July 4, 2014

Stranger on a Hard Road…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:06 pm


The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is
destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the olive oil fails.

Joel 1:10

It’s like I wrote before, a few blogs back. It’s been a different kind of spring, this year. I had a whole lot of problems, with my heart running wild on different levels. I slogged through that. And then, right as that situation was stabilizing, Mom passed away. Seemed like it was one thing after another, rolling right on in, this spring. And I tried to speak it, tried to write it, as I was walking down that road.

I’ve settled down a good deal, lately. Just kind of settled into a new routine. You can’t change what happened. It all was what it was. And now, it all is what it is. I’m in a different place. And it just takes a while, for me to process new realities, I think. The reality that I am no longer young, and that I have issues with my heart. I used to say, when people asked me how old I was. I don’t feel my age. But now I do. I feel my age, older even, sometimes. And I do get through all that processing of new places, eventually. It just takes me a lot longer than it does most people. Maybe it’s because I insist on going all the way down to the bottom of things, insist on dredging out every last emotion, and explore the deepest and darkest crevices of every cave. That’s the only place the really intense writing comes from, I’ve claimed. A cave. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true for all writers, but I think it is for me.

And the strange spring moved right on into a very busy summer at work. June was one of our busiest months, ever, in the history of Graber Supply. We moved out a lot of product. It’s a job, to dispatch all that stuff. I scheduled and fretted and moved the loads about, to get them all delivered. It was a hectic month. It’s always good to be real busy in your life, when you’re coming out of a strange spring like the one I just came out of.

You’ll get yanked around, though, if you go feeling sorry for yourself about how tough your life is. You will. Something will come along to show you how good you have it. And something different came down earlier this week, something that gave me a whole new perspective on a whole lot of things. It was around mid-day, just after lunch time, and the office was pretty sparsely staffed. The phone call came in, and Rosita beeped me. “It’s someone from Maryland who wants a quote on a building,” she said. OK, I said. And she connected the call over. This is Ira. Can I help you?

And the caller’s voice was different, right from the first word. Kind of hesitant, kind of quiet and deflated. He was from southern Maryland. He wanted a quote on a new garage. Could I help him? Of course, I said. What size are you thinking of? And we talked it through, the size that he wanted. A pretty standard garage, with three Overhead doors on front. He wanted it to look good, the building. Overhangs. Wainscoting. A cupola with a weathervane. And after we had talked that through, I asked for his information. Name. Location. Is this a replacement garage?

And in a tired and heavy voice, he told me. He was burning brush last week, and went inside his house to cool off. It was windy out, and the burning brush blew over to his detached garage, and it started burning. The fire trucks arrived, four of them, but the firemen could get only one water hose to work. (I think he was pretty far back in the sticks, from the sound of that.) So the fire jumped over to his house and burned it to the ground. He lost everything, except his dog and a few pieces of this and that.

And right there, you have a choice, when you’re talking to a total stranger and he tells you a story like that. You can make small noises of sympathy. Tell him you’re sorry, and that you’ll get that quote right out to him. Or you can engage. I didn’t really feel like engaging. I was tired. I was busy. It was the early afternoon stretch, when you always feel like taking a nap. But still. Something made me pause. Talk to the man. He’s not in a good place. He’s on a hard road. I felt bad for him. That’s a given. But you can feel bad for a person, especially a total stranger, and just walk on. I decided not to. So I asked him.

I’m sorry about the fire. Did anyone get hurt? “No,” he said. “It was just me and my dog in the house. He sensed something was wrong, his hackles rose up. So I walked outside to check, and there the garage was on fire.” There was a lot of regret in his voice. He didn’t say it, but I could feel it in him. If only he’d kept a better eye on that fire. If only he hadn’t been so stupid…if only.

It felt so alone, his voice. I asked him. Do you have family? A slight pause. “I have one grown son in the area. I just got divorced last October.” One grown son, in the area. What does that mean? Is that son with you, around you? And you divorced just last October? I wonder who initiated that. I bet it wasn’t you. I think you’re still hurting pretty deeply from that. You’d have to be, it’s still so close. I didn’t ask those questions. Didn’t make those comments. But they pulsed through my mind as we talked. This guy was hurting, here. Real hurt. That’s what he was going through.

The man continued. “And last night I hit a deer with my car,” he said, tiredly. “I’m wondering when it’s all going to stop.”

I hunched back a bit. What can you even say to a guy going through all that? What can you ever say to a person walking a road like that, that won’t just sound trite? But the question came, I’m not sure from where inside me. Do you have support around you? I asked. “Yes,” he said. “From people I don’t even know, some of them are church people.” And it was about as I’d figured. He doesn’t have a lot of people around him. He doesn’t have much of a support structure. He’s pretty much alone.

I sure am sorry to hear all that, I said. “Well, the insurance company has been very good, so far, at least,” he said. “It’s not like I won’t get reimbursed. I’m staying in a real nice motel, and they’re paying for that.” But his voice was heavy. I figured he was probably a little older than me, from how he came across. I have no way of knowing that. But his house, his castle, and all the little details he had accumulated in his life, the record of who he was, all that was gone. And he kept on talking.

“I sure hope that one day God will let me understand why all this is happening,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason.” Yeah, I guess, I said. I didn’t tell him, because it wouldn’t have been right to tell him. Because of the hard road he was on. Struggling to make some sense of what all was going on. So I didn’t say it. But I don’t believe that everything that happens has to have a reason.

You can just be walking along all blithe and happy, like this guy was. He obviously loved his home and took pride in it. He was just out there, cleaning up a bit, and burning some brush. It was a hot day. So he walked inside to cool down in the air conditioning. And then he got clobbered. His garage caught fire. And then his house. And it all burned down to the ground, all that he treasured in his life. The material things, I mean. It all burned down. He lost pretty much everything he owned. And no insurance company’s ever gonna get his stuff back, I don’t care how much money they pay him. Totally random, I think, is what all that was. Just crap that comes at you in real life.

“You can’t take it with you when you go, anyway,” he said, as we were winding down. “I never saw a hearse pulling a U Haul trailer. Have you?” Nope, I said. I totally agree with that. You ain’t taking nothing with you when you go. None of us are. Well, hey, I’ll get that quote out to you in the next few days. “Great,” he said. “I just don’t know which way I’ll go. I just don’t know. I may just get a whole new place. The insurance people are telling me I have that option. But that spot where my home was is just so beautiful.” Yeah, I said. I’m sure it is. It was your home.

He had one more thing to tell me. Or ask of me. “If you think about it, say a prayer for me,” he said. Oh, I absolutely will do that, I said. I will do that. He thanked me. And we hung up.

I thought about the guy, later. Actually, I’ve been thinking about him a lot. I’ve seen some tough times in my life. I think most people have. But I’ve sure never been through anything like that, losing all you got, and not really having anyone there around you. I’ve been close to destitute a few times, way back in my wild running around days. But even then, I never lost everything I owned. And I always had a safe haven to return to, if the worst came to worst. Well, a safe haven with a lot of stringent conditions. But still. A safe place.

And a couple of things came to me, thinking about it all. Not that I got any explicit moral lessons, here. Just some loosely connected thoughts, and maybe a bunny trail or two. Like I said, I don’t believe everything has to happen for a reason. Not to where it’ll ever make any sense to you, anyway. Life is life, and a whole lot of it comes at you completely randomly. You walk through it the best you can, and when a tough road comes at you, you just slog on. You’ll get through it. You will, if you keep walking. I can tell you that, from where all I’ve been. And I’ve been down some real tough roads, of every imaginable type.

It’s a big mistake, too, to believe that just because you’re a Christian, bad things won’t come at you. If you actually believe that, you are severely deluded. I don’t know any better way to tell you. Bad things will come at you, even if you are a Christian. Maybe more than would come if you weren’t. Not saying that last point is always true. But it sure can be.

I’ve seen it so many times, in so many places. Where Christians are always acting so giddily happy and upbeat, and claiming to be so blessed, they can’t hardly stand it. The Lord is so good, they gush. Well, yes. He is. He absolutely is. And He’s always in control. Of everything. Everything that happens around you. Everything that happens to you.

But don’t pretend He protects you from bad stuff hitting you upside the head. Don’t pretend you don’t have your struggles. Don’t pretend you got victory in all areas of your life. Don’t pretend you are any better than the drunk, passed out in the gutter. You’re not. Your heart is just as depraved as you’re judging his to be. Maybe more. Don’t put that façade out, to your church world or to the world outside you. It won’t work. It’ll all catch up with you and blow up, at some point. It just will.

I’ve said it before. I guess I’ll say it again. Talking to Christians, here. We’ve all got our own idols. You got yours. I got mine. And in the end, those idols will be ripped from us, if we don’t get rid of them on our own. They will be. By death, finally, if by nothing else. You will stand alone, and you will stand with nothing that you bring to the table to prove how good you were, how good and holy a life you lived. You will stand with nothing. Nothing, but the pure and undeserved gift of being an adopted child of God, covered by Christ’s blood.

All that said, I will say this, too. The guy who called the other day was struggling along on a far tougher road than any I have ever walked. I’m thinking the next time I feel like grumbling about the hard road I’m on, I’m gonna look back and remember the one he’s walking right now.

And I will be grateful to be right where I am.

OK. A few things to close out with. I probably won’t be posting again for around four weeks or so. And no, it’s not because I’m all immersed in “serious writing,” or anything like that. I’m taking a little trip, leaving in right about two weeks. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a long time.

It’s the second Bloomfield ex-Amish reunion (they call it the Bloomfield Amish Reunion, for some strange reason, but it’s not my job to argue semantics), and it’ll be held at a park just outside Bloomfield on Saturday, July 19th. An all-day affair, just hanging out. Anyone who was ever Amish in Bloomfield, doesn’t matter when, or if you still are Amish, is invited. They had the first such reunion back in 2010, right when I was in the trenches, getting my book cranked out. I told them then. There’s only one thing that could keep me from attending, and that one thing is the fact that I got a book to write. But I’ll get there next time. I promise. That next time is coming right up.

I’m looking forward to it a lot. I have, for a long time. Looking forward to connecting with a lot of old friends from way back, and also to making new friends. A lot of people grew up there after I left, and I don’t even know most of those that left after I did.

Four of the original “gang of six” plan to be there. I think so, anyway. Marvin, Rudy, Vern, and me. Of course, Mervin still lives around there. He’s the only one from the original gang that remains Amish. He’s married, with a slew of children. Thirteen, I think. And he was ordained a preacher some years ago. I don’t know if we’ll stop by to see him, the four of us. But I’m sure we’ll drive around and visit our old haunts together. And we’ll recall and rehash a lot of those old stories.

I won’t be hanging around the Bloomfield Amish much, I don’t think. Sure, I’ll stop by at Titus and Ruth’s home a few times. I’m always welcome there. Not saying I wouldn’t be welcome in at least a few other homes. But it’s not worth the hassle of figuring out which ones. And I’ll be stopping by in West Grove to see Mrs. C and any of her family that’s around. Her daughter, Linda, runs the café now, in West Grove. It’s just down around the bend from where the old original Chuck’s Café was. I’ll stop by there, to drink some coffee. And to see if anyone these days even recognizes me. I won’t be surprised, if no one does, not from the locals hanging out. It’s been a long time, since I’ve been a regular anywhere in that area. But those are always important, those old connection points. Those old friendships.

The following week, I’ll be heading south to Missouri to look up a few people. Just meandering, I guess. It’s been too long since I’ve meandered. So it’ll probably be the week after that, the week I get back home, before you’ll see any more writing from me on this blog. I’m looking forward to the journey, and to telling you all about it.