Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Saddest Song

The saddest song I ever heard was sung by a little, blond haired girl named Jackie in my third grade class during Talent Day.  The teacher had asked us all to prepare a song, a story, a poem, or something we made and present it to the class.

I wrote a very short story about a dog getting lost and finding his way home (aka Lassie) and one of my friends planned to sing the song "Teenage Idol", recently made popular by Ricky Nelson.  When I asked him why he was singing that song, he said, "Because that's what I am.  Just a teenage idol."  I could not understand how an eight year old boy could be a teenage idol, but I let it rest.

The class spent several days preparing for the big event.  During that time I noticed that Jackie, who sat near me, was not at school.  She did not return to class until the day of the big talent show. Normally, Jackie was a ball of energy, talking and laughing.  But on that day, she sat with her head down on her arms.  The teacher would occasionally come by and pat her on the head, as if she knew why Jackie was so sad.

Finally I was able to ask her what was wrong.  "My daddy is leaving us," she said.  "He is moving away and leaving us."  And she started to cry.  

The talent show began; stories and poems, songs, and kites, pictures of kittens and trees floated in front of my eyes but I could not see them.  I had never known anyone whose dad or mom had left them.  I didn't even know such things could happen.  And then I saw Jackie stand up and walk to the front of the class, the teacher asking, "Are you sure you want to do this?," and Jackie shaking her head, "Yes."

And then she began to sing, without music, in the sweetest voice I had ever heard, the words of the song that I will never forget.

*"Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
If you don't love me anymore."

And I felt the hot, burning tears choking me and I put my head down, but I could still hear her voice.
"Why do the birds go on singing?
Why do the stars glow above?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when I lost your love."

And I was lost in the thought that if her dad would leave, mine might leave too, and the tears burst out of me.  And then I heard the angry voices of my parents arguing in the middle of the night as I lay in the darkness of my room, listening.
"I wake up in the morning and I wonder.
Why everything is the same as it was.
And I can't understand,
No I can't understand why life goes on the way it does."

And still she sang, and the teacher's tears streaked down her face and she wiped them away with the back of her hand.
"Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when we said goodbye."

Jackie came back to her desk.  I could not look at her.  And I could not read the story that I had written.  Lassie would remain forever lost.
*Song- "The End of the World, written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee, sung by Skeeter Davis

Thursday, June 8, 2017


My mom died this morning.  It is hard to believe.  I no longer have a person on this earth that I call mom.  Hopefully she is in heaven.  Or maybe she is in the heavens.

Alan Sandage, quantum physicist wrote,  "Every atom in our bodies was once inside a star."  Maybe mom's atoms have been released into the heavens and are again part of the stars.  I would enjoy looking at the stars and knowing that mom is part of them.

Mom grew up on a farm in the 1930's.  Life was not easy on a farm in the depression.  They had little to do for entertainment.  I am sure that she and her siblings sat on their porch at night looking at the stars, wondering about the universe, wondering about God, wondering about their lives and what would happen to them when they grew up.

I hope that mom's life turned out the way she dreamed it would as a child.  I hope that as the darkness was closing in during her final moments, that she remembered the stars.  And I hope that as her atoms were taking flight to the heavens, a child, sitting on a porch somewhere, saw the stars grow suddenly brighter.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A New Day

Each day is a new day.  Unlike any other day.  Yes, the sun comes up in the east, but as it rises there is a newness about it, as if it had never risen before and I am seeing the sunrise for the first time.

Each day I am reborn.  Reborn with the new dawn.  Reborn as the rays of the sun run slowly across my yard, piercing the darkness of the dark woods.  Reborn in the light.

A new beginning.  A chance to be made new.  A new day to get it right, to say the right things, to walk the path of righteousness.  A new day to show the love and forgiveness that I did not show yesterday.  A new day, a new gift from God.

The possibilities are endless.  As this new person, on this new day, I can choose anew.  I can choose to be different.  Old habits are fallen away.  All things are made new.  Old problems can now be seen in a new light, approached from a new angle by this new person that I now choose to be.

Old relationships can be made new.  Forgotten friendships can be renewed.  Words never spoken can be spoken.  Frowns can become smiles.  Rejection can become love.

And as this new day progresses, I am either a force for good or a force for bad.  I am a stillness or I am a movement.  I am a scratchy noise or I am a symphony.  I am a shout or I am a calming hum.  I am the warmth or I am the cold wind.  I am a unifier or I am a divider.  I am an encouraging word, or I am the voice of destruction.

At the end of the day, do I find myself at peace?

As I watch the sunset, am I inspired by the promise of a new day?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Garden of Love

All of my adult life I have planted a small family garden in the backyard.  We normally plant tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers.  I have occasionally planted corn and beans, but have had no great luck with them.

I love a garden most when all the work is done and I can stand in front of it and look at the neat, weedless rows of plants; all of them green and growing.  The soil is still loose and fresh from tilling.

But as the summer progresses, the weeds begin to grow, the soil becomes packed, and some of the plants begin to show signs of stress.  So, I put on my gardening clothes and shoes, get out my tiller and till again between the rows, being careful not to till up the plants.  I get down on my hands and knees and pull out the weeds that seem to grow purposely intwined in my plants.  I fertilize the plants that are struggling and then I water everything.  All this is done in the heat of a summer day.

When the work is completed, I stand again tired, covered in dirt and sweat, in front of my garden looking at its renewed newness, filled with a sense of joy and love.  That is the only way that I can explain it.  That is my only justification for spending my time in this way.  I love my garden.

The reward for this work are vegetables that are soon ready for picking. There is nothing better than a tomato sandwich made from a tomato just picked from the garden.

The saddest time of gardening is in September when I am hoping against hope, but my plants continue to fade, the vegetables are few, and the weeds are almost unweedable.  I know the end is near.

I close my garden in October.  I pull up all the stakes and pull up the plants that are now dead and diseased and dispose of them.  A sad ending to a glorious beginning.

But a true gardener lives in the promise of the year to come; when the soil is freshly tilled, and all plants are green.  And everything is growing in neatly planted, weed-free rows.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Looking at the Stars

Studies have found that the average working person spends 92% of their time indoors. Children today play an average of 30 minutes a day outside.  I believe that we are not meant for this kind of life. And because we will not open the door to our homes and go outside we suffer with seasonal affective disorder, insomnia, anxiety, vitamin D deficiency, a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression.

There is something calming about the outdoors that the indoors does not offer us.  If our stress levels are high, all we have to do is go for a walk and we will soon be back to normal.

Somewhere along the way, we lost our way.  It wasn't very long ago that President Kennedy was challenging Americans to take 50 mile hikes.  Today, this kind of challenge would be considered a cruel joke.

Not only are we suffering physically from living a life indoors, but I believe we are suffering spiritually.  It is easier to deny God's existence inside.

And after a lifetime of staying inside we may actually view the outside with scorn and lose our ability to see the wonder of God in nature.  A rainfall is a nuisance.  A waterfall becomes a power source, and a mountain range an obstacle.

Years ago, when my daughter was 2 years old I was unbuckling her from her car seat one night.  I gathered her in my arms as I maneuvered myself out of the car and began my walk up the driveway to our home.  Erin looked up into the night sky, her face close to mine, and pointed her finger upward. 

“Look, Daddy,” she said.  I looked up.  I saw nothing.

“Look, “she said again.  I resumed my walk after looking and seeing nothing, again.

“Lights” she said in wonder.

I looked up.  This time I saw them.  The sky was full of brilliant, shimmering stars.  I had not noticed them.  My mind had been so cluttered with worries and problems that I could not see the miracle that was just above me.

Holding her close, we stood there, looking at the stars.    

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sitting in Sunlight on a Cool Morning

Life if full of striving.  Striving to find the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect neighborhood, the perfect car.  Striving to be promoted.  Striving to be better at something.  Striving to grow. Striving to shrink.  Striving to impress.  Striving to raise children.  Striving to earn.

I once heard a woman say the she and her husband lived in the wrong zip code and would have to move soon if they wanted to succeed at their jobs.  I remember a time when all of our County Commissioners attended the same, large, prosperous church; as if going to the "right" church was a political necessity.  I also remember a man who attended church for the purpose of selling insurance and when he had tapped that congregation for all he could squeeze, he move on.  I overheard a student talking as she walked with a friend about how her father could not succeed at his job because he did not like to schmooze.  In her words he did not have his "politics together".

And where has all of this striving gotten us?  Are we better people now than we were 1,000 years ago?  Have we had fewer wars and conflicts?  Do we know the secret of world peace?  Are fewer people starving? 

Georg Sheehan, in his book Running and Being, quotes the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin as saying, "We are all seeking not to enjoy more or to know more, but to be more."  Well, I think we may have failed on all counts.  After all these hundreds of  years of striving, we are not one inch closer to solving the large problems that face humanity.

So, instead of striving, why don't we make time to just sit in the sunlight on a cool morning and enjoy the sound of the birds, smell the freshness of the air, drink that first cup of coffee and watch the steam rise from the cup.

And on a morning such as that, how could we be more.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Finding Home

The first time I saw the mountains I was 12 years old.  I had dreamed of seeing them years before I actually saw them.  As far as I know, I had always wanted to go to the mountains.  Being from eastern North Carolina, we were beach people.  My dad always rented a house at the beach for one or two weeks each summer.  I liked the beach, but deep down inside me, I loved the mountains, without ever having seen them.

And when I saw them for the very first time, I knew that I was home.  At last, I was home.  Something in me was at peace.  Something in me was somewhere very familiar.  I was in a place where at last I belonged.

We did all of the things tourists do in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We went to Ghost Town.  We listened to blue grass music.  We bought apples at a roadside stand.  We toured the Cherokee Indian reservation in the town of Cherokee.  

But all I really wanted to do was stare at the mountains surrounding me and breathe the mountain air and make each day we were there last forever.

We never vacationed in the mountains again.  But I knew that I would return.  I learned about Appalachian State University during college night at my high school.  When I heard the representative say they were located in Boone, North Carolina, I knew that is where I had to go.  So, I applied; the only University to which I applied.  And I was accepted.  But I had no money to go.

Walking home from my high school graduation at the nearby baseball park (I just felt like walking and being by myself),  I stopped by the railroad tracks and asked God, "What's next?  How am I going to get to Boone?"  There was no immediate answer.

But the next morning around 7:00 am, the phone rang.  A friend of mine wanted to know if I wanted to help him paint warehouse roofs that summer.  I had nothing else to do, so all summer we painted the tin roofs of the acres of tobacco warehouses in downtown Rocky Mount.  On the last day of the last warehouse, as we were climbing down the ladder, a voice from below called up, "Do you have a driver's license?"  I yelled, "yes", to the voice below.  "How would you like to drive for the tobacco buyers down in Georgia?"  And that is how I earned enough money to pay for my first year of college in Boone, NC.  

As my parents drove away, leaving me in Boone on my first day of college life, I felt the same feelings that I had felt when I was 12 years old.  I was home, at last I was home.  And I breathed a giant breath of mountain air, knowing that I was in the place that I belonged.