Prufrock on Landis Road

 

 

Driving along Landis Road to my mother’s funeral, I noticed the rich fields of recently planted corn and grasses. The young corn stood green and strong, and the grasses awaited their first cutting to be used for winter feed. A rich spring of new life and growth flanked the road as Mary Ann and I drove to the church. The juxtaposition of the emerging life and our destination reminded me of Hebrews 6:1-3.

At certain stages, we can’t wait to grow older. I imagine that every pre-teen anticipates the imagined magic of charging into the teen years. For other reasons, turning eighteen and twenty-one are wished for. But after those milestones, growing older is dreaded. We edge into the 30’s but turning forty is often seen much like a tolling of bells, and the decades after are viewed as a finality. Prufrock is so uncertain of these years that all he could muster is his questions of “Shall I…?” or “Do I dare…?”

The writer to the Hebrews tells us to leave the elementary teaching behind and “be borne onwards to full maturity.” (Barclay translation) But it seems to me that as a culture mostly claiming Christianity, we keep in the same elementary zones of our comfort. We keep plowing the same ground, not expanding our fields and perhaps killing what has sprouted beneath us. And I think our fear of changing and moving comes from our sense of  control over the “same old thing” and “the way it’s always been done”, or “things ain’t like they used to be.” That last one is often offered as a reason not to change or as a whine about a new situation or way. You know what? Things are not as they used to be because those words reflect our memory which is at best suspect and likely tainted by our biases. When a suggestion is made to change the tables and chairs in a room, firm stances are taken in opposition. We resist any change to our comfort zones, thus stifling any growth to maturity or perfection in our Christianity. As Clarence Jordan writes, “Fear is the polio of the soul which prevents us from walking by faith.”

Years ago when I turned sixty, a friend told me that feeling the years of the decade would not come until I was sixty-two or three. She was correct. When I turned sixty-three, I felt the years of being in that decade of life. However, since my accident at fifty-five, I have learned to appreciate the years and what they represent contrary to our secular culture which teaches us to fear what is constantly around us—death. Today is May 15, 2019, a fine spring day on Lake Norman. I see birds flying to nesting boxes to feed the young. Each trip to the box by a parent represents a death which occurs so that a life may grow. It is all a cycle that we have come to fear because of our false sense of control. Our culture convinces us that creams and such will help forestall ageing so much that corporations flourish. Wrinkles and grey are marks of defeat, not marks of growing towards maturity and perfection as Christians and citizens.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us how to grow and mature as Christians.  Robert Ruark in The Old Man and the Boy, a memoir full of secular wisdom, quotes his grandfather saying, “That’s why I like November. November is  a man past fifty who reckons he’ll live to be seventy or so, which is old enough for anybody—which means he’ll make it through November and December, with a better-than-average chance of seeing New Year’s.”

As a seventy-two-year-old, I hope for a few more years like these I live now because I  feel that I have come to appreciate living a life of obedience and finally, after years of lost living, I am on a right path. I now understand the words of Karle Wilson Baker who writes in Let Me Grow Lovely these words:

“Let me grow lovely, growing old—

So many fine things do:

Laces, and ivory, and gold,

And silks need not be new;

And there is healing in old trees,

Old streets a glamour hold;

Why may not I, as well as these,

Grow lovely, growing old?”

 

Prufrock feared his coming middle age. Yet, as Christians we need not allow fear to be a polio that prevents our walk. Wrinkles and grey are marks of age, medals of well lived lives in His service.

Pause

 

Mrs. Bumgardner, a neighbor who farmed the land that now lies below the waters of Lake Norman, gave me some irises. They now are in full bloom. The deep purple, bright yellow, and mixed white with blazes of purple, grace the side gate to our back garden. The Ligustrum across the road  prepares for its burst of small, white blooms that will blanket all the surrounding air with its sweet fragrance. Nature is moving, and her speed surprises: For example, all the white flowers of the dogwoods are gone, but their seeds form for new life, and yesterday morning, with my baby sister by her side, my mother died a just death, like the spent flowers of the dogwoods, one of her favorite trees.

Now, amidst this season of new growth, my siblings and I prepare for a right service that honors our mother’s long life. She was three months beyond one hundred and suffered dementia. The body that my four sisters prepared for the funeral home to take away from her beloved mill house was a shell of our mother, but they polished her nails, washed her spent body, and dressed her in a favorite night gown. As my four sisters have done for all these years, they cared for our mother in every way. They made sure she left 312, her home for over fifty years, as she would have wanted. So, today and for the next few days we pause to discuss “arrangements” before the front, green door is  locked the Monday after Mothers’ Day, 2019.

One of the many joys I derive from gardening are the lessons (metaphors?) that nature offers for the taking. For instance, the Ligustrum bloom is coming and one should pause long enough to savor its fragrance because the bloom, while rich, is brief. However, the hedge does not consider what we do; in fact, the large hedge is indifferent to us, but in its indifference, we are offered a time to stop to wonder and appreciate its deep, rich, green leaves cradling the small, white blooms that cover the air like a heirloom quilt. Not the irises beside the gate to the back garden. They send out no fragrance,  but the flavor of their powerful colors that seem to take too long suddenly explode like a firework into a burst of color that lights up life. And if one pauses to notice, he or she will learn a lesson.

My siblings and I are now paused– not to celebrate nature’s  new season, but to arrange for our mother’s leaving it. Our lives, especially those of my sisters who have taken weekly turns to  care for mother, are now different. The blooming of the irises and Ligustrum mark the time of death of the woman who never spoke the word “feminist,” while working in a cotton mill under the glares of men who perhaps saw her, a divorced woman, as an easy mark. She lived and worked in a male-controlled environment, but she never brought one of them home with her in order to gain an edge or influence. She ate chicken necks and backs so that her six children could enjoy the better meat. She suffered abuse from her husband, the man she never stopped loving.  Like nature, she taught us subtle lessons, and if the need called for it, she would give a direct lesson by a strong voice or hand. She was known to tell a joke, dance the Charleston, and runners feared her presence as the catcher for her softball team.

All of that has ended now, and unlike the irises and Ligustrum, she will not appear next May ready for her time of renewed life. Now we pause to plan for her physical exit, but that is as it is because unlike the plants, she is not with us for just a short season but ever. Her life as an example for living and her deep-faith lessons , like the spring earth, is full of nourishment. She blooms forever in us: her six little children.

Went Where

 

In 1946 George Orwell wrote the essay Politics and the English Language in which he warns about the power of words and how their use influences our thinking. Perhaps we have come to the place of which he warns us. The internet has given folks with less understanding of English than a sportscaster access to readers who will copy misuse out of ignorance or convenience. That is how, I believe, the verb quote has evolved into being a noun and hopefully has become an adverb.  So be it: After all, language changes. For instance, examine the words gay and faggot. As I used to tell my students, the purpose of language is to communicate. Yet, I also reminded them that communication should be a roadmap to what the speaker or writer is thinking, not an incoherent or ambiguous garble.. Having grown up reading such columnists as Kays Gary, Jim Bishop, Sydney J. Harris, George Will,  and James Kilpatrick; and the King James Version of the Bible, a certain grammar of communication, regardless of my political or personal belief, became entrenched in me.

Recently I heard an NPR report concerning missing indigenous women. Now that is a serious situation, no matter if the missing person is a tribal member, adult, male or female, or a child. To have a loved person just disappear is a pain I cannot imagine.

However, in the report the hostess for NPR repeated the phrase, went/go/gone missing, as in, “A large number of indigenous women in the Seattle area have gone missing.” As a concerned listener, I understood the message of the hostess. She had communicated with me, her listener. So what is the issue?

Just as gravity does, rules keep us grounded and not floating all about. The popular misuse of the past tense of go, such as the three mentioned above, is wrong. When we say that “Harold went missing”, for example, what we mean is not what we say. What we say is that Harold went to a place, missing, that does not exist. Now, there is a fine word that can be used: “Harold disappeared.” Not only is this use shorter and more to the point, it is accurate. Yes, some readers will accuse me of charging windmills, and I accept that. I have reluctantly recognized  went as a transitive verb, quote as a noun, and all the other  changes of convenience to our language. However, Orwell is, for me, the grammarian as is Will and others. If we continue changing out of laziness, we will soon not have any force to keep us grounded. As mentioned, the internet is now what too many use as a reliable source of information—look at Facebook.

We have become so lazy or uninformed or both that we even fail to properly understand the relationship between an independent clause and dependent clause, allowing politicians and others to convince us that we can do nothing to stop our children from being shot at their schools.

Mind and Will

 

May 6, 1954 three university students toed the line at Iffley Road Track. Two of the runners, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher,  were to pace their teammate who was running to be the first runner to race a mile in under four minutes. Roger Bannister did by running a 3:59.4 mile on the cinder track. Another history by man was made that day in Oxford, England.

Tomorrow, May 28, 2019 another history may be made by man on the streets of London, England in the London Marathon. Eliud Kipchoge, who set a new marathon record last fall in Berlin, Germany with his dazzling time of 2:01:39, may go, like Bannister, where no man has even been. Kipchoge may well time under 2 hours for a 26.2-mile race. And he may not be alone because at least two competitors will race the streets of London with him: Mo Farah and Shura Kitata plan to match the strides of Kipchoge and either could beat him in the 2-hour quest.

The arena has had many performances and records: Beamon’s long jump in Mexico City; Gable’s un-scored on six matches in Munich; Ripken’s streak; and others. The run against the two-hour barrier has been relentless, and if Kipcoge or Farah or Kitata do not break it tomorrow, it will be shattered before long. However, what does it mean in the terms of ordinary time to race a marathon in under 2 hours?

Imagine an ordinary high school track where four laps of the 440-yard track equals a mile. The math here is simple, even for me: If I run four laps under 60 seconds each, I run the mile under four minutes, a feat like Bannister’s. Although the men’s mile record is far below that now, every serious runner would like to accomplish that. Now, what Kipcoge did last fall in Berlin was to average 69.19 seconds for each 440-yard lap of his race of 26.2 miles for the record of 2:01:39 or 13.1 miles per hour or 4:38.4 minutes per mile average.

Every race outcome depends on the runner and his/her training and mental attitude. It also is subject to, like Bannister, other runners and weather. Like Bannister, Kipcoge will have plenty of competition, and I image Farah and Kitata will share, along with some others, the work of being a front-runner. However, somewhere in the last miles, one runner will “break” the others with a surge well below the 4:34 mile average needed to break the 2-hour wall.

A friend once described the marathon as a 20-mile warm-up before a 10 km race (the last 6.2 miles). The “wall” at or around twenty miles is well-known by any racer of the marathon. If the wall is encountered, the last 10km is a long misery. If I were able, I would like to be with Kipcoge and the others at the North Dock and West India Quay area of London. There, if able, I would run with them at around a 4:30 pace for the mile between 19 and 20 of the race. Then, as the turn is made for the final 6.2 miles along the straight run to the finish, runners would either go with the leaders or sink into a top-ten place. Someone along that stretch will, like Salazar in New York, throw in a surge of speed well below the average of 69 seconds per lap, and win, perhaps breaking the 2-hour barrier.

Every event in sports requires mental and emotional strength and faith. Kipchoge is well known for his belief in the power of the mind and how it controls him as he races for such a distance at such a speed. Perhaps just past the West India Quay, his strong mind will take over for his body, and he will surge past 13.1 miles per hour and enter a place reserved for ones like Bannister.

 

 

A Still Life of Real Life

The Observer headline uses appeared to lower gun  to describe the action of Danquirs Franklin just before he is killed by CMPD.

However, I see a crouched man with the left side of his body turned toward the officer,  his right foot planted. Mr. Franklin’s entire body language screams sudden movement, perhaps a pivot towards the officer as he rises to a threatening position.

Anyone is entitled to interpret  a stilled scene., but you be that officer, when everything is moving, and decide what you would do. However,  before you decide, take lots of  time  to evaluate Mr. Franklin’s body language in the photograph on the front page of the Observer. Time the CMPD officer did  not have.

    A Fifth Green Blazer, an Exemption, and Number 52 Straight

 

Not that long ago, many folks wrote Mr. Woods off as a contender. Today, after much work and many great shots, he proved that he, nor any serious athlete, should ever be written off. Five wins in Augusta is quite remarkable, and something I do not fully understand, but fully appreciate. However, tomorrow is the running of the 123rd Boston Marathon, an event that I am more familiar with since I have raced it and many other marathons as a runner and as a hand cyclist.

For whatever reason, many outlets have written about NASCAR driver, Jimmie Johnson, running in tomorrow’s race, his first marathon. Five years ago he ran a 1 hour 28 minutes and 16 second half-marathon. From what I gathered in the article of my local newspaper; he sees this time as an indicator for a sub-three hour run. What the heck, since it was a half, just double the time, right?? Well, no, because as an athlete he should know that the second half is more difficult than the first half, for obvious reasons. What galls me most, however, is that Johnson has not qualified for the race, he was given an exemption by Gatorade, a long-time personal sponsor. He says that he desired to qualify the old-fashioned way, but his NASCAR racing prevented him from running a qualified time. Over 7,000 runners who ran qualifying races were turned away by the BAA because of safety concerns, especially at the start. However, the privileged boy of Gatorade lines up in Wave 2, wearing 4848 because an elite runner, Jonathan Mott, is wearing number 48. Poor Johnson. For many factors, I predict that Johnson will falter: his training, his inexperience at the distance, the course (first ten miles are downhill, giving a false sense of pace), and the Boston weather.

Ben Beach of Bethesda, Maryland will line up for his 52-straight run at Boston. Way back in 1968, as a high school senior, he ran his first Boston. His time in that race was 3:04, a time Johnson would like to run tomorrow. Beach’s best at Boston, Now in his late 60’s, he is happy to be on the course and is pushing to pass Johnny Kelly’s number of runs for Boston. Tomorrow a time around five hours would satisfy, double his best time.

Woods fought hard and came back, at least for this Masters. Beach, dystonia and all, continues to run each third Monday of April in Boston. Johnson is given an exemption. Let’s hope he makes the most of it.

“Come and See”

 

Philip spoke the above three words to answer a question by Nathanael who when told of the presence of  Jesus of Nazareth  asks, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  This is, on the surface, a fair question since the poor village of Nazareth was known for the  Roman garrison, the despised rulers of the Jews, that was stationed there. Is Nathanael prejudice or realistic?

In Latin any foreign person was labelled barbarus, and the Greek word for any person who did not speak the cultured language was barbarous. Nathanael, a learned Jew, expressed the prejudice of his culture: Nazareth was a crude and barbaric village.

Later in the Gospel of John, we are told of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The hate between the Jews and Samaritans was palatable. But we are given this story and the parable of the Good Samaritan.  More prejudice.

Recently, in Chicago, a well-known comedian and actor attempted to use our prejudices against President Trump supporters, blacks, and homosexuals to gain some kind of pathetic support for him and his floundering career.

A few days ago the main building of the historic (civil rights)  Highlander School in Tennessee was burned. A “white power” symbol was painted in the parking lot of the destroyed building.

In the just published April 1 Washington Post Magazine, is an article about the 1975 disappearance of the Lyon sisters from a Wheaton, Md. shopping center. In the article the writer Mark Bowden describes members of the Welch family, who were involved in the horrific rape and murder of the sisters as, “the clan”; coming from “mountain-hollow ways”; as having a “suspicion of outsiders”,  “an unruly contempt for authority of any kind”, “a knee-jerk resort to violence;” and “Most shocking were its [Welch family] sexual practices. Incest was notorious in the families of the hollers of Appalachia,…”

One last example. . A recent film is being touted as a “must see” for people who support abortion. All and well. However, way back in 1975-’76, the surgeon Richard Selzer wrote the essay “What I Saw at the Abortion: The doctor observed, the man saw.”  A simple internet search will bring up the essay. Read it but pay attention to its sub-title before you do.

In none of the above examples of prejudice, except the first, is the invitation to “Come and see” what you are speaking against. Those three words carry power. They place the cure for prejudice on the pre-judging person. What would happen if the pre-judger sat with the woman at the well and heard her story? Can the hating burners of the Highland School not learn from its historical involvement in the civil rights movement? A talk with supporters of President Trump probably will reveal that they,  too, have their humanity and its inherent struggles. Let people who see themselves burdened with an unwanted pregnancy read what the man Richard Selzer saw while watching his first abortion.

“Come and see,” Philip says as he invites a fellow seeker to examine his own mis-conceptions. Prejudice is  real and comes in many colors and forms. But all is an evil that need not exist, if we all “Come and see.”