My Soul to Take

“Now I lay me down to sleep…”

The words to the children’s bedtime prayer form in my mind and perhaps, even upon my lips.  But again, as always before, they flow no further.

I may possibly lay my body down in the bed, my head on the pillow which is hardened and packed down by many nights spent as this one seems likely to be–tossing and turning, but I will be pursuing sleep that is just out of reach.

My brain is full of questions.

I am not, as you might suspect, concerned about the things one usually considers likely to render a person restless and tense.  I don’t worry about unpaid bills.  I don’t lie looking into the dark and wonder if that pain in my chest is the first warning of a heart attack.  I’m not worried that the things I’ve worked for all my life are likely to disappear tomorrow.

No.  Weightier matters occupy my thoughts.  There are questions involving people I love, concerns about decisions made and consequences to come.  I wrestle with why and what if and the ever present if only.

I have to force my mind away from the things that hold it hostage and will myself to continue the little poem.  It will be, no doubt, merely a temporary respite.

“I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

Now, that’s curious.  Do I keep my soul in the waking hours and the Lord keeps it when I sleep?

Where does our soul go when we sleep?  It’s not the kind of question a grown man should ask.  A child, now…

My mind remembers a little pudgy tow-headed boy, asking just such a question fifty years ago.  His older brother, never one to miss an opportunity to string the gullible child along, might have suggested that it hung in the air over his bed–ghostlike–awaiting his return from that dark world of sleep and dreams.

A trip downstairs to put the question to his parents resulted in the stock reply.

“Don’t be foolish!  Your soul is with you until you die.  Stop asking silly questions and go back to bed!”

So, the little blondie trudged back up the stairs to lie in his bed once more, questions still streaming through his head.  Every once in awhile, his eyes would fly open to gaze into the darkness, wondering if he would see his brother’s soul floating ethereally above the bed across the room.

Why is it foolish to ask questions?

What keeps us from discussing the less weighty matters with our children?

Perhaps, if we did, they would be more likely to feel comfortable talking with us about the important things when they get older.

I have spent a lifetime not asking the questions.  What would you think of me, if you were to find I’m not rock solid about this doctrine or that theory, or even some popular political dogma?  If I keep my doubts and cockeyed ideas to myself, you may continue to believe I’m a pillar of my community and a man to be respected.

So, I save my questions for the night and the dark.

Why does he…?

Is it really true that…?

Why can’t I change this…?

The ideas are racing once more and sleep is no closer.

Once again, I force my mind back to the short little verse.

“If I should die before I wake…”

No.  I won’t think about that.  It simply cannot be countenanced.  These people I love and worry about–what would they do if I were to die?  Who else cares enough?  Who else will be able to fix them? 

And just like that, the realization comes over me in a wave, and my objections are quieted.  It’s as if the Man in the boat stood up in the storm and spoke.

“Peace.  Be still.”

The realization is of a sense of place that admits there was wisdom and intelligence before I came.  There will be wisdom and intelligence after any tiny influence I may have is forgotten and erased.  My arrogance and worry won’t change that in any way.

I will die.  We all will.  I will leave a legacy, partly good and partly harmful.  I pray the good will outweigh the bad.  Perhaps you hope for the same thing.

“I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

There it is again.  That pesky soul that won’t stay put.  Now, the Lord will be not merely keeping, but taking it.  Come to think of it, that’s as it should be.

The Apostle said it in no uncertain terms, didn’t he?  When we’re absent from this body, we will be present with the Lord.

He will take it for me.  Faith in His grace has lead to an assurance of that.  But, before I let the thoughts begin to swirl once more, I remember the answer to one more question.

I don’t have to wait until I die for him to take it.

I certainly am no fit steward for such a thing, but He who holds the world in His hands, gives the gift of trust.  He cares for the flowers of the fields; is there any question He will watch over his own?

I wait for the storm of worry and questions to begin anew, as it invariably does.  Nothing.


Time for sleep.

Now I lay me down…

“Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I shall die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
(From the New England Primer ~ 1784)

“Sometimes I stay up so late that I have my morning coffee before going to bed.”

© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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A New Love Song

The framed engraving sits forlornly on my desk, awaiting the day when I have a spare moment to hang it above the Lovely Lady’s work station.  It is a distinctly romantic scene, probably more suited for the feminine eye than the masculine.

I like it, nonetheless.  Probably not for the same reason she does.

I am a lover of language.  I especially appreciate a phrase with a clever double meaning, skillfully rendered.  This beautiful print fits the description.

It may take a moment to explain what is happening in the old painting.  Let me transport you back over a century ago to a time more relaxed, a time with more personal interaction than our own day which is driven by technology, both in the practicalities and in the arts.

It was a day when you couldn’t pick up a smart phone and access the internet, sampling music, or settling intellectual arguments with a quick look at Wikipedia.  No, there wasn’t even a CD player, or a cassette player, or a record player–not even a crank-driven Edison reproducing machine.  Music was live or it didn’t happen at all.

Live.  Always a singer, or an instrumentalist.  Always.

Necessity being the mother of invention, the publishing houses understood they couldn’t sell songs which hadn’t been heard.  So, was born the song plugger.  Music stores actually had a position for such a person.  Usually, a pianist.  Always with the ability to carry a tune vocally.  George Gershwin in his early days in the music business was a song plugger, singing and playing other composers’ hit songs so the music store could make the sales necessary to drive the popularity of the next big sensation.

Earlier than that, on street corners and at fairs, vocalists carried the limp rags of the new songs (our crisp, glossy sheets wouldn’t arrive for decades) and sang the verses and refrains at the tops of their lungs to attract a crowd of passersby.  Then they hoped that both the performance and the song itself would help them to earn their living for that day.  If they went back to the publisher with the printed sheets still in hand, they made nothing for all their effort.

And finally, we arrive back at our point of departure, as we contemplate the engraving seen above.  Just such an event is depicted.  The attractive young lady singer stands at the curb on an obviously cold day, music in her hand.  Clearly, the song has been sung.  The crowd is still gathered around.

The transaction taking place is of interest to me, though.  There are two people in the picture who seem to play a prominent part.  The pretty young singer, certainly.  Her customer is the other–a young man holding what appears to be a carriage whip in his off-hand while placing money in the singer’s hand.

The title of the painting is simple.  A New Love Song.  That’s all.  A New Love Song.

Well certainly.  She sang the new love song and he liked it, so he bought it.  It was a new love song.  He would take the music home and someone there could play the harpsichord or lute and sing the words.  End of story.

I’m not so sure.  As I look at the scene in front of me, I see seven people.  The thing is, only two of them are involved in any kind of interaction.  They are entirely focused on each other.  Everyone else is just looking on.

A new love song?  Do you suppose it means more than just notes and words on paper?  Perhaps, a love song no one else in that little audience could hear but the singer and her young friend.

I do love a good turn of a phrase.

You know I have more to say on the subject, don’t you?  I’ll attempt to be brief, but I make no promises.

My spirit laments the loss of personal interaction which has come with our modern age.

Funny.  We boast of our ability to communicate better than we ever have.  No longer limited as in former days to written messages delivered by post, nor even to telegraph or telephone messages, we can now look directly in the face of the person to whom we are speaking, half a world away.  Emails are sent by the millions daily, delivering their personal messages and even their commercial ones.  Entire commercial enterprises are built solely on electronic communications handled while never speaking verbally to another person.

The pitfalls of such a system are myriad.  I have my own collection of tales from personal experience in the business world.

And, proud as we may be of the ability to speak, virtually face-to-face, to family in lands far away, I would invite you to ask any grandmother who utilizes such a system if it is adequate for spending time with her grandchildren.  The answer will almost certainly be a resounding no.

Her arms ache to hold her growing grandchildren.  Virtually communicating will never–never–take the place of hugging and touching and snuggling with them in her arms.

The same is true of my business.  No.  I don’t mean the snuggling part–I mean the reality of face-to-face communication.  I have lost a number of customers with whom I have never had the opportunity to speak in person, but that number shrinks to nearly nothing when I consider the ones with whom I could not work out a problem when they were standing in my presence.

We are made to interact one to one, face to face, with other humans.  Our Creator made it so.  Our spirits are made to interact with others of shared experiences.  Friendships, real friendships, are developed as we walk and talk together–as we face problems and life’s disasters together.

We work through issues.  We talk through the misunderstandings.  We come out on the other side stronger for having the experience.  Together.

I love to listen to music.  Many of my online acquaintances post videos and recordings for others to listen to, some nearly daily.  I listened to a few of those tonight.

One in particular was gorgeous.  Yet, somehow, I was uneasy as I listened to it.  The recording was of a young man who used a popular recording technique, one I see frequently these days.  He had recorded himself singing a song which required eight vocal parts.  He covered every single part himself, adding video and audio feed as each part entered.

I figured out what made me uneasy about it.  The blend was flawless.  Flawless.

You wouldn’t think that would be a problem, would you?

Recordings of vocal groups are never flawless.  Really.  Never.  Voices have different timbres, different overtones.  Some are full and rich, while others are airy and light.  When a vocalist sings in a group, they have to work to blend in.  They listen to the subtleties of the others in the group, adjusting their singing to fit with the other members of the ensemble.

The result is a sound which has many aspects, many tonalities.  The difficulty of listening carefully, of responding to the nearly imperceptible disparities in pitch and rhythm, increases the beauty of the whole.

One voice, singing all the different parts, can sound spectacular.  It’s no big thing.  There is nothing different with which to blend, no hardship to overcome.

I wonder, do we practice blending with each other?  Harmony in music is not so different from harmony in living with other humans.  If all we do is make sure we interact with others who have the same voice we do, we’ve accomplished nothing we were intended to accomplish.

The Teacher, when He taught His followers, talked about a table set for many which was mostly empty.  The instructions were not to find others just like the ones who were already seated at the table.  He didn’t suggest that messages could be sent to family and friends.

“Go out.  Out into the hedges, into the back roads, into the paths you’re not familiar with.  Show them a reason to come to the table with you.”

I wonder.

It’s been awhile since I’ve sung on the street corner.

I’m thinking there’s still a new song or two left to sing.

How about it?

Maybe it’s time to plug a new love song.

“In the end, we shall have had enough of cynicism, skepticism, and humbug, and we shall want to live more musically.”
(Vincent Van Gogh ~ Dutch artist ~ 1853-1890)

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
(Albert Einstein ~ German-born American physicist ~ 1879-1955)

© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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All Liars

“I want to believe in people.”

The video showed a man speeding down a water slide and flying through the air to land in a pool of water many feet away.  It was an amazing feat.  Astonishing!

It was also a fraud.  It never happened.

Insignificant?  Petty?  Sure.

There are more important things in the world, but the realization that your emotions and credulity have been manipulated by a technician and his computer is disappointing at the least.  It can be infuriating if we dwell upon it.

When the fraud was pointed out to my friend who shared the video, her response was the almost plaintive quote you see at the top of the page.

It is a desire shared by every one of us.  And, day by day, it is an optimism which is being eroded.

I want to believe in people.

The news story for days has been of a little girl who was savaged by vicious dogs, her face lacerated and disfigured.  Then, the story reports, when she was released from the hospital,  a worker in a fast food restaurant insisted her parents take her out of the establishment because she was frightening other children.

The public uproar was instantaneous and furious.  Boycott the restaurant chain!  Send money for the child’s medical treatment!  We are shocked that anybody could do that to a little girl!

We want to believe in people.  Obviously, we can’t.

Today, the tables are turned.  All the news outlets are reporting it is likely the story itself is a hoax.  The tale is now of a family that couldn’t cover medical bills, so decided to use the media and a wealthy corporation to make sure that they were not going to be left penniless.  If the current news reports are to be believed, they lied.  The event never occurred.

We want to believe in people.  We can’t.

Time will demonstrate who is telling the truth there.  We certainly can’t know from our vantage point today.

Every day, it seems, they walk through my door.  They probably come through yours, too.

Stories.  They tell me stories.  I want to believe that the narratives are not simply fabrications.  I want to think that not one of these folks who stand in front of me and weave their tales of woe are lying to me.

I would be wrong.  People lie.

Now that I think of it, so do I.

You are surrounded by people who may be lying to you.

What a situation!  We live in a world filled with folks who seek their own good and are willing to lie and cheat to get it.  That includes you.  It includes me.

Who knew?

You already know the answer to that question, don’t you?  I wonder, is that the reason He told us to consider each other better than ourselves?  Is that the reason he told us to open our hearts and homes to strangers?  Is that the reason he told us to spend time with the lawbreakers in prison?

Maybe it’s time to open our hearts to liars and thieves, to the homeless and destitute.  There is a bit of each of us in those descriptions, isn’t there?

No, we can’t believe people.  But we can believe Him.

We believe in God.

People?  We simply love them.

We open our hearts and hands to them.  Because it’s what we–each one of us–need.

Because it’s how He told us to live.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”
(Matthew 25:40 ~ NIV)

“You who speak languages, you are such liars.”
(Orson Scott Care ~ American author/educator)

© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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How to Get Out of Jail

“Go to jail.  Go directly to jail.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.”

You’ve been there.  Family game night.  You’ve rolled the dice.  Moved the little cast aluminum top hat six spaces ahead and you see that you’ve landed on Community Chest.

This could be nice!  Community Chest!  Most of those cards are good.  Collect money from each player for one thing or another.  You may have even won second place in a beauty contest!

Confidently, you draw the card.  How much will you get?

A long sigh escapes your lungs as you read the message above.  Jail.  Nobody wants to go to jail.  What a rotten turn of events.

Resigned to your fate, you move the shiny little top hat to the prescribed corner of the board and await your next turn.  What to do?

Pay a fine?  Surely not.  You need that money to purchase Boardwalk.

Try to roll doubles?  That’s a possibility.  What are the chances you’ll roll doubles in the next three turns?  What if the fellow with the little dog buys Boardwalk in the meantime?

The answer is obvious.

You will use your Get Out Of Jail Free card.  You drew it an hour ago and have kept it untouched until now.  It cost you nothing, since you didn’t have to work for it.  You can still buy that fabulous property coming up on the other side of the board.

Get Out Of Jail Free.

I saw it happen in the park one day not long ago.  I was stopped for a moment to adjust my fitness program’s tracking since the Lovely Lady had sent me a message saying she couldn’t tell where I was.  (I need her to know where to send the ambulance if I keel over).

Not far away from me, I saw a couple of teenage girls sitting on a bench.  As they talked, one of them gestured frantically toward a figure approaching from a distance.  They looked at each other and grimaced.  Obviously, they didn’t want any interaction with this other girl, but what could they do?  She was coming directly up the sidewalk toward where they sat.  They were trapped!

Almost immediately, one of them had a brilliant idea.  She punched a message into her smart phone, I suppose, sending it to the other girl.  At any rate, she too grabbed her smart phone and began to type.  Heads bent over their phones, they never gave any indication to the young lady walking up the sidewalk that they even saw her.

She passed by without a word.  They were safe.

I thought about the Monoply game.

Who would have imagined?  Smart phones are get out of jail free cards.

It even happens frequently to me.  I don’t blame them.  I am a strange man.

As I walk or run through town on my nightly exercise sessions, I look ahead along the pavement.  A block or two in front, I see a woman coming toward me.  She sees me; that much is obvious.  Suddenly, as I get close, the phone comes out and the fingers begin to fly across the screen.

I’m not offended.

They simply need a get out of jail free card.  Otherwise, they might feel obligated to return my wave or friendly hello.  I understand.

But, I also think about the old wild west movies.  You know.  One of those where the town ne’er-do-well is walking up the dirt avenue downtown.  The society matriarch raises her head another couple of inches and, nose pointed toward the sky, crosses the street to walk down the other side from the undesirable outcast.

There is no need to sully her person with unwanted contact.  She utilizes her own primitive get out of jail free card.

I hope you’ll stick with me through one more narrative today.  The event occurred just a couple of days ago while I worked one afternoon.

I looked out the front window of the music store and realized with a sinking feeling in my stomach that I had drawn the go directly to jail card again.

My cellmate was coming in the door, carrying a beat up old guitar.  I don’t mean the vintage collectible kind of beat up old guitar, either.  It was a piece of junk.  I knew that I didn’t want it.

I sighed and, resigned to my stay in jail, awaited my next move.

The young lady spoke.  “The pawn shop wouldn’t buy this.  Will you?”

Hey!  My get out of jail free card!  She had handed it right to me!  If the pawn shop didn’t want it, I certainly couldn’t be expected to have any use for it.

I started to tell her as much.  It was actually what she had expected.  She knew the guitar was worthless.  It would never play a note of music again.  I began to explain why I didn’t want it.


I was just playing my get out of jail free card.  Do you blame me?

Suddenly, in mid sentence, I stopped talking and looked at the lady.  Head bowed, she was resigned to her fate.  She came in with nothing and would leave with the same nothing.

I took my card off the table.  I asked her what she really needed.  I listened to her story.  She left with what she needed.  She took my get out of jail card, too.

At least, I imagine that’s what it looked like to her.

Funny.  Sometimes, we’re so anxious to escape the place and people we perceive as undesirable that we don’t realize the prison we remain in is so much worse.

Can I remind you of something you already know?

A long time ago, Someone else had a chance to use a get out of jail free card, but didn’t.  Instead, He gave it to me.  He gave it to you, too.  This week, I got to share it with that young lady.

I don’t know if she’ll use it wisely.  That’s not up to me.

I bet you’ve had some chances to share yours, too.  There will be more.

I wonder.  Will we be too busy texting on our smart phones?  Or, crossing the street?

Want to know something else?  When you’re generous with your get out of jail free card, it still gets you out of jail, too.

Strange, huh?

Grace is funny that way.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
(Ephesians 4:32 ~ ESV)

“Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage…”
(“To Althea, From Prison” ~ Richard Lovelace ~ English poet ~ 1618-1657)

© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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Morning Glory

“What spectacular beauty!”

I stood, almost scratching my head, as I gazed up into the old walnut tree.  It is, indeed, a beautiful tree due to its age and tenacity.  Growing right beside an alley that sees too much traffic and hanging over the rear of my music store, it has had more than its share of hardship.  In spite of the abuse and neglect, it stands tall and drops a copious crop of black walnuts to the ground below it each fall.

I scratch my head because walnut trees are not known for their full, green foilage.  Their leaves are the first to drop in the autumn and the last to appear in the spring, merely a filmy layer to give the impression of a covering for the naked old giant.  The London Plane tree at the other side of the property would laugh itself silly, had it the ability to do so, at the pitiful showing this walnut tree normally makes each year.  Not only is the covering barely adequate, but the size of the leaves would be dwarfed by any the tall and stately Plane tree possesses.

Not this year.

I am astounded at the display of greenery covering the branches of the elder statesman in my yard.  Never have I seen it so resplendent.  Huge leaves hang from every surface, creating a beautiful sight and a wonderful shade for any passersby.

What has happened?

My mind wanders.

You knew it would.

I remember another similar tree in the city in which I spent my youth.  The old hackberry tree was just as stately and tall at one time as the walnut tree.  It was a wonderful climbing tree, just the confederate a young dreamer needed in his days of coming of age.  To climb the limbs of the old gnarled tree was an easy task, even while toting a book in my back pocket.  Hours later, having traveled to a far off land and a long ago time and back again, this young man would descend reluctantly to the ground, and then only because dark and supper were at hand.

A hurricane, of which I have spoken before, pushed the entire tree onto its side one fall. The incident left the roots firmly attached in the earth still, so we let our old friend live out its days reclining against the ground.

It too, was a tree with an unusual covering, rendering it amazingly capable of shading the ground below.  You may also remember a story I shared previously of the beloved morning glory my Mom had tended and coaxed up into the tree over a period of many years.

The morning glory met an untimely end.  At my hands.  That, however, was a story for another day.

When the morning glory was still in good health, it lent its support to the hackberry tree, sending out tendrils and vines to cover the branches with huge green leaves and, in their season, beautiful purple blossoms, new every morning.  We climbed into the branches of the old tree, unafraid of anything, plucking the blossoms at will to put in a shallow glass dish on the dining room table.

No one objected.  There would be more tomorrow.

New blossoms every day.

Suddenly, I am back in the present, gazing suspiciously at the too beautiful tree.

I walk closer.  Something is not right here.

My skin begins to tingle.

I know those leaves!  They are most definitely not walnut leaves.

All at once, two things appear to me at the same instant.  Several huge vines are growing up from the ground, attaching themselves to the trunk and winding up out of sight on the branches above.  But, before I foolishly reach out to touch the vines, I also see the pattern of the leaves.

Leaves of three.

Poison ivy.  Covering the entire tree.

Beautiful?  Well yes, but it is a deadly beauty.

Poison ivy does not, to my knowledge, produce a blossom worth description, but even if it did, I would not venture into that tree to pluck the most beautiful flower that could be found there.  There is not a spot on the trunk or branches above upon which I want to lay my hand.

It is in the nature of poison ivy that, even should the huge vines be removed and the leaves be allowed to shrivel and crumble off, the tree will remain unapproachable for seasons to come.  There are even some who suggest that the poisonous vines cannot ever be rooted out.

Time will tell.

I said that my skin tingled while I stood beneath the tree and discovered the deadly beauty thereof.

The hair on the back of my neck is standing again now, as the lesson of the vines becomes all too clear to me.

I am aging.  A recent birthday has once again reminded me that this world spins too fast and the days fly away too soon.  The roots of the tree have long since been sent down into the soil, the Source of life chosen and made known.

But, what of the covering?  What of the vines that have been allowed to take root nearby and lend their aid?  Choices have been made and are being made.  The reality is that what we see as beautiful and even comfortable can actually be poisonous.

Too often, we have seen this evidenced in those from whose lives we anticipated great things and strong finishes.  I know of a number of famous examples whose exteriors were shown to be toxic, beautiful to look at, but treacherous to all who are touched by their lives.  The world is anxious to expose the toxins, to point fingers at the departed trees, and dismiss every facet of their existence.

I have also become aware in recent days of others, not famous at all, who have done the same thing.  Long and powerful lives of honorable service are slowly being choked out by poisonous vines which have been allowed to spring up and entertwine themselves with the trunk and branches.  Seemingly minor and insignificant choices are rapidly leading to catastrophic endings.

Can they recover?  I believe it is still possible.

Time will tell.

I reminded you of the morning glory earlier.  Do you know that before I unwittingly did that vine in, it was covering a tree which was mostly dead?  Trees, alas, are not created to recline and cannot live forever in that position.  But, even despite the decay and decline of the tree itself, the covering more than made up for the old giant’s lack of leaves and rotting branches.

The leaves of the morning glory thrived and covered a multitude of faults in the tree underneath.

And still, every day, the blossoms came–purple and glorious.

New every morning.

Remind you of anything?

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.”
(Lamentations 3:22,23 ~ KJV)

“The perception of beauty is a moral test.”
(Henry David Thoureau ~ American essayist/philosopher ~ 1817-1862)

© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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We Don’t Want to Talk About What Planet You’re From

You could have heard an ice cube melting.

I think perhaps I did.

She said the words and looked expectantly from face to face of the three men across the table from her.  Not one of us took the cue.  It was an obvious cue.  We looked at her blankly and struggled to think of an appropriate answer (for men).

I don’t remember what was said next, but I think someone told a joke.  It seemed the appropriate answer.

Perhaps, I should start a bit earlier in the conversation.  Not very much earlier.  Just one sentence.  Her question.

“You men should have a discussion about that, don’t you think?”

It was a logical point for the conversation to reach, but honestly, we never thought it would go that far.  A sensitive subject was being broached and we assumed that the conversation would just move on without a call to action.

Especially a call for us men to talk about that.  With other men.

The Lovely Lady and I were with our Old Friends.  I write the phrase as a title because they really are–old friends.  The same age as we are.  Almost lifelong companions.

We stood up with each other in our weddings, decades ago.  We carried around each other’s babies, along with our own, decades ago.  We helped each other through the teenage years our children went through together, decades ago.  We supported each other through the empty nest sadness–well, the ladies did.  We men just grunted and acted like it didn’t matter.  We knew it did.

Now we show photos of the new grandchildren, and of the black eyes and battle scars the older ones are earning.

We know each other.  We like each other.

You’d think that she would be aware.  We don’t talk about that.

I came home later that evening and sat thinking.  Does she really expect us to talk about things like that?

I am not a socially sensitive man.  It’s not because I enjoy being a neanderthal.  It’s just that I don’t think a lot about the difference between the sexes.  It’s never been that important for me to contemplate.

I’ve been thinking more about the difference between the sexes.

The female of the species likes to communicate with words.  They sit around and do whatever shared activity it is they enjoy, and they talk.  The activity doesn’t matter; the conversation does.

The male of the species communicates with the activity itself.  We fish and golf, we bicycle and play basketball.  We do the activity.

When we’re done with the activity, we talk about the activity.

The ladies talk about children and husbands, personal problems, and medical issues.  They discuss how to deal with hyperactive kids and what herb or medication is effective for osteoporosis (or even more personal ailments).

Men talk about activities–sports and fishing, the weather and how business is looking.  The closest we get to talking about a personal medical problem is to yell at another player on the basketball court to shake it off.  We don’t want our personal issues discussed, much less have suggestions made as to a solution to the problem.

Don’t believe it?  Watch what happens the next time a man falls down while riding his bicycle.  Do you suppose he’s likely to lie in a heap and wait for help to arrive?


He’s up as quickly as he can hop to his feet, hiding the rapidly swelling knee or ankle, and yelling out,  “I’m all right!  I’m all right!”

What he means is,  “I don’t want to talk about it.  Get on with riding and let me deal with the pain alone.” 

The females of the species even travel to the restroom together, one would assume communicating while waiting their turn to use the facilities.  For all I know, they may even talk while using the facilities.  I don’t know that.  Come to think of it, I don’t wish to know that.

On the other hand, the male doesn’t want anyone to know he’s even going to the little room, much less come along with him.  We even use euphemisms to hide our intentions, like I’m going to see a man about a dog, or I have to answer nature’s call.  We don’t want company and we don’t want to talk while we’re there.  We look at the ceiling or the floor if we have to wait and are just happy to be washing up and walking out the door.  Without talking.

Have I made this clear enough?

We don’t want to talk about it.

Wow.  For a guy who doesn’t think about the differences between the sexes, there are a lot of words written on this page describing at least this difference.

We don’t want to talk about it.  Especially not that.

I wonder though.

Not that men will ever communicate in the same ways that women do (we are from Mars, you know), but it seems fairly important that we talk about some things.

Yeah.  That, too.

The Apostle, in his writing suggested that we need to look, not only to our own business, but to the business of others.  He wasn’t talking about commercial business either.  Right before those words, he wrote that we were to consider others to be more important than ourselves.

Still I wonder.  Does that mean I have to talk to him about it?

It does seem likely that communication may be required.  That’ll take some effort on my part.  And on yours.

Time to get started, isn’t it?

One thing though.  I’m not talking with them in the rest room.

A guy’s got to set some limits.

“It sounds so trite, but in relationships, you have to communicate.”
(Peter Krause ~ American actor/director)

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
(Philippians 2: 3,4 ~ NASB)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved. 

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Words Won’t Come

The rain falls, alternately pounding on the tin roof above and diminishing to a trickle from the spout of the gutter at the corner.  My mind is full, but words don’t wish to be told what to do.

I have been here before…

Tapped Out

“I have words to spend and sometimes spend them foolishly…squandering verbs and nouns, sending metaphors askew, and using similes like fireworks whose sparks often fail to flame…”*

The descriptive language above is the introduction to a book compiled of articles by a small-town newspaper editor, who was also a popular author of a number of books.

I wish I had said the words myself.

The problem is, in spite of the claims, writers like the one who penned those introductory phrases seem to keep their words in a very efficient bank, making withdrawals at regular intervals, giving instructions to the bank teller to face the verbs all in the same direction. There are never more commas in the bottom of the bank bag than will be needed, and none of the adjectives are torn or taped together in the center.  When their words and punctuation are laid out on the page, they obediently fall into place without complaint, causing nary a note of discord.

My words are not so well put together, having been kept under my mattress for too many restless nights or hidden in the piano, with the vibrations of too many early morning practice sessions causing them to settle into an disorganized mess.  (Some settling of contents may occur in transit.)

It is a chore to disentangle the active verbs from the passive, and for some reason, the modifiers will dangle.

I do have at least a few words to spend, but as I pull them out of my pocket, there seems to be more than a little fluff mixed in.  Most nights, we still manage to pull enough of them together to get by.   

I had thought earlier of describing the words as disciplined soldiers, moving where they are directed, marking time at that pause, doing an about face at the end of that sentence, and holding a straight line as they march in step with each other, but I have no such words at my command.

It is true that some days, the words come unbidden, awaiting their turn impatiently to drop onto the page.  On days such as that, these posts seem to write themselves, with only a small amount of supervisory vigilance.

Not tonight.

I sat at the computer earlier and shouted, “Forward, March!”

No response.  Nothing.

The soldiers all seem to be AWOL tonight.  Maybe my Sergeant Major act was too intimidating for them.

Moving on, I searched under the mattress and found nothing there but a lot of whiny adjectives, and I certainly can’t use them all at once.  Incompetent and ignorant, along with a stubborn and idiotic mixed in here and there, would certainly make poor conversation, so they have been stuffed back under the mattress to await another day.

It would seem that the jumble hidden in the bottom of the piano can yield no better, with way too many exclamation points making their way to the top.


It’s safe to say the bank account is lacking in capital tonight.  Years ago, there was a description for wealthy folks who had lost their fortune.

I remember hearing an older well-to-do widow say it once, “I think he is embarrassed.”

Those words describe me tonight, and are applicable to more than just the state of my verbal bank account.

On these occasions, perhaps it is better to defer to another time.

Tomorrow, possibly.  Maybe a few ideas can be squirreled away during the daytime hours to draw interest until the next opportunity to invest them comes along.

I’ll try to be especially careful to save a few more conjunctions.  I always like the way they work together with other words.  I think I might even find a helpful adverb or two to spend, like happily and friendly.  I’m sure I can scrape together enough to do something worthwhile.

Can we make it a date, then?  You won’t need to bring anything at all.

It will be my treat.

The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.
(Mark Twain~American author and humorist~1835-1910)

A gentle word deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.
(Proverbs 15:1 NLT)

*from I Have Words To Spend (Reflections of a Small-Town Editor) by Robert Cormier, published by Delacorte Books, 1994.

Originally posted .

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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Hold This, Will You?

I’m angry tonight.

I’ve been tricked.

All day, the ideas have been tumbling about in my head.  No—even longer than that.

Days ago, the rough draft of this post was written on the soft gray matter of my brain.  It was filed away for future use.

I intended to write an exposé.

You know—I am by nature a tattle-tale.  I like to show where people go wrong and then use them as cautionary tales.

Phil Everly did it in his song from the last century, When Will I Be Loved.  Why shouldn’t I?

I’ve been made blue.
I’ve been lied to.
When will I be loved?

I intended to tell about the customer who threatened legal action against my business last week.  We mailed him a package which was delivered on time.  The problem is, an elderly person at the customer’s house received the package and then put it where it couldn’t be seen, and she forgot about it.

Suddenly, I’m going to be reported to the Attorney General’s office?

I wanted to make this an exposé of how customers don’t stop to consider that there are actually people on the other end of that email or telephone.  It’s not just a business, there are human beings who operate the business for your benefit, as well as for their vocation.

Nope. Not going to happen.

The rant is canceled, put off to another day due to new evidence come to light.

I was going to include a few choice words about the fellow who lied to me about a certain occurrence.

I was stunned and disappointed beyond belief.  The man is one whom I have reason to trust completely.  Yet, the lie was so intricate—so calculated.  There was premeditation and planning that went into its telling.

I wanted to express my anger and frustration at the violation of my trust.  That also is not how this essay will come across.

Mitigating circumstances have been brought out of the shadows. It seems the person who told the lie is not the villain I desired to make him out to be.

Believe me, I don’t want to change the focus of my writing.  I am more frustrated by this shift in direction than one would believe.  I had the evidence and my summation completely formulated, ready to put down on the empty page.

I actually pounded the desk in front of me when I realized the trap which had been sprung.

My tantrum is over now, my emotions mostly under control, with the possible exception of a tear or two and perhaps, a sniffle into a tissue.

It was almost as if I had heard a voice in the room.  I’m not actually claiming to have heard the voice, just that it might have been.

Here.  Hold this a minute, will you?

I took the shiny, round object which was shoved into my hand.

Very soon, I realized my mistake.

child-856132_640Well, whose reflection do you expect to see in a mirror?

It wasn’t just me, standing there like an idiot, holding a mirror and looking back at myself.  No, as I stared, the scene changed and I saw an angry—no strike that—a furious visage screaming into the telephone held in front of it.

I remembered the scene all too well.

The poor lady at the other end of the telephone had given me the only answer she was allowed to give by her manual of operations.  She was paid to answer questions, but she had no latitude to change policy.  It made no difference to me.  Did she not realize who I was?

As I stood holding the mirror, I had a flash of near brilliance.

This was a human being!

I wasn’t screaming at a company; I was screaming my anger and threats at a fellow human being!

I wonderwas she a neighbor I was supposed to love? (Matthew 22:39)

Do you think she felt the presence of God while I was on the phone with her?

I shifted my gaze away from the scene, overcome with pain and guilt.

It didn’t matter; other scenes leapt out of the mirror at me.  Again and again, I heard myself say things which are not true.

I was speaking to friends.  I was answering a policeman at the side of the highway.  I was explaining my failure to meet a deadline to a customer.

Lies.  All lies.

I have told more lies than I could enumerate.  I would be too ashamed to do so anyway.

I am a liar.

I wonder—is it still within my power to cast a stone at my friend who has shattered my trust?  I hear the Teacher’s words as He wrote in the dirt.  Let him who has never sinned cast the first one. (John 8:7)

I’ll pass.

The only one exposed here is the guy holding the mirror.  The light I wanted to shine so brightly on the fault of others is merely shining full on my own sin.

I was tricked into it, but the truth blazes from the wall on which it was written.  You have been weighed in the balance and found lacking.  (Daniel 5:7)

I think it may be time for me to stop writing for today.  I have some things to take care of.

I wonder though, before I go. . .

Hold this for a minute, will you?

For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror.  For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was.
(James 1:23,24 ~ NET)

An age is called Dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.
(James A Michener ~ American author ~ 1907-1997)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014, 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

No Through Traffic

“It’s no use.  You have a mental block.”

The skinny kid blinked his eyes and grimaced in frustration.  His aunt was, no doubt, a fine school teacher, but she hadn’t been able to get through to him on that winter afternoon.  He couldn’t comprehend the first thing about the algebra problems she had tried to explain to him.  


And now?  What in the world did she mean, mental block?

Mental block–him?  He didn’t even know what that was, much less whether he had one or not!

An hour earlier, they had finished one of their infrequent family meals at his Grandma’s house.  Somehow, as they talked at the dinner table after they were all stuffed, the boy’s Mom had let slip that he was having trouble in algebra.  A veteran math teacher at one of the high schools in a big city nearby, Aunt Jane was confident she could help.  She jumped at the chance to clear things up for him. 

It was a nice plan, but it hadn’t worked out quite so neatly.

Crossing the street to the old two-story frame house he lived in with his family, they sat down to the ancient nicked-up dining room table with his school books, along with a pencil and some paper.  From the outset, she had been patient and gone through the steps of the equations one by one.  She even reminded him gently of the rules each time he got hung up on one thing or another. 

The skinny kid had tried, really he had.  But, somewhere along the way, her voice, gravelly and rough from the years of speaking at high volume to her high school students, became nothing more than a grating and meaningless noise in his ears. 

His aunt explained again and again, but all he heard was the buzzbuzzbuzz of a Peanut’s comic strip adult, with a few intelligible words tossed in here and there.

“Wah wah wah-wah-wah.  Wah wah wah-wah.  Wah wah understand that?” 

The boy nodded his head each time the question was asked.  It was easier than admitting he didn’t.  The only problem was, she believed him, and kept going on to the next step of the problem.  He certainly didn’t understand the next step, nor indeed, any part which had preceded the question before the step.  Finally, she saw what was happening and made the statement you read in the first sentence above.

He wasn’t dumb.  He just subconsciously put up barriers to understanding what she was saying.  Until he made himself concentrate on the issue at hand, no progress could be made.

The boy is forty years past the event now.  While the memory of that study session remains crystal clear, he can’t remember if he ever got rid of his mental block to the algebra assignment. 

He is certain he still has problems learning other lessons he needs to remember.

As short a time as a year ago, he distinctly remembers some life lessons which were made clear to him.  He is sure he was paying attention.  As frequently happens, he even wrote down the gist of what he learned, so others could benefit from his experience.

There was something about second chances.  He is sure of that.  Perhaps, he even suggested that obedience in serving others is a sweet aroma that arises to Heaven.  The memory is a little fuzzy, but that seems to be what he talked about.

He wrote the words himself. 

One would believe he has grasped the precepts firmly.  It might be expected he would be clearly applying them on a daily basis.

He does not. 

Perhaps he has a mental block.

Perhaps he erected the mental block himself.  Maybe it’s easier if he doesn’t have to travel that road again.  Some experiences aren’t all that pleasant.

The ancient old luxury car turned into the parking lot almost fitfully the other day.  It was almost as if the driver wasn’t sure this was where she wanted to stop.  It wouldn’t take long for me to decide I shared the driver’s feelings.

They took their time getting out of the old vehicle.  The first person through the door was an odd young man, decked out in jungle fatigues, with carabiners (clips used for rock climbing and rappelling) attached all over.  The floppy-brimmedboonie hat that matched the fatigues hid his eyes, but not his wide, chubby face.  Close behind him trooped an old couple, crippled and leaning on canes, as well as two heavy-set younger women, one of whom appeared to be mentally challenged.

I smiled and welcomed them, asking if I could be of service.  Two things happened almost simultaneously.  First, they all began to talk at once.  Within an instant of the immediate hubbub, the stench hit my nostrils.  If I have described noxious smells before, this surpassed any of those.

I almost gasped with…


I read what I have written above and I shudder as the words hit home again.

Months ago, I wrote the following, leading you who read my verbal wanderings to believe that I had learned the lesson:

          “Why, even the stench of the self-righteous filthy rags the religious people of this world are
           dressed in would make my friend’s condition feel like the freshness of a spring day in comparison.
          And yet, we think nothing of demanding His touch, His caress, His embrace, as our right.
          I have to wonder: how do we smell to Him?”

Do you see why I shudder?  Do you understand I have returned to the exact state I was in before my epiphany from months ago? 

You couldn’t have missed that as you followed my mental assessment of the customers in those paragraphs above.  I was careful to note the flaws, the defects, in fact, every way they were different that I could discern.  And, after I established they were nothing like me, I delivered the knockout punch. 

The cardinal sin–the ultimate offense against humanity!

They stank!

In my mind, I hear the old school teacher’s gravelly voice, patient and calm, but accusatory nonetheless.

“It’s no use.  You have a mental block.”

But no. 

I am working to shove the roadblock aside.  The road closed sign is not a permanent thing. 

I did hurry those folks out that day, but they came back the next week.  I had had time to remember by then.  Just a couple of days ago, the phone rang and I learned that they would be back again this week.

I’m glad.  They are people who need to be loved. 

I’m confident He doesn’t object to the same odors I do.  I’m still trying to learn to love the same things He does.

It seems likely to take a good part of my lifetime.

I’m just glad that algebra doesn’t seem to be high on His list. 

That, I’ve still got a mental block to.

“Sometimes it (the tongue) praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.  And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth.  Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!”
(James 3: 9,10 ~ NLT)

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”
(Martin Luther King Jr ~ American preacher/civil right leader ~ 1929-1968)

“In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra.”
(Fran Lebowitz ~American writer/humorist)

© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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Alone in the Crowd

He is alone.

Today, he says goodbye to his partner of over sixty years, and he is alone.  He should be surrounded by friends and family, all supporting and loving him, yet there he stands, alone.


I have, perhaps, misstated his condition.  He is surrounded by friends and family.  They are and have been, supportive.  They are talking with each other, laughing their way through the pain of loss–remembering a mother and a grandmother who loved and lived, and helped to shape their world.

And still–from my vantage point away from the group, I see him, separate from the flow and camaraderie of shared memories.  In the center of the herd circled around to protect him, he stands silent with a confused look in his eyes.

Sixty years.

Sixty years, he was part of something.  Something bigger than the sum of the parts.  Tonight, he stands and realizes that the something has changed–fundamentally and without recourse.  The herd around him will protect him for a time, giving him a chance to adapt, to heal.  But, they will go on raising families, working at jobs, loving their spouses still by their sides.

He is alone.

Again I think I have, perhaps, misstated his condition.  He is alone in the sense that his companion is no longer beside him, but he has something else.  He spoke of it earlier to me.

He has hope.

He has assurance.

Both have their foundation in a faith nurtured for many years, a faith shared with his now absent partner.

He will need them both, as well as the faith.

Tough days are ahead of him.  His life will never–never–be the same again.  The hours of his days will stretch on in lonely minutes which he knows not how to fill.  His nights will be spent in sleepless dreariness and one-sided conversations with himself about the past.

But, he is part of something bigger.  Bigger than the binding of two people together in a lifetime of living and loving and growing together.  Bigger than the family they raised together.  Bigger than the fellowship they had with a local group of Christian believers.

The assurance is that one day a great multitude will gather together on the other side of that strange frontier crossing we call death.  The great hope, that he will be a part of that crowd, along with her, gives reason to move on from here.


Yeah.  Kind of.

For now.

Still putting one foot in front of the other, though.  Still setting his sights on that day.

It’ll do.

“And the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
(Genesis 2:18a ~ KJV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved. 

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