Stevie Nicks & The Old Rugged Cross

We are gathered here—friends and family—in this small chapel of the Veterans’ Cemetery in Winfield, Kansas. Limestone walls and vaulted cedar ceiling lend themselves well to a feeling of dignified calm. It is a glorious summer morning. Within this shade and with all doors open, a gentle breeze moves through the space. A long low ridge sheens its green in the sun and wind. Family members fill the chairs across the front while those of us who came either from knowing Del or caring about those who did sit in small clusters along the back rows.

Six flags held by six veterans and flanked by one other on each end are held at sharp angle. From just outside the chapel come the discordant sounds of rifles fired in salute. The reports echo from the walls and ridge and fade away. The long slow notes of a single bugle conclude the military salute. The honor guard officers remove the folded flag from the small table at the front of the chapel and present it to the wheel-chaired widow.

They file away in a single line exiting north and the preacher comes and speaks of faith and comfort. “Blessed Assurance” plays through the speakers. Pastor Steve reads the obituary and we listen to “The Old Rugged Cross.” He speaks of loss and the love of family, of quiet faith and the knowing of scripture. He also mentions orneriness and hobbies. As he talks about devotion and care, the widow nods. “Landslide” plays, a final song in tribute and comfort.

Most of those who knew Del or the family know of the long years of sickness and the agony of his last months. Some of us did not know of the stubborn devotion that kept him attending to Linda in between his own visits for dialysis. At least a few knew of the care that Chris and Jamie have shown, keeping his dad in their own home in between the multiple hospitalizations of his last year upon this earth.

Along the stacked rows of remembrance, Del’s ashes are committed to the vault and we walk back slowly, feeling the intense warmth of the sun. Back inside the shade of the chapel, each in turn offers those final words of sympathy and caring, hopes that God’s peace and presence will be with each.

I think that I would have liked to have better known someone whose funeral selection included a blend of fine old gospel songs and Stevie Nicks. I hope, too, that when my own children have grown old, they will gather round and share some good stories, alternate between tears and laughter. It is hard to imagine a finer legacy than love and devotion mingled with a quiet faith.

We must be the blessing we long to see in the lives of those we love.

H. Arnett

Posted in Aging, Christian Devotions, Death & Dying, Family, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Odd Thing

It is hard to explain
how this tiny cactus
has gained its place
among this base of rotting leaves
and the mass of things
that green the floor of this forest
crowning the bluffs along Elk City Lake.

It seems entirely out of place,
especially on this day of mud and clay
following heavy rains
that have washed new cuts
and deepened the old ones
running along the roots
of oak and elm, hickory and ash
and the heavy-knurled bark of hackberry.

On those other days
when south Kansas summers
send hot winds that wilt trees,
this tiny cactus might seem more at home.
Something this small and alone
will have to hold on
to what it can find of dry and hot
if it is to survive this spot.

Although I have heard
that we were meant to thrive,
sometimes simply staying alive
through one more day
seems like enough of a challenge
and I believe it is possible
to occasionally find ourselves
in a place where we were not meant to be
for the rest of our days.

And though I have sometimes
found myself an odd thing
and have lived now
in nearly thirty different places,
I have yet to find one
where I could not seek the face of God
or lack a\some way in which to serve Him.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Defensive Driving

It seems like each year I have to add another item or two to the “I’m not quite sure when” list. Apparently, the decade of “defensive driving” is a current candidate. I believe it was the Seventies and if I wasn’t so cotton-picking lazy, I could probably look it up on the internet. Or I could use the Seventies’ version of the internet and ask a few other people. Since that particular nugget of knowledge is not really indispensable to my purposes at the moment, I’ll just convince myself it was the Seventies and proceed onward until some alternate truth persuades me otherwise.

The concept of defensive driving was to be always alert to the fact that some other driver on the road could at any moment do something totally stupid, unexpected and decidedly inconvenient if not outright homicidal. Being watchful for an oncoming vehicle to suddenly make a left turn right in front of you, you would already have your foot poised above the brake pedal and could slam on the brakes quickly enough to keep you from T-boning said vehicle.

Hopefully, the drivers behind you were equally alert and driving defensively and would thereby avoid you triggering a chain reaction pileup. Instead there would merely be a whole line of drivers suddenly muttering vague obscenities and wondering what fool had started this particular escapade.

I’m not sure what the summary judgment was as to the large scale effectiveness of the defensive driving campaign. I do know that to this day I am usually watchful and occasionally prepared for the unexpected shenanigans of some other humanoid sharing the motorways. And would have to admit that sometimes I’m the one triggering vague obscenities.

I suppose at some level of the defensive driving concept there is an awareness that we are all flawed, all subject to occasional lapses in judgment, all capable of making mistakes that sometimes carry critical consequences. I find it therefore necessary that I must also help guard myself and my fellow sojourners from my own manifestations of human frailty and occasional outright idiocy. If I can defend the world against my own bad choices by making good ones instead, then I will have contributed to the welfare of others.

It seems that walking in love, grace and wisdom might be a mighty fine start.

H. Arnett

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Light Showers in the Area

I arrived at the parking lot in plenty of time for the morning meetings in Topeka. If I’d had a big umbrella, I’d have probably made it to the first meeting in time.

I didn’t have a big umbrella but I did have a suit cover, a nice black one from a men’s clothing store in Wichita. It wasn’t raining all that hard and I figured the suit bag would probably work quite well. I knew it wasn’t going to be all that dignified but I expected most onlookers would be total strangers who weren’t planning to vote for me anyway. Particularly since I wasn’t running for any particular office.

So I opened up the bag, pulled it up over my head and stretched it out to form a canopy over me. Unduly optimistic, I started on my two block journey to the office building. I’m not sure whether I looked like a strange parody of the Grim Reaper or a really dark version of “The Flying Nun.”

Regardless of how the black suit bag made me look, it seemed to work pretty well in the light rain. About halfway through my first block, it started raining harder. There were some particularly heavy drops that hit against my makeshift portable shelter with greater impact than expected. Some of them also bounced rather oddly on the sidewalk. Being the surprisingly bright lad that I am, I soon realized that those drops were actually small hailstones.

I also soon realized that my suit bag was not waterproof. Nor water resistant. Apparently, my deluxe black Johnstone’s suit bag was made of special permeable material that allowed the garment to “breathe.” It certainly allowed the rain storm to breathe right down the back of my neck and on the top of my head. By the time I got to the building, my hair was a plastered mess, my glasses were covered with rain drops and my shoes and lower pants legs were soaked.

Fifteen minutes and thirty paper towels later, I headed upstairs to the first meeting. Since all the chairs were filled, I got one from the hall and slid it into an empty spot at the end of the table area. Two minutes later there was a motion to adjourn.

The lady sitting to my left looked over and dryly commented, “So, it was raining when you got here?” Sometimes it seems like a sense of humor is pretty critical to helping us all get through a day. Even when we find a bit of humiliation along the way…

H. Arnett

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Dark Dawn

A slow rumbling roll of thunder roused me from my slumber this morning. As I look out the floor-to-ceiling window of my fourth floor hotel room I can see standing streams and pools on the asphalt. Toward the south a low edge of clouds sits above the city. Wisps and streaks beneath them indicate that it is raining a mile or two away. Much closer, heavy-bellied clouds dip and swirl while lighter curls stark their white against a bruising sky.
It does not suggest the dawning of a beautiful day but I like the stillness and the way everything seems a bit softer. The dark leaves of callus lilies rise up in front of the grey stone wall that curves the outer edge of the hotel drive. Just beyond them a planting of small trees spreads lime green leaves above the band of beige and copper of mulched river stones. A bit closer, the muted pinks and reds of roses form clumps and clusters of pastel colors.
Even while mindful of the threat of storm as darker clouds form above us, we may choose to see that there is yet beauty in this world. And He who has made both rose and thorn has offered us peace, even in the midst of aggravation and affliction.
H. Arnett

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To Speak Among the Shadows

On the last night Sam will spend in Kansas,
we sit in the shadows of a massive maple
beneath the only full moon of June.

We speak of raising children
and how important it is
to not miss too much of their growing up
and how the choice of careers
affects everything we touch.

He is in the middle of making his in the military
and I am still making mine in education
though the tapering half
has been more administration than teaching.

Tomorrow he will head to West Kentucky
to be back with Sara Jane and the boys
and after their trip to Jamaica
they will all make their way
up to Michigan and the next page.

Our conversation reaches back
through his childhood and mine
and we find traces of both
still run strong
in who we are
and what mistakes we hope we never make.

He asks a question I answered
over twenty years ago
and I can barely believe
he doesn’t even remember
the asking or the answer.

I stare into the glowing embers
of the burning brush pile
and think of how a chunk of wood
smothered by ashes
can smolder for days
until some fresh stirring
and the breath of air
brings it blazing.

H. Arnett

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Of Grain and Growing

The season of harvest
is full upon us now
in south central Kansas.

Fields of wheat
growing west of the Flint Hills
have turned pure golden
with subtle hints of brown.

Acres of stubble testify
to the work of crews and families
and long hours spent with combines and collectors
and tractor trailer rigs parked parallel to the rows.

Meals are eaten in the fields
and sleep sometimes taken in shifts
when there is enough wind
to keep the night from sending its dew.

All else but what is sacred
—and perhaps some of that as well—
seems to give way
to the needs of seed
held high on slender stalks
that could be crushed to the ground,
matted to the earth by a burst of wind and rain,
never to rise again.

it is hard to keep what is needed
to endure the storm
when we have given up
or believe ourselves too old
for what is green and growing.

Even in these latter years,
it is good to keep sowing
and though others may gather
what we have planted,
those we love will be blessed
and the One who sends sun and rain
will still be honored by the Harvest.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Family, Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment