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? 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.
Close to 50 years later, 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 as best I can.
It is what Bobby and Larry would have wanted me to do.
A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 55th birthday. “Celebrated” is an interesting use of the English language. Because, in truth, I more “endured” my 55th birthday than any thing else.
Have you ever thought about why we even bother to celebrate birthdays? When you think about it, they’re really just another opportunity for your family to congratulate you for surviving another year.
I get it… it is scientifically proven that those that have more birthdays live longer. Right?
So it was my birthday. I don’t have to be happy about it. Who needs to be, annually, reminded that you are one year older and closer to ‘…knock, knock knocking on Heaven’s door.’
I personally believe that after 50, all birthdays should be ignored and that dreadful question of ‘is this the big one?’ posed by well-meaning friends be confined to the scrap heap.
At 55… I hit the “BIG ONE” five years ago.
Hello, people, after 50 they are all big ones!
Like many my age, I’m thinking back and looking forward.
Life has happened so quickly, passed by so rapidly, that I suddenly look around and exclaim, “hey, wait a minute, that ride went way too fast!!”
Life is short.
I heard that said when I was young, but never believed it.
In the early years of life we think time crawls, but as we age it moves more quickly and soon it’s hard to keep up.
It seems only a few days ago that Bryan Blakely and I were riding bikes and exploring the world in our small town of Oak Harbor, Ohio. We chased dogs, built forts, pretended to be soldiers on secret missions. The imagination is such a wonderful gift to young boys. The only requirement had been that we were home by the time the street lights came on. After that, we were confined to our block. It was a time of great memories.
Our mother’s had no idea where we were, but it was rural Northwest Ohio, and it was the days when life was much safer. Those days when you did not have to worry about your picture ending up on a milk carton.
School days, summer loves, college, travel, marriage, kids, diapers, a new job here, a move there… time kept passing and before I realized what was happening the kids were grown and I am left wondering where did the time go.
All that to say, at this moment in time, the most important thing I ever did in my entire life was trust Jesus Christ as my Savior and surrender my life to Him.
All the rest, both the good and the bad, have a completely different color and a different taste because of that one decision in 1970.
Again… life is short.
Enjoy every moment, but know this – trusting Christ and surrendering your life to him is the most important thing you will ever do.
There is nothing more important than that.
How wonderful to look back and know that God has worked in my life and to look ahead and see Him at the finish line.
To be honest… I am in no hurry to get to heaven and on to eternity.
I’m still good. I have a lot to live for and to look forward to.
No offense to anyone reading this… but if you never listened to AM radio on a transistor radio you probably will not understand the significance of this post. It’s not your fault, you just don’t know that you were cheated out of a great time period in history.
I have clear memories of long summer nights spent listening to CKLW out of Detroit on my transistor radio. I carry that Motown sound in my musical tastes even to this day.
All I have to do is put some music from that era and close my eyes and suddenly I am drawn back to another place and another time.
The strong aroma of chlorine from Teagarten’s pool in Oak Harbor, Ohio can suddenly fill my senses. I still remember all those hot summer days spent at that pool. In my mind, the pool was huge but I know that time has dulled my memory of how small it really was. Still… that pool shaped many of my memories of the summers of the late sixties and the early seventies.
Growing up in the confines of the little town NW Ohio was something special. We all got to experience the Friday night lights of the football game. Because you could get in the game for free at halftime, I remember many times watching the first half of the game from the top of the train tracks that passed a few yards from the fence at the West endzone. We would then spend our money we begged from our parents to go to the game on candy at the concession stand.
At school, if you had older siblings, your reputations begins wherever theirs left off. Here’s how it worked: on the first day of class, the teacher will do roll call and they get to your last name and pause. They look up and say, “Any relation to (older sibling’s name)?,” you say yes, and then the teacher will either inform you that your sibling is a perfect human specimen you can never live up to, or sigh dramatically and mutter, “Oh great, another one.”
Do you remember any of these?
You used to drag “beer can ally” and if you swore, your parents knew about it within an hour.
It was cool to date somebody from the neighboring town.
The whole school went to the same party after graduation.
You had no choice but to date your friends’ ex’s.
Everyone considered a nearby town to be “trashy” or “snooty,” but it was actually exactly like your town.
You could charge anything at any local store or write a check without any ID.
The closest mall was a long drive.
You thought nothing of seeing an old man riding through town on a riding lawn mower.
Most people went by a nickname.
We didn’t know it then but the luxuries of walking “uptown” to Van Atta’s restaurant and buying a cheeseburger would be a memory that we would long for… for the rest of our adult lives.
My family never owned a color TV so black and white TV was the entertainment not only for us but for many in my hometown. The cost of purchasing a color television was out of reach for many families. Back then we only had 3 channels ABC, CBS, and NBC. Our TV reception came either through a pair of rabbit ears antenna located on top of the TV or an antenna attached to the house. We had no idea what cable TV was or what it’s impact would be on our children.
A typical Friday night was watching my favorite shows like the Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch on the floor just in front of the TV because we did not have a remote and that way you could switch channels fast. Sitting there with a large bowl of popcorn with PEPSI being drank from bottle are some of my favorite memories.
Saturday mornings were spent watching cartoons and the afternoon watching American Bandstand so you could see the latest dance moves and the possibilty of seeing your favorite singer or band.
I remember when I couldn’t wait to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and Disney on Sunday night with episodes of “Swamp Fox,” “Zorro” or even watch repeats of “Davy Crockett”. Each week at the beginning of Disney they played the song “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
It’s easy to find people who will sneeringly complain about how trapped they felt there as teenager. I was no different from most kids growing up there… we all began making plans of escape early on but we still got to experience the life of living in a small town when AM radio was king.
Oak Harbor held on to those days longer than most and that makes me smile even after all these years. But once the seeds of change are planted it is hard to ever go back to way it used to be.
It’s been thirty years since I called Oak Harbor home. I drive through the town every now and again and as the years pass, I no longer feel part of what it once was. But I still cannot deny that there are some roots of Oak Harbor still in me. I am sure very few people remember me from that small town in Ohio anymore. I am just a face on a picture in an old yearbook that no one looks at anymore. I am just someone they used to know.
It was a time, place and memory that my children and grandchildren will never experience. That makes me sad. They have been cheated.
I’ve wondered what it must look like to the younger generations who didn’t actually live through it. Are they awe-struck by the moon landing? Is teetering on the verge of nuclear war just the start of a good sci fi movie? Do the hippies seem quaint? Are the assassinations just more names and dates to memorize for a history exam?
Are the hippies, Vietnam, women’s lib, civil rights, space race, Cold War, British Invasion, Disco, pocket calculators, TANG, PONG, Sony Walkman’s, Microwave ovens, VCR’s, The Godfather, Leisure Suits, Charles Chips, Pet Rocks, Clackers, Green Stamps, Evel Knievel and who could forget Farrah Fawcett? — just evidence of random decades. I think not.
It’s inevitable that all of us would see that period through our own personal lense. The 60′ and 70’s were like the an epic blockbuster. Music, clothes, politics, social unrest, social change. There really hasn’t been anything like it since. So many historic events happened in that period.
But that doesn’t mean that I want to go back.
History has a knack of showing the flaws of the generation that planted the seeds to produce it.
That’s what all historians do: they look back and see things that were planted and the results of which may not be seen for years. While I love to look back and remember, it’s important that we don’t forget that many of the seeds that were planted all those years ago are the reasons we now see major political, social, and cultural changes in our society. We wonder how this generation of young people can be the way they are and the truth be told it is because of the seeds that were planted in the 60’s and 70’s.
We have made the mistake of ignoring the seeds that we planted. In many ways we don’t like the results and we are the one to blame. Our children pay the price of not having the freedom we had to play outside and have the run of the town. We now dare not let our young children out of our sight for fear that they may one day have their picture on a milk carton. We thought we had it under control, yet we act as if the change itself remains unexpected, invisible, even unimaginable to most people. We should never forget how surprisingly fast these changes can happen.
Nevertheless, looking back at the seeds planted when AM radio was king is a very important. Because it can help us pay more attention to seeds that are growing underground right now. Of course we can’t predict which seeds will connect up with which other ones to create significant change, and certainly not when or how it will happen. But history can teach us to watch more closely and optimistically for signs of change that might be coming surprisingly soon.
The seeds of change. I can fully appreciate how malleable history is and how its perspective changes with time. I imagine 40 years of perspective on any decade we’ve lived through would be interesting. Forty years from now, I’m confident that the Obama years will also look much different through the lens of history. I really regret that I won’t be reading it.
I enjoyed U.S. History more than most, but in the years that have passed, I’ve forgotten more names and dates than I remember. Our history is complicated and imperfect. There are facets I don’t fully understand.
But I do understand the heart of the man who wanted more for his children than he had for himself.
I sense his desperation. I feel his determination.
I respect his resolve.
If I’m quiet and still, I can imagine what it might have been like for the early settlers to carve a road where there was nothing – exploring completely uncharted territories, in search of a new and better life, a place to belong.
And setting their sights, slowly and painfully, they began to build. A barn. A cabin. A church with a steeple. A community of workers. A little town. A government. A country.
Hard as I try, I can’t imagine what it must have cost. But having paid that unimaginable price, I can understand why they’d risk their lives again to protect what they’d built.
What they built for me was wrapped up in what we had when AM radio was king. It’s gone now and we will never get it back. We have future generations that will never fully understand what it was like back in those days.
We laugh. We cry. We smile. We stumble. We stand. We fail. We succeed. We win and we suffer loss.
Every page defines who we really are. On some level we all “bookmark” the events in life so that we can bring them up in our memory to be relived as we move on in life.
The goal in life is to have one perfect memory that is all about those moments, big or small, that make you wish they’d last forever. Those moments you want to stop in time, when everything feels perfect, even for just a split-second.
Snapshots of the mind. Moments to treasure forever.
It is easy to bookmark the great things that happen in our life. We do not struggle to remember the events in our life that are good. We can remember almost every single detail of good life events. Great memories of graduations, engagements, weddings and almost every detail of our child’s life from birth to this very moment. These are easy to bookmark andif we are lucky enough, we are able to put a few of these pages together to create a nice “chapter” in our book of life memories.
The sad part is that we all have bookmarked pages of life of things we do not want to remember.
Life is full of these bookmarked moments.
Life is complicated. It starts before we’re ready, it continues while we’re still trying to figure out the point of it. And it ends before we’ve worked out just what to do.
I’ve learned that in an instant life can change. Just like that. No warning. No rewind button. No pause or stop button.
Suddenly we are scrambling to “bookmark” memories as fast as we can in our minds.
Sadly, I have had to this a few times in my life.
At 9 years old, I had to scramble to bookmark memories of a 14-year-old brother that was taken from our family in a car-train accident. I can remember almost every minute of that fateful day he was taken from us. But I think that over time when we block out the pain of loss, it causes us to lose some of the precious memories. These “bookmarks” have faded with time and now at 54, I struggle to remember him.
I lost my grandfather in 1986. I have great bookmarked memories of him. He was a great influence on me and there isn’t a day I don’t wish I could talk to him one more time. The funny thing is that I have some bookmarked memories of him that I choose not to open in my book of life memories. I systematically only open the pages that make him larger than life. I only open the pages that fit the image I have of him in my mind. Those pages of him acting poorly or negatively, although bookmarked, will remained closed and locked. Never to be opened again in the confines of my mind. I guess we all do that on some level. When someone dies, we freely open the “good” pages and quietly put those bookmarks that would taint the memory of a loved one under lock and key.
Many of the bookmarks in my life were influenced by Bryan Blakely, my childhood best friend. The first pillar in my life. The days of my early childhood were influenced by his presence in my life. Not much happened in my life from the age of 5 to 16 that Bryan and I did not experience together. Somewhere along the age of 16, we started to drift into different directions. Over the next 30 years whenever our paths crossed, we would always talk and we knew that there would always be a special friendship between us, but it would never be the same as it was growing up on that alley between Walnut and Washington Streets in Oak Harbor, Ohio. He died in June of 2009.
My best friend from my high school years took his own life.
Now that is a bookmark that I would rather not have to open. I was devastated. I was confused. I was filled with questions. I was overwhelmed with regret. I was angry. I was ashamed. I was frustrated. I was hurt. I was all of these things and more.
I will forever be grateful for spending 40 years of my life with the pleasure of knowing Steve Schueren. Steve was my closest high school friend. I looked up to Steve and I will always hold him in high regard as a man of God. All the bookmarked memories I have shared with him will forever be cherished and remembered. All of us who knew Steve know that he will live forever in our hearts.
About the age of 16, I was introduced to a man who would become so influential throughout my teen and adult years. He grew to be not only be my friend but he was no less a father figure in my life. Our father/son relationship lasted for years. Bob Emrich loved me as a son and he loved me unconditionally. God took him home after a battle with cancer. He wasn’t perfect but he taught me so much and I still miss him everyday. There is no doubt of his influence in my life. Forever bookmarked in my memory.
One would think after reading this, I would have this bookmarking thing down. But like most people, I move from day-to-day not really paying attention to how quickly things could change.
Why does it take big kicks in the behind for us to realize what’s important in life?
Most of the time, I believe, it is because we get caught up in chasing things in life. Whether it be money, materials, certain experiences we think will solve our problems or even people. Sometimes we get so engaged with everything in the future or in the past and what it can bring us, that we forget about all that is right in front of our faces.
Are you paying full attention to the things you love? To each moment? What memories have you bookmarked in your memory? I implore you to start with one thing today. One thing you want to experience fully. Maybe something that will be with your wife, husband, your children or grandchildren.
Maybe you need to make yourself available to allow a loved one to make a bookmarked memory with you. Remember your children are making bookmark memories of their own with you as well.
I realize more and more how incredibly blessed my life has been and I know a good part of that must pay tribute to the people that surround my life, past, present and future.
Lives that vary so greatly, the people I went to school with formed a good part of who I am today. The good, the bad and all of the in between!
Time goes quickly and some stay in touch more than others, but there’s a bond in growing up in the small town of Oak Harbor, Ohio or in the time spent in a small Baptist Church and Christian School that only those there can understand. I suppose it’s the pros and cons of living with a small group of people that knits our hearts together. The losses that take their toll on such a small community can seem larger than life because of the percentage they take away from the whole. They can feel like holes that are irreparable. But at the same time the wonderful memories of victories are celebrated as monumental events by one and all and are remembered fondly.
My challenge is for anyone reading this is to take the time to make memory bookmarks in the confines of the hearts and minds of your family. In turn you will be able to do the same, before it’s too late.
One year since I received the call that shook me to the core.
My best friend from my high school years took his own life.
I was devastated. I was confused. I was filled with questions. I was overwhelmed with regret. I was angry. I was ashamed. I was frustrated. I was hurt. I was all of these things and more.
I had already been reeling from the loss of two of my best friends that had passed away in the previous two years. I was now facing a third pillar of my life being taken from me.
Bob Emrich, Brian Blakely and now Steve Schueren.
I will forever be grateful for spending 40 years of my life with the pleasure of knowing Steve Schueren. My third pillar in my life. Steve was my closest high school friend. I looked up to Steve and I will always hold him in high regard as a man of God.
It has been a year… and I so wish I could hear him once again debate the political issues that we face today. He would have had a field day and he was never at a loss for words when it came to politics or his faith.
All the memories I have shared with him will forever be cherished and remembered. All of us who knew Steve know that he will live forever in our hearts.
Bryan Blakely was my childhood best friend. The first pillar in my life. The days of my early childhood were influenced by his presence in my life. Not much happened in my life from the age of 5 to 16 that Bryan and I did not experience together. Somewhere along the age of 16, we started to drift into different directions. Over the next 30 years whenever our paths crossed, we would always talk and we knew that there would always be a special friendship between us, but it would never be the same as it was growing up on that alley between Walnut and Washington Streets in Oak Harbor, Ohio. He died in June of 2009.
About the age of 16, I was introduced to a man who would become so influential throughout my teen years. My second pillar. He grew to be not only be my friend but he was no less a father figure in my life. Our father/son relationship lasted for years. Bob Emrich loved me as a son and he loved me unconditionally. God took him home after a battle with cancer. He wasn’t perfect but he taught me so much and I still miss him everyday. There is no doubt of his influence in my life.
The pain and loss that is associated with the loss of these men is huge. A mother shouldn’t have to bury a son, a wife should not have to lose her husband and children should not have bury their father before their time. All three of these men were gone too soon from this life. They are missed by many and I have to admit that over the course of the past year, I have felt sorry for myself. I just could not understand why God chose to take those in my life. I looked forward to growing old and having those pillars in my life for a long time.
For whatever reason, God sometimes allows people to be taken very quickly from us. Many times, so fast that we never get the chance to say the things we needed to say. I am still shocked and in some ways I am still not over their loss.
But this is one truth that I have come to appreciate. I still find myself under their influence. I can still hear the laughter and the voice of Bryan as I think of the memories of my childhood. His humor and his perspective on not taking life too seriously will always be imbedded in my memory.
I find myself listening to music and hearing Bob’s voice encouraging me to be better man. I can see him giving me the cheat signs that we had made up in order to win at our epic Rook battles or laughing so hard at times we couldn’t speak at the crazy stuff we did. His influence on me as teenager trying to find his way in life has transcended into an influence that still makes want to be a better man. He is still here with me… the signs are all around me.
It is no different with Steve. His influence is still evident in my life. I became a better student of God’s Word because of Steve. I still do things that I learned from him from way back in my high school years. Most importantly, he is part of my “Great Cloud of Witnesses” that is mentioned in Hebrews 12:1.
I am still under their influence.
This has caused me to think about what it means to influence others.
I looked up the word “influence” and the definition says:
“to affect or alter by indirect or intangible means; to have an effect on the condition or development of.”
To have an effect on the condition or development of. That’s huge!!! All three of these men had a profound effect my development.
I feel a bigger responsibility today as a result of my relationship with them. As if I need to re-think decisions that I am making or things that I do as possibly having an effect on others, whether positive or negative. I need to ask myself what kind of influence am I having on others. What kind of influence do I have on my wife? How am I influencing my children? my friends? my co-workers? Will they feel my influence after I am gone from this life? It’s a little overwhelming to contemplate that I could have the same effect on someone’s condition or development, just like the influence of these men had in my life.
I hope the Lord continues to teach me how to be a man of influence. To be someone who is to be remembered. My hope is to be that better man… that better friend to someone. To be a voice of influence. To be a shoulder for someone to lean on. To be the one who encourages… to be one that spurs others on to greatness.
Until that happens…I am thankful to always be under the influence of Steve Schueren… Bryan Blakely and Bob Emrich.
I thank them for the time that they shared with me of their life and I am forever grateful for the legacy that they passed on into my life.
For now… I am still here. I look forward to re-uniting with all of them one day. I cannot help but smile when I think of it. Steve will offer me the seat next to him… Bryan will be telling stories and Bob will be playing music and sitting at the table with a deck of Rook cards in his hand with a big smile on his face.
I sat with the other bewildered children listening to some strange lady trying to get us to sing songs that we had never heard before. She seemed way too happy for that time of the morning.
The church bus picked us up early on that Sunday morning in OakHarbor and I was on my way to FremontBaptistTemple in Fremont, Ohio. It is hard to believe that my parents allowed me to ride this rickety old bus some 25 miles to Fremont to attend Sunday school. But it was 1971 and things were different back then.
It seemed as if that strange lady in the front of the bus knew a never-ending list of songs. She sang those songs one right after the other and I found myself taking a liking to those catchy songs. Before I knew it we arrived at the church.
As they herded all of us up and tried to get us in line and in the right Sunday school room, I was still uneasy and not really comfortable with all of these strangers. I did not know anyone.
I was led into the fourth grade room and was introduced to my teacher. Mr. (Gene) Trusty was my teacher that day. He shook my hand as I walked in the room and remembered that he about broke my little 10-year-old hand that morning.
I sat at the end of the first row of chairs I could find. It did not take long to discover that I was looked on a little differently. I sat there quietly not wanting to draw attention myself and not really wanting to talk to anyone. I mean I was a bus kid and no one pays attention to a bus kid. That is just the way it was.
Then just before the class started this skinny little boy with blond hair came right up to me and asked me if I wanted to sit with him. He asked me my name. I told him that my name was David and he introduced himself as Steve.
Thus began the unlikely friendship that lasted from that Spring day in 1971 right up to Monday, October 10th, 2011.
Steve Schueren and I have known each other for over 40 years.
In those early years, we quickly became fast friends and though I lived in OakHarbor and he lived over 30 miles away in Old Fort, Ohio I would spend time at his house as often as I could. We had the same love for sports and there was just something that just drew us together as friends.
Every Sunday I would rush off that broken down church bus and find my way to our Sunday school class and there would be Steve waiting there…saving me a seat. A seat for a bus kid.
This continued for the next few years, until one Sunday they told us that the church was no longer going to be sending a bus to OakHarbor. I lost contact with my Old Fort friend. Three years passed.
In 1976, my sister started to drive and we talked our mom into allowing us to drive to the church in Fremont. As we parked our car and made our way into the church, I wondered if Steve was still at the church. Sure enough, there he was. He welcomed me and invited me to sit with him. It was as if nothing had ever changed and we just picked up our friendship where it had been left three years earlier.
For the next 10 years we did just about everything together. We were active in the church youth group, went to summer Bible camps. Hung out with each other and attended the same Christian School, played varsity soccer and basketball together. Listened to the same kind of music and sang in the same group. We worked at HJ Heinz together and both decided to go in the ministry and attend LibertyUniversity together.
From that spring day way back in 1971 I have always looked up to Steve. That is not to say that we always got along. Like all friends we had our differences. We had our times where we needed space from each other. We both were very competitive and like any other friendship we had our share of arguments and disagreements.
Sometimes when you have a friendship that is similar to the one that Steve and I had, it would seem as if we had a lot of things in common. In reality we were quite different. I was an OhioState fan… he was a Michigan fan. I was barely aware of who the President was… he could talk politics before it was popular to do so. I scraped by academically just so I could remain eligible to play sports… he was an excellent student. I was a stutterer and could not speak in front of people without embarrassing myself… he could hold the attention of a large crowd and could clearly explain difficult concepts long before he finished his education. I struggled with my walk with Christ, it was a daily battle… he had his act together spiritually and was an example on how a young man should live his life. He was one of the most focused and intelligent people I have ever known.
We were together for a lot of our life events. I remember the night Steve told me he was confident that he was dating the girl who would steal his heart. Being his longtime friend I must admit I was rather shocked and I had to admit I had never witnessed him so taken by a girl. I am referring to Rhonda, who would soon become his wife. Both he and Rhonda would be in my wedding and we would all share in celebrating the births of our first-born children.
He would graduate college and seminary and go directly into the ministry. He served in a church in Virginia for a few years and then he took the opportunity to teach at TempleChristianAcademy in Fremont, Ohio where we both graduated. I had the privilege to work with him during his time at Temple. He was a gifted teacher and could inspire those who sat under his teaching to grasp the deeper things of God. He had a unique ability to challenge those that he taught to think and defend what you believed. He would teach you that if you believed something you needed to believe it because you researched it yourself and that you did not just believe because he or any other preacher said it was so. He was such a student of God’s Word. His students loved him and looked up to him.
It was during this time I noticed something different in Steve. He struggled with a burden that I did not see coming. Like Paul in the New Testament, who carried a burden for years that God never took away, Steve would carry this burden for years to come. This burden would start affecting his teaching. I am sad to say that I did not appreciate the years we worked together at Temple. I wish I could go back and change the way things happened and certainly how it all ended. I deeply regret it to this day. I was in a very difficult position where I had to tell Steve that the school was going to head in a different direction. We parted ways and from that point my friendship with Steve and his family would be strained at best. He would move on and become a wonderful pastor to those that he ministered to in churches in Indiana and Southern Ohio for the next 20 years or so.
I am sad to say that for this portion of our adult years “life” got in our way. He was busy in the ministry, raising children and moving forward with life. As I struggled in my walk with Christ, I found myself falling farther away from what was left of our friendship. When I went through a divorce in 1995, I had lost all contact with Steve. I alienated myself from almost everyone from my past and Steve was no exception. (I have documented my journey away from the Lord a number of times on this blog) Steve and Rhonda had remained friends with my ex-wife and I think that Steve and I went close to 13 years with no contact with each other. What ever was left of my friendship with Steve and his family was over when my divorce was finalized. I was a failure as a believer, a husband, a father and as a friend.
Steve battled his burden and I battled mine. His struggles were different from mine and while mine were for the most part self-inflicted, his were not. I deserved what I received from my choices and my self-inflicted struggles. Steve did not deserve what he was dealing with.
In 2009, Steve accepted the call to be the pastor of Bigelow Church in Portsmouth, Ohio. He was excited about the opportunities that this ministry had to offer. About that same time he came home to visit and one Sunday morning Steve and I talked for the first time in years. We talked for about an hour after church and we were re-united again. However, it was evident that time and space had changed us. We were not the people we were in high school or college for that matter. We would not ever again be the “Steve and David” combo we once were all those years ago.
The bottom line was that we re-established contact with each other and we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. I am thankful that we talked that day in the church because although it would never be the same we did indeed write notes back and forth over the course of the past few years. He would comment on my blog posts and I would comment on his. He had started a blog called, “A Clay Jar Speaks”. It was insightful and perfectly reflected his commitment to the truth of God’s Word. He linked my blog to his and I have had a number of people visit this site through the link on Steve’s blog. Over the next few months, we shared some letters and I had the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated his friendship and thank him for everything he had done for me all those years ago. I apologized to Steve and told him how sorry I was that I had failed in our friendship. I was hopeful that we could move forward and put behind us some of the things that had come between us.
But it soon was evident that Steve had begun to battle his burden again. Our communication slowed down and this past April he stopped responding to my notes and letters. I had known that Steve had battled depression since his time at TempleChristian. Over the years, there would be periods when he would struggle and I know he fought the battle courageously during these times and he would always come out on the other side. I had no doubt that this time would be no different.
When the phone rang on Monday, October 10th … I knew. The news on the line was devastating.
Steve’s death was sudden. When I heard the news I simply could not believe it. I had lost another pillar of my childhood. In 2009, I lost both Bob Emrich and Bryan Blakely, two of my closest friends. Both of them taken too young and too quickly. These losses were devastating to me. Now a few years later I lose Steve. We may not have been as close as we once were but make no mistake that he is and will always be a major influence in my life. Another pillar in my life… gone.
I cannot say I understand Steve’s death. I cannot process it. I don’t understand the decisions he made that day, but I accept them. I believe that he was courageously fighting his burden and it was a battle that he could no longer see the end of. It is with that aspect I am most saddened. It would be unreasonable for me to assume anything else other than the fact that he was a weary soldier and was ready to go home.
Steve was well-loved and he had done so many things on earth that had a direct impact on eternity. I will forever be grateful to have known him. I will forever be grateful that Steve was there at the right place and at the right time all those years ago in that Sunday school room when he asked a skinny, snotty nosed bus kid to sit next to him. I wonder where my life would have taken me had that not happened.
What is it that I will remember when I think of Steve? I have a long list of precious memories. Besides his commitment and love for the Word of God, I think everyone who knew him very well would agree with me on this. It was his sense of humor. He had a wonderful sense of sarcasm and humor. That is what I will truly miss about Steve. He could make me laugh and not many people could do that.
I will remember him when I hear a Ronnie Milsap or Tim Sheppard song. I will remember him when I watch the OhioState – Michigan game. I will remember him every time I turn on the NCAA March Madness during basketball season. I will remember him each and every time I watch a political debate on TV. He would just love to comment on the perspectives of each candidate.
All of these things and more will trigger memories of him.
I will forever be grateful for spending 40 years of my life with the pleasure of knowing him. All the memories I have shared with him will forever be cherished and remembered. Steve will forever live in my heart. Steve is in heaven now. This is not the time for me to grieve his death; I choose to celebrate his life. I choose to think back and remember how Steve touched my life. How he made me laugh and how good Steve was as a person. I am thankful that I was given the chance to have known a man named Steve Schueren… he made me a better person.
(Updated on January 11, 2012)
I mentioned in the last few paragraphs that I would always remember Steve when I hear a Tim Sheppard song. Since Steve’s death this song has taken a very special place in my heart and it will always be the song that will bring back cherished memories of the man of God that I knew in Steve. This song brings me great comfort and as Tim sings please take a moment to reflect and remember Steve as I do…
Steve will forever be missed but I know in the right time, I will meet Steve again. He will be waiting there in heaven and maybe he’ll be saving me a seat and invite this “bus kid” to sit next to him…just like he did all those years ago.
I look forward to taking him up on that invitation.
Early that morning, just before the first rays of sun light broke over the horizon, I woke up, got dressed and took off to see what I had hoped to be the most beautiful sunrise I had ever witnessed. I did not tell anyone where I was going or even the fact that I was leaving at all that cold crisp Colorado morning. It was still pretty dark out but I had enough light to see where the trail began and if I just stayed on the trail it would take me to the fire lookout tower we had visited yesterday.
For the previous two years, I had been traveling around the country with a singing group that promoted Missions and Liberty University. On this day we were in Colorado. I loved my time traveling with this group. Coming from a small town in Northwest Ohio, I was lucky enough to be able to travel and see things that I may never had the chance if I stayed in safe confines of Oak Harbor, Ohio. Not only had I the opportunity to see things all over the United States but also places around the world. I had been to Brazil and traveled through out Central America and before my time would end I would be going to Africa. These places I went to were just dreams that I had a few short years ago but now they were becoming reality.
On this particular morning was to be no different, I was going to take every opportunity to see something I may never have the chance to see again. Catching a chance to see the sunrise come up over a Colorado morning was one I was not going to miss.
This adventure actually started out the previous day. Having the day off and taking the opportunity to get some much-needed “rest”, the group and I decided to go on a hike in the Pike National Forest in Douglas County, Colorado. This is located between Denver and Colorado Springs.We hiked and just had a wonderful time of friendship and sharing the beautiful sights and sounds of Devil’s Head Lookout. Devil’s Head Lookout is a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout tower. The view from the tower extends at least 100 miles in every direction on clear days. To see the view, I would have to hike a two-mile trail with a 950-foot elevation gain. At the end of the hike, I would then climb 143 stairs to the top of the lookout tower. The views were spectacular and breathtaking. It was then I decided to myself that I would hike up here in the morning and see a once in a lifetime sunrise.
I would like to have had some pictures of this beautiful day but this was long before the day of the digital camera and my Instamatic Kodak Camera was not functioning right so the images of this wonderful day are burned in my memory with only one exceptional, blurry picture of the group at the Devil’s Head Lookout.
The next morning was cold and the trail was rough, rocky, uneven, but the quiet and the view was worth the effort. I estimated about 40 minutes of hiking to get to the tower. I had hoped to see an elk, a deer or maybe a bear, but I saw none. The morning was great. Crisp, cool, actually a little cold, but wonderful. I had to watch my steps, there were rocks everywhere. The path was not smooth. I had to be real careful not to turn an ankle. In fact, the climb was steeper than I had remembered from yesterday. My pauses to catch my breath, to rest my legs grew more and more frequent. Air at 10,000 feet is thinner than what I’m used to. It made the trek seem even more daunting. Around each corner of the trail another stretch of path upward…another challenge, but I couldn’t stop. I had to get back to my destination. Then I arrived.
A beautiful sunrise in the middle of Colorado. It was amazing. It was quiet. I don’t think many people in this world saw a sunrise like I witnessed that morning. The sun rose majestically and for the moment, I paused to enjoy the scene, the cool air, the sounds of birds and the breeze in the trees. All around were mountains, but here in this spot, in this moment there was a calm, a peace that I can’t explain. It was a confirmation of all that is good in this world and it was presented just for me that morning by God. It was worth the walk.
But then…as I began my walk back I realized that I had lost track of time. I was exhausted from my morning climb and now I was going to be missing from the group. Our group was going to be leaving soon and I was not at the cabin and nobody knew I was gone. I started walking downhill on the trail to get back to the group. The entire trip back was DOWNHILL! Now that sounds easy, but this is Colorado. Everything is steep. That includes going downhill. Stopping here, on the path, only part way back was not an option. So, onward I walked, more frequent stops, longer stops, more air needed.
It is then I see a path that veers off the main trail. Now there are signs everywhere encouraging hikers to stay on the trail but a kid from a smallNorthwest Ohio town knows better right? I took the path and hoped it would be a short cut to the cabin.
I hurried along this path, trying to make up time so that I could get back and not get into trouble. The path was clear and it was heading in the right direction and as I came around a turn in the path, I could see our cabin in the distance. Seeing this I stepped up my pace. I was breaking into a run when the trail suddenly wasn’t as clear as it had been before and now it was hard to see where the path was headed. I had to stop and I had to put my hands on my knees to catch my breath. Looking down and gasping for breath, I realize that I am mere foot or so from a cliff that dropped off the side of that path. I was inches from dropping over 100 ft to a sure death. Now besides gasping to catch my breath, I was shaking in fear of how close I had come to falling off that cliff.
Realizing what a terrible mistake it was to leave the main trail, I started heading back to where I left it. Each step back the growing anxiety started to build in my heart. I knew that I had come real close to falling off that cliff and I knew that it was the Lord that kept me from falling as well. This had been one example of a few experiences in my life where I was spared for reasons I did not know.
I made my way back to main trail and I stayed on it until I got back to the cabin. As I walked up to the group that was now loading the bus, no one said a word. No one asked where I was and I did not tell them. I thought I was going to be in trouble and no one was even asking me anything. So I did not tell anyone about this incident. As a matter of fact, I haven’t told anyone this story until now, almost 30 years later.
As these years have passed, I have often thought about that fateful morning. I have thought that my Christian walk has been just like that morning. In the midst of a beautiful sunrise there can be moments that stir your soul for all the good that there is in it. You believe that you are safely in the arms of God and then a mere few moments later you can be on the edge and totally on the brink of disaster. It is only then that you realize that it is at that point when you are inches from falling off the cliff that you find out that it is then you are truly and safely in the arms of God. My walk with God has been just like that walk in the mountains.
I read about this same theme all through David’s words in book of Psalms, this idea of a journey, a walk through difficult places. Always, as David made these treks he would pray, “Lord, help me through this part of my journey. There’s no one to help but you.”
For You have delivered my soul from death, Indeed my feet from stumbling, So that I may walk before God in the light of the living. Psa 56:13
In the midst of the upward climb of the Christian life there are rocks to avoid, there is the need for a time of rest, there’s the ongoing need to keep going…..because you have to get home, you can’t stop. Around every turn the trail seems to climb even more, the rocks are still in the way and you have to watch for them. Cliffs are mere inches from your path that could spell disaster. But, just as I finished my walk that fateful morning, there is a day when we will each finish the course laid out for us, we will each finish the race God has us on. It’s a walk with a wonderful home ahead, but it’s not always easy.
That’s the nature of the Christian life, isn’t it? The one great thing about this walk is that all along the way God is with you to help you, guide you, encourage you, protect you and in the end the truth is that all trails that God places us on lead home.
Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul. Psa 143:8
This is a random You Tube video that shows the same place as referenced in this story. Not much has changed in the 30 years since I was there.
It was the first day of practice – I was late. I began to panic. Maybe I’d come on the wrong day…maybe I’d come to the wrong place! Every time I would open a door, there was another hallway. I couldn’t find the coaches – I couldn’t find any of the other players.
And that’s when it hit me, this was Jr. High School.
And I…was completely…and utterly…alone.
1973. It was a crazy time. Nixon and the Watergate scandal were the headlines and people were on the move…looking for answers…breaking new ground and wanting change.
Seemed like everyone was searching for a new identity.Me, I was breaking some ground of my own. That September I entered Rocky Ridge Junior High. I was looking forward to new adventures. I wanted to start my 7th grade year with a bang. I wanted to play sports…not just any sport but the sport of football to be exact.
After running down every hall of the school, I finally found the locker room and went in.
To say that they were less than pleased to see me come into the locker room more than 10 minutes late for the first day of practice is an understatement. For what it’s worth, it did get me noticed. More importantly, I gave the coaches a face of the one person they would ride and harass for the rest of the season.
I survived that first day and at the end the week, the coaches called out my name and they threw me my new football jersey. Christmas Green…with the number 80 blazoned in white on the front and in the back. I was now officially a member of the 7th grade football team for the Oak Harbor Rockets. I was so proud.
I had not even put on a pair of shoulder pads and here I was strutting around in my football jersey. We were told to wear the jersey to first day of school and I happily complied. I remember walking through the doors that first day of school with my bright Christmas green jersey on. I was way too cool and I remember walking about two foot off the ground.
I had no clue of what I was going to face in the coming days.
Considering the fact in 1973, I was a smidgen over 5 foot tall and weighed all of 70 lbs. I should have been keenly aware of what I was about to face. When I was finally fitted with my equipment, I realized that something was different. Running around with all these pads on was much different from what I was used to when the guys and I played backyard football in Blakely’s yard. This was going to take some time to adjust.
For the most part, I survived the first few practices by being pretty lucky and besides the prodding from the coaches I stayed out of the line of fire. Then the fateful event happened. We had a football drill called “hamburger”, which basically is a drill where two players lie on their back with their helmets touching. On the coach’s whistle, both players get up and run back four yards in opposite directions, where one player takes a handoff from one coach and the other slaps the hands of a waiting coach. At that point, they run at each other. The player with the ball tries to run through the tackler and the tackler tries to bring the ball carrier down. After the tackle is made, each player moves to the back of the line as all players take part in this drill.
I took my spot in line and as I got closer to my turn to participate in the drill, I looked across to the other line to see who my competition was going to be. I really wanted to make a good impression on the coaches and I wanted to make sure I was matched up with someone my size and if luck would have it, maybe even someone smaller than me. So I watched to see who was going to line up against me. I saw that it was someone who was bigger than me and I started to shuffle my way a spot further back in line where I would be matched with someone my size. I got to my preferred place in line when I heard the loudest whistle I think I have ever heard. Then I hear my coach screaming out my name, “LEE…front and center!!!” I had been caught cutting the line…which was a big no-no.
He grabbed me by the facemask and pulled me over to the spot where I would have to carry the ball. He makes me lie down at the spot and I hear him talking to other players but I cannot hear what he is saying. I hear the whistle and I jump up to take the hand off from my coach. Everything is good up to this point and I take the hand off and I turn to run the ball through the defensive player. Here is when things start to go south, because it is then I see him.
Earl Kashmere…that’s right and he was a monster. Earl Kashmere was Mr. Football of the Oak Harbor Junior High. He was no less than a foot taller than me and he was about 100 lbs. heavier as well. Earl was just staring at me, waiting for the kill and I thought just before he hit me that I saw a glimpse of a small smile come across his face.
I had never been hit so hard in my entire life. My body went completely numb and I saw stars. I remember hitting the ground and as all the air rushed from my lungs so did any current desire to play football.
Have you ever known those moments that changed your life? Do you remember a specific time, a special event that was life changing for you? I think it happens to all of us, I know it happened to me on that day. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t quit. I stuck it out for the season. I wanted to play, but I just wasn’t good enough and so I took my position on the team as a bench warmer.
Profound moments of life are not all good moments. This moment for me was ego destroying and my quest from that day on was to make sure I “got in the game,” whatever the game might be…even if it wasn’t football. So my career was short-lived and I never played football again for the Rocket’s.
That was over 35 years ago and every now and then when I see that picture of me in that Christmas Green football jersey, I smile and wonder whatever happened to Earl Kashmere.
No one seemed to notice him as he stumbled into McDonald’s. It was evident that he wasn’t able to stay dry on this stormy day.
I immediately recognized him. I do not know him but I had just passed him walking along the highway on my way to lunch. As I drove by him, he trudged through the rain, walking to his destination. I did not give it a second thought. Just another homeless man who I pass along the way.
He enters the restaurant and walks towards the counter. I am sitting at my table with a newspaper spread out and just taking a few moments to catch up on the news. I don’t know why but I look up from my newspaper and for some reason I watch him as he struggles to get a few coins from his well-worn pants and hands them over to the cashier. I watch his feeble hands caress the cup of coffee that he just purchased. The man looks up and his eyes catch mine. I immediately look down at my newspaper. I did not want him to see me staring at him. He obviously had been homeless for quite some time. I try to resist the urge to look up, I give in and take another look at the homeless man. He is still looking at me.
His prominent chin rounds out while his lips seem to fold over his gums as if he were missing teeth. The pale pink-white skin resembles rough parchment paper that had been crumpled too many times. His eyes are worn but kind, an indiscriminate color of blue. He appears older than his actual age. His mouth keeps a permanent expression that is somewhere between a smile and a frown. The harshness of a hard life lived on the streets fills in the lines on his face and his brown hair hangs like limp thread.
He appears like he wants to speak to me, but I do not know this man. A small voice in my head says to speak to him but my instinct says stay away. Something is wrong. I look back down at my newspaper and force myself to not look up and resist the small voice in my head that is telling me to speak to him. Eventually he leaves and I see him walk out into the rain.
I pretend to read the paper, I start to wonder about the life of this homeless man. Where did life take that once innocent little boy, and what twisting, tearing winds tore him apart? What major event changed the course of his life? What was his home life-like, and what issues of life was he avoiding? I wondered if anyone had ever said, ‘I love you.’ to him? Did his parents abandon him when he was young? Did someone break his heart? I dismiss these random thoughts and try to focus on the sports page and eat before my lunch gets cold.
As my lunch hour comes to a close, I rush to my car because it is still raining. Suddenly I notice that the man had not left the parking lot. He is crossing the parking lot heading in my direction. I turn my head and hurriedly get into my car. I press the lock button and hear the reassuring click of all the doors. Next thing I know he is knocking on my window. I feel the shot of adrenaline cross my stomach and I am on the verge of panic. I desperately look to see if anyone was around. No one was.
I reluctantly opened my window a crack. “How can I help you?” I ask. I was sure that he was going to ask me for money. I quickly glance at my cup holder to see if I had any extra change to give him. It was empty and as he started to speak, I thought that I was going to have to give a few dollars from my wallet. I notice that his rough, calloused hands went into the pockets of his stained coat. Then it hit me…he was going to rob me. He looked at me and he said, “I wanted to give you this.” I started to feel an uneasy , sick feeling in my stomach. My mind was racing, trying to figure out what this man had that was so important that he would continue to stand in the pouring rain in order to give it to me. He fumbled around and then he pulled out a gospel tract called, “Where are you going?” and slid it in the opening of the window. Before I can respond, I look up and he is no longer at my window. He was trudging his way across the wet parking lot in the rain and soon he was gone.
I just sit there staring at the worn and torn gospel tract in my hand. I wanted to tell him that I was a believer. I wanted to tell him that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. I wanted to tell him that I believed that Jesus Christ was the only way to heaven. I believed that Jesus died for my sins and that there was nothing I could do to earn my way to heaven. Because the debt of sin was paid by His death on the cross, I could have eternal life. I wanted to tell the man that I had asked God to forgive me and save me from an eternity of hell. I indeed knew where I was going after I died.
As I sat in my car, with the sound of the rain pounding on the roof of the car, I start to feel the guilt and shame that comes with realization that this man who had nothing and lost everything in his life cared more about the souls of others than I did. In my shame, I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually witnessed to another person about the relationship I have with Jesus Christ.
There are so many avenues we can choose to take in our life. There are wrong paths and right paths. I have taken a journey down both of these paths. I have learned valuable lessons on each path. But the sad truth is that for most of my adult life I have traveled a path that could best described as a “gray path”. This “gray path” is best described as when a believer lives their life in such a way that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. However, they do not have a real regard in sharing their faith and being a true “witness” for Jesus Christ. They become very comfortable just living their life, going to church on Sunday’s and for the most part doing whatever they want the remainder of the week. This would describe me.
Sitting in my car on that raining day, holding that worn and torn tract made me realize that I have neglected my responsibility to be a witness for Jesus Christ. I believe that God intended for that man to speak to me that day. I see that I need to be open and not so judgmental. Along the way of living out my life, I now wonder how many friends will I leave behind because I failed to witness to them.
The truth is that everyone is looking for God. Many people may not want to admit that but it makes it no-less true. I should have been the one that gave that man a gospel tract. I should always be the kind of witness that sheds light on what it truly means to live for Christ. We have a responsibility to those we come in contact with along the way of this life.
Hearts that never mend, The tears that never end, And words that go unspoken every day, Love we should have shown, Dreams they could have known; If only we would have told Them along the way.
And who are we to say we really love Him, When all we seem to do is throw His love away? Will we smile when we stand before Him And laugh all the hours away, Or cry for the friends we left behind along the way?
The race is never run, The battle’s never won, And time just keeps on turning, burning away. Bless me, Lord, I pray, Fill my cup, we say, While a million souls are dying along the way.
And who are we to say we really love Him, When all we seem to do is throw His love away? Will we smile when we stand before Him And laugh all the hours away, Or cry for the friends we left behind along the way?
I know that I am a better person and a better witness because of that chance meeting along the way.
The question is… who are you leaving behind along the way?