviously his teenaged son, to arrive with aid.  Both vehicles left the parking lot shortly thereafter.

The episode, a minor part of a busy day, has been bothering me all evening.  You know what I mean…There are lots of other things that demand your attention, but something niggles at your mind.  I wasn’t sure what the problem was, but something just wasn’t sitting right.  I left the Lovely Lady working craftily at her handwork a few moments ago, to come and write, suggesting that I might be a little too tired to come up with anything tonight.  Truth be told, I’ve had a lot of evenings like that recently.  I love writing; love the mental exercise and the satisfaction of the flow of ideas, snatched from the nebulous current of my thoughts and then expressed in black and white on a page or computer screen.  It’s actually hard work, but with a great emotional reward under normal conditions.  But, I’m tired, physically and mentally; battered by too many days without rest and too many short nights.  Come to think of it, I’m running out of gas.

It hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks!  The man and his little girl came into my music store for my benefit today.  That was what had been bothering me all afternoon and evening.  The tank is empty and needs to be filled.  And I’m too stubborn to accept any help except that which I can control.  I could pass the buck and remind you that the stubbornness is hereditary.  It wouldn’t be untrue, but it’s an incomplete answer.  Who my father and his father and his father before him were does impact who I am, but I have lived enough years on this earth to accept responsibility for my actions and reactions today.  And, since the reserves are obviously about used up, I’m just going to have to admit that the solution to my energy crisis doesn’t lie within, but will come from another source which I don’t control.

I’m going to take a little time off to refuel.  It’s likely that there will be some time alone with the Lovely Lady involved in the process.  We may just wander around the countryside for the long holiday weekend, but there’ll be no long-distance calls from New York or Wisconsin, no customers to show guitars to in the store.  You may be aware by now that my profession and daily schedule are a big part of my comfort zone, but they’re also how the fuel gets used up at times.  So, I’m headed to the service station to see about getting the tank filled up, both physically and mentally, and that means a move out of my little box.  I think I can handle it. 

I’m guessing none of you will miss my little sketches much.  They might even improve in readability after a few days off for refueling.  Time will tell.

“I will do my best.  That is all I can do.  I ask for your help, and God’s.”
(Lyndon B. Johnson~American President~1908-1973)

“Hope oft deceives…yet twice blessed is help unlooked for.”
(J R R Tolkien~English author~1892-1973)