Mus­ing over life’s ques­tions

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Funny how you can look back at things and see the im­pact cer­tain folks have had in your life, and when it was that you started think­ing in a dif­fer­ent way about things.

It’s pos­si­ble that the folks who made a real dif­fer­ence may not have thought any­thing un­usual at all about what they said or did which caused the trans­for­ma­tion. Yet in some way their words or deeds did make a dif­fer­ence. Is it true that what goes around, comes around? Do we re­ally reap what we sow? Do folks ever get back any of the good they dis­pense? Were The Bea­tles right? Is the love you take equal to the love you make?

Or is it more along the lines of a con­tem­po­rary song I’ve been lis­ten­ing to lately? Nickel Creek asks, in their “Doubt­ing Thomas.”

“What will be left when I’ve drawn my last breath be­sides the folks I’ve met and the folks who’ve known me? Will I dis­cover a soul-sav­ing love or just the dirt above and be­low me?”

I don’t know. But I was sit­ting here, rest­ing my bones, think­ing on life as I know it and jux­ta­pos­ing my world with that of the folks I see in the news from other places. And it’s amaz­ing to me that we’ve lasted as long as we have, given that peo­ple treat other peo­ple so badly. Folks in other parts of the world just don’t seem to value hu­man life at all, and that both­ers me a lot.

That started me think­ing about my views on life, and how my world changed with the birth of our chil­dren. I re­mem­ber the emo­tion at the mo­ment of de­liv­ery and think­ing that if ev­ery­one in the world could ex­pe­ri­ence that joy, then surely no­body would ever want to harm an­other per­son in any way.

And yet peo­ple in the Mid­dle East blow them­selves up, tak­ing as many in­no­cents with them as they can. De­spi­ca­ble peo­ple in Africa turn chil­dren into war­riors and have them slaugh­ter oth­ers. But atroc­i­ties and vi­o­lence and lack of re­spect for life are not rel­e­gated to third world na­tions. Our na­tion’s ex­pe­ri­ence with Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina proved that all too well.

When New Or­leans de­te­ri­o­rated into bed­lam and the hor­rors of what tran­spired inside the Su­per­dome were re­vealed, I couldn’t help but re­mem­ber a quote from Eldridge Cleaver in his “Soul On Ice.” Cleaver wrote that “the price of hat­ing other hu­man be­ings is lov­ing one­self less.” His epiphany came from re­al­iz­ing that the hate he di­rected to­wards oth­ers was ba­si­cally a re­sult of not lov­ing him­self. And, to his credit, Cleaver be­came a changed man.

In the mid 1980s my wife was very preg­nant with our third child. We’d been walk­ing and try­ing to stay in shape dur­ing the preg­nancy, but when she hit the third trimester, I found that the best thing I could do was stay as far away from her as pos­si­ble. Oh, I tried to do lit­tle things around the house to be help­ful, but for some rea­son noth­ing ever seemed to work out just right.

Now, as it hap­pened back in those years, I was singing in the choir at First United Methodist with a mix of un­usu­ally amaz­ing folks. One of them, the Hon­or­able Ben Hen­dricks, was cel­e­brat­ing a mile­stone wed­ding an­niver­sary with his lovely bride, Libby. The story in the choir loft at re­hearsal one evening was that Ben arose and fixed break­fast, telling Libby that she’d cooked break­fast for the first 25 years of their lives to­gether, and he’d take it for the next 25 years.

Well, all the women in the choir started ooh-in’ and ah-in’ about how won­der­ful that Ben was, and it got my at­ten­tion.

So it came to pass that not long af­ter­ward I arose and fixed break­fast for my very preg­nant wife and told her that I would keep at it for at least as long as we had kids in the house. The re­al­iza­tion that she’d been do­ing ba­si­cally all the work in what was sup­posed to be a part- ner­ship had hit me like a ton of bricks; at least I could take over break­fast duty and give her that won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to slap the alarm clock snooze but­ton and en­joy those de­light­ful few ex­tra min­utes of slum­ber.

I kept on cook­ing break­fast af­ter our youngest made his way into the world, and in the mid 1990s, study­ing Mon­taigne’s “Es­says” at Walla Walla’s Whit­man Col­lege, I learned that Mon­taigne awak­ened his chil­dren ev­ery morn­ing with classical mu­sic. Not be­ing a smart man, it took a while for me to re­al­ize that the es­say­ist must have been quite wealthy, for in 16th cen­tury France in or­der to hear classical mu­sic, you had to have mu­si­cians present who were ac­tu­ally play­ing.

So I added mu­sic to our fam­ily’s break­fasts in the mid 1990s, choos­ing a dif­fer­ent genre of mu­sic each of the five school days, so that the kids might have broader hori­zons — even if the range of mu­si­cal se­lec­tions tended to run to my fa­vorites.

Mus­ing on rais­ing kids took me back into those mid 1980s. An­other in that eclec­tic mix of choir mem­bers was a lo­cal physi­cian by the name of Ge­orge Smith. You’ll have to go a long, long way to meet a nicer guy, and Ge­orge’s sense of hu­mor makes it im­pos­si­ble to feel bad for long when you’re around him.

Any­way, the good doc­tor and I were lament­ing in the choir loft at a break in a re­hearsal as to how we could never find time to pur­sue one of our fa­vorite sports — ten­nis. Ge­orge had to make rounds at the hospi­tal re­ally early, and again re­ally late in the day. I was teach­ing school and coach­ing, and by the time I got home, it was usu­ally dark-thirty.

So we hit upon the great idea to play ten­nis at 5 o’clock in the morn­ing, three days a week.

Now, read that sen­tence again. It’s true. We played ten­nis. At five o’clock. In the Adog­gone-M.

Well, that didn’t last long. But dur­ing those few weeks that we did seek to per­se­vere and re­gain our youth­ful court form, we had some mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tions.

One morn­ing we were talk- ing about be­ing dad­dies, as our kids were about the same ages. Ge­orge asked me what I got most up­set about. And I re­mem­ber telling him how it ir­ri­tated me when the baby would just sweep food off the high chair tray onto the floor, or at other times would oc­ca­sion­ally take a big mouth­ful of milk and just spit it out ev­ery­where.

And the good doc­tor sug­gested that I might want to look at that closely. If I got up­set and went bal­lis­tic over a lit­tle thing like a child spilling food, what would I have left for the re­ally big stuff that might come later in, say, the teenage years?

Well, you know, the com­ments of my ten­nis buddy Ge­orge Smith made a huge dif­fer­ence in the way I looked at things from that point on. I’ll never make it to saint­hood, but that morn­ing — right out there on a ten­nis court — I be­came a bet­ter daddy just be­cause a friend was con­cerned enough to of­fer a thought­ful sug­ges­tion.

So, in the end, I don’t know if good truly goes around. But even as I de­bate is­sues which can­not be de­cided, and won­der if I’ll ever be able to see the for­est for the trees, I can agree with the con­clu­sion of the epiphany de­scribed in “Doubt­ing Thomas.”

“Please give me time to de­ci­pher the signs. Please for­give me for time that I’ve wasted. I’m a doubt­ing Thomas but I’ll take your prom­ise though I know noth­ing’s safe, oh me of lit­tle faith.”

For now, at least, I have the lux­ury of be­ing able to look back and see mo­ments when things changed for the bet­ter on the road I’ve trav­eled. Folks like Ben Hen­dricks and Ge­orge Smith, per­haps serv­ing as an­gels un­awares, made a big dif­fer­ence in my life. And as I seek to de­ci­pher the signs, I re­call one of French philoso­pher Blaise Pas­cal’s thoughts on the mat­ter.

“If there were no ob­scu­rity,” Pas­cal wrote, “man would not feel his cor­rup­tion; if there were no light, man could not hope for a cure.”

Nat Har­well


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