NOT FOR LONG

My dashboard told me I had zero percent oil life left, but not for long.

“How-you-doin’-today,” the burly baby-faced kid asked me from under the gas pump canopy.

“Pretty good, and you?” I exchanged greetings with the young man taking orders, not the guy that was actually going to be cranking a wrench on my oil pan bolt.

I thought we were done with the pleasantries. My fault – I did ask him a question. I assumed that he assumed, it was a rhetorical one.

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

“It’s hot!” the kid informed me.

In that instance, gone was the understanding older guy. It’s Arizona folks. It gets hot here, I mean Africa hot, but a virile young man with the chubby cheeks and a macho brown beard shouldn’t be whining about it. That’s a sign another generation has sprouted up… and into a world with more guardrails.

In the slight heat of the moment, my mind considered my own hot days in Arizona, but my first thought was that it really wasn’t that hot yet. It was hanging just under triple digits at the time, which meant that the nights would bring a welcomed reprieve, but not for long.

I thought about the days of my youth, the sweltering ones, without an air conditioner. August in Arizona with only a swamp cooler is kin to trying to put out a forest fire by spittin’ on it. I remembered the two-a-day football practices in that same man makin’ month, the dry heaves at the end of wind sprints… and the times when they weren’t dry.

Of course, my dad came to mind, the drops of sweat that rolled off the end of his nose when he was working. The drops were so massive they’d splatter like rain. I recall the white sweat stains on his threadbare work shirts. I never heard him complain about the heat, not one time.

There was an unspoken rule I learned as a kid. A man could laugh about the ridiculous heat, even cuss it, but no one whined about it.

I recollected the days when it was my turn to toil in the Southwest sun, doing fifteen hours a day, daring the blazing ball in the sky to do its worst. Sun of a gun if it didn’t.

I pulled the sweat stuck shirt from my back that was still searing from over exposure the day before while toiling in the yard, not cause I had to, cause there’s something gratifying about “working by the sweat of your brow”.

I’m not so sure an easier life, the one we all strive for, is always the best thing for us.

“Rejoice in your times of trials”. If a person lives long enough, gains a smidge of wisdom along the way, they come to realize that doesn’t just apply to the physical side of life, but to the spiritual ones, even more so.

I handed the kid my keys, “It’s not hot… but not for long,” I chuckled.

WITH A VENGEANCE

Some folks just seem to be contrary. You say black and they’ll say white with a vengeance. Those are the folks that practice arguing as if it were a virtue.

I knew a couple that argued over garbage… just goes to show how endless the supply of things to bicker over there are. He wanted the trash to be rinsed before being tossed in the garbage. It was what he was used to, his culture.

image courtesy photobucket.com

image courtesy photobucket.com

She, especially since she was the one doing the cleaning and keeping, didn’t want to wash the trash like a glass to be reused, just to toss it into the can where its contents would end up three feet under the dirt of the closest municipal dump, what they call landfills these days.

He reasoned the rinsing of the garbage would keep the foul smell associated with garbage down. The clean trash, he explained, would also be less likely to attract flies and insects that take to garbage like pigs do to mud holes.

She countered that it was a waste of time and water to rinse trash and that he just needed to take it out more often.

They had heated debates about washing the trash, neither of them willing to yield or consider the other’s perspective. They both figured that their way was the right way and dug in like a donkey.

It’s a peculiar thing about an argument; many times both sides have valid points. In a way, the trash talkin’ trash fighters were both right… but stubborn pride would never let them admit it. Which made them both dead wrong.

The both of them just wanted to win, to get their way. Not so different than most of us, especially when young, which they were.

There’s another group of folks that are more than willing to argue at the drop of a hat, and with a vicious vengeance; Christians.

That’s no surprise to Christians and non-Christians alike. That’s the reputation gained along the way.

People love to be right. It boosts an ego and satisfies the cancer-like pride… for a short time.

As much as folks love being right, there’s something else that holds an even more precious place within them; the hatred of being wrong. But in line just behind the loathing of being wrong is the thorn of not being able to convince or change someone else’s mind. That can bring a prideful person’s blood to a boil in short order.

Some of the most heated arguments are over Biblical issues. There’s a reason a lot of level headed folks live by the adage, “don’t talk politics or religion”. Both can bring out the worst in people… even, or maybe especially, if they’re called Christians.

How is it reasonably intelligent folks can read about the characteristics that should mark the life of a Christian, namely love and humility, and live the exact opposite?

“The world will know you by the love you have for one another.” Maybe it’s time to try living that out… with a vengeance.

YOU REMEMBER THINGS LIKE THAT

We’d left her at the hospital… she was desperately needing rest. Life had been moving at warp speed for a few weeks, milestones in life coming at us like waves on the beach during surf season in the Pacific. You remember things like that.

She’d graduated with her masters degree three weeks before that trip to the hospital. She’d been working full-time as an RN at the same hospital where she lay as I penned this post. Her youngest sister graduated from high school the week before and we’d thrown her a graduation party that conveniently landed on the day of her eighteenth birthday the night before.

Life is funny like that; we can live our lives with subtle changes and then in a matter of what seems like days, everything changes… permanently.

Our youngest graduated from a private school that she’d attended for fifteen years, counting the couple years of pre-Kindergarten. She can’t remember her life without that school. I remember her learning Bible verses as a pre-schooler. I thought they’d raised the bar way too high when she was required to memorize the 23rd Psalm in Kindergarten.

Now she’s done. Our youngest will go to the second school in her life; college. A birthday/graduation party last night for the youngest, and a trip to the hospital today for the oldest.

We didn’t know she was going to have a boy, that was a surprise, the baby wasn’t. She had to have a C-section, due to the baby being breach, but he’s healthy and she’s recovering.

Braxton Michael Siemion            June 4th 2016

Braxton Michael Siemion
June 4th 2016

We left her, her husband, and the addition to our family resting at the hospital, I suspected a metaphorical wrestling match over the boy’s name was in the works. My wife and middle daughter were out shopping for baby boy’s clothes. The exhausted youngest went home with me. She slept. I pondered… and wrote.

I felt happy, relieved, tired… and once it began to sink in, a touch of sadness. I flipped on the house music, the seventies station thumped out songs from my youth as I pondered the newest chapter in our lives.

As I thought and processed emotions, I glimpsed it, I grasped it… and when I turned back around to get my bearings… the door was closed. That chapter of our lives is finished forever.

Like all my writing, that last chapter too had flaws, it wasn’t perfect. It isn’t for any of us. I thought about this day, but I never could grasp the reality of it… just like I couldn’t fully grasp the baby in our oldest baby’s arms. Just like thinking about her being a momma, but not fully grasping it until living the reality of seeing a mother’s love in her eyes.

June 3rd, 1998, it was a cool day, oddly cool for Arizona. You remember things like that. The baby born that day, via a C-section too, is an aunt today.

June 4th, 2016, it’s hot, record heat. You remember things like that… even after the door has been closed on a chapter of your life.

I prayed for God to guide and bless that boy every single day, and chapter, of his life. May he remember things like that.

THE HATFIELDS AND MCCOYS

Our skirmishes aren’t as famous as the Hatfields and McCoys, but they’re just as real. It’s a battle of boundaries, territory, the fight over property. The type of conflict can vary, but what sometimes begins as a fight for justice can get twisted, fueled and escalated by frustration and pride.

Hatfields and McCoys

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

Seems you can take anything good and decent, no matter how big, how grand, and even a pinch of pride can poison the whole kit and caboodle.

We were neighbors. Not particularly close, we just sorta tolerated one another. But as the old saying goes, “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”. That’s what happened with the Hatfields and McCoys.

It went from being mildly annoyed, to all out war. I should never have allowed them to cross my property line… that’s what I get for being a nice guy.

After they stayed for a season, I couldn’t get them to leave. I tried to gently persuade them, but they refused. In fact, to add insult to injury, they invited their family to join them at my house! That’s when things began to get ugly.

I began to throw rocks at them every time I saw them. It rattled them a bit, but they didn’t leave. I guess to get even with me, they began to defecate even more right in front of our front door. There would be no turning back.

I put spikes up, but they nested between them. I put up more, but the trespassing pigeons just moved up the roof. I spent hours and days putting up chicken wire. They moved to the other side of the roof. I put spikes there, no dice. I put up chicken wire while the flying rats watched me from my chimney. They just nestled beside the new chicken wire.

I read up on my enemy, but none of the recommendations worked. The only thing I hadn’t tried was eliminating them… permanently. Like Solomon said, there’s a season for everything, and it was hunting season at my house.

I bought the most powerful pump pellet gun and hollow point pellets to send my uninvited enemy to the big bird bath in the sky.

I was a decent shot with my brother’s BB guns as a kid, and with my rifles and pistols as an adult… somehow that didn’t translate into pumping pigeons full of lead. With each missed shot over the next three or four months, my frustration and hatred grew. They became so accustomed to me shooting at them, I had to sneak up on them… just to watch them fly away… bird laughing.

It was just before sunset. I’d flanked the trespassers and surprised them as they began to fly away again. I shot. He fluttered and fell… and so did my stomach, hatred, and frustration.

Although they carry diseases and do property damage, the justification didn’t bring me joy.

Not every prudent action we take in life makes us happy. And I’m reminded it should be about perspective… without pride.

Our skirmished aren’t as famous as the Hatfields and McCoys, but they’re just as real.

BOOK COVERS

The eyeball test isn’t so different than playing Russian roulette, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose when it comes to guessing what’s inside book covers.

I didn’t know I’d judged her, but that’s exactly what I’d done, in a good way, finally. She’s probably in her mid-seventies, tall, medium length, tired auburn hair, done in a bun that she’s probably been sportin’ since the 60’s, dark brown glasses to match.

book covers

image courtesy of goingoutwordsandinwords.wordpress.com

She’s the only person in the gym with jeans on, and a street blouse for comfort. She looks like someone from church. The elderly gal is hard to miss, and not just for being tall; she struggles to walk and has two canes to keep her from losing the battle with gravity.

My heart and respect went out to her for fighting through her flesh and not giving in. I felt like I knew her without having ever having talked to her in the year or so that I’d been seeing her, but that all changed a few weeks ago.

The handicapped woman called from behind me, “How much longer are you going to be?” in the middle of my set, about half way through my reps, and with a snide snap in her voice.

I’ve been in gyms my entire life and savvy gym etiquette pretty well, I guess she doesn’t. I didn’t stop, I politely answered, “About five more minutes.”

The handicapped gal made as loud a “Huff”! as she could muster to let me and anyone within earshot know how put off she was that the world didn’t find her at the center of it.

* * * * *

I could feel the short elderly lady behind me in the express lane at the grocery store the day before Mother’s Day. I could sense her impatience and her basket nipping at my heels. I struggled to be polite.

I hate it when the express line moves slower than the regular ones, makes me feel like a fool, and it only gets worse when you’re getting bumped and crowded.

My patience meter had just about expired by the time the checkout gal grabbed and scanned the roses and card. “Oh! What beautiful flowers!” the woman fast on my heels managed. It sounded like she was chewing on her tongue. She’d had a stroke.

Although it was difficult to understand her, she asked about my children, even told me I looked too young to have girls that age, all the while her eyes sparkled with love and life.

I’m almost always wrong when it comes to judging book covers.

I think how we see others has a lot to do with how we see ourselves; too often we see ourselves as fine classic literature bound in fine leather and a lot of other folks as paperbacks.

You can tear the front and back book covers off, but that doesn’t change the Words inside… and when our time is done here that’s exactly what happens to all of us.

It’s only God in us that is beautiful… the book covers only fool the fools.