It Is Finished

My video posted on Good Friday

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The Gentleman and the Jerk

ToastIn the year’s waning moments, frenzied throngs count down in unison as the final seconds pass into the fog of fading thoughts. A glittering, overdone ball of light descends to the Earth; confetti, music, cheers, nonsense and kisses from strangers – the jubilation flows freely. It’s the final minute and suddenly everyone’s aware of the tempo. The exuberance builds to a crescendo as the countdown becomes a deafening chant. People from every city, town borough or lone house in the boondocks; people who share the same midnight if nothing else  arise as one to propose a toast. For a fleeting moment they stand together with singleness of purpose – to celebrate yet another lap around the Sun and to declare that the next round-trip will see their new and improved selves emerging as if they’d been living in a cocoon the past year. They are swept up as the entire world becomes a celestial stadium doing the wave. It’s their time to rise. They stand and revel; it’s their moment in a 24-hour long cheer that began with the faint and distant shouts of a few souls in the isles of the Asian Pacific and eventually peters-out a day later in those very same waters – somewhere west of Pago Pago. For a short span of time, the whole of humanity straddles what has passed and what will come. And no matter where your feet may be planted, as the second hand sweeps past the 12, you stand there just a bit cross-eyed; looking back while trying to peer ahead. Sunrise and Sunset merge into one.

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Somewhere among a dozen car payments, house payments, moon phases and calendar page-flips we search for our best moments. We select a few clips from the previous twelve months to include in our personal highlight reels. And lost in the haze of our selective memories are a thousand faces; ten thousand faces; perhaps more. Who can say? Who can calculate the number of souls we’ve encountered in passing while we hurry through January and the next eleven new moons on our way to another December 31st? The people in the checkout lines and all the other public places we frequent, the fellow travelers sharing the roads we motor along each day from home to wherever and then back home again; they’re nameless silhouettes in the crowd. They never come into focus long enough to matter to us. They are the extras; the background noise on that highlight reel. We often pass close enough to exchange the common cold but seldom do we exchange anything else.

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Yet there are a few. There are those who emerge from the fog and for a brief moment, they come into focus. Good or bad, in the blink of an eye, we make our assessment. With only a first and likely last impression, we write their bios: Nice, pleasant, good-looking, considerate, dirty, loser, ugly, jerk…And the nameless silhouettes find their fifteen minutes of fame on a stranger’s highlight reel. Whether friend or foe; whether deserving or not they’ve been cast in their role. We know nothing of these anonymous ones as we story-board them into our narrative: The gentleman who held the door – nice; the guy weaving through traffic; cutting people off – jerk. Yet for all we know, they are both the same man. One may hide his pain behind a pleasant demeanor while the other has seen his best plans squashed one too many times and he can no longer contain the frustration. Inside, they are both in agony.  And unbeknownst to us, they may even reverse roles from time to time. We know so very little while we blithely declare so much. Without knowing who they are, we write their epitaphs.

ImageI know a man who in the same month saw his dream of building his business rise from the years of toil and financial uncertainty only to see it fall hard and lay shattered at his feet. I have seen that same man ignore his own pain and show kindness and deference to others. And then on the very same day I saw him reach his boiling point and lash out at anyone crossing his path. Many times before I have seen him gather his strength, stand up, brush himself off and start again. I know him well. I see him in the mirror every morning. And depending on whose highlight reel you’re watching, he’s “Nice”, “Jerk” or any point in between.

Every day you pass by silhouettes; anonymous shapes which hide so much more than your eyes perceive. Dreams that withered on the vine, hopes that faded, frustrations, disappointments, losses and grief – they are mixed into the crowd along with the joys, triumphs and dreams realized. Success and failure, joy and grief, ease and agony – you likely brush past it every day. And all too often it stays hidden in the fog. You walk amongst inspiration as well as opportunity to inspire. You can’t possibly know them all. If nothing else, time forbids it. And today is a celebration of time. Or perhaps better said, it is a lighthearted admission of how precious little of it we each have. We are all measured out a portion of days; some more and some less. Over and over, the hand sweeps past the twelve and God only knows how many setting Suns you’ll see. Man knows not his time but he can choose wisely how he will invest it. To know and be known – it is an effort worthy of your time.

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Somewhere in that anonymous fog is the silhouette of one you need to know. That person may be in need of you or you may be in need of him. Choose your moment and step out of the fog. Remember that to most everyone, you too are merely an anonymous silhouette. And it is likely that you’ll need to peel away the generic labels to find the true identity of the gentleman and the jerk.

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A Day of Years

I rest the eyepiece against my brow and look across the foggy expanse through a spyglass of remembrance. Peering back upon my day, an hour is perhaps ten years…more or less. I look and see a little boy. I see that towheaded kid who answered when my name was first called. I can almost hear Mom’s voice beckon from that cement porch on Bretton Street. For him it was morning and those were the days when his life was still wet with dew. Sunlight had spilled over the treetops and warmly lit his world. Down on one knee on Mom’s laundry room floor, the boy couldn’t tie his Keds sneakers fast enough. Those young fingers still lacked dexterity as he impatiently fumbled with his confounded laces. The first shoes with Velcro straps would arrive a few years too late to ease his childhood footwear frustrations.  As it was, he was eager to bolt through the aluminum storm door and seize the day. His shoes would need to be tied again before he’d made it much past the end of the driveway.

Sticks and stones, scraped knees, the smell of Mom’s irises in full bloom, rubber-bands and Popsicle sticks fashioned into a switchblade knife, the special bond of sharing germs and a bottle of Towne Club soda with Donny- the kid next door, metal Tonka Trucks on a network of sand-box roads, Dad’s tools, Dad’s leather belt, the cooing of a morning dove and its mate’s reply from the neighbor’s poplar tree, foot-trails along the creek’s wooded banks, learning about a plant called stinging nettle – the hard way, trembling leaves of the cottonwood trees in the early summer breeze, Bretton Street before it was paved– these are but a few of the memories awakened as I gaze through my narrow glass.

Donny and Me July, 1968

Donny and Me
July, 1968

I see that boy on his tricycle, daring to pedal beyond his mother’s set boundary – a quest to explore undiscovered lands.  His pal Donny had spun exciting tales of Fairfax, the next street over.  He was selling a tricycle trip around the block as if he were Christopher Columbus convincing King Ferdinand to conquer the New World. The boy was reluctant to cross his mother’s boundary but the allure of exploration and conquest proved too great to resist. So he pedaled his little blue trike and Donny his red one; short little legs pumping furiously toward a new horizon. However, the boy and his pal didn’t make it to the New World that morning. You see, a bully named Jeff owned Fairfax. The entire street was his; or so said Jeff. Standing two years taller with arms and legs spread wide; he cast a large shadow across the pedestrian walk and blocked the passage from Bretton to Fairfax. “Get off my sidewalk!”barked Jeff through a menacing scowl. The expedition was over for Donny. The kid from next door turned his red trike toward home and high-tailed it out of there. The boy however; well now the boy had a stubborn streak. He’d just defied his mother’s rule and although he’d never encountered one before, he would certainly defy this pint-sized bully as well. His resistance was short-lived. The bully punched the boy square in the eye. I see short little legs peddling those three hard-rubber wheels; the little boy with his first black eye riding home, crying to his mother. Lesson learned.

And a smirk breaks the corner of my mouth as I shift the view forward a few years. The sun is a bit higher and the dew has dried. The heat of the day is building and I see the boy standing taller and feeling his oats. Jeff, once the sultan of Fairfax Street is still taller than the boy but he knows he’ll never again be tall enough. The bully had been sized-up and overcome by confidence and strength. The boy and the bully eventually made their peace. I’m sure if they met today, they’d both enjoy a good laugh as they recall those boyhood scrimmage lines. The boy would begin to learn temperance and humility as his faith grew. I lift the spyglass away and close my eyes for a moment. The boy – he is still learning this lesson. To this day, he’s still trying to master himself…his nature. The world has no shortage of bullies but men restrained by humble faith and tempered by God’s word are few and far between. The boy is stubborn but God is patient.

My First day of Kindergarten September, 1968

My First day of Kindergarten
September, 1968

The sun travels along a prescribed arc and as it moves, the boy barely notices the advance of time. His morning years wane and as it does, he grows. Again I train my eye on the morning hours. I scan the cool of the day and more memories come into focus.  I remember shopping for school clothes at the Livonia Mall, the smell of new fabric not yet tainted by soil and grass, trousers and plaid cotton shirts, Buster Brown shoes and black Kiwi polish, navy blue stockings with stitched toes, Mom waking me each morning – twice, JP McCarthy on the radio and the smell of Coco Wheats on the stove, school supplies in cigar boxes, citing the Pledge of Allegiance and the Apostle’s Creed, schoolboy crushes, day-dreaming while the teacher calls his name, the sweet smell of blue-inked math problems on paper still warm from the mimeograph machine, grouchy ol’ Mr. Gutharat – the janitor muttering under his breath as we jumped his dust mop, Mrs. Whalen – the bus driver insisting that the boy hold the hand rail when stepping off the bus…and that day he challenged her; thinking the rule was stupid, and her bus driving along the curb with the door open until the boy returned to comply with the stupid rule, Mrs. Sutter – my beloved kindergarten teacher, my classmates and teachers – from K through 8th grade – I remember them all by name, St.Paul’s Lutheran School – I remember the polished hallway, the brick walls and the dark wood beams, lining up at the drinking fountain after recess, hot lunches, I remember the rotary dial pay-phone near the eighth grade classroom and looking for dimes in the coin return.

Me and My Lovely Bride May 11, 1991

Me and My Lovely Bride
May 11, 1991

The Sun moved; the slow, constant march of time pauses for nobody. And I pan across the boy’s day and there are the usual mile-markers; events that define a life as a boy grows into a man. I can see the times of quiet contemplation, the angst and the triumphs. I can see the self-doubts, and the overconfidence.  His marriage, homes, children, business…and somewhere during the past hour he likely reached his midday. When he wasn’t looking, the Sun reached its zenith in his sky and as I look back on that time, I can see that there were dark clouds forming on the horizon.

On a hot humid summer’s day, the atmosphere can become volatile. A front approaches and storm clouds gather in the western sky. Air masses collide violently. And it comes upon you quickly. Your sky is dark and you lose all perspective of what time of day it is. Your eyes tell you that the Sun has set. Summer storms tend to move quickly and then the SRain Paneun shines once again after they’ve passed. Sometimes however, they linger. And the rain seems to never end. Not every man’s day will bring a storm. My day has.  I have weathered destructive winds, torrential rain and dangerous lightning. As I lay down my spyglass and look up from here, I long to feel the Sun on my shoulders again. My eyes have become moist. It has been raining for years. And I realize that my eyes will deceive me if I lose perspective. If I am not vigilant and take captive my own thoughts, I can easily be convinced that Sun has already set. It has not.

Above these clouds the Sun still shines. And hidden or not, it is still high in my sky. The clouds will break and I will emerge to finish my day. And by God’s grace, I will finish strong.  And I will go to my rest satisfied. Today, I finished the fifth hour. My family sang to me and I blew out the candles on a cake that said something about my 50th birthday.  When I pan across the years and look upon my life from the vantage of here, I see two things working; things that are often imperceptible.There is an enemy shadowing me; looking for ways to exploit my weaknesses. And there is my Redeemer who has never left my side, not even when the winds blew the roof from over my head. Though I am weak, He is strong. And He is the Sun which will never set. He transcends time. He doesn’t view dimly through a narrow lens. He IS there when the bully struck a blow. He IS right now, beside me as I peer through the fog of my memories. And He IS there, where I have yet to go. He IS above time and space.

He is the Lord of my day of years.

He Is.