Carrying On

Two years. Twenty four months. Seven hundred and twenty days…give or take.  Those numbers keep circling in my mind, because that is how long it has been ( come March 27) since Jim left this earth on that Monday afternoon. The shock of it is still “like yesterday”, but at the same time, I cannot fathom that I have lived that long without him.

I have talked with others who have lost a spouse or other loved one about what seems  strange when it is verbalized. I very often feel as though I am observing life going on around me but that my real life is inside my head, where Jim is. This is not a particularly sad feeling, just interesting. The sadness is more a permanent resident in my heart; it ebbs and flows in intensity, but I know that it always be there and I accept that most of the time. At other times, randomly, I feel panic, overwhelming grief, and some anger, not directed at anyone particular. This cycle of emotions seems to be normal among those grieving.  Part of me almost “hangs on” to these feelings, because they connect me to him in an intense way which I am afraid of losing.  The brutal truth is that everything in life, from waking and trying to straighten my arthritis-burdened body, to saying my last bedtime prayers, is no longer shared with him. This seems impossible to me, because we did share so many years…dating, marriage, raising children…times both wonderful and terrible. We both held God at the center of our lives, individually and as a couple, but Jim was my daily constant whom I could hug and kiss and with whom I could just “be”. I miss every aspect of being married to him. Yes, I am grateful for the years and the memories, but I was not ready for them to end.

I look into my earthly future with varied emotions. I am a naturally optimistic person, but also very logical and realistic. I fret about decisions, my house, my finances. Then I remember that the Lord has not deserted me. No matter my fretting or dissatisfaction with any specific situation, He has provided what I really needed. He has given me kind, loving friends, a job to do in serving my faith family, and the cutest grandchildren ever ( my grown children, too).  I don’t have any grand plan. The ultimate one is His, so I choose to trust Him even though sometimes I can muster only a tiny bit when I am sad and afraid. The only thing I know to do is , assuming I wake up, put my feet on the floor and start the day. I have always loved something that Elisabeth Eliot said …that when you don’t know what to do, do the next thing,  which may be washing the dishes (paraphrase).  In my case, it is often sweeping and vacuuming the ubiquitous German Shepherd hair which never abates. In exchange, I get an eccentric housemate whom I know would kill for me…unless the bad guy offered her cheese. She was Jim’s pup. She sat literally under his feet at his desk, sat calmly by his boat when he was working on it, and rode in his truck once a week to the church building, where she patrolled the halls and checked out every room until she was satisfied that there were no terrorists or cats lurking about,  whereupon she went back to the door and waited to leave, having completed her mission.  She looked for Jim for months but finally adopted an air of acceptance and made Pat her human. For now, she is stuck with me, but I am grateful for the companionship.

I imagine that folks expect widows, or at least old widows, to possess wisdom and advice for others who may experience such loss.  The problem is, the older I get, the more I know that I don’t know…and I am not afraid to admit it.  I don’t know how people with no faith in God do this. Is He my crutch? Absolutely, in the middle of a long dark night and in the moments when I despair and when the day is going okay.

This is a journey I did not want to take. I don’t like it. But I am in the middle of it.  I read and hear that it gets easier as time passes. I don’t believe life will ever be easier without Jim. What I can believe is that joy comes along every now and then from many different sources and that I can take encouragement from those times. I suppose I do have one piece of advice for someone who finds herself or himself in my shoes: find a routine that works for you, that provides comfort and structure, and don’t let other people judge ..well, they might..but they can keep it to themselves.  If I could get a message to Jim, I would tell him that I love him, I miss him, his family misses him, that we know he is well and whole, and that today, anyway, I am carrying on.

 

 

 

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My Fallin’ World

March 27, 2017-September 27, 2018…this means it has been a year and a half since Jim went to heaven.  I don’t really “observe” the monthly anniversaries other than in my own mind. I am no sadder on those days than the rest of the weeks and months. But this one seems significant, probably because over the past months I have had to spend a lot of time in a big chair with my foot elevated, letting my broken right ankle heal, thinking about a lot of things.

I fell. Actually, I slipped on a small puddle of water on hard tile the day after my son’s wedding. Yes, I am very grateful that it happened AFTER the big day, but in truth, I would have preferred that it not have happened at all. I managed to keep my head from hitting the tile…don’t know how…but evidently twisted awkwardly with enough force to break the ankle…the right one, of course, which means I am still not able to drive.

I dislike being completely  dependent on the kindness of family and friends. Don’t misunderstand…even uninjured, I have been the long-term recipient of too many kindnesses to count. But getting groceries, or getting to the office when I was able to return to a limited schedule, going to the mailbox, sweeping…all of the mundane which make up much of our time…has been physically impossible or at best very difficult. I admit I have spent too much time looking around my house, regretful that one task or another can’t get done. I also discovered that , if necessary, we can let go of many things which we previously considered vital. I am very, very grateful that my son has been able to help me so much. He has spent more time taking care of Mom than he has with his beautiful wife since this happened. Hopefully, he is near the end of this particular extra job. In the early days of this thing, my daughter and her husband and kids were loving caretakers. My friends continue to be willing to help in any way.

So, what has all of this to do with Jim? I have had broken bones before. This is the third in about 35 years, so I don’t think that qualifies me as chronic, but I do hope it is not a trend. I am not a whiny-baby (yes, I have those moments), but in the past, it was so comforting to have my husband with me. He was kind and loving. No matter the situation, just the fact that we were together was comforting and encouraging. I have realized over the past eighteen months that I was REALLY married. Our forty-plus years together gave us memories and experiences , both good and awful, which bonded us in this life. We also loved and liked each other. The future, however long it was to be, was viewed in the context of the two of us. Without Jim, I have a hard time seeing my future. Don’t call the mental health professionals yet…I don’t mean I am considering a date with the Golden Gate Bridge or emptying a pill bottle. I consider life a gift. I have many blessings and I am sure more to come. It is just so very hard to not hear his cheery whistling (which could drive you nuts) or know that he is not out back cleaning his latest haul of fish or know that the low, incessant hum of the air compressor….which sat outside with the cord running around the ground and into the office window (I grumbled about it, but it was more important that he loved his hobby than to indulge my concerns about appearances.)…meant that he was having a wonderful time creating his beautiful painted lures. I still talk to him, discuss things with him, but one sided-discussions are not very satisfying.

I am hopefully in the last few weeks of recovery with this fall, or at least should be able to wear two shoes and drive in the near future. One of the ponderings in my mind the last few months has been of The Fall…not Jeannie going down hard on tile…the one in Genesis. The Big One.  When I fell, it happened, as these things do, in a split-second. I took a step; then I was on the floor with people running over to help. It was shocking and traumatizing. Not fun. I was wondering whether , in Eden, the First Couple took much time to decide to eat that fruit…..considering whether they really could be god-like…or , when it came down to it, one second they were living in perfection, in unity with their Creator, and the next, hiding in shame and shock and a lot of regret.

My fall was a bummer for me and decidedly inconvenient for the folks close to me. It looks like I will recover. But in a conversation with my PT the other day, I said that, after the ankle is all better, I will still have to deal with my mental/emotional fear of another fall. Yesterday when I walked out of the building to get in the car, on my rolling walker, I froze for a second, because the concrete was wet from rain. I was afraid. I took a breath and continued walking carefully and made it to the car…kind of like I have felt everyday since Jim died.

THE FALL was a bummer for all of us. Adam and Eve got some bad news from the Lord. They were going to die. A real bummer. It’s the same bad news every human being eventually realizes. I spent years looking at the significance of this reality and considering my options. Of course, my first choice would be to be exempt, and perhaps the Lord will come to get His church during my lifetime. I vote for that.  But otherwise, I will go through what Jim already has. If I have one trait which is both good and maddening, it is to be able to see all sides of almost any argument or issue. I used that when examining the claims of Christ many years ago. I concluded that the Bible is honest and accurate and historically verifiable in all these claims. Yes, since I haven’t seen Christ face to face, I do exercise faith in believing. But not blind faith. I encourage anyone reading this who has not considered the implications of the Fall to do so. If you come to believe that Christ remedied the result of the Fall by His death and resurrection, that He did indeed heal us from the broken relationship with God and eliminated sin as an issue for eternity with Him, you will have Him with you, even if your much-loved spouse dies, when bones get broken or life otherwise punches you in the gut…and it will.

I surely am looking forward to driving myself to Walmart and Chikfila…and to meeting God someday….in that order. I have grandkids whom I would like to see give their parents a few hard times while I am still around.

 

 

It’s Just a Game

After the Bulldogs finally closed it out against Vanderbilt in the very wee hours of a Monday morning, my first instinct was to run from the living room back to the bedroom and tell Jim; he would have likely had to lie down before it ended, leaving me to stay awake, or somewhat awake, to cheer them on. How he would be enjoying this gritty team!

Americans love our sports. Yes, I know, professional athletes are paid ridiculous sums of money. On that subject, I am a free market capitalist. If the revenues are there, the franchises can negotiate whatever they like with them. I harbor no jealousy or resentment. But this isn’t about that. Sports, like any other human activity, can became idolatrous, but this isn’t about that, either. It is about baseball, or the love of it.

Many, from George Will to Charles Krauthammer in this present age have written eloquently on the subject. I can write only of its place in the life of my little family. I was told that my dad was a heck of a baseball player and that he was actually scouted before WWII got in the way, so I believe baseball is in my genetic code. As a teen living on a mountain ridge in East Tennessee, I started listening to Yankees broadcasts on my little but powerful radio (a prized possession for kids in my day). I immediately fell in love with the team, the history, and the way baseball was interwoven in the fabric of American life through generations. I am not sure it can still be called “The National Past Time” (a shame); the pageantry and glitz of football seems to dominate now. Football is fun….who doesn’t like very big guys giving each other multiple concussions and throwing impossible  passes miles long ? It has, after all, given us the Super Bowl. Of course, we all love a 3 pointer at the buzzer, and the NBA playoffs which last about as long as a pregnancy.

I once had a friend tell me that she just couldn’t like baseball, because it “moves too slowly and nothing happens.” Even though I laughed, I could understand her thinking, no matter how wrong I thought she was. Baseball is a game which moves slowly and happens very quickly. There may actually be crying in baseball, but there can be no impatience. The pitcher is going to take as long as he takes to choose a pitch and throw it, unless the umpire reminds him that he is taking too much time. We once watched a UCLA pitcher work so agonizingly slowly that I was sure we would all be dead and mummified in our seats before an inning ended. But the skills necessary to baseball…throwing, catching, hitting, are among the hardest in athletics to learn and master. We started our kids early. Jim bought a cloth ball and would toss it to Olivia in her infant seat. At first, of course, she would just let it hit her in the chest with no response but a slightly surprised look. Gradually, she began kicking her legs in anticipation and trying to grab the ball with her hands. They had many fun games of catch that way. It was the same with Pat.  Pat’s large muscle coordination was obvious from toddler-hood. He was good. I spent many hours in the yard rolling ground balls to him as he stretched and dove into the prickly holly bushes. Good times.

Jim coached in our town’s little league program for years. I remember every one of the guys he had on his teams. His temperament was, I think, perfect for the job. He was very competitive, but had endless patience in teaching the fundamentals of the game, and believed in practice, practice, practice. His goal was to help these young guys be the best they could be at baseball. Does that seem a narrow, rather superficial ambition? It wasn’t, because although playing the sport and winning some games was the immediate task at hand, it is not just a cliche’ to say that baseball is , or can be, analogous to life. Baseball is hard. Because games are longer than many other sporting events, it requires mental sharpness and perseverance. Sometimes, as in life, it seems that you are just running around and around, tripping on basepads, getting whacked with foul balls, and striking out despite great effort to succeed. Sometimes, despite hard work, another player gets the start and maybe even does something spectacular. Statistically, baseball is a game of failure.  In life, if we base our worth solely on our performance, it can certainly seem that way.

One year, we put a very large glass “cider jug” in a corner of the living room. We told the kids that we would put our change in it, never empty it, and hope that the Dawgs would someday make it to the College World Series, at which time we would use the saved money. They made it that very year. I remember so vividly the whooping and dancing around in our little house, and shouts of joy when Jim smiled and said “Okay, let’s go to Omaha!” We counted the contents of the jug and lugged nearly $800 in coins to the bank.

We were fortunate to have friends in Omaha who provided us with a place to sleep. We bought only one thing each from the concession stand each game and ate Taco Bell on the way home every night to save money. Our week at Rosenblatt , from the first time walking into the gates to the last game we watched (after our Dawgs were eliminated) was and remains one of the happiest weeks in our family’s life. Our family never made it back, which is a regret, but that doesn’t diminish our fondness for that time.

Our kids literally grew up on the old first base bleachers at Dudy Noble Field.  Patrick would return from pestering the team in the dugout or bullpen, full of exciting information such as the guys’ nicknames for each other and their favorite game snacks. He picked up a couple of colorful words one year, but over the years the players were kind to our kids. A catcher from New Jersey shared Thanksgiving dinner with us and gave Pat a wooden bat which, at the time, was longer than he was. He still has it. Olivia’s first crush was a stocky, handsome blonde first baseman. We took our kids on Bulldog baseball road trips instead of Disney World. Oh, we always thought we would make it there, too, but when the choice had to be made, we chose baseball. I think these days they call Child Protective Services on parents for neglect if they do not take their children to Disney World.

So, in recent years, Jim and I both had serious back problems which made it virtually impossible to sit through games. This was a hard reality to accept. We were (I am) thankful for tv and the espn app. I am glad that, over the years, we were stuffed into  our seats with 12,000 or more screaming State fans to witness great sports successes and sometimes great collective disappointment, when we gathered our cowbells and blankets and sighed deeply and went home, already optimistic for the next game or the next season. Now, Jim resides with the Lord and my kids are grown. Both still love baseball. I am grateful for all of the memories associated with the game. I still love it, from the little guys and gals to the Dawgs to the Yankees. ..and, by adoption, the Rockies. It’s just a game, but a glorious one.

 

 

The Unwanted, Unwelcome Journey

To be honest, most of the articles, books, etc., intended to help grieving people, particularly those who have lost spouses, have been of no use to me. Words are my thing; words mean something. Oh, we spend a lot of time saying and hearing words which don’t really have meaningful import, but when it comes to the significant issues of life, words can be loosely classified as meaningful and/or thought-provoking, whether in a positive or negative sense, instructional, analytical,  entertaining, or just a bunch of nonsense. I love a well-crafted sentence or page.

Since Jim died, I have been receiving periodic pamphlets courtesy of the funeral home. They are written by a counselor (he is a believer) and are brief, to the point, and actually helpful. He describes many people whom he has counseled through the years, those who have lost children, spouses, parents, friends…every possible circumstance associated with grief and loss. He talks about the dizzying frequency and variation of emotions which come and go, the struggle to grasp the reality which you know cognitively but have so much trouble accepting, and the fact that everyone’s “mourning schedule” is different.

Last week, a booklet arrived which opened with ” the one year anniversary of the death of your loved one is approaching.” Evidently. these places have software programs which follow these records.  I didn’t really want to read it, because I was already struggling with a sort of dread of the upcoming date. I am glad I did open it. It said that for many people, the second year is often more difficult than the first, because the “fog of grief” is starting to lift, to be replaced by harsh reality and usually having to make some decisions which have been (wisely) delayed. One paragraph made so much sense to me and “spoke to me” so deeply that I highlighted it and read it over and over. It described how many people had told the author that they would “be okay if only they could get an answer as to ‘why’ their loved ones had to die.”  His answer was that, even if the Lord appeared personally to you and explained it all to you, it would not take away your sadness. …because the pain and sadness really don’t have anything to do with our finite minds’ inability to grasp eternity; they come from the simple reality that the person we loved is no longer with us. I think he is absolutely correct. My sadness and loneliness for Jim have nothing to do with my faith in the ultimate good through Christ which God has for me. That faith does help me put one foot in front of the other every morning, but my hurt is simply that I wish my husband were still here with me and his family. In this earthly life, he was the one who loved me through it all, the one with whom I discussed things, who told me I was beautiful despite the mirror showing someone much changed from forty-plus years ago, the man who anchored my daily life.

So, next Tuesday it will be one year. When they put him in the ambulance, I really thought I would get to bring him home later. It was not to be. I supposed I am expected to share some nuggets of wisdom gained during these twelve months. Sorry. Wisdom aside, I do have great thankfulness…for God being with me, even when it doesn’t “feel” like it; my family of fellow believers which is unfailingly kind and loving, without always trying push me into things or events or decisions for which I am just not ready and who are ready to help with any request; my kids and grandkids, of course; Netflix and great old movies and funny movies and good books of all kinds; music, from praise to Sinatra to the Allman Brothers. I am still breathing and walking around. In some seasons of our lives, that is greater than it might appear to some.

Two Jims, Heaven, and Christmas

During the last couple of days, I have been listening to a lot of the recordings of Jim Nabors. I always loved his voice; his recent death spurred me to dial up some of his musical performances.  The classic, and probably my favorite, is his singing of The Impossible Dream in an episode of Gomer Pyle. The voice is fabulous, but I have also been pondering the words to that song. It is, of course, from the Broadway play “Man of la Mancha.” I am a sucker for Broadway tunes and still have all or nearly all of the words in my head from listening in my growing up years.

Jim Nabors was gay. As he said, it was never a secret, but he just was not a crude, in your face, thong-wearing , parade-marching guy who thought it his duty to offend and force everyone else to assent. He was also, I have read, a believer in Christ. He also respected others, guarded his privacy, and did his job with professionalism…all qualities in short supply today.  Don’t misunderstand; I believe homosexuality is not how God designed His creation and is a complex emotional issue.

This may seem an oddly disjointed  segway, but , I am thinking a lot (all of the time) about  another Jim, my Jim, in heaven now these past eight months. All of the Christmas joys are tempered with sadness because he is not here. It still seems unreal at times. I won’t try to be jolly about it…it is hard without him.  But back to our song…at the end, Don Quixote sings of “being peaceful and calm when laid to my rest”, because he had lived a life of courage and integrity. Waxing theological for a moment, I believe that both Jims were welcomed to heaven and God’s presence because of their belief, not how they lived their lives.  I also believe a couple of other things. First, I believe that God rejoiced over both Jims; I also believe that those of us who have put our trust in the finished work of Christ serve for eternal rewards, and that we can lose rewards for  things we do apart from the Spirit. I do not know how the Lord addressed the gay lifestyle of Jim Nabors when he arrived in heaven.  I understand that homosexuality can have repercussions  that are more damaging than some other sins, but, in the final analysis, sin is sin. I  am too painfully aware of my own to get hysterically indignant about someone else’s.

My Jim never “rode into hell for a heavenly cause” in a suit of armor and a carrying a lance.  He did live a life of quiet godly character and strove for excellence in everything he did…work, hobbies, helping people, being a husband and father. We shared  good times and hard times and we had fun together.  I miss all of that in ways that are truly inexpressible.

None of us will ever reach the Impossible Dream or the Unreachable Star of human perfection; we have that inherent flaw within which constantly seeks to defeat the new spirit God puts in us when we trust His son. This battle will rage as long as we draw breath.  It can be very discouraging and can even create despair. But the despair need only last a moment. This Christmas, even without Jim, I am so very grateful for the Incarnation of Christ in Bethlehem. I have a sure hope that I will see my Jim again. I also look forward to meeting Jim Nabors. Maybe he will sing me a song. Sounds heavenly…Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

 

 

 

6 Months In

The sixth month anniversary of Jim’s death came and went a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know how long these anniversary dates will seem so significant. I wasn’t able to conjure up any words on this latest one. I just suffered through the 24 hours, alternately thinking that it seemed like yesterday he had left us, and an hour later feeling as though these past six months have lasted a lifetime.

I have received some very good little books on grief, all of which I have read. Most have been written from the same worldview I hold…the Christian one…but have thankfully been devoid of platitudes and cheerleading. So many of the topics have popped up in my own walk on this bumpy path. A few folks are starting to tell me to “buck up”…my gosh, it’s been six months…..he wouldn’t want you to be sad….. go DO something, for heaven’s sake…..

Maybe widowhood has made me a bit more selfish; I was going to say outspoken, but I have never really lacked in that area when I had something meaningful to say.  I am not sure selfish is the appropriate word, but a better one is not coming right at this moment. I don’t lounge around with my mascara running down my face, although that certainly happens at random times. I still, in my entire life, have not eaten an whole or even near, half gallon of ice cream or package of Nutter Butters or Cheetos. I will admit to watching four straight episodes of Doc Martin nursing a Senior Size Coke and some Orville ‘s Natural Sea Salt & Butter. Oh, and banana popsicles. That’s about the extent of my fleshly indulgences as a widow. I am trying to say that I have a beginning but growing idea of what I want for say, the next two years, if the Lord grants them.

When Jim traveled for years as a medical sales rep, “stuff’ always happened at home…like Patrick putting a bag of miniature soldiers in the toilet because they were on an “amphibious expedition “,  cars that wouldn’t start….you get the idea. They had to be handled. Well, he is really far out of town now, so all of the homeowner calamities have sort of converged at once. Expensive. Decisions to make. Stressful.  I am handling them and putting together a plan, maybe. I would like to keep doing my job for a few more years. I am making a plan to do some necessary improvements on the house and likely sell it. I resisted this until just lately; maybe slogging around in a flooded laundry room and watching my cork floor buckle was just the right motivation. Jim loved the cork floors; he worked so hard installing them. Sitting exhausted on several evenings, I thought an apartment didn’t sound so bad. I have to figure it all out.

The other part of my “selfishness” is this: I like my small world. Maybe my feelings will change later. But I find comfort in what I do everyday, the few places I go, the familiar people and the occasional stranger and new acquaintance  I get to meet. If that makes me dull and stick-in-the-mud and unadventurous , so be it. Fortunately, I have never been a ” people pleaser” in the compulsive or needy sense, and am even less so now. So, if anyone who is in my life or looking at my life, at my early stages of widowhood and this new normal needs to, he or she is welcome to roll eyes, sigh, or confide his or her disapproval to a friend. Don’t misunderstand: I treasure my friends and am always willing to listen. But if I just smile and don’t take the advice, buck up….it’s okay.

 

 

 

Attempt to restart heart and lungs…


A few days ago, I received an itemized listing from the hospital…..via Medicare….to which Jim was taken on the day he suffered his fatal heart attack a few months ago. There were two pages back and front, with descriptions of the procedures or drugs used, along with the charges for each one. Reading it was difficult for me. I believe that the physicians and other personnel did everything they could to save Jim; they just couldn’t.  Among all of the stents, injections, catheters, and medicines used, one phrase at the top of the second page caught my eye :”..attempt to restart heart and lungs”, with a  dollar sign and very big number beside it.

What that told me was that, following the chronological treatment steps down the pages, this was their final attempt at saving his life. The interventional cardiologist told me that they kept working on him for some time after he was actually gone, because, as the doctor said, he had seen miraculous things happen in his career. It was not to be so on this day. Why all this morbid reflection on Jim’s last hours in the ER and Cardiac Unit?

Well, first, I was interested in exactly what the doctors did. Now I know and I have no quarrel with their efforts. But that phrase, the one quoted above, suddenly seemed to apply to me as much as to Jim’s physical death. Thankfully, my belief system didn’t require that I throw myself onto the funeral pyre and exit earth with him My heart, though, did “stop” in a sense that day. I no longer have my partner, my companion, lover, always kind and dependable Jim. I struggle some days with the “why bother?” feeling, the indescribable sadness of remembering that he won’t be there when I leave the office. He won’t be there to marvel at Aaron Judge’s home runs or sympathize with my hatred of the summer heat, or sit together and make vague but hopeful plans of taking two week trips to “my” mountains, the Appalachians/Smokies, and returning to his favorite trout stream outside the gates of Camp David.

So, every morning, I wake up and ask the Lord to “restart my heart”, bringing to mind the friends around me who have been so loving and kind and my kids and beautiful grandchildren. Some nights, I am jolted awake by panic attacks (  a lifelong, very annoying plague as a reaction to stress). I am afraid of…..what?…of living in this so very different life, of my future, should God grant me a long one. In a panic attack,  breathing seems to stop. It seems that I will never be able to get oxygen in, which causes more panic. I have dealt with them for many years and recognize the onset; I know what I have to do to control escalation. I must stay calm and take deliberate, long breaths, change my position, all the while asking God to help me. He has never just immediately stopped an attack, but He always stays with me as I work through it. Sometimes, during the day, when I start to turn and tell Jim something, I remember his absence and can hardly breathe; I have to, in effect, “restart my lungs” to continue with the business at hand and go on living.

Jim received appropriate medical care in the effort to save his physical life; I surely wish they had succeeded. For now, God has left me here. I am so very thankful for the support I continue to receive from the body of believers, both local and in other places. In this unwelcome journey I am taking, depending on what minute it is, every possible emotion washes over me. I can say, however, that the God in whom I put my trust many years ago, continues to restart my heart and lungs for my daily stumbling steps. The heart is beating and the lungs are exchanging the oxygen and carbon dioxide….right now, that is enough.

Two Clicks, Two Thuds

As a Christian, I often hear people say in the church that God has a plan for each life. I do believe that He plans for every person to look at and trust the claims of Christ and that He will work His purposes; other than that, I am not sure. He obviously gives us the freedom to make decisions. As we have told our Sunday school kids, we are not puppets or robots. We can seek guidance and should, but we decide where to live, whom to marry, what career to pursue or even to reject God. I firmly believe that. Having said it, I also believe that somehow, sometimes, God works in His mysterious ways and we end up in certain places at certain times our lives…and it just seems not to be a complete coincidence.

In the early 1970s, the D.C. area, while beautiful and historic and in many ways a wonderful place to live, was also experiencing a crime wave. We were discouraged from going into banks to conduct our business, because there were bank robberies with hostage situations seemingly every week. We were advised that, when we were in a line of cars at a traffic light to leave sufficient room for quick maneuvering, because car jackings were also common. I still live by those rules! But on that particular evening, Jim and were going home from work in my little green VW bug discussing where to go for supper, not crime. We were taking a shortcut through a townhouse complex…this area mind you, was not the ghetto…it was nice, middle class suburban Maryland. Suddenly there was a young man in our path, clutching a brown paper bag to his body with one hand and calling for help. We had been raised, Jim in the big city and I in small town south, to stop and help people. It was the decent thing to do.

Jim stopped the car as  the young man approached the driver’s side; both windows were open in the nice weather. Before we could say anything, the guy lifted a good-sized weapon (actually a sawed-off shotgun), pointed it and demanded in very colorful language that we vacate the vehicle and leave the keys. I still to this day don’t know if I were hanging out with a very brave or very foolhardy young Jim, because his response was to try to shove the gun aside while asking, “Hey man, what the hell are you doing??” I then also noticed that paper money was escaping from the brown bag and swirling in the breeze. Hmmm. I could also hear faint but approaching sirens. Suddenly, I saw the gun inches from Jim’s head with his flowing blonde hair. I saw the trigger pulled..click…thud….then a second try…click, thud…and more cursing. No explosion, no bullets left the weapon. At the same time, I was trying to exit the car and yell for people to call the police. By now the young guy and Jim were physically struggling for control of the car, with the stranger actually in the driver’s seat at one point. Out of nowhere, a second man appeared, grabbing the first around the neck and trying to get the bag of money. As the began to struggle, Jim yelled “Hold on!” and floored the little car forward, not realizing that I was more out out of the car than in, causing my leg and foot to be dragged painfully over the pavement. When we had gone about 500 yards, I screamed for him to stop. My purse had fallen out containing my just-cashed paycheck. In the days I routinely worked 60 hour weeks and had no intention of letting anyone get my hard-earned money. Over Jim’s objections I limped back to the area just as police cruisers roared in. The two guys,knowing the cops were almost there, had taken off. Money lay strewn among the leaves. Of course, the police had no idea who I was, and likely thought I was part of the gang trying to recoup some of the stolen money. They told me to lie on the ground and not talk. I lay on the ground and did not talk, the large gun at my head being sufficient motivation. When they allowed me to get up and talk, I tried to spit out the whole story while hyperventilating,but did a better job of it at the police station. We learned later that night that the pair had robbed a nearby bank at closing time, but had lost their get away driver to panic once the alarm went off. They did manage to successfully car jack a guy without shooting him (very inefficient weapon) and were later caught going the wrong direction on the Beltway. A year later, I testified at the trial and had no problem identifying the young man. He was convicted of bank robbery, assault with intent to kill, and several other charges.

Now..why did I recount this story which some of our friends have already heard? Because of the two clicks, the two thuds, the two bullets which failed to fire, and because he did not turn the gun on me, which he so easily could have. The incident has stayed with me, of course, in the sense that I never take safety for granted. But more than that,I never forget that when this happened, Jim was not a believer. He was kind and loving, struggling with the violent death of his mother a few years before, but he did not know Christ. No one had ever told him. I probably was a believer, but had not ever known how to live the life. I,assuming the gun had worked, would have been traumatized and sad, but would have had to move on to another life. There would have likely been no move to Starkville, no Olivia or Patrick or Clara Jane, no discovery of Emmanuel and the message of grace, and no realization for me that I had missed the point of God’s good news. How we came to be here 36 years ago is another story, but I do believe God spared our lives that evening in Maryland. I also must say that in my gratitude in being alive, I have not found what would be considered a grand, earth-shaking purpose in my life. Did I miss it? Perhaps, but I have come to believe that the daily walk, trying to care for my family and serve in any way I can, IS that purpose and His plan for me.

Most folks who know me know I love humor. It is a natural response for me, often in circumstances which would not be considered funny. I just think we have to laugh at life a lot; constant crying requires too much re-do on the make-up. In contemplating my present life, I can see that God, too has a sense of humor. After all, He STILL has me living in the heat and humidity.

My hippie years didn’t last all that long. I never really bought into the core values of the movement. I loved the clothes and thought no bra, no makeup, no haircuts, and regular Grateful Dead concerts were pretty cool.. My hippie friends were all actually from middle and upper middle class families in the D.C. area. Most drove nice cars or, very deliberately, beautifully decorated VW vans. My green bug suited me just fine. I worked. I worked long hours at the same place for nine years. I introduced the Jewish family who owned the business to sweet potato pies for Thanksgiving and was thereafter asked to furnish them for several years. I loved those people.. They treated me like a daughter. Some of my friends went to Vietnam and returned with deep problems. Some tried to live the “free love, stick it to the man” mantra long enough to be embarrassing. I personally lived through about twelve years of “alternate lifestyle” but eventually found myself married, back in the south, and about to become a mother. I took stock of all the options….no, I really did…I love research and did my due diligence.. and was persuaded that the God of the bible was real and that the claims of Christ were true. I don’t regret that decision.

I have been reflecting on those years a lot lately as I have observed the flood of college age folks back in our town. I like young people; I like having people of all ages in my life. But I have been noticing something disturbing among the group: too many are callous, rude, arrogant, and seemingly uncaring about others as they go about their daily lives and interact with people like me….now a Medicare card holder. My hippie friends and I were not like that. Don’t misunderstand…we were misguided, naïve about human nature, and enjoying, if you will, a season of sinful indulgence. But we valued the lives of those around us. We were kind, courteous, generous, even to the cops dealing with demonstrations (I am in favor of such things if they remain peaceful) and LSD overdoses. I know that there was an element of hippiedom who were not so benign. They just weren’t  my hippies. Did those , when they had children, fail to stake their lives on something solid and leave their kids with nothing except the drive for instant gratification and narcissism on a scale I have not seen before? It often appears so to me.

At 65, I can be put into several categories: senior citizen (on the outside, anyway), wife, mom, nana. I am a believer in Jesus. I live my life , some days successfully, some days not so much, based on that belief. I also still happily have some hippie-ness in my soul…still love the clothes, although they worked better on the skinny girl of the past, still love all of the music, and I would love a ride in a psychedelic van. I don’t think I could stand up that long for an actual Dead concert, even if they were still touring, even with my cane. But if Jim wants to grow his hair back out to his waist , I will ditch the bra and make up and give it a try.