“Oh, how small a portion of earth will hold us when we are dead, who ambitiously seek after the whole world while we are living!”
Philip of Macedon, king, father of Alexander the Great (382-336 BCE)
It’s funny how the mornings work.
Or, maybe, it is just funny how my mind works. And it is stranger, still, how those thought processes keep churning away until I come up with something interesting and unique.
It is Saturday. I had my alarm set for 5 a.m.. You see, I am trying this experiment for the month of October: write every day, and PUT IT OUT THERE.
I don’t expect anyone to read these. In fact, I don’t expect these to be very good even. I just need to do it because, well, I need to.
This month, I turn OLD (-er).
I get it. Every moment I am alive, I turn older, too. But this month, this glorious, fav-month-of-the-year, color-changing, leaf-raking, green-hibernating, rest-rest-rest month is different.
And I want to leave a mark of some kind. I want to somehow carve my initials on someone’s heart. I mean, I have decades of experience all stacked up in my yesterdays. Surely, there is a tiny nugget of wisdom somewhere in all those stacks.
At 5 a.m., it’s hard to be wise. It’s hard to even be awake. My joints are still a little achy, my eyes haven’t gotten used to being open and they are a bit dry, it takes me a while to get all mentally limber enough to put the right words in the right places. Usually, I have to do these writing muscle warm-ups just to get going.
I write about the day of the week, the actual date, how I slept, how I feel about writing this early in the morning, how I never have anything good to write, or how I don’t have a clue about what to write, I just know I have to write … I HAVE to write.
This morning I typed one word, one five-letter word all snugged down into a sentence, and my head immediately went into a neat time-travel capsule and it just happened to take my heart with it.
That was the word.
And that’s when I thought about Orville Napier.
I grew up here in Kentucky, which is obviously the best place in the world to grow up. I was a normal, middle-class-ish, farm girl. I had horse fever, fairly strict parents, two adoring great-grandmothers, ‘you’re-the-apple-of-my-eye’ grandparents on both sides, a little brother who helped to toughen me up just enough, an amazing kind of country innocence where sex and birth and death were natural, a cane pole for fishing, neighbors who knew my dogs well enough not to shoot them in a field, and the smells of tack and manure and hay forever in my nose.
And I had all those wonderful, growing-up-in-the-70s things, right smack in the nation’s Bible Belt.
Spears Mill Baptist Church. In the Bluegrass state, it seems, churches used to be named after places or people. (Nowadays, it seems like they are named in a way that tries not to offend anyone, that’s neither here nor there, I suppose.)
I met Jesus, with a wide-open-sky belief, at Spears Mill Baptist Church. Connie Jackson was my First Grade Sunday School teacher. Jesus was so good and so kind and all the things inside of me were so uncomplicated. It was easy to believe. Even then, it was the words that painted pictures on my heart, words that made things appear in my mind, words that encouraged and sustained me. Words in scripture, words in Sunday School books and the mouths of teachers, words in songs that I learned by following my mother’s finger on the page. Spears Mill used to be in a white-frame building with old, yellow and gold and blue stained glass, hard-as-rock-because-it’s-more-righteous pews, the smell of old Bibles and hymnals and mints tucked away into lady purses, and don’t-let-your-slip-show, and here-let-me-straighten-your-tie sorts of spiritual things.
At some point, the church needed a new building, so in came the brick and the carpeting and the padded pews and the stiff, new hymnals. Eventually, a fellowship hall popped up with a prayer garden and smells-like-fresh-paint Sunday School rooms.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
And there was Orville Napier. I remember him to be tall, but I imagine that all grown-ups are tall to children. I remember him to have a salt and pepper mustache that seemed to cover most of his upper lip. He was friends with all the grown ups and all the children. He would put little white mints in his mouth and clear his throat in the way that old men do when they have something important to say. When he smiled, it reached his eyes. His pockets jingled with change and when we stood for prayer, he stuck his hands in his pockets and rolled the change through his fingers. He always, always wore a suit and tie, and he mostly always volunteered to sing solos in church. And my memory tells me that he sang one song that talked about when Jesus ‘arose’.
And there you go.
That one word brought back an era, a man, snippets of a song, the memories of people and a sacred place, smells and the weight of Bibles and communion cups. That one word turned over the little plot of earth inside my heart and planted yet more seeds during this time of autumnal rest-rest-rest, The waiting is necessary, so I can best figure out how to help others breathe in this season of my OLD(-er)ness.
Sometimes, I wish I was still a child, sitting in the not-yet-torn-down, white frame church building, holding onto the hand of Jesus, considering wooly lambs and the mysterious Sweet By and By, and dreaming of horses and reading and writing.
Life doesn’t really work like that. And, deep down, I don’t really want it to. Life must get cluttered and challenging and full and sweet and hard and full of all the heart and warmth I can pour into it.
And, if by destiny or chance or design, I find that I have truly carved my initials in hearts after all, I will have found some measure of success.