Monthly Archives: September 2012
One moment we are living, breathing, pulsating exuberances; then in one fatal step, an acorn underfoot on a cliff’s precipice, we are looking back at our lives during the last few seconds of consciousness as we plummet to our deaths. The finality only matches the youthful feeling of immortality where the two intertwine momentarily, one ripping the life’s breath from one’s chest leaving a void of unexpected helplessness to be all too quickly replaced with the dread and fear of dying.
As I sat watching monarch butterflies ride the thermals in the clear blue sky, effortlessly floating overhead on a river of air currents unseen to the eye, I couldn’t know the peril that lurked below. There on the place of granite summit upon which we sat, a blue azure sky glowed as the artist’s hand dotted its glory with bright spots of joy that moved with a fluidness of the gentle breeze. In a previous trip here, the sky was filled with black vultures circling the stench of death below. Today, death was preparing to make a grand entrance, forsaking all the man-made festivities, bringing with it, its own purpose, little caring that it carries life-altering physicality as well as simple memories of the ever so slight onlooker; thus, the gravity of the morbid self, this death.
The group of boys, dressed in a myriad of assorted pants but all in matching red t-shirts, we first met gathered around the chimney on the trail to the summit of Stone Mountain. They were being lectured to by a bearded leader and taking group photos, pictures that would soon become snapshots of a better time. As we passed them we greeted one another in cordial, “Good morning,” and soon went on our way.
Shortly afterward, upon reaching the first stone-face overlook, we took a brief rest. I sat down in a shady spot while Jonathan and Mary went to investigate an area they had visited before with the Scouts from Troop 900 when we ventured here on a previous trip. Not long after, while we were still taking pictures of our own, the boys in red came blaring onto the scene. Their voices were heard well before they were actually seen. They were as loud and boisterous as any group I’d ever met on a hike, screaming, making animal noises, and have a grand time. Forsaking our own personal solace, which had long ago vanished, we left and planned to hurriedly create as much a buffer between us and these Scouts as possible lest our peaceful hike be ruined by someone else’s party. At least we might gain a few minutes of solitude at the summit if we could arrive ahead of the herd.
For the next few minutes, we took as many strenuous short cuts as we could physically afford, while remaining in the bounds of safety to reach the summit in record time. What seemed like a victory in time only bought us a few precious minutes. Not long after reaching the peak and finding ourselves a familiar shady spot, they were soon on us; again their shouts of joy greatly preceded their arrival.
The first few arrived proudly, led by an older Scout who quickly caught my attention just from the way he was dressed. He wore the matching red shirt like the others, but in addition he wore desert fatigues with a matching desert fatigue day-pack, boots and hat. I didn’t expect to see a Scout dressed to the hilt in military attire, yet he was apparently dressed for the adventure of a lifetime I pondered, and left it at that. The military youth and his acorn throwing buddies quickly went to the ridge ahead of us and disappeared over it ascending down the other side, out of sight and sound. There was a momentary pause in the noise as more Scouts arrived, all filtering down toward where the others had just disappeared. Overhead the butterflies wafted, floating down toward where the boys had vanished.
Not far from where the Scouts were disappearing sat a young couple. They had their moment interrupted as well and were watching the parade of boys filter past. I later spoke with them and they said the desert-storm-wearing Scout was jumping in lunges sideways down the mountain. They had no idea as to what had transpired since they had left shortly after we did. Over the ridge that appears to gently slope down forever, it becomes increasingly steep until it reaches a point of no-return and becomes a sheer cliff face. We met the couple later on the trail below the mountain on the way to the homestead where we had just come from. There at homestead’s cabin, we met the elderly gentlemen who told us of hearing the sound of the body falling. He said “It was a sound like firewood coming down the mountain, but I knew better…I’ll never get that sound out of my head.” It was then the reality of death began to weigh upon us. We had tried to outrun the joy, but the dread weighed upon us all like the shadow of the mountain under which we sat.
Yet, the weightless colors of the rainbow flutter above, making a joyful scenic beauty only soon to be matched by the dark ness that would encompass this dome. As the body of the boy lay at the foot of the cliff face, the dark figures of the vultures returned overhead replacing the wafting beauty with the dread reality of the cold vein of granite stone that weaves its thread through our collective souls.
In one moment we can be alive and a vibrant living being…the next…walking with God.
It’s the frailty of life…
The 911 call came in a 12:01…
“And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord God,
“That I will make the sun go down at noon,
And I will darken the earth in broad daylight;
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
And all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist,
And baldness on every head;
I will make it like mourning for an only son,
And its end like a bitter day.
– Amos 8:9-10
Please keep the family of Christopher Overcash and Troop 128 in your prayers.
After having worked nights for the better part of the last twelve years, I have found coming home in the morning many times more gratifying than most people would or could ever understand. If you have or do work third shift, you will completely understand what I am about to say. And before you even ask, the answer is yes, when I’m tired I try to stop before I go too far, too far as in having an accident or close call.
Oh, there have been the many close calls. More than once I’ve looked up to find a semi-tractor trailer coming at me head-on, only to have me swerve back into my own lane, now wide awake; glad to step foot across the threshold of home, alive once more. I often too clearly can imagine the pain it might feel like to become one with the heat and metal of machine as the impact collides us together with such force there would be nothing left to identify. I fear that it might be a family in the other lane, and I then shake myself alert, growing angry at myself over my eagerness to continue and my selfish hesitation not to stop.
Not every morning was totally overwhelmed by the lack of sleep. I’ve seen beautiful sunrises, some that were so awe inspiring they couldn’t be imagined. Those are the ones that if you painted them as they looked, nobody would believe they were real. I’ve seen wildlife of all kinds. I once saw a bear run across the road. On that particular morning I was fighting fatigue so severely that I was on the phone literally having someone talk me home, something we do in dire circumstances. I was so mentally exhausted that when I reached the point in the road where the bear had crossed I jumped out and began to see if I could confirm it was a bear by following it into the woods. Thankfully the person on the other end of the phone had more presence of mind and began yelling at me to get back into the car.
There were other times, when I would nearly drift off the road where there would be little recovery if any from diving headlong into the lake or endless ravine below, only to swerve back, barely recovering in time, again wide awake. On more than one occasion, I’ve been driving down a long stretch of road, tree-lined usually on both sides, and suddenly come to the realization I have no idea where I am. I would be so tired, that I was losing the ability to process reality and at that point that I would have to wait for a landmark to remind me if I were going to work or coming home. There was the time I over corrected from running off the side of the pavement, just barely, but it was enough to start the car spinning. I vividly recalled going backwards in the oncoming lane thinking to myself, “The Lord is control now, because I’m certainly not.” After several spins I wound up in the ditch on the opposite side of the road, facing the oncoming traffic. However, on this particular morning, there wasn’t a car or truck in sight. It was just me in my little blue car. Yes, I was shaken, but other than the loss of a tailpipe, I was very blessed to have not had a more serious incident.
Those mornings, the ones with close calls, I would have extra special hugs for the little ones that might awaken, sleepy-eyed from their precious night’s slumber totally unaware of the fate their father had almost met just minutes before. All these years, when sleep was fighting to shut me down, it was the thought of making it home once more to hear those little squeals of joy ring in my ears, welcoming their daddy home that kept me going. Those times, when they were just getting their little legs, learning to run for the first time, hitting the front door running when they knew daddy was coming home, was the ultimate reward for living. Even after all these years, now that they are older and reaching their teens, I still get the sense of joy and new awakenings when they meet me at the door, now more subdued, but still able to rejuvenate that feeling of worth and being.
I can only imagine that someday when we make it to the promised land, the same feeling of having those loved ones meet us at the Heavenly gates, arms open wide, unassuming, unconditional love, wrapping us in their warm embrace with the greatest reception we will ever know. It will be like those mornings when the tiny arms hugged your neck, with an energy that lifted your soul and washed away the weariness from having worked for days with little or no sleep, until you felt refreshed and anew with the spirit.
It is then we will finally be home, …one last time, when our Heavenly Father will lift us up, once more as we ourselves become the little children, wrapping our arms around God, embracing him in his eternal love.
It is said in the Bible that all things will be made anew and not a tear will be shed on the other side of Glory.
Yet, for me, I know there will be at least one …one tear…tears of joy.
My art teacher from grade school back in the little town of Paradise Indiana, Mrs. Rita Bradshaw, once told me that, “Drawing trees was a lot like drawing people.” Looking back, Mrs. Bradshaw was one of the biggest influences early on in my then young life. I don’t know if she realized in those few words the profoundness of her statement, the one that still reaches out to me after all these years. At the time she was merely trying to impress upon me that if I could accurately draw a tree, with its twisted trunk and myriad of limbs, then I could eventually draw people. In that small way, she was inspiring me to continue on, knowing that with one accomplishment, I would one day be capable of another. Then there was the other side of the thought: how people and trees were so intertwined.
As time has passed by, I’ve learned more of what she unintentionally said. Trees, like people, can be very individual. You could have an entire forest planted in perfect rows from the same type of seed, but upon careful observation, each tree would be as individual and different from the next, albeit very small, but there would be differences. Thus, it is the same with people.
Then there is the first impression. Trees from a distance can seem impenetrable with their dark green canopies reaching to the sky. The closer you get, the more it becomes obvious they are simply a visual facade, composed of thousands of leafy pixels providing this false imagery. Underneath this blanket of photosynthesis, there is another world alive and vibrant. People, too, from a distance can seem standoffish, brash or unapproachable but the more you get to know them or become friends with them, you more often than not find that initial imagery was simply just a façade meant to protect the real person. Deep inside, they are much more complex, calculating and even caring. But the similarities go beyond the imagery. On the surface is the visual but beneath the exterior lie the branches of life. The stories of living flow from leaf to branch, to trunk and eventually all the way down to the roots. Within these living vessels flow the sap, the lifeblood of the tree, with its rising and falling. When the sap is rising, we feel the spirit of youthfulness rejuvenate our spirits; the spring of life. When the sap falls, we feel our own mortality wane and in essence begin to prepare for the winter of our discontent.
Yet, again we learn, in small pieces like the leaves on the tree, one twig, branch and limb at a time. The collective thoughts of our memories prepare us for a future we often yearn for but never see coming until it has flown past in a rush of life events, like the breeze blowing the treetops. Then, in the autumn of life, our memories begin to collect and fall back to earth where we can hopefully gather them close. For in these days, when we often find ourselves alone, the only things we have left are those cherished thoughts and recollections of days gone by. We wrap them around our souls, pulling them tightly as we sip on the dark elixir of herbal refreshment, embracing its soothing healing mint.
Deep are our roots. How far we follow them is up to us, and how far we use their life-giving energy to propel our ambitions forward is also up to us. To recognize this gift is only to allow what we have known all along to come into being, into the now, the buds of spring. With each step of life we take, we take another step toward the end; yet it must be so. For one step enables us to take the next; making us capable of doing more than we thought possible. These are the branches of our lives.
“10 “These were the visions of my head while on my bed:
I was looking, and behold,
A tree in the midst of the earth,
And its height was great.
11 The tree grew and became strong;
Its height reached to the heavens,
And it could be seen to the ends of all the earth.
12 Its leaves were lovely,
Its fruit abundant,
And in it was food for all.
The beasts of the field found shade under it,
The birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches,
And all flesh was fed from it.”
– Daniel 4:10-12
We spent the day reclaiming the yard, Jonathan and I.
It seemed as if we had been gone all summer, just these past few weeks. The green fresh cut lawn smelled of temporary triumph. Then again, between the sweat and smell of fresh cut grass, there is always an air of success. It’s funny how odors can incite long ago memories to resurface. Just the aroma of grass being cut brought back memories of days gone by. On this day, I easily went back to when I had the privilege to cut the tiny yard next to my Grandpa Tron’s farm, owned by Ms. Wolfe.
I don’t ever recall seeing Ms. Wolfe except at her door when I received the grand sum of $5.00 for mowing her very small yard, perhaps a 20’x20′ area at most. It almost seemed dishonest, being paid that large of a sum of cash in the early seventies when I was barely ten years old. But then again, it was known that Mrs. Wolfe was living quite comfortably thanks to the late Mr. Wolf, who left her enough to keep her happy the remainder of her days here on earth.
So when she handed me the crisp $5.00 bill, I thanked her and looked forward to when the grass would grow enough to be welcomed back for another job. I usually wasn’t lucky enough to get the job though. I had plenty of other cousins who were older and more often available for such jobs. However, this one time was my lucky day, yet I still can remember it as if it were yesterday. Part of the reason the memory stuck, other than the one time job, is due to the book I found there years later.
Mrs. Wolfe eventually joined her late husband in their Heavenly abode. Sometime after, for whatever reason, they tore down the old house. While it was still in the process of being razed, some of us kids became nosey and went over to see if there was anything left behind. Other than a lot of wood in various stages of deconstruction, there wasn’t much left to tell us of the mysterious lives of the Wolfe family; no pictures, no memorabilia, nothing. We continued to look around, almost ready to leave, when I opened the door to what was once a closet. There were no walls, just the door. When I pulled it toward me, there was a pile of debris, like everywhere else in the house without a ceiling. I curiously picked up the top layer and found a small pile of books. My cousin and I opened them and found them to be full of strange writings and shapes. We had no clue what they were or meant. I said to her, “We should take one a piece and see if someday we learn enough in school to understand what they are.” I handed her one and took one for myself. A few weeks later the entire house was gone, with nothing left behind, other than what we had gleaned from the closet on our inquisitive day of discovery.
The book, “Applied Mechanics” by Fuller and Johnston was published in 1915. I happened upon it last week while cleaning out some closets of my own. While in college, studying to earn my degree in Electrical Engineering, I finally had the opportunity to learn enough physics and math to understand the strange writings and equations in the book we found in the closet so long ago. It took nearly twenty years, but I finally found out the meaning and value of this old treasure. No, it probably isn’t worth much in a book store, but for what it represented to me, it is certainly a keepsake.
I never knew what twist and turns my life would take, nor would I have ever envisioned learning enough to understand Mr. Wolfe’s old school book. But it made it clear to me that the late Mr. Wolfe had been a professional in his day, and it was no wonder Mrs. Wolfe had no need for worry or want in her later days. There was a transcript in the back of the book of Mr. Wolfe’s test scores: all 100’s except for a very few 90 and 95s. It was obvious he was quite intelligent, or at least so in this one class. I can rest assured though, he did well in life. Although we never knew him or his wife in detail, just the impression they made upon us little country kids who lived across the pasture was noble enough to make me believe he was a prominent citizen at one time. Besides, Grandma Tron always held Mrs. Wolfe in high esteem and that was enough for any of us kids; and all because we cut the yard today…