Wednesday, November 25, 2015

By Virtue of Thanksgiving

Oh what marvels fill me with thanksgiving!
The deep mahogany of a leaf once green. The feathered fronds of tiny icicles coating every twig and branch in a wintry landscape. The feel of goosebumps thawing after endured frozen temperatures. Both hands clamped around a hot mug of herbal tea. The aromatic whiff of mint under my nose. The stir of emotion from a child's cry for mommy. A gift of love detached of strings. Spotted lilies collecting raindrops in a cupped clump of petals. The vibrant mélange of colors on butterfly wings. The milky luster of a single pearl. Rainbows reflecting off iridescence bubbles. Awe-struck silence evoked by any form of beauty.
Avocado flecks in your eyes.
Warm hands on my face.
Sweetness on the tongue.
The harmony of voices.
An answered prayer.
A pink balloon.
A caress.
A smile.
These have become my treasures by virtue of thanksgiving.


Monday, November 9, 2015

That There Indomitable Spirit

 That There Indomitable Spirit

Across from campus there’s a wooden bench that sits beneath a cluster of cherry trees.  From there one can look to the right and see a dignified university decorated with red brick and crème lattice.  On the left, a new playground sits in the middle of a green park, popular among children who giggle and shriek as if silliness were their universal tongue.
I found the bench, my favorite reading spot, occupied that afternoon by an older gentleman in a black ball cap.  The gold insignia above the bill was a badge denoting some military cavalry.  His smile was a more powerful draw for my attention; he seemed to be enjoying the nice spring weather. 
I took a seat on the far end of the bench, a couple spaces down from him.  He appeared lost in thought when I glanced his way, mesmerized by the youthful scene taking place a distance out on the playground.
“So, what’ve you been up to today, son?”
I squinted at the man, a bit startled by his raspy voice, uncertain if his question was meant for me.  There was really no one else within earshot.
“Um…”  It was the most intelligent answer I could manage in my befuddled state.
The old man twisted his neck to look at my face.  His wrinkled smile stretched even farther as he waited patiently for me to provide a better answer to his question.  I fumbled around with a physiology textbook and placed it in my lap.
“Well, I uh…”  I thought back to the beginning of my day and rehearsed it for him.  “I woke up late this morning and had to hurry to my seminary class—drove two miles on an empty tank of gas.  Luckily my old Ford manages pretty far on fumes.  Then, after class, I purchased breakfast from a vending machine before hustling to take a grueling calculus test.”
“You a math major?” the man asked.
I shook my head.  “No, sir, not really.  Pre-med.  But I’m good at math.  My other classes are organic chemistry and human physiology.”  I lifted up the textbook in my lap as proof.
The old man nodded.  “You a lucky young fella.  A religious boy?”
I gestured affirmatively.  “I wouldn’t drag myself out of bed at five o’clock every morning to attend seminary if I wasn’t, I suppose.”
“I s’pose not,” the man agreed.  “Did you fight for your seat in that class?”
“Fight?” I repeated, confused. 
“You pay for it?”
“Oh….no, no, no.  Seminary’s free of charge.  Anyone can attend if they care to rise before the sun and sanity.”
The old man chuckled, but I got the feeling it wasn’t because he found me funny.  Then he went on to make an announcement, pointing a finger at my nose as if it were important. 
“That there religion—that’s Andy Shindler’s right arm.”
I waited for an explanation, but none came.
“Oh,” I finally breathed and opened up my textbook.  There was a section on facial muscles I needed to read.  Another odd question hit my ear before I could find the right chapter.
“Someone force you to go to school?  They makin’ you learn what’s in that book?”
“Um, no.  No, sir, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor.  I chose to take this class.”  Again, a rigid finger was pointed at me.
“Hmm.  That there choice—that’s James Kennedy’s legs, both of ‘em.”
I tried not to look at the man as if he were talking crazy, but….
“Oh,” I nodded.
“And that there book—”  His stern finger nearly reached to touch the colorful skull painted on the front cover.  “—that’s Donald Maccaby’s left eye.  Lost his left ear too.”
“From a book accident?”  I couldn’t help but ask.  I imagined a shelf in the library falling over, the edge hitting an unsuspecting man named Donald Maccaby in the face.  Ouch. 
The crazy old man chuckled again.  He didn’t answer me but kept right on talking.
“I call all this here Willy Whitman’s.”  His pointing finger gestured to our surroundings, mostly to the campus at the right of us.  I wondered then if the guy was lost.
“Sir, that’s not Whitman College.  It’s the University of Washington.”
The old man looked at me, smiling, staring patiently as if I were actually the lost one.  But I attended classes in those buildings every weekday; I was quite certain of the name of my own university.
I’d about decided to bury my head in my book and ignore the gawking madman when his features fell.  The smile that had appeared pinned from ear to ear collapsed, and his twinkling blue eyes glazed over, dull and sober.  His next words were not that of a madman at all, rather those of a wise, seasoned soldier.
“Andy Shindler, James Kennedy, Donald Maccaby, William Whitman—they were all privates who years ago served overseas under my command.  Those men made great sacrifices in war.  Lost limbs and other body parts.  In William’s case, his life.  Their sacrifices—their losses—paid for the rights you and I and all these here people take for granted.  The right to religion and school and books and writin’ and speakin’ and makin’ choices that freedom allows us to make.  That’s why every time I see a token of such freedoms, I think of my old friends.  They are those freedoms, son.  They spilled blood for ‘em, so you may as well call ‘em by their rightful names—Andy, James, Donald, William, Logan, Jacob, Ryan, Michael, and thousands more valiant soldiers.  Don’t you ever forget it.”
My head bowed, humbled.  I finally understood. 
“I won’t forget,” I promised.
“Good boy.”
The man’s smile returned as bright as ever.  I closed the pages lying open on my lap.
“Sir, may I ask your name?”
He seemed pleased by the request and immediately shared it with me. 
“Henry Starr, First Air Cavalry.”
I pointed to the throng of children twirling, jumping, and running on a green expanse of American soil without a care or fear in the world.
“That there indomitable spirit—that’s Henry Starr.”

This story is from "Making Wishes: Quotes, Thoughts, & a Little Poetry for Every Day of the Year".