He had served in the U.S. Navy in World War Two. His ship had been in battle, with many killed and injured. He was among the injured. He wasn’t killed, but they thought he would be dead soon. They must care for the ones who had a chance. Unconscious, they rolled him into a room that was out of the way. The men of the ship had a name for this room. It was “Saint Peter’s Room.” My friend told afterward that he kidded the medics for putting him in Saint Peter’s Room when he didn’t need to be there. He recovered from his wounds and lived a long life afterward.
The scene is still there in memory from 1959. I can play it, pause it, rewind it, replay it. Everything except erase it.
The store keeper's teenage daughter was at their home next door. The country store was downstairs and the family lived upstairs above it. She was out in the back yard beside a dirt pile the size of a small truck. She with a heavy digging maddock and swinging furiously, desperately at this pile. A rather pretty girl who had "gotten herself" pregnant with a high school boy. Neither of them had wanted this, nor had his parents or hers, nor had their churches, or this small farming community. Nor had I, their young college student part-time pastor.
People have body language and so do cars. When you ride a bicycle, as I do, you notice the body language of cars. I noticed one yesterday. I was holding up his progress, and I could tell he was restless back behind me. As soon as it was clear up ahead, his engine roared and tires screeched and he was off to beat me up the road and show me who was boss. Although he had 200 or more horsepower and I am not as strong as even one horse. But this guy acts like it's something great that he can outrun a bicycle.
We are fortunate to have a Salvation Army donation center just a few miles away. It is a remarkable operation. They take any donations of clothing or household items that might be of use to someone else. There are always volunteers waiting for you to drive in to unload. They are friendly and helpful. The place is usually busy, but it runs so smoothly that you are in and out in no time. It would be interesting to see the place where all this stuff is taken and processed. If you have things you don't want any more, this certainly makes more sense than putting them out with the trash.
Today I drove again on Sligo Creek Parkway and past its intersection with Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland. I remembered again being halted here by a minor accident. I remember it vividly, because standing beside the bent fender of his new car was a grown man crying. He was crying as in wiping tears from his wet face. He was middle aged and dressed well, wearing glasses, and Asian in appearance. I was touched by this sight, and remember it every time I pass this spot. This has gone on for over 25 years.
I was hiking on a lakeshore trail in a nearby state park. Ahead was a small wooden bridge across a stream. Several good steps and you would be across this bridge. But crossing it on this early morning, I noticed something that brought me to a stop. Someone had written something there. I imagined it to be the hand of a young boy. But instead of "fuck you" or "parents suck" it was something strangely different.
"I love you!"
As I walked on, I began pondering this message. It was not addressed to anyone. Usually you would expect a name attached. "I love you, Mary!" Or Jane, or Sally . . . someone with a name.
Was the boy shy? Did he want to leave the message anonymous, so he could point it out to any girl he brought and claim it was to her? Or could his love have been for another boy, and no girl at all? Or was this message more of a wish than a reality? He felt love, but his love had no name to attach to? Or could he have just been happy on a bright, sunny day and in love with life and with everyone? I kept wondering because there were all these possibilities, and no way to tell for sure about any of them.
However, I vote for the bright, sunny day. A day with an exclamation mark beside it. A day when love was an overwhelming feeling that had to be written down, even on a bridge. A day when it was free and unbounded, including all the world and the entire human race.
I know this sounds like nonsense. I know such writing was not placed by the head of the local chamber of commerce, kneeling down on those boards in his business suit and tie. It is nonsense for sure to him. This is the work of a child, we assume. It must have been a child, we assume. Thus we make it childish and foreign to our practical lives.
Sometimes on televised football games the camera shows a person in the end zone holding a sign saying "John 3:16"–the location of a verse in the Bible. The person wants us to get a Bible and read that verse. He believes it will do us some good. Perhaps it will for, if I recall correctly, this passage begins "God so loved the world . . .." So in this theology it is god-like to love the world, but that is in theory. It seems that the majority of god-fans don't see it that way. Their god loves their particular portion of the world–their country or tribe or religion or ethnic group, or whatever.
Speaking before a fundraiser for his political party, Newt Gingrich recently declared: "I am not a citizen of the world. I think the entire concept is intellectual nonsense and stunningly dangerous!" In this view it is every country for itself, and may the best country win. Or it is every race or language group for itself. Or it is every social or religious group for itself. And so we always at war, one against another. So it goes, and so it goes.
Human love, if we have any, tends to narrow down, not broaden out. We love only certain classes, races, political persuasions. We love children and relatives only if they behave themselves and treat us as they should. We certainly would never love an enemy. Our loved ones are the loving ones, meaning those who love us. Thus does love amount to no better than a practical selfishness.
I know the author of the inscription didn't have all of this in mind, but it's what I think about every time I cross his bridge.
Skinny, 5th grade Malcomb was at the pool with his swim team. They had finished swimming and were horsing around in the dressing room as boys that age will do. Malcomb was at the end of the bench where he had a good view of the area. And that was fortunate because in came an older man with the ugliest foot and leg he had ever seen. The foot was large and stubby and overly red in color. It had no toes whatsoever and was attached to a somewhat matching leg that looked no better. It looked like something from a freak show.
This is not a cry for help, but we are having a lot of winter this winter in the Washington D.C. and Mid-Atlantic region. Up to 250,000 homes have been without power, including my home and neighborhood. A man who works with me has been out of power for nearly a week. We are breaking the all-time snowfall record of 54 inches for one winter. The air is white with it just now and blizzard-force winds are blowing it sideways. We have the heat turned up and the candles and flashlights laid out and ready. There have been discussions about portable generators and other preparations.