The Perpetual Flirtation: a play in one act

In this drama the role of the young maid is played by the sea.
The part of the mature gentleman is played by the land.

I stood at that magical demarcation, where the sea ends and the land begins, watching the never-ending flirtation between the two principal characters.

The sea gathers herself, curling and flexing, thrusting herself upon the land … stroking, teasing, then pulling back, laughing. The land gave of himself to the sea. She accepted the offering, rolling his essence in her waves, considering the gift before throwing it back.

The tempo and pace of this eternal flirtation is ever-changing, from the gentlest of caresses, to the violent and angry crashes of the most severe lovers quarrel. The lovers can never be truly joined or truly separate, living in an endless state of give and take, ebb and flow.

The sea is the ultimate seductress, her craft honed from the practice of thousands of years. Her siren’s call extends not only to the land, but all who live on the land. I am not immune. I stand at that junction where the lovers meet and feel her call just as sure as I feel the sand being pulled from beneath my feet by her force..

This is a drama that begs for audience participation and has no problem gathering volunteers of all ages.

Children run uninhibited along the shore and into the waves, their squeals and laughter mingle with the mews of the gulls, no grownups admonish them to be quiet. Young lovers stretch out on the sand letting the waves caress them as they have caressed each other, dreaming of the future and children of their own. Those of a mature age watch the children and young lovers, remembering, smiling, feeling the warmth of the sun and the massage of the water work wonders that no pills can deliver. Those with worries and stress walk along the line of magical demarcation and feel those cares melt and drift out to sea.

Tomorrow I leave this elemental flirtation and head far inland, God willing, I will return.

Poppy

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
by John Masefield

 

God’s to-do List

Disclaimer: I am not a super-spiritual person … ask any family member or anyone who knows me. But on occasion, I try to improve some aspect of my life. It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I could use my a.m. commute for something better than listening to morning DJ’s or the same songs I’ve heard hundreds of times.

That morning commute is 20 minutes of potential solitude, more if there’s an accident, inclement weather or construction. Why not use that time to talk to God?

I was ready. I had a long list of requests ready for God … a veritable heavenly honey-do list. There were any number of problems to be solved, ranging from financial to mechanical. There were also people who needed an attitude adjustment, I wasn’t having much success fixing them, but they seemed ripe for a God intervention.

Lest you think I’m totally selfish, I also offered up problems that my family, friends and co-workers needed help with, it was a very extensive list.

Of course God is not a cosmic vending machine, where you insert a few prayers and a solution dispensed into the tray at the bottom.

Public Service Announcement: Opening up you wallet to TV preachers does not improve your odds of getting prayers answered.

I soon tired of presenting my list of requests, it was becoming an obviously one-sided conversation. I remembered hearing or reading someones theory about the Lord’s Prayer, comparing it to a sandwich, with praise at the beginning, followed by requests (the meat), then topped with more praise. I guess that’s one interpretation, but it seemed like a weak attempt at bribery, with me on one end, offering up some praises, then slipping in a request, then jumping back to praises before the creator of the universe noticed what I had done. I wasn’t comfortable with that.

Perhaps my whole premise was wrong, maybe praying wasn’t about getting things fixed, solved or corrected.

Prayer is a conversation. Conversations at their core are about communication. Communication at its core is about understanding. If God is who I think he is, he already knows all there is to know about me. That just leaves me needing to understand more about God. For this guy who couldn’t tell you what he had for lunch two days ago, that’s a little daunting.

I started to change my approach to those morning conversations. At this moment I don’t have any serious problems and I am thankful for that, but I have friends and family who do. Rather than just ask God to fix all their problems, my morning conversations are more like this, “God, so-and-so, is dealing with some really tough things, I know you have the power to fix all that, but from experience, that’s not how you operate. But a little peace would do them a world of good, maybe just a little reminder that you understand what they are going through, let them know you haven’t forgotten about them and if I can help, please give me a little nudge.”

Of course, I could be totally wrong about my prayer theories. I’m not a super-spiritual guy, I know this because some mornings I mostly talk to God about the weather.

Poppy

A Small Miracle in Ferguson

The root vegetables were roasting as part of tonight’s dinner; potatoes, carrots and onions. Even at 400+ degrees it takes a while. I took a break and walked out on the front porch here in famous Ferguson to enjoy the spring evening. At 6:30 the sun was still high enough to cast long shadows and back light everything in it’s direction. It has been a cool to cold spring, the azaleas along our front porch were a full 3 weeks behind last years blooming season, but tonight they left no doubt that spring had finally arrived. The crickets, katydids, tree frogs and cicadas were still dormant, leaving the job of the spring symphony to the birds. They were up to the task with chirps, warbles, trills, etc.

As I looked toward the setting sun, I noticed a pair of tiny white dots in my vision, floating just above the azaleas. I don’t have the best of eye sight, my first thought was that those specs were floaters. I forced my eyes to focus and realized that they were not defects in my vision, but gnats.

Gnats, even the name implies something to swat away, a nuisance. The most insignificant of the insignificant. I watched as they rose and fell in an aerial ballet, no doubt doing what most life forms are doing this time of year … procreating the species. I spent about 1 point 5 seconds wondering how gnats “do it” then quickly assigned that thought to the category of “mystery’s I really don’t want solved.”

In the big global picture, the little ecosystem in front of me is insignificant. There are no tropical rain forests, tundras, deserts or arctic reaches, but there are probably no less than 20 varieties of weeds in my front yard alone, along with squirrels, a variety of birds, numerous insects (seen and unseen) and Mrs. G, our feral cat, who is likely viewed as the T-Rex of Elizabeth Avenue by the birds and rodents visiting my front yard.

I stood in awe, observing the life forms, the growth, the melodies, the smells that just a month before did not exist. It is a miracle that happens every year. A commonplace miracle that could be easy dismissed, but a miracle nonetheless.

I don’t understand how it all happens and that’s okay. Does God create and control every little detail or did he set things in motion and let natural selection take over? I don’t know and honestly, don’t care. I’m content to be an observer of the beauty and complexity, besides my family is waiting for me inside, along with some roasted vegetables.

Poppy

(p.s. A warning to the assorted rodents, birds and young squirrels, God has given the gift of hunting to Mrs G … look out!)

Great Flocks of Robins

If this day had entered a beauty contest, she would not have won any of the competitions; not the evening gown, swimsuit or talent phases. At best she might have managed a consolation prize, just for being a spring day and not the winter version. It was not a pretty day!

It had rained off and on all day, the sun was AWOL, and the temperature hovered in the mid 40’s. Roiling banks of low hanging graphite colored clouds appeared almost as solid as the asphalt beneath my feet. There was no doubt this was a spring day though, the calendar proclaimed it and signs of its arrival were everywhere.

When Mimsy and I left the house for our late afternoon stroll, I took in a deep breath of damp air. Ahh, the bouquet of spring; the rich fertile scent of moist earth, poised to bring forth new growth, faint odors of last seasons fallen leaves that had escaped the clutching fingers of the rake, and the fragrance of new grass. If I detected this potpourri of spring scents, I could only imagine what Mimsy with her heightened olfactory nerves was enjoying.

There were no less than 4 or 5 robins in the front yard, busily disturbing the clumps of grass and weeds in search of insects and worms. At some prescribed day in early winter, all robins must receive an eviction notice, demanding an immediate relocation. Where do they go? I have never seen great flocks of robins flying south or returning north. A quick internet search would provide the answer, but I don’t mind a little mystery here and there. I am content to sit back and enjoy the miracle.

Once again, my weeds have successfully survived the winter. God must have a deep and abiding love for weeds and mosquitoes. He gave them the gift of survival, the ability to pop back every spring regardless of how frigid the temperatures drop during the previous season.

“You wouldn’t last two days,” I tell Mimsy, “Does that mean God loves mosquitos and weeds more than you?”

She looks up, chuffs, and continues walking.

That Mimsy does not posses the independent survival attributes of the weeds and mosquitoes, does not concern her. She is secure in the knowledge that she has people who love her. She knows her needs will be met, that she will be taken care of, no matter how cold the winters or how long they last. It’s a level of trust I’m still working on.

As we turn to go back home, I smash the first mosquito of the year against the back of my hand.

Poppy

Lillie Bell Goes Home

We walked with Lillie Bell as far as we could, but at the edge of the long gangplank she left us behind, walking toward the great ship alone.  I had hoped at some point she would turn and wave, but her gaze never varied and her step never faltered, she was resolute in her desire to reach the next destination.

The sun was breaking over the horizon. Brilliant shades of coral and gold defined the line between the sea and the sky. The darkness of the night fled before the piercing rays that announced a new day, a new beginning.

I shielded my eyes in an attempt to make out the details before me.  The crew that welcomed her aboard, back-lit by the rising sun, appeared to glow against the azure sky as if they had wings.

The morning breeze picked up as the sails began to unfurl. Even at this distance, I heard the snap as the canvas caught the wind, becoming taunt, straining to be on their way. The ship was ancient, but the workmanship was beyond compare. Each wood plank polished and tightly fitted against its brethren, The sails were as pure a white as I have seen. As the crew cast off the lines and the ship turned slowly toward the horizon, the stern swung around revealing the name, “ZION,” spelled out in letters of gold

Surrounded by family and friends, we exchanged hugs and smiles, unspoken was the sentiment … it was time. We watched as the ship grew smaller and smaller until it was just a white dot. When the vessel slipped over the horizon and out of our sight, we raised our hands triumphantly and cheered.

Lillie Bell’s journey had been long, her pilgrimage lasting 102 years. Through it all she had steadfastly followed her Savior. For 78 of those years she had walked alongside her other great love, Ray. She had never been without those who loved her, and she returned that love in even greater measure.

Though we could no longer see the ship, we knew it was headed for another port. There, a great multitude awaited her arrival, watching as the ship which had disappeared from our sight grew larger and larger in their field of vision.

The gangplank at the port Lillie Bell had embarked from was constructed of wood planks, rough and splintered with age, turned a weathered grey by the sun and salt spray. The gangplank the ship was turning into at this port was of white marble, gleaming under a cloudless sky. It led to a circular courtyard. In the center of the courtyard was an intricate design of three interlocked circles constructed of gem stones and defined on the outer edges by bands of gold.

On either side of the courtyard, halfway around it’s circumference, were a pair of sweeping stairs, also made of white marble. They lead to a balcony that overlooked the courtyard. Built into the wall behind the courtyard and below the balcony was an alcove containing a large marble statue of a lamb, its foreleg resting over a  slender gold cross  extending over its back.

A solitary figure stood on the balcony, his white robes gleaming under a light-source that had no definable origin. He rested his elbows on the balustrade, fingers locked together, faint scars visible on the back of each hand. Looking down at the assembled crowd on the courtyard  a smile crossed his face before he addressed his children. “Lillie Bell has fought a good fight, she has kept the faith. Today I called her home … it was time.”

Among the crowd were old friends and family. Saints who had toiled alongside Ray and Lillie Bell in the vineyard. The Morgans, the Chambers, the Boxes, the Wallaces, Roams and Yadons … too many to name, and of course members of the Boatman and Agnew families.

Standing slightly apart from the crowd was a tall man with dark wavy hair, a slight grin on his face. “It’s about time,” he said with a slow Texas drawl, “She was always running late for everything.” He laughed and started to walk toward the gangplank, “It’s about time.”

Poppy

Lillie Bell Agnew
December 25, 1915 – March 8, 2018

Brief Moments of Clarity

The windows in my kitchen face due east. I wish I could tell you that Poppy got up early enough every day to enjoy the sunrise with a leisurely cup of coffee and a well-balanced breakfast … but I don’t. I’m doing good to grab a quick mug of coffee for the morning commute. The afternoons are a different story. This is when Poppy engages in his cooking therapy. Putting on some good music, enjoying an adult beverage, creating a meal for people I love … this is when I unwind. Though my windows face east, I can always tell when the sun is setting. It’s never dramatic, a slight shift in coloration, a change in the quality of light, a feeling that has no description or definition. Sometimes I verify my instincts by walking to the front of the house, stepping out on the porch, scanning the western horizon. Yes, the sun is setting … sometimes accompanied by dramatic hues and glowing clouds, often the event is rendered in a more subdued pallette. I walk back to the kitchen, once again looking east, its vistas offering an understated beauty and a brief moment of clarity.

When you walk past the open door of a club or bar in any entertainment district and hear the sounds of music flow out into the street, without going in, you instinctively know whether that melody is live or recorded. It’s a matter of faint audible clues that no one can explain. It’s the difference  between the pure and the duplicated. A brief moment of clarity.

To say that life is complicated would be the ultimate understatement. No matter our station in life, rich or poor, black or white, young or old, we travel a road that is always uncharted. Each morning we step out on that journey, never knowing where it will take us. The history of humanity tells us that we will have good times and bad times, sometimes within the same day, sometimes stretching over weeks, months and even years. This I know to be true. But I believe along the way, God gifts us enough little moments of grace to get us through.

These moments of clarity can bring life into focus, offering an “Aha” event, reminding us that there may actually be a plan. There are little gems of faith and grace hidden in the messiness of life and they can take many forms. Sometimes it is in the form of a sunset or piece of music. Occasionally it’s a scripture, hymn or poem that comes to mind and carries us through the day. But it can also be an overheard loving exchange between a parent and child at the grocery store, an unexpected spontaneous smile from a stranger, or the unrestrained giggles of a child. Sometimes an encouraging text from an old friend will bring the day into focus.

These micro-events will not fill the full 24 hours of your day. They will be rare, precious, brief and fleeting. Train yourself to recognize them in the most unlikely places. Learn to drop your defenses, learn to make yourself vulnerable enough to receive these tiny gifts from God, because they will not announce themselves with the fanfare of trumpets or a loud voice over a public address system, but rather in the most subtle of ways … like a gentle whisper.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out … (1 Kings 19)

Poppy

On a Path Unknown

Mimsy and I  are pretty boring. There is not a lot of variety to our walks. We reach the end of our driveway and go left or right, maybe throw in the occasional side-street, but we stick to the familiar routes … and that’s okay. There is a comfort in traveling known paths. Mimsy knows the telephone poles and tree trunks that yield the best scents, which dogs have come and gone along this way. I think about my neighbors as we pass their houses. I know where to watch for uneven slabs of sidewalk and fallen sweet-gum balls. Everything does not have to be an adventure. For that we have life.

You don’t have to walk this planet very long before you understand that (in spite of our best intentions and plans) life just rolls our in front of you. It’s as if you have stepped on a moving sidewalk that has lost all its safety mechanisms. We wonder whose hand is on the control as the path speeds past vacations and slows to a crawl during difficult times.

We don’t move down the path as ballet dancers or figure skaters. We bumble. We stumble. We fall on our asses … a lot. But we pick ourselves up and keep going. We rinse and repeat and if we are paying attention, we learn something along the way. We learn that we have no control over the events that sweep by us, we only have control on how we respond to those events. We learn that we fail in that regard too. We learn that we are not saints, asking for forgiveness and resolving to do better the next time. Life rolls out in front of us.

It is a very messy pilgrimage.

We look at other travelers and try to gauge their journey … is it smoother than ours, is it rougher? We see people win the lottery, and others get cancer. We see bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people and vice-versa.

Our inclination is to channel our inner five-year-old, cross our arms, stamp our feet, and yell as loudly as we can, “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

Life is not fair. If you are a parent, chances are you have used that phrase with your children. Chances are, they looked at you having no perspective of what you were taking about. Give them a few years.

Life is not fair, and that’s okay.

Fairness implies justice. Justice is harsh, absolute and unforgiving. I know myself too well, I don’t want justice.

I much prefer grace and mercy.

Poppy