Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A poem for tuesday

I have a LOT of friends divorced, getting divorced, or struggling. This prompted a long thought and a short poem.


In a world that is round
Every departure is an eventual arrival.
If fuel were not a consideration,
Every plane leaving the Atlanta airport
Flying on a due course
Would, in due course,
Arrive back at the Atlanta airport.
Such is the nature of circles and cycles.

In a world that is round
Two lives joined follow similar circuitry.
Every departure of feelings for each other
Should arrive back at love,
And the journey of hearts started long ago.
Such is the nature of circles and cycles.
In due course, love flies on a due course,
Unless we run out of fuel.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Hope

"Then the angel said unto them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

"Do not be afraid." This is a message many of us still need to hear over 2000 years since this announcement was first made.

We live in a culture of fear. We are bombarded with fears both real and imagined. Fear of loss or abandonment. Fear of sickness, terror, war, and death. Fear of financial ruin. An ever-present insidious fear, even in the so-called "good times", that something is not quite right with the world and evil lurks right around the corner--an evil that will bring everything crashing down around us.

But it need not be this way, if we put our hope in that Baby whose birth was announced to poor shepherds so long ago. Hope is the opposite of fear. It is a belief that something better is in the future. That this situation we find ourselves in, this messed up world with so much sorrow and ruin, will be made right. That justice, peace, love, and (dare I think it) real happiness are the final outcome of this drama that we find ourselves a part of.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that the Spanish word for hope also means "to wait." And that is a beautiful depiction of what we do: hope and wait; wait and hope. We have no reason to fear, because we know that things will be someday be made right.

The Savior announced by the angels so long ago had this to say about Himself:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

I believe that is a hope worth the wait.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Onion with a Bad Attitude

I pass by this sign for a bookstore in Opelika, Alabama almost every day. I don't know why, but it always draws my attention.

What is this onion's problem anyway? He is obviously angry and itching for a fight. I have run across some mean onions before, but most of the time they sort of sneaked up on me. This particular onion is just looking for trouble.

He is definitely not from Vidalia, Georgia. I have met many onions from that area and always find them to be pleasant--most of them even sweet.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Legends Close to Home

A few days ago my wife finally demanded that I get a new pair of work boots. The ones I had were only five years old but beginning to come apart. Now, I've never been one to give up on any garment just because it has a little age and shows some wear. But I knew that she was right in this case (especially when it rained) so I began a search that ended at Bridges Boot Outlet and Western Store, just off I-85 near the little Chambers County town of Cusseta. Although only about six miles from my home, I had never really noticed the store. I found a decent pair of boots there and also discovered (by virtue of a historic monument in the parking lot) that I had been living near the birth place of an American celebrity. At least he was a hundred and thirty years ago. His name was Pat Floyd Garrett.

Garrett was born in Cusseta in 1850, but grew up on a plantation in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana. In his early twenties he went West, where he became a cowboy and then a buffalo hunter. Apparently a tall man with a "short fuse," he killed his first man in 1878 in a dispute over a buffalo hide. The incident was ruled "self defense," but it probably influenced Garrett to move on to New Mexico where he opened a saloon. It was likely there that he met and became friends with William Bonney. Bonney was thin, about 5'8", fair-skinned, had a neat appearance, and was very good with a gun.

A few year's later the two men found themselves on opposite sides of a political struggle between ranchers and the government of Lincoln County, New Mexico. Garrett was elected sheriff and was given the task of rounding up Bonney and his small gang, who sided with the ranchers and homesteaders. Garrett eventually captured and arrested Bonney. But before any trial occurred, Bonney killed two jailers and escaped the Lincoln County Jail.

Several months later, Garrett learned that Bonney was hiding out in the home of a mutual friend. Garrett waited until night, then slipped into the house to take Bonney. Historians dispute what happened next, but it appears that Garrett surprised Bonney as he walked into a dark kitchen in the middle of the night. Bonney's last words were "Quien es?", (Who is it?) I'm guessing his next to last words were "Tengo hambre" (I'm hungry). Garrett shot and killed the unarmed man.

The incident led to some notoriety for Garrett. He held various other lawman positions throughout the West, and eventually even became friends with President Teddy Roosevelt. But his bad temper always followed him, and he was eventually killed in a land dispute over goat grazing. His killing was ironically ruled "self defense."

Now you probably have never heard of Pat Garrett, and I'm sure you never would have heard of William Bonney if Garrett had not done one other thing: he co-authored a book with western writer M.A. "Ash" Upson that became a "best seller" in it's day. The book was called "The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid." It was such a sensation that it created a larger-than-life folk hero that still lives on in movies and songs.

Billy the Kid became an American legend. Pat Garrett is remembered in a boot store parking lot. Maybe Garrett should have spent more time writing stories.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tiger News?

I am always a little surprised at the media frenzy when a celebrity is caught in a moral transgression. I don't find it especially fascinating, but the majority of the American public must--otherwise it wouldn't CONSUME the news media for days on end. It's easy to blame the media circus, but they are, after all, presenting stories that get "ratings". If people weren't tuning in, they would soon go on to real news.

The latest news fad is Tiger Woods. It was a relief to let Michael Jackson go for a while, I'll admit, but this story has the potential to drag on forever.

I've never been a fan of Tiger Woods. I'm not even a fan of the game of golf. I have played a few times, and I will admit that Woods is good at a difficult game. But golf is a GAME, not a sport. As Columbus, GA comedian Tim Wilson correctly puts it "Anything an 85 year old man can whip me at is a game. If you can't get your nose broke in it, then it ain't a sport." Woods was recently named "Athlete of the Decade." I don't think so. If he can hit a 98 m.p.h. fastball or get back up after he has been leveled by a 350 pound man, then maybe I'll change my mind.

Here's a news flash: being good at something does not make someone a good person. This is true in sports, entertainment, business, politics, religion, and almost any other endeavor mankind pursues. We are all human, and therefore all subject to commit all kinds of evil against ourselves and each other.

Perhaps Tiger Woods can withstand the current media frenzy and one day resume his exalted status. In the meantime I think I'll turn off the T.V. and go read a book.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Best Football Player You've Never Heard Of

The State of Alabama has been consumed with football over the past couple of weeks. Last Friday we had the annual clash between Alabama and Auburn. The last couple of days we've had the high school championships. Today the University of Alabama and Florida play for the SEC Championship. All of this football made me think back to my high school days and to one of the best football players I have ever known. His name was Alvin, but we all called him "Joe Blue".

Joe Blue came from the government housing project on the east side of town. Among the kids this neighborhood was known as "The Bricks", because the little houses and apartments were all cookie-cutter variety brick structures. When Sylacauga schools were integrated, the two all-black schools in the Bricks (an elementary school and a high school) became a sixth grade school and a junior high for the entire town. It was a rough place in the 1970's. Assaults, stabbings and robberies were commonplace among the residents. My mom was the director of the government run preschool there for a while, so I got to see a little more of life in The Bricks than the average white kid. It was a tough place for any kid to grow up.

Joe Blue was a quiet kid off the football field. He was always dressed in the kind of clothes you'd expect to see at a "Thrift Store" today. I had no classes with him, as I was in the college prep group and he was in the "special ed" group. I never saw one of his parents attend a game or pick him up at school. He walked everywhere he went. I don't remember him ever being involved in anything at school other than football: no clubs, no activities, no girl friends. He was the kind of kid you hardly notice, really. But on the field he was a different story.

He was a kid that God might have built for football: about 5'11', 200 pounds; no neck; all muscle stretched over big bones. He played two positions: full back and nose guard. These two positions require reckless abandon and and the ability to deliver punishing hits. He played the game like it was meant to be played: all out, every play, until the whistle blew or the clock ran out. Some of my team-mates said he was so good because he was "too stupid to feel pain". And truthfully he was a little "slow" mentally. If at fullback, when the play called for him to get the ball, the quarterback would often have to tell him, "go right, between the tackle and tight end", or "roll to the left flat and look for a pass". But on defense, where he truly excelled, he simply went to the ball. And God help whoever happened to be holding it when he arrived.

Joe Blue played best when worked up into a frenzy. Our sophomore and junior years, we had a coach who knew how to bring that out. He was the kind of man you'd follow into battle. A coach who yelled, screamed, hugged, jumped up and down, and otherwise did whatever he felt necessary to motivate. Like all great coaches, he could determine the right motivational button to push with each individual player. With Joe Blue, it was the "he's going to beat you speech". It went something like this:

Coach: "You can't stop him, Alvin."
Joe Blue: "I got him."
Coach:(Louder) "He's whippin' you, Alvin."
Joe Blue: "He ain't gonna whip me."
Coach: (Now Yelling) "You're getting whipped, Alvin; you're beat; you can't do it."
Joe Blue: (Also Yelling)"Ain't gonna whip me. Ain't gonna whip me. Can't whip me."

This scenario was repeated as necessary. And after this kind of coach induced self-hypnotism, whoever had the misfortune to be lined up in front of Joe Blue got creamed.

Our senior season was a different matter. We had a new coach. He was a preppy little guy who had played some college ball at Auburn. His only coaching experience had been serving as an assistant coach at one of the big Birmingham suburb schools. This was a school known for academics. A school that was wealthy and lily white. This guy liked to make quiet little speeches and tell stories with a moral. He was about as inspiring and motivating as an accountant. And he had no patience for Joe's mental slowness. Joe was quickly relegated to one position--defense. But the frenzy was no longer there. He was still good, but not as good as he had been with the "working up". I think something in his spirit had been broken by the new coach. In some ways, I guess he finally got whipped on the football field for the first time.

I've seen Joe Blue once since those high school days. I stopped to get some gas at a convenience store in Sylacauga, when I heard someone call my name. He still looked like a football player--solid and muscular--but a little gray-haired around the edges. I got a big bear hug and that old smile I'd only see after a victory when we were kids. When I asked him about his life, he simply said "I'm preaching the gospel now!"

I haven't seen Joe Blue since. I hope he is still doing well. I do know this: if he preaches anything like he played football, Satan better buckle his chin strap, because he's about to get his bell rung.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Let the Saints March On

The New Orleans Saints are 11-0, and are playing like the Super Bowl is a definite possibility. Any doubts to their legitimacy were removed, at least in my mind, when they thrashed a very good New England Patriots team last Monday night. This year's Saints team is good in all phases of the game, and quarterback Drew Brees is having a season that could make a Manning brother envious.

I've been told by a friend in New Orleans that the city is totally consumed with "Saints fever". And she has good reason to be. The franchise is historically one of the N.F.L.'s worst, at least in terms of on-the-field success. Founded in 1967 as an expansion team, it took the Saints ten years to achieve a .500 season. It took another decade after that to have their first winning season. The team has only made the playoffs five times in their 32 year existence. The Saints are one of only five teams in the N.F.L. that have never played in the Super Bowl. I'd say the people of south Louisiana have a right to be excited.

I've been a Saints fan for a while, which is kind of unusual in central Alabama. Professional football is not important in this state. Alabama is college football territory--period. The average Alabamian will usually tell you that they just don't like the N.F.L.--that it doesn't have the excitement or the enthusiasm that the college version of the game entails. These same people might gather with some friends to watch the Super Bowl on T.V. each year, but that's about the extent of their interest in professional football.

It's not that we haven't tried hosting professional football in Alabama before. Birmingham has fielded several teams in ill-fated leagues over the years. The most successful attempt was the 1974 Birmingham Americans of the World Football League, who actually won the first and only "World Bowl", defeating the Florida Blazers 22-21. That team's victory celebration was regrettably short-lived: the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department seized their uniforms and equipment for unpaid debts in the locker room after the game.

My interest in Saints football began in 1986 when I was a graduate student at LSU. My wife worked at a large insurance company in Baton Rouge, and the company gave her a pair of tickets to a game. It was my first NFL experience, and I became a fan of the professional game as I watched Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino rip the Saints defense to shreds with his amazing passing skills. I had been to many college games previously, including some of Bear Bryant's great University of Alabama National Championship teams, but the skill level of the professional players was way above anything I had ever seen.

I had to wait a year for the next pair of free tickets (graduate students were poor back in those days). Unfortunately we had car trouble on the way to New Orleans. Instead of witnessing another Saints whipping, we spent about four hours on the side of I-10 somewhere between Laplace and Kenner. The rest of the day was spent being towed back to Baton Rouge. Those were, as they say, "the good old days".

Since then my Saints watching has been only via television. I watched and cheered along with many others across the nation in 2006, the year when the Superdome reopened after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans needed something to cheer for after that nightmare, and that team was something to be proud of. They were close that year, eventually losing to the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship game.

This just may be the year the Saints finally make it to the Super Bowl. They may even win it. If so, I hope a certain eternal destination has some winter clothes in stock--because if the old saying holds true, it may be about to "freeze over".