The Rescue

I sat here at my desk as I often do, writing.  Let me rephrase that; I was sitting here thinking–about writing.  I spend a good bit of my time doing that, you know–thinking.

It’s not that I’m such an intellectual.  No, I just sit and turn over a simple idea in my mind.  First, I turn it this way and consider what to say about it.  Next, I turn it that way and decide that my first thought is of little merit in communicating the whole truth about the idea.  Flipping it to the other side again, I begin anew, frequently arriving a second time at the original conclusion, only to decide shortly thereafter that I really cannot say that.  These arguments can go on for hours.

I was in the middle of just such an disagreement with my inner self the other day when my reverie was disturbed by a ruckus outside the back door.  If you’ve followed my posts for long, you know that I keep a couple of furry black monsters in the back yard, partially because they help me so often with my stories.   The help is unintentional on their part, but is nonetheless frequently useful.  There are times when it is more of a distraction, but I like to give credit where it is due.

Stepping outside the door, I noticed that both dogs were nosing around a stack of articles against the exterior wall of my office.  A dog house, an unused automatic feeder, and a stock tank (used for bathing the rascals when I’m up for the tussle) sat close to the wall, but they seemed convinced that there was something of interest to them behind the stack.  I leaned back and quickly saw the object of their attention.

A small sparrow, obviously injured, was hidden in a void between the feeder and the tank.  His movements were keeping the dogs’ interest piqued and I knew they wouldn’t soon relinquish their quest to capture the little fellow.  Still, hopeful that they might leave him alone, I tightened the jumble of objects a bit to discourage them, and came back inside to wrestle with my own dilemma for a bit.  I was thinking about numbers, and you may remember that math is not my strong suit, so it was an argument that needed my full attention.

It was a lost cause.

The racket of the black monsters began anew, almost before I was seated in my chair.  I ignored it as long as I could and then, exasperated by the incessant barking and scratching, determined to make this interruption the last of the night.  I went outside, shoving both of the ninety-pound mutts aside and, reaching down into the void between the tank and wall where I had seen the bird when first I looked, attempted to clutch the little waif.  My intent was to carry him outside the backyard fence to safety, placing him on a lower limb of one of the trees there–out of reach of the snapping jaws on those slobbering hounds.

What actually happened, to my dismay, was that the little bird saw my hand coming down from above and, terrified, fluttered through a small space between the dog house and the wall and thus, out of his protective sanctuary.  The dogs were on him in a second, and just like that, he was no more.  With the crunch of powerful jaws, it was over.

I didn’t have the heart to berate the dogs; they were only doing what nature designed them to do.  I did berate myself for some time.  Walking back into my office, I sat and thought about what had just happened.  I only wanted to help.  Why couldn’t the stupid bird have just sat still and let me help?

I merely wanted to make things better!

Sad story, huh?  I wish it had a nicer ending.  But not all stories end in happily ever after.  I want them to, but they don’t.

I’m puzzled though.  I almost feel a sense of deja vu’.  Why is it that the circumstances seem so familiar to me?  Somehow, I think I’ve been here before.  Perhaps, I really have been here.

The more I consider it, I think that I’ve been exactly where that bird was.  I’ve been backed into a tight spot–trapped like a cornered animal.  I’ve eyed that little slit of light over there myself, and wondered if I could escape my dire circumstances through it.  I also, have thought that I might just be able to elude the hounds that had caught the scent of injured prey and had congregated outside my door.

Oh sure.  I might have been safe there temporarily, but I still had to resolve the situation sometime.  Prayers went up.  I made promises.

I’ll never come here again; I’ll never ask for anything else ever in my life.  Just GET ME OUT OF HERE!

I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who has prayed that prayer.  I’m also pretty sure that it has never been answered in a way that we expect.  When the Hand of Heaven begins to descend, we cower in terror.

Hey!  This is not what I asked for!

We have a choice to make.

Stand still–and see the deliverance of a loving Creator.

Run–to certain destruction in the jaws of the hounds of hell.

Many, like the little wounded sparrow, have made the latter choice to their lasting detriment.

You think it odd that I should speak of deliverance and terror in the same sentence?  It is odd, but we are strange people.  We wish to devise our own escape; we desire to be in control of our own destiny.  Answers to prayer are unpredictable; they require us to give up the reins of events. We are frightened when we aren’t in charge anymore.  It requires faith.

For myself, I know my own history.  I remember my choices and their consequences.  I’ve heard that crunch before.

Time for me to be still and see His plan in action.

Mine haven’t worked out all that well.

“Be still and know that I am God.”
(Psalm 46:10a ~ KJV)

“We experience moments absolutely free from worry.  These brief respites are called panic.”
(Cullen Hightower ~ American political quip/quote writer ~ 1923-2008)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Pitiful Me

The phone rings and help is needed again.  Yes, of course, I’ll come.

Immediately, the complaints start in my head.  Why her?  Why not someone else?  Why doesn’t someone do something to help?  Those stupid (insert description here–doctors, nurses, hospitals, senators, etc.); why don’t they take care of this?  Why do I have to do this?  Why is it this task that has to be done?

I think I can almost hear Linda Ronstadt’s voice, coming to me again from the seventies.  Yep.  I hear it right now.  “…put me through some changes Lord, sort of like a Waring blender.  Poor, poor pitiful me.”


Enter the Lovely Lady.  She knows when I’m beaten.  The look she sees in my eyes she calls my concussion stare.  She has seen it before.  A phone call from her to a friend is in order.  No, not a close friend–not even someone who has shared our table with us.  The lady at the other end of the phone simply knows us, but she also knows she can help.  

She will come.

For an hour or more, this kind friend will work at a job which most of us would refuse to even speak of.  Side by side with us, she does much more than speak of it–teaching, encouraging, demonstrating.  More than once as we work she leans against the foot board of the bed or the dresser beside the bed.  I think nothing of that until later.

It is an emotionally draining job, but she smiles and we kid as we work.  When she walks out the door with us, it is with a cheerful wave and the invitation to call her anytime if she is needed.

Grateful is too weak a description for what I feel tonight.


I see, in my mind, a rough and powerful man bending low before His friends, washing the grime from their filthy and road sore feet.  The Teacher who will soon be their Sacrifice serves, with humility and love, those who follow Him.  There are not many of us who will follow His example.

Tonight, by that bedside, I saw Him in action.  Do you think it a small thing?  I tell you, it was not!

The servant’s heart is one of the most powerful tools I can think of in this sometimes cruel world we walk through.  When it comes alongside during a period of emotional distress and need, the effect is magnified many times.

And, as I watched and listened to our friend, I remembered that she too suffers with the very same infirmity which she sought to ease in the one who lay on that bed.  Mere months ago, she was the one lying on such a bed–learning, crying, and being served by someone else.  It is the reason she is tired and weak still.  Yet, she came and did all she could for someone she did not know.

Someone she did not know!

I repent.

Perhaps, there will be more pity parties along the way.  The ordeal is not finished and it is possible that I may play the blame game once again.  One would hope not, but my memory is short and my sense of what is fair, slightly out of kilter.

For tonight though, I see clearly that there are more noble things than health and wealth; there are loftier goals than fame and renown.

I will set my sights higher.

I want to wash feet.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
(C.S. Lewis ~ Irish author/theologian ~ 1898-1963)

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
(John 13:14,15 ~ ESV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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A Word to the Wise

Ahhh!  Youth is wasted on the wrong people!

It is my favorite line from the vintage movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” a Christmas favorite from decades back.  The old guy stands on the porch, newspaper in hand, as he waits for George to kiss his young sweetheart, Mary.  When George fails to seize the moment, the nosy old man blurts out the words in disgust.

I’m beginning to think that the problem is actually just the opposite.  I’d like to propose a new maxim, with only one word substituted in the original.

Wisdom is wasted on the wrong people.

I want to know why we can’t be young and wise, instead of old and wise.  Why does it take a lifetime to gain wisdom, when we could really use a good dose of it much earlier in life?

Recently, a friend of mine described these little articles I write as wisdom pieces.  I’m not sure her description is correct, but if it is, the wisdom has come a little late to do me much good.  Most of what you might call wisdom coming from my words has been gathered through wrong decisions and lessons learned the hard way.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about knowledge.  There is knowledge enough for all who will accept it and much of it is offered and absorbed by folks of all ages.  Wisdom however, takes knowledge and applies it in a way that is beneficial and insightful.

My lament is that wisdom is not often evident in youth.  I say not often, not to be taken as never. There are certainly exceptions.  You know some, as do I.  Sadly, there are not enough who seek wisdom; most seek only action.  That’s why I say that wisdom is wasted on the wrong people.  We who are older are not often people of commotion as our younger friends are.  We’ve started to sit and think a lot more than we go and do. 

 It’s not that wisdom was not extended to us when we were younger; our elders offered it in volumes since the day we were old enough to understand the words.  We just wouldn’t listen.  Believing that our circumstances were different, our understanding clearer, we ignored most of the wise words spoken and ran pell-mell into a confused and disorderly future.

And as that sage of Old Testament fame, Solomon, tells us, there is nothing new under the sun.  Every subsequent youthful generation since mine has likewise spurned the wisdom offered it by those of us who have learned from our own mistakes.  I wish it were not so.

I wonder often where Solomon acquired the kernel of wisdom that prodded him to ask for wisdom when he was given the opportunity.  Imagine!  A young man who valued wisdom above all else.  What a novelty!

Does it seem that I am working hard to insult my younger readers?  I’m not. This is merely a reminder to all of us that we have taken our turn in those foolish years when we deemed ourselves wise.  I would like those years back myself, but they will not come again. 

The source of all true wisdom is the one Source of all good things.  We want lesser things and strive to acquire them, stepping on anyone who gets in our way.  He wants to give us greater gifts and offers them to all, young and old.  James tells us that the wisdom from above is pure and peaceable, showing mercy.

We could all do with a dose of that kind of wisdom.  In this day of rudeness and belligerence, peaceable and merciful sounds like a refreshing change.

It’s a little late, but I think it may be time for me to join Solomon and seek for a bit of wisdom. 

There’s more than enough to go around.

Just a word to the wise… 

“The greater our knowledge increases, the more our ignorance unfolds.”
(John F Kennedy ~ American president ~ 1917-1963)

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”
(Proverbs 4:7 ~ KJV)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Into the Deep

Have I missed the boat?

Did my last chance at success just pull away from the dock?

Once again this evening, I spent some time with a favorite book of poetry and came across this little gem–a well-known quote from “Julius Caesar” by the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare:

There is a tide in the affairs of men, 

Which, taken at its flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries:
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

I have missed my chance at some things.  The mega-million dollar lottery comes to mind.  Each time the news media goes into its frenzy about the huge amount of money to be won, I pause and consider if I should go and put in my claim for a chance at that fortune.  I never have.  That boat has sailed again and again.

I shall never again have a chance to play professional football–no–that was never an option.  I will never, I fear, play the lead in a Hollywood production, never be the principal horn player in the Chicago Symphony, and certainly will never be the President of the United States.  If the tide ever could have borne me away to those destinations, it is gone beyond recall.  I like to think that perhaps the current never really gave opportunity to go to those places.

But, I have taken the current when it awaited my embarking on the adventure of marriage; I rode it to a lifetime of endeavor in the music retail business; I even have paddled some small distance into the bay as I headed to the venture of writing.  The sail is not out fully for that journey yet.  I’m just testing the water, as the saying goes.

There have been an amazing number of destinations to which I traveled, regretting not an inch of the journey.  One or two, about which I will hold my tongue tonight, made me wish I had chosen otherwise.

I’m still not sure that we have just the one chance to take that tide, though.  The lottery, it seems, is incessant; the purveyors of instant riches themselves are constantly intent on enriching themselves at our expense.  That tide will lap at our feet again.  Many chances offer themselves repeatedly, just like the daily tide, and we may safely choose the moment at our convenience.  Sales on various types of merchandise come to mind, by way of example.  That end-of-the-model-year never-to-be-repeated rock-bottom bargain-basement giveaway price for the widget without which you absolutely cannot live will almost certainly occur again–if not next month, then next year.  Some tides cannot be held back.

If I may make a suggestion though–we will never reach any destination if we do not, at least once, venture into the deep.

Every day, folks in my store speak of the time when their ship will come in.  Most of them are individuals who have never ventured any distance at all, and I’m reminded that if the ship which returns on the tide is to bear anything of value back for us, we must have made an investment in its outgoing journey as well.

Are we looking for the reward of a lifetime of waiting?  It won’t happen.  There is no payday for waiting, only for doing.

I realize suddenly that it seems as if I am preaching.  I’m not.  The words are directed mostly at myself, with an invitation for anyone else to see if they apply to them as well.

All too often, we (I) stand at the water’s edge and dip our toes into the icy cold flow of the high tide, saying, “Someday…”  The water ebbs away and still we stand, awaiting its arrival once more.


Perhaps it’s time.

High tide is coming in again.  Time to push out away from the shore.

I think I may want to do some sail mending first.  I’d be happy for some company.

“Finite to fail, but infinite to venture.”
(Emily Dickinson ~ American poet ~ 1830-1886)

“I’m sitting on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away.
I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time.”
(Sitting On the Dock of the Bay ~ Otis Redding)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Hitting the Bottom

“Life is the dregs!”

The old preacher sat across the table from me staring into his almost finished cup.  The tiny amount of liquid that remained at the bottom clearly had some stray coffee grounds chasing around in it.  He tipped it up to his lips one more time and let the tepid stuff slip past his pursed lips.

“Pah!”  He made a motion as if to spit it back into the cup.  Then, remembering suddenly where he was, he forced it down his gullet, grimacing as it went.  “The dregs, I tell you!”

If it had been yesterday, I wouldn’t recall it any more clearly.  Thirty-five years have come and gone, but still I remember my surprise at the vitriolic words that flew from the aging parson’s mouth.  I kept my tongue, even as I silently disagreed with him.

I was twenty-one years old and knew better than any old man what life was about.  Hadn’t I spent the last two years living on peanut butter and day-old bread?  Hadn’t I paid my dues to woo and win the most beautiful girl in my little town?  The Lovely Young Lady was a cheap date, to be sure.  She was satisfied with a Number 3 burger at the local Sonic Drive-In and a walk along the creek before sitting a minute or two with me on a swing beside the sidewalk in the park.  I wasn’t living high on the hog, but I knew what life was about and it wasn’t any dregs.

Life was the full cup of Joe!

As I said, thirty-five years have come and gone since that evening.  The old preacher lived to a bitter end, dying suddenly in a car crash, still complaining the last time I saw him about a number of things, not the least of which was his son’s terminal illness.  I understand his perspective a little better now.

But, just for a minute, I want to talk a little about something I call living poor.  I may regret it.  Many of the older generation, especially those who lived through the Great Depression and right after, lived in a manner they called frugal.  Frugal to them meant that you didn’t waste anything.  The problem is that often when you live frugally, you begin to believe that you have nothing, even in the presence of amazing wealth.  I will not belabor the point, but I daresay that most readers at this point are nodding their heads, as they think about a person they once knew who died in poverty in spite of having a large sum of money put by for a rainy day.

There was one trick I learned from my frugal friends.  Buy the Endless Cup Of Coffee at the local diner.  In my hometown, it was a Sambo’s franchised restaurant.  You sat down to the counter and ordered a cup of coffee, as you laid down your quarter.  Then you and your buddies sat and talked into the wee hours of the morning, never spending another dime and never seeing the bottom of the cup in front of you.

It is late as I write this–late on a day that started a very long time ago.  For a few moments earlier tonight, I started to believe that life was the dregs.

For that, I beg your pardon.

There is once more, a full cup of coffee in front of me and I’m remembering the amazing life that has been mine in the closing doorways of the past.  I’m also experiencing the expectation of joyous things to come as the future opens its gates–those gates that lead to the wild unknown.  I tell you, it’s not just the caffeine talking either.  Hardship comes and it goes.  It is just another wayside stopping-off place along the road of life.  If we choose to stay and wallow a bit, we’ll be served the mostly empty cup in which this establishment specializes.  It is a bitter, offensive remnant that contaminates.

Do I believe that life is all sunshine and roses?  It is clear that I don’t.  Do I think that the bad things, the sadness and the pain, the sickness and the hardship don’t matter at all?  Again, the answer is obvious.  Those things come.  They come with some frequency.  And, through the pain, through the hardship, our life goes on.


I choose to believe in the truth of more to come.  More that we can’t see now.  The Endless Cup has already been filled for us.  There are no dregs here; we have no need to live poor.

Drink up!

You don’t want to miss the next cup!

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil: my cup overflows.
(Psalm 23:5 ~ NIV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Into the Dark

The teenage boy was not going to buy anything.  I can tell sometimes.  Well really, I can’t.  But, I think I can, so I pigeonhole customers as they come in.  It’s not purposeful, but is simply a habit I’ve acquired from being behind the counter at this music store for a lot of years, perhaps too many.

This kid, however, I knew wasn’t buying.  He told me so himself.  That didn’t stop him from asking questions about at least five different instruments and their accoutrements.  From ukuleles to drumsticks, he needed to see and touch, and discuss.  I like discussing.  That may come as a surprise to a few readers.  Very few.

The last thing he asked about–right about closing time–was the sheet music for a song.  It was, not surprisingly, a song I had never heard, but I looked it up for him in the online listing.  The title was “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”, performed by a group known as Death Cab For Cutie.

He didn’t buy it.  I knew he wouldn’t.

He did leave the words of that title spinning in my head all evening.  I don’t know the song at all.  I listened to it just moments ago, but still don’t really know what it was about, except it was a love song with some pretty convoluted theology.  It doesn’t matter.  The actual song had no effect on the thoughts already spinning about my brain.

I will follow you into the dark.

The words followed me as I visited my sister in her hospital room where she is recuperating from a serious surgery, the same room where she sits and considers the days which are coming.  They are uncertain days, because she is walking a path she has never been down.  Home health care, the need for medical supplies, the necessity of having others to help her do the things she has always done for herself.

Into the dark.

The words were still in my head as I spent a few minutes at the dinner table with my grandchildren.  There is no shadow over them, no frightening future to face, unless you count the entire world with its terrorists and predators, its disasters and wars, along with a thousand other perils.  No, not much darkness here–or is there?

Into the dark.

I got in my exercise after the sun went down again.  The well lighted trail gives courage to run as fast as I am able and I take advantage, turning out times at which a young man would scoff, but of which I am proud.  As I ran toward the hill where I had a nighttime accident a couple of years ago, I pulled up.  The lamp which should light the sharpest turn in the trail was burned out, leaving the pavement in pitch darkness.  The rays from the lamp just before and just after didn’t reach this place at all.  I trotted forward again slowly, almost feeling my way with my feet as I ascended the fateful hill and rounded that sharp turn.

I will follow

Who?  Who would I follow into the darkness?

I see, in my memory, a young boy and his father standing in the doorway of the huge store.  The flashes of lightning in the sky have tripped the sensors, causing the lights in the parking lot to go off.  The darkness is profound.  Well, except for the brilliant lightning that spreads across the sky like fingers reaching out to snatch anything in its path.  The young boy balks at going out and tugs at his father’s hand.

“It’s too dark!  Let’s stay here!”  he cajoles, almost hysterically.

His father, knowing that a downpour is imminent, pulls him along impatiently.

“No!” cries the boy.  “I’m scared!”

With new inspiration, the father leans down and asks the little tyke, “Who’s holding your hand?  Who am I?”

The boy, holding back the tears, replies, “You’re my Daddy.”

With a smile of triumph and encouragement, the man booms out, “That’s right!  I’m the Daddy!  And, I’ll protect you from whatever is out there.  You’re safe with me!  C’mon!”

Laughing together, they run into the dark.

I won’t follow just anyone into the dark.  Left on my own, I would turn tail and run away from the darkness, never moving forward, never growing.

Truth be known, these last few days have been a bit dark for me, and I haven’t wanted to walk through it at all.  I talked about that with a friend from another state today, a man who has walked through the very shadow of death himself quite recently.  He knows the right One with whom to walk into the dark.

“Paul, if we knew what the next minute held, we wouldn’t want to walk into it.  We’re not asked to know, just to trust the One who walks with us.”

And, once again, I get it.  The One we follow?  He’s the Daddy!

I will follow Him into the dark.

It’s time to get moving again.  You coming with?

If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day.  Darkness and light are alike to You.
(Psalm 139:12,13 ~ NASB)

No, like a child in doubt and fear:
     But that blind clamour made me wise;
     Then was I as a child that cries,
But crying, knows his father near;

And what I am beheld again
     What is, and no man understands;
     And out of darkness came the hands
That reach thro’ nature, moulding men.
(From “In Memoriam” ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson ~ English poet ~ 1809-1892)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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“You lot are making so much noise, I can’t even hear myself think! Shush!”

The redheaded lady who raised me had had all of the chatter, all of the bickering, all of the bragging she could stand for one day.  Her voice was raised above the hullabaloo of the five children in the house and the silence that ensued was deafening–in a strange sort of way.  It was only a momentary respite, but in that short time period, I remember thinking about the strange words she has just uttered.

“…I can’t even hear myself think!”

What does that mean?  Thoughts were inside your head.  How could anything from outside drown out thoughts?

Moving a few years past the redheaded lady’s cry for mercy, I hear the voice of another person of influence in my life.  The silver-haired man stood in front of our little class of five or six college-aged students.  We all thought that we wanted to learn the skill of tuning and maintaining the piano.  Expecting to begin with learning how to manipulate the tuning hammer on the strings, an obvious step in learning to tune, we were instead listening to a lecture as the diminutive man spoke of the theory of sound.

“What is the most important element in making music with the piano?” he began.  “The strings?  The soundboard?  Perhaps, the hammers?”

With a mischievous little grin, he gave the answer in the form of a riddle.  It was one which scientists (and philosophers, for that matter) have been asking for centuries.

“If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Oh!  I knew this!  Raising my hand, I blurted out, “Of course it does!”  In that instant, I was caught in his trap.  He wasted no time in springing it, either.

“Wrong!  Sound occurs only when there is both a transmitter (in this case, the tree falling) and a receiver (the missing person to hear it). It is a scientific fact.”

Of course, I argued.  I still do.  But, there was no retreat in the teacher.  Soon the whole class was offering individual opinions.  The noise level continued to rise, until he quieted us down.

“The point I want to make is that music only occurs when there is an instrument from which the tone emanates and a person or persons to hear said music. Transmitter–receiver; both necessary and important parts of the music.”

I didn’t go on to be a piano technician.  I hate tuning pianos.  The drudgery I experienced when sitting at the keyboard plinking at fourths and thirds, listening to the beats in the tones and manipulating the tuning hammer, cannot be overstated.  I would never be a piano tuner.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t understand what the teacher, my father-in-law, was driving at, though.

And now, we speed past a number of years to the night I sat in an auditorium listening to an accomplished concert pianist as he filled the atmosphere of the room with beautiful music.  The system was working.  The transmitter (pianist with piano) was fulfilling its function admirably and the receiver (audience) had no complaints.

Suddenly, something went very wrong.  A moment before, the arpeggios and the chords had been well behaved and organized, but now they were all askew.  Where crisp notes had flowed in a pleasant manner from the instrument previously, now garbled and roaring conglomerations of tones blasted the eardrums of those listening.  The roaring grew louder by the second. Momentarily, I looked at the pianist, assuming that he had forgotten his music, perhaps shifting his hands up on the keyboard a half-step instead of continuing in the correct position.  In that moment, though, the realization of what had happened became clear.

The pianist was doing everything right; it was the piano which was at fault.  The dampers–those pieces of felt which silence each vibrating string when its part is ended, to await the next time the artist presses a key and causes the hammer to strike that string once more–the dampers weren’t functioning.  All akimbo, they were hung up above all the strings.  Every string on the piano was free to vibrate, without constraint.  The result was musical pandemonium.

Tonight, as I remember that hideous din, my mind is drawn back to the five children and their suffering mother.  I wonder if malfunctioning dampers played a part in that situation, too.

I certainly don’t want to afflict anyone with a sophomoric explanation of the need for restraint in our communication.  It is likely to be all too evident as we look at the world in which we live.

The din is increasing, the unrestricted voices beginning to roar.  Some days, the cacophony is so loud I despair of it ever returning to a level at which any sense can be made of it at all.

All of which makes me realize that we seem to have come full circle tonight.

Last week, this aging grandfather sat in the living room at his own home, surrounded by the noise of four young children at play.  I was almost astounded to hear the words, seemingly called forth from my mouth without any intent on my part.

“You guys are making so much noise, I can’t hear myself think!  Shush!”

I can hear the red-headed lady chuckling from here.

Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes?
(I Corinthians 14:7 ~ NIV)

We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices.
(Matt Drudge ~ American political commentator/author)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Time For A Nap

A Sunday afternoon nap punctuates a morning of Worship, a good meal and the woes of the week past.

The statement was made by a reader quite some time ago, but it left an impression on me.  I love my Sunday naps (and the ones that come on any other day, truth be known).

I remember my brain was jolted into activity by the wonderful comment.  I still have no idea who the author was, and I’d kind of like to keep it that way.  I imagined some wise person perusing my daily nonsense, finally finding a post worth commenting on and making an intellectual statement which may one day be in all the lists of quotes by famous writers, motivational speakers, and anonymous sources.  Only time will tell.

I  read the comment aloud to the Lovely Lady back then, finding that hearing the words brought a completely different perspective to the statement.  What roused me was the use of one word in the sentence.  The verb in the sentence brought me to a screeching halt.  Yep, just like a period.

“A Sunday afternoon nap punctuates…”

The word nerd in me was all a-tingle instantly.  The picture drawn by the sentence was vivid.  Yes!  They get it!  The Sunday nap is the period on what is past.  A full Stop.  No more.  And just like that, I wanted to believe that it was true.  The hard week, the busy days, the weariness, all were banished with the period of the nap.  This far and no further.  Gandalf the wizard was on the bridge in Moria standing against the evil Balrog.  “You shall not pass!”

But, just as quickly as it appeared, the vision dissolved into nothing.  That’s not right, I thought.  There’s no disconnection from one day to the next.  There’s no full stop and restart.  Perhaps, the punctuation  intended was a comma.  I like commas, simply because they give me a chance to catch my breath.  We take a very brief rest, and we’re on to the next phrase.  Yes, maybe the comma.  But as I considered it some more, I don’t think that fits either.  The comma doesn’t give any sense of renewal, but simply separates parts of the same idea.  Just a pause, and a continuation of the same old, same old.  Not much refreshment in that.  No, not the comma.

We could keep going.  We haven’t talked about the exclamation point!  Excitement! Surprise!  Shock!  They’re all rolled up into one little straight line with a period below.  Nope, not quite the description of a nap.  At least, not a good nap.

How about the question mark?  Why?  How?  When?  It still misses the target by a good bit.  I scratched my head for a moment more, and then I had it.

The semicolon.

I think the Sunday nap, or one on any other day, is best described as a semicolon.  This little mark, part period and part comma (including both in its form), gives a chance to place two sentences next to each other.  The sentences continue from the first into the second, both aiding each other, but each able to stand alone if need be.  I’m exhausted from the events of this week; the semicolon allows me to be refreshed for the new one to come.  It doesn’t force us to a full stop, nor is it merely a momentary pause; it is a chance to regenerate, to be ready to go forward.  This must be what was intended in the pithy statement!

As I start to think outside the lines a bit, I’ve come to realize this thing we call time is more than a little arbitrary.  We make the day start and stop at midnight, but the moments keep marching past, oblivious to our false milestones.  Time pays no attention to weekends, nor to Mondays; only we humans are foolish enough to mark those anniversaries.  What is true is that our past leads continuously to our future; the lessons of yesterday become the practices of tomorrow.  The times of refreshment we crave and even require, simply give us a chance to regroup and move on through the days appointed to us.

Even having acknowledged the foolishness of our shortsightedness, living from work week to work week, I’m grateful for the rest along the way.  I will happily admit that the nap isn’t the only thing which accomplishes this.  I love the fellowship of friends and family, the joy of music, and even reading; all these and more bring about revival and rejuvenation.  May we enjoy these times throughout our lives, with the real goal in sight, the goal of serving our Maker daily.  Every new moment is an opportunity for service and being agents of change in the world; every encounter, a chance to show God at work in us.

The sentences are long; the semicolons between them are short and blessed.  They’re not intended to stop the action; they only get us ready for what comes next.  As the Bard so aptly wrote centuries ago, “What’s past is prologue.”  

 I’m not sure if Mr. Shakespeare also wrote the old ad copy for Lee Nails, but it speaks to us too.

“Press On!”

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:31)

Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines further on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.
(Lewis Thomas~American physician, poet, and etymologist)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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In Irons

When life takes the wind out of your sails, it is to test you at the oars.*

I was reminded again this evening of the old cartoon that has one of the characters standing on the deck of a sailboat which is dead in the water.  As he stands at the helm, waiting for the wind to come up again, he takes matters into his own hands and begins to blow into the sail of the little craft.

It is an endeavor with no possibility of success.

There is, of course, a scientific explanation for the spectacular failure of such self propulsion.  The laws of nature declare that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  If both the action and the reaction originate on the deck of the same craft, each is canceled out by the other.  The wind expelled from the lungs of the captain blows forward and, striking the sails, is reflected back at the same rate, to achieve precisely nothing.

The boat remains dead in the water, despite the tremendous effort of its captain.

It may already be obvious that I am speaking metaphorically when I write of boats and ships.  I don’t much like being on boats.  I even get a little queasy as I contemplate what Mr. Redding saw as he was sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away.  No.  I’m thinking about these little boats in which we are sailing along through life.

There have been a few times over the course of my years when I believed that my boat was dead in the water.  There was no wind from above and no current from below.  And, the oars certainly make for slow going, despite what Mr. Brault may think (see quote above).  Additionally, I have recently discovered another reason that a boat might be powerless while at sea.

We would probably call it pilot error nowadays.  It seems, of the many mishaps which can befall our little crafts, most of them are self-inflicted.  They come from hesitation, from mismanagement, even from panic.  There is one maneuver which I have performed many times that causes my boat to founder and usually leads me to blame someone else, or even God on occasion.

It’s my own fault.

The nautical minded will know this little trick as being in irons.  All it entails is turning the boat directly into the wind, with no chance of the sails catching its beneficial gusts, either from the sides or from the rear.  The wind is still blowing, yet the craft is becalmed.  Blowing directly into the bow, the wind holds the boat straight, allowing it to turn neither port nor starboard, left nor right.  Trapped!  In irons.  It is not a position in which one wants to be caught.

It is also a position which is almost always avoidable.

I like to go in the direction I choose.  I do not wish to be controlled by anyone or anything.  Call it inflexibility or obstinance, or any other descriptive word that aids in rationalizing my attitude, but it remains nothing more nor less than simple stubbornness.  

I want what I wantwhether or not it is the best thing for me or those around me.  And when I’m sitting in the boat which is caught fast in the iron grip of the wind, actually being pushed backwards, I finally realize that better choices were available.

We can’t control which way the wind blows.  We can’t control if the wind blows.

We can trust the Master of the Wind.

We should probably also keep the oars handy.  There is still work to be done and time in which to do it.

We’ll do it better if we’re not in irons.

“Gotta serve somebody.”
(Bob Dylan ~ American singer/songwriter)

“The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
(see above)

*Quote from Robert Brault ~ American free-lance writer

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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