As we enter 2017, I am astonished about the level of fear and loathing among us.
I guess I shouldn’t be. It has been the theme of 2016.
The angst is palpable.
Many people fear the future. Fear based upon speculation and the unknown.
In an age where most media sources are proven to not be trusted, I cannot believe how many people base what they believe on biased information and on an agenda to be close minded… even though they claim to be open-minded and free thinkers. The internet is full of “fake news” sources, all designed to skew a person’s belief and perspective. It is intentional and calculated. And most of all… it is effective.
Many people base what they believe to be true based upon what they hear on a podcast or read on Facebook. Their news sources and range of perspective is narrow. Meaning that they are all listening to the same biased podcast or source. They believe that they, themselves are the smartest person they know or at least the smartest in the same room as them. Anyone who disagrees with them are considered unintelligent and ignorant.
Do these people ever consider that all they are doing is adding to the fear and loathing?
An example of this is the latest news story of “voter fraud” in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. I cannot tell you how many people were convinced that this was a “true” story. After Jill Stein raised over 7 million dollars (twice what she spent on her campaign) to do a recount in those states. We know the results of those re-counts… Trump actually gained votes over Clinton.
I could go on and on about all the different aspects of this past election year and the fear and loathing that is out there.
People are having a hard time with accepting the truth.
All of us have trouble accepting a difficult truth. It’s human nature to see what we want to see, especially when the truth makes us uneasy. But acknowledging and exploring the truth can liberate us and lead to greater opportunities.
One of the great challenges of life is just the simple task of living in this moment, living a “present tense life.” There are two great enemies of accepting truth. One is “the fantasy of what could have been,” and the other is “the fear of what might be.”
Let me address each one of these for a moment.
The fantasy of what could have been– We all live our lives looking back to the past or ahead to the future. It’s rare that we live in the present tense. One of our enemies is the “fantasy of what could have been.” We will often look with a longing for a change because of our present adversities…
“If only I had married the other person,” or “If only I had finished college,” or “If only I hadn’t made that horrible mistake” then life would be great.
Thoughts race to alternate present reality because of our dreams of “if only.” Dreaming about what could have been can be a wonderful diversion, but it’s ignorance of the reality of truth.
The truth is that there is no “if only.”
There is only what is.
Accepting truth’s that you don’t like is one of the hardest things to do.
Dreaming about an alternate life that would turn out different is a fantasy that brings nothing good to our present situation. It only makes the “now” harder because our fantasy solutions would have eliminated our real dilemmas and the need to trust the Lord with our real problems today.
When you are tempted to visit the land of “if only” make the decision not to go. It’s a trip that only brings disappointment to what is your life right now.
The fear of what might be– The other problem I see many struggle with is “the fear of what might be.” They are experts at worrying about something that hasn’t even happened yet. As it pertains to Donald Trump, he hasn’t even been sworn into office and people are wailing and predicting doom. It happened with Ronald Reagan too.
Those fears and impending doom never came to fruition.
If you are living in fear of Donald Trump… your faith is weak. You knowledge of the Bible is soft, or at least became soft. Do you really think that electing Trump as our President is a surprise to God?
There is no way any of us can see the future, so for us to worry about it before it ever gets here is a clear lack of faith in God to care for our tomorrows. It also shows that people have stopped reading their Bibles and have based their beliefs and perspectives on other sources.
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” Matthew 6:34
Jesus clearly said, “don’t worry about tomorrow.” He knew we were tempted to do this, and warned us against it. Fear of what might be often keeps us from walking with God and trusting him RIGHT NOW. We miss the joy of a walk with God in the present tense.
We each must live a present tense life intentionally. The distractions of fantasy about the past and fear about the future will easily get our attention away from a walk with the living God right now. I mentioned the word “walk” intentionally. It’s the word that the Bible uses to talk about our lives of faith. The Bible calls it a walk because there are some wonderful present tense elements to a walk that will help us stay focused on the now.
A walk demands a destination, but it can only be done one step at a time, one foot on the path toward the goal, one decision at a time to reach the goal. A walk demands a present tense life. That word, walk, often helps me get back to “now.”
That is why God implores us to keep our eye on and press towards the mark of following Christ. If you are so worried about the future, you obviously do not want to accept what the Bible says about the future. It’s in His hands. I cannot worry over that which I cannot control… those are the things I need to trust God that He has it under control.
As you go through each day of 2017, living your life and find yourself buying into the temptation toward fantasy or fear, stop for a moment. Focus on things that really matter and what you can do to control them. The balance is trust and dependence on God to take care of the rest.
It is then called having “Faith” and not fear and loathing.
I hope you truly have a great year and I hope that all of your fears are tempered by a loving God and that our faith grows deeper in Him each day.
Year after year I would wait anxiously on Christmas morning to wake up everyone, I always thought it to be my responsibility since it was the assumed job for the baby of the family.
Even now as I look through boxes of old Christmas decorations, I am reminded of the Christmas of my childhood. I can remember each Christmas since I was probably 6 or 7. I remember every year, starting at Thanksgiving, my growing eager anticipation for the coming Christmas season.
I always knew Christmas was getting close when Santa, in all his glory, would be waving to everyone from the top of the Oak Harbor Fire truck as they paraded through our little town.
Even as a child I always thought is very suspicious that “Santa” would take time out of his busy schedule to ride around the little town of Oak Harbor. Considering that the only world that I knew as a child was defined by the town limit signs, it made perfect sense that he would pick Oak Harbor to start the celebrations, even if I was a little suspicious about it.
I felt bad for the kids from other places because we had Santa here in our midst and they did not. All of us kids would be lined up — pressing our noses against the cold glass of the picture window, waving at Santa as he made his trek around town.
Each and every child filled with visions of Christmas.
Presents dancing in their heads and memories etched forever in remembrance.
It might just be my imagination, but it seems as if there were more homes with Christmas lights back in the day. As a kid, I would always looked forward to the time when we would drive through town looking at all the lights strung across Water Street in the downtown area, as well as the many neighborhoods that were lit up. I still drive around Oak Harbor sometimes just to see the lights. It makes me feel rooted, a part of something in my past.
I remember that back then spending time “uptown” during the Christmas season was a celebration in itself. Long before the “Mall” killed the small town businesses, each local store would display sale items in their front windows. We would go window shopping to find items for our wish list. I can remember a year when I would stop and stare at this pair of ice skates in the Western Auto store window.
I just knew that this pair of skates would make me the fastest skater at Gleckler’s Pond. Oh how I wanted them, but as Christmas came and went, the skates stayed in the window. We just couldn’t afford them.
Each year, especially as we get older, things change and it’s during the holiday season is when you realize them. Most of the stores that once lined Water Street are no longer in existence. The 5 and 10 of W.R. Thomas, The Portage Store, Van Atta’s Restaurant, Lantz’s Rexall Drug Store, Western Auto, Felhaber’s Photography, Nehls Market, Faunce’s Furniture, Hutchison Jewelry and the Modernette Gift Store to name a few.
Even to this very day, it brings a pain to a place in your heart where all your hidden feelings go. You mask it as progress but in your heart you know that pieces of your childhood are fading into lost memories. Never to be remembered except for a picture or two. My children and grandchildren have been cheated. They will never get that experience of window shopping the same way I did as a child.
I can always remember running down the steps on Christmas morning and looking around the tree for the biggest box. I always believed that within the biggest box under the tree would be the most expensive gift and best gift.
I always hoped it would be for me.
But as time works its magic over the years on the mind and soul of a young man, I soon realized that each and every gift was special, unique, and meaningful.
It wasn’t about the size of the gift but rather the act of giving that brings the best feelings and memories of Christmas mornings.
In fact, the presents that I remember most are the gifts that came directly from the heart. Christmas truly is not about the gift itself, but rather the thought behind the gift.
I learned this truth on a snowy evening a few days before Christmas in 1970. My brother and cousin died in a car-train crash in early November and it did not feel like Christmas to anyone in our family that year. My mom was trying to go through the motions of the season for us kids but as you can imagine there wasn’t a lot to be happy about.
I was nine. It was easier for me to be distracted by the celebration of the season than it was for my parents and my older brother and sister.
But I knew. I knew that my mom was not the same.
It was a struggle and she was drowning in the loss of a child.
I cannot think of anything more tragic. A parent is not supposed to out live their child. It is something that I hope my family never has to experience again.
I could see that my mom was different. The sparkle in her eyes that I always remembered had dimmed. I tried to think of a way where I could make her smile again. I had never given my mother a present that I did not make on a piece of paper or a craft made at school. At that time, I really liked to color and draw and make abstract pictures. So I sat down and did my very best to make the best picture I have ever done in my life. I was sure it would make all the difference in the world.
As a father, some of the most precious gifts I have ever received were the scribblings on a piece of paper made by my children. But when your nine you start to think there is no value in that so you want to do more. I looked at my picture that I put all my energy and creative juices in and I just thought it would come up short in making my mom happy again.
I had $1.25 in my piggy bank and I knew what I had to do. I had to go uptown and find her the perfect present. Something that would make her be “happy” again.
Oh… the thoughts of a nine-year old boy.
Somehow I convinced someone to walk me uptown on that snowy afternoon just a few days before Christmas. I was armed with cash and I was on a mission.
The Hardware Store was my first stop. As a child, when I would walk into the store, I would take a big whiff. I loved the smell of the hardware store.
I was never quite sure what made those smells so intoxicating. Maybe it was the hot, oily machine parts from some of the equipment that they sold or just the decades old hardwood floors of the store. I can only imagine how many spills of paint, turpentine and oils that floor has absorbed. It’s now toxic aroma is just hanging limply in the air along with metal nail dust, shiny tools, and plastic snow shovels. Yes, even as a child, as I walked those old hardware aisles, I soaked in memories. I remember clearly the creaking wooden floor and that jingle-jangly door clang as the door shut behind you. It was nostalgic then and even more so today.
I didn’t find anything at the Hardware store for my mom that I could afford so we moved on to the 5 & 10 store. Now one would think I could find something in that store for my mom. I just could not decide and was overwhelmed with all of the options. I was confused and wasn’t satisfied with any of my choices.
I suddenly found myself in Lantz’s Rexall Drug Store.
I was sure I was wasting my time there. The high school girl who worked there was trying so hard to find me something in my price range to get for my mother. It simply wasn’t going to happen. I would have to go back to W. R. Thomas and sift through the options and find something back there.
It was at that moment that I now realize that angels appear every once in a while.
When you least expect it.
I hear a voice coming from the high window where a man was always standing whenever I was in the store. I never saw him ever come out from behind that Pharmacy window.
He asked me, “Are you one of the Lee boys?”
“Yes, sir.” I said.
He came out from behind that window and walked towards me.
He said, “How can I help you, young man?”
“Well sir, I am looking for a present for my mom.”
“How much do you have to spend?” he asked.
“All I have is $1.25.” I replied.
“What are you looking for son?
I said, “I am not sure but I want to get her something special.”
He asked, “Does she like perfume?”
“Yes sir, but I do not have enough money to buy something t
He reached up on the top shelf of the perfumes and grabbed a bottle and said, “Do you like this one?” I nodded in approval.
He looked at me and said, “Well son, this is your lucky day.”
With a big smile, he said, “This went on sale today and it costs exactly $1.25.”
The high school girl who worked there, wrapped my present and I gave the man my money and thanked him. As I walked out the door, I looked back and I saw him still looking at me and smiling. I smile back and he says, “Merry Christmas, son.”
As a nine-year old, I thought it blind luck to get such an expensive gift for my mom. It surpassed all of my expectations. I have no idea how much that perfume actually cost but I know it was more than the $1.25 that I paid for it.
Almost 50 years later, I realize that Mr. Mac McBain was an angel sent to help a little boy bring some joy back into a family that had experienced tragedy. It was all he could do.
I gave that present to my mom on Christmas Day. She smiled when she opened it. One of the first smiles I remember from her in a long time. Now I know it didn’t make everything ok and my mom wasn’t instantly happy again. But as a young boy it was all I had to offer.
Angels… every once in a while.
I believe that God allows it to happen just enough in our lives to allow us to keep faith in a loving God and the ability to hold on to the hope for a better world.
My angel that year was Mr. McBain. He made the difference in a little boy who just wanted to make his mother happy once again.
My thoughts are upon you sir… I will never forget you and that day. It made December 25, 1970 feel a little bit more like Christmas.
Those of us who are Grinch’s are busy complaining about the traffic, the commercialism and all the money spent on gifts.
As a person who has been a believer for most of his life this shouldn’t be a struggle… but it is.
How can a believer not be kind in this season?
I could blame it on the commercialism of Christmas. We are constantly tempted to buy or charge what we think we need, all in the name of Christmas. We slave away for 11 months trying to pay off the Christmas debts because we can’t say “NO”. Christmas is no longer about the Savior; it is about the savings for things we really don’t need.
I could even blame it on Santa.
I could rant about the fact that people have lost the true meaning of what Christmas is all about. Christmas is not about the manger; it is about marketing and materialism. Christmas is not about God, is about gifts and getting. The little drummer boy now has to take his no hassles credit card and charge a brand new Peavy drum system. Why? Because his little drum is not enough for the baby Jesus.
But in truth, none of those excuses are valid as to why I struggle during this season of celebration.
I am short-sighted when it comes to being the example of Christ is the season of celebrating His existence. My focus is on me and my situation. Not in ways of getting gifts. In fact, I am not a fan of getting presents. It’s awkward for me and I am always uncomfortable with the process. I am good giving presents but I hate to receive.
I struggle during this season because I can overly focus on my time… my plans and my comfort. I could live without the decorations and I just want to stay home. I am good with ordering my gifts for others through Amazon.
I acknowledge that as a Believer, I need to be active and show kindness in this time of season. To be intentional witha very simple thing- a kind word.
The easiest thing to do is be kind.
As Paul wrote to the Ephesians and said,
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
It means seeing others and speaking to their heart need: encouragement.
To be kind… looks like encouragement for the cashier as she frantically tries to check you out. It’s being aware of those around you and taking a moment to lift them up with a simple, but kind word. It’s about paying for the person behind you at McDonalds, letting someone in line ahead of you at the store, helping another with their bags, opening a door for a frazzled mom, sending a note of encouragement to someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
The list is endless, but it begins with these simple words from Jesus who gave us the formula for how to live in this season, in fact in every season, when he said,
“Give, and you will receive. Your gift (kindness) will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
As I go into these last days, like everyone else, I try to remember the many people for whom this is not a joyous time of the year. With themes of joyous parties, happy families and generous giving surrounding us, those who struggle with depression, estranged family and/or economic survival are often forgotten. I don’t lift this up in order to compel feelings of guilt or to cast aspersions on folks who are living large during this time, but simply as a nod and a word to those who struggle with these times to say that you are loved.
You are loved by people who you might not expect.
You are loved by God.
And yes, I know that my words offered on a blog post will not heal your spirit, reconcile families or feed your body, but in this, I hope you know that there are many who show this love not only during the holidays or not only with words, but who are there for and with you when you need them. I don’t know where the words and actions will come for you, but I believe there are those people for all of us: it might be your neighbor who has invited you to join them for a meal, or maybe it’s that stranger sitting at the table next to you at the cafe with whom you share a brief conversations or when it is really bad, it’s that suicide-hotline that you never would have imagined that you would ever need.
Scripture is filled with admonitions to love others, to care for the needy and show the love of Christ as we live our lives.
So, while I wish those who are struggling all of the joy, peace, hope and love that I can muster, my greatest hope is that you know deep in your soul that you are not alone.
The greatest witness you can offer to the world you walk in each day is kindness.
The kindness that invites others to smile, give someone an encouraged heart, maybe a new hope.
Make it your goal, for the rest of this year, to look for at least one person in your day to whom you can give a kind word.
You never know… you might discover an exciting new way to share the love of Christ in this crazy world we live in and after all… tis the season.
Merry Christmas to everyone… even to those of us that struggle through it.
I have been trying to collect all of the pictures, letters and anything else that I could find that belonged to my grandparents. I know where most of these are in my house but I have few letters and pictures stuffed away in a few drawers.
I am shocked at the fact that all I have from them would not fill up an old shoe box.
How do the lives of family members get reduced to a few pictures and a letter or two?
I look around my office and just about everything I see will be tossed aside at some point. Either before I die or shortly thereafter, each of the collectibles that sit on my shelves that I held of value (because of the memory attached to it) will be bagged up and set out on the street to be collected with that weeks garbage.
Pretty much… all of it will be whittled down to some pictures and maybe a letter or two.
When all is said and done everything important about us will fit in a small box.
It’s an amazing insight. Our lives in a small box. In it paperwork and personal effects of the sum of a life once lived.
It’s rather sad that we leave such a small footprint on the planet, but it’s true.
Most of the things that will be kept by our children and grandchildren will fit into a small shoe box.
The rest is found in the hearts and memories of those who knew us.
Our “Legacy” is one generation long, perhaps two at best and then our photos will be the evidence of a life once lived. Memories left in a box for others to discover. Memories fade in the next generation… the stories will blur and in time these too will fade into the past. One memory will last a generation maybe two. then we become a slot on our families genealogical tree. The date of our birth, the dash and then the date of our death.
Now I know this is a depressing post. But it is the truth. It happens to all of us.
In light of this sad reality, I am glad God knows us.
God remembers us and celebrates our lives as we live with and for Him.
Every name is remembered, every deed done for Him written down, every life important.
In this life, it may all fit in a small shoe box, but there… where God rules, every life, every name, every action and deed remembered and celebrated by a God who loves us.
I’ve noticed that some who have walked with Christ, people who I know are Christians, have simply wandered off.
Sometimes done quietly.
Sometimes done with loud, boisterous posts on social media.
At the end of the day, they simply wandered away from things they once believed.
Some are angry. Some have an axe to grind. Some have something to prove.
They want to shove their rejection of the faith, they once claimed they held, into everyone’s face.
So many excuses and self-justified reasons.
Some aren’t angry, or even mad really. Some aren’t even discouraged.
They have simply not seen the life of God in the community of faith and have lost interest.
They hold to the thought that life is busy, work is hard, things are crazy, why waste time with church and church stuff when they get nothing from it? Why invest time when no one really knows them or even cares? They’d rather sleep in.
Yes… life is busy. Work is hard. And there is no doubt that things are crazy in this time of life. But this is nothing new. It has been this way since the beginning of time itself.
When this millennial generation raises their collective heads from their smartphones and for the first time they really take a look at life, some don’t like what they see.
They see the ugly part of life.
They see political chaos.
They see the horror of war.
They see the senseless acts of terrorism.
They see people separated by social class and race.
The haves and the have-nots.
Yes… this world is ugly. It has been this way since the beginning of time. Read the history of the human race. More importantly… read the Bible.
All documented there… the ugliness of the human spirit.
This generation sees the reality of life and for some their first take is to reject the faith of their family and of past generations.
They believe that the church is to blame.
Surely their parents got it wrong.
They quickly head in other directions.
One direction is they dig deeper into their social media outlets and escape the realities of life. They become naïve to this world and have no interest in dealing with this reality they see.
Now there are many “escapes” that can be found in social media. We live in a world that people have the most information at their fingertips but fail to learn and retreat to a fantasy world. Not in all cases, but I am sure that many would rather escape into the fantasy world that doesn’t exist rather than understanding their responsibility to reach a lost and dying world for Jesus Christ.
I wonder the impact on the world if they used this same passion into reaching others for Christ.
I think, in these days of craziness, the biggest enemy of the church is apathy.
Apathy is a slow chilling of our faith and interest that leaves us unfeeling and uncaring about the most important thing in life – a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Apathy kills the passion for the truths of Jesus Christ. It causes us to doubt. It causes us to question His existence. If you think that Jesus Christ wasn’t born of a virgin, if He wasn’t the Son of God, if He could not pay the price for sin and without a real belief in what He did for us on the Cross of Calvary, then why should we keep going? Why should we continue to be part of something that does nothing for us?
This is apathy. Our faith… on ice.
Apathy kills our faith. We get cold to things of God. It’s easy to wander, to become apathetic, to grow cold. It’s a challenge to stay near the flames, to seek out community even when you don’t feel like it. It’s important because the greatest weakness in our life is not outright sin… it’s apathy.
You need to know this can happen to all of us! We all can become cold to the truth of Scripture.
The flames of our faith are something we must protect. Your faith should not be dependent on what you see. It is better to believe without seeing, that is why it is called FAITH.
The direction that some take, is for many to question everything about their faith. They assume that because they don’t like the world they see that the church has failed and the church belief system is wrong.
The convince themselves that the Bible is wrong or at best the Bible is allegorical. Meaning that Bible is simply symbolic, figurative and metaphorical. It is at best a representation of moral truths. Surly not to be taken as literal truth and that many of the stories we read in the Bible are to be taken in as allegorical. Any truth in Scripture has to be “proven” by the scientific method. They hold that belief isn’t dependent on faith. It is based upon if it can be proven by science. I have had interesting conversations in discussing these issues, it has caused me to deepen my faith.
I still am bound by the fact that I don’t have to know everything about “how” something happened in the Bible. I am called to have “faith” to simply believe what God has said. I cannot pick and choose what I believe in Scripture. It is either all true or it is not. I am of the personal belief that if you choose to “not” believe something happened the way it says it did in the Bible, it becomes a slippery slope to unbelief in the whole truth of Scripture.
I have close friends that can be found in all of these directions. I am not here to take unfair shots at them. I have had constructive conversations with them. They know my beliefs and I will listen to hear their perspective and I will not argue with them. I don’t have to agree with them and in turn, they don’t have to agree with me.
In case you are wondering, I clearly post my Statement of Faith on this website. These are my truly held beliefs.
We all need to find the journey to truth.
Some journeys take a long time. Some never make it back.
In truth, I am hesitant to write much of anything lately. I have been drained of motivation and my desire to write is probably at an all-time low.
For the past few months, I had dedicated myself to finishing a project that I have always wanted to do. I have posted a few short excerpts from that project on this site. They are just shorter versions of the stories I have written about growing up in Oak Harbor, Ohio. I have had some wonderful comments and encouragement from those that have taken the time to read what I have posted. I struggle accepting them because are they just being nice or do they really mean them? Who knows?
Only time will tell…
I have most of it completed but I can’t seem to find the motivation to sit behind the keyboard and finish the remaining chapters. I am not sure it is just discouragement or if it is fear. Discouragement because I am not sure it is worth reading. I am not a trained writer. I have always said I love to write but I have never thought I was good at it. There is a bigger part of my thinking that tells me to have some fear of it. Fear because someone may actually read it.
I think I understand how musicians feel when people listen to their music for the first time. I am sure they feel exposed and vulnerable for putting their “work” for everyone to critique and judge. That is how I feel. I put my thoughts down and put them out for all to see and I am fearful of the critique. Fearful of the judgement. It is why for years I never shared my love for writing. It is why I buried dozens of handwritten notebooks of my writings.
Never ever to be found again. They were the best writings I have ever put to paper.
Can I handle the discouragement? Can I handle the fear? Will I ever get the motivation to finish this project? Will anyone ever read it?
Only time will tell…
I need to find a way to get myself back on track to write for me. I know that the reality of my project ever becoming something that other people would want to read is a pipe dream. So I will try refocus on it simply being a file tucked away on a computer that will be tossed away when the computer crashes or becomes obsolete. These things happen to those things that are temporary and have no eternal significance.
Only time will tell…
As I grow older, I am aware of the fact that I am drawn to life between two worlds.
One world of the temporary and one of the eternal.
A world of the temporal, the temporary, a world ruled by time. A world with an end, a “due date,” a life controlled by time and lived in moments.
And, I also live in a world where I, at times, see the edge of eternity. It’s as if in these moments of time I sense it. In God… I am given life. He lives in me and He gives me opportunity to enjoy each moment of life. I am keenly aware that I am growing older and most of my life is behind me.
I have the awareness, in light of eternity, things of temporary importance have no real value.
This includes my writings.
And yet, as I live between these two worlds, with one foot in time and the other in eternity, I begin to understand a life of eternity with God.
It surges through my mind, giving me a new vision, a new desire, and a different purpose.
More and more, as I think about how I want to spend the rest of my “temporal” moments, I’m drawn into eternity… drawn by the awareness of God and eternity.
And more than ever I want the edge of eternity to be my constant reality.
Will I ever finish the project? Will it ever be read by anyone?
What I have experienced since that cold brisk November day in 1970 are not waves of grief.
To be honest, instead of feeling waves of grief that come every now and then, I personally have felt grief every single day. No waves, just one consistent shade of grey that washes over me.
It is something that is part of me.
It isn’t something that I chose to have in my life and I work hard at hiding it, but it is always there. It is as close to me as breathing. It has been my life-long companion and it is as normal in my life as putting my clothes on in the morning. To be honest, I don’t even think about it that much anymore. In order to go about my day, I have to put clothes on. I can never consider another option without striking fear and disgust from those who would see me naked and exposed. That is what grief is like to me. Like the clothes I have to wear, it is something that I put on every day. I don’t have a choice. I wish I could but I can’t wash it off in the shower. I push it down as far as I can, but it’s always lurking and hiding somewhere just under the surface. It is a grey filter that clouds my world and I have carried this dark passenger with me since I was nine.
What blindsides me is not grief.
I have never shared this with anyone. It is something that I have struggled with since that horrible day. Guilt comes to me in these huge sucker-punch hits that I never see coming. They hit me so hard that it rams into my very soul. It feels as if someone has hit you so hard in the stomach that it sucks out everything you have – your heart, your oxygen, your whole being. It hits me out of nowhere. I cannot predict when or where it will show up. I cannot control it. The pangs of guilt hit me when I am doing some of the most mundane, common things in life. Like when they hit when I am driving in my car to work, or when I am listening to music or when I am working in my garage. They hit me when I walk into a room and see the pictures of my wife, my children and grandchildren hanging on the wall.
There have been times when they have hit me when I shop at the grocery store. Of course, no one else knows it. I remain still and stoic. I smile at the person I pass on the same aisle and I continue to fill my cart with milk and bread. But it’s there, spasms of guilt, flooding my heart and soul. A sucker-punch of the worst kind. No one is the wiser and I carry on with life. Never knowing when I will run into it next.
I sort of live in fear of that.
If you considered my world in 1970, you would have found that other than the 6:30 news bringing the horrors of the Vietnam War, the Manson Murders, the Kent State shootings and the occasional blurb about the civil unrest on the college campuses across America into our living room every night, I had always been protected from the outside world. The bad news that was projected on our black and white television was often tempered by shows like Gilligan’s Island, Mayberry RFD and the Beverly Hillbillies. This was long before reality TV. Almost all the programs on our television at the time were based upon some type of non-reality life. The premise of a hillbilly living in Hollywood with a cement pond, or the plausible reality of a group of people, on a three-hour tour, to be forever stranded on a deserted island was all the reality we needed.
In early October 1970, I had some medical issues that required surgery. I was being admitted into Magruder Hospital in Port Clinton, Ohio. I was going to have surgery and I would be absent for two-weeks from Mrs. Gulau’s classroom at R.C. Water’s Elementary School.
Mrs. Gulau was my 4th grade teacher. While there is no doubt that she was a wonderful teacher, she seemed ancient to me. She seemed out of touch even by Oak Harbor standards. Mrs. Gulau was old school before old school was a thing. She was a strict teacher. She allowed no excuses for missing homework assignments and ran her classroom like a well-oiled machine. No deviation from the schedule was permitted. I struggled with her being my teacher and I will admit it wasn’t her fault.
It was mine.
At the young age of nine, I had figured out that the best way to get through school was to not make waves. At all costs, I would try to not to get noticed and for the love of all things pure and holy, I never raised my hand to answer a question. I was always smarter than I ever let on, but I wasn’t willing to try to talk in front of people for fear of my stuttering and making myself look foolish in front of people. I was content to fade into the background. I was easy to not remember. I am sure if you asked a few of my classmates from that school year, they would struggle to ever remember me.
Just someone they used to know.
After a few days in the hospital, I was discharged. I was home bound for a week before I was permitted to go back to school. After I started going back to class, Mrs. Gulau had made arraignments with my mother to have me stay after school for a few weeks to catch up on my studies. I would stay until 3:45 PM, about an hour after school let out for the rest of the students.
Then November 5th 1970 happened.
It was a cool day, about 45 degrees and a little windy as I remember it. I had a pretty good day at school and I was finally feeling like I was getting back into the routine of Mrs. Gulau’s classroom. The school day ended and I completed my hour of tutoring with my teacher. I was now waiting by the west side door, that the teachers used. Normally, I always came in and left through the front door of the school. I always rode the bus that would take me and the kids from my neighborhood to the High School on Church Street. From there, we would meander the two blocks or so to get home in time to watch Gilligan’s Island that came on at 4:00 PM every day after school.
But the last few days were different. There wasn’t a late bus to take me home and I was too young to walk all that way back home before it got dark at 5:30 PM. So I stood there in silence as Mrs. Gulau looked impatiently out the door to see if my ride was there yet. My cousin, Larry was picking me up and he obviously was running a little late.
I always heard Larry’s car before I could ever see it. Not because his car ran bad or had a loud exhaust system, but rather Larry always played his music loud. I mean really loud. As predicted, Larry’s music was blaring from his car as he pulled up to the side door to pick me up.
Larry turned down the music and the passenger side door flew open as he stopped the car. I mumbled, “Goodbye,” to Mrs. Gulau and I saw the look on her face as she pushed the school door open as I started out to get into the car. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the loud music or because he was late to pick me up. Either way, it was clearly a look of displeasure that she was giving.
Larry said, “What’s her problem?” as I slid into the front passenger seat of his Chevy Corvair. I responded, “I have no idea.” and then I hear my brother Bobby and his best friend, Buster laughing from the back seat. They were always laughing when they were together. I never really knew what they laughed about all the time but here they were laughing about something and they were the only ones that knew why.
I slam the car door closed and Larry cranks the music even louder than before just to see if he can get another reaction from the teacher. She disappears into the darkened hallway, shaking her head with displeasure, and we pull out onto Ottawa Street to head back to our home on Walnut Street.
I settle into my seat and I notice that my brother had his dog with him.
“What are you guys doing?” I ask.
“Wouldn’t you like to know!!” my brother said in sarcasm, as only brothers can. It was as if he knew I was going to ask that question. Buster and Bobby mumble something to each other and they burst out laughing again.
Larry, seeing that my feelings were going to get hurt by the banter that happens organically between brothers, put his cigarette down and said, “I‘m dropping them off so they can check their traps on Mylander’s farm.”
“Can I go with you?” I asked inquisitively.
“Dude, your mom told me to bring you straight home. You’re going to have to ask her. But you’re going to have to ask fast because I have to get to work soon.” Larry explained.
I nodded in silence and I distinctly remember the song, Lola by the Kinks was blaring on the radio and as my brother and Buster were laughing and playing with the dog in the backseat. I was right where I loved to be. I always rode around town with Larry whenever I could. I loved it because Larry would play the music really loud and he would tell me stuff about why this song was great and why he felt that song wasn’t good. I always felt accepted and thought he enjoyed having me around.
Besides the occasional outburst of laughter that came from my brother and Buster from the back seat, we road back to our house in silence. Only the sounds of the Kink’s reverberating throughout the car.
We pull into the driveway and I see my mom waiting by the kitchen screen door. She obviously was wondering where we were because we were getting back a little later than normal. Larry turned down the radio and as the car comes to a stop. I push the car door open and step up on the seat of the car and pull myself up to look over the roof.
“Hey Ma, can I ride with Larry to drop Bobby off?” I asked.
“No, Larry is running late and dinner will be ready soon” she responded.
“Come on Ma! Larry said he would drop me back off” I yelled.
“I said NO!!” she pushed back. “Come in the house so Larry can get to work.”
I started to respond but the back rest of the car seat flew forward and my brother started to climb out from the back seat. As he pushes me away from the car he says, “Come on Larry, let’s go before it gets too dark”.
I am so angry that my mom would not let me go. I had been working so hard after school to get caught up on my schoolwork, that I could not believe that she wouldn’t let me do this one thing. I mean, I hadn’t been able to ride around with Larry for a long time and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to me. I trudged over to the front door and my mom opened the door a little wider to let me in. I stormed past her, bumping her with my shoulder. I hit her hard enough that I was certain that she was going to grab my arm and make me settle down, but she didn’t.
I stormed through the kitchen and down the hallway to the living room. All the while, mumbling under my breath about how unfair it was and how angry I was at my mom for not letting me go with them.
My sister, Linda was already in the living room watching TV and an episode of Gilligan’s Island had already started. I hear the radio from Larry’s car as he pulled out of the driveway and headed down to Benton Street. I sat myself down angrily on the couch and pulled the curtain back and watched that black Corvair disappear on its way down the street. I turned around and started to watch the TV.
It seemed like only a few seconds before I started to hear the shrill whine of the sirens. We lived a few blocks from the main siren in town and for some reason it seemed unusually loud and never-ending.
My mom walks in to the living room and doesn’t say a word, but just the look on her face tells me that something is wrong. No words are spoken and she makes her way down the hall and back into the kitchen. It is then the kitchen door busts open and I hear unfamiliar voices coming from the kitchen and in an instant, there is confusion in our house. I hear a voice above the noise, “There has been an accident and they think it’s the Lee boys!!”
I hear my mom talking but I can’t make out what she is saying and my sister and I are left alone in the living room just staring at each other trying to process the chaos that has just forced its way into our lives.
Next thing I know, Linda and I are shuttled upstairs into my parents’ bedroom and we were told that our mom was going to check on my brother. Nothing else was said to us and the door was closed to separate us from the rest of the house. We sat for hours, in silence, on the edge of my parent’s bed, knowing that something bad happened but we did not know what it was. We never considered that death was a possibility. Our family had only dealt with the death of a great-grandmother and none of us had ever considered that it would ever touch our family.
With my sister and I quietly sequestered upstairs in my parent’s bedroom. There wasn’t much need to check in on us. We could hear the commotion downstairs. The loudness, the overlapping voices, the sudden periods of extreme quietness. The constant opening and closing of our back door.
Finally, I had enough and I snuck out of my parent’s bedroom. I made my way quietly down the wooden steps of our home. The landing of the stairwell opened up into our living room and it was filled with people.People that I am sure were familiar to me but as I recollect they all seemed faceless, except for their eyes. It seemed to me that people looked through me as if I did not exist. People who did not know what to say or simply ignored the traumatized nine-year-old that was walking in their midst. I made my way down the dark hallway towards our kitchen.
As I got to the doorway that opens up into our kitchen, I heard my mom talking on the phone.
It was at that moment that I would learn the truth. “I need to get a message to Robert Lee” my mom pleaded. “I need him to call home as soon as possible because his son was killed today in a car accident.”
Some calls change your life forever.
Waves of grief? No.
As an adult, I get the reasons why things happened the way they did that day. No one did anything intentional. Everyone was in shock. No one ever spoke to me about it. In fairness, I never spoke a word about it either. No one sat down with me and helped me come to terms that it was just an accident. No one ever saw the guilt that was heaped onto my shoulders. No one saw that there was a nine-year-old boy who to this very day carries the weight for what happened.
Why did I have surgery that October? Why couldn’t it have waited until Christmas break? Why did I have to stay after school? Why did I ask to go with them in the first place? Why did I ask my mom in the first place? Surely my delay caused this to happen. Why didn’t I protest more about not being able to go with Larry? Maybe I should have taken more time and delayed them. The train would have passed before they got to the railroad crossing. Thirty seconds either way and the results would have been so different.
Somewhere deep inside of me is that young boy and he will never come to terms with the results of that day. The same could be said for my mom, my brother and sister too. I am sure that they have their own grief and have to deal with the guilt that comes from these kinds of tragedies.
We have never discussed this as a family.
Life has to be lived and you have to move forward.
However, it doesn’t lessen the pain of guilt that I experience. I feel guilt because I have been able to live a long life. I have been able to experience the wonderful things that this life has to offer. My brother and my cousin Larry never got to experience the joy of bringing a child into this world. They didn’t get to travel around the world or shake the hands of two US Presidents, like I did. They will never hear the joyous sound of a grandchild yelling, “Grandpa!!!” in excitement when you walk into a room and they see you.
After 46 years, the pangs of guilt don’t come as often, but they still lurk in the dark places and appear at the most unexpected times.
I have been blessed by a mother who chose not to let me go on that fateful day. I will continue to live life to the fullest.
It is what Bobby and Larry would have wanted me to do.