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The key

August 4, 2014  

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

The key has been sitting here on the desk for a week now staring at me, wondering when I’m going to find some use for it. The truth is that I have no idea. No idea at all.

I found it a while back in a dresser drawer I was cleaning out. It was stuck in the back corner behind some pens, a stack of old pay stubs, and my high school ring. There’s no telling how long it had sat there, but it must have been a while. A very long while. Because try as I might, I couldn’t remember what it unlocked.

I’ve checked all the locks in the house, including the one on the shed in the backyard and the diary my daughter keeps. I’ve asked my wife if it happens to go to anything school-related and called my father to ask if it was his.

No all the way around.

It’s too big for a key to a shed or a mailbox. Not enough teeth to unlock a door. Not fancy enough to start a vehicle. Too real to fit a child’s toy.

So…what?

I don’t know. I figure I have two options here, both obvious. I can throw the key away and be done with it, thinking that if I haven’t needed it for longer than my memory allows, I likely won’t need it again. Or I can keep it. I’m leaning toward keeping it. I can’t throw the key away. Doing that will all but guarantee I will find whatever lock it fits, and that on the other side of the lock will be something I will likely need very badly.

There are a lot of people who say it’s the big moments in our lives that show us who we really are, warts and all. I’m not one of them. I think it’s the little moments that do that. Moments like this one, with me and my key.

So I stare at it and wonder. Is this all about my tendency to hang onto things and not let them go? Or is it about my subtle distrust in the shaky maxim that “everything work out fine in the end”?

Maybe it’s neither. Maybe all this proves is that I tend to think about some things a little more than I should. Regardless, it’s all very discombobulating. I feel like I have an answer to a question I don’t know how to ask.

Maybe that’s the point.

Maybe I need to consider this as something I’ve found something that I don’t really need right now but might need later. I think that alone is reason enough to hang onto it. I know this from experience.

I’ve often found some truth, some answer, only to lose it and have to go searching again. Most of the mistakes I make are ones I’ve made before and never learned from or, worse, thought I learned from but really didn’t. And there have been a lot of times I’ve been left wondering “Why in the world did I have to go through that?” only to say later on “Oh, now I understand. It was so I could handle this.” We find the keys to a lot of life’s problems long before we come across the locks.

That’s why we have to hang onto them and keep them safe. Why the struggles we have now can grow into future blessings. Because often the key to life lies more in remembering than learning.

“You just don’t look like a writer.”

July 31, 2014  

flagprofileI stopped by the local bookstore over the weekend to speak with a friend and ask a favor—Would it be possible to schedule a book signing sometime in the next few months? We chatted a bit about the particulars and then he excused himself to fetch the store manager, leaving me alone at the front with a young lady working one of the cash registers.

“So you wrote a book?” she asked me.

“I did. Written four, actually.” I said.

“What’s your last one about?”

“It’s about four people and how three of them cope with the untimely death of the other one.”

She turned up her nose. “That doesn’t sound very uplifting.”

“Oh, it is,” I told her. “In the end, they all receive what they had hoped to find but never expected–Redemption.”

“So, it’s like a real book.”

“Sure is, pages and everything.”

The cashier muttered a “Huh” and left our conversation at that, turning to adjust her bookstore smock and straighten the stickpin near her collar. Life Is Short, Read Much! it said. My friend still wasn’t back with the manager, so I passed the next few minutes perusing the new releases on the table beside me.

“You just don’t look like a writer,” girl offered, eyeing me from my boots to my hat.

“I don’t?” I asked her.

“No, not really.”

“What’s a writer look like?”

“Well,” she said, “like…not you.”

“Ah,” I answered, nodding as if her definition had cleared that up just fine.

“We had a writer in here last month,” she said. “You could tell. She has glasses and short hair and was dressed all in black. And she used big words. Really big words. I couldn’t understand much of what she said.”

“My hair’s short and I my hat’s black,” I tried. But that wasn’t enough.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “You look just fine. For a regular guy, anyway. But even if you dressed like a writer, you wouldn’t act like one.”

“I wouldn’t?”

“No.”

“How’s a writer supposed to act?”

“Like…not you.”

Ah, again.

“I want to be a writer one day,” she said. “But I don’t think I can ever act like one. I’m not that smart.”

I was about to say something, but just then my friend returned with the manager in tow. We worked out a tentative date and time, and he even offered free coffee for the occasion. Who says writing doesn’t have its own perks?

The cashier was gone when we were finished, her shift over for the day. That was a shame. I wouldn’t have minded spending a few more minutes with her, if only to explain why what she said was simply not so.

Because she was wrong, you know. Wrong about most everything she had said. I consider myself a guy who writes rather than a writer who’s a guy, for one. Big difference there. It means that if the bottom ever falls out or the well ever runs dry, I’ll still be me.

But more than that, she was wrong about how a writer is supposed to dress or act or talk. Very wrong.

There’s a grave misperception that writing must incorporate some sort of rules of eligibility.

You must have a college degree, some say. Or you have to be smart. You have to display a melancholic disposition or be a tortured soul. You have to be this old or this young.

Not so, I say.

True: not everyone can be a writer.

Also true: a writer can be anyone.

And that’s something important to keep in mind the next time someone says you can’t.

Best friends

July 28, 2014  

best friendsEvery morning on my way to work the road takes me up a hill that offers what may well be the best possible view of our town. It’s a scene I never get tired of appreciating, though for the past week or so I haven’t taken the time to turn my head and do so. Because that’s just about the time Randy crests that same hill in the opposite direction, and I want to see if he waves.

We worked together in my previous job, suffering alongside one another through shift work and factory life. We were close in the way guys are, which means we’d laugh share our gripes and make fun of the other’s favorite sports team and punch each other in the arm. Male bonding is a complicated thing.

When I quit to take my current job, we kept in touch through phone calls and emails. A few months later, the phone calls stopped. The emails stopped soon thereafter.

He was laid off from the factory about a year ago and took a job that brought him my way every morning. I’d pass his jacked-up Chevy along the road and we’d both throw our hands up and wave. That’s the way it was for a while, our once close friendship reduced to a two second mention of the hand every Monday through Friday.

Then last Monday, I was fiddling with the radio station and he snuck up on me. No wave.

The next day, he was on his cell phone. No wave again. The day after that, I sneezed. Another no-wave.

There were no complications the day after that. We saw each other coming, my radio was good, there was no cell phone, and my nose was clear.

We passed each other as strangers.

I was thinking about all of this yesterday as I listened to a message on the answering machine. Thirty-seven seconds of observations that covered everything from lunch to clothing to the newest must-have technological doodad. I played it twice to catch it all and was impressed to notice that it had all seemed to be done in a single breath. The caller identified neither herself nor to whom the message was for, but her tinny, high-pitched voice could only mean it was one of my daughter’s classmates.

Her rambling continued, brushing up on the latest Suite Life episode and some juicy gossip. Satisfied that all bases had been covered, she then said goodbye, but not before offering this one promise:

“We’re going to be best friends forever, I just know it.”

I smiled to myself at those words and saved them on the machine for my daughter to hear later. It may not have been the most important message of the day on our telephone, but it was without a doubt the most interesting.

Such phone calls have become pretty regular in our house in the weeks since school has let out. My daughter is quite the social butterfly, a facet of her personality she did not inherit from her father. As such, she has a steady influx of friends who seem to have our phone number on speed dial.

But the girl who left a message? She’s different.

Her and my daughter have been classmates since kindergarten. There have been sleepovers, play dates, birthday parties, and even an exchange of gifts every Christmas. Given that both of their names begin with M, they are known by students and faculty simply as M & M. Where you see one, you will see the other. To say they’re close would be an understatement.

At twelve, they’ve known each other for more than half of their lives and about three quarters of their memory. It stands to reason that to them, it will always be such. There are no doubts and no hesitations. Life is simple, like one long and unbroken line that stretches on forever.

That’s how it is when you’re young. Everything seems so certain because there’s so much you don’t know. And a friend is a friend forever.

Maybe M & M are right. Maybe sixth grade will turn into high school and then college and then, one day, bridesmaids. I hope so.

One of the harshest lessons we must learn is that the tides of time will wash some into our lives and then out again. There are those in our lives destined to remain on our shores, and others meant only to find rest there before sailing upon other seas.

But rather than mourn the many those tides take away, we should rejoice in the few left behind. For they are the ones who walk alongside us.

Looking for the good

July 24, 2014  

Photo courtesy of photobucket.com

Photo courtesy of photobucket.com

I spotted it while waiting for my family to finish their weekly shopping outside of a local department store, scrawled into the pavement next to a garbage can with what appeared to be pink sidewalk chalk. With nothing else to occupy my time, I bent down to see what had been written.

There’s lots more, it said. Look! A small picture of a flower had been drawn beside it.

I looked up and back into the crowd of people both going in and coming out. I hated shopping, and especially so at that particular shopping center. As a boy, it was once a field full of trees and tall grass and deer. Now, it was a paved city in and of itself, with a different sort of wild animals walking upon. The march of progress often takes its toll on beauty and leaves in its wake an ugliness that is glossed over with words like “convenience” and “revenue.”

I waved to a friend coming into the store. Said hello to another leaving. A third who seemed confused as to which way he was going began a conversation. That’s when my eyes wandered to the spot where his right foot was planted onto the sidewalk.

Another picture. This one of a dog’s face. Written below it—There’s lots more. Look!

We said our goodbyes and I reached for my cell phone to check on the progress of my wife and children inside. I was informed that I had plenty of time to look around. I said I was going to do just that.

I looked back to the garbage can, then to the spot where my friend stood. The result was a straight line approximately ten feet long. I walked a little farther, studying the ground.

Another! This one a tree whose roots said, There’s lots more. Look!

I paced off ten more steps and saw nothing. Then, next to a storm drain, I saw the outline of a puffy pink cloud.

There’s lots more. Look!

I did. Past the Michaels store and Bed Bath & Beyond. Past the hair salon the Hallmark, all the way to the end of the Books-a-Million.

There were pink birds, pink suns, and pink balloons. Pink people with gigantic smiley faces and pink snowmen. There were even pink angels.

They ended just as suddenly as they had begun, at the door of the bookstore. It was a pink book. Written in the pages was There’s lots more. Look!

I did. I didn’t find anything.

But I did turn around and look at how far I walked. A hundred yards, at least. One hundred yards spent not staring at the bad, but looking for the good. And I thought that maybe, just maybe, that was all that mattered.

We’ve heard a lot about change in the past couple of years, about how much we need it and how necessary it is. I can agree with that. But I don’t think we can do much about a lot of things in this world. I think we can do a lot of things about us, though. Maybe that’s how real change happens. Maybe we change the world not by changing governments, but by changing ourselves.

And we can start by not wallowing in the ugly, but looking for the beautiful.

Because there’s lots more. We just have to look.

In the name of Jayzus!

July 21, 2014  

image courtesy of photobucket.com

image courtesy of photobucket.com

I was winning.

Nothing too strange about that. The backyard baseball games with my son are usually close on purpose, which is much more important than who wins or loses. Sometimes I let him win in an effort to teach him how to be a gracious victor. And sometimes I makes sure he loses, because being a gracious failure is equally important. He’s going to face both triumph and setback in life. Best to teach him about both now, when he’s young.

This time, though, I was going to leave the end result to him. He would win or lose on his own, and it all came down to one pitch.

So.

Tie game, two outs, last inning. A homerun (in our backyard, homeruns are anything that passes the maple tree in the air) wins. Anything else, and he’d have to wait until the next evening to try again. Mother and sister were on the porch, watching and cheering. He took his stance, glared, and tapped on the rock we used for home plate.

I had already started my windup when he called time. Rather than take another practice swing or spit, he raised his hands in the air, looked to the heavens, and said, “In the name of Jayzus, lemme hit a homer!”

Laughter from the porch. I wrinkled my brow. Said, “What are you doing?”

“Heard it on the radio,” he told me. “Preacher said God gives me anythin’ if I ask in the name of Jayzus.”

Oh. Jayzus = Jesus. Okay then.

He stepped back in, tapped the bat on the rock. Glared. I threw. He hit.

Over the maple tree. Homerun.

That’s how it started.

Since then, the name of Jayzus has been bandied about quite often in our house. I heard it the next evening when my son lost the Lego spaceship he’d built—“In the name of Jayzus, come back to me!” Heard it again a few hours later—“In the name of Jayzus, save me from the bathtub!”

And then this morning—“In the name of Jayzus, let me at a Pop-Tart and not eggs!”

Comical, yes. And I suppose it’s even more comical that in all those instances, things worked out just the way he wanted. He did find his Lego spaceship. And since he’d stayed indoors all day because it was about a million degrees outside, we allowed him to forgo his bath. And we were out of eggs this morning, out of everything really. Except for Pop-Tarts.

My son thinks he has quite a thing going on here. He believes he’s just stumbled on the secret to life, that he’s won some sort of supernatural lottery. You should see him strutting around.

Me, I say nothing. Sometimes it’s best to let these things play out on their own. Sticking my Daddy Nose into it, telling him he’s really kind of wrong about the whole thing, won’t work. The big things in life tend to be the ones you have to learn on your own.

Besides, I really don’t think I’m qualified to add any wisdom. Not with this. Because I pretty much do the same thing.

I use God as a rabbit’s foot. I tend to keep him around in my pocket and pull Him out whenever there’s trouble. Not so much when I lose a Lego spaceship, but definitely when I want something bad to go away. Or when I want something good to get a little closer.

Or just when I want.

Truth is, I’m no better than my son.

Maybe what’s best is that I talk to him about this after all. Just be honest and say that yes, he’s doing something wrong, but so am I. And maybe we can figure out this thing together.

Because God wants us all to love Him for who He is, not for what He can give.

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