Most of my best friends, ranging in age from mid-20s to early 70s, are facing significant life changes. For different reasons we find ourselves at high-speed intersections asking, “What now?”
I knew a driver who maneuvered her vehicle with both feet – one on the gas pedal and the other on the brake. She screeched up to stop signs, braking hard, and took off again with significant propulsion. I think there was some overlap in the use of those pedals, which is never good for the vehicle.
Aristotle said, “Nature abhors a vacuum (horror vacui).” That statement has perhaps been disproven, but you won’t convince a Southerner who’s responsible for weed control that nature’s not up to something significant and possibly malevolent.
Once, during a busy time, I left work to run an errand in town. Twenty minutes later I realized I was approaching my own driveway. Lost in thought, I had driven on autopilot for longer than I care to admit.
Randy Newman apparently wrote his song, “Short People,” about individuals who are short in a figurative sense -- meaning “short-tempered and small-minded.” He was surprised at the strong reaction to the song, though he croons, “Short people got no reason to live.”
There exists a genre of literature that has gone largely unrecognized among more common ones like fiction, poetry, non-fiction and biography. One thing defines this lesser-known genre -- the writers talk a lot about food; but authors here focus on quantity, not quality. They will seemingly eat anything in their path, and the path before them is the Appalachian Trail (AT).
In conversations I have with my friends, I’ve noticed some phrases we say fairly often - expressions that have moved into our language base in recent years and are repeated often. We speak them to ourselves and to each other in difficult or stressful times and most of the time these words elicit a deep sigh, a shift in perspective (both vision and opinion), and a physical and emotional relaxation that brings peace.
This is a tale with a surprise ending that began with a dreaded phone call -- one that thankfully didn’t bear news of an accident or illness. What other call might scare us? That would be one from the Internal Revenue Service.
From the front door of our modest farmhouse the daily route flows out in three directions. Two paths lead to the care of the animals on the land: horses, chickens, donkeys, dogs, cats and a mule. The third path leads to an office where I manage the business of the farm and family. I cover these trails at least twice each day
As a United Methodist minister I happily conduct weddings. I tell those gathered that this couple’s marriage has been unfolding for some time. At this ceremony they are making a public statement of their promises, and they are asking for our blessing and support. There are no magic words I say as officiant. There is, however, tremendous power in the words that the couple says as they make their declaration to each other, to their community, their state and indeed to the entire nation.
When my children were young we planned to live out a “Pioneer Week,” turning off the electricity and running water here on the farm, and moving through our days as our county’s residents might have done during my grandmother’s childhood. We discussed this idea in the early-to-mid 1990s, before home computers were so ubiquitous and when cell phones were still the size of bricks and nearly as heavy.
“I think this is why they have rituals,” a friend said to me last week. Her mother had died a just two days earlier, and already she was pushed to “take care of business” –the busyness that inevitably follows a death. There are papers to file, drawers to empty, people to call.
I was happy to read that Durham Public Schools decided to do the right thing and pay the custodians who worked 50 days without remuneration -- due to a subcontractor going bankrupt. It would have been easy for the school board to say, "Not our problem!" I had already started working on this column about “pass the buck” schemes, so I was happy to read of a situation in which an organization owned their responsibility.
I am writing this on the longest night of the year, or the shortest day, depending on your perspective. The composition process will span both the day and the night. As I sit here I can feel, in some deep place, the shift in the tilt of the earth -- that cosmic return from darkness to light.
When I wake in the morning I lift my head to peer out the bedroom window across the room. What I look for is Peter’s red truck. Most mornings he is up before me, has started the coffee, and made the short trip up our long driveway to get his beloved newspaper. Some mornings he leaves early to eat breakfast out. Though I am a person who loves solitude, I am always disappointed when the truck isn’t there.