red alert“Get your hands outta your pockets, boy!” I recall my dad warning with urgency. He seemed a little angry at the time – surprised by my lack of sense I suppose. I didn’t argue. While I didn’t have a lot of sense, I did have a lick of it… I knew enough to know when my dad spoke with that type of authority, I listened… at least when he was looking.

I pulled my hands out of my coat pockets to brave the chill with a round-eyed look of question in them. We were on a job site, light years plus a half a block from the OSHA impacted days of what was to come; there were open trenches with planks that were well past their structural prime spanning the man-made divides in a place I was less than thrilled to be.

Seeking in my eyes, that it was more than just me being a reckless kid, my dad explained it to me, “If you fall and your hands get caught in your pockets you won’t be able to protect yourself if you fall, son.” The light bulb finally went on. “You always have to be prepared under different circumstances,” he’d add later and more than once to make sure “I got it.”

Some years later as an early teenager, I hopped into my brother’s truck to go to the store that now escapes the fading mind. I remember my brother who’d spent more time with my dad, due to age, jumped on me, “Where’s your shoes?” he demanded. “In the house?” I answered with that now familiar behind the eyes question glinting back at him, the “lights are on but nobody’s home” look. “You idiot! – What happens if we break down?” which was commonplace in those days, “You gonna walk barefooted?” It was summertime in Arizona, after all. “Go get some shoes on!” he chided me.

That’s the thing about being the youngest… you have way more bosses and guidance than any kid could ever want… The whole drive to the store I got the “truth” about being prepared – expecting the unexpected. That ride would stretch on forever… Wearing tight black T-shirts if there might be a fight – Boots in case someone tries to stomp your toes – Haircut shorter so that the potential enemy couldn’t use it as a handle while he turned your face into applesauce – How to sit with your back to the wall – How to lean back when someone’s passing you in case they take a potshot at you with a shotgun.

Growing up in a violent part of their country left its mark on me… Being on red alert was part of living in society. With all the crackpots and freaks killing and maiming in our society, it would seem that my dad’s take and my older two brothers’ beliefs were those of prophets…

But the truth is I’ve done more damage to myself than anyone probably could have done even if they were paid to do it. I’ve spent a lifetime on red alert… to a fault. Like the chosen three hundred God rounded up and tested by Gideon, I’m not lapping the sweet and cooling water with my head buried in the water, but I need not live like a slave to this flesh that I have less control of than any or us would really like to admit.

For the first time in my life, not more than a year ago I was able to wear flip flops out to dinner… and out of town to boot… I never knew “freeing” could be so cold on my toes…