What do we do when death seems to win the day?
She laughed until she was gasping for air and wiping her eyes. Doubled over, she grabbed the back of the park bench to help her sit before she lost her balance. She looked up, her twinkling eyes still wet, and tried to talk, but couldn’t.
“I’m telling you the truth. He actually did that.”
The laughter began again.
“Stop!” she breathed, “I feel like I’ve done a hundred sit-ups already.”
He sat beside her then and pulled her into his arms.
“I love your laugh,” he murmured into her hair.
“Oh now you’re just making excuses for my nearly wetting my pants.”
“Even if,” he said, “Even then it would be small payment for the sound of your laugh. I could listen to that music every day of my life.”
A small smile crossed his lips as he remembered. Then the steady rhythm of the heart monitor pulled him back to the present. She lay there under the white blankets, as still as the dawn on their first day of married life, as soft as her whispers each night before they both drifted to sleep.
“Don’t go,” he choked, “Don’t leave me. I’ll tell you a million funny stories every single day if you’ll just stay.”
The heart monitor quickened, then settled again to its rhythmic pace.
He wandered over to the closet where only her bare essentials were. How did life distill to a few things in a plastic bag? He pulled out her purse and rummaged through it. Lipstick, a comb, her billfold. He opened it. Ten dollars, her license with the picture she hated, two credit cards. There. There was a slip of paper folded and refolded. He pulled it out. Her handwriting danced across a page that held only the faintest scent of her. He held it up to his nose and inhaled deeply. Then he read: Dearest, This is in case I don’t make it. Maybe sometime soon, I’ll be rummaging through my things and find this note and we can both have a laugh over my dramatics. But even if . . . even then I want you to know I love the way you make me laugh, so don’t cry too much. It’ll make your nose red. On the hard days, just listen until you hear something that reminds you of the good times. Of my love. And, if you insist, my laugh. Someone said: “Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”
The rhythm slowed, and he hurried to her bed and grabbed her hand.
“Thank you,” he said.
And all sound stopped except the echo of her laughter.
Quote: attributed to William Penn, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or R.W. Raymond; I’ll Be Seeing You: Words by Irving Kahal and Music by Sammy Fain, 1938, Sung here by Frank Sinatra
I read something about someone who was described as an accidental icon. Wouldn’t that lend excitement to your days?!
Most of us don’t set out to be icons, but we don’t propose to live accidentally either. We have plans that we follow rather lazily or like gangbusters depending on our age, energy, and personality.
And then there are those who seem to cut a path that puts the rest of us to shame. Too often those individuals are renounced, diminished, or just plain cut out of a story that, but for their influence, would have a very different ending. We do well to read their autobiographies or, sans that, their biographies if said biographies are written by dependable authors.
Winston Churchill is a large figure in post WW II history. A recent movie about him received justifiable accolades. He was a man in power during a time in which history’s hinge would swing one way or the other. He stood strong and unyielding when giving in to political pressure would have made his life easier. He said, If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves. He was a fighter. Everyone loves a lover, but sometimes a fighter is what is needed.
A four page government memo was released today. It reveals deceit and duplicity among those who were supposed to be trustworthy and straightforward. The crimes were committed not by the many hard-working members of the DOJ and FBI. They were committed by a powerful few, and not once, but repeatedly. I suspect the path of the memo will lead to names we all know and people who believe they are untouchable. Now we wait to see if they will get away with it because of their power and connections. I hope not.
One wonders what role those of us without prominence or power play. We don’t have the influence some others do. But still we can take a page from someone we admire. After all, citizens of good character who stand straight and strong and who do whatever it is at their hand to do with honor and care are more likely to hold a nation up than bring it to its knees. We’re not just a thousand points of light. We’re a thousand steel beams, a thousand iron plates, a thousand rivets and bolts.
Iris Apfel, the accidental icon referred to at the beginning of this post has said, You have to try it. You have only one trip. You’ve got to remember that.
Have a great day! Me? I’ll be doing my best to stand straight and strong, to do whatever is at hand to do as though I’m doing it for God, Himself, as I keep walking the path. I hope to see you on the way!
Quote: Rick Lowry in the New York Post, 12/28/17; Quote: Winston Churchill; Memo: http://static.foxnews.com/pdf/370598711-House-Intelligence-Committee-Report-On-FISA-Abuses.pdf ; Quote: George H.W. Bush; Photos: Pexels.com; Quote: Iris Apfel
The house had been cleaned from top to bottom. Candy canes hung in ribbon above the windows and the tree was resplendent with ornaments of sentimental value. The scent of gingerbread filled the kitchen as she began rolling out sugar cookies while she thought about it all. If only everything could be washed clean and made new. If only . . .
For, you see, something new crossed her path every day. Normally that would be a good thing. Something new meant something fresh and exciting! But now the something new was stomach-churning. Every day. And the season which had before brought beauty and sweetness, sparkle and peace had been tarnished with unrelenting tales of deception, perversion, and anger. It was as though a spider of darkness was determinedly spreading its sticky web over the season of light.
But people’s hearts seemed impossibly hard and the enormous amount of disgusting behavior seemed darker than a black hole. How could such contempt for what was right be turned around? How could those who allowed themselves to wallow in a gutter mindlessly covered by glamour and status or blame and suspicion be redeemed? How could both accused and accuser find peace? It was hopeless! What was needed was a miracle. An unconscious sigh escaped her lips.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Gory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
In evil times to desperate people comes One who makes everything new and redeems those willing to be saved. It is an astounding miracle that crosses time and space to every culture and generation. It is offered to a multitude and available for a single soul. And that is the best miracle of all.
Luke 2:7-14; Softly Now He Comes by Connie Miller Pease, https://www.jwpepper.com/Softly-Now-He-Comes/10686074.item#/submit, Image: pexels-photo-713494.jpeg; christmas-935456_960_720-CC0-Public-Domain.jpg
“The important thing is that we focus on the diversity this campus is known for.”
“Right.” He paused. “Everything gets equal attention.”
“Well of course I don’t mean Christmas. It’s had too much preference for far too long in this country. Besides, it’s passe.
“Right. Twinkly lights are fine as long as they don’t mean anything. And Christmas carols . . .”
“Ach! Don’t even mention them. I can’t stand them.”
“I hated to see the Santa display go, but it was for the best.”
“Haha! I’d forgotten about that one!”
“What in the world? Did you see that?”
“I think it’s the Fine Arts Building. I’d think they’ll be on it before too long. Painting in the dark would be a challenge, eh?”
“Of course, red and green were fine for awhile, but – I don’t know – do you think it’s associated too closely with Christmas?”
“Let’s just go with white and gold. No reason to ruffle any feathers.”
The two men stopped and peered down the street for a moment.
“The English department will howl, for sure.”
“Oop! And Languages. Ah! And a few of the street lights! I wonder if it’s something with the electrical system?”
“Ooo, watch out there. Are you okay?”
“Just a minor stumble. It’s a bit hard to see without those lights.”
“Did you see the creche in front of the gas station down on 7th?”
“I can let the student group know. They love a good protest.”
A loud buzz echoed through the evening air.
“Look! The History department! They’ve probably all fallen asleep anyway.”
The two men chuckled.
“Science and technology will feel that.”
“I wonder how it will affect research?”
“But to the main point. This time of year shouldn’t be any different than any other time. I think we’ve done a fine job of cleaning up the campus. I don’t see evidence of the C word anywhere, do you?”
“How much better our campus is without Christmas!”
The other man nodded. “Nothing to take offense at here.”
And the campus went dark.
Image: Pexels.com; John 1:5; I Peter 2:8; https://www.dangerous.com/38838/christmas-not-appropriate-according-university-minnesota-memo/
Wind whipped the branches and slammed snow pellets against the brick until red became white. City dwellers had heeded the forecasters’ warnings and had stocked up on necessities including rock salt, sand, and kitty litter. Shovels were sold out. Streets had emptied. Here and there a window blinked a hint of brave light otherwise muted by the blizzard.
She’d heard the warnings just as everyone else had, but how often were forecasters right, really? When she’d started out, it had been simply cold and windy. But the forecasters had been right, and she had gotten it very wrong.
She wanted to make it home for Christmas – surprise everyone for once in her life. Oh, they’d planned on her coming, but with this weather, had urged her to stay put. They’d get together another time. Still, it had been too long.
Last Christmas she’d been invited to Aspen and you’d have to be crazy to turn down an invitation like that. The Christmas before that she’d worked because, well because she needed the money, and at the time money seemed more important than going home. It wasn’t the same. Working made the day seem like just another day. She’d gone back to a quiet apartment and ate leftover quiche that had lost some of its texture and toast that tasted like sawdust. Aspen had been exciting and beautiful, but . . .
As December 25th approached, she’d begun to think of the pine scent of the Christmas tree she knew stood in front of the window and the cookies her mom always made, the ginger ones with sugared orange rinds on top. Every time she heard a Christmas song on the radio or in a store, she thought of the little church down the block from their house that held Christmas Eve services no matter the weather.
Now her Christmas surprise had made an awful turn. God was in heaven, and Jesus wasn’t just a baby in a pretty story. She knew that. But she never prayed. Wasn’t sure she knew what to say even if she tried. How, after all, did one ask for Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer?
She pulled over as she approached the edge of town. Ten more miles on a blowing highway and she’d be home. Ten more miles might as well be ten hundred. She couldn’t even see where the road ended and the ditch began.
Squinting into the whiteout, suddenly she caught sight of a light up ahead! Not white light, but red and red enough to break through the blinding flakes. She pulled out and crept onto the highway, following it. A lone trucker needing to make it a few more miles would’ve laughed to think he was an answer to prayer. No matter. The driver of the car behind him was humming Rudolph.
Image: 800px-Blizzard_Mt_Keen-wikipedia.jpg; pexels.com; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: composer, Robert L. May; story idea based on a trip back to the cities from St. Cloud in blinding fog after a night class I took many years ago
She liked little things: the shape of bark on a tree, the tickity sound of that one machine she didn’t know the name of, Christmas, of course, and the smell of dirt just before anything sprouted in the spring. And she loved math. It was logical and dependable. It was actually beautiful in the way the same conclusion could be reached in a variety of ways. And the answers were never fuzzy, never tentative. They were solid.
One January day she felt a little dizzy. Maybe it was the flu. Then she fell during recess. And in one day a brain cancer diagnosis stole the little things, her favorite sights and sounds and scents. She was six.
She lost her hair overnight, and wondered if anyone’s hair could grow back overnight, too. When she lost her bowel control, her dad reminded her of all the things she could still control, and gave her some equations to work just for fun. Her appetite left her, and she didn’t wonder or think anything. She just felt weak. And then one day she sensed her math skills slowing; and it was on that day that hope became transparent. That day her world was no longer solid. That day was the worst day.
One night voices filled her dreams. She could hear bits and pieces here and there of what they were saying, of what they were praying. Sometimes she heard her name. She saw a man standing in front of her and liked him instantly. He told her the number seven was one of his favorite numbers and asked her how old she would be on her next birthday. She laughed when he threw up his hands in surprise. He told her his birthday would be celebrated soon, and they talked about the sound of stars and the warm breath of sheep. He told her that miracles are as dependable as math if you know who to ask. The man seemed so real and his words so solid. She felt happy and, for the first time in a year, a weight lifted. But when she woke up, she was in her same bed with accustomed pain and saw the familiar troubled look in her mother’s eyes.
In one year things had grown so hard. Spring and summer had passed without tree bark or the smell of fresh dirt because tests and worry had taken their place. Her world had grown smaller and quieter in the hospital. Math ceased to bring the satisfaction it had one time brought. It hardly seemed possible her days could ever become better.
Christmas wasn’t far away now, but she would lose that favorite thing, too. How would she celebrate it with such a tired body?
And then it was Christmas Eve. Before she went to sleep, she thought again about the nice guy she’d seen in her dream. She could almost hear him telling her about how miracles really do exist, and she prayed for the miracle she wanted most of all. A small smile crossed her face as she thought about the sound of stars, the warm breath of sheep, and how he liked the number 7.
Christmas morning dawned cold and sharp, but bright and clear. She stretched and felt a tug. What in the world? She jumped out of bed and ran to the mirror. There – just touching her shoulders – was the hair she’d missed for too long. Her eyes grew wide. She breathed deeply.
“Mom! Dad! I feel good! I feel great! Nothing hurts! I! Have! Hair!”
She ran into the living room and jumped on the couch. Up and down, up and down. She couldn’t stop! She ran back into her room and grabbed a math worksheet. Ha! How could anyone not like math?! And the answer was seven! Seven! Seven! Seven! She ran back into the living room, plugged in the tree lights, and felt the glow of Christmas, itself: promise and hope. Today she would celebrate her friend’s birthday with all her might. It felt so right. So real. Solid. She was home. She was whole. And miracles? Miracles are as dependable as math if you know who to ask.
This story borrows from the story of a little girl I am praying for. Won’t you join me in asking for a Christmas miracle?
The empty, whose heart is world-weary, tired of seeing what he never thought he’d see and hearing with ears he wishes deaf . . .
The young, embracing new sights and sounds, whose each new road cannot come soon enough and the new, whether good or evil, is a thrill . . .
The wealthy to whom abundance offers nothing new; to whom need is an unknown acquaintance and sour is made sweet with a request . . .
The impassioned, imprisoned, important paralyzed by hate, jealousy, and unforgiveness or energized by love, generosity, and mercy . . .
Owe thanks to their Creator who daily gives them breath, who does more for them than they recognize and overlooks more than they admit.
At this time set apart for Thanksgiving, regardless of where you find yourself in life, give thanks. We do not think of owing thanks, but we do; and though it is owed, it is incumbent upon us to offer it freely. You have a Creator who loves you beyond measure and live in a world that, despite its troubles, offers beauty and wonder.