A Rugged Healing

Monday’s dawning came in dark tones of gray. A rumbling of thunder rolled me awake into some sort of thin consciousness, a reluctant rising. The rain came too light to darken the concrete beneath the thicker branches of the elm tree but heavy enough to ruin the planting of flowers in the bareness between the driveway and the corner of the house.

I headed to work.

An hour later, a small group of colleagues headed east on US-166 toward Independence, Kansas. The rain had let up but low clouds as far as we could see made it look as though we could find rain again at any given moment.

About thirty miles out, we passed over a ridge. Miles of low scraggy hills filled a fifteen mile gap toward the next ridge. This is not the majestic rise of the Rockies or the moody weight of the Smokies but the Flint Hills here in southern Kansas have a beauty of their own. A beauty of low scrub brush marking the lines of creeks and ditches. A beauty of hard-shelled pastures in thin soil. A beauty of remarkable openness and space, strangely green for the last week of July in a place where the heat index has tipped the three-digit mark for most of the last twenty days or more.

These hills do not yield the inspirational awe of stone-edged mountains that rise miles above the plains. They do not bring the mystical aura of low fog easing over the bluffs and snaking along the low line of deep valleys. But they do bring a healing sort of soothing, a gentle softening of life’s hard edges.

A man could stand here for hours, or sit on a small outcropping of limestone in the midst of wild weed blooming. He could look about as far as eye can see over mile after mile of rugged rolling land, spotted by herds of Angus and Shorthorn and a dozen other breeds. He could find his mind eased away from whatever it was that started such a day. Should he choose to do so, he could pray with eyes wide open and see the very hand of God spread about him.

And feel his spirit calmed by a greater Spirit, his heart soothed by something near and good.

There are times when we need the grandeur of inspiration, the mystery of shrouded vales. But today, and many days, we need the calm and tender touch of something vastly greater than us, yet somehow near and clear. A reminder that in the midst of all that grinds away at us, there are springs and streams that bring a soft and silent serene renewal, something sent from the Source that gives us life.

H. Arnett

7/27/16

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

Singing into the Night

After an early morning fishing jaunt, Jeremiah and I head back to Ark City. We go by the car wash first, mindful of the watermilfoil infestation warnings at the lake. We wash off the boat, trailer and rear wheels of his high-rise F-150, then head home. With the temperature breaching ninety, we are ready for AC and breakfast.

After the waffles, he begins a couple of pallet projects. About halfway through, he realizes that the spaces in the pallet he is using aren’t wide enough for most wine bottles. We check the single pallet Randa and I have left over from the flagstone delivery. It will work.

Back to the car wash to pressure spray the dirt and grit off the pallet. Back to the house to resume work.

While he works on the wine rack and the other rack, I rake up small branches and other tree litter in the yard. There are also several small chunks of concrete the contractor scattered around when spreading out dirt from the driveway replacement back in the winter. In the intermittent squall of the small circular saw, punctuated by sounds of pounding old nails deeper into oak, both of our projects make progress.

We take a break mid-afternoon to drive over to W. B. Meats on South Summit and pick up ground sirloin for supper. While Randa makes up the patties, I get a small bed of charcoal ready for smoking the burgers. Jeremiah resumes work on the wine rack, having to resolve a couple of challenges presented by slats that won’t quite work as wanted. By the time I get the meat on the grill, he’s figured out a plan that seems likely to work.

An hour before sundown, the burgers are done and the slots are marked for the rack that will hold the glasses. We take a supper break and then resume the wine rack project. Jeremiah engineers a plan for setting the front edge while I cut the slots. Then we work together to fasten everything in place using the brad nailer. In the process, a piece of oak splits off from one of the slats. A bit of glue, a couple of small nails and a clamp take care of that.

We sit on the porch for a while then, the three of us talking and watching smoke from the brazier rise up in the bright moonlight. Around midnight, Jeremiah decides to take a shower and turn in for the night. Randa and I talk a while longer and are surprised to see Jeremiah come back out. “I feel rejuvenated,” he chuckled, “That shower felt pretty good.”

I decide to take a turn and experience a similar result. Since Jeremiah brought his guitar with him, I pull out the twelve-string and we begin playing and singing in the living room. He shows us a couple of songs that he’s learned and then we sing some we all know. The day that started at five-thirty in the morning ends with us singing Jimmy Buffet songs at one-thirty the next morning.

Each tune carries away something of whatever aches and pains remain and brings in their place something soothing. Blues or bluegrass, rock or folk, grunge or gospel, it’s all music and its sharing brings something good between us. This is a key part of who we are and what we do in this family.

For as long as Jeremiah can remember, I have played the guitar and sang songs into the night. I will carry the close comfort and deep warmth of this good night for as long as I can remember. And give thanks for such memories.

H. Arnett
7/22/16

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Fishing Trip

I rise early, anticipating the first father-son fishing trip ever with my thirty-one-year-old son who has traveled alone here for this visit. He drove over from Little Rock to Ark City on Friday afternoon, driving his high-rise black ops Ford truck and towing the small john boat he has personally converted to a bass fishing boat. In the dim light of dawn, I let him sleep a while longer while I run a couple of errands.

Back from WalMart, I get my fishing gear from the back room and take it out to his truck. I pack a small cooler with Mountain Dew and honey buns and then go to his room and wake him. “Hey, Bud,” I murmur, rubbing his back lightly, “You ready to rock ‘n’ roll this morning?” He rolls over, leans up, “Yeah.”

He dresses simply and quickly, and we head out. After filling up the boat’s small gas tank, we head out east to Cowley Lake, fifteen miles out 166. Even early on a Saturday morning, there are already seven or eight boats on the water, a quick indicator of the fishing pressure on this small reservoir nestled into the Flint Hills. A very light wind sends slight ripples across the reflections of dark banks and light sky. Cattle graze on the ridges south and west.

We move past the other boats and ease up toward a run of reeds. On my third cast, I bring in a nice-sized bass. Picture taken, fish released. We fish this spot a while longer, then move out around the point and over to the long finger channel in the southwestern corner. Working the weed beds along the line of the creek, I catch another and Jeremiah asks if it’s a smallmouth or a largemouth. “Largemouth,” I answer, and show him the lateral line of darker scales, “Some people call them ‘linesides.’ The smallmouth is darker and has vertical lines.” I forego the temptation to add something about the difference in the size of their mouths.

While fishing, we talk about the sorts of things that fathers and sons sometimes leave out of conversations, the pains that run both ways after a divorce, how things work in marriage and what matters in how you treat people. We watch a Red Shorthorn push her way through the bank brush and out into the water a hundred yards away.

Jeremiah starts up the motor, I pull in the small anchor and he moves us over to a small cove we wanted to fish earlier. “If that guy’s moved out of there, let’s start right up at the back end,” I suggest. We fish there a while then troll out to the middle. In a few minutes, Jeremiah sets his hook in a good fish. His pole bends that deep arc that stirs the imagination. I get the landing net ready. A minute later, an eighteen-inch bass is in the boat.

“That is the biggest bass I have ever caught in my life!”

Jeremiah is as proud and excited as I was when I caught my first three-pounder fifty years ago. I’ve only caught three or four that size since then so I know how big this moment is. For both of us.

No matter what pains may lie in the past, no matter what mistakes we have made, there is always good ahead for those who choose to let go of their hurts and angers, their wounds and woundings. If we decide to love and forgive, life will always bring us the good that we give to others. And we may find ourselves in a better place than we ever imagined possible.

A place of good reflections.

H. Arnett
7/20/16

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Family, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mowing the Tall Grass

I went home last Friday afternoon in the heat and humidity of a Kansas July. Dealing with the dizziness and migraines and the tiredness of low blood pressure had drained me like a deep crack in an old tub. While Randa finished up mowing the front yard, I lay on the couch inside, trying to block out the guilt droned along by the sound of the mower. When she came inside a half-hour later, she was almost drenched with sweat. It’s pretty challenging to come in any other way when you’ve been doing what she’d been doing.

After a shower and some rest, she headed over to WallyWorld to pick up some groceries. I sat on the couch for a while and then had an idea. If feeling tired was more due to low blood pressure than to having worked very hard, maybe elevating the blood pressure would help. I figured if it alleviated the guilt, too, that would be even better.

So, I headed outside to test out my theory on the back yard.

The thick heavy watergrass in the back yard was nearly a foot high. Just looking at it raised my blood pressure a little bit. I opened up the shed and pulled out the mower and cranked it up.

While this little mower handles a thin stand of ryegrass just fine, it is completely unsuitable for mowing thick heavy watergrass. The tiny discharge chute completely clogged up every three or four feet. Even when I tried pushing the mower forward just a few inches at a time, it still clogged up. Even when I tried mowing only a half-swath or less, it still clogged up.

If the grass had been low and dry, I would have had that back yard done in twenty minutes or less. With having to go slow, stop the mower and pull the clog out of the chute, then re-start the mower and mow another few feet, it took me nearly an hour. I was getting pretty sure Randa was going to get back home and I was going to have some ‘splaining to do.

On the other hand, the experiment had certainly raised my blood pressure! By the time I finished cleaning off the mower, I was feeling more energetic and alert. By the time Randa got back home, I was in the kitchen, drinking a glass of water. Apparently, though, I was a bit delirious by this time because I immediately went out to the car and brought in the groceries. Almost as if I was a considerate human being.

Tackling the tall grass isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially when we’re tired and grumpy but it sure makes things look better. Sometimes in life, the very thing we need in order to get over a hump or out of a slump is to do the thing we least feel like doing. You know, like helping someone else whose job is easier than ours or cleaning up a mess we didn’t make. Or forgiving someone who has deeply hurt us.

It isn’t always that critical whether we do a good thing out of guilt or love; what matters is that good gets done.

H. Arnett
7/19/16

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By Other Means

It was a long week, filled with several opportunities I did not seek and do not wish to repeat. Monday brought the third and fourth of repeated migraine onsets within a ten-day period. Tuesday introduced the dizziness that by Wednesday had progressed to the point where I could not have passed a field sobriety test. Medical diagnosis indicated a blending of fluid buildup behind the inner ear, sinus congestion, low blood pressure (maybe induced by or at least connected to the migraines) and low pulse rate. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the low pulse rate is due to the incredible physical conditioning regimen that I used to practice on an almost daily basis. Let’s not bet the farm on that one, though. The clinic insisted on performing an additional EKG just in case my heart actually had quit beating and the nurse’s assistant had merely overlooked that fact.

Between the medical appointments and personal incapacity, I missed a couple of days of work. By sheer strength of will (pronounced “stubbornness) I put in two or three hours on Wednesday morning because of the critical nature of the tasks at hand. The HR director, recognizing my debilitated condition, insisted on stepping in for me and offered to have someone drive me home. She became somewhat insistent about that as well but since I have a reputation to live down to I drove myself.

But other than the pain, instability and frustration, things weren’t too bad. Within two days, the prednisone had alleviated the dizziness to a helpful degree. By the end of the week, I was able to walk in the intended general direction with only slight deviation and the pain had subsided to more of a distraction than a consuming force. Still, I’d have to admit that I pretty much felt like a bag of dead mice without the accompanying odor. So far as I know, that is.

On Friday, according to the reports of others, I participated appropriately in what might appeared to be the concluding round of faculty negotiations for this year. I took care of a few other things in the office and left only an hour later than our summer early dismissal time. In spite of my progress, I’d admit that I still felt pretty low on energy and ambition.

When I got home, Randa was mowing the yard. Even though she was at that time mowing in the shady part of the yard, her face was somewhat flushed and sweat beaded on her forehead and rolled down her face. Almost every man cell in my body wanted to hand her a glass of iced tea and take over the mowing. That would be the manly thing to do.

But then there were all of those dead mice cells.

So I ended up sitting on the couch underneath the ceiling fan in an air-conditioned home while my wife finished mowing the front yard in ninety-degree heat. There are times when all the pride in the world and all of our good intentions cannot rival the strength and wisdom of letting someone else do something for us. Most likely, we will have the opportunity to return the favor. And I am gradually learning that there are times when the most appropriate reaction is gratitude instead of guilt.

That one may take a while but I’m feeling up to the task. And besides, I do know how to make real iced tea, Southern style.

H. Arnett
7/18/16

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H-38

Just past Kansas Avenue if you’re going north on Summit, the road completes the other end of an S-curve. Just out of that curve, there’s a Casey’s and then there’s the coin-operated ice vending machine. It’s pretty handy; if you’ve got cash you can get a sixteen-pound bag of ice for two bucks. Or, if you’ve got cash and an ice chest, you can get twenty pounds of ice for two bucks. Or, you can go to Casey’s and get a ten-pound bag for two bucks.

With the sky pretty well clouded up and the temperature still riding above ninety degrees at six-thirty yesterday, I pulled in for a sixteen-pound bag.

There was a small sports utility vehicle parked across three parking spaces right in front of the vending machine. Inside, some guy was talking on his cell phone. I pulled around behind him and parked. As I got out of my car and started to walk around to the machine, he quickly got out of his vehicle and stepped over in front of me toward the dispenser.

It was too hot to waste energy getting peeved over something like that so I just laughed to myself on the inside. On the outside, I smiled at the slightly stocky, slightly pudgy older guy, and said hello.

Apparently thinking some sort of explanation was in order, he said, “Yeah, I was talking with my son. His mom has cancer and she has to start chemo and he called to tell me to get her H-38.”

He poked a dollar bill into the slot, watched it disappear and then fed in another and then stepped over to the dispensing chute. “He said this H-38 is made natural and the pharmaceutical companies have been fighting to get it off the market because it’s more affordable than the other medicines and it’s also the most effective for fighting cancer.”

He stood there in his khakis and sports shirt, waiting for the bag to slide out. “You ever heard of that H-38?” I poked my dollar bills into the slot and stood there in my white linen suit, waiting to push the button for my sixteen-pound bag. “No, I guess I haven’t.”

“Well, it’s made natural and it’s the most affordable cancer medicine they have. The pharmaceutical companies have been trying to get it taken off the market but they can’t.”

His ice came sliding down the chute and he stood the bag up on end and tore along the perforated lines to separate the two tabs at the top, then tied the tabs together to close the bag. “This sure is cheap ice, isn’t it?”

I grinned and nodded and agreed. He lifted his bag off and turned toward his fifteen-year-old SUV. I pushed the button and heard the whirring sounds of internal mechanism preparing my bag of ice. He set his bag onto the floor in front of the back seat and closed the door.

He turned back toward me, his face puffy and gentle, “I’m seventy-three and I don’t take any medicine except for headaches. I guess maybe it’s because I’m part Indian.”

“Well,” I smiled, “I guess that part’s working pretty well for you.”

He grinned back. “If you know anyone that has cancer, be sure and tell them about that H-38. It’s made natural and it’s the best thing there is for cancer.”

There are some things that eat deeper than cancer. Things that leave us lonely and longing for something stronger than that ancient aching inside of us. Something that leads us to share with strangers what we barely dare to speak of with family. We isolate ourselves in dark rooms at night and walk out into the light using cell phones and iPads to insulate ourselves from those near at hand yet never understanding why we don’t feel connected.

Maybe what we need are more conversations in parking lots and waiting lines at Casey’s. And choosing not to resent small inconveniences.

H. Arnett
7-12-16

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

Airport Reunion

It’s not unusual to see postings on social media of soldiers returning home from the Middle East. Many are joyous: mothers and wives returning to children and husbands, fathers and husbands returning home to their families, even the occasional exultant reunion of human and canine companion. Granted, it’s pretty rare to see a video of a cat jumping and whirling with excitement about someone’s return. For cats it’s more like, “Okay, you’re back. Water bowl’s empty.”

Other than the cat, though, everyone seems to understand that it’s a pretty special thing. We smile, we hug, we cry. We caress the face of our returning beloved, needing that additional reassurance that she or he really is standing there in front of us. Many of us give thanks that nothing that we dreaded has occurred; our loved ones are safe and sound and we are reunited once again. Over are the long days of trying to stay busy and not worry and the longer nights of sleeping alone with the occasional dream that we dare not mention to anyone, especially to the one who is gone.

We know enough of those stories of IED’s and mortar shells, suicide bombers and blown-up hotels to know that it is not a given that this story has a happy ending. We’ve seen too many flag-draped coffins, too many deeply scarred bodies and faces to believe that it can’t happen to the ones we love. Even in the age of Skype and video chats, it is only that moment of actually seeing and touching and holding and being held that we truly believe that they are home and safe.

Knowing the joy and comfort of such moments, we sense something of the relief of others when we see those pictures of strangers. Certain images are captured and shared and we experience something like empathy as their joy, even if only in a slight way, becomes ours as well. These moments help us hold to hope and we use them to help us heal from all that separation has cost us. We long for a time when such leavings and losings will all be behind us; we ache for knowing that nothing could ever again separate us. And deep down, we know that this ancient and persistent desire is for an end to mortality itself, a longing for eternity.

Until then, we do whatever it takes to make it from one day to the next. We pray, we hope, we take the kids to their games, we do the thousand things that must be done. And when we see the pictures on Facebook, we smile and sometimes share.

But I will tell you this, when the pictures are of your own son and you remember the call when he told you that the blast was close enough to break windows in the building where he was working in Afghanistan and you see him sitting there safe and whole and with his own sons gathered around him, touching his face, you know that you are grateful and glad.

In that instant, it becomes more than a picture; it becomes God’s own grace. And in your gladness you remember that one day, there will be no more leaving.

H. Arnett
6/29/16

Posted in Death & Dying, Family, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments