Even Then

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.

“Twice!”

“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.”

He chuckled.

“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

Lovers, Fighters, Icons, and the Rest of Us

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

Something New

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

Lights Out

“The important thing is that we focus on the diversity this campus is known for.”

“Right.” He paused. “Everything gets equal attention.”

“A..a..a”

“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/

White and Red Christmas Eve

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

Seven

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 sevenpixabay 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?

Images: tree-bark-en.wikipedia.jpg; fanpop.jpg; pixabay

Who Was Counting?

He’d driven down the road hundreds of times. More, actually, but who was counting? It was funny how driving the same route, the same distance, the same speed day after day was so much a part of his routine he didn’t even think about it. He saw but didn’t see the sign posts or the dips in the road. His foot automatically tapped the break before the turns he barely noticed. It was a little like life: going through motions once carefully considered and now unconsciously carried out.

One morning, though, he’d caught something out of the corner of his eye that seemed out-of-place. He’d whizzed past it before he could make out what it was. It bothered him a bit. Not that it should. Why should some little change, some barely noticeable something or other catch his attention and hold it?

He slowed down the next morning and peered off to the side of the road, looking for whatever it was that bothered him. There. There it was. A sign. No, more like a marker. Just a small post really. With a number: 636. It wasn’t a mile marker. It was on a simple piece of wood – sturdy, but small. And each day he passed it, he noticed it until he began to notice something else. The number changed every day. Every single day the number increased by one.

He mentioned it at work, covering his unsettled feeling by making it into a joke. Everyone dutifully chuckled. Well, not everyone. An intern looked alarmed, but what intern didn’t have that look on her face at some point every day? Later, she poked her head into his office and asked if he had a minute. Annoyed, he motioned her to enter. She stood resolutely as though she’d made some important decision which she was about to announce. He looked pointedly at his watch.

“There are stories. Maybe you haven’t heard them.”

“I’ve no idea what you’re trying to say. I’ve lived enough years to have heard every story to enter your young head.”

She turned to leave, then turned back.

“It’s just – something – I don’t know why I’m telling you. It’s probably nothing.”

“And?”

“There’s a story that every Halloween someone somewhere in the world sees a sign post that keeps count of – I don’t know. No one does I don’t think. But it keeps count, and shortly after they’re never seen again.”

He shook his head and smirked. “Somewhere in the world. How well-traveled you are. What are you? 22?”

The intern’s face crumpled and she walked out.

The next day he looked at the sign. 646. He felt slightly queasy. Okay. This was ridiculous. He’d start taking a different route, end of problem. And the next day as he drove the slightly longer route, he spied the post somewhere around mile marker 10. It read 647. He took a different route still the day after that. And after that.

“You’re late again today,” his secretary remarked.

He swallowed the coffee she held out to him. It was lukewarm. He was tired of lukewarm coffee. He’d go back to his preferred path. What difference, at this point, did it make?

By the time the sign turned to 665, he’d begun to chill as he neared the spot and could feel a trickle of sweat run down his temple. Something had to be done.

The weather was turning. It always did this time of year. Like a clock. Tick, tick, tick. He felt like he was going a little bit crazy. He couldn’t stand it.

The next morning looked like twilight and a misty rain spit down on his windshield whisked away by wipers, an ineffectual remedy to persistent rain. He pulled to the side of the road and put his coat collar up against the wind. Walking over the the post, he knelt down and read the number: 666. He kicked the wood. Stupid, stupid marker. He gripped the post with both hands and heaved. It wasn’t so sturdy that a few tugs couldn’t pull it out. He pulled again. Once more should do it.

And his hot coffee grew warm, then cold.

Image: pexels-photo-561201 Maizal Najmi

Something Like Friendship

He would rather have been in a small river in an out-of-the-way spot, casting a fly line for trout. It was that sort of evening, he thought vaguely. A warm breeze fingered his black hair; the musky scent of dry leaves infused the night air; the sky, black above the treetops, was beginning to show a few stars, the rest hidden behind heaven’s heavy blanket.

He had always preferred the strength and silence of the outdoors to anything else. A small-time outfitter, though, didn’t make much money. He knew that, and acknowledged, too, that life held limitless possibilities.

The sound of voices grew greater and the crowd thicker as the soft notes of a piano danced outside to greet those making their way up the wide cement walkway to the hall.  It was a simple affair: an alumni dinner of a small college.  Through the double doors, Tab could see long tables set with white paper cloths. Squeals of happy recognition punctuated the steady undercurrent of voices. He hated these things, but had promised to come. He stepped inside and scanned the room for someone he recognized.

“We’re sitting over here.”

The nearby voice was inviting and familial.

Tab looked into the eyes of a tall man who was his double, aside from a twenty-five year difference in age. Max’s hair was graying at the tips and the lines in his face revealed that he was not exempt from life’s hardships, but everyone they passed hailed him and he hailed them back in a mild, relaxed manner.

Walking together they sat across from a pretty woman with sparkly eyes who was chatting up a storm with the young girl next to her.

“Tab!”

She reached across the table and squeezed his hand.

“Hi, Mom,” he said to the woman others thought pretty.

Such a thought had never occurred to him. She was always there, always making friends. There was something in her expression that told she was one who didn’t take life too seriously. Her crow’s feet were her signature, witness to an easy and ready laugh.

“I want you to meet Jessica. She’s interested in languages, too.”

This last statement was spoken with an unmistakable emphasis, and Tab caught his parents glancing at each other.

He looked into the round face of a girl close to his age. Her brown hair that hung in a blunt cut below her jaw line exactly matched the deep brown of her large, wide eyes.  She wore a pretty, delicately flowered dress. He reached out to shake her hand as she quickly put her hands in her lap.

“Hi, Jess.”

He pulled his hand back, and offered her an uncertain smile instead.

Jessica thought to herself that she had never seen eyes sparkle so. They were the color of the sea at its deepest point, and she wondered if that said anything about the man across from her.

Her mouth went suddenly dry – unusual for her. She sipped from her water-glass

“It’s nice to meet you, Tab.”

The music suddenly sounded too loud. It seemed a mere ten minutes had passed and it was time to go.

*******************************************

It was nearly 11:00 by the time Jessica pulled out of the parking lot. There was little traffic this time of night. She found herself in her room remembering little of the drive back. Quickly readying herself for bed, she pulled up the covers and stared at the ceiling, wide awake.

The Day He Left

Evening was just barely touching the late May day. A tangy, sweet scent drifted lazily on the breeze like a sleepy teenager floating on an inner tube, dipping his toes in a quiet river. It reminded her of the flowers he had brought to her the day he left. They were an inexpensive bouquet of daisies, chrysanthemums, and baby’s breath – sweet, innocent, and tender, like the kiss he gave her before he turned and walked away.

She closed her eyes, playing with the ring on her finger as she let memory have sway: The funny thing that happened the day they met, their first tentative gifts to each other, quick lunches and long dinners, walks down a familiar country road, the surprise of comfortable conversation, and values and thoughts so in sync they could read them in one look of the other’s face.

“Mother! We should be going!”

Waiting at the car was her daughter, now grown, who knew her father through others’ stories, but not through her own.

How many years would it take to loosen the knot located somewhere underneath her heart? She had thought it would be gone years ago. She realized now that it never would be. She knelt and brushed her fingers over the name engraved in stone, engraved in memory, engraved in time.

She whispered three words: Duty. Honor. Country.

Then she picked herself up and walked away.

*MEMORIAL DAY IS MAY 29. REMEMBER.

Image: arlington-national-cemetery-354849_640-CCO-Public-Domain.jpg

A Form of Godliness

He had always prided himself on his thoughtfulness of others; or maybe when they didn’t deserve it, at least his consideration of humanity. There was so much hurt in the world it blinded him. It made his heart ache. There were so many paths people walked and so many starting points, all different, how in the world could one human being judge another? How could one person speak to good and bad, right and wrong for someone else? How? He would not be one of those: one of the stiff-necked people who put all their little beliefs into organized little boxes and made judgments about wrong and right. That was one thing he knew. One thing he felt right to judge. Those people were wrong.

He worked hard to educate himself about all that was going on in the hurting world. He listened to trusted voices, lights in the darkness. He read essays by lauded thinkers and books by highly regarded writers. There was a cacophony of voices, but these voices – these voices were the right voices, the correct thinkers, the trustworthy ones who carried the torch. He acknowledged with humility that he was an intellectual. At least more than some.

Things weren’t nearly as cut and dried as some wished them to be. In fact, it was a rarity. Issues of law were just that: issues. What he knew was that law was made by humans – fallible humans. Obedience to a man-made construct seemed questionable at best. It wasn’t like law was written in stone. Take stealing, for instance. Sure, it could be seen as wrong; but it could also be seen as needful if the thief (a term used only for discussion here) experienced great need. Actions were relative. Truth, in fact, was relative. Nothing was static. Everything was fluid.

And when He learned of a person who had admittedly harmed someone else, he knew of one response. To consider the pain that person, himself, had experienced at some other time in his life. Surely hardship must be brought into the mix of criminality, blended together with forgiveness until there was no criminality at all; only sadness and loss. Responsibility should not equal guilt, and, even if it did, it should not equal consequence. There was no place in the world for harsh consequence because there was really no evil, only unfortunate circumstances. The Old Testament with its commandments must be seen in terms of mercy. The judgment of God had surely changed with time. God was love – the Bible said so. Whatever else He was didn’t matter.

Just today, for instance, someone had been sentenced to death. For what? Did it matter? Sentencing someone to death was taking a life, a life the same as every other, the same as the act of abortion those foolish people criticized. (And what of abortion? They knew nothing of the hardship of the poor woman seeking help to remove the thing that troubled her.) So putting to death a murderer equaled putting to death an infant. It must be so. The lauded voices asserted it was true. He knew they were to be trusted.

Sometimes . . . sometimes he caught himself wondering about it all, turning over equivalencies in his mind. What if one wasn’t enough like the other to merit the voices’ assertions? What if lack of consequence didn’t uphold life’s value, but diminished it? What if God was multi-faceted? What if consequence mattered for some reason he hadn’t thought of? But, no. The voices were trusted voices.

And the victims of the murderer and the innocents whose lives were taken with clinical precision called from the grave. But no one listened.

Image: wikimedia – commons.jpg; context: Exodus 34:4-7