Things I Learned from R. B. (June 14th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 19

It came in the mail.

I was very surprised.

I had never received anything postal from R. B., even though there were times we’d been separated for years. Not one letter or birthday card had ever come my way.

I didn’t expect it. He was a single guy, singularly focused on his own efforts.

So that’s why I was so bewildered by the arrival of this big, fat envelope. It was normal business-sized—but stuffed to the edges, nearly ready to burst its seal.

I opened it and pulled out what ended up being, after careful count, sixteen yellow legal-size pages, with R. B.’s scrawlings and notes.

At first, I could not identify what I was holding in my hands. Then I concluded that he had sent me a play, formatted in his own imagination.

It was entitled “The Reveal.”

A quick look-over told me there were three characters: Robbie, Papa and Len.

I found a quiet place, sat down and started to read. I don’t know whether I was preoccupied or tired, but I found it difficult to get through the entire piece. Finally, after two or three attempts throughout the evening, I finished it.

It was a rather simple story, about a young fellow who wanted to join the Boy Scouts. So he came to his father, who was a very austere man, and asked if it was okay. His brother, Len, came along, hoping that if Robbie was allowed to join, maybe he could be included.

The response from their Papa was very unusual. He began to pontificate about how difficult it was to be a young woodsman, and that if Robbie wanted to be a Scout, he would have to be tough.

At this point the piece took a bizarre turn. Papa asked Len, who was sitting and listening, to come over and punch Robbie in the stomach as hard as he could. Len was resistant and Robbie was startled. So when Robbie objected, his father scolded him on the dangers of disobedience—and how being a Boy Scout required him to always be prepared.

Even though Len did not want to punch Robbie in the stomach, at the father’s insistence, he did—once, twice—a total of four times. Robbie winced, buckled and finally cried out in pain, causing Papa to shake his head in disgust.

Then the patriarch asked Robbie to punch Len in the belly, but Robbie was unwilling to do it. Len seemed glad, but was concerned that if Robbie failed, there would be no Boy Scouts.

The father harangued them both, challenging their manhood in its boyhood form.

When I reached this point in the story, the writing stopped. Inserted were the words, “To be continued…”

Attached to the little play was a note:

“Jon, I know you put on plays for people. Would you help me put this one on?”

I had no idea what to think.

I was impressed that R. B. had found an envelope and managed to stuff the pages in. I didn’t want to say no. I also didn’t want to say yes—especially since R. B. had run out of money, was living on credit cards and certainly required a job.

The next morning the phone rang, and it was R. B. He wanted to know if I had received the package and what I thought about the play. I asked him what he wanted me to do with it.

R. B. matter-of-factly responded, “Produce it.”

My mind went haywire. I thought of a hundred things I needed to say to him about plays, productions, actors, theaters and advertising, but everything was so negative—and I just didn’t feel like throwing water on the only fire I had seen in him for months.

I agreed.

I agreed to do it.

I even agreed to fund it.

I told myself the only reason I would even consider being agreeable to it was that I knew it would never happen.

I did question why the play was incomplete. He said he would have the rest of it finished by the time it premiered.

I couldn’t help myself. I chuckled.

R. B. actually advertised for actors.

He held auditions. He picked two people to play the brothers, and he decided to play the papa himself.

He scheduled a table reading and brought about seven extra pages, continuing the story, though it was still not done. He made it through the table reading without directing the volunteer actors too much on what he expected them to do.

He even went out and found one of the old warehouses in Nashville which they had begun to transform into little theaters for productions just like “The Reveal.”

Matter of fact, R. B. got all the way to the fourth rehearsal. He hit two problems:

The actors had learned all he had written and needed more pages, which he was unable to supply.

But worse—the young man playing the part of Len started offering opinions on stage direction, and even some suggestions on the structure of the lines.

I was there, sitting in an advisory position (a name R. B. had come up with for my non-involvement involvement).

The conversation became heated. I wanted to interfere, but two parts of me refrained.

First was the promise I had made—to be solely an observer. And second—well, second was that I didn’t care enough to want to see the whole thing come to fruition.

But there, before my eyes, R. B. ran the gamut of his emotions.

First, he was calm.

Then he was offended.

Next, he was angry.

And at length, he was nasty.

The young man finally grew tired of spitting at the brick wall of R. B.’s resistance. He walked out. This scared the other actor, who explained that he was not accustomed to such conversational brutality.

R. B. made fun of his weakness—and in doing so, caused the young gentleman to quit.

Remaining in the room were R. B. and myself.

He looked over at me for comfort, support and a bolstering “attaboy” for standing his ground.

I found a chip in a nearby floorboard and stared at it silently, waiting for the moment to pass. After a while, R. B. rose, apologized and left.

I never heard another word about the event or the play. I never knew how it ended. The subject was just dropped.

About four months later, when I worked up the nerve to ask him about the experience, he stared at me as if he didn’t even know what I was talking about.

I did not pursue it.

For some reason, this little manuscript was written but would never be produced.

The importance of it lay deep in the soul of R. B., who apparently was still trying to overcome his father…and that punch in the gut.

 

Comfort Food for Thought … April 14, 2013

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envelopeIt arrived in a simple envelope with a return address from: Mike, PO Box 97, Kearney, NE, 68849. Inside were two one-dollar bills and a folded up piece of notebook paper. I unfolded it and read:

Dear Jonathan, I like your music. You seem to be real honest. So I don’t think you’ll lie to me. If you could take a moment and answer three questions for me, it would help me decide what I want to do next. Please just fill in the spaces on the letter and mail it back to me. I don’t have much money, but I gave you two dollars for your trouble.

Written on the paper were three questions with about an inch and a half of blank space  between each one.

Question 1: Is there really a God? And please don’t lie to me.

Question 2: If there is, does He care and how do you know?

Question 3: And if He cares, why does so much crap go on in the world?

I sat and stared at that piece of paper for a long time. I didn’t know what my friend, Mike, was deciding, but it sounded pretty important. And since he didn’t give me much room to elaborate, I figured I’d better make my answers really good and clear. So I began with the first one–is there a God?

“Mike, it’s more impossible for me to believe that where we have come to was achieved by accident than it is to believe that someone or some force set it in motion. I don’t like to be ignorant, but to me, it’s ignorant to think that the world became ‘accidentally’ magnificent, even if it took billions of years. So absent any rational explanation, I would rather believe in a Divine one.”

Question 2: Does He care?

“Not the way you and I want Him to. He has inserted comfort and joy into the workings of our earth. Comfort comes from other people giving a damn about each other and joy is achieved when we stop fighting against nature and the way things are and make our peace with it. So sometimes life seems cold because no one shows up to bring comfort and we fail to learn our lessons and seem abandoned of all joy. But when people do the right thing by loving each other and respecting the world around them, problems get solved.”

“Now–as to #3, why things get bad–God had one idea that you and I probably wouldn’t like very well. It’s called free will. He liked it so well that He built His whole universe around it. And even though faith, hope and love are always available, people often choose, with their own free will, to be angry, doubting and hateful. It sets in motion a slew of natural reactions that hurt a bunch of people. On top of that we disrespect nature and get in the way of progress.”

“Now I realize, Mike, that these don’t answer your questions quite the way you wanted me to, but the ‘comfort food for thought’ I give you is this: things in life are too beautiful to have been made in an ugly way. It’s up to us as people to bring the comfort. And joy comes when we learn the ways of life and stop fighting what truly works. And since free will is here to stay, we should spend our lives trying to teach one another to be more generous instead of closed up and cold.”

I read my answers over. At first I thought they were very inspirational, and then the words became more and more hollow and meaningless. So I quickly folded the note up, stuck it in an envelope, addressed it, put a stamp on it and mailed it off before I changed my mind.

Two years passed. The little note from Nebraska had completely slipped my mind.

Then one day I received a phone call from Kearney, Nebraska. The young man on the other end asked me if I would come there and share my talent. He said, “You probably don’t remember me, but my name is Mike. I’m a minister now.”

I paused and told him that I did remember. He said, “Much of what you wrote back to me didn’t make complete sense because I was ready to leave my faith and become an atheist. But then I realized that if I became an atheist, I wasn’t going to get a chance to be ‘comfort food for thought’ for anyone else. That seemed like a waste of time.”

By the way, I never got out to Kearney, Nebraska. I didn’t need to.

My little letter did all the talking … for me.

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

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