Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Guardian Kind

It isn’t hot chocolate but a k-cup of cocoa run over ice in my Panama City Beach Pirates mug, a splash of milk to top it up this lateness just before midnight. As easily, I could have poured milk with Hershey’s syrup and ice cubes. My first taste of chocolate milk on ice was at Walgreen’s on Harrison Avenue downtown Panama City. It would have been fall, winter, spring 1949-1950. A freshman at Bay High, I was walking home from school with Tommy Fidler, who went to Cove School in our class. Easy to remember the time, because Tommy only went to Bay High that one year, then off to the Bolles School in Jacksonville, a military academy. Always spit and polish, he was suited for that, I suppose, I was not. After Bolles, Tommy went to the Citadel where his freshman year roommate was Charles Duvall, who thirty-five years later was my Episcopal bishop. It’s my blog, I can go where the trail takes me, but we stopped in Walgreen’s that day for a coke. Tommy said he was going to order chocolate milk, and that it would have ice and be delicious. Never hearing of such, I ordered that too. A tall Coca Cola glass of cold milk with Hershey’s syrup and crushed ice was delicious indeed, but quite dear at 25 cents when I could have it at home for free. Cheap to the bone, I didn’t do that again except at home, many times over the next 65 years, because it is delicious. 

After Cove School, Bay Hi, Bolles and the Citadel, Tommy was in the army as a second lieutenant. He was a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol. And he was with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. Tommy died a dozen years ago at age 66. 

This is not why I got up out of bed and came down stairs right after turning off the light. I got up because I had just finished chapter 2 of Mark Spragg, Where Rivers Change Direction. Chapter 2, “My Sister’s Boots.” Spragg’s closing of the chapter jumps 15 years ahead in his life and is startling and overwhelming emotionally. In terms of life, death, eternity and angels. The guardian kind.

And I marked on page 41. My rule with books is that I have no use for a book I can’t mark in. My habit with a book is to have a pen or pencil handy. If/when something especially strikes me, I underline it, or draw a box around it, or put a check in the margin beside it; then I write the page number on one of the blank pages inside the back cover:

Of the day Mark Bragg was dumped by his horse and, heading home on foot in his brand new boots, walked up upon an elk giving birth to her calf, “I know that I’ve witnessed something most boys have not. I know that it has made the day as different as if there were a death. I know I’ve walked through a door left temporarily ajar into a deeper part of the world in which I live, and out again.” And of his sister, always in his mind and to whom he prays as some pray to Mary or another saint, who seems spiritually always around him, he says, “Dead in the world. Alive in my heart, in this forest, just on the other side of some closed door.” A year older than Mark, his sister Cindy lived only a few months, and he knew her through his mother, his mother's love for Cindy, and for him. Cindy had red hair. In the family, Mark and Cindy had double cowlicks.

At chapter's closing, Mark ages 15 years to a young man in New York City, where he encounters an Indian waiter, a stranger who styles himself a mystic. The man looks into his palm and tells him that he is always accompanied by an auburn haired woman, that she is his sister, and her name is Cindy.   

Imagine having someone love you that much. 

I don't believe in angels. But just in case, who assigns guardian angels? Or are they just there because they love you? My father's brother Alfred is never far from my mind. Just turned 18, he died 17 years before I was born. I never knew him except for my grandmother's love for him, and for me. 

Does someone really greet us when we die, someone we know instantly even if we never knew them in life? I don't think so. See, my mind wanders after midnight.

Spragg is a gifted writer, and his writing is a gift. Like Roger Ebert’s Life Itself: A Memoir, this will be a book I read very slowly, to keep it from ending.

The trail takes me, I do not take it.

Spragg's writing touches my heart tonight. Roused me from bed.

Downstairs I came also because Linda reminded me of tonight’s meteor shower. This one is Earth moving through a field of dust laid down by a comet as it passed through this bit of space a hundred years ago. I can't see it now because Earth won’t rotate North America into it for several more hours: not sure I can stay awake. Meteor showers can be spectacular or a dud. My experience is that if I stay awake waiting into the wee hours, it’s a total dud. My moral obligation then is to return to bed and go to sleep so as not to ruin it for others.


The furosemide is keeping me busy too, though, so not yet.

Can someone we loved deeply, and/or who loved us, be here, around, looking after? Doubting Thomas, Jr. up at midnight praying with the father of the troubled boy Jesus saved, “Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.”

Truth, mine unbelief seems beyond help, me beyond saving. Kyrie, eleison.

Thinking of someone, I also got out of bed for another reason. When I retired from the Navy at twenty years, my ranking in my year group was near the top, or so said my friend and Michigan classmate John Shaughnessy later when he was a “detailer” in the Navy office that made officers' duty assignments. I might have stayed a bit longer, maybe half again as long, but God played his tricks and his hand and finally had His Way from which I'd escaped my sophomore year at Univ of Florida, age 19. My first day at theological seminary was my 45th birthday. Was it “God’s will” for my life? The burst of happiness that began that day and stayed with me all three years of seminary certainly made it seem like God's will. That happiness endures. But I don’t know, I don’t think about it that way, my theology doesn’t work that way, but if it did I could believe so. Especially in that no matter how happy I may have been in various pursuits of life and not wanted to change or be redirected, every single time, without fail, that I have changed or been forced to change in spite of myself, if I had an inkling that it was God’s will for me -- my father called it my “destiny” -- I have gone on to even greater happiness and joy in life. Greater joy, lower stress, more fun. Mindful of a friend who is contemplating and resisting and who probably will overthink the issue, I write this passing along my theology and experience that God who makes all things new, moves also to make life even better, more fulfilling, even happier when that hardly seems possible.

Harry Golden again, For Two Cents Plain, “put a little on top.” And He does.


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