FRIED BOLOGNA SANDWICHES

Time out ran me this week so I’m posting the intro to a shelved manuscript.

They taught us the Golden Rule in what they called the House of God, but they didn’t let that interfere with the quest for their own pot of gold. We heard words like turn the other cheek almost as much as we did John 3:16, but we knew first hand that turning that other rosy cheek would eventually end up in ugly shades of black and blue.

You ever try to swallow a dragonfly? Don’t. It’s a struggle.

The truth is that it’s a battle for folks hardened by a calloused life to turn the other cheek. A lot of people are blinded by fear or pride and crave justice, even if it is their own brand of it. There are even those in society that wish bad things on others, even get a little bit giddy when they come to pass.

It’s a mighty conflict in this life to find a balance between pride and humility, to crave mercy instead of justice… the mercy we all hope to deserve.

imageIt took time, but a humble man taught me that it’s a sight easier to see life clearly when we’re peering at it with the eyes and heart of humility. I learned that it doesn’t make a lick-uh-sense to wish something on somebody that is going to happen to all of us eventually.

Bad times and disaster pay all of us an unexpected visit sooner or later. I heard that in church, too, but they told us to take heart, ‘cause Jesus had overcome the world. When a soul gets its turn being shattered, and the words of a humble man are pondered, pride begins to lose its ugly grip.

It doesn’t matter where we’re born or where we hail from, nor the color of our eyes or hair, and not our language or accent, not even grammar. There’s a secret spot inside all of us that determines how we’re gonna respond when our days of dread descend upon us.

I’m not completely certain that we’re really called to let someone smack both of our cheeks. Instead of turning our other cheek and asking for more, most of us are inclined to block the punch and deliver a haymaker of our own.

Reflections of my own family and their colorful lives have had some (well, maybe a lot) of impact on my perspective. They weren’t perfect. One could argue that many of them were fit for strait jackets, or better yet, jail cells, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. Even though they had next to nothin’, they had the stuffin’ that was measured by a more honorable means. But mostly, they weren’t hiding behind a facade built on insecurity. Oh, make no mistake, insecurity drove them to other things, maybe worse things, just depends on a person’s perspective, I suppose. That’s kinda the whole point; to wrestle with the weaknesses and tendencies that all of us possess. To examine our lives and our hearts and to consider our own levels of humility and see how it stacks up to our ego and a desperate pride.

There’s wisdom in looking back, pondering the lives of others, their actions, their motives, and ours too. It’s not always pleasant, like swallowing a pesky gnat. You can cough, but eventually, at least most of the time, you just gotta take a few hard swallows, “Take it like a man,” as my kinfolk would say. Hope your gnat goes down easier than my dragonfly.

FIRST CLASS

I’ve done a fair amount of traveling in my days, including the kind in the air, but in all my days, I’ve never parked my backside in an extra wide and plush first class seat. Our seats were the ones just behind first class.

I also never gave a whole lot of thought as to what happens on the other side of the magical line; the one that separates the privileged and the common, coach from first class.

The precious time spent amongst the clouds and above cell and computer signals is a precious commodity, one I rarely squander. I write. Sometimes like my pen and hand have a five word a minute governor on them, but sometimes, just now and then, it flows like the wind.

As the plane roared over the Pacific my fingers carried out the marchin’ orders laid down by my noodle. Me and my laptop were taking no prisoners… till the stewardess grabbed the almost sheer bluish curtain hanging peacefully against the bulkhead in front of us and ripped it closed. As if takin’ a peek into first class was illegal, or at least unethical.

The stern stewardess eyed the rest of us passengers, jammed like sardines behind the curtain, with angry disdain… which piqued my curiosity about life on the other side of the curtain, the first class folks.

first class

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

The old Sawyer Brown song dropped onto the turntable in my mind, with the arm up, and kept playing over and over… like Crimson and Clover, (that one’s for you Bill). A portion of the chorus went, “Well I ain’t first class, but I ain’t white trash”.

Glancing into first class reminded me of the world of writing, the world of traditional publishing, the “haves” and the masses of “have-nots”. I’ve peeked into that world too. Got close to it a few times, but just when I got a good glimpse and taste of what life might be like on the other side of the curtain, it’s been yanked closed right before my eyes.

The keepers of the curtain that separate the first class, the admired, the respected, and the peasants on the wanting side of the curtain, pass along ugly words, many with angry disdain. As if it were illegal, or at least unethical, to dream, to wanna be on the other side of the curtain.

The first class dine on chef-prepared appetizers and entrees. They sip fine red wine from stemless razor-edged glasses, pinky’s out.

Those of us in coach, the commoners, strain for a peek past the curtain as we sip our sodas from plastic cups and nibble on twenty peanuts.

I’ve lived long enough to know the lines that separate folks are never magical… and on the other side of that curtain are just different sets of tests and problems.

We’re all on the same plane and our seat size or number has no bearing on our destination, but, if I do happen to land a seat on the other side of the curtain, in first class?

I’m ripping that curtain down… and passing back the caviar… I don’t like it anyway.

NOW AND THEN

My dad used to lie on his back and throw his elbows against the ground. He’d get a small patch of air between his shoulder blades and the earth, just enough to snap his legs back and land on his feet. He used to do a lot of stuff like that… I think about things like that now and then.

I can’t forget about the skinny kid with the massive chip on his shoulder he carried like a shield into battle… usually ones of his own making. I guess that could apply not just to me, but to most of us when we were relatively new to this fallen world.

now and then

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

Like all kids, I pondered the chasm of now and then, the looking forward to what might lie ahead in the road of life, never expecting the burning wooden bridges and fire-breathing dragons… avoiding them at all costs. We didn’t know those are essential to a life worth re-telling.

Disciplining the kids was never my strong suit, but I was compelled to do the right thing when the times called for it. I knew enough about “now and then” to know that the easiest way out of a difficult situation was never the path of least resistance. If their future was, “then”, going to be bright, it would take wisdom and persistence in the “now” to ensure it.

In hindsight “now” it’s easy to see the fruits of our efforts from our actions “then”… More importantly, the girls do too.

As a kid I listened to the generation we followed into this world talk about now and then. They didn’t call it that, they just spoke plainly about the realities and truth spelled out in the Good Book, especially about the how quickly this life gets behind you.

It’s funny how even little kids know when adults are speaking with honesty and authority. They have a different look in their eyes, even their demeanor changes.

When folks are talking about what they deem as debatable issues, they posture themselves. Almost like bracing themselves for a fight. When they talk to make a point or defend themselves, their eyes become intent, brows pinched.

It’s different when older people, especially clan members, share indisputable facts. Their bodies get relaxed, despite the aches and pains, and their eyes seem to drift to the spiritual dimension, riding it between the past and future. And if someone doesn’t agree with them, they just nod with wisdom, having tried.

I think about my dad now and then. I remember helping him walk toward the end, but that’s nothing compared to the wisdom and example he left us on how to live… and die…

“‘Cause, livin’ or dyin’, either way, I win,” he said.

So I think about living… and dying now and then. I know, like everything in life, you have to prepare “now” for “then”… ’cause eternity takes all of us.

LABOR DAY

Christmas is king of the holidays. Thanksgiving, for most of us, falls in line behind Christmas, then for some, Valentines Day and on down the list. Somewhere close to the bottom of the barrel of popular holidays lies Labor Day.

If you look at a year like you would a body, then you’d probably figure that all the holidays work together through the course of a year to make up a satisfactory one. The brain and heart are like Christmas, Thanksgiving, like the senses, fittingly taste. And on down toward the bottom are the feet, the things that carry the load, do the work… kinda like Labor Day.

labor day

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

It’s easy to grasp the merits of Christmas and Thanksgiving, but you gotta ponder the subject a bit to figure out that without Labor Day, Christmas and or Thanksgiving get pretty lean and can be a time of sorrow if the mammon is short to provide for the other two occasions.

In Genesis, Adam was appointed to “dress and keep” the garden, which means when life was perfect, work was a gift. In a fallen way it still is. It’s not perfect, but it’s gratifying and it’s from the hand of God to help provide protection and provision in this physical world.

For everyone that toils over their tasks, grand or seemingly menial, my hat’s off to you. I respect folks that work to provide for others and the ones that work to share with others their intellectual gifts to encourage. All of its work if it takes effort… and effort is one of the characteristics of being “made in His image”.

When we work to provide for others and ourselves I believe God is honored… whether we sweat or not. Work is a gift meant to provide for our physical and, in a round-a-bout way, our spiritual needs as well.

Sacrifice of our time, energy, and the wear and tear on the body is the fruit of love for others.

Some of the other holidays get a lot of attention and the credit for love, and deservedly so, but when you’re counting love, you can’t discount the action of sacrifice in labor. It’s like they say; actions speak louder than words…

Happy Labor Day to all. And don’t forget to thank the One, and ones, that show or have shown their love in laboring for you.

A CLEAN ROOM

It’s a rarity, but sure enough, before my very eyes, there was a clean room. What was left was in its proper place and orderly… but it wasn’t always like that.

Wars were waged over that room. I was sometimes on the front line, but it was usually my wife doing battle with our youngest in the clean bedroom battles.

Over the years I’d pitch in to help our youngest get back into a clean room status, but it never lasted more than a couple blinks.

There were plenty of frustrations on both sides, a fair amount of tears too, but mostly from my daughter, a few from my wife, but none from yours truly. Not a hint of inclement eye weather… back then…

For the last two-plus months, we’ve been pushing our youngest to clean up the room that looked like a stranger happened by and tossed a hand grenade.

I offered to help like I did when she was younger, but she pushed back, turned me down flat, told me she’d have it cleaned in time.

I used to wear the crown of procrastination but found in time that it was too cumbersome to be under. I withdrew as the king of procrastination. In fact, I became the spokesperson for anybody that participated in the art of waiting till the last minute to get things done.

I shared my insight on said subject with my daughter, but could see I was having about as much impact on her as a tear in the rain.

I get it… I know first hand the power of genetics; headstrong, stubborn, learning the pot is hot by grabbing a handful of it, rather that grasping the truth in the honest words shared by someone who cares.

As the war of a clean room waged by us on our daughter approached its eighteenth anniversary, tensions were high. Emotions were becoming so deep we were swimming in them.

Finally, two days before D-day, she started to do her hand washables. “Better late than never.” I thought.

There were still the bombs of threats fired from our side and the typical sarcastic responses from a young adult in the days between high school and college.

Come Friday she was still trudging through the wreckage. On Sunday, D-day, the youngest called in a backup; her sister who’s famous for her organizational skills.

By Sunday evening the long war was finally over, the fighting in the early stages of transforming into memories.

I stood at the bedroom door that up till that day was always purposefully closed. I gazed in, almost shocked. Not so much by a clean room, but the feeling of it.

a clean room

a clean room

We were victorious… It was a clean room… but she was gone.

I thought of Solomon, “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven”… including the battle of a clean room.

Something is always gained… and lost… with the coming and goings of the seasons…