Everybody Needs a Tramp

I now know what all that stimulus money should be spent on - trampolines.  I kid thee not.

We bought our offspring one this summer.  They'd been asking for five years and we kept saying good things come to those who wait and this summer they said but not to those who wait too late. Yeah, Grover Washington, Jr. - they've been listening to the oldies station at night.  Fair enough. So, we ponied up our own version of stimulati trampolinus, which is Latin for "cash for jumpers." 

So now, after we've had our caviar and scotch for dinner, we wait about ten minutes as we don't want to yark in the circle of wonder, and then we remove our shoes for we are entering holy fabric and we slide through a slit in the netting and it's like we've entered Narnia or the Shire or something.  Otherworldly.  

I've gotta tell you, regardless of what happened during the day, a few minutes on a trampoline and you're feeling better or at least you've got a bloody nose.  Being a self-taught philosopher and all, I've a theory about this.  Here goes.  I've noticed that many times our "jumping" is really a glorified "hopping" - we're hopping around, trying to do flips and wrestling jumps off the top rope - everything the manual says not to do.  Anyway, as I "hop" numerous times, unbeknownst to me, the wily silent "e" slides through the slit in the netting and slinks up next to my "hop" and gets in on the fun and the next thing you know my "hop" has become "hope." Yep, good old hope.  I know "love" is the greatest of these, but "hope" is in the top three and some days, days like these, "hope" may just be the one that spurs us to ride into hell for a heavenly cause or helps us make it through the night or suffices for what a fool believes.  Yes, I'm somewhat of a musical philosopher.

Trampohope (nice, eh?) might just be what our country needs right now.  September's a helluva month.  It was a year ago all this recession stuff really got heavy.  Then there's 9.11.  Johnny Cash died in September.  Lord, that's enough right there to make millstones look attractive. But wait, what's that? It's a rhythm, a bouncing, a jumping, a hopping, calling us to abandon our work-casual-flip-flops and squeeze through the netted wardrobe and hop like little children, hop till that glorious silent "e" makes an appearance and transforms us, if only for twenty minutes 'cause then we have to come in and do our homework, yes, be infused with trampohope complete with phrases like Lord, your head is hard and say, do you think this is a rib poking out of my side?  

You come off an experience like that all good and sweaty and your feet are blackened so you muck up the sheets on the bed but all that's worth it to laugh so hard boogers fill your beard and to crash, literally, into folks you love dearly but haven't seen all day and to hop, hop, higher and higher 'cause geese are flying overhead and you think they just might notice your skills and invite you to fly along or at least compliment you and say dude, are you Peter Pan?  And if the geese do ask such a question, the presence of trampohope enables you to say maybe!  Not the hubris-laden yes, we can nor the woe-is-me-Eeyore-shuffle, but something in the middle, the glorious middle - maybe...a word born of one of the greatest - hope.

Sorry, but it's all I've got right now...

I'm chin-deep in writing something, so there's not much time for long, rambling, dirtyshame posts; those'll be back soon.

A good man reminded me of the this phrase the other day.  His name is Mark, he's one of my best friends.  And although I know it drives some of you fine folks crazy when I post little snippets of stuff, these paragraphs feel like enough, and sometimes, that's all we need.  I hope they speak to you in some way; they're from a long, rambling thing I'm working on. FYI - Sam and Dr. Dobbins are one in the same.

“Dr. Dobbins?  Is something wrong?”

Sam kept staring straight ahead but patted the empty space beside her on the bench; Elly accepted the invitation.  “I just got news that my dad died, Elly.”

“Oh, Dr. Dobbins.  Bless your heart.”

Sam turned and looked directly into Elly’s eyes.  She knew the power of words; she lived with a poet after all.  There are times, maybe just moments, when the right word or phrase is like the biblical description: apples of gold in settings of silver.  In that moment, Elly’s bless your heart was just such an apple.  Sam had heard that phrase growing up at least a million times.  Many times the words rang hollow, a thoughtless expression people parroted when they didn’t know anything else to say.  But sometimes the three words were more, much more – another human being taking the time to cross to the other side and ask/hope/pray a blessing into the heart of another, that deep place we all hold in common.  The wise men brought three gifts of verifiable worth; Elly the wise college girl brought three words of inestimable value - bless your heart 

Forgive and Forget

Forgive and forget.  Two borders she could not cross.

The memory haunted her still.  If she could stay busy it seemed to stay quiet, but she could not always be busy.  The remembrance was both sight and sound, always the same: A sky so black it threatened to swallow you.  The only lights were the crazed eyes of a woman, her mother, old beyond her years slowly tearing pages from the Bible, eating them, repeating “taste and see…the Lord is good…taste and see.”

She was seven when they crossed under the cover of a new moon.  There were others with them but they were told to snake two by two through rocks and sage across the border.  They could see the shadows of the others, still her mother was direct:  “Don’t let go of my hand, Isabel.”  But something or someone, she never knew what, had scattered the group in fear.  Mother and daughter ran further into the black.  By sunrise everything around them looked the same; it stayed that way for three days.  Darkness seemed their only companion. 

A small hip-pack had water and crackers, enough for one day, not enough for three.  Her mother prayed for miracles more than once.  God must have been asleep or busy or just not interested.  On the night of the third day, her mother simply sat down and stopped.  Hope was not deferred, but lost.  Isabel watched as her mother took out a Bible and began to eat the pages.  The last thing she saw her mother do was struggle to swallow the words of God. 

His arms yanked her from the scene and the night picked up speed as he carried her and ran.  She cried for her mother once, but his voiced shushed her: “She is dead.”  She never knew his name; he must have been all of fifteen, but strong.  He carried her through the darkness saying, “Do not cry.”  The air smelled like rain, but the drops never fell. 

By sunrise, Isabel’s legs burned as she sat on the rusted out floor of a van.  There were holes so she could see the road as they drove; the motion made her sick.  A woman packed beside her looked to be her mother’s age.  She leaned down to Isabel: “The Lord is good, no?”  That question had already been answered for a seven year old; nothing Isabel had seen since then caused her to change her mind.

The memory lunged at her tonight as she spied the Gideon Bible on the nightstand.  She wondered if the Gideons had ever tried to eat their words.  Isabel shook the remembrance from her mind, gathered her clothes and dressed quickly, then walked to the door.  The man in the bed had no name, like the others.  He surprised her by asking her name as she reached for the door.  “Isabel,” she said.  He sat on the edge of the bed and spoke softly: “Do you know what your name means?”  She knew; her mother had made certain Isabel knew the origin of her name.  “Yes.  It means ‘consecrated to God.’” 

This was a routine she had followed for some time now; it was becoming a rhythm, this offering of herself.  Everything was pre-arranged, business-like.  She was instructed never to leave anything in the room, personal belongings such as an earring or tube of lipstick.  Isabel was careful that nothing of her’s remained, or so she believed.  A Spanish poet wrote that we leave small pieces of our hearts here and there until there is not enough left to give away and stay alive...            


When the river calls...

It was Sunday morning coming down in Phoenix.  My boss was driving me to the airport.  My wife had called earlier saying they don't think Dad's going to make it; I need to go.  I agreed and headed to the airport to try and catch an earlier flight back to Denver.  My boss and I were talking about the Grand Canyon and a miraculous experience I had backpacking there when the cell phone I carry began to ring...her voice carried two words: He's dead.

Her dad's name was John.  He'd been fighting pancreatic cancer awhile now and lately infections galore had complicated things. Then, this weekend, pneumonia crept in and he was just too weak. The writer Barry Lopez describes your death day as the day "the river calls your name."  Today was John's day.

My wife told me I got to talk to him...they put the phone to his ear and I said I love you, Dad. For that, I am thankful.  When someone dies alone, all they hear is the river and I would think it could be frightening, cold, lonely.  But the river's voice was not the only sound in my father-in-law's ears today; there was also the sound of love.  I love you, Dad.  I am hoping, praying, crossing my fingers, and wishing on a star that instead of a violent surge, the presence of love caused the river to be gentle on his mind.

As I flew back to Denver, she flew out to Arkansas via Atlanta.  She called a few moments ago: We just landed.  I'm safe.  But now that I'm here, it's real.  As our conversation ended, my voice carried four words: I love you, Meredith.  I wanted those words to be the last she heard from me on this long, exhausting, river-run day.

From time to time, I hear the psychological literati skewer that "I love you" phrase, saying if you don't really feel it, you shouldn't say it.  I believe that's about the stupidest damn thing I've ever heard.  You don't say it because you're trying to get the inside to match the outside; that's the vain consistency Emerson described as "the hobgobblin of little minds."  No, you say those words because the river always flows and you never when it might call your name or the name of someone you love or the name of someone you hate, maybe even the name of someone you're still undecided about.  But one of the most precious human gifts we can give one another is to make sure on days like a Sunday-morning-coming-down-in-Phoenix, that if the flood threatens to overwhelm, there is also the presence of love via words, touch, smell, whatever. Love covers a multitude of sins.  I also believe it carries a multitude of sinners into the restless, raging fury they call the love of God.    


Softly and Tenderly

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me...

The children who call me dad have been with their grandparents, two people who call me son. He, Papa, is a Southern Baptist preacher.  So, as you might expect, Sunday came and my children attended church with their grandparents.  My roots are Southern Baptist, but my branches of late have reached into Anglican sunlight and quite recently some Lutheran shade. So, as you might expect, my children have been exposed to several sides of the tree.

On this particular Sunday, Papa the preacher gave the normally expected invitation at the conclusion of his sermon.  In the Baptist tradition, it is a time to be quiet and respond to the Spirit of God, many times seen in walking down an aisle and taking the preacher's hand. Options in this window of time include decisions such as 1)rededicating/recommitting your life to Jesus after some wayward living or 2)repenting of some sin or sins and asking for prayer to be strong when the temptation arises again (and it will).  Yes, savvy reader, that's all about the same thing, but it's o.k.  However, the one decision that makes the angels sing is someone asking Jesus into their heart, aka "being saved."

See on the portals He's waiting and watching, watching for you and for me...

My father stood, as is his custom, before the people and pleaded for someone to come to Jesus. But, as is the custom of many Sundays in the same church in the same town with the same people, no one did, no not one...no one, that is, except her.  My middle girl looked at her grandmother and asked "Can I go?"  As the woman who calls me son nodded "yes" my middle girl stepped out into the long, broad way that leadeth to salvation.

Come home.  Come home.  Ye who are weary come home...

As the story goes, my middle girl reached my father's pastoral hands and she broke down, tears and all. Papa the preacher led her to a side room where they sat until she calmed down.  He returned to stand before the people, a benediction was said, and the people mingled a moment or two and went home.  The preacher and his wife and their grandchildren went to lunch and Sunday soldiered on.  My mother called me a bit later to tell me what had happened.  

Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling; calling, o sinner, come home. 

Not long after her grandmother's call, after mexican food and salvation had a chance to settle, my middle girl called me.  This is what she said:
"Daddy, I've already asked Jesus into my heart, you know that. But Daddy, Papa was so sad that no one was coming, he looked so sad...I just had to go, Daddy...I just had to go for Papa."

If I'd of drawn my last breath after that phone call, it would have been a good day to die.

Dear reader, I'm afraid most of our perspectives on salvation are full-blown cockeyed.  I really do.  On that Sunday morning, I believe a ye-who-are-weary preacher stood, as is his custom, and called/prayed that an angel, any angel at all, would come and stir the waters in an every-Sunday-fifty-two-weeks-a-year pool that often grows still with familiar and routine.  He needed someone to save him. And she did.  Her earnest and tender heart saw an old sinner waiting and watching on the portals and what her grandmother heard as "Can I go?" was really "I have to go!" And she did; she stepped out into the eyes and whispers of saints and sinners alike and shed almost every shred of glory she had as she humbled herself down the via dolorosa for Papa's sake, for love's sake...for Christ's sake.  And when she finally reached his hands, she emptied herself for him, tears and all. Greater love hath no man.

On my swing from branch to branch up the tree of God, there is a common bark - only Jesus saves!  I'm fine with that.  I also believe we save each other from time to time.  And I believe Jesus is fine with that because he knows it's true.  You see, on a Sunday just days ago, I believe the angels stopped their singing and wept instead as the race of o sinners and middle girls got just a few steps closer...closer to coming home.