Thick is bloodier than water… November 8, 2012

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Michael won.

I was furious. It wasn’t supposed to happen. My arrogance and stupidity got together and planned a pity party with no refreshments. I didn’t understand. I had won junior class president the year before, only challenged by one girl who received two votes–her own and that of her twin sister. I was supposed to be a shoo-in.

But before we elected our senior class officers, Michael decided at the last minute to throw his hat in the ring, and he got all of his buddies together from the Future Farmers of America (the FFA) to support him, boosting him on their shoulders to victory. This was made possible because I lived in a rural community where the FFA was the largest club in the school.

As painful as it was to lose to Michael, even more aggravating was the discovery that my friend, Howard, had gone behind my back and voted for my opponent. Howard explained to me that he felt compelled to do so because he, too, was a farmer, and the pressure from the club to get behind Michael was more than he could resist.

I was so pissed off. Howard and I were friends. Now granted, we hadn’t tilled the soil together or considered the best way to herd cows, but we had done many more important human things which should have engaged his loyalty in my direction.

For instance, we sang in a quartet together. That means there were days of rehearsal, little road trips, late-night talks about girls and how parts worked, giggling, crying…and oh, speaking of crying, I was there with Howard when he discovered that his girlfriend, Jackie, was dating Ben behind his back. (By the way, another farmer.) Actually, Howard was not sure that Jackie was being a two-timer, so one night the two of us went out in his 1958 Chevy coupe and found Ben and Jackie, parked in Lover’s Lane, necking away, with Ben plowing where Howard had already planted crops. Howard was devastated. I stayed up with him all night, talking, crying and coming to the early morning decision that Jackie was just no good.

So you see, we had history. We were friends. And honestly, sometimes being a friend is much stronger than being a relative, especially a farmer. I just didn’t understand.

Howard knew I was angry. I stayed that way for at least a month. We would talk, but I made sure that he was aware that out of revenge, I was withholding some of the better stories that I could have been sharing. Actually, within a couple of weeks, I was glad that I wasn’t president of the class. Being vice-president meant I didn’t have the responsibility, but still got out of class, still got the respect of students and teachers, but Michael was left to deal with the sticky messes. But I didn’t tell Howard that’s how I felt. No, Howard was on my crap list. And it really wasn’t a list–just Howard’s name, signed at the bottom.

Finally one day, Howard took me aside and tried to explain. He said, “You know, blood is thicker than water.”

I just stared at him. “Is there a bloodline of farmers? And what’s that got to do with anything?”

But in a moment of pity I looked into his eyes and realized that Howard was afraid. And whenever we’re afraid, we go back to patterns of behavior ingrained in us long before we are able to resist. After all, even if your parents were abusive, they were still the first ones to put a bottle in your mouth and tell you about Santa Claus. It’s hard to forget that. And if your parents are farmers and you’re a member of FFA, it makes you feel like you’re betraying your kin if you vote for your buddy instead of your barn-mate.

I didn’t exactly forgive him, but I realized he was thick. Emotion, truth, gentleness, loyalty and faithfulness were unable to get through a crusty hide of tradition and false respect.

We eventually made up. If I recall, it had something to do with him meeting a new girl, who also cheated on him–so we had to go out together and chase down the latest infidelity. (For some reason Howard had very poor success in maintaining the ongoing affection of loyal girlfriends.)

I remember this story because I always want to be reminded that not all blessing comes from my family tree. Not all wisdom comes from my little village. And not all growth can be spawned from my little garden patch of understanding.

I need newness of life–and that includes new people with new ideas, new faces and new ways that may at first seem contrary to me, but in the long run, expand my heart and make me a better human.

Thick is what bloodies the waters.

Dear God, help me not to be thick-headed, building concrete around my brain.

Heavenly Father, help me not to be thick-gutted, padding the fat around my waist with additional reinforcements.

And Almighty Creator, keep me from being thick-hearted, protecting my emotions from the experiences that will make me more understanding instead of so doggone sure of myself.

I didn’t get to be senior class president. Part of it was because a dear cohort chose a farmer over a friend. But what I learned is that God always allows us to grow, even from our disappointments, as long as we don’t get so thick that He can’t reach our insides.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Lolly Dee … April 25, 2012

Question 1: Do I understand where I am?

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Lolly Dee Sanders.

That was her name. I do not know if it was her Christian name (mainly because I’m not really certain what “Christian name” actually means.) But it is how we high schoolers of the junior class knew her–our English teacher, speech teacher, junior class advisor and also director, producer and promoter of the class play. She had the energy level and the frenetic presence of a monkey who had been away from bananas for weeks. She was well-liked by the students, appreciated by her fellow-teachers and tolerated by the administration. They were not so sure they actually liked her because she allowed the students to refer to her as Lolly Dee (unless grown-ups were around, when we reverted to “Mrs. Sanders.”) It was amazing how mature it made us feel–just being able to call our teacher Lolly Dee–almost the same sensation you feel as a young child when you goes into your back yard, hide behind a pine tree and scream, Goddammit!” You know you shouldn’t be doing it–and you don’t feel any irreverence toward the Almighty. It just takes you out of the chicken-noodle-soup-and-tuna-salad-sandwich brigade and into the realm of black coffee and glazed doughnuts.

That’s what Lolly Dee did. She understood.

For instance, when I tried out for the junior class play, she came to me privately and said, “Listen, you’re really good. You can have whatever part you want.” Now, honestly, I probably wasn’t very good. I was possibly just the only male who auditioned who could make sentences without leaving the punctuation in doubt at the end. But it empowered me. Even as I write this to you, I still feel bolstered by that moment–when this really intelligent, cool and energetic woman gave me carte blanche over my choice.

Later, when my father died just before premiere, she called me into her office. She didn’t ask me anything, just sat there not saying a word, waiting for me to decide what I wanted to do. She was as silent as an Episcopalian watching the offering plate pass. I was moved by such freedom–I decided to go ahead and be in the production.

Likewise, she was magnificent in the meetings of the class officers (where I was president of the class, although candidly, I never did anything, viewing it more as an honorary title).

She taught me something very important, though. Because one day I saw her at the Presbyterian Church sitting around with a bunch of older women who were working on a quilt. Lolly Dee was not energetic; she was not bouncing around the room. She just sat there with those old chickens and clucked out conversation, sewing away. I didn’t even recognize her. She blended in, looking just like one of the older women. Yet that night, as we rehearsed the play at the school, she was supercharged with energy–hugging everyone and encouraging us to do our mediocre best.

She was remarkable. She taught me that the first and most important thing to do in life is to understand where I am.

Yes. Do I understand where I am?

Instead of walking into situations with an agenda, touting my resume or making it clear to everybody how young or old I am by my speech patterns, Lolly Dee taught me to eyeball a situation, find out where I fit in and bring everything I’ve got.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday a minister asked me if I could offer any thoughts in a service in his church–which was very, very traditional, the people steeped in preferences. I said, “Of course.” And the reason I could say “of course” is because I met Lolly Dee. Her life told me how to react to what was already going on instead of insisting on placing my imprint on every situation and my doctrine into every theology.

By the way, I returned to the school the year after I graduated, just to walk the halls, see the teachers and–I don’t know–maybe boast a little bit about how well I thought I was doing. I saw Lolly Dee. She was kind and courteous to me, but then she was off and away to tutor her present crop of chickadees. I smiled. Lolly Dee wasn’t mine anymore. She was intelligent enough to know when I needed her and brilliant in recognizing when to bow out and exit, stage right.

I will never forget her. I don’t know whether she is still alive or has passed on. But she taught me to always understand where I am instead of stomping my feet and demanding place. Because of that, I don’t need special circumstances to do special things.

I just need to be ready.

**************

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Sitting One

 I died today. 

I didn’t expect it to happen.  Then again, I did—well, not really.

No, I certainly didn’t expect it.

I’ve had moments of clarity in my life.  Amazingly enough, many of them were in the midst of a dream. For a brief second I would know the meaning of life or the missing treatment to cure cancer.  And then as quickly as it popped into my mind it was gone. I really don’t recollect dying.  Just this unbelievable sense of clear headedness—like walking into a room newly painted and knowing by the odor and brightness that the color on the wall is so splattering new that you should be careful not to touch it for fear of smearing the design. The greatest revelation of all? 

Twenty-five miles in the sky time ceases to exist.

The planet Pluto takes two hundred and forty-eight years to circle the sun. It doesn’t give a damn. 

The day of my death was the day I became free of the only burden I really ever had.  TIME.

Useless.

Time is fussy.  Time is worry. 

Time is fear.  Time is the culprit causing human-types to recoil from pending generosity. 

There just was never enough time. 

Time would not allow it.  Remember—“if time permits …”

Why if time permits?  Why not if I permit?  Why not if I dream?  Why not if I want?  Why does time get to dictate to me my passage? 

It was time that robbed me of my soulful nature.    It was time that convinced me that my selfishness was needed. 

I didn’t die. The clock in me died, leaving spirit to tick on.  

So why don’t we see the farce of time?  Why do we allow ourselves to fall under the power of the cruel despot?  Yes, time is a relentless master—very little wage for much demand.

I died today. 

Actually … a piece of time named after me was cast away.

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