I hear the train a comin’ It’s rollin’ ’round the bend, And I ain’t seen the sunshine, Since, I don’t know when,
from Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash
In early 2014, after we decided on a house and our offer was accepted, my husband looked on Google Maps and saw that the train runs very near our house. He was worried this was going to be a problem, but, I like it. I don’t know what it is, but I enjoy hearing the whistle blow, which it does 4-5 times a day. I think if I could get through the brush and woods on the other side of our back fence I would be right at the tracks.
My last train ride was in 1996, the day my father died. Our van was in the shop and it was the only way I could get back to see him. My brother picked me up at the train station and drove me to our parent’s house. That night as I sat with him his breathing became labored. I had to wake my mom from what was probably her first peaceful sleep in weeks. As she held his hand and I held her, he left us. And even though the lonely train whistle often reminds me of that night, it also reminds me that life is going on all around me. Trains and planes and cars are taking people back and forth everyday here this little corner of Alabama and all over the wide world. I am just a speck.
“I just wanted to know what it felt like to be someone you look at.” – Ove, from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Last year I was witness to a modern day middle school dance. I use the term dance loosely. It was more like a sweaty, sugar high, hormone fest. I never attended a dance until the Prom my senior year, unless you count square dancing in fourth grade.
However, some things don’t change. We all want to know what it feels like to be the one someone else wants to look at. To be someone that a special someone else wants to be with.
He could steady a one-hundred-and-eighty pound man by himself, fold up and carry a wheelchair one-handed, but that didn’t count on the basketball court or in grammar or much of anywhere. – from Stand Tall by Joan Bauer
There are skills that are sometimes taught, sometimes caught, that often go unnoticed. I saw this last year in a fourth grade classroom. I was standing in the back of a room while another teacher was reading a story about Rosa Parks to the students. A chubby, red faced boy in the back was kind of sniffling and putting his head down. I wasn’t sure if he was ill or sad or if I should approach him. Before I could decide, a student just acted on his instinct. I watched a sharply dressed young black student walk all the way across the room, put his hand on the blubbering boy’s shoulder, and speak kindly to him. I was so touched. I thought how proud Rosa Parks would have been to see that moment. I finished up reading to the class for the other teacher. I read about Mrs. Parks, and her struggles and we had a wonderful discussion.
A short while later, I saw the boy smiling broadly who had before been so sad. Seems he thought he’d lost a watch and was going to get in a lot of trouble, but he found it way back in his desk.
I didn’t get a chance to speak to the kind boy, but I wish I had. I wish I had told him I noticed.
On the other hand he tried to point out her that she shouldn’t give money to the beggars in the street, as they’d only buy schnapps with it. But she kept doing it.
“They can do what they like with the money,” she said.
When Ove protested she just smiled and took his big hands in hers and kissed them, explaining that when a person gives to another person it’s not just the receiver who’s blessed. It’s the giver. – from A Man Called Ove
Earlier this year I gave a writing prompt to some fourth graders. They had been focused that day on the character trait of “caring”, so I told them to pretend I’d given them $100. But, the catch was they had to give it to someone in need or a charity. Some of the students shared what they had written, and one young boy reminded me of Ove, and of myself in days past. He told of giving to the homeless, but also went on to say some of them would not use the money for food like they should. I remember grappling with this same issue years ago. I now believe that if I give money, it’s between them and the Lord what they do with it. I am not to be the judge.
A few other responses touched my heart from those students. Like the girl who said she would give it to her mother so they could move out of her grandma’s house and get their own home.
The past few years I have learned to give anonymously. Though I long to see the joy on a child’s face on Christmas, I am happy knowing I made it possible for someone. And when I don’t know someone well enough to seek them out for a hug in times of grief or crisis, I can ask God to bless the little I can give, and to send comfort along with it.
“How many of us, the South’s writers-to-be of my generation, were blessed in one way or another, if not blessed alike, in not having gone deprived of the King James Version of the Bible. Its cadence entered into our ears and our memories for good. The evidence, or the ghost of it, lingers in all our books. ‘In the beginning was the Word’. “ ~ Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
While her understanding of John 1:1 is flawed, I find it interesting and sad that this cadence is no longer a part of the lives of children in our country. According to the Shelby Baptist Association, Shelby County is the most unchurched county in Alabama. David Olsen, in his book The American Church in Crisis , states that only 16.4 percent of the population in Shelby County attends church on a regular basis.
Though I grew up in church and became a Christian at an early age, I am ashamed at how sorely lacking I am in having memorized scripture. Or in having memorized much of anything. I have snatches of verses in my heart and in my head, but I can’t tell you the reference for the majority of them. Growing up in public schools for the most part, I didn’t memorize scripture until seventh grade when, at a Christian school, we were required to recite chapters. Fortunately we were given numerous chances, reciting in chunks, until we got through the entire passage. Sadly, I was always one of the last to complete the requirement. Years later, after listening to the Guess Who’s song, Hang On To Your Life, numerous times throughout my teens, I read Psalms 22:13-15 as an adult and made the connection between the words spoken in the song and the verse in the Bible:
They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
This is all just food for thought – I don’t really have a conclusion.
“Werner thinks of his childhood, the skeins of coal dust suspended in the air on winter mornings…” from All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
For some reason, this stirred a childhood memory of milk. For a very short time when we first moved to Jacksonville, FL, we had our milk delivered by the “milkman”. On our front porch sat a metal crate where we would leave our empty bottles and take delivery of fresh milk. I remember the tops were sealed with thick paper lids. This milk was probably from Skinner’s Dairy, a hometown company that later built numerous drive-thru milk stores across Jacksonville.
In north Florida it didn’t get cold very often, but there were some winter mornings when we were excited to be able to see our breath in the chilly air. There was one winter I’ll always remember as the temperature got down in the upper teens and our heat went out. Our dad was out of town at the time on one of his many business trips. We bundled up and played outside anyway. The very large ditch – like a creek – behind our house was frozen on the top. Our friend’s little dog, Ginger, skittered across easily. Our dog, Dixie, followed her and went right through to the icy water.
Other fall and winter days were filled with my brothers playing football in the front yard and a few evening fires in our fireplace. In high school it was a time to wear stylish sweaters to school, then go outside for PE in the short gym suits we had to wear. I remember being teased about the chill bumps on my legs – referred to as chicken skin.
After moving to Birmingham in 2014, I was so excited about our first fall and winter. Sweaters and boots and scarves were so much fun! But, then it seemed to last forever and I yearned for the warmth of spring.
Last year, summer far outlasted its welcome. And this year we’ve had our share of hurricanes in the south. Now I long once more for the cool air and some justification for a pumpkin spice latte.
To look for community instead of cocktail-party relationships is part of choosing sides in the vast, strange battle. To say, “I’m sorry”; to be silent; to say “I love you,” “I care.” It is these little things that are going to make the difference. For God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, the weak to overthrow the strong.
– The Irrational Season (1977) by Madeleine L’Engle
I’ve written about this before, I’m sure; I am writing to myself again. I long for community, real and true. I think I’m settling for cocktail-party relationships via social media. I see the words “I love you”, “I care” “praying” all over facebook, but what does it really mean? Is it so others can see you are so concerned? To do so in person is another kettle of fish all together.
It is not easy to say I’m sorry, especially I’m sorry without a but after it. However, it’s often too easy to say I love you – love ya – as an alternate to see ya later. Said too easily and it looses its meaning. Saying I care may be harder; harder still to show you care in a tangible may.
But the hardest may be to be silent. Silent when you want to scream or cry or yell or explain or accuse or complain.
My soul, wait silently for God alone, For my expectation is from Him. – Psalm 62:5
Help me, LORD, to be silent. To show love and care. To pray.