the other story…

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite
distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow,
if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible
for each to see the other whole against the sky.

Rainer Maria Rilke


(historic marker for the Duelist’s Grave / The Colonial Cemetary,
Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2018)

There’s a street I’ll usually cut through when I’m driving home from town.
It’s a street that my husband isn’t always keen that I take.
Not that he worries about my safety in doing so…it’s just that he thinks it
a bit seedy.
And lord knows should my car suddenly quit working…then where would I be?!

I suppose in seedyville.

And this is when my eyes roll at such a thought as I remind him I’d simply be in the same
town I’ve now called home for nearly 40 years…no worries.

It’s not necessarily a bad street in a bad part of town, but it does have its share of
what some might call a few folks who are ‘rough around the collar.’
A mixed sort of neighborhood to be sure.

But having taught school in our community for over 30 years,
I figure I know or have known all the kids from every side of town…
the upside, downside and in between side…so it really doesn’t bother me.
Many are now very much grown and I no longer recognize their faces but they know me…
so if I’m ever stranded in or around town, someone I once knew will most likely
know me now.

When I first started teaching, it was the “westside” of our town that was more or less
the more infamous part of town.
My kids (aka students) who lived in that part of town would ask if I’d ever been there…
and of course, I’d tell them yes as I had actually given ‘so and so’ a ride home.
They would in turn quickly chastize me, telling me not to go after dark.

It’s a shame that we have such sections of our towns and communities…
but the fact of the matter is that we do–as every city and town seems to have its fair
share of places one should be cautious about traveling through.

So on this particular cut through street of mine, sits an old house that looks a bit
piecemealed together…
as in it started out as a single story wooden framed home when at some point or other,
an upper story was oddly added with an open deck that makes me think “old Florida”…
as in the older type of houses built near the ocean back in the day, long before there were
multimillion dollar McMansions and highrise condos.
More bungalow than house.

The yard around the house is pretty rough looking, cluttered and littered with both weeds
and junk.
The upstairs deck is covered with what must be 50 birdhouses of various sizes, shapes
and descriptions.
Plus in bold black letters, on the front of this mishmashed house, are the words
“The other story”
Which is another throwback to those old beach bungalows when folks would name their cottages…

The other side of the story…
As in this fellow who lives here, and I say fellow because this place screams of a
curmudgeonie sort of person that calls this place “home”…maybe its the broken down lawnmower
and all it’s scattered parts…but no matter, it seems that this fellow has his own side to
some sort of story.

All of which has reminded me of something I recently read…
It reminded me of a different sort of ‘the other story’…or maybe it reminded
me of what is actually the real story…

I read that there are actually two Christmases…
Two different Christmases both rolled one into the other.

There is, of course, the Christmas of Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays, giving Tuesdays,
Santa at the mall, presents, mistletoe and all that speaks of secularism and consumerism.

And then on the flip side, there is the ‘other’ Christmas.

The Christmas of Christ’s Mass…the birth of the savior.

The latter, however, is deeply overshadowed by the former…and it seems that it is
overshadowed more and more each year with what seems to be a concerted effort to actually
drown it out forever.

But it is that other story, that other Christmas story that is actually the real
and only story.

Because it is the original story
The original Christmas.

The story being that of salvation.
The story of, a once long-ago time, when Hope was returned to earth…
in the form of a baby.

An amazing story really.

Not so much a story about mistletoe, or shopping til you drop, or of presents or
of cyber this or that but rather a story of unconditional love made manifest.

There’s always another side to every story…and I for one certainly prefer this other Christmas
story to that more modern version of this sacred story…

“It does seem strange that so many persons become excited about Christmas
and so few stop to inquire into its meaning,
but I suppose this odd phenomenon is quite in harmony with our unfortunate human
habit of magnifying trivialities and ignoring matters of greatest import.”

A.W.Tozer

Christ came to bring peace and we celebrate his coming by making peace impossible
for six weeks of each year…
He came to help the poor and we heap gifts upon those who do not need them.

A.W. Tozer

the characters

“I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances.
There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly,
and even appreciate more clearly,
if we simply thought of them as people in a story.”

― G.K. Chesterton

DSCN3363
(a deceased crab on the beach / Santa Rosa, Fl / Julie Cook / 2015)

We all know who they are, right?
As every community has them…

You know….
It’s the guy who rides all over town on the bike that’s decked out as if it should be in a Mardi Gras parade…
Or the elderly lady who pushes the grocery cart into the hospital lobby, awkwardly chatting with everyone waiting.

There always seems to be those loner individuals within each of our towns and or communities.
Those quirky individuals who we consider simply as bizarre characters…
Those odd souls who we more or less claim as community mascots.
With each and every town and community seeming to have their own lot of unique and peculiar characters.

I know our small town certainly does…

There’s the Vietnam vet who runs all over town holding an American flag.
He runs rain or shine, hot or cold….
And he runs precariously close to the road, even out on the busy by-pass.
I use to think he was just some sort of patriotic marathon runner who was always in training.
I was informed otherwise.
He has been hit and run over on more than one occasion and left for dead.
He always seems to rebound, always coming back to pound the pavement with flag in hand.

There’s the young man who looks like an old man.
I know this because I taught him.
He dons a three piece suit, even in the sweltering summer heat, as he proceeds to walk all over town— talking out loud to himself in a high pitched falsetto voice. He is known to preach out loud to no one in particular or curse the cars that he feels infringe upon his walking space.

There is the man who started out as a young man, who has now progressed into being a middle aged man (I know this as well as I also taught him), who walks all over town carrying a tennis racket. He likes to engage in conversation with anyone who stops long enough to listen…he chatters on about this or that non relevant,random mumbo jumbo, asking all the girls if they’d please be his girlfriend.

There was (I’ve not seen him in quite sometime) the middle aged fellow with the mustache wearing a tank top and shorts who was alway carrying a throwback walkman, complete with head phones stuck on his head. He’d be singing at the top of his lungs, with fingers snapping to the beat, as he walked up and down the busy thoroughfares.

There was the young man with the long hair and his mother…or so we thought them to be mother and son.
Always together and having been know to hold hands…they had a tendency to worry and creep out those who saw them wandering all over town. I think the truancy folks once tracked them down because they enrolled the boy into the high school where I taught. That didn’t last long because the woman, his mother, waited at the front door of the school all day, very nervous and agitated.
He quit as quickly as he enrolled and they were seen walking again, carrying bags of this and that….

In addition to the regular characters, there are those individuals who seem to be merely passing through—drifting specters riding along the quiet breeze— those odder individuals who thankfully drift away as quickly as they came…as there’s just something unsettling about them.

So today, as I was driving to the post office, I saw her again.
A middle aged woman walking slowly up the sidewalk, on a less traveled road, carrying, or actually cradling, a white stuffed animal.

The first time I saw her, I thought she was holding a small dog.
I assumed she was walking to the discount grocery, perhaps to purchase some food for the animal…
but on closer inspection, when I was heading back in the direction I had come, I saw that the pet in question was actually stuffed.

I found myself wondering.

What in this woman’s life would prompt her to walk, very slowly yet very determined, up the sidewalk clutching a stuffed animal to her chest.
What has happened in this woman’s life that now finds her alone on a back sidewalk, walking towards a busy main arty leading to town, seemingly in a daze while holding something obviously very important to her.

All of which has me now wondering about all the characters who walk or ride or sit along each of our life’s journey.

So often we see them from afar… safely from a window of a car or business.
We either ignore what we see because something about them makes us feel uncomfortable,
or we smugly stare thinking how much better off we are than them.

As much as we try or would like, we cannot “unimagine” them into nothingness.
They are real, living, breathing individuals with a story…just like you and me.
Their lot in life may have once been what we’d consider normal…yet something tragically or simply oddly happened.

Or perhaps they have simply been less fortunate than you and me—having never had the support that we’ve received along the way.

We can often hear a voice within our heads repeating the mantra…
“there but for the grace of God go I…”
As we are thankful that we are not on the sidewalk talking to no one in particular,
or pushing a shopping cart full of plastics, or singing to everyone and yet to no one.
We are thankful we don’t have to clutch a stuffed animal as we walk alone up a lonely sidewalk.

Seeing these people does one of two things.

It either makes us feel uncomfortable as we try to ignore both them and how they make us feel…
Or, on the other hand, we allow their perceived misfortunes to oddly make us feel better about ourselves.

We allow the encounter to convince our inner selves that we’re not as crazy as we thought.
We’re not as bad off as we thought.
We aren’t as lonely as we thought.
As we now happily consider ourselves to be of the normal lot.
The good lot
The preferred lot.
The lucky lot…

We safely assume that we are better than.
Smarter than.
Happier than.
Safer than.

But the question should be… are we?
Are we better, safer, happier…or perhaps are they?

Have we as human beings not been charged with the care and concern of our fellow man…
even those who are the quirky characters walking through our lives….

Rather than allowing their quirkiness and oddity to make us feel uncomfortable…
or arrogantly even better about ourselves…
what have we ever done once to help them….?

And then suddenly, out of the blue and on any given day, we actually take notice that “they” haven’t been around in awhile, haven’t been seen or heard…
we find ourselves oddly missing them.
We find ourselves wondering what could have happened to them…
And we wonder…
what could we have done…
for them…

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:1-5