September 14, 2018

The Weasel, the Maiden, & the Prophet…

Category: News — admin @ 5:36 pm

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…It is not the slow, the punctual sanded drip of the unnumbered days…
the unswerving schedules of the lost life and the well-known faces, that
we remember best. It is a face seen once and lost forever in a crowd, an
eye that looked, a face that smiled and vanished on a passing train…

—Thomas Wolfe
__________________

It was the start of an ordinary day, one morning the other week. Near as I could tell, it was, anyway. I pulled out in Amish Black, heading for work. First, a quick stop at Sheetz for my morning wakeup coffee. And yeah, I know. Lots of hipster afficionados sneer at Sheetz, and those giant urns of flat, tasteless black brew they sell, claiming it’s coffee. Still. It’s force of habit. I go to Sheetz. I parked my Jeep in a usual spot. Walked in. And I saw right away, through the glass before I even reached the door. There was a long, long line waiting to pay up. And it sure looked like that line was moving mighty slow.

There was one lone clerk. One of the managers. He’s been around for years. He’s efficient, and he’s good, but there’s only so fast one guy can move when there’s a long line of glum looking customers waiting to pay up. I grabbed a Styrofoam cup, medium size. The Breakfast Blend urn looked full and fresh. That’s my usual. I filled the cup, then fitted on a lid. Dark and black. No cream. That’s the rule for my OMAD. Water and black coffee only, until my eating window opens. Then I walked halfway around to the place where all the food screens are. That’s how far the line snaked back. I took my place there at the end. Waiting to pay the buck sixty-nine that Sheetz charges for a medium cup of hot black water.

Things are usually pretty quiet, in a long line like that. You got all the construction workers, with an occasional woman mixed in. It’s right before seven in the morning. People are waking up. The world is going to work. And there is a quiet intensity in that line. Not impatience. Just, well, intensity. You know you have to get to that place, way up there in the front, to pay your money. Then you can leave. And this morning, the line stayed stuck in one spot for way too long before it inched forward, then stopped again and stayed stopped. It was going that way because there was only one clerk.

Another clerk stood there in the back room, ready to clock in. I could see him through the open door behind the counter, at the end. A teenage kid, a regular up front. He sure was taking his time, getting ready. I saw him put his things in a little locker against the wall. And I saw him poking around, moving some stuff around. He had his hat on, he was dressed and ready. And after an eternally long few minutes, he stepped out and stood behind one of the screens. Greeted the next person in the line. Could he help? Yes. Now there were two clerks, ringing up. The line moved twice as fast. And it was only a few minutes, then, and I was the next one up, waiting to pay. I had stood in line for probably five minutes. I waited for a customer to move away. And the one on the right did. Gathered his purchases slowly and turned to walk toward the door. OK. Finally. It was my turn. I started to step forward.

And it all happened so fast and so seamlessly that you figure it was plotted out to be that way. It was like whoosh. Out of nowhere from behind, a little old weasel of a man walked in from outside. Just as I was stepping forward, the weasel whipped in right ahead of me. Not so much as a by your leave, the man didn’t make. He was small, and he was old. Well, relatively speaking, old. Probably upper sixties or so. His clothes weren’t tattered or particularly raggedy, but you could tell he came from the hills. A bill cap was pulled low over his eyes, covering a shaggy head of gray hair. His beard was scruffy, his face was scuzzy with the unchecked growth one would expect to see on an unshaven lout. He walked right up to the young clerk on the right. My clerk, my spot. He was pulling out his wallet at he moved in.

I didn’t hear any protests from anyone in the long line behind me. But you can bet everyone back there was tensing up a good bit. Here they had stood in line, waiting their turn. And here, a little old weasel of a man without manners was burning up their time, time that wasn’t his to burn. I didn’t hesitate, looking back. After a brief second of shocked surprise, I mean. I never stopped to consider what was best to do, but just instantly spoke up. I walked up behind the weasel. Excuse me, I said. You just butted in line. You need to take your turn.

The weasel did not react well. I have no idea what he was expecting. I figure he pulled off this stunt regularly, and got away with it most of the time. He turned to face me. His ugly weasel face twisted into a contorted snarl. He swore. !!!&&^%$#@!! “I’m here to get gas. See? There is the sign for gas. Right there.” He pointed to the sign beside the clerk. That’s bullshit, I said. And yes, I said the word loud enough so everyone around could hear. Bullshit. Don’t make any difference what the sign says. You take your turn, just like everyone else.

The weasel swore again. He was getting way too loud and belligerent. The clerks stayed very calm. Neither made any move to interfere or insert himself. I don’t know if they get trained to deal with loud unhandy people nonconfrontationally like that, or what. The weasel turned to the head clerk, to our left. “The sign says, gas,” he said, pointing, his voice raised. Behind me, everyone in line watched, frozen, intent. The head clerk glanced over. I spoke up, then. I raised my voice, too, to match the weasel’s. He needs to take his turn, just like everyone else, I said. Doesn’t matter what the sign says. The head clerk glanced at the weasel sternly. And he backed me up as he kept right on ringing up the next person who stepped up. “The line is for all purchases. Including gas.” See? I was triumphant. You need to take your turn. You butted in front of me.

The weasel looked deflated and a little crestfallen. He stood there, silent. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of something like compassion for him. Not sure where that came from. He turned, then, to trudge all the way back to the end of the line. A vile little man. He deserved no sympathy, not after the way he acted. But then my common sense kicked in. Ah, good grief, I said. You’re here, now, anyway. Just give the man your money. He stopped and half gaped at me. I motioned. You’re wasting everyone’s time. Give him your money.

The weasel turned back to the counter. Behind me, everyone watched, silent. The weasel handed over a crumpled $20 bill for gas. He then turned back toward me to leave, looking grimly straight ahead. It was pretty clear we were both upset. But I had one more thing to say. Don’t do that again, I told him.

And looking back at it all, I wonder how often the weasel got away with those actions before he was challenged. Bad habits beget bad habits. I remember that he strode right up to the front of the line, on the side, probably like he had done dozens of times before. Without incident. This time, there was a scene. And this time, he got warned. I was upset, mostly, about one thing. Well, other than his sheer rudeness, I mean. And I wasn’t full of rage, not like I would have been back in my whiskey days. I was irritated, of course. But not enraged. And I was upset because of all the negative energy it took to confront the man. I had to dredge it up. I don’t like to go to those places, and I don’t unless something like this comes at me when I’m not looking. Then I do, because you pretty much got no choice. That’s what I figure, anyway. (I’ll gladly give up my way of thinking if someone can show me a better one, like the Amish preachers used to claim. As if anyone’s ever going to speak up. Nobody ever did, that I remember. That claim always sounded rote and hollow to me.) Still. I’m betting the weasel won’t butt in line at Sheetz in New Holland any time soon again. Just a hunch. I could be wrong.

Moving along, then. A few days after my run-in with the weasel, the same week. A Saturday morning. A laid back time, usually. I meander about, run my errands, and I always stop at Grocery Outlet to do a bit of weekly shopping. That place is pretty much across the road from Sheetz, all of it less than a mile from where I live. It’s handy, to have stores like that close. And that Saturday morning, I pulled in with Amish Black. The parking lot wasn’t as full as it often is. I zipped up and parked and walked up to the front of the store to get a cart. They have the old style grocery carts there, the big, clunky, clattery ones that often have at least one wheel that doesn’t work. I trundled along, right up to the automatic door. The door swung open as it sensed me, but just then I glanced off to the right, down the sidewalk. And she was walking toward me to enter the store as well. A young Plain Mennonite girl.

She was probably sixteen or so. She might have been from the Joe Wengers, or maybe the Thirty-Fivers. Definitely horse and buggy, I’d say. You can tell the Plain cultures apart simply from the bone structures of their faces. The Amish and the Plain Mennonites, I mean. They both have features unique to their blood. And many of the women are astonishingly beautiful in both cultures. The Plain Mennonite girls are especially distinct and striking. There’s something regal and reserved about them, and they never really lose that. It’s when they’re young, though, that they look so vibrant and alive. Before they get married, before their faces and bodies reflect the long and weary aftermath of incessant daily toil and the slicing pangs of multiple childbirths.

Such a girl was walking toward me now. Naturally blond and beautiful without a shred of makeup. She wore a medium covering with strings that flowed out back over her shoulders. From that little detail, I figured she wasn’t a Piker Mennonite. All the Piker girls I’ve seen laced their covering strings up tight. Her dress was patterned like the Plain Mennonite women wear, with a hundred red flowers spread throughout. I don’t remember if the background color was black, or what. I think so, but I can’t say for sure. I just remember the red flowers.

It was a beautiful sunny day. And the sun shone down bright when I looked and saw her coming at me. And without thinking, I held back and waited on her, so she could get through the door first. She smiled her thanks and walked past me to the entrance. And I thought to myself. What the heck? Say something. I had a split second to speak or not. So I said it. Well, I kind of stammered. I like your dress. And the red flowers. It looks like Christmas. I mean, what kind of guy says such a thing? By now she was stepping through the door. But she turned her face and flashed back a smile. No words, just a smile. And for the life of me, I didn’t know if my compliment was a proper thing to say or not. I had never done such a thing before. Never spoken out of the blue that way to a total stranger who also happened to be a Plain woman.

If I think it was a bit strange to speak up like that, the odds are pretty good that the girl thought so, too. I mean, we both come from Plain blood. I shuddered later, to imagine what she might be telling her friends. Watch out for that gray bearded old man at Grocery Outlet. He’s kind of weird. He’ll smile and say funny things. I shuddered again. Still. I had never seen this girl before, in all the years I’ve shopped at that store. And I figure there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll never see her again.

The maiden and the weasel. The beautiful and the damned. Two people with nothing in common, except they were people. They have no names, but their faces are imprinted in my memory. And it sure is strange, when you stop and think about it. Such is the ebb and flow, such are the tides of life on the long and winding journey down this broken road.

In a recent conversation, I made an offhand comment. Not sure what triggered it. I don’t trust modern day prophets. Self-proclaimed “prophets” are charlatans and frauds, pretty much across the board, in my opinion. Anyone can claim anything. I am especially contemptuous of “end time” prophets. Those guys are toxic frauds, always returning to that bottomless well, always fleecing willing sheep who desperately want to believe that Jesus is coming soon so they won’t have to die. That’s where the whole rapture heresy comes from. The roots of it. A deep and desperate desire to cheat death. It’s not gonna happen. We will all die. And when I die, that’s going to be the “end of the world” for me. Same is true for anyone else.

Still. Those “end time” preachers, you don’t forget what they said. The memory of it. Like I never forgot a little incident that happened many years ago, about the time I graduated from Bob Jones University. That place was an infested swamp of rah, rah, rapture hoopla. We’re all gonna be swept into the skies to meet Jesus. All the sinners will get left behind. Satan will take over the whole world. It’s going to happen any day, now. This was back in the early 1990s. I always thought the hyper premillennialist eschatology was self-defeating for the BJU brass. If we’re all going to get raptured out, why put out the time and expense to come to BJU to get educated? I mean, none of it will matter after time ends. I guess they figured the students wouldn’t think very far. Still, there was one detail from those days that I kept stored on a little cobwebbed shelf in the remote corners of my mind. And that detail came sneaking back into my consciousness just the other day, for the first time in a long time.

I was close friends with a fellow BJU student. A girl. I got to know her and her family quite well. And I remember something she told me many years ago, talking about “end times.” She said, “When you ever hear a perfect red heifer was born in Israel, look out. Weird stuff will happen right after that.” I never forgot her words. And I was very startled to see last weekend on The Drudge Report, of all mainstream sources. A perfect red heifer has been born in Israel, the first such heifer to come along in more than 2,000 years. Well. What does one make of that? I’m not sure. I’m keeping a sharp eye out. We’ll see, I guess, if weird things follow. At this point, not much would surprise me. Except if these days we’re in actually turned out to be the “end times.” I would be surprised at that.

Back to that random conversation where I said I don’t trust modern day “prophets.” I don’t. It’s too easy to make stuff up. I said this online. And a few days later, I got a private message from a close friend from another state. He told me of an incident where a prophet told him some very specific details of an event that happened the next day. Details that could not possibly have been manipulated. Things unfolded exactly as the prophet had predicted. Exactly.

And I told my friend. Yeah. It happens. I’ve seen it, too. A guy who didn’t even know me sent me a handwritten note last year. It was delivered by a mutual friend. I still don’t know the guy, I’ve never met him, and I don’t so much as remember his name. I took the note he sent, but I wasn’t quite sure how to take the message. This is what he wrote: “What has been locked inside for so long shall be called forth for release. The mask for the pain shall be removed.”

So what, exactly, did those words mean? Were they simply the noble vacant platitudes of a self-proclaimed seer? Or were they something more than that? I can’t say for sure. But I have a pretty good idea. I saved that handwritten note. It’s taped on a shelf above my desk at work. It’s dated August 29, 2017. That little slip of paper had nothing to do with my decision, but later that night, I didn’t have a drink for the first time in a long time. I haven’t had one since. And a month or so after that note was passed to me, I got the offer from Hachette for my second book. So, yeah. I agree with my friend. There are prophets. All kinds of prophets, so called. The real, authentic ones are few and far between.

And speaking of that evening of August 29th, last year. This year on that evening, I looked back on how it went one year ago. How I had made an almost offhand decision. Well, I had been thinking about it a lot. But thinkin’ ain’t doin’. And that night, I decided, just for anyhow. Tonight, I won’t have a drink. I can make it without one. And that’s how it’s been ever since. I can make it tonight without a drink.

For the first month or so, the raw craving for whiskey raged like a relentless wildfire in my brain. The battle was in my head, more than anywhere else. Since then, it hasn’t really been that hard. I am amazed at how fast the days and weeks and months have rolled right by. And now, it’s been a year. That’s a big deal to me. One year. I mean, who’da thunk it?

I am amazed, too, at how good it feels to be dry. Each morning is a new high, some mildly less grumpy than others. Still, I try to take nothing for granted. I’ll just get back up and get back on, if I ever fall off the wagon. That’s my game plan, and I’m stickin’ to it. So far, well, it seems to be working. At least up to this moment.

God bless every person who knows what it is to walk this broken road. Today, this moment, is all any of us have. And it’s all we’re ever gonna have on this earth.

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August 17, 2018

Ghosts of August…

Category: News — admin @ 5:36 pm

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Return. Oh, lost and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again.

—Thomas Wolfe
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The voices always call from the shadows of the past in early August. And this year was no different. There were two major events that happened a day apart, plus eighteen years. August third and fourth. And this year I thought about them both, as my mind went down the path of each memory. But I only journeyed back to one. In detail, in my head, I mean. Went back and saw it again, one of those two days. It’s too much, it’s too intense, to try to go down both roads that close together. So you go down the one that beckons most. And you stay on that road until you get to where it’s going.

Of the two big things that happened a day and eighteen years apart, the telling of the last one comes first, I guess. This time, it does. On August 4th, 2000, there was a wedding ceremony down in the beautiful hills and hollows around Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The Smoky Mountains. And that day, an excited young (well, relatively speaking, young) couple had invited a handful of family and friends to join them. In a little chapel there, out in the mountains, it happened. Ellen and I got married. One of those short, pre-packaged wedding ceremonies, but it was still beautiful and special to us. The rented preacher intoned a brief rote sermon from the Love Chapter in the Bible, like he’d done a thousand times before for eager and excited couples he never saw again. He made it sound like he meant it, and I’m sure he did. The sun shone bright around the rough-hewn little chapel that afternoon. The world was ours, made for us alone, in that moment. It was our day, it was our time.

August 4th, eighteen years ago. It used to be a dark and fearful date that I saw coming like an approaching thundercloud, with a lot of heaviness and dread. Early on, after we split up, that’s how it was. You felt the sadness seeping in, a little bit ahead of time. And you tried to calm your heart to absorb it. Then there was less and less darkness and fear, as the years flowed on and the day came at me. And in the last few years, it barely blipped on my radar. There were a couple of times, there, when I never even thought about the date until a week after it had passed. And then it hit me. Oh, my. I was supposed to feel bad, back there on the fourth. I guess I’ll have to wait until next year and see how it goes by then.

This year, for reasons that may or may not be what I think they are, the memory of that day came poking at me well ahead of time. And this year, I looked at it, walked right up to it. And poked right back. Oh, yeah? You think that’s gonna freak me out? How about you give me all you got? I can take it. And I saw and felt that day and all that it was in a new way. There were no flashbacks, and no stark and haunting memories came knocking on the door. It had long been a settled thing in my head, and now that calmness settled cleanly in my heart.

The thought echoed like a silent whisper in my subconscious mind. It’s OK. This is the date it happened, a long time ago. Look at all it was, look at it clearly in the face. And then speak, if it needs to be spoken. Maybe in a future blog. Or maybe save it for the book. Next August, next year, it’ll come poking back at me. But it will never again be anything other than a reality that once was and now is no more. My heart is calm, and my head is clear. I am at peace with all that August 4th ever was in the past. And yeah, I remind myself. No one can know what dreams may come. No one can know the loneliness and bitter sorrow I saw, getting here. Whatever those dreams are, I will walk through them. And I figure to be at peace with all the ghosts from that day that might come knocking in the future, too.

So there’s that. The one day, of the two. And this year, it was the other event that played out a lot harder in my head, the thing that happened on August third, half a lifetime ago. On a sultry summer night, back in Bloomfield, the Old Bloomfield of my youth. A Tuesday at dusk, close to sundown. That’s when the dark thing came. And this year, the specter of that night came calling strong.

Thirty-six years ago on that early August evening, my brother Titus walked across a field with friends to go swimming in a farm pond. It was the last time he ever walked anywhere. In an instant, normal life changed dramatically for him and for those of us who were in his world at that time. The fateful dive, the crushed vertebrae, and the resulting brutal and almost incomprehensible reality. At just shy of twenty-four years old, Titus was felled like a sturdy oak tree in its prime. He would never walk another step on this earth.

I remember that night very well. I wrote about it in the book, how it went. It was a quiet, normal evening at home. But out there on the banks of that farm pond, five miles to the east, things were going on. The vivid scenes are seared forever in the minds and memories of the people who were there. They can tell you exactly what they saw and exactly how they felt, all these years later. I remember some of the events as they were told and written at the time.

Titus was pulled from the pond by his good friends, Marvin and Rudy. He had been under water for almost two minutes. Another thirty seconds, I always figured, and he would have been gone. Still. There he was, stretched on the banks of the pond, on his back. He choked and coughed and gulped in great draughts of fresh, life-giving air. Water gushed from his mouth and lungs. He coughed and sputtered and coughed some more. And he gasped the desperate question. “What took you so long to pull me out?”

The boys instantly saw that something was dreadfully wrong with Titus. He could not move his legs. He could not feel them. Marvin’s little brother, Elmer, was the one who raced up through the fields back to the house. He was so overwhelmed and excited that he could barely get it told, what had happened. The men all rose and dashed out to the pond. Someone rushed to the schoolhouse phone to call the ambulance. Soon, approaching sirens wailed in the distance. On the banks of the pond, a tight knot of people had gathered round.

In all the days and years since that fateful evening, I have always been grateful that I was not present, not there that night when my brother got hurt. I don’t know how I would have reacted, what I would have said, or what I would have done. I just don’t know. It would have been intense.

From all the stories that were told, one scene stayed burned deep in my memory. Ruth. She came running through the field, up to the banks of the pond. The men who were huddled around Titus separated like the parting of the sea. It seemed like time had stopped as she walked the open path to where her betrothed lay, stretched motionless on the ground. She knelt beside him. And she calmly spoke his name. “Titus.”

They were so young then, Titus and Ruth. In their early twenties. And there, that night, beside a farm pond in a pasture field in southern Iowa, there unfolded one of the defining moments in all their lives. She spoke to him, calmly. She hovered close always, as the medics arrived and transported her man onto a stretcher, then into the waiting ambulance. She rode by his side to the hospital and stayed by his side all through that eternally long first night. It was the most terrifying moment of the entire journey, there early on, when no one knew what was or what was to come. And Ruth stayed there by his side, that night and the days and nights that followed. For better or for worse.

It’s been written before, in my father’s book and later in my own. The blur of days and weeks that slowly stretched into months and years. Titus and Ruth married a few years after his accident. He would live the rest of his days on a wheelchair. All of life, and all that life was for Titus, was viewed from a wheelchair. They settled into their little new house there south of my parents’ homestead, well within the parameters of the region north of West Grove that was the Wagler empire in Bloomfield. I did not share much of that time with them, or see their uninterrupted lives, because I was running hard, pushing out into far boundaries such as I had never seen before.

Titus and Ruth settled into the Bloomfield Amish world as a young married couple. The timeline of events is a bit foggy in my memory, but at some point they moved from their little nest of a house. Moved over east about five miles, to a forty-acre tract of land just down and across the road from Ruth’s parents. And just down the road from the little farm pond where both their lives had changed so drastically, back in 1982. There, Titus built a nice new house. And he started a business with a couple of Ruth’s brothers. A little truss manufacturing shop, they started. And Titus and Ruth dreamed of one day raising a family of their own.

That dream was realized in 2002 when they came out to Pennsylvania, close to where I live in Lancaster, and adopted an infant child. A boy they named Robert. A few years later, Robert’s birth mother had another child, another son. Tragically, the mother then died. Titus and Ruth were notified. Your son’s full brother is also available for adoption. They traveled to Pennsylvania again. And this time they returned home with another baby, a son they named Thomas. They settled into the Amish world of Bloomfield, just another normal couple with two children. Two sons. And all was about as well as it could have been, I suppose. Considering everything.

Life is life for everyone, and into every life some sadness must fall. And for Titus, some of that sadness was watching his family pack up and move away. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, all of his married siblings who lived in Bloomfield moved out with their families. All except Joseph. My parents lived in the Daudy house on the farm where Joseph and Iva lived along Drakesville Road. It seemed like this was where my parents would be laid to rest after their journeys on this earth were over. But that was not to be. Early in 2008, Joseph resettled his family to May’s Lick, Kentucky. Dad and Mom moved with him. They had little choice in the matter. It just was what it was. And Titus remained in Bloomfield, the lone stalwart Wagler from what once was a vast and proud and far-flung clan. Those had to be some sad days for my brother.

And life went on, then. Over the years, I stopped by to see my brother when I came around anywhere close. I was always welcomed into their home, now ever lively with their two young sons. Like my father, Titus had a natural knack for business, and the little truss plant he founded with his brothers-in-law, that little business prospered greatly. The community there in Bloomfield grew and prospered, too. Until it became the largest Amish settlement west of the Mississippi, a distinction that remains today. Currently, there are thirteen districts in Bloomfield, and the settlement generates its own economy. It’s certainly a vastly different world than the one I knew decades ago, when people scratched and clawed to extract a meager and hardscrabble living from the land.

All that to say. Titus and his family were an integral part of the world I knew in all the time since I left the Amish long ago. They were just there. Titus stayed in regular contact. He still does. He has to make that effort, because we can only contact him in his phone shack. We never know when he’ll be there. So he just calls us, all his siblings, when he’s at his phone. And I don’t get out to that part of the world much these days. But if I get anywhere close to Bloomfield, I’ll stop by to see my brother. I am always welcomed. I have always been welcomed.

We’re just little boys again, my brother and me, when I stop by. For a few brief and fleeting moments, we are. Little boys, playing barefoot in the creek. We relive the old memories and we page through some of the old books from our childhood that the man has preserved. The actual books, from our actual childhoods. You hold such a thing in your hands and you talk about it with someone who held that same thing, way back, well, that’s just a special connection. Not a lot of words are necessary, and not a lot are spoken.

And there was another place where not a lot of words were spoken, too. We went there only a few times, in all the years since the night of that fateful dive. I brought it up, those times, during my infrequent visits at my brother’s home. I brought it up, kind of shyly. And I told him. I still can’t believe, sometimes, when I stop and really think about it. I still can’t believe that you can’t walk. Titus leaned forward in his wheelchair, hooking his arm around one of the handles on the back, like he always does. He looked at me and smiled back, kind of shyly, too. And he told me, those few times we went there. “Not a single day goes by that I don’t think about how it would be to get up from this chair and walk. I think about it. Every single day.” And there, in that brief sliver of time, we absorbed the pain of the reality that was his world, we absorbed it together in silence.

Titus has been concerned about certain stretches of the road I chose to walk over the years. This I know without him telling me. He never said much, really. I just knew. But he always respected where I was, and he always let me know in subtle ways how proud he was of the positive things I somehow got accomplished. Going to college. He was proud of me for that. And then law school. No one saw that coming. And there were some really, really rocky patches, then, after law school. My life was a huge mess, seemed like, way more than it wasn’t. And things just went the way they did. But Titus quietly offered his support, always, and he let me know how proud he was that I was writing. After that got triggered, I mean, by all the crap that was going on around me. He let me know. He reads my blogs faithfully. He’s read every single one that was ever posted. That doesn’t mean he always agrees with me, of course. He’s Amish, so he sees things a little different than I do. He’s had some issues with some of the stuff I’ve written over the years. Which is fine. But he has never, never told me to stop writing or asked me to change my voice.

It was kind of funny. The day after the anniversary of his accident, Titus called me. That Saturday. And I told him. I sure thought of you this year, when yesterday came. And now, today it’s eighteen years since Ellen and I got married. I mean, that’s the kind of thing that used to mess with my head. But it doesn’t, anymore. Now, it’s just a thing that was. So, anyway, how did it go for you, yesterday? Were you OK?

He chuckled. And I knew he had been OK. “Yes, I thought about it yesterday. And today, it’s eighteen years since you and Ellen got married. I got hurt thirty-six years ago. Eighteen is halfway to where I am.” And I chuckled, too. Wow, I said. That is kind of a wild realization, right there. And we chatted, then, about other things. He asked how the book is coming along.

I don’t know, really, I said. It’s definitely going to be delayed a little, because the first tentative deadline was this summer. Well, it ain’t happening, partly because some of the stuff that has to be in the book keeps happening around me right now. Like that trip up to see Dad. I’ve got a lot of writing to get done, yet. I figure to know a bit more about the schedule, soon. And we wrapped it up, then. Said so long and hung up.

And I thought of that night way back there in the past when a young man brimming with hope and confidence and the simple dreams of his fathers, when a man such as that went walking across a field to go swimming with his friends. That night, when the bright future of youth was so cruelly and senselessly shattered, by any human standard that made a lick of sense. That night, when the end of the innocence came for the way so much of life had always been. That night. That night…

And now, thirty-six years have passed. That’s a long, long time. And there is no question. Titus has lived a productive and fruitful life in his wheelchair. He has seen an abundance of the joy and sorrow and pain that life brings, with maybe a little bit of emphasis on the sorrow and pain. But joy was present, too, on his journey. Today, he is a respected Amish elder, a patriarch in his community, with a long and noble beard. A very successful businessman with a loving wife and family. I deeply admire his faith and courage and strength and persistent good cheer.

Still. Over the years, I have often thought of how Jesus spoke to the blind beggar who kept calling his name as he was passing by. “What do you want from me?” Jesus asked. The beggar cried out from the darkness with all the deep and hopeless longing that had burned in his heart for decades. “Lord, that I may see.”

The blind man got his wish. His eyes were healed. He could behold his world. And I have often imagined a similar scene if Jesus strolled by today and asked Titus that same question. “My child, what do you want from me?”

And I can hear my brother’s voice, echoing the yearning and sorrow and fear and loss and heartbreak that he has seen and felt and lived on the long, hard road that was the last thirty-six years. “Lord, that I may walk.”

It won’t be on this earth, but one day that scene will happen.

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