Saturday, March 17, 2018
It's been a long winter. Not a frigid winter, maybe a little on the wet side. And, is it just me, but do the winters seem to get longer the older one gets? Unfortunately, this was a winter of loss. Many of my friends left this corporeal plane this winter. I also lost a truly great four-legged fur friend of thirteen years. And while I don't suppose any season is a good time to lose someone, winter seems to add extra heft and chill to a loss. However...
Spring is, as they say, around the corner. Robins continue their reign as the iconic first signs of spring, and, I suppose there have been several around, but I'm not impressed with the robin, as a whole. Sort of a plain bird that shows up after a drenching rain to snag the worm on top of the ground. Lazy, if you ask me. Sort of a starling with a red breast. Just not a whole lot there.
My first sign of spring is the return of "my" mockingbirds. I hear them before I see them, their song kicking the world wide awake. Loud and brilliant. This morning, I spotted them. They have a favorite bush they like to build in. It's protected by those irritating, sharp-as-needle leaves, and, on top of that, it's inside the cat-proof fence around the pool. No dummies, my mockingbirds.
They will spend the next few days taking turns grabbing grass and straw, some loose string, maybe a wad of paper...whatever they can spot...to prepare their nest. They're monogamous, you know. Marriage is a lifetime proposition for them. So this isn't their first rodeo. They've built nests together for a few years now so they're pretty comfortable with each other's work habits and engineering abilities. I can stand at my kitchen window for hours and watch them work together, seeming to know the exact meaning of their partner's tip of the head, shake of shoulders, flap of wing. Seeming to know instinctively exactly what their mate is going to do seconds before it's done. Synchronicity at its best. They never seem to disagree or argue. If they do, it's out of sight and in mockingbird talk, so I wouldn't be able to understand it anyway.
(Now, usually, it's just about here when I start building an analogy. Trying to tie in this limited subject with life in general - trying to expand the small into the large, the mundane into the magnificent. Going for the BIG PICTURE.)
Sometimes it works. Sometimes not.
Well, not today. Today is different. In 1965 - now that was a very good year - Hal David hooked up with Burt Bacharach and composed "What the World Needs Now Is Love." Thankfully for you, I'm not going to try to draw an analogy to that. That would be corny, wouldn't it? And predictable. You would expect me to quote parts of the song that I think apply to current times, like "What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it's the only thing that there's just too little of." And then you'd want me to make a big deal of "...not just for some but for everyone." I know you. You expect me to be the usual sentimental fool I've always been. You want me to draw comparisons to cornfields and wheat fields and sunbeams and moonbeams. Admit it. You want me to be smarmy. So you can just sit back and cluck to yourselves and say, "That Doug...he's a smarmy character, isn't he?"
You just aren't going to get your way today. Now...while I do believe that what the world needs is some love...I'm not going to go there. What I really believe is that the world needs more mockingbirds. You can have your robins. In fact, I'll give you a dozen robins for a single mockingbird. If we could just saturate our world with mockingbirds, their songs would drown out all the silly noise that surrounds us everyday. With more mockingbirds, we could raise our heads from our electronic devices and observe how creatures work together for a common good. With more mockingbirds, we could ponder the many strengths born of natural integrity and simple, similar, but important, goals.
More mockingbirds would bring less stress, less worry, and less infatuation with the mundane of this planet and things we simply can do nothing about.
But, like I said...no analogies for you today. If you want analogies, cook up your own. I do have one small request, though. Sometime today...
...listen to the mockingbird.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
This whole social media phenomenon sometimes overwhelms. It has accelerated the pace of hate in the world. It is a Petri dish for anger and discord. It gives us the perfect vehicle for our inherent divisiveness.
Some good does emerge. For example, I will post this blog on Facebook and a couple of hundred of you will read it. Some will enjoy it, some will not. Some couldn't care less. But I can at least share, on occasion, my meager thoughts.
But this isn't a blog about social media. This is a blog about that "first stone" that we've always heard about and how it sits there waiting for someone to grab it and cast it. It's always been there. Smug, complacent. Calmly anticipating a blameless hand. Confident it's not going to get chucked anytime soon.
Because, to cast it, you must be without sin. And just because it's unlikely that anyone stands a snowball's chance of grabbing that sucker and slinging it like Ernest T. Bass doesn't mean that you can't attempt to live and behave in such a way that you can at least contemplate its power. That you can't imagine it sitting there in a glass case atop a fancy dais in all its rocky ordinariness. About the size of a baseball, imperfectly round, worn smooth by centuries of time and inertia. Centuries spent awaiting a sin free hand.
But to even have the privilege of contemplating it, I think you have to at least direct your life in a positive direction.
I'll give you a couple of examples.
The world reels today from the murder and mayhem in Las Vegas. Facebook is already speculating that the shooter may have been spotted at a certain political rally, may have just converted to Islam, may have been just one in a group of people plotting this massacre.
Guess what? I don't care. Sorry, but as I sit here at this very moment, I can't recall his name and I have no desire to do so. He is a non-entity to me. That's how we should regard innate hate. As a non-entity.
What I do care about are all those lives cut short in the blink of an eye. Ripped from this earth and their families and loved ones as suddenly as a muzzle flash. I care about those fellow human beings who this day are suffocating in a bottomless pit of grief, reeling from what they can only describe as a hellish nightmare. I care about the mothers, the fathers, the sons and daughters, the husbands and wives of all of these people who have lost a huge piece of their heart and move about their days as if they are underwater.
I hurt for those who had bullets or shrapnel rip through them but still hang onto life. I know that there is for them now a brief flash of time that will forever haunt the days, months, and years to come. I regret the pain - mental, physical, and emotional - that they suffer. I pray for their full recovery and that sometime, somehow, they will be able to delegate this nightmare to an unreachable corner of their brain and never allow it to see the light of day.
I don't care how Mr. Evil obtained his weapons, whether they were automatic or semi-automatic, who he voted for, what church or mosque he prayed at, or what his family or next door neighbors think of him. I have no room in my existence to give the slightest of a damn about him. So don't bother sharing with me any of the plethora of social media facts, fictions, or opinions around him and his life. Don't yell at me from atop your gun- issue soapbox, regardless of your leanings. Do not make me a party to your decision to politicize this tragedy. At times like these, I choose to empathize, not socialize.
Getting mired up in speculation gets me no closer to being able to run my fingers across that unique stone. None of that allows me to imagine the heft of that stone in my hands, maybe even tossing it back and forth just to feel its weight and texture. In fact, it inspires to spin me in the opposite direction.
Which leads me to my other issue. Listen, I love football. I manage to tolerate the other sports while waiting for spring training or early drills or pre-season. Baseball may still be America's pastime, but football is my pastime. And guess what?
I don't care whether the patriotism of the professional players matches my patriotism or not. Many of you think that there is no such thing as degrees of patriotism. You're either a patriot or you aren't. Well, thank God we're free to think that way. And, so far, we don't need a constitutional amendment to think. Do I respect your personal views around patriotism? Absolutely. In fact, we may be pretty much aligned there.
But that doesn't mean that I have to care how a football player or anyone else chooses to show his patriotism. Whether it's a wide-open, standing at attention, helmet in one hand and the other over his heart, lip-syncing the words to the National Anthem with tears in his eyes. Or standing with his arms linked with his team, or kneeling on the artificial turf, or sitting out The Star Spangled Banner in the sweaty, littered confines of the locker room. His job, in my world, is to run, throw, kick, catch, and block like a professional. It's to go out onto that field and give 110% for the game. To earn his keep. And like Mr. Evil, I don't care where he goes to church, who he voted for, whether he believes in concealed carry, or how he chooses to demonstrate his national pride. And if he is breaching a clause in his work contract, then that's between him and his employer.
I do care about whether he is a good person, whether he is charitable, whether he sets a strong positive example as a husband, father, brother or son, and if he believes in obeying the law. I would like to think that he has a solid personal relationship with his Creator. I care about whether he conducts himself in such a way as to move closer to being able to cast that first stone.
So spare me the pundits.
Social media is rampant with modern day scribes and Pharisees. Always just dying to discredit you, to tempt you into saying something that they can capitalize on, to lure you to their political and social webs, to insult or outrage you into a senseless, endless argument, and to stick their feet out so you trip and fall square on your butt. The scribes and Pharisees of social media are sometimes your friends. That's usually when their shenanigans hurt the worst. Sometimes they are total strangers who you believe you just have to confront and counter. You know them. You "chat" with them everyday. They're usually sitting with their fingers hovering over their keyboards or their thumbs at ready on their smartphones.
You know, I've vowed to temper my social media behavior before. But I've always underestimated the power of the scribes and Pharisees. I don't have the DNA of The Man. I don't have the ability to squat, draw my finger through the dust, and quietly contemplate my next move. I haven't had the power to just let the rotten bait dangle there and move on to calmer waters. Sometimes I just don't have the power to shut the hell up.
And until I do, me and Ernest T. Bass can only dream of that granite beauty, that perfect rock, that elusive "first stone." That chucker to end all chuckers. We can only dream of a day when the scribes and Pharisees all link arms around the common causes of goodness and beauty and spin golden threads across the social media highway. We can only dream of a time when Evil loses its grip and careens back into the black pit from which it first slithered. In the meantime, I'm hoping me and Ernest T. Bass can both work to overcome our own little self-indulgent urges. Him breaking windows like a backwoods banshee and me conquering the deliciously recurring temptations of living with a endless pile of plain old common rocks in a glass house.
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Bob Dylan told us in 1964 that "The Times They Are A-Changing." Little did he know.
When the iPhone 8 debuted this week, I thought of the time, which seems like yesterday, when my wife and I upgraded to the 6S Plus which was just after the 7 hit the shelves. You might ask why we didn't just jump straight to the 7.
Well, we didn't feel like we had a right to skip the 6. We were 5 users for a couple or three years and it just didn't seem proper to totally leapfrog the 6 because of the glitter and glimmer of the new 7. Actually we were 5S owners, which made us a little more special than the just-plain-5 owners. Plus we wanted to give 3D touch a try as well as experience android size in an Apple product. After all, IOS is IOS by any other name.
If you followed the last two paragraphs, if you had no trouble with the lingo, then you're either 1) young or 2) a savvy Apple middle-ager or mature citizen. And, if you didn't follow the lingo, that doesn't mean you aren't young and/or savvy. Or age-advanced and hip. It may simply mean that you are a Samsung or other android afficionado or you like a flip to your phone and don't plan in this lifetime to upgrade beyond your trusty Nokia or your CD player.
Anyway, stuck at the Verizon store, sitting around waiting for the new phone to upload around 45 gigs of information of mysterious value, I reflected on my first brush with technology.
It's 1974 and my company has a promotion. Never one to shun a little healthy competition, I gave it my best effort and managed to win. A congratulatory letter arrived letting me know to expect my prize in the next few days. Early the next week, a package appeared on my desk. Opening it, I found this little plastic thing-a-majig with square numerical keys on the front and the brand name "Casio" emblazoned above a tiny, rectangular translucent screen. I scanned the instruction booklet and discovered that I had won a "digital calculator."
What a machine that little fellow was! What a miracle. You could multiply, divide, add, subtract, figure the square root...there was no end to what this item barely larger than a pack of cigarettes could do. Truly pocket sized!
Understand that I was a child of a generation that utilized mechanical cash registers the size of dorm refrigerators. If you plunged downward on three cumbersome keys, three tin rectangles would pop up in a glass enclosure to record a $1.38 sale. (And if you are one of the handful of people who actually can visualize that, then you are old...really old.)
What had the world come to? This was surely the invention of the century and certainly the end-all to long-winded mathematical solutions. No more carrying the two in your multiplication or adding a decimal point and a zero in your long division. This little know-it-all did it all. The answers were displayed magically via liquid crystal display, another miracle, allowing you to do little tricks when bored, like entering 7,7,3,4,5 and turning the calculator upside down to spell an oil company.
However...that little miracle worker today would be about as exciting to the tech world and the demanding, technologically advanced consumer as a common nail. Yep, about as intriguing as post-it note. Nearly as engaging as paper clip.
Back at the Verizon store, fanning ourselves when quoted the price of the 6S, the rep reminded us that we weren't buying phones, we were buying computers. He cocked his head, arched his left eyebrow, and asked us what our computers at home could do that this iPhone couldn't. I searched for a witty reply that would smack the supercilious grin from his face but came up blank.
We left the store with heavier pockets and lighter wallets.
But, strangely, when I return to that day in 1974, I'm convinced that I felt a great deal more satisfaction, excitement, and awe over that early edition calculator than I do over the next great smartphone. I can't help but believe that there was some understated beauty in that simple time of technological naiveté. That slice of time when you didn't worry over having enough storage-ready gigabytes or exceeding your plan's monthly data quota. When Macintosh was just a very tasty apple and Microsoft sounded like a new, improved brand of fabric softener sheets. When "you've got mail" meant that you could see the postman closing your mailbox door before heading for your neighbor's. When twitter was what your heart did when you fell in love. Again. And when the BeeGees sang "I've Gotta Get a Message to You," the last thing you thought about was thumbing away at a qwerty keyboard.
But the common nail? Anything but common. That little fellow is pretty diverse all on its own and has gone through many more transformations and variations than the iPhone. And with a birth date around 3400 B.C., it certainly a much more colorful history. In early America, they were so coveted that folks would burn down abandoned houses just to salvage the nails. Hopefully we won't be doing that for smartphones.
And, finally, there's the existential side of the nail. I read once that nails are secured in objects by the laws of friction. And they can endure the secured object's force due to their sturdiness. These are times when we humans could certainly benefit from the nail's simple lesson. With everything that comes at us daily, with all the friction that we create upon ourselves and allow others to create within us, we could all use a little more nail-liness. We could all learn to sturdy up a little bit more, huh? Can't manage that with an iPhone, can we? Look at those things the wrong way or apply too much friction and the screen cracks or the battery explodes.
So ignore the title of this blog. It's silly. But here's to the pocket calculator and the good, old nail. Raise a glass to their simplicity, honesty, and ingenuity. May they ever have a secure and calculated place in our history and our hearts. And in these times that are a-changing, may we never, ever allow modern technology to slowly invade and dominate every phase of our lives.
Now excuse me while I search for a strong wi-fi signal to publish this post and attach it to my Facebook page.
OMG!!! Tell me I just didn't say that....😕
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
I lost my keys last week. Or maybe I should say I misplaced them. They have a designated drawer in the kitchen and they weren't there. I believe it's an "age thing" though I have to admit that I have a life history of losing things. I guess you might say that I've always been a little forgetful and sometimes not all that keenly focused.
When I was a kid, most everything I lost was critical to my immediate happiness. When you're a kid, your beloved possessions are few and to lose one is usually a big deal. I remember misplacing my favorite marble when I was in the second grade. Admittedly, I can't remember yesterday's lunch but I have a crystal clear memory of losing my light blue cat's eye shooter. My number one prized marble that rode in the right-hand pocket of my bluejeans wherever I went. I was pretty sure that it was hiding somewhere in our front yard. After dividing the yard into grids and walking those grids a dozen times, I finally did what I always did in stressful situations such as this. I asked God to help me. It wasn't a prayer per se...more like a mental request: Dear God, I know you have much more important issues to deal with, but if you have an extra minute or two, would you please help me find my marble. And I promise I'll do a better job keeping up with it.
It always worked. I say "always." And to my recollection, it always did.
I found my prized shooter that day and, as far as I can recall, I did take extra steps to safeguard it until the time that playing marbles became secondary to learning to "walk the dog" on my brand-new, shiny Duncan Imperial.
Back to last week and my vagrant keys. I don't know about you, but trying to find something lost, or misplaced, pretty much dominates my thoughts until it is found. And I don't care to recall the number of times I've donned latex gloves and reallocated bag after bag of kitchen trash. Some fresh and some not so fresh. I'm not sure why that's one of the first places I always look. It just is. But, anyway, guess what? After exhaustive searches throughout the house and along the path from the car to the house and back a few times, it was time to turn to the Finder of All Things Lost once again. So, in the way that has changed very little from the time I was seven, I asked God to help me find my keys. I had no sooner dispersed that little request to the stratosphere when it occurred to me that there might be a good chance that the keys ended up in a kitchen drawer but not the correct kitchen drawer. I hustled into the house and opened a drawer next to the sink (the tape and scissors drawer to be exact) and voila! There sat the keys.
The biggest difference between God directing the finding of lost things when I was a kid and now as an adult is that God insists on sending a little life lesson along with His assistance in recovering the misplaced item. Sort of a celestial fortune cookie. And this one revealed that God actually enjoys finding lost things, especially when that which needs finding is a whole person. Or a broken person who needs to be whole. I can't even come close to counting the number of times He's found me over the years. Whether I was hiding or had simply lost my way, eventually God showed up with His big flashlight to direct me home. Thank goodness the single stray is just as important as the properly placed ninety-nine.
There's a touch of irony in all of this. I think I've been much more comfortable asking God to find marbles and keys than I have been asking to be found myself. I wonder if that's just me or if that holds true for many. I wonder if many of us are hesitant to ask for help on a large scale. But it doesn't matter. He's there when you need Him and nothing is to small or too large when it comes to finding what is lost. Marbles, keys, or your way. The Finder of All Things Lost is always on duty.
And, you know, when I really get to thinking about it, maybe things and people aren't really lost in the first place. Maybe they've just managed to end up in the wrong drawer.
Thursday, August 3, 2017
The sort-of dreaded day and hour to check the line, fill the tank, poke at the primer bulb, and pull the starter cord arrived this past Tuesday at the farm. I felt a little like a soldier headed for battle as I marched from the serenity of the back porch with the weedeater slung across my shoulder and a red plastic gallon of mixed gas dangling from my hand.
I admit that the day was pitch perfect for weedeating. Overcast, decent humidity, and early enough that the heat-up of the day had yet to commence. So I began. About an hour into the job and in the middle of a particularly tough patch near the barn, I looked down and spotted a single sprig of blue flowers that had pushed its way out of the ankle deep growth of barnyard grass, broadleaf plantain, and bull thistle. Pretty little things, they were a blue somewhere between the sky and my momma's eyes, each bud no bigger than the end of your little finger, and simply bursting with hope and enthusiasm. A virtual oasis of sight upon an otherwise unforgivable terrain.
I failed to mention that one of the perks of weedeating is the ability to put your mind in neutral and let the thoughts flow.
As by something as simple as a tiny bunch of flowers.
And I thought that what I was seeing here in this snapshot moment of time embodied pretty much how I was viewing the world less than 24 hours before. When I had the misfortune to be on Facebook, reading a few of thousands of comments of some totally unforgettable subject or discussion that had caught the interest of nearly everyone. I suppose when I indulge my seedy side, it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I simply can't look away. You know what I mean. When half the world is on one side and the other half takes the other side and the bickering builds to all-out verbal atomic warfare.
We are so divided as a nation - as well as a globe - that I sometimes wonder why the sun bothers to rise in the morning. The ugliness! Has mankind always been so hateful and social media has just given us an opportunity to really notice it? Or is this something that we have become over the last several years? I really don't know the answer but I'm talking an exchange of spewing, acidic hatred and evil words and thoughts that I never imagined could, or would, exist.
And it happens all the time.
But that's the weeds: the crabgrass, the hairy bittercress, the Johsongrass, the redroot pigweed. The spewing disdain, the vomitous scorn, the malice and contempt. The weeds that are a real threat to our virtue and our humanity. Humanity that is eons in the making. Virtue that we developed through generation after generation of trial and error.
Choking, smothering, unforgiving weeds.
But that little sprig of blue flowers? That's hope. That's proof that beauty can co-exist among any volume of hate. And proof that the beauty that does co-exist can overcome that hate and stand on its own. Beauty that says, "Hey, look...I'm right here. I'm right here in the middle of any amount of nastiness you can create. I'm God's gift to the world and I will not be ignored! I am here in spite of all else."
And it's true. That splash of beauty in the middle of that jungle of worthless ugliness is the only thing I noticed. And it lifted me up. And it reminded me that the world is what we wish to make it. Like in that long exchange of condemnation and hatred in that Facebook post the day before, someone had posted a simple red heart. An "I love you." No other words...just the emoticon. And it was as effective as that one spurt of blue flowers in the middle of all that stinging nettle. The heart, and not the words that swamped it, was what gave me pause.
As long as just one of us is willing to find the beauty, all of us have a chance.
And, in case any of you are wondering, yes I did. I carefully weedeated around those tiny blue flowers while virtually annihilating into oblivion every last weed in sight. Atoms of green exploding into the atmosphere. Satisfying disintegration of the highest order.
It was a very, very good day.
Friday, December 30, 2016
"Anniversary Song" was written by Steven Digman, a gentleman about whom I know little, other than he wrote an amazing song that was recorded at some point by Eva Cassidy. This I know about Eva Cassidy. She has one of the most spectacular voices I've had the pleasure of hearing. And that she died in 1996 at the age of 33. In, as they say, relative obscurity. Her voice, her interpretations, her pacing...all of it...enchant and captivate. Hers is a voice you hear not only with your ears but also with your heart.
As this year dissolves into melancholy vapors and the new year staggers toward us like a newborn colt, I'm grabbed by the thought that we all are experiencing another anniversary. A day I put much more value upon than I do other significant days, including birthdays. Though we all simultaneously (time zones excepted) experience the end of one year and the beginning of another, that experience is as unique as stars, or grains of sand, or snowflakes. Simply put, we individually own each anniversary. We personally inherit a fresh beginning. And though we mourn those people in our lives who didn't make this particular anniversary event, we cannot help but celebrate the enormity of the opportunity.
The chorus of "Anniversary Song" goes like this:
I never thought I'd get this old dear
Never had a reason to live so long
And the Lord's been like my shadow
Even when I was wrong
No I never thought it would turn out this way.
Though compelling, the words alone don't do the song justice. Eva's voice and the music which accompanies her, however, form unforgettable art. That said, these words have stamped themselves on my soul. The writer is said to have commented: "Not being a religious man myself, I still think that if you live long enough, into your seventies, then God must have been there somehow."
Now I don't deign to suggest that Mr. Digman meant something other than what he said, but here's what I hear. What I hear is that the older you live, the easier it is to recognize God's hand in your life.
I wonder how many of us thought it would "turn out this way?" Whatever way that is. I'm going to guess there have been some unanticipated twists and turns in your life. Along with those times when you pause and contemplate how you got to the place you find yourself today and consider the question: how in the world did I get here?
But here is what I like about one year ending and another beginning, this fresh anniversary and the blessing to be able to experience it: we have a fresh opportunity to rewrite the way it turns out. Not the whole book, the entire story, all the verses of the song. But a chance to grab a fresh sheet of paper and go in the direction of our choosing. To pick up where we left off and plot a new adventure.
Amazing, no? And here's the real kicker, we have that opportunity every single day...to re-route our own history. To redirect our own future. I just happen to think that on the most unique day of the calendar, the one that begins as one year and morphs into another, there is extra impetus to do so.
Forget the resolutions. When did you ever stick to them anyway? Just plan on getting up in the morning and walking out into the sunshine of the first day of 2017 and celebrating another anniversary. And that shadow you see? Well, I think Mr. Steven Digman would say that it's a reminder that the Lord is right there sticking with you. As close and tight as He can get. Even when you're wrong.
Happy New Year, folks. And a very happy anniversary to you.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
I sit in the den of our 200 year old farmhouse and look out the window, across the front porch, past the old well house, through the trees in the lot that once was an orchard, and I spy the cabin he built a dozen years ago. Its red tin roof is bright and cheerful even in the grey overcast of a mid-December day. There is no one home. It was sold this past July to some folks from Nashville who use it and the surrounding riverfront acreage as a get-away. I breathe in the silence, then hold my breath, seeing but not hearing the only movement in my line of vision, ice melting and running in drops off the eaves above the porch. And, except for the plaintive cry of a stray calf, temporarily separated from its mother, the cold, wintry silence thaws the past and feeds my thoughts.
I like to believe that I am temporarily separated from my brother who once clomped around the wide porch of that red-roofed cabin. A man who was often larger than life and whose voice would carry over the several hundred yards between his place and ours. And I miss that voice, sometimes in an excruciatingly acute fashion. A similar timbre of voice was about the only thing we shared as adults, but he was my brother and I loved him every single day of his life.
I think of him at different times. Though we seldom exchanged cards, I remember him on June 28, his birthday. Whenever talk turns to fishing, I think about how his face would tighten into a smile and his eyes would dance at the thought of heading to the banks of the Elk River with a rod and reel and a can of night crawlers. When my wife and I take one of our trips to the panhandle of Florida, I think of the times he and his wife loaded up their dogs and a couple of cats and headed to their place on St. George Island. For weeks at a time. He was most at home there, I believe. Something about the rhythm of the ocean and blue skies and golden sun. He took to all of that. He grew bananas, of all things.
And, of course, Christmas. Not recent Christmases but the Christmases of long ago when we were boys and he was truly my little brother. When he would sit in his footed pajamas, mesmerized by the bubbling lights and shimmering tinsel on the Christmas tree. How he would tiptoe around until he spied his name on a gift. And, if no one was looking, he would lift it and shake it, taking a stab at what might be inside. When I was ten and he was five, I intrigued him with stories of Santa Claus and how I was pretty sure that if we stayed up late enough on Christmas Eve, we would finally catch old Santa sneaking into our house with a bagful of presents. I cautioned him to the risk, however, of getting caught. We always shared a bedroom and it wasn't hard to convince him that any thud in the night were reindeer hooves on the roof. And how in the world could he say that he hadn't just heard what was most certainly sleigh bells. I would tell him to close his eyes tight and pretend he was asleep so Santa would make sure to stop. And I would close mine.
On Christmas morning, I couldn't remember who had fallen asleep first. But we leaped from our beds at the same time and slipped quietly into the living room. I recall in those times I received a great deal more joy watching him discover his Santa bounty than I did discovering my own. My brother had a way of exhibiting delight that I just never got the hang of. So, on those Christmases long ago, I claimed my delight through his. I piggybacked on his joy. And it grew my love for him.
This coming February he will have been gone two years. There wasn't even time to say a really decent goodbye. And though missing him hasn't eased up much, I take solace in what's available. If you've never heard the the Sarah Darling song "Knowing What I Know About Heaven," I'd suggest you give it a listen. So when my mind insists on trying to bring my brother back, when I want to reverse time and make things turn out differently, when I want to imagine that the cancer hadn't found its way to his body, or when I want to wish him back to the porch of his cabin or settled comfortably on the banks of the Elk with his voice harmonizing with the sounds of the flowing river, I think about the lines of that song.
"Knowing what I know about heaven
Believing that you're all the way home
Knowing that you're somewhere better
Is all I need to let you go.
I could hope that I could pray you back
But why on earth would I do that
When you're somewhere life and love never ends
Knowing what I know about heaven."
Who knows? Maybe there are Christmas trees in Heaven - I see no reason why there shouldn't be - and they are strung with miles and miles of brilliant bubble lights and glinting tinsel reflected in the faces and eyes and smiles of my brother and everyone else who has made that celestial journey. I mean, what better place to celebrate Christmas than Heaven? And, as much as I miss him, I wouldn't pray him back from that ultimate bounty of everlasting life and never-ending love.
But, you know what, doggone it, it sure would be nice to hear that sweet voice one more time.