A Gentle Answer…

Figuring out how to be pleasant even in the midst of life’s little annoyances can be a bit of a challenge.

Fortunately, humans are wired for challenge. “Fight or flight” could be adapted somewhat to become “Fight or flight… or fix it.” Or “Find the humor in it” or maybe even “Hey, maybe I could take a deep breath, remember that nearly everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got to work with,” and bring an unexpected smile into the day.

My friend Tom Hale is a resolute master at that. He’ll find some grouch having a bad morning behind the counter at the convenience store and figure out some way to make that situation better. It might be something like “I bet you can’t wait to get up every day and come over here to make coffee for a bunch of smiling cheerful people like us.” Or it could be “You know, you really did a good job of dealing with that grouchy fellow that came in here yesterday.” When the clerk asks, “Who do you mean?” Tom will likely as not say, “That was me but I was wearing my rude teenager disguise” or “Oh, I’m sorry; it was me but I was pretending to be Doc Arnett.”

They’ll both end up smiling and the next several people in line will get a more pleasant start to their day.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we all decided to start looking for chances to help other people have a more pleasant day? It would be quite a challenge but I reckon we could do it. And you know, there really is already enough anger in the world. Enough to last a lifetime.

H. Arnett

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The Beauty of Inconvenience

Heading south on US-77 out of El Dorado, we watched the ebbing sights of another day’s easing into evening.

In that dull dimness, I saw an older model pickup truck parked on the shoulder of the southbound lane. Less than a half-minute later, I could barely see the shape of a person dressed in dark clothing and walking alongside the road. By the time I realized that was probably the driver of the vehicle, I was already well past. I quickly braked to a stop on the shoulder. The abrupt change in motion stirred our French Brittany Spaniel into alertness. Layla stood up and looked out the windows with her ears cocked up and tilted forward as if trying to find some reason for the unscheduled stop.

“Did you see that guy back there?” I asked Randa. “No, I didn’t see anyone,” she responded.

“I think it might be the driver of that truck,” I replied.

Seeing no headlights approaching for a couple of miles in either direction, I shifted into reverse. Pretty soon, we’d made it back to that person still walking along on the shoulder.

I stopped our car and Randa lowered her window. “Do you need some help?”

As the person stepped over to the car, we realized it was a young woman with a small baby strapped to her chest. “Yes,” she replied, “I’ve got a flat and I can’t get the spare to lower down.” Then she added, “I only live another mile or two up the road.”

We offered her a ride and apologized for the dog in the back seat. “Oh, that’s no problem; I’ve got four dogs.” Randa ordered Layla over to the side and the woman slid onto the seat, baby still wrapped against her. Layla was her usual courteous and curious self and made friends right away. She kept trying to sniff the three-month-old baby’s face. Randa scolded her and the woman said, “Oh, she’s okay; don’t worry about it.”

It turned out that the woman’s home was a bit further than she’d estimated; it was more like three or four miles. When we stopped just a few minutes later and she and baby got out, Layla stood at the window and watched them walk away and into the house. We circled around the big cedar and headed back onto the highway.

I thought about how hard it had been to see the woman walking along the road. “You know,” I mused out loud to Randa, “I can’t help thinking about how easy it would have been for someone to come along back there in the dark. They could have been texting, or drunk or just not paying attention and could have easily hit that woman and that baby.”

In some ways it doesn’t really matter whether we prevented some great tragedy. Even if all we did was save a tired young mother from a long walk in the dark at the end of a frustrating day, it was worth doing.

Our small inconveniences are sometimes seen as great kindness in the eyes of others. Especially those who are tired and alone.

H. Arnett

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A Passing Prophecy

Faint fingers of color filter the first tints of rising sun
out beyond the fields and fringe of trees bordering the river.
The slightest hues of pink and violet, indigo and orange,
the barest bit of something brighter than gray
give hints of coming day and something of greater light.

I’d like to stop for a while, watch and shoot,
but I have too many miles to travel and a cheap camera to boot—
there’s no way these soft tints would show through
in digitalized view of something this grand:
the whole of eastern sky reduced to something smaller than a hand.

Those light strokes gently brushed as thin streaks
that reach from south toward north,
thin wisps of passing weather drawn into long lines
as fine as the tips of pin feathers,
these cannot last more than a few more minutes.

I keep driving—north mostly though with an eastern drift—
see the shifting of soft streaks caught in the crease between
the subtle dawning of day and burning sunrise,
that turns into solid gray shapes with nothing left
but a thin jagged break of titanium defining the empty space

between what was and what will be.

There is also beauty in the subtle life,
unhurried actions that speak of deeper glory,
softer stories that live in quiet lives
whose gentle touch achieves so much,
without the least lifting of seeking attention.

H. Arnett

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Unfriendly Skies

Good morning and good blessings to you,

Getting Close to God

Flying back from Chicago into Wichita isn’t usually much of an adventure, what with our friendly skies, being free to move about the country and what have you. Typically it’s pretty mundane and mundane is a very fine thing at four hundred miles an hour and a few miles above the ground. Mundane suits me just fine, thank you very much, and I’ve managed to turn it into an art form. Ask most of the people who know me what they think of when they hear the word and they’ll probably tell you they think of me.

My own long history of mediocrity aside, my most recent ride into Wichita was anything but mundane.

There had been a few bumps and thumps and caterwaul humps along the way—that’s almost a given when you’re flying about the Midwest during spring storm season. Rather hard to avoid a bit of turbulence out this way, especially during or immediately after an election year. Just part of flying. Most seasoned air travelers don’t pay much attention or think too much about a few little bumps now and again. As long as we get our complimentary drinks and snacks, we just sit back and take it all in stride.

This ride from two weeks ago today didn’t quite fit that category.

As we angled down on our final approach, we hit the mother lode of turbulence. That eighty-passenger plane lurched and lunged, bucked and swung, and tried to unseat every single one of us. Up, over, sideways and down. I don’t know how it’s possible for a large object to move in that many directions at once and not fall apart.

The wisdom of seat belts worn low across the hips and snugly fastened was immediately apparent. People gripped the back of seats, braced their hands against the overhead, grabbed the armrests or whoever’s arm had been resting on them. Outside the window, I could see the ground and hoped it was nowhere nearly as close to us as it seemed. “Shake, Rattle and Roll” started playing in my brain like an old Wurlitzer in a small diner. “Nearer My God to Thee” took over soon afterwards.

After a minute that seemed like an hour, the pilot shoved the throttle forward and pulled back on whatever pilots pull back on to lift the nose. We moved up, up and away from whatever it was going on in that particular piece of the skies so friendly and so vigorously shaking hands with us.

Twenty minutes later, we tilted back down toward the ground and made it there in the intended manner without any drama other than what was playing in our imaginations. Fourscore or so people had suddenly made dramatic progress in their prayer lives.

There are, I suppose, a variety of ways of getting close to God. For speed and efficiency, I’d say it’s hard to beat the sudden awareness that a face-to-face meeting might be rather close at hand.

H. Arnett

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Two Places at Once

Pretty close to two thousand years ago, a man and a woman had a debate of sorts about where folks should worship. The debate actually began some time before that but not just between those two. The sides had argued about it before and continued long after them. Some would say it continues on to this present day in one way or another. The one side would hold that folks should worship in the place of the mountain near the Samaritan town of Sychar. The other side held out for Jerusalem. Jesus agreed with both positions yet held that neither one of them was exactly right.

We and our company last night didn’t argue about it; we agreed that Ark City should work out alright.

We could have sat and watched TV with Jay and Leah but Randa thought singing some praise and worship songs would be a more enjoyable and worthwhile use of our time. Like she is about most things, she was right. So instead of watching yet one more episode of one of those British murder mysteries to which I am addicted, we sang several of our favorite praise and worship songs.

Jesus had said quite some years ago that whenever a few of us get together to focus on him, he would meet us there. He’s always kept his word on that and last night was neither an exception nor a surprise. By the time we got to the chorus of “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship,” he was right there with us. Brought his Dad and his close friend the Holy Spirit with him, too. They all stayed with us on to “Here I Am to Worship” and every other song we sang all the way through “Worthy Is the Lamb” and “More Love, More Power.” I got the impression he would have spent another hour or two with us… but my fingers aren’t as callused as they need to be and finally the pain of steel strings against unseasoned flesh got to be too much and I had to put the ole Gibson back in the box.

Turns out you can be two places at once. Not in Samaria and Jerusalem at the same time but Jesus said that wasn’t where Papa God wanted to meet people anyway. According to his Son, he wants people to worship him in Spirit and in Truth.

And that’s exactly where we were last night. It’s a mighty fine place to hang out and you can’t beat the company, either.

H. Arnett

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Larry & the Bag Man

On my hurried way to where I’d left something
that mattered to me,
I passed him by—didn’t look him in the eye—
as he sat huddled in a rumpled blanket
with the gray of sky and river above and below him,
hand-lettered box and a sign around his neck
announcing that this bridge is not his home.

On the way back, remembering something
someone had said about homeless strangers,
I asked him if he had already eaten lunch
and offered him the whole half of a Reuben sandwich
too big for me to eat at the pub an hour earlier.
He took it and I asked if I could sit down beside him.

He offered me his crate but I took the concrete,
figuring the world had already taken enough from him
and yet still left me plenty more than what I needed.

He talked about places he’d seen, jail and Moline,
thought Kentucky and Kansas were the same state
and said he hadn’t had a corned beef sandwich
in… twenty years.

We agreed that there are all kinds of people in the world—
some who are pretty good and some who aren’t
and one who had killed his brother years ago—
“Just killed him and left him lying there in the street—”
and how after that his sister had moved to Michigan.
“My mom and dad moved up there to be with her and her kids
and left me here… I ain’t even got a cousin living here no more.”

He shook his head slowly side to side as if still not quite able
to get his mind around that one.
And we agreed, again, that a big city can feel mighty lonely
when you don’t have any kinfolk around.

And maybe even if you do.

I sat there, in my best jeans, linen shirt and sport coat,
watching people walk around us as if we both had leprosy
and it might be contagious through visual contact,
pretty much exactly the way I’d walked by twenty minutes earlier.

It wasn’t much of a lunch, I know,
and not enough conversation
to make a change in his life or anything else
but at least for once he could leave that bridge in Chicago
and know that at least one person in the world
who didn’t know him from Jesus
had sat down beside him for a little while
and listened.

Sometimes that’s enough
to make a whole day seem better.

H. Arnett

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Short Term Memory

My dad started calling me “the absent-minded professor” when I was only eight or nine years old. More often than not, it seems, by the time I got to where I was going to get something, I would have forgotten what it was I was going to get. Once, I had to run nearly half a mile from the field to get him a monkey wrench. Standing at the tool panel in Dad’s garage, I remembered I was supposed to get a monkey wrench. Trouble was, I wasn’t sure exactly what a monkey wrench was. So I brought him back a pipe wrench and a monkey wrench. I sure didn’t want to run another mile round trip just to clarify.

So it was no surprise to me that at the Higher Learning Commission’s annual conference in Chicago earlier this week, I ended up leaving my conference bag at three different places. In addition to my notes and guide, I’d stashed four small folding umbrellas inside so my colleagues from Cowley College and I could stay reasonably dry on our treks outside during the conference. Which certainly added to my incentive for retrieving the bag.

The first time, I only had to backtrack about a quarter-mile, inside the Illinois Center on Wacker Drive. The second time, I’d only walked a couple hundred feet. The third time I left it at a small Irish pub where several of us ate lunch together. Didn’t remember it until I was back at the hotel. With only thirty minutes before our airport ride was scheduled to arrive, I had to hotfoot it back up Wacker Drive,
cross over and take the long stairs down to the next level, cross the bridge, go down another long stairs to the river bank level and hoof along the river walk another tenth of a mile or so back to Lizzie McNeill’s.

The waitress was standing at a makeshift workstation, folding up napkins. She saw me walking back toward the table where we’d eaten. She smiled at me, reached inside the lower space of her cart and pulled out the bag. I grinned and asked her if my computer was still in it. “I don’t know,” she replied instantly, “I didn’t look inside. I figured you’d probably be back for it.” I thanked her and headed back out, grateful for the honesty of strangers in a large city.

For the third time, I’d left that bag somewhere it could have easily been snatched up by someone else. Whether it was for fear or respect, everyone who’d seen it had neglected the opportunity to take something that belonged to someone else. And I’d gained some extra exercise as well. Sometimes even our mistakes have a happy ending.

H. Arnett

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