Nature has so many surprises to give us. The beauty of colorful places. The majestic sites of mountains, waterfalls, marshes, and beaches. The awe inspiring skies. The diversity of life. Cold winds and warm breezes. A sun bath or a rain drench. Snow or mud. Volcanic eruptions or hurricane winds. Quiet or sounds of birds singing. And we simply sit among it sharing its grandeur.
Occasionally, there are moments that are beyond holy. The quiet cold morning on Jekyll Island when my youngest and I were wrapped in blankets sat on the beach watching her first sunrise together. Dorothy is the quiet observer in the family. So moments like these are enhanced by her presence. You can feel her appreciation in the almost electricity that flows off her body and by the ever so quiet sigh of joy.
This is why she probably has magical moments I do not when we are in Nature. Nature approves her quiet appreciation more than my bursting out in eulogy. Once on a boardwalk in Francis Beidler Forest, she was walking with the rest of the family. She was fifteen yards in front of us when suddenly we saw her stop in her tracks and look over the fence to a cyprus tree. Sitting on a limb on the tree was an owl. It was no farther than four feet from her. It was eye level. It studied her. She studied it. The rest of us stopped in our tracks mesmerized by the two. They were separated from us by an invisible wall. Dorothy turned her head slightly and the owl followed. She whispered to it and it replied even once letting out the classic who. I do not know how long they stood there together, after all it was a moment of eternity which cannot be measured. Dorothy turned to us with the biggest grin on her face.She was welcoming inside her world. She turned one last time to look at the owl. The owl took flight over her head as it flew by she could feel the wind from the owl’s wings. She shared no words about the experience but the glow around her said it all.
At the end of the trail is a hollowed out, several stories high cyprus tree that you can stoop into and look up and see the sky through the tunnel of the tree. Dorothy was the last one in and she looked up at the sky. I asked her, after she had come out, if she had seen anything so amazing. She looked at me with patient eyes and said an owl Dad an owl. And this is the story: I am always on to the next adventure and she keeps her eternal time.
Trees of My Children
Trees were an important part of my life. I have through the years tried to instill this same feeling in my children. There are certain trees that have fared me well in these ventures.
There is an old oak tree that lives on Oatland Island (Savannah’s Zoo it is sometimes called). It has a few native Georgia animals, an old heritage home site, a marsh boardwalk, and native woodlands with trails. It is run by the local school system. There is one tree we encountered many years ago that now sits in front of the wolf observatory. Back then it was an oak tree along a path that led to the wolf compound. It had a limb that stood out at about my chest height. It was the perfect limb to sit my son and then later his two sisters. We took pictures of each on that limb every time we were there. As they grew older they no longer were content with my placing them on the limb but now insisted on climbing to the spot. It was our tree. At least I thought it was. But through the years that limb began to develop a distinct butt impression from all of the other children who had obviously been hoisted or climbed to that exact spot. It was obviously its own exhibit for many children over the years. Because of erosion the tree is shorter; it is more the height of my hip now. My children who are much older now still insist on sitting there. Regretfully, it looks as though in another ten years, although they have taken measures to preserve it, this tree will be gone. But it will not leave without living a full life of beauty and charm for several generations. Who could ask more from our friend?
There is a circle park that lies between the kindergarten through eighth grade public school and our home. Both of my daughters attended every year there. The park has two benches, grass lawn, a few smaller trees and five huge oak trees. The park is quiet for the most part. But for two hours after school it becomes the release valve of joy and play for many children before they go home or go to their various sport or ballet practices. There is no playground, only grass and trees. So for many of the children it has been the place where they first learn the fine art of tree climbing. There is one oak tree that is the favorite. Its big broad limbs reach almost to the ground. The sight of the smaller children hoisting their friends up to the limb is both charming and comical. My two daughters each have spent many an afternoon in that tree climbing higher and higher into the massive tall tree. It is a parental lesson for conquering your fears for your children as they venture higher and higher into the tree that appears at times to touch the sky. As a parent you battle your desires of how high should you let them climb without you being able to help them. This desire is balanced by the desire to be the parent who does not teach fear or stunt their natural growth. Every day the children push higher into the tree and every day the parent stands at the bottom trying to encourage and yet fighting the urge to say slow down. The cycle of life lives out at the circle park every day.
There is an old cedar tree that reaches out over the Skidaway Marsh in Skidaway Island State Park. It is a tree that begs you to climb and stretch over the wet marsh. There is risk in that if you fall you will be wet or at least muddy. But the tree has that wonderful scent of cedar and cragginess of an old tree. My children love to sit and rest and view the marsh here. We had a wonderful picnic on that tree once. A memory etched in my heart forever. My oldest daughter, who now goes to Georgia Tech, took a photography class and wanted to incorporate the tree into her portfolio. She returned to take the picture of the tree; it was gone. The recent hurricane had taken it with it. Hurricanes are one of life’s chaotic binges that can change our lives forever. My daughter returned to Georgia Tech once again as she grows more and more independent. But there is a memory of a tree that once shared its life with us. There are moments of time that are frozen within that can never be totally lost. A tree that we thought would be with us for many more years of our life was struck down. Sadly it was struck down before it could be memorialize.
Trees are our companions along this life. They as the different people we meet have lessons to teach and memories to give. I honestly believe that trees are part of the village we need to raise our children. The trees of my children are more than these three but for now we rest the pen and smile and remember.
Lifebooks (Part 2)
Sunday came but no black out. So she did not go to the park. The news that night reported a break-up of a terrorist cell. One of the pictures of the terrorist was the man with whom she had communicated. This at first had terrified her but she rationalized that if they had not come for her yet., they were not going to.
But now she knew that there were people out there resisting Lifebook. She must find out how to contact them. She played the report on the terrorist over and over looking for some kind of clue to where she might find other ‘terrorist’. She finally found it. In the pictures of the arrest there was a bookbag which she suddenly realized was a pictogram of sorts. It showed another possible place to meet. But she knew you could not go there until there was a Lifebook blackout. Otherwise, she would be discovered. The place was a statue in a city park.
Now she would have to wait and hope the blackout would come. Two months went by and no blackout. She knew there must be another way. Maybe she would have to make it. She began to research on LIfebooks persons who may be allies. She was on Lifebooks day and night. Searching for the right people to contact. Interestingly enough her own watchership [viewership?] went down. People bored quickly over her constant looking at Lifebooks and moved on. She was doing nothing of interest.
Months later when she felt as though there could be no one left to discover she quit. But now she had to be careful in her next move. She also realized the less activity the less watchers. With less watchers she had less chance of being caught. Her parents had become worried about her obsession with Lifebooks. Especially since now it seemed to replace many of her other activities.
She had even lost some of her friends in her search. It had been as though she had disappeared from the Earth. The first few contacts with her chosen few did not go well. She spent the next moths approaching the individuals she had marked and gathering firsthand information about them. In the end she did not think they would be the right type. During this time as she became more active her watchers picked back up.
It was at this time the sad realization came to her to escape Lifebooks and its watchers she must become totally immersed in Lifebooks. She began to calculate which were the activities that would bore her watchers. Her goal was to lose all of her watchers. What if what she did was so mind numbing boring that the watchers left. Then with no watchers could she take that moment to disappear from sight.
She started. She fasted. She pushed buttons on her computer. She never talked. She just existed. She never left the house. Watchers left by the droves but something strange happened after a year. The watchers that were left became fascinated if she would ever do anything of import. So they tuned in to see if she would finally speak. She became a cult hero.
Her following grew. Imitators started throughout the nation. Her cult following became so big that the government became concerned. They were no longer concerned about what she might do but now were fixated on what she was not doing. One quarter of the population were now doing nothing. Another quarter were supporting her followers in their endeavors. They became like the desert monks. They lived outside of society. Society in appreciation began to bring them food so they would not have to leave their rooms and keep up their unending search of Lifebooks. The few times they uttered words were discussed and given all manner of meanings. Every small move made for weeks of interpretive parsing for the nation.
But as all fads this fandom passed. And she was left with her Lifebooks and the watchers again began to leave. Two more years out and she only had a few watchers. Her mother was one, as she tried desperately to understand what her daughter was doing. On the third year and two hundred second day she was left with only her mother as a watcher. She could leave now but they would know her mother was watching and would hold her responsible for Maya’s disappearance. But the secret was to make her mother leave too without any due drama that might create more watchers.
She looked into the camera and said leave. No one knows exactly what she meant by this. Her
mother felt she was being told to not watch. Others felt she was saying to them it was time to leave. And yet others felt she was describing what she was about to do. Her mother did leave. She left undetected never to be found again. But in the dark web of Lifebooks the video of her one word credo inspired many to pick up and leave. No matter how many times the government tried to squash the video it always appeared in another place and another time. It became as ubiquitous as the Andre the Giant graffiti.
Today, everyone studies the tapes of Maya’s life to understand what happened. A new cult bigger than the former started. The one word she would pronounce when she returned was ‘back’. The new cult anxiously waited for the day when she would return and take them away to a land free from Lifebooks. ‘Leave’.
This is the first part of a two part story. The next entry will be Saturday at 10am.
It started with Big Brother the reality TV show. People wanted to watch other people’s lives. Finding no substance in their own lives they thought the watching of other’s lives would somehow explain their own existence. The concept is not without any merit. But the problem with reality shows were that Hollywood decided for you what lives might interest you. Many times these were the more exotic or problematic lives. After all, no one would want to watch the ordinary lives. But people became fascinated with the lives of their friends on Facebook and even followed the daily goings on of each other on Twitter. There seem to be no limit to what people wanted to know about others.
This was the beginnings of where we find ourselves in the year 2100. Slowly the demand for knowing all the details of each other’s lives and the development of new technology led to what today is called Lifebooks. People no longer were able to see just the face you may want to present on Facebook but now they had access to every aspect of your life by live stream mini cameras that recorded every moment of your life.
The government loved and promoted it. They saw it as a distraction from what they were doing. They also saw it as a crime prevention tool. So they gave people tax breaks and incentives to participate in Lifebooks. People on Lifebooks were given salaries according to their audience. This had the side effect of people becoming more and more adept at self-promotion and trying to live more and more creative lives.
Eventually, every newborn was placed on Lifebooks unless the legal guardians pursued the paperwork and litigation not to have their child on Lifebooks. They also had to be willing to pay yearly taxes for their non-participation. So only those rabid radicals who wished to live off the grid were not included.
Maya had lived her life on Lifebooks from the beginning. All of her friends were on it. She kept up with them as they did her all day and night. It became a natural way of being. Her parents fussed about it and hearken back to the more low tech days and less invasive times of Facebook and Twitter. She laughed at their old ways.
But sometimes when she went to the doctor she wished she could turn off Lifebooks. But she knew when you did this a Lifebook agent would be at your door in thirty minutes and your parents would be fined and your choices of college would grow less. The insurance companies were anxious to keep Lifebooks on at times like these. But still talking to your doctor about acne issues while the whole world would be watching was embarrassing.
Her parents lived simply and did not promote their own sites. People of course interpreted this as they lived boring lives. Some people had developed a scam and paid some of their watchers half of the government money they earned for each watcher. Of course this was illegal and one person did not earn you much money worth the pay. But if you could obtain a hundred of these watchers you would be talking about money that made the legal risks worth it.
Maya like her parents did not promote her site. But still she had several thousand watchers. This was not a pleasant thought for her because she could not possibly know three fourths of them. So there were people who knew intimate details about her and who she could cross paths with on the streets and not even know them.
But compared to her friends she was isolated as they all engaged full force to get their Lifebooks’ watchers. They became addicted to growing their watcher numbers. It was hard to be friends with the more popular LIfebookers because every time you were with them you were seen by all their watchers and were guaranteed more watchers on your own book. So she deliberately chose to hang out with friends whose Lifebook watchers were not huge. But there were those enterprising Lifebookers who became your best friend for a couple of weeks just to recruit from your watchers.
This led to Maya’s heart being broken as these ‘friends‘ would show interest in her but would leave letting her know that she had been used. And always as everything else in her life it was a public humiliation. So she learned to be distrustful of new people and how to keep her feelings buried deep inside her. She never had mother and daughter talks these attracted too big of an audience. She could not wait to grow old because watchers loved seeing the young on Lifebooks. Most older folks lost watchers as they reached a certain age.
Maya began to realize she had a longing for privacy although she was not sure what this looked like. She knew she acted differently because she was watched. The criminologists had rightly proclaimed Lifebooks would decrease the crime rate. But Maya wanted to say what she thought and to do what she wanted but that was hard while others watched you. Of course some people made a show of being watched. They flourished with eyes on them. But Maya hated it. She would never ham it up for the cameras. She thought this was too much like lying. But she had come to realize all her life was a lie. She never did a natural act. She too was playing to the cameras only not as flamboyantly.
One day she thought the impossible she no longer wanted to be on Lifebooks. People joked the only way off of Lifebooks was through death. In fact this joke was put into practice many years ago when a rash of suicides occurred. But the government stepped in and began the anti-suicide laws. If you committed suicide someone in your family would be executed and one anonymous watcher on your Lifebook. This made the persons thinking about suicide think long and hard about ending their lives. This also caused the anonymous watchers to inform the government of any unusual behavior that might indicate someone was suicidal. This was not an option any longer for anyone who was not a psychopath.
She had heard about people going off the grid but she had never met anyone. And you certainly could not ask while on Lifebook if anyone knew how to go off grid. The word on the street if you did ask someone you would have an agent of Lifebook come visit you and your family. All the while the agent assured you and your family you could go off grid they reminded you of the severe
consequences of such a move.
The only place Maya found she could be free was in her dreams but now new technology was being made that could make your dreams visible to watchers. Many an adolescent boy was horrified of the day this technology would become available. They said the technology was only year away and another year before it would be able to come online for Lifebook. The last bastion of freedom would soon be gone. Maya was determined to be off line before the ‘Dreamcatcher’ came on line. She had to have some place for freedom.
She determined a plan of action. She developed a plan that at the same time every day she would tap Morse Code out in different ways so that hopefully a careful watcher would notice and offer her an answer. Morse Code was now only known by a few people it was in fact almost an extinct language in 2100. She knew using the code would be a long shot especially since she knew this would have to be done over at least a month if not longer because the Lifebook agents watched various pages for abnormalities.
Everyday as she sat in the school lunchroom she tapped two words with a spoon she ‘nervously’ held in her hand. For three months she tapped out a message hoping someone would notice. After the third month she gave up only to be approached by someone who smiled at her and began to drum their fingers on their book bag. It was Morse code. But they did not stop to say who they were they tapped out a short message and then walked on without a look or a word. For the next few weeks the person would turn up in different places with their bookbag and their nervously tapping fingers.
The answer she received was that there would be a blackout of Lifebook on next Sunday and for her to meet him at the park. She could hardly wait. But she could not show excitement or a sudden happier mood. She must keep to her daily mood and routine and wait
Savannah has Coffee Shops
Savannah has coffee shops. They are many and varied. Each having their own vibe. Although I do not drink coffee, I find myself in them often. Either I am writing or socializing. They are a significant part of my life. Besides my house and libraries I spend more of my time in coffee shops than anywhere else.
My very first coffee shop was the Gallery Expresso. It is a nouveau shop with hors’ oeuvres and great sweets. It is always crowded but I went because it was my first. It was the place I took my wife on our first date after a play. It was in conversation there I discovered we could have a good life together. It is also the place my oldest daughter flooded the bathroom. We could see our embarrassed child and water coming out from under the door. We rushed out and I can no longer return. I pass it in my car but can only look at it longingly from afar now.
The Sentient Bean is the “coffee shop as movement” place I love to go. There is fair trade coffee, vegetarian food, music in the evenings, and public forums. It is also the place a friend declared “they will never make it’ (referring to the two young women fresh out of college Kelli and Kristin). He exclaimed their business plan sucked, was too utopian, and could not possibly last. Twenty years later it is still there even though the competition has become pretty stiff. I often avoid the Sentient Bean because I know too many people there and I am supposedly writing.
Foxy Loxy is the coffee shop that is only half bohemian. They have good sweets and light Mexican fare. It is the current darling of the Savannah community. Located across from a SCAD building and the library, they are always full. But on one magical day my oldest daughter and I had a moment in the trees on the balcony of the house. I have attended a wedding in the back courtyard and have shared moments with friends there too. Because heaven knows I cannot resist the darling of Savannah.
The Mate Factor is actually not a coffee shop but a mate shop. It is run by the Twelve Tribes Commune. You enter and it is Cracker Barrel chic. It has a beautiful wood farmhouse feel about it. A staff straight out of Little House on the Prairie and who always have impeccable smiles on their face. They have music on a track they play over and over as if in an attempt to pull some commune brainwashing on you. And for some reason everyone is carrying on a religious conversation. Which reminds me to tell the young men at the table next to me considering the ministry, ‘Do not do it’. But the atmosphere is nice and they have one of my favorite sandwiches and the best muffins so I find myself listening and slowly being converted to the ways of the Twelve Tribes.
Savannah Coffee Roasters is big and always has a table. They have great sweets, and a comedy club group meets on the second floor. So I go there. The lines can be long with tourists as it is situated next to a hotel but it is a great people-watching place. They claim to have been around since 1909. A claim that needs to offer an explanation when The Oldest Coffee Shops in America are listed as Café Du Monde, New Orleans (1862) Caffè Reggio, New York City (1927) Caffe Vittoria, Boston (1929) Caffe Trieste, San Francisco (1956). One day I will get to the bottom of this.
The Coffee/Deli is what you would expect in a coffee shop in a strip mall. The aesthetics, while not great, are sufficient. But the sun can be blinding at certain times of the day as it comes through the front glass wall. My favorite incident there was when my daughter Dorothy came in with her friend gave me a side wave as if to conceal it from her friends but a few moments later, she is acknowledging me as she pours on her charm and says “Hi Dad. Things going alright. Since you are here Dad can I borrow money for me and my friends to have drinks.” It is good to know she cares and still finds me useful.
The Friendship Coffee House on Wilmington Island is fairly new. I go there to meet two old friends Jan and Margy. They require my presence every so often to collect money for Joined In Giving or when I have not seen them recently. The first time I went, I noticed I was the only man in the coffee house. I instantly felt macho until my ordered avocado toast came. I should have ordered the triple 100% all beef burger but instead I blended in just fine.
These are the main coffee shops I go to in Savannah. So if you ever want to see me, look in a coffee shop. I will be hiding in a corner. I will not have coffee but tea instead and will be seeking a little solitude to write. No coffee, not seeking community; how anti-coffee shop can you get? I guess I forever will be the Coffee Shop Interloper.
The Forlorn Lover
Ray was a laser beam shot from outer space to our shelter. He had been off and on the streets for over twenty years. He had moved from place to place and we could never find his place of origin. He was living in our shelter and we were attempting to assist him in finding a way to leave the streets behind. In our interview he insisted he wanted to work even though the staff had doubts about this; they referred him to the Employment Training Center. His counselor was a woman named Carol who was a beautiful and caring twenty-something I was friends with.
After a few days in the shelter I quickly realized he had severe mental health problems. He would have outbursts where his arms gyrated and head jerked around like the mad man he was. He was easily upset and too quick to go into his store of eccentric behavior. He had delusions of grandeur and was confused that we were not consumed by his all powerful presence. Most of this I knew by report not first hand. I told the staff if he were to go into this behavior while I was there, send him to me. I wanted to observe it firsthand. As with most of our clients who had been in the shelter I had made an effort to befriend him and had had a few limited but cordial conversations with him. Ray had also made sure I knew when he had done his chore or what problems he was having. In other words as the person in charge he was prepping me for some future assistance.
The day came when the staff had to make a ‘referral’ of Ray to me. My door was open and I could hear him coming down the hall, arms and head in full operation. His voiced was raised and threatening me if I did not make things right. When he entered the room I motioned for him to sit. He would not and stormed all over the office. I immediately stood up and said in my Marine Drill Sargent’s father’s voice, ‘Sit down or I will physically throw you out of this office.’ Ray looked at me and saw I was serious and sat down but he continued to rant and move his arms in exaggerated motions. I told him harshly to shut up let me finish the paperwork I was working with and then I would be with him. Again he observed me and did as I said. We talked; he calmed down (although he did mutter under his breath a couple of times). We talked and I could see the mental health track was the one he should be on.
The next day the Carol from the Employment Training Center called a little distressed. Ray had exploded at her and refused to believe that he could not work. This in itself was not an unexpected occurrence but what was unexpected apparently he had written her letters that were laced with terroristic threats. The letters were anonymous but it was evident that they came from Ray. In the letter he had also threatened me and my offspring (whom he had never met) and stated he had a gun in a locker at the bus station across the street he would use to carry out the threats. Unfortunately for Ray he had crossed a line; we called in law enforcement. The appropriate authorities for anonymous terroristic letter threats were the FBI.
I had conferenced [word choice] with Ray about the letters and how this was a dangerous thing to do if he wanted to stay out of jail. But he had become obsessed with letter writing. He could not stop himself even after the FBI agent had visited him and gave him strict threats if he was responsible for the letters. Now I was not really afraid of Ray; he was 5’8 and less than 120 pounds and was easy to physically intimidate. But the threat of a gun in a locker and the threats to Carol were snowballing into something Ray did not understand.
Ray’s next letter threatened the FBI agent too. This is the one thing in life you do not want to do, threaten a federal law enforcement officer. At this point the letters were sent off for a handwriting analysis to determine if it was indeed Ray’s handwriting. Ray freely gave a sample of his handwriting because he was convinced he was innocent. A subpoena was issued for the lockers in the bus station to see if there was indeed a gun. Through this all we knew Ray was probably not a real threat; when Ray was not agitated he was quite affable. He had a sense of humor and was actually kind. He probably had a crush on Carol and in his letters between the threats were courtship overtures to Carol.
So when he saw Carol and the young FBI agent together he became jealous. The FBI agent and Carol were not dating but were definitely a possibility if Carol was not a client. This is probably the thing that led to Ray’s next action. Ray in his newest letter talked about the great government conspiracy to keep him and Carol apart. The government conspiracy involved Carol, the FBI agent, and myself.
But it was his action the following day that doomed poor lovesick Ray. There are two buildings in Savannah that house the regional FBI agents. Ray hid in the bushes by the door of one of them and waited for our young FBI agent to exit. After sometime he was rewarded. He jumped out at the agent yelling, ‘she is mine and I will kill you’. What happened next was probably not in Ray’s plan. The startled agent threw Ray to the ground, pulled out his revolver and pointed it at Ray. Within seconds agents who were inside and saw the incident came out with guns in hand charging the scene. There was Ray who was terrified, the agent would later report, and over ten FBI agents with guns drawn surrounding him.
I never physically saw Ray again. I received updates of his parole hearings because of my involvement in his case. So I knew he was on medication now and was apparently a model prisoner. Yet he was not being paroled anytime soon and if he was paroled he would not be allowed in the state of Georgia. It turns out Ray had a part of a gun in his bus station locker that could not be used to shoot anything. The letters were indeed his, the handwriting analysis concluded. I believe but am not absolutely certain that Carol and the FBI agent dated for a while. And as for me I received my conspiracy check for a job well done from the government two weeks later.
Here Doggie, Doggie
This is not a story from the past but a story that is coming in the near future. There is an ongoing debate in my household about having a dog. I am against it. Therefore, I have been labeled a dog hater by my wife. My children label me dream destroyer. Now I do happen to love dogs and try to keep dreams intact. But to hear them discuss the benefits of having a dog is like listening to someone tell you how to find salvation. I am told dogs will lower my blood pressure, make my children more responsible, provide love even when I do not deserve it, ward off evildoers from the house, make me exercise more, and nurture my soul as I take care of another creature in God’s world. It is like Jesus without the crucifixion part. Jesus walked on the water. Dogs can barely swim much less walk on water.
Now I know if the forces that be in this house really desired a dog without equivocation it would matter not if I held them hostage at gunpoint, we would have a dog. But somehow they claim I am unfairly holding them back from having a dog. This will be what they put on my tombstone ‘Here lies the cruel father who would not allow his family have a dog’. People will travel from miles away with their dogs to come to my gravesite and pee. Yes I have grammatically left it open for both the human and dog to pee on my grave.
Our house is too small I proclaim. They say we will get a small barky dog I hear them say. I do not want to be tied down by a dog always waiting at home I say. They say we will take care of it until we get tired of it I hear them say. They say ‘you will not even know it is here’. I hear them say ‘you will be regulated to your bedroom while the dog has a run of the rest of the house.’ I say our yard is unfenced and too small. I hear them say we will gladly cry consistently and persistently when the dog wanders off from the yard. So you will have to drive hours throughout the neighborhood searching for the dog’. They say I have a hearing problem; I say I have a knowing them all too well problem.
I by nature do not like the concept of pets or owning an animal. Animals to me have rights and one of those rights is not to be owned. My beloved argues that domesticated animals can no longer live in the wild. Maybe she is right. But one does realize that we keep domesticating more and more animals Domestication to me is the process where we make animals reliant on us for survival. But my children could care less about a philosophical dilemma I may be facing. What they hear is a heartless bastard who will not let them have a dog.
By now many of you are hating me. How can he hate dogs so much? But I want you to know of course when we finally get the dog I will love it. I will be annoyed when we have to rush home to walk and feed it but it will be me who plays with it the most. I will love the petting and personality of the dog. I will miss it when it dies. I love dogs.
A dog is in my future that is the story here. We will visit dog parks together. My family will be happy. Yet every once in a while they will look askance at me the former dog hater. It is just that I wish I really had a choice in the decision to have a dog. And once we have the dog, the narrative will be how much I thought I hated dogs. But look at him now rushing home to walk it in rain, sleet, or snow. Look at how he stays in his bedroom to give the dog more room. Look at how he rides up and down the streets when it is lost in an endless search for that dog he loves so much. This is the story I can wait to write.
Once Upon a Time
One of my best friends in college was Mark Bryan. He was a cheerleader and dated Mickey Mouse. Yes I said it he dated Mickey. His girlfriend was the official person who donned the suit of Mickey in Disney World. She was a very cute woman. She was who if you were looking for someone to don the Mickey uniform would choose. Of course I had to as Thomas with the resurrected Jesus see the proof and was humbled when I realized my friend dated Mickey. He also came from privilege.His father was the equivalent of a chief of staff for Alabama governor Fob james. He had a stepmother who he did not like but neither did he despise her.
He was also my soul mate in college. He too was a religion major and he was way too fluent in Hebrew. We took what classes we could together and we were study buddies. He was a scholar at Hebrew and I passed. I was better at Greek. He was more of a traditionalist theologian and I was more of a on the edge of the deep end.
We were both avid weightlifters and spent hours in the gym pushing each other. He was shorter but more muscular. We studied and then we lifted and then we played. That was essentially what we did for each other pushed each other to stretch our minds and bodies. We were weightlifters on a dorm floor of Nerds yet we were the experts on the subject of religion and philosophy so we were held in awe. We knew on a Christian campus how to speak Christianese better than anyone. We fit in on the nerd floor because we were not quite nerds but we were outsiders looking at the world through different glasses.
We did not fit in with the other religious students. We were always willing to go on tangents of belief. Not because we believed them necessarily but we wanted to wear that point of view for a while to see how it fit. This disturbed the convinced believers. But because he was always excelling in the academics and I was always excelling at the other point of view our beliefs were held in suspect but respect.
Mark had a pastoral manner about him. He took interest in people to nurture their spirit. Part of his persona was to keep a ministerial distance from others. I always rankled him by ignoring his distance and getting in his space. But this rankling was what he liked about me. He was very confident. This made sense. He came from prestige, he was a great scholar, built, and a handsome cheerleader. And of course there was the mythical girlfriend who was the actual Mickey Mouse.
One of the things we loved to do was hike. And we hiked a lot. If the weather was good we would glance at each other and skip the next class and drive out to Oak Mountain State park. A park that at that time was not developed but was over ten thousand acres. The other religion students often looked at us in disbelief when we skipped class to hike. But we grinned and said god was not only found in a classroom but in the glory of the world. We encouraged them to come with us but they were not convinced God was in the woods. There was a waterfall that dropped into a pool that we swam in on more than one occasion. We often hiked for hours and never saw another human being. We seldom stayed on the trails. We were young and confident we could always find our way back to the car. After the hike we would go to his parent’s home for supper.
On one occasion Mark proved to us how a miracle in the Bible could be possible. We were hiking but did not want to get our feet wet. But we were trailblazing a trail along a creek, which meant we had to cross the creek several times. To keep our feet from getting wet we would grab huge boulders and toss them in the middle of the creek and step on them so that we would not get our feet wet. We needed an extra big boulder and we use our well gained weight room strength to pick up a boulder to toss in the creek so that we could jump from the edge of the creek to the boulder and to the other side. In the middle of the toss the wet boulder slipped from my hands and came crashing down into the creek onto Mark’s foot. And then the miracle happened. In an amazing feat Mark screaming words that should not come from a religion student’s mouth, walked on the water in a blink of an eye to the other side. I looked at him writhing in pain on the other side and realized I must too walk across the water so I stepped out in faith and went kerplunk. My feet were totally soaked and his were not. As I said he was the traditionalist, his faith was greater than mine. His foot was also fractured. But Mark manned up and we walked back to the car. To keep his foot from swelling anymore we walked in the creek to let the cold water work its magic. He declared I dropped the rock on purpose. I declared that he was Peter the rock that from which the church was made. He declared me not funny. I declared him Jesus for walking on water. He grimaced and gave me a look that said 'shut up'.
We had many conversations about where we saw ourselves in the future. We felt called but could not see ourselves as pastor of a church. But we always saw ourselves together taking on the world. I was the revolutionary he was the quiet man changing inside so that he had something to offer the world. We often except for the presence of the other felt lonely. We often felt inadequate to our call but a word of encouragement from the other would sustain us in our inadequacies. We were for a brief moment a mooring for each other.
Mark was an aesthetic and even claimed he was a virgin. Which I found no reason to doubt until Mickey came around and they seemed very comfortable in each other’s arms. Mark had traveled to Israel once and loved it. He wanted us to go together after graduation. He had devised a plan for us to go and stay for at least a year. We would live in a kibbutz. They would apparently let people come and live with them but they had to stay for a year. This idea became his obsession. It was not mine. He was constantly cajoling me to sign up. I demurred and offered excuses. He made his arrangements and was frustrated that I would not go with him. This began to create a subtle rift between us. He felt like I was betraying him. I felt like he was going into the middle of the desert to never be found again. I also knew he would like to disappear into the world. He had a lot of family and self-expectations that were on his shoulders. Our frustrations were in part we knew if he went down this path we would probably never see each other again. We were soul mates but the time had come to part ways. We were young but our futures were diverting quickly. We had been the sanity for each other in a country that prided itself in its religiosity yet had more of a cultural and taught religion than anything else. We were two men who wanted to live religion and experience the Eternal.
The last day we were together we laid out our challenges for each other. We pledged to each other that we would always be who we had revealed to each other we were. He left for the kibbutz. I never heard from him again. He disappeared into the desert. I got engaged a year later and went to seminary. These many years later I have traveled in directions I never saw coming and done things I would have never imagined I would do. Yet throughout it all I have tried to remain true to the young student of religion that I once was. In those times when I betray myself or grow tired of the struggle I imagine a John the Baptist figure coming straight from the desert with his Mickey Mouse girlfriend and kicking my butt. With that thought I return to myself.
The Brayings of an Ass
It all started with that damn book by Ron Sider Rich Christians in a World of Hunger. He makes a convincing argument that vegetarianism could help people in poverty in third world countries. He did this by decreasing the demand for grain for cattle in those countries that were being raised for first world country. This would lead to more grain staying in the third world countries and being available for human consumption in that country. It was a simple argument among many he offered and by the last page this young seminarian with knowledge of how the animals were treated and other arguments took the dive.
Evening meals because we (my wife who was coming along for the ride) did not know how to cook vegetarian and we were poor consisted of three can vegetables and a box of cornbread. If we were upscaling we ate boxed macaroni and cheese. At first no one knew of this change but the dinner invitations came and we said we would bring a dish and that we were vegetarian. The friends did not know what to do with this. ’I do not know how to cook vegetarian’ they proclaimed. We laugh to ourselves we do not either but we are learning.
People as they got to know about the vegetarianism began to throw out challenges to the concept. Which was a little offensive because I had become to view it as a religious practice the more along the road I went. Others used ridicule teasing me with their meat dishes when the restaurant only had a side salad for me to eat. It was odd to me when people challenged me and I offered them a multitude of reasons to become vegetarian and asked them in return why were they carnivores and no one was prepared for that question. Simply saying I like the taste of meat as though that was enough of a reason to kill an animal
Everyone took it as a personal affront instead of my personal choice. Everyone would tell me why I should eat meat. Protein was usually the reason. Which I always thought peculiar as they looked up at me from their shorten status and proclaim I was in need of more protein. You know vegetarianism might stunt my growth.
I once asked a leading ethicist at a seminar on Christianity and environmentalism about vegetarianism and environmentalism. He had drank the same poison I had and parroted all the arguments I had come to know. When he was finished I asked if he was a vegetarian. He said no and proceeded to go on an apology tour explaining that he was not because he wanted to be taken seriously by his colleagues who would have thought he was a left wing wacko if he became one. The explanation might have made him feel better but it left me wondering do you not take me seriously.
My vegetarianism was not even safe on communes. Once in an unusual sidestep from his sustainable garden and farming ways the gardener decided that he wanted turkey for Thanksgiving. But of course that meant feeding a whole commune of carnivores turkey too. So to make it all look ‘sustainably’ he bought the turkeys a month ahead of time. So he could fatten them and he would slaughter them on the premises. Now the few vegetarians on the commune were offended by the ideal of this slaughter and the pseudo sustainable nature of ‘raising’ these turkeys. But in the end we lost the debate the slaughter happened. The vegetarians the day after the slaughter wore black bands around our arms to silently protest. This of course sent the carnivores in a tizzy. While I was not the plotter and was not really into the bands but wore one to be in solidarity with my fellow vegetarians was accused of being the ringleader. Which developed into a conversation of why I was a vegetarian but I protested I was a silent majority vegetarian who would convert people by example if at all.
This led to them thinking I was trying to convert the commune to vegetarianism. And they asked a series of questions that damned me. Do you think the commune should be vegetarian? Yes I answered but I believe everyone should live to their own conscience. So do you think your conscience is right on the issue of vegetarianism? Yes I replied or I would not be a vegetarian. So they concluded you think our consciences our inferior? NO I replied. But you think we are misguided on this issue. I grimaced I guess you could say that but I am sure there are things I do that you would consider misguided. They replied,’ Yes your vegetarianism’. I was beginning to get in full giggle mode as I often do when people are so intense over simple differences of opinions.
‘I am sorry we offended you. We believe that we have the best commune family one could ask for and upon close introspection and prayer God has revealed to me that everyone has superior consciences to me. But remember God even used Balaam’s Ass to deliver his word before. And on occasion this ass may be wrong but he will bray as if he knew anything about God’s word.’ I replied whimsically. At this point everyone was close to giggles except for a few who took themselves too serious. One of the carnivores said with a friendly smile, ‘He was satisfied with leaving off the conversation with the comparison of me with an ass.’ The other carnivores and by now vegetarians all with smiles agreed to comparing me with an ass. It was left there and we all lived happily ever after. And on occasion if you were to listen real careful you can still hear the ass braying.
It was to be the Easter service to end all services. Ever since I had come to Louisville people had spoken of the great Easter service at the church. I was a bit skeptical. The church was very conservative and was actually one of the voices against our having a woman minister.
But my friend (who did not go to our church) were insistent. If you ever get a chance you should go. Which of course left me enough leeway not to go. After all they were not the best references; they did not go to Church except for extravaganzas such as an Easter Service. But a few years went by and I never got a chance. One of my excuses was the tickets were so hard to obtain. All of their eight Easter extravaganza performances were always sold out. So I told my friends one of those white lies we tell friends that I tried but could not get tickets. Well, as life will teach you white lies can eventually bite you in the ass.
Dale called me up excitedly; guess what he had? Now a while back we had talked about getting tickets to a concert of a group we both liked. No he said not that group. I told him I had no clue. He, with pure joy and triumphant voice said, “I got tickets to the church’s Easter Service.” I grimaced; really, I said. ‘Oh yes,’ he continued, ‘I was in line and they would not let me have more than my usual two. But I told them about you and your church and how you were always trying to go but could never get tickets and the next thing I knew they gave me two more free tickets.’ I was taken aback, “They charge for an Easter Service?” He said, ‘Ten dollars apiece’. ‘Oh’, I said. ‘The dates are such and such’, he continued. ‘Does that work for your schedule? , he asked. I prayed fervently that my calendar would be full that day. Curse God, he denied my prayers. I was free.
We discussed how he would get the tickets to me. I was going to an Easter Service of a church that was trying to kill my church. Whoopee, I thought. I could not explain to Dale, an unchurched man, the politics of how they were always voting against our bloc of more liberal churches. No one but the churched can understand the poison politics of the church. But I thought how bad could it be? It is an Easter service after all.
I would not be going the same night as he would. But he wanted to get together after the service for dinner to discuss, I assume, from his viewpoint how wonderful the service was. I was wondering how many white lies I would be telling that night.
The night of the Easter service had finally arrived. Finding parking was difficult as cars were everywhere. Finally, I parked and headed to the door. There a member of the church who volunteered for my homeless work saw me and greeted me. I had not realized he went to this church. And church politics being as they were I did not imagine they knew of his church’s attacks on ours. It was a war more among pastors than congregants.
I went and sat; it was packed. Eventually the minister came out and did the customary greetings and directions to the bathroom gig. After he spoke the musical extravaganza started. The music was the usual pop church music of the period. The choir had wonderful voices. The set was good. But the musical had a problem; it was an Easter service so the theme was to be upbeat and yet they were starting before the crucifixion. The crucifixion is not exactly upbeat. Then the problems started
Jesus was in Gethsemane sweating blood, the scripture said. He was struggling whether he really would commit himself to the Cross. The choir came on with the most beautiful cheery Mr. Rogers song you could imagine. It was jarring and confusing. Was it a hard decision or just a beautiful day in the neighborhood? But I was willing to forgive this even if it was a pet peeve of mine that American Christians had trouble with the suffering part of their faith. What Deitrich Bonhoffer would call “Cheap Grace.”
Then came the scene with the lashing of Jesus with the cat of nine tails whip. A scrim screen came down. The centurion who was to administer the lashings was a stout muscular man. I thought this would be interesting. Until the whipping started. The stout muscular man developed the worst case of limp wrist I had ever seen. He placed the whip on Jesus’ back as if it was some soothing massage. And Jesus took the lashing like a man; he did not scream and when it was over he sprung up like a gymnast from the floor. This was no Passion of Christ movie. There were many more interesting parts that I could fill pages with, but will spare you.
But the part that blew my mind was after Jesus was raised. Scripture says he ascended into the heavens. So in the big Ascension scene Jesus started rising from the ground. But as we all knew this was Jesus’ first Ascension so the apparently tiny box he stood on to ascend was a bit shaky. Jesus wavered back and forth and you wondered if he was about to fall flat on his face. This was most worrisome as his eyes widened and his stance wobbled at the two story level. No one wanted a dead Jesus during an Easter service. But Jesus was the son of God after all so he did complete the Ascension.
After the musical, the pastor came out and gave an altar call. The altar call was long. Maybe thirteen verses long with intermittent pleas from the pastor for someone to come forward. The reason the altar call was so long was not a soul in that packed house came forward. The minister was convinced that he could coax or cajole at least one person to answer the call of the Lord. Finally, he left off the song and started to bring our time together to a close.
As he stood up front he declared that he knew many were touched by the performance tonight. If they were and they wanted to be saved all they had to do was take the envelope on the back of the pew and check the box on the card. That done, you were saved tonight. I thought of all the martyrs of the Christian faith if they had only known all you had to do was check a box on a card, the trouble it would have saved them. He dismissed us with prayer and the doors were opened and we were freed.
But not me; I had a pizza date with my friend to discuss the service. How many white lies could I tell at one dinner? What was my Christian duty to him? To Christ? Where was that card to make my mark and skip this dinner? In the end I told him the truth. It was not heresy but how Christian it was was in the eye of the beholder.
He looked at me and smiled. “You did not like it. Thank God. Everyone else I know loves it. I thought there must be something wrong with me. So I trust your opinion and knew if you liked it, there must be something wrong with me. But you hate it too.”
I was taken aback. The weight of white lies that would never have to be told were rolled off my shoulders. The pizza suddenly had flavor. The night sky was suddenly full of wonderfully bright stars. My friend was a friend indeed. All was well with my soul.
That was until I noticed at the table next to ours was a prominent member of the Easter Church. I could tell by his scowl he had heard our conversation. His church would vote even more vehemently against our work at the next district meeting. Oh if only I had that card to make my check on.