April 17, 2015

Re-Connecting…

Category: News — admin @ 6:00 pm

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Men do not escape from life because life is dull, but life
escapes from men because men are little.

—Thomas Wolfe
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It’s been a bit of an odd spring around here, so far. And it’s been odd all around, I think. First, the long vile winter just would not end. Kind of made me all brooding and cranky, that did. And then, March was what it was. Everything got all dark on me, so I couldn’t write. You just kind of stumble on through life, when that happens. And then, one of the main office guys got ill, at work. Dave Hurst. His legs just gave out, lately. So he can’t make it in to work. And all of a sudden, it just got real busy, what with the normal spring rush and all. And being short-handed, it’s been even more hectic than usual for this time of year.

The phone rings, right along. And people walk in, too. People wanting quotes, people placing orders. Seems like you can’t get much work done on those more complicated quotes without getting interrupted. And when you’re all busy like that, and it happens like that, it gets a little tense sometimes. And sometimes it’s easy to get a little short with a customer, particularly if that customer seems unsure of what he wants. And that’s how I felt one day last week, soon after lunch. Rosita and Andrew had not returned, yet, so I was all alone in the show room up front. And he walked in, right when I was in the middle of a getting some work done on a quote. I heard the door open, so I glanced up. Lord, I thought, when I saw how the man looked. Please spare me from any eccentric people today. I talk to God like that, right along, just about any time I feel the need to.

The man had been around. You could see that. He was an older guy. Short, and wiry. Wrinkled face, with flat sun-burnt hair and a thin mustache. A toothy smile. But the strangest thing about him was his boots. Moccasin boots that almost reached his knees. That, and his walk was strange, too. Kind of a shamble. He approached the counter, and I got up to serve. I must say. I hoped he just wanted a few pieces of lumber, or something simple like that. Because right that minute, I figured I had about as much chance to sell him a bridge as I had to sell him a building.

He smiled, a little unsure of himself. I smiled back, a frozen smile. Can I help you? I asked. Yes, he thought maybe I could. He needed a pavilion, a building with a roof, but no sides. We’ve built plenty of those, over the years. I forget the size he figured he needed, but I pulled up the template on the counter computer. He had a list of questions. I was pretty curt, answering. Just get this guy his price, and get him out the door, so I could return to my desk.

He stood there, looking a little plaintive, as I worked up his quote. And the questions just kept rolling from him. I kept answering, curtly. And right about then, something went off inside me, in my head. And I scolded myself. Here is a customer. A man, looking to maybe buy something from you. Sure, he looks all eccentric, but, good grief, cut it out with the grumpiness. Treat him as a real person, with real value. Don’t matter if he wastes your time or not. This is the market. And he just walked into your store. Treat him real. Treat him with respect. And just like that, I got a grip on myself. And I turned to Mr. Eccentric and smiled.

Help yourself to a donut, there, I said, motioning to the large Dunkin’ Donut box a sales rep had left on the counter earlier that morning. You might as well relax and enjoy a treat, while I’m working up your price. He smiled, all pleased. He shouldn’t, but he believed he would, anyway, he said. He opened the large flat box and helped himself to some cream-filled monstrosity loaded with white frosting and sprinkles at the top. And he stood there munching away quite contentedly as I worked. He kept wiping the frosting from his sun-burnt mustache. I went back to my desk, got a napkin from the middle drawer, and handed it to him. He took it, wiped his mustache, thanked me, and kept right on munching.

And I asked. Where do you live, as in where do you come from? “I’m from Jersey, but I live local,” he said. And I gave him his price, and he seemed all happy and impressed. “You know, that’s not too bad at all, that’s not bad at all,” he kept saying as he chewed on his donut. “Nope, that’s not bad at all.” Well, you know where I am, when you need it, I said. And then I leaned against the counter, to visit a bit.

You said you’re from Jersey, I said. Where in Jersey? We ship quite of bit of stuff down there. And he told me. “Over close to Philly, just over the line. I moved over to this area when I retired, back in 1997.”

Retired, eh? What did you retire from? I asked. And here it came, the mother lode. The gold mine. “I was a tugboat skipper for twenty-five years,” he said. A tugboat skipper? I half hollered. Wow, is all I can say. I’ve never met anyone like you before. This is just fantastic. And his face lit up, and he beamed and beamed.

I’ve met a lot of different people from a lot of different occupations, over the counter, during my fourteen years at Graber. All kinds of unusual backgrounds, I’ve seen. A few years back, a guy stood there and told me how he had been a train engineer years ago, for many years. I asked him a hundred questions, including if he had ever hit any vehicles that were crossing the tracks when he came blaring along. He had hit a few. “But I never killed anyone,” he said. “I never killed anyone crossing the tracks.” That seemed to be his measuring stick, on how successful he’d been as a train driver. And I could understand that. Who wants to have such a thing on his mind? Even if it wasn’t his fault. I hear that, I told the guy. And that’s so way cool. I’ve never met a train engineer before.

And here stood Mr. Eccentric, telling me he skippered a tugboat for twenty-five years. No wonder he walked funny, I thought later. He walked that way, from all those weeks and months and years of sailing the seas on his tugboat. And I just leaned right into the counter, and we talked, he and I, for the next ten minutes or so. And when you show genuine interest in someone’s life or occupation, most people are all too happy to get real chatty. They can tell, if you really mean it or not, with your questions.

And I asked the questions, rat-a-tat. I’ve always wondered. How big is a tugboat’s propeller? “Twenty to twenty-two feet across,” he said. Wow, I said. No wonder they can push and pull like they can. He worked the North Atlantic, that’s what he told me. Towing barges and pushing big old ships around. And sometimes, he towed barges full of flammable stuff, fuel and such. When that happened, he could stretch out the cables so the barge was three/quarters of a mile behind his tugboat. It was all just fascinating, what he was saying. And we wound it down, then. One more question.

How big was your boat? I asked. “One hundred and twenty feet long,” he told me. “With a crew of six.” And we just talked, the two of us, as he told me his stories. He took his leave, then. And I thought about it, as he walked out the door, with his strange sea-leg shamble. Just that close, I missed it, what all he had to tell me, because I was too busy and too grumpy to pay any real attention to an eccentric old man who came shambling into my office for a quote on a pavilion.

Just that close, I missed it.

Moving on, then. It’s been a while, since I’ve mentioned the tenant. We’ve wintered well, he and I. It goes weeks and weeks sometimes, and I never see him. I hear him walking around upstairs, but that’s about it. And now and then, we’ll run into each other, and catch up with what all’s going on. And no, near as I could tell, the man never had any idea that I ever wrote a book.

Until just last Saturday, that is. It finally caught up with me. Not that it was all that big a deal, one way or the other. I just didn’t want him to know I’m an author, until he had a real chance to get to know me. That’s all. It wasn’t any big plot or anything.

Anyway, last Saturday, I went and did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I went to a real, honest go gosh book signing. Not a talk. Just a signing. My friend, Amos Smucker, the horse dentist, has a variety stand at the Farmer’s Market in Trenton, NJ. Just past Philly. And he’s been wanting me to come, and sign books one day. So a few weeks back, I gave him my big old glossy poster, and he took about twenty copies of my book. Saturday, April 11th. That’s when I would come to sign.

And so I headed out, last Saturday morning. I had told Amos. I’ll be there from ten until two. And then I’m heading home. My GPS took me right to the place. Real nice, quite plain, the market’s been there for a long time. It goes way back. And in the back, there’s Amos’s store. Amish Country Store. He had my books laid out in the empty space across the aisle. And I settled in, and just enjoyed the feel of a good old-fashioned book signing, where no one has any idea of who you are or what you wrote.

Traffic was sparse, but steady. By two, I’d signed around a dozen books or so. I offered to take back the excess copies. Amos had me sign five, and I took the rest. And I just headed on out, and back toward home. It was a beautiful sunny day. The finest Saturday I had seen in a long time. Too bad, I thought to myself, that March didn’t have a few sunny, warm Saturdays like this. I could have stayed out of some of those dark places, I bet, if there had been.

Driving through New Holland, I stopped to see Dave Hurst, my co-worker who hasn’t been able to get to work. He looked a little better than when I last saw him. We sat and just visited for twenty minutes or so, and then I headed on home. The tenant had his car out in front of my garage, when I got there. The hood up. The man tinkers more with his two cars than anyone I ever saw. I parked Big Blue in the first drive and ambled over to chat with him. And we just talked.

And somewhere, along pretty soon, he asked me. “You’ve been gone most of the day. Where were you at? Working at the office?” It wasn’t that he was prying. Just making conversation. And I figured the time had come, to tell him. We chatted as he walked with me, back to the house. I reached into my truck and pulled out a copy of my book. Showed it to him. Did you know I wrote this? I asked. I was at a book signing today in Trenton.

He held the book in his hands, and looked it up and down, keenly. “No, I never knew you wrote this book,” he said. And I chuckled. Look at the very top, there, I said. It’s a New York Times Bestseller. I’m pretty proud of that. And no one can ever take that accomplishment away from me. No one. Don’t matter, what happens. And I told him the short version of how it all came down, the how and when of it. And how the book had taken me to Germany, to talk at a University, back in 2013.

He kept on looking astonished. “I never knew you wrote this,” he said again. “I remember a few times that you mentioned that you were up late, writing. I wondered about it, when you said that. Now I know what you meant.”

I signed the book. “To _____, the best tenant I ever had,” and gave it to him. He thanked me. Well, I said. I wanted you to know me as I am, not as a “writer.” He chuckled as he kept thumbing through the pages. “Oh, don’t you worry about any of that,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re a hifalutin’ bestselling author or not. You’re Ira. You’ll always be Ira to me.”

You bet. That’s the way it should be, I said. And that’s how we left it.

And moving on, again. It was so strange, when I got back from Florida. I had every intention of writing all about the trip, and how it went with Dad. I hung out with the man for a week. And it all went pretty well, mostly. That first week home, I sat down to write it all out. And I wrote and wrote. A couple of dozen pages in all. And by late week, I saw it wasn’t working. Something inside me wasn’t wanting to get out right. My voice was all forced and taut. And when that first Friday came along, I just didn’t post. And when the next Friday came along, I didn’t post again. And the next. And the next.

It was hard, seeing a Friday coming, and I couldn’t write. But every time, when I realized what was actually going on, I drew back in. I will not post, if my voice ain’t right. I don’t care if my blog shuts down. I will not force my voice. I will not do it.

And now, from here, maybe that little father/son story will never get told in detail. I don’t know. Maybe it will, too, someday, when the muse hits just right. So I’ll leave it all for now. Except for one little thing that happened, one little story I want to say, right here.

I had told the Lord, when I went down there. I need some sort of blessing from this trip. I want one. It don’t have to be a spoken blessing from Dad, I’ve given up on such a thing a long time ago. He’s old, and where he comes from, you don’t speak a real blessing on your sons. Because you don’t know how. But I told God. Just give me something, some blessing I can grasp and hold on to. I’ll fight you, I’ll wrestle with you, until you bless me. Like Jacob did, in the Bible. Make me lame, if you want, just like you made him lame. But I want that blessing.

And there was a thing that came down that week, that certainly was a blessing. The first morning, during devotions, Dad asked me to read a passage aloud from Psalms. In German, from his German Bible. I was a little astounded to be asked, but I found a real short Psalm, and kind of stumbled my way through it. I still had it, the ability to read the old High German. I was just a bit rusty, that’s all. And every morning after that, it was my duty, to read a Psalm in German. That was a high place in my mind, an experience I never dreamed I’d get to see. I figured that was the blessing I had asked the Lord for. I figured my demand had worked, and I was pretty relaxed about it all.

And so I wasn’t even looking for it, when the real thing rolled right on down on me. Friday, around mid-morning. My last full day there. Dad and I were just lounging on the couch in the living room. I don’t remember where my sister Rhoda was. Probably bustling about, doing the laundry or something. Dad and I chatted sporadically. And right out of the blue, he just asked me a question, all of a sudden. “Is your book still selling?”

Well, yeah, some, I said, startled. We hadn’t talked about my book much, all week. And I told him. It’s still selling, mostly on Amazon. It never occurred to me that he might not know what Amazon is. And he didn’t. “What’s that?” he asked.

I had my iPad right with me. That’s what I used to stay connected on the trip, with my direct link to Verizon. I don’t need wireless. I can connect anywhere Verizon has service. And I pulled up my book on Amazon, on the screen. Showed it to him. See? There’s the book. The Kindle version is on sale for $9.99. And then it hit me. I could show him something so much more.

I’ve often wished that Dad could read some of my book’s reviews on Amazon. Just to get a taste of how totally disinterested (by that I mean disconnected) readers reacted. It was a fond, but distant wish for me, that my father could maybe see some feedback from outside people who appreciated the story, that he might glimpse the universal struggle of flawed fathers and their flawed sons, that he might let go of the hurt of his son speaking his story to all the world. Well, maybe that’s yearning for too much, that he’d let it go. But at least that he could read some outside perspectives. I never did think I’d see that day, though. And I sure never thought to ask the Lord for such a gift.

And now it was falling into my lap, the thing I never even dared to dream of. And sitting right there, I told him. I have 530 reviews on Amazon. Reviews, as in people posting their reactions. I’m pretty proud of that. Not many books have 530 reviews, anywhere on Amazon. And then I asked him. Do you want to read some of them? He never hesitated for a second. “Yes. I’d like that,” he said.

Almost in disbelief, I pulled up the page where the five-star reviews begin. I handed Dad my iPad, and he actually took it from my hands. I don’t think he was really aware that he was reading from the internet. He didn’t process it that far. So he just sat there and read. I showed him how to move the page up with his finger, on the screen. And I just sat there and reveled in that moment. He read and read, for probably fifteen minutes. And then I told him. Here. Let me show you. You’re reading all the five-stars. The top reviews. Let me show you a one-star.

I pulled up a short one-star, a vicious little screed about how the book should never have been written, how terrible the writing was all around, and how it would have been better for all the world had I never been born. Or something like that. One-star reviewers are a weird breed, all their own, because they expend all that energy to tear someone down. Dad took the iPad and read the review. “Har, har,” he chuckled, after he’d finished. “That person doesn’t like you very much, does he?”

And I chuckled, too. It’s OK, Dad, I told him. It’s the market. Not everyone’s gonna like what you write. It’s just how it is. Yeah, those one-stars stung, at first, because I took them personally. I’ve let all that go, a long time ago, now. It’s just not worth it. And I linked him back up to the five-stars, and the man just sat there and read and read and read.

And that right there is probably my most special memory of my trip to Pinecraft. Maybe I’ll get it all written sometime, a more detailed account of how it all went down there when I spent a week with my father. And maybe I won’t. If I don’t, at least I got this much told.

And now, winding down, here. Speaking of books and publishing. It’s pretty well known in the publishing world. Don’t ask Ira to endorse your book. He won’t do it. He will politely refuse. And it’s not that I got anything personal against anyone. It’s just that once you go down that endorsement path, well, I think that tune just keeps right on playing. So I flinched from it, instinctively, from the start. Besides, I don’t think endorsements do a whole lot of good, anyway, from what I’ve seen. Either the book will sell on its own, or it won’t. My words on the back cover ain’t gonna make a whole lot of difference, one way or the other.

All that to say this. A good friend of mine recently got her book published. And I told her, back last year when I read an early draft of the manuscript. Your story is raw, and it’s real. No, I won’t endorse the book. But I’ll write a short review about it. Or I’ll at least mention it on my blog. And that is something I rarely, rarely promise to anyone.

I was born into an Amish family in southern Ontario. Trudy Harder Metzger was born into a Russian Mennonite family in Mexico. I thought my life was hard, and I thought it was a hard thing, to break away from my culture. Well. Compared to Trudy’s journey, my life was a walk in the park, with maybe a nice little picnic lunch spread out on a clean blanket under sunny, pleasant skies. She comes from a tough and brutal place. And the miracle is, she survived. She not only did that. But today she ministers to the broken and wounded in plain Mennonite communities all over Canada and this country.

She grew up in a setting that was riddled with superstition. And riddled with abuse. Abuse of every kind. Physical. Emotional. Sexual. Some scenes in her book are so raw and so brutally harsh that I shrank from reading them. But I did. It’s a journey of grace, for all of us who come to know Jesus, and the healing and forgiveness He so freely offers. When you read the stories of what Trudy went through, you’ll grasp a much deeper understanding of what grace really is, how deep it flows, and how fully it can heal.

The book’s title. Between 2 Gods: A Memoir of Abuse in the Mennonite Community. My story was going to be written, whether it ever got published as a book or not. I think Trudy’s story is the same. It was going to get told, one way or the other. Like I said, it’s not a pretty read, in a lot of places. But it’s real and it’s raw. I deeply admire my friend for not only having the courage to speak her story, but to walk right back out into the wilderness she came from, searching for all those who are lost and wandering and wounded. And just talking to them. I’ve been where you are. I can show you a better place. Come. This is the path to healing and freedom.

Today, Trudy lives in Elmira, in southern Ontario (just up north of Aylmer an hour or so, actually) with her husband Tim and their five children. Her story of how she got to where she is, from where she comes from, is more than remarkable. It’s amazing.

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April 3, 2015

March of Darkness…

Category: News — admin @ 6:00 pm

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The best way out is always through.

—Robert Frost
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Well. This is all pretty strange. I guess I’ll try it one more time. It’s not like I didn’t want to post, at least now and then, these last six weeks. It’s just that when the time came to crank out the writing for this blog, it didn’t seem all that important. Because there was nothing worth saying, that I could see. So I didn’t speak.

It’s been strange. The first time, ever, that I’ve been in this specific, silent place. And some of you out there have been getting a little restive. A few emails came trickling in, the last few weeks. What’s up, that you’re not posting, on the blog? Are you OK? One reader even asked, a little dramatically, I thought. Are you still alive? I appreciated those few notes, those few emails. I really did. And I answered every one.

No. I’m not OK. I’m alive, certainly. But not OK. This is March, and March is the month from hell for me. And this year, I just went down, down into the darkness, in my head. I will write again, when I have something to say, when the voice comes right. Otherwise, I’m staying silent, right where I am.

I’m not real sure just how it happened. It’s not something I was expecting. I kind of felt it coming on, I suppose. I always get real moody in March. So I figured some sort of crap was coming. And it was a little strange, the way it all came down. It’s like I was just walking along through life, minding my own business. That’s what I claim, anyway. And the spirit that is darkness kind of sidled up, and walked right along beside me. I glanced over, startled. Go away, I said. I know who you are. And I don’t need you. Leave me alone. But it whispered, as it walked along beside me. Sweetly, caressingly, oh, so invitingly. Come on. Open the door. Let me in. You know you want to. You won’t know how you really feel, if you don’t. You know you wrote that this is a different kind of year, that everything is on the table. You said you’d take it as it comes. Well, let it be. Let me in. I can show you real things, hard things, that most people can’t confront because they don’t have the strength to see. I can do that, I can show you those things. I promise you. Let me in.

And almost, I got it shrugged off. Almost, I got that spirit rebuked. Get out of here, evil darkness. Leave me alone. And I felt it, the cave closing around me, as mid-month slithered in. It’s a harsh and brutal time. I felt it, inside, the darkness of it. I brooded. And slowly sank. And brooded some more. And sank deeper, faster now.

The month of March is the month of March. There’s no use fighting the darkness of what that means. And I finally gave up. I opened up the door and invited it all in. The rage and pain and fear and shame of all of it. All the way down deep, I absorbed it. OK, March, show me what you got. Give me your best shot. Show me what you claimed you could. The black night closed in all around me. And that was all there was.

That’s where I’ve been, in March. In that dark place. And that’s why I haven’t posted a new blog in six straight weeks.

I’ve been fighting it, most of last year. You could call it deep melancholy. Or you could call it depression, I suppose. Whatever you call it, it’s a dark place, where you feel all sad. And now March closed in and descended. And I was, like, God, come on. You know I don’t want this. I’ve been fighting it, all last year. You know I’ve been trying to kick free from this crap. And I thought I had, at least a little bit. And now it’s sweeping in again. What’s up with that? Why can’t I be free? Is it just me, or are you turning your back on me? I mean, come on. I have wept. I have prayed. I have cast out by the spoken word, what shouldn’t be inside me, I have cast it all out in Jesus’ name. And still, here it creeps back in again, all dark and overwhelming. It’s like it never stops. It keeps invading, sweeping in. Why can’t I be free of this bleak and brutal stuff?

Eight years ago, this blog was launched in March. A week or so after Ellen had left our home. From the darkness of that destructive month, my writing voice was born. And since that time, there has never been a span of six weeks between posts. The longest I ever went, even while I was writing the book, was four weeks. Until now. This year. This March. It went six weeks. To me, that is a pretty startling thing.

It always gets real dark, in that month. Mostly, I had learned to fight it off, at least before it got in, all the way down. At least I thought so. But this year, well, last year is still pretty close, pretty fresh. And last year this time was when my heart went all haywire. When I got hauled off to the hospital and had my heart seared, so it would beat right. I don’t know if I ever processed what all triggered what all happened. Probably not. I know I was pretty depressed, when I got out. Not in a deep dark hole all the time, but just a slow steady grind that kind of waved, roared in and receded, week after week and month after month. It got pretty old.

A little side note, here. Right about the time the ambulance was hauling me off to the emergency room with my tripping heart, right at that moment, my brother Joseph was real sick with pneumonia. And he was in intensive care, hovering between life and death. He came that close to not making it. In that moment, no one knew how either of us were gonna end up. The family staggered with the blow. I mean, two brothers in the hospital at the same time? Joseph and Ira? Yeah, we knew Joseph was sick. But what’s up with Ira? And I think about it, from here. We’re Waglers. We’ve always been tough. Proud. Walking tall. Nothing could knock us down. But we weren’t like that, last March. And it’s kind of touching and kind of funny at the same time. When they told Dad about it, up in Aylmer, he looked all stunned. A ninety-two year-old man, absorbing one more blow. He stroked his long gray beard in shock and sorrow. “Well,” he proclaimed. “I feel like Job, in the Bible. My sons are dropping all around me.”

We both made it back, though. And Dad told me all about what he’d said, when I was down in Pinecraft to see him. You look at it, though. That’s how it went, last March. And this March, I felt the blackness of all the ones that came before, seemed like. And in the middle of all the darkness swooshing all around me, I had one simple focus. And yeah, I know. It should have been something like my deep trust in God, or how my faith sustained me right to the end. And how I was all triumphant. It wasn’t any of that. My one focus was to make it through the month. Not that I ever figured I wouldn’t. Mostly, it was a deep, deep sense of desperately wanting the month to be over. When you’re in the middle of the crap I was in, you focus on some pretty strange things, I guess. But that was my goal, looking back. Just slog through. Make it to the end of March. When April gets here, you can release the darkness.

It was all psychological, pretty much in my head. I knew that, all along. That didn’t make any of it any less real. The days crept by, and slowly, so slowly, the weeks. And then the last weekend. And then a new month dawned, just this week. April. And with it, a new day. I felt it when I got up, that morning of the first. It was gone, pretty much. All through March, when I woke up, the first things I thought of were dark things, of loss and pain and rejection. That first morning in April, I guess the brain cells told themselves. It’s a new month. We don’t have to go there anymore. And they didn’t. I almost couldn’t believe it. And that evening after work, for the first time in six weeks or so, I drove my truck on over to the Malibu Gym in New Holland. I figured it was about time to get to working out again.

It had been way, way too long since I parked where I parked that night. I walked in, half tentatively, clutching my workout bag. Lorraine, the owner, smiled and smiled, as she greeted me. “What am I seeing, a stranger?” She asked. I knew my membership had expired. So I stood and filled out the paperwork she brought me to sign. And we talked, right along. “It’s so good to see you, so good to have you back. I thought maybe you moved away,” she told me. I told her a little bit about how it was, what had happened. I did wander off to a far-away land, in my head, for a while, I said. But I’m back now. Or at least working my way back. She smiled and smiled. And then I went and worked out, for the first time in a long time.

That was the first day of April. And it was a beautiful, beautiful day.

I’m not saying it was all magic, what happened, or that I won’t revert into moodiness in April. I’m sure I will. But I can say, the deep darkness is gone. And it’s gone, too, that paralyzing fog that stifled my voice on this blog. I can speak again. And from where I’ve been and from what I’ve seen in March, I have a few things to say about that darkness, about what it is and what it does to you.

The darkness is pain.

I’m not just talking about the intense pain in the moment of the explosion of a marriage. Or a best friend’s brutal betrayal. Or the slicing pain of a phantom relationship you got led along to believe was real when it never was. (And no, the details of all that are not important. And yes, I way, way overreacted. But it just was what it was, in the time and place and moment it happened. And it was a pretty heavy loss, in my heart and head.) The pain of the scorn of it all. It happens to me about every seven years, right along, seems like. I stick my head up out of the sand, all tentative and shy. And it just promptly gets chopped off. Back down under I go again. That’s how strong the pain of rejection is to me. It’s real, and it’s deep. I’m talking quiet pain, that’s there long after those first waves that just make you think you want to die. It settles in, after everything settles down a bit, it settles, buried way down there, pain so subtle that you don’t even think you’re hurting anymore. But you are. And it slips back up on you, softly, softly, and disturbs your heart. And if you don’t figure out what’s going on, if you don’t deal with it, it morphs into a big old roaring lion. A stalking lion that will devour you. I don’t pretend to know how to get rid of pain such as that. Maybe time will take it. I don’t know. I know all the formulas, about how you just take your pain and give it to God. Give it to Jesus. The kind of darkness I was in just didn’t go there. I knew the truth. But I don’t think the pain did. Or maybe I just wasn’t connecting right. The darkness is pain.

The darkness is fear.

And it’s a deep, deep fear. Fear of getting old. Fear of being alone. Fear of the realization that hits you, sometimes. The deep, desperate realization of just how lonely you really are. You have no one, no one that’s there for you. You stutter and stammer along, all brave and confident, when you aren’t. And there’s fear at other levels, too. I saw my parents get real old. Sick and old. We all know how Mom suffered, before she died. And how Dad is getting way up there, and getting all unhandy and cranky. He’s ninety-three. I look at all that, and I fear it. I don’t want to get that old. I have no desire to. I’d have no one there for me, to care for me. I walk alone. I’ve walked alone most of my life. But, ultimately, when you get old, walking alone will turn into a fearful thing. It just will. The darkness is fear.

The darkness is rage.

It’s rage that stirs from way down deep inside. And this March was a month of rage for me. I was down, anyway. And when I got home from work, after not going to the gym, I had me a vodka or six. Alcohol is a depressant. Mix a depressant with a melancholy (some will say depressed) man, and, well, I raged more in March than I have in a long time. On Facebook, I just went off, in the evenings. I got all confrontational about all kinds of things. I mean, I could have said what I said in a different way. And I would have, if I hadn’t been just enraged about a whole lot of darkness going on inside me. On the Facebook Family Page, I raged, too, about stuff that should never be raged against. Well, mostly, anyway. Bottom line is, I was so angry, all through March. Angry enough that I went back eight years, in my heart, and in my memory. And the rage reached back, that far, to my surprise. I thought it had all been worked through, the crap that came down a long time ago. In March, it hadn’t, apparently. The old rage was quiet, but it ran real deep. I was startled, I must say, to feel it in me. But it was there, and it was real. The darkness is rage.

The darkness is shame.

Of all the emotions triggered by the darkness, shame is the most debilitating. It cuts way down there, way deeper than any of the others. Shame, because of rejection. I’m talking, someone rejected who you are, as a person. It’s a brutal, brutal place to be. It saps you of your strength and drains your will to face the world. It’s an intense and brutal thing that will move in and overwhelm your life, if you let it. It builds upon itself. Shame. And in time, you accept it, just how worthless you are. And in time, you invite the shame of it in, right into your heart, when it really has no business there. It’s tough, for me, to even try to express the deep shame I have felt and continue to feel, in waves. Still. It’s a sin, to invite it in the way I did. Shame, in its proper place, is a good thing. But when the darkness closes in and that’s the main thing you feel, it is a really, really destructive thing. And it’s a sinful thing. The darkness is shame.

And that’s how I see it, the darkness I just came out of. I’m sure there are a whole lot of other emotions that could be listed. The darkness is this, and the darkness is that. And they’re all true. And none of it, whatever it is, is a pretty place to be. I can tell you that, from the place I just came walking from.

But I just have to think, from where I am. It’s Good Friday, today. The Passion of the Christ. Maybe it wasn’t coincidence, that I emerged back into the light a few days before Good Friday. Maybe I can grasp it for real this year, what the day really stands for. Always before, it was just rote talk, mostly. Yeah. It’s the day Jesus died for our sins. He suffered on the cross. You can hear those words again and again, and it never really sinks in, what they mean.

Jesus died for my sins. What the heck does that mean, if you think you ain’t a sinner? Trust me. You are. I can tell you that. And I can tell you this, too. Salvation is a gift, all of it. It never was anything you earned, in any way. It’s a gift. And it don’t matter what dark places you revisit after you receive that gift. Don’t matter how dark it gets. I know He’s there, and I know I am His child. I will never not be. The Lord does not divorce His children. He never has. He never will. I know this, but I invited the darkness in anyway. I really have to grasp hard, to get a glimpse of the fact that Jesus died for the very darkness that enveloped me. He took it all upon Himself. All the pain, all the fear, all the rage, all the shame. That’s what Good Friday really is all about. That, right there. I’ve never, ever seen it so clearly before. It’s like a curtain of some kind just got lifted up.

A mustard seed of faith. That’s all it takes. That’s all it ever took. And I’m glad. Because that’s all I’ve ever claimed to have. And I wonder sometimes, if I’ve even got that much.

OK. Winding down, here. On Wednesday, the first day of this month, a good friend of mine came strolling through the door at work. I’ll just call him by his last name. Smucker. I’ve known the man for years. I’ve worked with him, day to day, in the past. And he’s just about the most non-judgmental Christian I’ve ever met. He looks you in the eye. Tells you his stories, and listens to your talk. And I can speak to the man from my heart, like I can to very few others. Because I know he’s not judging me, whatever it is I’m telling him.

And on Wednesday, he strolled in at work. I was on the phone, so he chatted with Rosita and the others for a while. After I got off, I greeted him. He smiled. “Just stopping by to see how it’s going,” he said. “It’s not March anymore.” He had obviously been following my inflammatory rants on Facebook all that month. Well, you know what? I said. It really is different today. Something snapped somewhere, something changed. It’s different. Not saying I won’t get all brooding in April anytime. But I’m out of the worst of it. Must be psychological.

And we just talked a bit. “Did you get people to pray for you, when you were all down like that?” he asked. I just stared at him. It never occurred to me, to do that, and I told him so. When the darkness closes in, I just like to curl up in the fetal position, and face it alone, I said. That’s just the way I’ve always done it. He smiled. He understood, but he wasn’t buying it.

“Well, maybe that’s because you like doing that,” he said. “Next time you feel it coming on, call me. I’ll get some praying going on, on your behalf.” Thanks, I will do that, I said. And I thought about it, after he left. The man had actually stopped by just to see how I was doing. He really had. It made me feel all humble and all good.

The next time the darkness comes walking along beside me, whispering to be let in, I will call Smucker and tell him. And we both know darn well there will be a next time. I’m thinking I might not have to go down so deep, though, what with his prayers and all.

We’ll just see how it goes when the darkness comes calling again.

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