“Okay, Number Five,” I said. “Let’s go find a waterfall.”
Now, as way of explanation: My grandmother used to drive me up the wall. She was always calling out to me, saying, “Frank, Bobby, Bill, … ah, Guy.” I mean I loved her to death; you’d think she would know my name instantly and not confuse me with all the other grandchildren. And then it happened. I became a grandparent. One day I caught myself calling out, “Ah, Faith, Ansley, Alma, ah, Kylee, come here a minute.” I had become my grandmother.
To circumvent this horrible condition, I decided on a strategy. I numbered them. Now, I don’t have to remember their names. I don’t get confused on who I’m calling out to. I just call their number, in order of birth. It works great. It sets me apart from the other grandparents. They seem to get a kick out of it.
Number Five was deserving of a treat. I’d taken her sisters, Number One and Number Two, to Alaska. Actually, I’d taken Number One to Alaska Twice. And I’d taken their cousin, Number Three to Alaska also. Number One and Number Two and I have traveled to New York City via an overnight AmTrak train ride with private sleeping compartments. It was time to give some others attention.
Number Five, six years of age, and I found ourselves in the Northeast Georgia Mountains. It was a waterfall trip. The first stop was the trail leading to Anna Ruby Falls. Anna Ruby Falls is actually two falls. The waters of York Creed drops fifty feet into the gorge below, and the waters of Curtis Creek cascades 153 feet. At the base they combine to form Smith Creek.
We hiked up the access trail. She stopped, thankfully, to read every informational sign on posts along the trail. The signs explained the various features of the forest, the animals, the plants, the water seeping from the rocks. I say “thankfully” because every sign gave me a chance to rest. Spoiler alert, dear reader: If you ever visit this place, the trail to the falls is uphill all the way.
At one point I stopped and called, “Number Five, come here.” She did. I bent down beside her and pointed. “Look up there.” She did.
“Holy smoke,” she exclaimed as she spotted the water rushing down the side of Tray Mountain. “That’s beautiful. Come on. Let’s go.” She started running. I followed at a more mature pace.
At the observation deck I caught up to her. “Number Five,” I called. “Don’t get too close to the edge.” I pointed to the warning sign. Another visitor to the falls asked, “Did you call her Number Five?” I told her I did. I explained my system. She laughed.
We hiked back down the mountain. She asked me if she could swim in the lake. “Number Two, said you would let me do anything I wanted.” She went swimming.
The next day found us at Amicalola Falls, the home of the Southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the home of Georgia’s tallest waterfall, 729 feet. Again it was uphill all the way to the base of the falls. Again, thankfully, she stopped to read every sign.
Our trip completed, we headed to the car. “Number Five,” I said. “I really enjoyed this.”
“Me, too,” she said. “But I need to tell you something. I’m not Number Five; I’m Number Six.”
Do you remember where you were forty-five years ago at 7:59 p.m. this past Sunday. I do. I remember it vividly. I don’t know if it was the event that called us to my in-law’s house. It very well could have been. After all, we were a struggling family, and they were a well-established one. That meant their television screen was a lot bigger than was ours.
We were in the den of their house. Funny, I don’t remember the kids being in the room. Maybe my daughter had been put to bed. That seems a bit odd as we were at her grandmother’s house who tended to let her do whatever she wanted. Maybe she was in the room and I don’t remember because of the momentous moment. But I remember all of us sitting around the room, staring at the screen, the grainy black and white picture.
Earlier the world’s inhabitants let out a sigh of relief when the words were heard: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed. Land it did; that black and white video we were gazing at in amazement was the leg of the Lunar Module Eagle resting in Moon dust.
Then, it happened. We saw a leg, the leg of an astronaut moving down the ladder. And we sucked in our breath as Neil Armstrong jumped from the ladder onto the surface. “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” we heard. Humans were now walking on the Moon.
There’s no reason for me to go to Google Image to recall one vivid picture of that historic event. It’s emblazoned on my mind. It’s the picture of the footprint on one of those astronauts on the Moon’s surface. I’m sure it’s still there today, a testimony that humans have gone far beyond our own planet.
A year before that Moon landing Astronaut William Anders took another picture while orbiting the Moon in preparation for the landing. The picture showed Earth rising over the Moon’s horizon just as the Sun rises over Earth’s. Earthrise. Wow! The Earth is so beautiful. The blue and white colors stand out so vividly against the darkness of space and the gray of other planets. The Earth is so special, our home, our delicate, delicate home.
There’s another picture of Earth I love. Eight years after the first Moonwalk, Voyager I was launched by NASA to explore our Solar System. She explored and sent back data for thirty-six years. In 1990 Voyager I left our Solar System. She was 3.7 billion miles from Earth. NASA commanded her to turn around and take one more picture, a picture of the Solar System and Earth. Earth appears in that picture as a Pale Blue Dot, occupying only a half pixel. Earth, so beautiful, so small.
The week before last Sunday all the news was about violence. Little children, refugees from violence, being yelled at violently. Israel and Hamas slinging missiles at each other again, with a renewed sense of violence. Upheaval in Ukraine. Passenger airlines being fired upon with surface to air missiles with bodies falling from the sky into the yard of an orphanage. Scores being shot in Chicago.
A footprint on the Moon. The Earth rising above the Moon’s horizon. The Pale Blue Dot that is where we live. We are a people of promise. We are so violent. And we are so insignificant. What is wrong with us?
I try to be as professional in writing this blog as I can. I make every attempt to tell an interesting story, to not dwell too much on my pet peeves, and to write things others are not writing. I also make a good effort to use correct grammar, punctuation, and other use of the English language.
There’s a bit of pressure on me to use correct English. I’m the father of an English teacher. And I know, at least from time to time, he reads these epistles. As such, I’m really careful. When I do have a question, I’m not too proud to ask my son’s advice. Recently, I did just that.
The advice I sought concerned the proper place to use “who” or “whom.” I wanted specifically to know the proper usage in the sentence, “She had an uncle with (who or whom) I bonded. Being the good son that he is he responded promptly. His instruction clearly explained this to me. He gave me the him/he rule. So, in my sentence it would be: “She had an uncle with whom I bonded.” That’s because I bonded with him. And if I bonded with “him” then it’s “whom.” Now, in another sentence I might have said: “She had an uncle who had a nice car.” Okay, you see, “He” had a nice car. And if it’s “he” then I should use “who.”
I hope, my dear reader, this has clarified things for you. I’m sure you have, as I, pondered many times over the years when you should use who and when you should use whom. My prayer is that by relaying my English teacher son's lesson to you this will no longer cause sleepless nights.
But if you fear there might be future sleepless nights because of the who or whom dilemma relax. My son also told me that “whom” is now on it’s last leg. The common, modern, practice, he says, is to always use who.
I beg to differ. Look, Mrs. Blalock was my high school English teacher. Mrs. Blalock told me it was important that one use the words who and whom in the proper context. With all due respect to my son, Mrs. Blalock lived a bit closer to the formation of the English language than he. (Please note I didn’t say “him.” You can thank Mrs. Blalock for that.) So, I need to meet my son at some roadside tavern somewhere between my house and his so we can discuss this further. I mean, are we going to have a memorial service for “whom” or just let “whom” drift away into oblivion without a whimper.
What’s next? Are we going to see the adaptation of spelling to conform to that of the teenagers today? O RLY!! For those of you who are not teenagers, that’s text spelling for “Oh, really.” Don’t you dare reply: YA RLY (Text spelling for “Yeah, really”). Frankly, I think IRL (in real life) old farts as I need to hold the fort against the corruption of our mother tongue. IMO (in my opinion) we still need Mrs. Blalock.
The next thing you know my son will be telling me that it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition. And I, along with Winston Churchill, find that a situation up with which I shall not put.
The news, at least on cable news, this week has centered around the 60,000 plus or minus children that have come across our southern border. Allow me, please, to share some observations on this issue.
First, in my old country parson analysis, as long as there are third world nations in our hemorpheristic neighborhood there will be people attempting to gain entry into our nation.
Second, the building of a twenty foot high wall on our border will result in only one thing. It will provide motivation for Mexican entrepreneurs to open shops in Juarez where they call sell twenty-two foot ladders.
Third, there is a long history in this country of anti-immigration movements. In the 1850s the Know Nothing Party gained national prominence and influence in the political debate with their opposition to Irish Catholic immigration. In the 1875 the Congress passed the Asian Exclusion Act, which limited the number of Chinese immigrants who could legally enter this country.
Fourth, our anti-immigrant policies have more to do with our prejudices than immigration alone. Some time back, when Ms. Parson was alive, she rented one side of a duplex she owned to a really lovely Hispanic couple. We were both pretty sure they were illegal, but they paid their rent on time, they kept the place amazingly clean. And, frankly, we liked them. When the other side of the duplex came open the tenants recommended a cousin move in. We accepted, gladly. But when the new tenants went to have the water put in their name, the water department asked them to produce a Social Security Card. I went to see the Mayor. I told him that the utilities were still in my wife’s name after I married and I thought that was not very manly so I was going to have the placed in my name. He asked me why I was telling him this. I told him, “If they ask me for a Social Security Card I’m going to pitch a fit.” He wrinkled his brow and stared at me. Then I added, “If they don’t ask me for a Social Security Card I’m going to pitch a fit.” He asked me if he was going to read about this on the web. I smiled.
Fifthly, to emphasize point four, I know three people within two miles of where I live who are illegal. They have never been challenged. They are in no fear of being discovered and deported. They operate openly as though they belong here. Two are from Canada and one is from England. All three are as illegal as the Hispanics that rented Ms. Parson’s duplex. But they don’t live in fear, and the clerk at the Water Department never asks to see their Social Security Card.
Sixth, the current crisis occupying the news is not about immigration, legal or illegal. The current crisis is about children, children who are refugees.
The dictionary defines an immigrant as: A person who comes to a country to live there. That same dictionary defines a refugee as: One that flees; especially a person who flees to a foreign country escape danger or persecution.
The Christian Science Monitor has noted (November 10, 2009) that Guatemala has long cultivated a reputation as one of the Western Hemisphere’s most brutal places for women. Seventy-seven out of every 100,000 were raped in 2008. The Daily Mail on July 30, 2012 (dailymail.co.uk) noted that Honduras has the highest murder rate of any nation. In 2012, the Peace Corps members in that nation were withdrawn from the country. The Honduran President stated they had been withdrawn because of the effects of the crime rate. More than 300 women have been murdered in Honduras in the past decade. This country is considered to be the world’s deadliest by the United Nations. In 2010 thirty-six women were killed each month and in 2012 the number was up to 2012. Ninety percent of these murders have never been investigated. A woman being raped in her own home in a common thing in Honduras.
The children crossing the border and surrendering to the Border Patrol are from these countries. They have traveled a thousand miles to reach the United States. Think about that last sentence. How bad does it have to be for a mother to place her ten-year-old daughter into the hands of strangers in the hope she makes it to the United States.
These children are refugees. They are fleeing horrendous conditions, so horrendous their mothers are willing to gamble on them making it.
Seventh, citizens of the United States, both elected officials and ordinary folks, are acting like the north end of a south bound horse. Picture those idiots, yep, I said idiots, standing in front of those buses filled with the children who had crossed the border. They yell and scream they don’t want these illegals in our country. They are screaming at children on board a Border Patrol bus filled with children in the Border Patrol’s custody. Go figure.
Congresspersons make their cute little speeches on the floor of the Congress, no doubt when they are certain the C-Span cameras are rolling. They speak of the horrible dangers that face our country from these ten-year-old despoilers of all that is American. The sight of Toddler Terrorist just angers them. “Send them back. Send them back. Send them back.” was the cry of one prominent Senator. Hmmm! That might be a good slogan glad speeches about this being a Christian nation. all the while they forget the basic foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition is hospitality, welcoming the foreigner, the stranger. Here’s a reminder, according to the story, Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because of homosexuality but because they did not show hospitality.
Eighth, I just can't resist this. Governor Perry, about your request for the President to mobilize the National Guard, why are you waiting on the President. Every Governor has the power to mobilize their state National Guard. So, mobilize the Texas National Guard. Of course, if you mobilize it your state will have to pay for it and put your money where your mouth is.
Finally, and here endeth this rant, Jim Wallis, the founder and editor of Sojourners recently wrote about speaking to his child’s fifth grade class. It was a school that was multi-cultural, multi-racial. In the room were African-Americans, Hispanics, Native-Americans, Asian-americans. As he talked about the immigration the failure of elected officials to solve the problem was discussed. “What are they afraid of?” asked one child. Jim Wallis said he had to think a minute. And then as he looked around the room, at the faces of so many children from so many ethnic backgrounds, he knew the answer.
A while back I started giving each of my grandchildren a monthly allowance. The oldest grandchild gets more and the youngest gets considerably less. I did this with the arrogant attitude I don’t need my children’s permission to give my grandchildren money. However, there were conditions.
The conditions for my grandchildren to receive an allowance from me is that they must: 1) save some money, 2) give some money away, 3) be able to tell where every dime went, and 4) send me a report on number 3 as a condition for getting the following month’s allowance. Now that report doesn’t have to be too specific. For instance, "spent $4 on personal stuff" is okay. It’s not that I want to know what they spend the money on; it’s that I want them to know where they spent their money. The younger children’s parents help them with the report. And there have been months when certain grandchildren got an email instead of the money. The email read: “Sorry you didn’t get an allowance this month, but I didn’t get a report. You must have been real busy. I love you.”
Number Two granddaughter is the best at sending the reports. She takes it seriously. She sends me a spreadsheet. And if you add up the figures it totals the exact amount given her. Considering the fact she’s thirteen, it’s amazing.
I got her report for June today. Again it was a detailed spreadsheet. She noted on the report that she took some money out of her savings for a purchase and that “when I get my July check I will replace it.” Loved that. I don’t require she not take money out of her savings. Again, the only goal is that the grandchildren develop the habit of knowing where every dime goes.
I reread her report. I texted her, telling her to call me. She did. First, I complimented her on her detailed reports. “Twenty years from now, when I’m dead and gone, and you’re managing your finances so well you’ll remember me making you do this. You’ll appreciate it then.”
“What do you mean, ‘dead and gone’,” she said. “You won’t be dead and gone.”
“Well, if I’m not I’ll be living in your basement.”
“Nope,” she said. “I love you, but that won’t happen. But I’ll come visit you in my sister’s basement.”
“Okay,” I said. “I guess that’s plain enough. But I needed to ask you about your check for July. You said ‘when I get my July check,’ but my records show that you should have already gotten your check. I called your cousins and all of them have gotten their checks, including the ones in Connecticut.”
“Well, I didn’t get mine?”
“Did your sister get her check?”
“My older sister did, but I don’t know about my younger sister.”
“Your older sister got her check?”
“Yes. I know because I was with her when she deposited it on her iPhone.”
“Sweetheart, the checks all come in the same envelope. Ask someone if your younger sister got her check.”
“Hold on,” she said. She shouted, “Hey, Dad, did my baby sister get her allowance check from my grandfather?” There was a pause. Then she said to me, “He said he deposited it yesterday.”
“Think on this a minute,” I said. “All the checks come in one envelope.”
There was a pause. Then I heard, “Hey, Dad, was my allowance check in that envelope?” Again a long pause. “Hold on; he’s looking for the envelope.”
I held on. I held on some more. I held on even more.
Finally, she spoke. “He found my check. I’ll deposit it in just a minute. You have no idea how much stress I go through being the middle child.”
Once upon a time - well, actually it wasn’t once upon a time. It was precisely in 1991. So, in 1991, there was this priest of a particular denomination that would be considered high church. I’m not going to name the denomination. But, here’s a hint. Consider Anglican; now, Americanize it. This priest of that denomination and I bumped up against each other from time in our professional relationship. It was no secret he considered me to be a bit of a bumpkin, a bit too casual with my theological pronouncements, and definitely low church in my liturgical approach.
We did, however, overcome this and minister as colleagues in the ecumenical area that we had in common.
At any rate, in 1991 this priest of that particular denomination was conducting the liturgy at the morning worship service of his parish. It was a large congregation. The services were well attended. And, as such, all the pews were filled that particular Sunday in 1991. But, for the priest of whom I speak, there was a problem.
The problem was he wasn’t particularly fond of women priests. And yet, his associate priest was a woman. I have no idea how that poor woman got into that situation. On the particular Sunday of which I speak this female priest was scheduled to preach. Did I mention the priest of whom I’m speaking did not think females sould be priests? Perhaps that is why he, after sitting in a place that was out-of-sight of the congregation, exited the sanctuary during the female priest's sermon. He proceeded to the area behind the chancel. And there he did this and that until he felt the call of nature.
Feeling the call of nature he entered the restroom just off the chancel. There he proceeded to sit and do what he felt the call to do. His doing was accompanied by appropriate grunts and sighs. Having completed his natural functions, he took care of things, rearraged clothing, and flushed. And then he exited the bathroom and re-entered the chancel and sat in that seat out-of-sight of the congregation.
The female priest, with a smile that extended from earlobe to earlobe, ended her sermon with, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.” She stepped down from the pulpit and took her place in the seat just behind the elevated pulpit with her hand over her mouth as if to mute the convulsions of her body. Into that pulpit the priest of whom I speak stepped. And when he did the congregation gave him a standing ovation.
God, in God’s great humor, had not reminded the priest of whom I speak to turn off his lapel mike when he slipped out of the chancel.
A long way back, so far back it was a previous century, I fell in love with a wonderful woman. We got married on a soccer field (hold that thought for a future writing). Who would have thought we’d ever get married. She was Roman Catholic. I was a United Methodist pastor. She was the Parish Administrator for an Episcopal Church. Maybe that was a good thing. We had it covered coming and going.
She had an uncle who I really bonded with. He lived in New York City. He, too, like she, was Roman Catholic. He was active in his church. He was really active. He was some big shot in the Knights of Columbus. This old country Protestant pastor didn’t understand the dynamics of that, but I was smart enough to realize he was somebody in his church.
He died. He left instructions that he wanted this old country parson to deliver the message at his funeral mass. And so, I headed north with my “Yankee” wife to celebrate, as I term it, the life and resurrection of this unique child of God.
At the wake, his priest approached me. “Pastor,” he said, after introductions, “would you do us the honor of reading this scripture?” He was wrong about whose honor it was. At the appropriate time I stood by his side as he handed me his Missal and pointed to the part I was to read. I did. And I did it nervously as I was truly a novice at this ritual.
The next day, I stood, again, by his side as he went through the ritual and covered the casket with the funeral pall. And then we led the casket down the center aisle of that huge cathedral side-by-side. I broke off from the procession at the first pew closest to the altar, next to my Roman Catholic wife who took my hand as she obviously sensed my nervousness.
The Father, along with the other priests who assisted him, proceeded through the liturgy of his faith with obvious compassion and love for this dear, dear saint of his congregation. And then he nodded to me.
Shaking like a leaf I walked to that high, high, pulpit. I delivered the message about my wife’s uncle, his life, his resurrection, and the promise his faith held for each of us. I walked down from the pulpit and seated myself beside my wife once more. Suddenly, I realized where I was sitting. I would be the first to go forth to receive the Eucharist.
Married to a Roman Catholic, this was not my first attendance at a Mass. When the appropriate time came, I walked forward, crossed my arms across my chest to indicate I was not Roman Catholic, and intoned the words, “Bless me, Father.”
The Father smiled. Before I knew what happened he stuck that wafer into my mouth and said, “You are blessed, my brother.”
I cried. I cried like a baby all the way back to my place in the pew. I understood the enormity of what had just happened.
At the graveside, an older priest approached me. I later learned he was not without influence with the powers that be in the church. “Now, Pastor,” he said with a thick Irish accent, “let’s not be telling a lot of folks what the father did back there at the church. Some authorities might not understand.”
So, for decades I haven’t told anyone. But realizing how old I am now, and realizing the priest was at least ten years older than I, he, if he still lives, is beyond the retribution of any bishop. And I? I still remain the old country preacher who one day, in that really big, big, city, at the altar of that really big, big cathedral was blessed by a priest who was a walking definition of ecumenical.
And now I sit here wondering why we all cannot get along.
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