Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Faithful Rewarded

That's right, friends, a new posting . . . what's more, a new look! I hope you appreciate the fact that all of this change means that it will likely be several months before I write anything in this space again . . . more likely, several years.

Many of you have asked me, "What drives you to write the masterful narratives that so delight us?" The answer, of course, is not much, or I would write more than once every 12 weeks or so. Well, on to the story.

It was a day much like any other. I could not fully comprehend its magnitude at the time, but I have since come to regard it as one of the most meaningful in my life.

Keith was a born golfer. Well that's not entirely accurate. Keith was, however, born, and he has been known to pick up a golf club before. Semantics have no place here.

My brothers-in-law, Matt and Tom, and myself were playing a round of golf at the glorious Prospect Hill Golf Course and Healing Spa in Auburn, Maine. Keith had graciously agreed to join us after attending a Women's Prayer Breakfast that morning. Why had Keith attended a Women's Prayer Breakfast? If you know Keith, you know that this is a question best left unanswered.

Keith's beard was magnificent that day. It was the first thing we noticed when he joined us on the third hole. He had rushed there from the breakfast and was dressed in full cold-weather gear, so bundled that he could hardly move. He wore a knit cap with ear flaps and three, possibly four, sweaters. The number no longer seems important. I should mention that it was November.

We had all teed off and it was time for the Kansas Wunderkind to take his first shot of the day. We all waited nervously as Keith extracted both tee and ball from his formidable facial hair. We would later reveal to one another that we had all had our doubts that he would be able to swing freely while wearing seven layers, but this is the hand Keith was dealt and this is the one he would play.

Keith stalked the ball like a lion stalks a baby gazelle. He stared at it with such intense hatred that Matt would later use this as a sermon illustration of the sinful nature. It was as though Keith's entire existence was wrapped up in obliterating this golf ball, as though tattooing this ball with his own anger might somehow erase all of life's problems. Who knows, perhaps this is possible. What I do know is Keith made us all believers that day.

Keith was bent so low that his face was mere inches from the ball. His whiskers grazed the top of the unfortunate Titleist as the dimpled sphere awaited its certain doom.

As Keith began his backswing, I got the first hint that something was very, very wrong here. To begin with, Keith was no longer looking at the ball at all, but he seemed to be staring a thousand yards into the distance at something that only he could see. He would later describe this as a bad idea. He had also immediately picked his left foot up off the ground and was standing like a crazed flamingo, never a good idea when attempting to make a balanced golf swing.

Keith's mighty downswing had the three of us in complete awe. We knew that we were witnessing one of the finest golf shots that we, and possibly anyone else, had ever seen. Keith generated enormous clubhead speed, and the wind from his powerful cut added to the chill of that cold November morn.

I closed my eyes. I could not look, as if witnessing something so beautiful and yet so menacing was wrong somehow. I heard one of the sweetest swings I had ever thought of hearing.

When I opened my eyes, I was surprised. I looked at the ground and saw a ball, untouched, sitting on a tee. The ball was perfectly at rest, almost relieved.

Keith rubbed his right elbow. "Ouch. That hurt," he said. To this day, it is unclear as to whether the mighty Kansan referred to his arm . . . or his pride.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


As my unfortunate followers have discovered, my thoughts are infrequently recorded on the virtual page. Certain events, however, merit the permanence of the written word.

One such event took place on December 13th. The three of us, my wife, child, and self, set forth on a journey of such magnitude, such import, that to leave it unrecorded would be criminal. Let us begin.

On a cold December morning, my wife and I debated the merits of an "old-fashioned" Christmas tree (freshly taken from the woods) versus one carefully groomed, shaped, and purchased from a tree farm. After careful consideration, it was determined that we should pursue the former, due to its homey and unrefined appeal. It was thus that we embarked on a snow-laden journey into the imposing woodlands of Minot, Maine.

Many trees were observed, carefully reviewed, and discarded as decidedly non-viable options. My wife and I were the principal judges, as our 4 month old daughter was unable to offer any intelligible insight . . . yet. She was, however, in attendance, swaddled close to her mother inside a winter coat. She seemed quite content.

The snow fell. It was a blustery and fearsome storm, one which could send the most hardened New England woodsman scrambling for cover. We pressed on, though we were not hardened, nor were we woodsmen. We were, however, loving parents in search of the perfect tree for their daughter's first Christmas. Whether or not she cared about the tree or would notice it at all was an unimportant consideration, one which was quickly swept aside by parental passion which bordered on madness.

We searched. Oh, how we searched. The perfect tree was out there, somewhere. We were certain of it. As we sorted through one unsatisfactory candidate after another, we soon began to doubt the soundness of our plan. We spent hours in the Maine wood that day, so turned about that we hardly knew where we were anymore. We knew only one thing for sure . . . the Tree was out there. Beckoning. Mocking.

It was the morning of the 14th when we finally saw it. I had just crested a ridge when it came into view. Well, that's not entirely accurate. In truth it had been in view all the time, as the Tree was the upper 10 feet of a fearsome beast of a tree that seemed to stretch for days. I stared at my hands for almost that long, grimly noting that the only tools at my disposal were a hacksaw and a small hatchet. It was time to get to work.

Blow after blow was struck, but still Leviathan remained. I took solace in only one fact. The Tree was ours. It had to be. It would be. There could be no other ending. The hatchet grew heavy in my hand as I hacked away at the massive trunk before me. I grew weary, exhausted even, but I continued to struggle against this terrible force of nature. At several points I became delirious, and I saw visions, dear readers, that you would not believe even if I described them to you. In my bests moments, I began to doubt that Leviathan would ever fall. In my worst, I doubted my very existence.

On the afternoon of the 15th, Leviathan finally toppled to the ground. It had been three days, but the sweetness of this victory could not be measured in mere units of time. We quickly secured the upper 10 feet of the monster. The Tree was ours.

We still sometimes catch ourselves thinking about the Tree, even today. We think about it whenever we gaze at our daughter's smile, knowing that, but for a certain wooden beast, things may have been quite different. Quite different, indeed.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Perhaps you're wondering why I called you all here today. Perhaps you're not the least bit curious. At any rate, a story for you.

Fatigued and overwhelmed after a trying day of work at his chosen profession, young John Libby turns for some semblance of peace to the only place that makes sense to him any more: a half-eaten bag of Bachman's Jax. He contentedly munches away at these delightful nuggets of cheese and corn as he discusses his day with his lovely wife, who, as usual, is mesmerized by his clever accounts of his working life. John remembers the sheer joy that is Jax from his childhood. Life was simpler then, consisting mainly of, well, Jax.

As he shovels load after load of corny, cheesy wonder into his mouth, he meditates on the origins of the name Jax. Do they call it that because it rhymes with snacks? Because the cheese curls resemble the jumbled pieces of the game of jacks? Is there any meaning at all to this name, or was it a random assemblage of letters meant to elicit still more random pondering. John wonders. But he moves on.

Placing his work clothes on the appropriate hangers, John changes into a comfortable pair of Arizona jeans. Most of his clothes come from JC Penney these days, and he wonders what this says about him and the current state of his life. Very little, he decides.

John sleeps the sleep of the dead that evening. Rest has always been something he's good at.

He awakens the next day. The work week is much like any other. Time passes. He celebrates being home with his wife and child, savoring the time with his three month old baby. Until she begins crying.

The following Monday, John awakens and dresses in the mirrorless bedroom, as is his habit. What could be wrong about dressing in a room without mirrors, he thinks. Everybody wins.

John keeps notes for work in the front pocket of his shirt where they are easily accessible. It is a good plan, he knows. At midday, he removes the notes from his pocket and prepares his lunch. As he does so, he glances down at his shirt and sees an unnaturally orange ball in his pocket. As he looks closer, he realizes that this is a tiny morsel of cheese puff. I don't even remember eating cheese puffs, he thinks. It is then that he fondly hearkens back to the delightful Jax scarfing post-work episode of the previous week.

Amused and appalled, John realizes that the baked corn and cheese snack crumb has leaked through his pocket, leaving a gruesome smear of light orange and the telltale permanently moist look of the grease stain.

John now knows that he is not only wearing a shirt that has not been laundered in a week but one that also has a dirty, stale cheesy passenger on board. What does this say about him? What does this say about his life?

Not a lot, he decides. He moves on.