Tuesday, September 27, 2016

GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY


Together, Jamestown, NC

I’ve reached the age in life where I no longer leap out of bed in the morning the minute the clock radio unceremoniously disturbs a pleasant night’s sleep. My first instinct is to check that I didn’t transition to the other side in the night. Once that’s confirmed my next move is to see that all the extremities are functioning good enough to transition from a horizontal to a vertical posture. Then, and only then, do I emerge from the bedroom.

One of my weekly activities includes foraging for food at a local supermarket. As I entered the parking lot this morning, I noticed an elderly couple emerging from the exit doors. Since I normally park on the edge of a lot in an attempt to minimize the inevitable parking lot door dings, I had the perspective of watching the couple very slowly inching towards their Buick in a handicap space near the doors. Neither was rushing the other and it was a wonderful example of helping one another after a probable lifetime of togetherness.

It’s not something to dwell on, but inevitably one partner is destined to pass over to the other side ahead of the other. In the meantime, many years of bonding as a couple through all of the highlights and slings and arrows that life throws at us will guarantee that we have each other’s back. This couldn’t have been more visual than watching this couple holding hands and navigating such a mundane activity as a trip to the supermarket.

And even though we complain and experience the aches and pains of growing old gracefully, it’s still cause to be thankful, for it’s a blessing that is denied to so many.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

THE CATCH



Little League Baseball, First Row, Second from Right, Emporia, KS

In the course of a lifetime we all have had thousands upon thousands of experiences in our daily lives. The vast majority are uneventful and mundane. They pass without notice almost immediately. As we age, they pass with even more immediacy. For instance, there are days when I have to pause and consider what I had for breakfast! But a breakfast of cereal and coffee which I have enjoyed for years is mundane and uneventful.

However, there are those milestone events in our lives that will stay with us forever. Somehow, our memory cells keep these on a short leash and we can recall them at a moment’s notice. And It’s certain that one man’s eventful experience will have a much different priority than another’s. When you think about it, there may be some that are universal like graduations, marriages, births, deaths, first loves, near death experiences, etc.

For some reason, one of the early milestone memories for me occurred when I was probably around the age of ten. That’s now over sixty years ago for me. And this memory has popped up in my mind’s eye off and on all of my life. It wasn’t an experience that the hundred or so other people who witnessed it were even aware of at the time. I alone knew that it was special.

My father was a very good baseball player and he had me fielding baseballs at a very early age. I especially liked to catch fly balls. When he was available to assist our little league team practices, he would hit fly balls to us kids. After a few years, I was catching fly balls that were as far as he could hit them. It was even more challenging in the ever present Kansas winds that always are moving around the land. I got good enough to finally make the All Star game one season as a right fielder. The wild card for that game, however, was that it was played under the lights at night. I didn’t have a lot of practice catching balls at night.

Right fielders don’t get a lot of action in a ball game. I had been moving around the outfield looking for four leaf clovers. But then the game got interesting as the batter singled to left field. The next batter up was a pretty big kid, so we all shifted and backed up. It only took a couple of pitches before he found one he liked and he hit a long fly ball to right field! I quickly maneuvered over about a dozen steps to my right and backed up another few steps with my glove over my right shoulder in anticipation of a throw to the infield. The ball sailed up into the night sky and suddenly I was blinded by the overhead flood lights! I totally lost sight of the baseball that was hurling towards me. I had about two seconds to react. I could duck to avoid getting a concussion or I could trust my instincts and stay put. So without much time to debate my choices, I held my ground and no one was more surprised than me when the ball smacked into my baseball glove. I quickly noticed the runner at first base running to second knowing that the skinny kid in right field couldn’t possibly make that catch. So I fired a strike into first base for a double play. The stands erupted (as much as our parents could muster) and I trotted into our dugout amid shouts of “nice play!”

To this day I still remember that blinded catch. On reflection, I probably would have never made that play if I hadn’t practiced catching hundreds of fly balls prior to that one catch. I didn’t realize it at the time but all those hours of practice had prepared me for the only catch I still remember to this day. I remember the days of practice, but I don’t remember any other catches. That one catch taught me early in life that there’s only three things that we need to do to get better at anything—practice, practice and practice! Something I taught my daughter as she grew up. And the older I get I’m still not certain in the midst of that bright white light that I made that catch by myself. My guardian angel has worked overtime on many occasions and just might be a baseball fan.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

HELPING ONE ANOTHER


Childlike Love, Chicago, IL

I volunteer at an elementary school where over 90% of the young students qualify for free lunch. One of the activities we volunteers participate in is assisting these children with their homework and reading skills. I personally witnessed the tragedy of passing children on to middle school without the basic reading skills needed to assimilate and survive in any further advanced learning. I had volunteered for my wife in a Media Center where these students worked with computers and books. Many of these frustrated students become the ones who continually disrupt classes and occupy 80% of the classroom teacher’s attention to the detriment of those students who are there to receive an education and better their lives.

On this afternoon I was working with a very sweet little girl. She had initially told me that she couldn’t read which prevented her from doing her assigned homework. But our coordinator pulled me aside to point out that she was smart enough to master the art of manipulating adults. So we regrouped and started the reading lesson once again about a Frog and Fox dealing with a very hot and humid summer day. When the girl stumbled on a word, we simply took the time to sound it out and become familiar enough with the word for the next encounter.

About half way through the assignment we were interrupted by the presence of two policemen and a young boy outside the glass doors of our room. Our coordinator went outside to help with the situation. I tried to get the young girl back on task, but she was obviously shaken by the policemen. She looked up wide-eyed and proclaimed in a foreign adult manner, “I’m afraid of the police! They put my daddy in prison. My mamma had to go to the police station and get my daddy!” When the coordinator returned she mentioned that the boy had apparently gotten off his bus at the wrong stop and became lost in the community. Since he couldn’t speak very fluent English, the policemen were returning him to the school to help get him home safely. This became a teachable moment to talk to the girl about how the policemen are here to help us and keep us safe.

The little girl was then able to finish the story and answer the follow up questions. We finished our lesson with the frog and fox helping each other to turn on a fan so that both of them could survive the heat of the day. And the girl not only read the entire story with a little help, but perhaps she also learned that the policemen are here to work together with all of us to help keep us safe. And I learned why I was present that day.

It’s been said that God helps those who help themselves, although that’s really not scriptural. The Benedictine monks had a Latin phrase of “ora et labora” or “pray and work”. But there are plenty of folks out there that literally cannot help themselves, especially children, and scripture does reveal that God will provide his grace through people like you and me and first responders throughout the community.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

THE SUMMER PORCH


Summer Porch, Internet Domain

I grew up in the Midwestern days before central air conditioning, garbage disposals, attached garages and a lot of other amenities we now take for granted. We all have the tendency to look back on the good old days, but realistically the only thing that was really good about most of those days is that we were younger back then. The neighborhood I terrorized, or rather roamed around, had shared alleys in the back which provided access to the detached garages and breathing distance from everyone’s garbage cans.

My grandparents lived next door in a house that had a wraparound sheltered porch. We cousins enjoyed slipping out one of the upstairs windows onto the flat porch roof and harassing the minions below. That porch was a gathering place for all the neighbors, aunts and uncles and cousins. Sunday afternoon family dinners that exceeded the home’s interior occupancy rate inevitably found the outside porch filled to capacity as well. It provided a swell place to gather and discuss politics and weather along with everyone’s personal lives. There was always a lot of love and laughter swirling around that summer porch and there were always new additions to the family as we cousins got cheaper by the dozen.

Neighbors walking the tree-lined sidewalks would generally find someone sitting on the porch to stop by and chat with on a summer’s day. Or relatives would drive up the alley and park in the back driveway to visit. The summer porch was different than today’s air conditioned shopping mall where you stroll around with total strangers on a hot August day. And folks now-a-days leave their air conditioned office in their air conditioned vehicles and drive home into their air conditioned houses where many will stay until they repeat the isolated air conditioned cycle all over again the next day. Summer porches still exist, but mainly on vacation homes surrounded by a body of water.

The summer porch was a wonderful place to sit and enjoy a late afternoon rain shower. The air was crisp and clean and the sound of the rain drops on the flat roof was melodious. An occasional gust of wind would even provide a hint of the interior air technology to come. Once the rain clouds passed, cicadas would begin their evening serenade among the towering elm shade trees. Their soothing songs sounded like a team challenge match between one group that would have the stage only to be silenced by another group joining in from across the street. Then the sun would lower in the west and cooler air would begin to penetrate the summer night. On some of the hottest summer days when even the nights didn’t cool off very much, we would stay outside on the porch and continue the casual conversations into the night. Sometimes my grandfather would place the AM radio by an open window and we would listen to those grand old audio shows like The Shadow, Amos and Andy, Gunsmoke with Chester and Marshal Dillon and the Jack Benny Show. They actually left some room for a young boy to engage his imagination.

I drove by our old homestead a few years ago. The house I grew up in had burned to the ground and was replaced by university student housing. My grandparents’ home was still standing, but like the old neighborhood it wasn’t aging well. What really caught my attention was the summer porch that I had envisioned many times in my mind since I left to follow my bliss. It was actually rather Spartan and much, much smaller than my youthful memories. So I’ve suppressed that memory in favor of those from my youth and continue to retain those Camelot images of that summer porch so full of life and all those people that I still cherish even more than I realized.

Monday, September 5, 2016

IRONY


After the Storm, Jamestown, NC

I was out walking on the golf course last week when a buddy commented on the very hot and humid August weather. Without giving it much thought, I responded that was quite true, but if we weren’t enduring the heat and sweat that day, we wouldn’t have much appreciation for the beautiful fall golfing weather that we'd be enjoying in just a few short weeks.

Isn’t it ironic that we generally have to experience the extreme negatives in life to fully appreciate the wonderful blessings we receive all the time? There are many times when I’m driving down the interstate highways with the windows partially down and the wind is coursing through the interior cabin. That prompts me to crank up the volume on the radio to sing along with some of my favorite road trip songs. Then just as I become aware of the noise pollution surrounding me, I close the windows and turn off the radio. Only then do I really have a genuine appreciation for the beautiful silence that was there all the time.

We’ve been given life so that we may experience it to the fullest. Of course, there are stretches of time where the fullness is overflowing and overwhelming. If we can just make it to what I like to call “the eye of the hurricane” after a grueling project or rough patch in the road and take some vacation time off, that period of rest and relaxation can really get our batteries recharged again. And we appreciate the peaceful moments even more.

A dark and dismal day in late autumn with a nuisance misty rain coming down for hours can certainly create a sad and depressing mood. There’s a realization that the warm days of summer and fall are quickly fading and the cold and fallow season of winter is near. Then the clouds begin to clear, a rainbow appears in the east and sunbeams stream through the windows. As you step outside, the air is crisp and clean. The light is filtering through the colorful autumn leaves, creating an atmosphere of standing in the middle of a grand European cathedral with the soft light of multi-colored stained glass warming your face. The switch to happiness clicks on in an instant.

We enjoy one another’s presence for years. We become so complacent with someone’s company that it is easily taken for granted. Then one day that presence is absent forever. That gives us plenty of time to appreciate the memories of being with them. Isn’t it ironic that we have to experience the negative and positive opposites in life to fully appreciate our blessings? And sometimes that works in reverse.

SEEKING


Backlit Sunflowers, Jamestown, NC

We see in life what we look for--if we seek beauty we will find it.
If we constantly seek the negatives, they are there.
Those who don't believe in miracles will never be aware of them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

SANCTUARY HAIKU



Sanctuary, High Point, NC

The tall twin silos,
stand resolute and fearless,
a sanctuary.

The approaching storm,
alerts the hawk to danger,
flying to safety.

Lightning strikes nearby,
winds ground all birds of the air,
and sheets of rain fall.

The hawk knows no harm.
He is sheltered from the storm.
God has provided.

Prepare me also,
to be a sanctuary,
a living shelter.