The park bench was deserted as I sat down to read beneath the long, straggly branches of an old willow tree. Disillusioned by life with good reason to frown, for the world was intent on dragging me down.
And if that weren’t enough to ruin my day, a young boy out of breath approached me, all tired from play.
He stood right before me with his head tilted down and said with great excitement, “Look what I found!”
In his hand was a flower, and what a pitiful sight, with it’s petals all worn, not enough rain, or to little light. Wanting him to take his dead flower and go off to play, I faked a small smile and then shifted away. But instead of retreating he sat next to my side and placed the flower to his nose and declared with overacted surprise, “It sure smells pretty and it’s beautiful, too. That’s why I picked it; here it’s for you.”
The weed before me was dying or dead. Not vibrant of colors, orange, yellow or red. But I knew I must take it, or he might never leave. So I reached for the flower, and replied, “Just what I need.” But instead of him placing the flower in my hand, he held it mid-air without reason or plan. It was then that I noticed for the very first time that weed-toting boy could not see: he was blind.
I heard my voice quiver, tears shone like the sun as I thanked him for picking the very best one. You’re welcome, he smiled, and then ran off to play, unaware of the impact he’d had on my day. I sat there and wondered how he managed to see a self-pitying woman beneath an old willow tree. How did he know of my self-indulged plight?
Perhaps from his heart, he’d been blessed with true sight. Through the eyes of a blind child, at last I could see the problem was not with the world; the problem was me. And for all of those times I myself had been blind, I vowed to see the beauty in life, and appreciate every second that’s mine. And then I held that wilted flower up to my nose and breathed in the fragrance of a beautiful rose. And smiled as I watched that young boy, another weed in his hand about to change the life of an unsuspecting old man.
The process of shutting down has begun. It’s so hard to feel so helpless when someone you love has to go through a process like this.
I keep reminding myself that the struggle to enter the next life is not that different than the one to enter this one was. Only the perspective of us as spectators is different.
Birth and death for God’s children is so very similar — Extreme stress and pressure force you out of your safe, familiar world into a strange new world where your arrival is anxiously awaited and applauded by those who have preceded you. They are so excited about the wonderful new life that you’re about to embark upon, that they barely even consider the discomfort that you are experiencing. But you are overwhelmed and freaked out when you arrive, because it is really awful going through the birth process. — So much of what has sustained you up until now is abruptly shut down or cut off. It has to be, in order for you to be equipped to function in the new world. Your heart and circulatory system reconfigure themselves in an instant so your blood can be oxygenated in a whole new way than before. I’ll bet that hurts!
You have to breath air instead of water which must be a whole lot like drowning only backwards. But does anybody really care about that? No!! You take that first awful breath and scream out in pain and terror and they actually erupt into cheers and laughter and light-hearted excitement while you continue to scream at the top of your lungs. They actually rejoice that you are crying! The more you kick and scream the better they like it! How rude!!
But watching someone enter the next life – being on the back end, all we see is the pressure, the stress, the pain, and the fact that they are entering a world that is completely alien to them and to us. And like the proverbial twin left in the womb, we feel empty and alone and traumatized by the negative side of what we have just witnessed and by the ominous sense that it will soon happen to us too. Yet, while we struggle to make sense of it all, our brother has already calmed down, been embraced by his parents, and is looking with wonder and amazement into their adoring eyes. He has already forgotten the struggle he just went through only minutes before because of the love and comfort of his parents. He has been launched into a broad, bright, wonderful world that we, still cowering alone in the womb, cannot begin to fathom.
Interesting conversation with a gentleman camped next to us. . .
We happened to be chatting about our individual lives and what brought us to where we are in life. He worked 30+ years for a UAW (Union) plant in Michigan and his wife was a school teacher. They both retired with full pensions, social security, and insurance. The American dream – right?
So, here they are. Parked in a campground with a 28’ camper. She hates it because it’s too small. He hates it because their new trailer has lots of trouble like leaks and electrical issues. They sit inside because it’s too hot most days and he listens to his wife yell at him because there’s no room for visitors or family, no space to cook or relax, no room to get away from each other.
They can’t afford to buy a larger or newer unit. They don’t own a truck, so they can’t move anywhere.
So, this is retirement. Sitting in hot, humid Florida; hating your home, location, and situation. Can’t travel because they can’t afford a truck.
Yes, this is what they worked a lifetime for – this is retirement – this is the American Dream!
He asked what brought us here. I told him our story. We lived our part of the American Dream. We owned the big house, had the great business, and lost everything.
Now we live on the road. We have a nice home on wheels that we built ourselves. We work a few months, then play a few months. We are not rich, but we’re not broke either. Our insurance is God alone.
Amy said “why wait until you’re old and retire to be miserable, when we can be miserable now!”
She’s kidding of corse. But we enjoy our life together. We enjoy seeing new places and working different places. Sure, there have been many times during our last couple years that we’ve had struggles and hatted our location or job. We’ve been broke with barely enough money to buy fuel. We’ve also had seasons when we could take a breath and relax for a couple months. We have the luxury of moving on if we don’t like our circumstances, we’re not stuck for 30+ years at a job only to retire and be stuck again.
We miss being with friends and family. We miss the relationships that were built. Our hearts often ache for true friends and we search for purpose in our travels and our life. But, we’re incredibly blessed and happy that we spend 24/7 with each other and love being together, even in our little home on wheels. We love our opportunities to reunite with old friends, and occasionally even with new friends. Even as I write this, we are anxiously anticipating meeting up again with some new friends that we met for the first time just one year ago. Now those friendships have become important relationships to us. If it wasn’t for our travels, and our summer work together, we never would have enjoyed a new and lasting relationship.
So, I wonder what tomorrow will bring. I wonder who we will meet. Will we meet someone who will be a new friend for a season, or even a lifetime? Maybe we will just chat with our neighbors in this little park, or enjoy the beauty of temporary location. Maybe – maybe tomorrow will bring new struggles, new problems or maybe it will bring new excitement and new joy.
Either way, we’re glad to be living this life on the road. We’re glad we can do this while we’re young. Yup, we’re not retired; we probably never really will be. We don’t have pensions and we don’t have Social security. We work. We find creative ways to support our lives. But we don’t live to work. We don’t spend our lives working so we can retire and hate our lives.
I drove past this house recently in the back hills of Kentucky. I stopped to ponder this home. At some point in history, this was somebody’s dream. Some young couple married, built a house and raised their beautiful children here. The owner would have spent nights imagining how he would place the footings, how he would erect the walls, where he would place the windows. He would have dreamed of the views out the dormer windows in the early morning before milking the cows. He considered every nail, every board, and every shingle. It’s large enough that it supported a sizable family. Possibly a large family on a sprawling farm in these green hills. The road in the foreground is new, the old road is hundreds of feet behind me, winding through the hills and trees. The new road is straighter with fewer hills. When the family lived here they were far back from their little winding dirt road. Safe for the children. Safe to live as they wished without an intrusion. Free to plant, to build, to live without any interference from others.
But today this house is nothing more than a few boards that reveal a memory of its original shape and purpose. It’s left to the imagination because actual evidence of this family is long past. Time has changed those grand dreams. What once enclosed laughter and love is now nothing more than a roadside nuisance. Today it’s nothing more than tinder.
Today is election day. As I looked at this dilapidated home I thought of our country. Once proud. Once full of freedoms and farmers. Full of families, laughter, church, and friends. Our land once stood for freedom in a way that no other country had fathomed. Our Godly forefathers had a dream of a land that would be governed by the people. This was once a majestic land, a land of endless possibilities.
But today our house is nothing more than a few boards that reveal a memory of its original shape and purpose. It’s left to the imagination because actual evidence of this great land is long past. Time has changed those grand dreams. What once enclosed laughter and love is now nothing more than a roadside nuisance.
Do I paint too bleak a picture? Maybe. There are times I’m proud to see the majesty of the American way of life. But all too often, what I see is a shape, a memory. If my picture is too negative, too bleak, then give it a few more years. We’ve driven away from our Master Carpenter. We’ve told him He is not allowed in our schools, in our courts, in our homes, and often even not allowed in our churches. Only a Master Carpenter can rebuild this house that once stood so proud, but the foundations are cracked, the footings are washed away, and the floors are rotted.
I fear that soon it will be nothing more than tinder.