Stories To Be Told

 

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Not far from East Texas, even less distance from the Arkansas border, my first birthday happened in a little town, a little home, a little hospital.  Quite a shindig, that first birthday.  Late night, or early morning, it was dark out.  A doctor, some nurses, Mom was there, Dad was in the waiting room.  On the outskirts of that little town, logging trucks growled up and down a four-lane Louisiana State highway, east and west, in front of our rural, heavily wooded, place.  Our little town’s “downtown” lay three miles west.  What was east of us, down that road … I knew nothing about.  I asked my dad, once.

“The only people I know who go down that way are these logging trucks you  see going back and forth.  It’s not a place where you want to go.  In fact, I do not want you to go down there … at all.”

I never asked again.  This was the “small town” South.  Everyone knew your business, to a point; the same “small-town” South where secrets were part of the fabric, an old fabric, passed down through many generations, secrets that would never die.  Since my pre-adolescent years, curiosity about the land east of us would not fade, like the secrets.  While researching one of my favorite topics, “Fire Towers” / “Watch Towers”, I experienced an unexpected dose of irony, a powerful metaphor.  I found out about a fire tower near the little town where I grew up, just east of our home, down that elusive highway, leading into an elusive place.  A topographical map showed the symbol for a fire tower there, surrounded by forest, like other fire towers; yet, no picture.  It bothered me that I couldn’t find a picture of the fire tower in my little town.  I imagined a fire tower, in the midst of a dense wilderness, with a nameless, faceless, man looking out for miles in all directions.  And yet, I could not see this fire tower hidden from me.  It bothered me that I have not been able to find other pictures of the place where I grew up: the store (the only store in town that sold clothes, and a number of other categories of goods); the drug store; the barber shop; the original library; the cotton gin, the Legion Hall, the grocery store.  Instead I found articles of sad things that have happened, and continue to happen.  I still refuse to give up my town, but … I must do exactly that.  It is no longer there.  Yes, it is on the map.  It goes by the same name.  But it is not the same place.  My little home town has died.  Some places, you just can’t get to.  Some mysteries remain mysteries.  Some stories are not meant to be finished.  We have our own stories, each playing an intricate role in our larger story, and we are called to live out that story, not the stories of others. We have our grieving that shows up in different ways:  the loss of a friend, or a family member; the loss or “home”; the loss of community that we once had with certain, special, individuals.  And with this reality, another, more powerful reality stands strong in the present: we transcend that pain, our pain, our loss.  We have vision, passion, creativity for beauty and meaning that must overwhelm that past.  There is joy in the present; there is joy in tomorrow; there is joy in the future.  I am immensely thankful for that.

 

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White Haired Man

Recently, I had an image in my mind, a man … many years compiled; white hair, weathered face, eyes that drew you into his stories, his life, seasoned in his silence.  A man who did not speak, just so he could hear himself.  I searched for the picture of a man who fit the image I was contemplating.  The drawing below, of a man’s face, brought to the surface, something allegorical.  

Old Man sketch by rndmtask
Old Man sketch by rndmtask rndmtask.deviantart.com/art/Old-Man-sketch-177029565

Grady. Late seventies.  A jovial man with a thankful spirit, in an assisted living-type of context.  I met Grady in a sports bar a number of years ago. The stool next to him was open.  I didn’t ask, I claimed the place along the bar.  He wore a surfer-style t-shirt (it could have been him on the board riding a wave), thick white hair, large forearms; he had the marked and worn hands of a carpenter, with a nice collection of scars from building houses.  Grady was drinking coffee.  

I asked, ‘”Why would a fella come to a sports bar and drink coffee?”    

The man set his coffee down and looked at me with a strong poker face.  Sizing me up, he said,  “Big TV’s to watch sports.  I get to talk to pretty women.”        

I saw the mischief in his blue eyes, a contagious grin.  I asked him what his wife thinks about such tomfoolery. 

‘There are no big TVs in my home, and only one good-looking gal to talk to.  Belle.  She is my wife. And she understands such matters.” 

I sat with Grady at the sports bar once, or twice, monthly, Wednesday evenings.  He said I had a higher calling than to hang out in sports bars.  I told Grady “Maybe you also have a higher calling than hanging out  in sports bars.”  Grady stared up into the heavens for a bit, before slowly nodding: “This may be true.”

Belle passed in ’91.  I attended Belle’s funeral, sat with Grady, with an unexplainable sense that Belle was there, also, sitting with Grady.  Soon after, Grady moved to where he is now, an upscale assisted living set up.  I hang out with Grady, on Wednesday’s.  Grady has not changed a bit since we met; I was heckling him about drinking coffee in a sports bar.  He is the same big-boned man, somewhere above the six-foot mark, a strong smile and a weathered gentleness.  Grady will shift from regular sentences into multiple phrases; eyes  focused on a place, a thought, beyond our here-and-now.  I think about what he is saying; I look for a pattern, or patterns; and I am able to follow him.  He has a sharp mind.

“Vision … you get it, don’t lose it …’

Belle’s love … “

Friend … priceless …”

Recently, I asked, “How goes the battle, Grady?”

“It goes, my young friend, continues on many fronts.  Sometimes well, sometimes not.”   “Example?” 

“(Pause) We have these debates that come up, some of the men, here.  We encourage each other.  At times, someone will get a bit heated.  That happened yesterday (pause).  I’m learning more about appreciating that … tension … in community.  Over many years, I have found myself worried about losing a friend, if I say the wrong thing, or if I don’t do what people want me to do.  I do not need to fear the tension, the conflict.  These are good men, and we have the freedom to be real and to speak freely.  It’s alright if we see things differently.  Yes.  They are good men, like you.”

I still need to dig a bit deeper with this allegory, to get the big idea,  Based on what I have, so far, I think this allegory is about our gravitation towards authentic relationship; the inner substance of redemptive desire to understand each other, respectively; the potential committment to stick with a relationship for the long haul, versus fading away to move on, to the next “thing”, the next friend.  I hope that you have enjoyed this allegorical place I have gone to.