One Small Bird

Going out our front door, my wife encountered the rat snake on our stoop, at the hinge side of our entrance. She, being an admirer of snakes, quietly closed the door and came to share his presence with me. Every muscle under its black skin was tense from her presence, and there seemed to be a bulge in his middle that suggested a recent meal. We watch it move across our threshold and climb a corner of our house.

Next to the front door in a corner is a plant stand holding a bright red geranium. It is such a well-tended and full plant that a pair of Carolina wrens have taken residency of it. But the presence of the rat snake brought them out immediately and a Savannah sparrow helped as it held a position near the plant like a Kestrel hunting over a field. One of the wrens held a morsel in its beak and darted near the nest then out of reach. The other flew in circles above the scene, and the snake held its ground in the corner of our house. My wife and I, believers in the rules of nature, left the scene, knowing that “Nature’s beautiful way” would prevail. But as I  went inside our house, I was hopeful for the wrens and that the rat snake was just passing through.

As much as my wife and I  enjoy our garden, many pine trees, and the birds and other animals that share them with us, we accept death as part of this life. We realize that we will sometimes find a fledgling that has fallen from its nest high in one of our pine trees—especially after a storm. Some plants that we hope to see bloom do not do well and die or just limp along like the clematis planted two years ago. The bright and cheerful winter pansies will wilt under the June sun. But no matter of all the lessons I have learned in the garden, I wanted the wrens’ nest to remain intact.

For the remainder of the day after the snake appeared, I would wander out to the front door area. I stayed far away but best positioned myself to see if the snake was in the plant. I did not see or hear the birds, nor did I see the snake in the plant or anywhere in our yard. Because of the lack of animals, I assumed that the nest had been violated, the snake and wrens leaving it to compost and feed the geranium; another death/life cycle in a garden. Our front entrance held the silence of a grave.

Gardens can be plotted on paper or in the brain, with the location of various plants thought out for a variety of reasons. Plants can be planted, nourished, and even pampered. Most will thrive, some will not. However, the outcome of the planned garden’s flowering will offer a home to a variety of animals. Most, like the birds, will be seen and heard. Some, like the snakes, will not be seen often. But all will be present and contributors to their local ecology.

This morning when I went to the front yard to ride my stationary handcycle, I was thinking of other things as I turned the corner from our back garden. But regardless of my other thoughts, the notes of the Carolina wren sitting on the back of a garden chair near our front door cheered my spirits. The pair were here. The loud notes announced their territorial presence.

I did not venture toward our front door area, but listened to the morning concert of one small bird telling the world that this morning it was here like its ancestors and for the moment, what else mattered?

The Forty-Five Degree Cut

One of my high school wrestling teammates followed his father into the carpentry trade. Jimmy has told me how, over the years of his craft, he has occasionally worked in a house that his father built. Now, his father was a builder from older days which means that he did almost every part involved in building a house: He poured the footing, laid the brick, hung the sheetrock, ran the electricity lines, and more. While he did order the cabinets from Brown’s Cabinet Shop, he installed them with his crew or himself. It was a time different from today which brings me to a short piece of 1×6 inch, tongue and grooved, pine flooring about a foot long. It is one of many pieces my friend Mike salvaged from an old home; he sells it as well as other salvaged lumber to customers like me. A small pile of such old flooring sits on a shelf in my shop, some painted pink, some yellow, some white, but all ready to be remade into small, wooden object showing the old, color shades so liked by folks. The underside is rough, but the top is  sanded flooring and ready to be cut in the shape I want after I trim off the groove and the tongue. I end up with a board just less than six inches wide and a foot long.

My neighbor Ken told me yesterday that his SUV was in the garage because its front camera was not functioning. We discussed that and all the marvels of modern-day convenience and how we, two baby boomers, have witnessed and benefited from so much innovation. For instance, I type these words on a lap-top computer, and I can backspace anytime to change wording. The typewriter I learned on in high school had no such convenience. We endlessly practiced in order to be efficient in correct words per minute. Now? Mistakes are easily removed by a button or, instead of a rough draft full of pencil or ink corrections, phrases, lines, words, and more are simply deleted or cut/pasted.

There was a time in elementary schools when a boy would ask permission to empty the  pencil sharpener.(Our first experience in civic duty).  It was a guise that did not fool any, but it was a chance for a restless boy to walk around a bit, maybe even to be allowed outside in order to dump the small container of graphite and wood shavings. These manual necessities of a by-gone era can now be found in flea shops for upwards of $5, nothing but relics replaced by plastic pencils that disperse sharpened lead by the push of a button.

Our world has evolved so much in everyday amenities that we now use the noun/adjective/verb “multitasking” to convey how busy and productive (and important?) we are as we take advantage of innovations “to do more.” Since its birth in 1966, the word has become a supposed indicator of abilities and skills. It is even used in job descriptions: “The successful candidate must be a multitasker.” That may be true, but I have my suspicions of the body’s ability to perform meaningful levels of work at the same time. For instance, we all have listened to a dental hygienist chatting away as she cleans our teeth. However, I see that not multitasking, just a way to share the process of dental hygiene. Although we may try, and even say that we do, we do not, in my opinion, have the ability to do more than one meaningful task at a time. But we have tried and tried and tired so much to be like the early computers in 1966 that we now believe we are multitaskers, like those computers of 1966.

A 14th century word that is seldom used today is craftsman. Or craftswoman. Or artisan. Or craftsperson. Whatever form of the noun used it describes someone skilled in a particular craft. It is a word that we seldom use today to describe someone’s skill because, I suggest, we are in one big rush to get things done.  Instead of concentrating on doing a task as well as possible, we flit about, content with many instead of meaningful.

The salvaged, painted flooring in my shop is a statement to someone’s craft because each has been hand-sawed at a precise forty-five-degree angle in order to be securely fastened to the next, and the joint would not slip or rise, but would last until someone like Mike came along to save it from chippers. I doubt the carpenter who hand-sawed those exact angles was also involved in other tasks involved in the building of the house, and he likely was a firm believer in the proverb recorded by John Heywood in 1546, “Haste makes waste.”

I, as much as anyone, enjoy convenience. But convenience is not always the best path to follow. Doing an important task requires concentration to make the task lasting. If not, then why do it?

The Written Word

A few days ago I  asked my friend Mike to “Google” God Bless the USA Bible and read an article about the forthcoming Bible. After he did, we discussed this new edition of the Bible. He said, “I  don’t see anything wrong with it, Roger.” Our conversation has caused me to think about the specialty bible by Hugh Kirkpatrick.  which can be pre-ordered for $49.99, and it will include a copy of the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the chorus of God Bless the USA. as written and performed by Lee Greenwood.  release is scheduled to correspond with the twenty-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, and will use the King James Version.

This edition of the Bible is not the first to be issued in a specialty version or in a newer format or translation. Over the years Bibles have been printed that are designed for certain interest groups such as NASCAR fans or “easy to read” translations, or Bibles that have resources especially for women, men, or children. There are “journaling Bibles” that have additional margins for personal notes. There is even a Parallel Bible that has a column in the KJV translation beside a column in the NIV translation. I even have one titled The Other Bible, Ancient Alternative Scripture and have examined many editions marketed as specific studies, such as the Jimmy Swagart Study Bible.

Hugh Kirkpatrick and Lee Greenwood and all the others involved in this new venture are entitled to publish a new edition of the Bible. The folks who have already pre-ordered a copy are also free to do as they have. But I carry a caution when I read about a Bible that is aimed at any specialty group. Perhaps a Bible edited for a specific group, such as men, is of greater help than a pure NIV, KJV, or other edited ones and if one of these printed Bibles helps anyone be a better Christian, then that is good.

However! I wonder how the God Bless the USA Bible,  by itself, will help any purchaser be a better citizen or better Christian? Does a purchaser think that having a Bible with the Pledge of Allegiance between the same covers as Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians will make him or her better at either? Also, there is the danger of a confusion taking place between country and Christ.

This new version of the Bible by Kirkpatrick is less than he says because the intent preys on a certain political outlook. To print a Bible with documents for civil authority is  nothing but a ploy to get purchasers to think that they are now better patriots and citizens when in fact they may be less because of such arrogance.

But the best comment on editions of the Bible is the one made by Pastor G. Bowers one Sunday when he was preaching about the need for Christians to read, study, and follow the Written Word: “It makes no difference what translation you have if you don’t read it.”



On Memorial Day, 2021 I read an article about the WW I War Memorial in Durham, NC, and it caused me to remember a WW I memorial in Magdalen College, Oxford that my friend Druin showed me.  Located underneath the ground floor arch of Founder’s Tower of Magdalen College, the stone memorial lists the names of college students who died in WW I. The one in Durham is similar but different.

Erected in 1921 the stone pillar in Durham was the first piece of what became a statue garden in front of the old county courthouse, and it listed the names of Durham County men who were killed in WW I. The names of white soldiers were carved on the front which faces Main Street, and the names of the Black soldiers were carved on the back facing away from the main street. This past March the city placed a plaque in front of the memorial with an alphabetical listing of men killed in the war and an explanation of the names on the pillar. Now the names of men who fought and died together are not separated by race, but presented by their sacrifice.

Our country is embroiled by race issues. Many cities and towns still have statues honoring the traitors of the Civil War. Some Confederate soldier statues, like the one that was in Durham, have been pulled down by protesters, and others have been removed by local civil authorities. However, the names of leaders from the rebellion and its symbol are still used to designate military installations, as street names, names of schools, flags, holidays, and other landmarks of modern American life. Even after many protests against public memorials and countless efforts to remove other glorification of the traitors, there are many folks who still adore its failed efforts to destroy America.

While I commend the leaders of Durham County in the erecting of the plaque which gives an accurate accounting of its soldiers who died fighting for our freedoms, the battle to correct that wrong dates back, according to the Observer article  I read, to at least 2003. That seems to give support to the thought that America is a nation suffering from racism. If not, why would it take since 2003 to correct such a wrong.

The Durham pillar was erected a hundred years ago, and the argument for it and ones like it is that our nation was different then, that racism was more overt and accepted then so that is why the names of Black soldiers were listed on the back of the memorial. But voices say that things are different now: We are told by friends, neighbors, relatives, and leaders that racism like that does not exist  in America today; we are told that movements like BLM are divisive; we are told that if young Black men would be submissive, then less of them would be shot by police; we are told that Confederate flags represent heritage, not hate; we are told that CRT does not examine history correctly; we are told by several state legislatures that new voting regulations are not shadows of Jim Crow, but needed to make elections safer and more democratic and American. What happened in 1921 is one issue, but what happens in 2021 is of more importance because it tells us still who we are as a nation. And what I hear is that we are not united because we refuse to unite by allowing things to separate us instead of using them to bring us together.

When Druin showed me the WW I Memorial, I noticed a German name listed along with the others. He explained that while the man was a German in the German army, he was a student of Magdalen, so for that reason his name belonged on the list of fallen Magdalen’s sons.

It seems like such a simple decision and act—to include in the list of fallen soldiers all of the names-English, American, Scottish, German or whatever- of the Magdalen students who were killed in the “War to end war.”  Now all these years later the Durham plaque places all the names of its sons from those trenches as they fought: Together. Such a simple decision that recognizes the honesty of their service, not their race or nationality.

What You Deserve Went Missing

An internet server in the Charlotte area airs a commercial touting the advantages it offers consumers. After the usual hype with an attractive person talking, the over voice says (to paraphrase), “It’s time to get what you deserve.” My hardback dictionary states that “deserve”  means “to be worth of” or “merit.” That first meaning has two connotations: to gain something positive, such as an award; or to receive a negative response to a particular action. Thus, a studious student may be awarded with academic accolades while a spiteful person may be ill-treated by another person. So in general, we use “deserve” to denote being awarded for hard work, courage, or other such positive acts.

Now, I know that language changes over the course of years because of our usage of it. In fact, several academics will argue that it must change in order for us to communicate effectively. Thus, the verb “quote” is now used to designate the noun “quotation”, and the longer form seems to have suffered a slow death. But my favorite new grammar usage, used by even the best of written sources, is “went missing.” A sentence such as, “The toddler went missing over the weekend” is as common as the sin of lying. I do not know why writers use two words when one, such as “disappeared”, would suffice, but “went missing” is here to stay. Furthermore, the verb “went” is a transitive which means that if it has a direct object, that object must be a noun or pronoun. However, that may be too complex, so let us just suggest we all use one simple word for the awkward phrase “went missing” because “missing” is not a place but a modifier.

It is no surprise that a television commercial maligns our language since its purpose is to communicate to the consumer. But I think we are headed down that “slippery slope” of misunderstanding each other if we continue on the path we are following. For example, I am old enough to remember the flap over a popular cigarette advertisement that stated, “… taste good like a cigarette should.” Our world has survived that confusion between like and as, but I  wonder at what price.

Not too many years ago, I was teaching 12th grade English in a school in Woodstock, VA. The position was provisional for that spring semester, but would become full time the following fall, so I applied for the full-time position. During the interview, the principal asked me why I was requiring my classes to read Macbeth in the original and not in a translation. Shocked by her ignorance, I answered that we read Shakespeare for many reasons, but especially for the language. More recently when I shared with a friend one more article by an English teacher arguing that there was no need to teach Shakespeare, he responded, “Soon Shakespeare may be offered as a way to satisfy a foreign language requirement.”

Language matters and if we shift too much in its use, we will create confusion instead of clarity. To defend incorrect usage by, “Well, you know what I meant,” is a lazy excuse. As a reader and/or listener, all I know is what I read and/or hear. Anything else is a guess and if you don’t want my attention to go missing, then be precise. We both deserve it.


The morning broke full of bird song and sunlight breaking through the pine trees at the lake. Not even the interstate’s distant noise interrupted the beginning of this new day. Watching the new day arrive, I remembered some particular words of my mother. Whenever one of her children would complain about the heat or the cold or the wet of a day, she would answer: “Don’t worry ‘bout that. That’s His business.” Her seven-word response revealed her faith in her god, but it also offers a philosophy for non-believers or followers of another religion.

In our world of high technology, we have come to believe that we control or can control a great deal in our lives. That is true to a degree like any other issue. But sometimes, it seems to me, we carry too far the adage, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”  Any prudent person should plan for retirement or a sports contest in which he or she is a participant. However, there are moments, like when drinking coffee or tea in the early light of day, that need to be savored, just as the hot drink should be. The joy of that moment cannot be planned for, but it can be missed.

This savoring is easier now that I am retired. But when working as an educator, I tried each day to find a time, a comment by a student or fellow teacher, or a witnessed event to savor. If I could experience that one moment of exuberance, I believed, then that day was of a special consequence. Yet it was also easy to get captured by the grading of papers, the planning of lessons, and more that would prevent the capture of a savory moment. Now, while I have no papers to grade, I still am in danger of being captured by “things to do” instead of fully living each day.

Many words have been spoken or written about ways to accomplish a full life. One is the Latin expression “Carpe Diem” which became so trite during the mid-1990’s that coffee mugs and tee shirts with it printed on them became popular. Those who used the mugs or wore the tee shirts with this aphorism blazed across them carried themselves with a new-found arrogance as if to say that they knew something the rest of us did not. I suppose Horace would not object to the oft-used translation of his quoted words, “seize the day”, but I wonder what he would say concerning the belief that one should enjoy today and let tomorrow worry about itself?

Another suggestion for living a full life comes from an internet server where I live. Its latest commercial flaunts it newest system and says that consumers should switch in order to get “what you deserve.” That is a common sentiment expressed by many commercials lauding a parade of products. Gosh! I always thought we each deserved whatever we had earned through service or merit, not what we had purchased or wished for. Deserve,  like so many words in our language, is in danger of becoming trite.

All of this brings me  to Maggie, a medium-sized brown dog with beautiful, pale brown eyes. I met her when we moved here four years ago. She would visit me at my shop when she and her mistress took late morning walks. Angelique, her mistress, would release her leash, and Maggie would inspect the shop and the desk on which I worked. We had to be careful that she did not eat the few raisins on the stump that were for Atticus the mockingbird, but Maggie obeyed. After a polite time, Maggie would saunter away, a signal to her mistress that it was time to continue their walk. Often, in the late afternoons, I would see Maggie taking her master on a slow walk down our road as if to give him time to relax and unwind from his busy day in Charlotte. Yesterday afternoon when I went out  to close my shop, I saw the three of them on their last walk. As she always had done, Maggie came over and visited, but she then began walking across our lawn with her owners as they held hands. Too soon her veterinarian would come to administer the shots and Maggie would be at rest.

For the first morning in sixteen years, Angelique woke without Maggie lying next to her on the floor. Emptiness? Yes, the space on the floor did not hold their beloved dog. But there was a moment for them to grasp, to pluck, to hold dear in honor of Maggie.

The popular translation of Horace’s phrase is “Seize.” However, I read that the more correct translation is “Pluck.” I like that verb better because it is what we do, or should do, with those life moments—see them like a fine fruit that we take for our nourishment and pleasure.

Maggie gave many moments for all of  us to pluck. And with that action, we each will keep her forever in our individual memories.


The camellia bloomed first; the azaleas came next and are now empty of their bright, white flowers; as are the dogwood trees; and the rich purple flowers of the rhododendron and irises at the gate are limp imposters of their former selves. But the hydrangeas form small bubble-like features that will soon burst into balls of blue-yellow and lime; both gardenias are poised to burst forth to slather the garden air with fragrance; and the lyda roses grace one garden wall with their pansy-like opened faces. As if all of this is not enough, while riding my stationary bike yesterday morning a whisper of scent from the large Ligustrum across the road floated by me.

Nature is composed of cycles and sometimes, as described above, cycles within cycles. That is one way to describe birth and its conclusion—death. So yesterday, on May 11 at 4:46 pm, Nolan the noble hound “went the way of all living things.”

Fourteen years ago when we were living in the Shenandoah Valley, my wife Mary Ann took some items to the local animal shelter. It was there that he found her and won her heart with his “Whoo, whoo” each time she passed his crate. The next weekend we visited him and the adoption of us was completed.

He was a stray that had wandered up to a local man’s kennel. Fortunately for us, the man had many dogs, so he brought him to the animal shelter. While he appeared to be an ordinary black and tan hound that had gotten lost or had been abandoned; a young hound that carried buckshot in his hindquarters delivered by a cruel person,  he proved over time to be much more than the sum of his first two years.

At that time, we were dividing our time between Washington and the Valley, but Nolan slipped effortlessly into our schedule. During that first car ride to our home in the Valley he did vomit from car sickness, and he did mark the smoker on the screen porch when he marched into his forever home. Oh, and later that weekend he pulled too hard and turned my wheelchair over, tossing me to the ground. But after that, he began life with us and our beagle Callie and our cat Katie Kitty. During the week while in town he enjoyed walks on the leash with us and Katie Kitty, and each morning if we were not vigilant he would take Callie’s stuffed dog  out of her crate and attempt to escape to the backyard. He never harmed Buddy the stuffed animal, but he gained pleasure from slipping him out of her crate, for whatever reason.

During the weekends in the Valley, Nolan was freer because we had an acre that was fenced in by an underground wire. While Callie respected the fence, he would sometimes be overcome with the hound urge to roam. He had chosen a back corner of the acre and would crawl on his belly to “slip” below the fence. His yelps alerted us to his escape. But he never wandered too far, just enough to satisfy his roaming instinct.

Nolan never met a person or animal that he did not like. After we moved to the Valley full time, we adopted another beagle and a stray mother cat with her kittens. He shared the house, yard, and family room sofa with them all, restful and at peace in his life. However, he would grab in his mouth any squirrel or groundhog that Callie chased his way. Oh, and he would chase thunder across his acre lot, howling and jumping as he repelled the invading noise.,

In his youth Nolan enjoyed slices of an apple or tomato as a treat. However, as he grew older, he came to dislike the tomato while retaining his love of  bits of an apple, but he  remained Mary Ann’s “My sweet boy” who would obediently eat his medications wrapped in a pill pocket or a slice of salty ham.

When the moving van was loaded and headed to our new home on Lake Norman, Mary Ann and I packed our vans for the five-hour ride to the lake. The cats rode in her van, and the three dogs rode with me. Callie slept on the passenger seat, Mickie in the back between plants, but Nolan sat erect between the front seats for the entire ride: My noble co-pilot on our new adventure.

Just as he did all those years before, Nolan accepted and adapted to his new life. He slept on the library sofa with cats and dogs; and he learned to drink his water from the bird bath so as not to stress his aging knees. He loved his mistress as always and shared life with her. But after almost four years on the lake, and sixteen years of life, he aged out and yesterday made his last car ride.

Nolan’s cycle has ended. But like the plants in our garden,  he lived and bloomed and graced Mary Ann and me and all around him. His early years of lonely roaming the Valley do not define him. His long life—lovingly  lived—does.

A Nest, A Web, A Friendship

The pre-Romantic poet William Blake wrote “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” That quotation from the English mystic carries much wisdom and is more complex than it first appears because a nest, a web, and a friendship are, while necessary for a life of quality, also fragile and perhaps dangerous.

            In Acts 13:13 Luke tells us that in Perga John Mark leaves Paul and returns to Jerusalem. In Acts 15:38 Luke writes that Paul thought better than to have John Mark continue on with them on the missionary journey. We are not told what happened to cause Paul to send John Mark away, but we can surmise that something powerful happened. A fragile friendship is disrupted for a reason of philosophy or temperament or whatever. For instance, until Paul decreed that circumcision was not required for a gentile to join Christianity, it was a hotly debated topic and other church leaders, such as James, wanted the Law followed. The fact that 1st Century Christians were so absolute concerning circumcision may seem odd for us today, but for Peter, James, Paul and so many other members of the early church, it was of great significance.

            When Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany he gained supporters and attackers. The Protestant Reformation was on, and it would change Christianity. One of Luther’s early supporters was Caspar Schwenckfeld, a 16th Century reformer. However, the friendship between Luther and Schwenckfeld collapsed over a philosophy difference, like the one between Paul and John Mark.

            Alan Olsan has written a somewhat fictional account of the relationship between Luther and Schwenckfeld. Caspar Schwenckfeld: Between Tyranny and Anarchy is an easy and informative read examining the friction over one belief: The Eucharist. The book shows the human side of Luther and how he turns against any who question his doctrines. “As liberating and far-reaching as Luther’s ideas were, he was still a man of his times”, writes Olsan. The same is true of Schwenckfeld and all leaders. And that fact must be held in check or all reformers will cause undue pain and sorrow.

            I recommend Olsan’s book because it is an interesting and honest look at the struggles inside any mass movement. The people are not glossed over, and we see them as true as possible all these years later. Perhaps Luther’s movement became a web that not only caught him but others. However, while Schwenckfeld escaped here, because of his doctrines he was forced to live a life in hiding.

Creating Her Own Room

In his fine memoir, The Old Man and the Boy, Robert Ruark recounts his grandfather’s explanation of aging: “ A man don’t start to learn until he’s about forty; and when he hits fifty, he’s learned all he’s going to learn. After that he can sort of lay back and enjoy what he’s learned, and maybe pass a little bit of it on. His appetites have thinned down, and he’s done most of his suffering, and yet he still got plenty of time to pleasure himself before he peters out entirely. 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….”         An admirer of Ruark and his two books about the older men in his life, I am reluctant to disagree with his grandfather, but I must because of Florence (not her real name).

The first time I met Florence was when my wife introduced us. She was a new member of a support group for widows in which my wife assisted. When we were introduced, Florence held her Bible close to her chest but could not hide the hollowness in her eyes. Her soft voice and softer demeanor caused me to think that she was having a most difficult time concerning her husband’s recent death. Her disheveled dress spoke of her emotional state. Over time, however, as Florence and I established our own friendship through church and our writing group, she shared much of her earlier life and of her marriage to her deceased husband, who was highly regarded in our small community.  She had lived in his shadow, known as “Lou’s wife.” (not his name) I watched as she struggled with the issues concerning a spouse’s death and admired her grit as she sold the house they had shared, donated his tools and clothes, and all the other things that must be done following a death. My wife and I were elated when she found an apartment in a modern complex of homes, restaurants, shops, and that was near her children and us. Florence settled into her life, but she did not stop growing. In fact, she bloomed.

According to the web site Grammarist, the phrase time heals all wounds may be first attributed to the Greek poet Menander, who lived around 300 B.C. and said, “Time is the healer of all necessary evils.” Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem, Troilus and Criseyde, written in the 1380s contains the phrase: “As tyme hem hurt, a tyme doth hem cure.” However, no matter how the sentiment is expressed, the pain of a deep wound never disappears, but time and life may lessen the sadness of past pain. And Florence, as she embraced her new surroundings to create a new, full life, contradicted  Ruark’s grandfather’s observation about being seventy.

Florence is no longer any man’s wife, pushed back into the shadows. She is known in her community through her part time work in a shop, for being encountered during her early morning walks around the complex, for her group that meets weekly to share conversation on a veranda, and her patronage to a cigar bar. Into her seventh decade, she is now herself. Yes, she is still a mother and grandmother, but she also has a life in her community that is hers, and not one that she shares with her family. Her family knows of that life’s existence, but Florence denies them entry because it is hers and not one to be shared with them.

Florence shares her new life with my wife and me, and we are happy for her. She told us not long ago how she was planning to smoke a cigar in the near future in the cigar bar and might even get a small tattoo. Not bad for a past seventy-year-old grandmother whose hands still bear the creases from work as a young girl on a North Carolina tobacco farm.

Florence, like all of us, carries certain sadness. But unlike so many folks, she took stock of where she found herself and decided for life. Much like the Phoenix, Florence rose from the ashes of her former life to smoke a cigar, to get a tattoo, to build her own nest.

Spring Petals and Crosses

Last night’s wind left dogwood blossoms covering the walkway of our back garden. When I exited the screen porch, I tread on a blanket of still-white petals from the tree next to the walkway. None of the other dogwood trees had lost their petals, and this one particular tree still had many of them left on its limbs, but for whatever reason, it had showered a spring dusting that caused me to think about death. Especially the death that Christians celebrate this time of the year.

Crucifixion most likely began with the Assyrians and Babylonians who tied their victims to a tree or post, leaving their feet to dangle. The Romans, after learning of the punishment during the Punic Wars,  began using crosses to perfect the punishment. The Roman Empire used it especially in the Holy Land, and in 4 B.C E. the Roman general Varus crucified 2,000 Jews, and the historian Josephus writes that there were mass crucifixions during the first century A.C.E.

 The victim was scourged, forced to carry the horizontal beam to the upright post, stripped, then either tied or nailed through the wrist to the cross beam before it was attached to the upright post. The victim’s name and crime was posted above his or her head. It was a slow, painful, and public death. Viewed as a shameful way of death, it was reserved for only the worst of criminals, and no Roman citizen would be executed in this manner.

Christians wear crosses, churches attach them to high steeples, and the symbol is used in a myriad of other ways that represent our belief. Yet, the crosses we use are sanitized images of what was used to kill. The Christian crosses have no representation of blood, mucus, pieces of torn flesh, urine, feces, or hair. Nothing that is evident from such a brutal death is on any part of the gold cross worn around the neck of many Christians or on the silver crosses that are present in all Christian churches. They are pristine, and I suggest that is where we delude ourselves concerning His death.

Through our art, music, architecture, jewelry, and more, we have created a false image of what His death was. While we read and say the words of it, we deny its reality by our accepted images of what His execution was. What  I am suggesting is that we can be honest of its brutality by our language of His ordeal and the images we use for it. Each of us, for instance, can discard the neat, golden cross worn around our necks and wear a small, rough, and irregular wooden one that would be more representative of the cross on which our Savior tasted death for us. I appreciate that houses of worship will not and perhaps can not remove their crosses. But we individual Christians can make a small change to remind us of His death on a tree and the brutal pain He endured.