Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem: Invictus Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from … Read More
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Some years ago I had a friend, a relative by marriage, one that I loved and felt as close to as I did my only brother—closer, in fact, given the fact that I knew him longer and better than I did my brother. My friend left this realm for another some fifteen years ago, and a few years before his death, in his view having strayed from the fold, he became a born-again Christian.
He became active in his church and tithed faithfully, both in coin of the realm and in services to the church and to his fellow parishioners. He professed his firm belief that he would spend eternity in heaven, among family members, relatives and friends, and felt that he had no reason to doubt that belief, that he had turned his life around and earned the right to enter there. I, in turn, also believe that at this moment he is there, moving freely among those long-departed family members, relatives and friends, laughing and joking and probably barbecuing for them and for the angels.
I don’t recall whether he had an epiphany that prompted the change in his life, but he told me something that he did shortly after he was born again, something that he felt he was obligated to do. He said that as a teenager many years before his return to the Christian religion—his makeover, so to speak—he stole a watermelon from a neighboring farmer’s field. After his return to the Christian faith he went to that farmer, apologized for his action and offered monetary compensation based on the prevailing price for a similar melon. He said that his spirit soared—well, what he actually said was that he felt a lot better after the farmer accepted the compensation and forgave him for his transgression.
I’m reasonably certain that he acknowledged—and made appropriate amends for—any other transgressions as best he could, given the possibility that other transgressions existed.
I have reminisced on his story of the watermelon theft many times over the years, and I still find it remarkable that he remembered his action and felt obliged to make amends for the theft. I find myself speculating that there may have been other, more significant transgressions to account for in one way or another, whether material compensation or a simple admission of guilt and a plea for forgiveness. In any event, the theft of the watermelon is the only transgression he confided in me.
In the interest of full disclosure I must admit that I also have stolen watermelons—and cantaloupes and honeydew melons—from a farmer’s field, not once but numerous times. I was a young GI based in south Georgia on a US Air Force base surrounded by bounteous fields, their crops easily seen along side country roads.
The fields were replete in season with such delicacies as watermelons and cantaloupes, ripened in the hot Georgia sun and ready for harvesting and quite vulnerable to theft, particularly by thieves operating under cover of darkness. I am sorrowed by the fact that I cannot render compensation for those thefts because of the passage of time. That was almost sixty years ago, and the affronted farmer has been tending crops in heaven for many years. Besides, those fields probably sport subdivisions now rather than crops.
The best I can do is to vow that I will never steal another watermelon or cantaloupe in the future. I have already expressed my remorse to the proper authorities in my prayers, and I will take my chances when I stand for reconciliation and entry into el cielo—heaven.
That’s my watermelon story and I’m sticking to it!
Food for thought: When it’s time to pay the bill . . .
The following obituary appeared in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph of Sept. 16, 1958:
A great poet died last week in Lancieux, France at the age of 84. He was not a poet’s poet. Fancy-Dan dilettantes will dispute the description “great.” He was a people’s poet. To the people he was great. They understood him and knew that any verse carrying the by-line of Robert W. Service would be a lilting thing, clear, clean and power-packed, beating out a story with a dramatic intensity that made the nerves tingle. And he was no poor garret-type poet either. His stuff made money hand over fist. One piece alone, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, rolled up half a million dollars for him. He lived it up well and also gave a great deal to help others. “The only society I like,” he once said, “is that which is rough and tough—and the tougher the better. That’s where you get down to bedrock and meet human people.” He found that kind of society in the Yukon gold rush, and he immortalized it.
I recently spent considerable time on the web, absorbed in the poetry of Robert W. Service. Click here for that site. On its surface, his poetry is just as rough and tough as the society he professed to love, the society he found in the Yukon gold rush. However, if one chooses to look below the surface of his writings, a moving current of his belief in the Deity and of life after death will appear. That current is apparent and can be found in the final three lines of his epic poem, The Reckoning. Click here for more works by Robert W. Service.
It’s fine to have a blow-out in a fancy restaurant,
With terrapin and canvas-back and all the wine you want;
To enjoy the flowers and music, watch the pretty women pass;
Smoke a choice cigar, and sip the wealthy water in your glass.
It’s bully in a high-toned joint to eat and drink your fill,
But it’s quite another matter when you
Pay the bill.
It’s great to go out every night on fun or pleasure bent;
To wear your glad rags always and to never save a cent;
To drift along regardless, have a good time every trip;
To hit the high spots sometimes, and to let your chances slip;
To know you’re acting foolish, yet to go on fooling still,
Till Nature calls a show-down, and you
Pay the bill.
Time has got a little bill—get wise while yet you may,
For the debit side’s increasing in a most alarming way;
The things you had no right to do, the things you should have done,
They’re all put down; it’s up to you to pay for every one.
So eat, drink and be merry, have a good time if you will,
But God help you when the time comes, and you
Foot the bill.
I hope, and I would like to believe, that if I pay my bills as I go through life—pay them conscientiously on time and in full right up to the time I depart this realm for another—I will arrive with the maximum score possible to be considered for entry into heaven, with no unpaid bills, a credit score over the top and an impressive record of doing unto others as I would have them do unto me, a record of shunning the bad and embracing the good (the image at right is a self-portrait, taken at some time in the future).
In reference to the line in The Reckoning that reads, The things you had no right to do, the things you should have done, I am well aware of the things that I’ve done that I had no right to do, and of the things I did not do that I should have done. Armed with that knowledge, in the time I have left in this realm I will strive mightily—nay, desperately—to do none of the things I’ve done that I had no right to do, and to do all of the things I should have done and did not do.
And just one more thought:
I am brazen enough to speculate that some, perhaps many—oh, let’s face it—all of us, not only those that may stumble upon this post—all of us would profit in the long run by establishing and adhering to the plan I’ve outlined above. At the very least it wouldn’t hurt to try, and even if we fail we would perhaps earn points for making the effort—perhaps, and again perhaps not.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem:
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley, 1849–1903
Rather than the captain of a ship, I consider myself to be the engineer of my train. I have no helpers—no switchman, brakeman, signalman, fireman, conductor, oilman and no mechanic. I am the sole occupant on the train, controlling its freight and its movements through life with the various switches and gauges and handles available to me—and trust me, they are many and varied.
My travel through life is not limited to any existing railroad lines or tracks. My train is capable of laying its own roadbed. No matter where I choose to go, the track will always be there and I travel on it at my own speed, without regard to other traffic or intersections or crossroads.
Rumbling and swaying behind me on the track is a string of railroad cars, a string that lengthens as life goes on. In that line are railroad cars of every description and function—coal tenders, box cars, flat cars, hopper cars, passenger cars, cars of every description and every color, cars capable of holding and hauling anything and everything ever owned, including businesses and cars and houses and pets and airplanes and even islands.
Those railroad cars hold everything ever taught, everything ever learned, every job, every action ever taken, every thought and every deed done, whether good or evil. They carry every love ever found and every love ever lost, whether love for a person or a place, or for an animal or an idea, and they carry every friend ever made and lost, every enemy ever made and every antagonist ever faced.
I’m reasonably sure that you, dear reader, have already deduced that my train is my brain. The cars that I haul are the compartments of my brain, and in those compartments repose every thought I have ever had—memories of everything that I have learned and done are being hauled by the railroad cars. They are always there, although sometimes some of them are not always available to me—that seems to be a condition that increases in direct proportion to age.
The poem that follows pertains to those that do not understand or are unwilling to accept the responsibilities of an engineer, believing that their own train is run—engineered, so to speak—by someone other than themselves. Since all life ultimately ends, those folks may possibly—with emphasis on possibly—be in for a surprise! The poem’s origin is unknown, at least to me, but it could well be titled:
Plaint of a Non-engineer
I’m not allowed to run the train,
The whistle I can’t blow . . .
I’m not allowed to say how far
The railroad cars may go.
I’m not allowed to let off steam,
Nor even clang the bell . . .
But let the damn thing jump the track
And see who catches hell!
After awhile—eventually, ultimately, inevitably, inexorably and conclusively, we will hand over the controls of our train and its cars, loaded with the thoughts and deeds of our lives, to the Central Dispatcher and we will arrive at our final destination—no, make that our penultimate stop, the one next to the last.
Our freight—our baggage, so to speak—accumulated over a lifetime will be off-loaded, weighed, categorized, tabulated and compared to established factors in order to determine our ultimate destination. Some of us may protest the final decision, but bear in mind that the deciding factors will have been available for consideration, beginning with our first breath and continuing to our last.
A brief postscript:
I have been criticized, constructively of course, for the length of my postings. Evidently some viewers are so busy loading their train and maneuvering it around various obstacles, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, that they have little time for reading. This posting is relatively short, so I’ll close it with a metaphor, an apology for the length of my stories.
In my writings I am somewhat similar to the drunk—similar to, mind you, but not the drunk—that made a bet with another drunk in the bar, with the loser agreeing to take a drink from one of the bar’s cuspidors, commonly called a spittoon.. The loser raised the spittoon to his lips and emptied it, and the shocked winner told him he didn’t have to do that. The loser replied that he had no choice because it was all in one piece—as are my postings.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!