ALPHA & OMEGA

YOU KNOW HOW WHEN YOU’RE BORN, everything that happens is your FIRST? First smile, first word, first tooth, first step…

Malachi (as in it’s Me Against The Grand-Girls; that Malachi) just had his first haircut. It’s one of those FIRSTS that seems to cause a giant step in Growing Up. Like the first day of school, first sleepover, first dance, first kiss…

All of this is a part of what I understand to be a “coming-of-age”. Some say that coming-of-age means reaching a certain milestone like getting a driver’s license, graduating from high school, being able to vote, etc. Some say it defines the process of maturity, particularly emotional maturity.

When does it end? Is there a point where we can say, “I’ve come of age!” I don’t know. Some seem to remain eternally toddler-like, spoiled brats—you know the ones that people judge as needing to grow up. Some just seem to be blessed with a youthful curiosity, and sense of wonder.

Could it be that at some point our LASTS outnumber our FIRSTS? Is that a sign that we have come-of-age? Our last day of school, our last child to leave the nest, our last day on the job, our last time to drive a car… Stopping now. This could get morbid in a hurry. But, maybe not.

Several years ago, September 2013, to be exact, I started this blog called About Pops . It was a part of a process in my life that I came to call my “second-coming-of-age”, because I’ve discovered this life is loaded with opportunities for FIRSTS and do-overs.

My Amazing-Missus and I have taken adventures in our Airstream Travel Trailer I never thought we would have. Being a Pops is fraught with FIRSTS, because we get to celebrate all of those with each of our grands. I was able to reconnect with a friend from high school days, which may not sound like a big deal, but it was for me. Somehow I found myself becoming a part of a group of young artists in New York City and then around the world—a group called International Arts Movement. I even got to serve on their board which meant making numerous trips to NYC, and then helping cultivate seeds of that arts movement back here in OKC.

So, I’m seeking FIRSTS and finding new joy in the repetitive things of life: road trips to Shawnee and Alva, Seinfeld reruns, eating “Chinese” food with Mom & Dad, going to work. When I kiss my Amazing-Missus goodnight when I go to bed and she settles in to watch the ten o’clock news, I want to do it with the passion of my 20 year-old self. Well… maybe not that passionate (there was a good deal of lust in that passion). You get the idea.

Pretend your opening a fortune cookie and inside the little paper says, “Go do something you’ve done a thousand times and enjoy it like it was the FIRST.”

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

DISTURBED

WE HAVE A GENERATION GAP. The first time I reckoned with that cultural reality, I was 15ish and wanted long hair. My parents, the Jenks Schools Board of Education, and most other “adults” in my sphere said, “No! And tuck in your shirttail.”

Today the Gap still exists, but I’m on the other side of it.

A few years ago, my youngest son, Kyle said, “Hey Dad. There’s a heavy metal band called, ‘Disturbed’. They’ve done a cover of one of your favorite songs, “The Sound of Silence”.

GRAPHIC BY COREY LEE FULLER

GRAPHIC BY COREY LEE FULLER

Isn’t it interesting that the generation gap often shows up in musical tastes. No doubt, adults back in the day found Elvis to be disturbing, as did parents of my day with The Beatles.

Now I am proud of my sons on many many levels, one of those being their breadth of musical appreciation and understanding. I’m especially grateful that they know that I hold the writing of Paul Simon and the music of Simon & Garfunkel in high regard, reverence even, so much so, that when Kyle used the words heavy, metal, cover, the, sound, of, and silence in the same sentence, I was disturbed, and he knew I would be—until I listened to it.

(I can picture right now, my old writing professor, Dr. Spears, writing “DISJOINTED” across the face of this essay in red pencil.)

(Stay with me.)

A friend recently sent me a link to a video of a person watching the video of Disturbed’s cover of the song. Believe it or not, it is a YouTube thing for people to video themselves reacting to music videos. In fact there are numerous reaction videos to the “Disturbed” cover. I have watched several of them and have drawn two conclusions:

1.) It’s scary how many young people have never heard of Simon & Garfunkel or heard their music. That pesky generation gap.

2.) People seemed to be totally flummoxed by the lyrics of the song. Or, worse yet, they don’t seem to be interested in a closer look.

I certainly don’t claim to know the “meaning” of the lyrics of the song, but I’ve had about 50 years to ponder them, and I have. If you have time, let’s see if we can peek inside Paul Simon’s mind:


VERSE ONE:

Hello darkness, my old friend

I've come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence


THOUGHTS:

There has been speculation that Paul Simon wrote these lyrics in reaction to the assination of John F. Kennedy. The problem with that theory is that he wrote the song before that event.

Why the “sound” of “silence”? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I like to think of it as being lonely in a huge crowd. In this midst of the cacophony of life there is no discernable Word, so it might as well be silence.


VERSE TWO:

In restless dreams I walked alone

Narrow streets of cobblestone

'Neath the halo of a street lamp

I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light

That split the night

And touched the sound of silence


THOUGHTS:

I listened to commentary about the song on a website. The analysis was that this could be someone overwhelmed by social media, email, and blogs like this one, etc. Then something happens that breaks through all of that. Seems reasonable—except the song was written in the 60s, before any of that.

There is a jolt, like an awakening or enlightenment. It cuts through. You have to take a moment to picture this guy, in the dim glow of a street lamp, with his collar turned up and all of a sudden: BOOM. A flash. “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me.” —Acts 22:6. That kind of flash.


VERSE THREE:

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

No one dared

Disturb the sound of silence


THOUGHTS:

Sound familiar? A mass of humanity, lots of words but no one “speaking” or “listening”. Are there sage voices today? Is there a “song” written worth sharing. I’m talking song in a metaphorical sense. For my generation that “song”-writer, that voice would be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke so powerfully, so relevantly, so prophetically. How did people respond? “No one dared disturb the sound of silence.”


VERSE FOUR:

"Fools" said I, "You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you"

But my words like silent raindrops fell

And echoed in the wells of silence


THOUGHTS:

There is the word and there is the messenger, but too often there is no one willing to receive the words and they fall like “silent raindrops”.

“In the beginning was the Word… He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” —from John 1, The Message


VERSE FIVE:

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon god they made

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, "The words of the prophets

Are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls"

And whispered in the sounds of silence


THOUGHTS:

So many times we look in all the wrong places and listen to all the wrong people. Sometimes we think it must be in the cockiness of contemporary culture, or in the arrogant shriek of politics. Sometimes though the message is in a still, small voice, or the words of a child. Sometimes the real truth is right in front of us but not seen or heard.

Simon & Garfunkel’s version of the song, in my opinion, is styled in the voice of a 60s era poet. It is sung, as sort of a lament. Disturbed’s version to me is more the voice of a prophet. It has an urgency to it.

In the 50 years between the two versions culture has drifted and decayed to the point that both versions are relevant for their time.

Here is a link to Simon & Garfunkel doing the song live. Listen to it first because it is the version of the songwriter himself, Paul Simon. It is done with only an acoustic guitar; again, as a poetic lament.

Then listen to Disturbed’s take. It’s almost as if he is saying, “You didn’t listen to this 50 years ago, so let me be a little more emphatic.”

CLICK HERE FOR THE SIMON & GARFUNKEL VERSION

CLICK HERE FOR THE DISTURBED COVER


“Poets, prophets and reformers are all picture-makers -- and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements. They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction.” ― Frederick Douglass

TRY AGAIN LATER

TRUST ME. The last thing I want to do is use my father and his service to this country to make a political point. This is NOT about that. This is about people, real live humans, good people who have given without asking anything in return.

Here’s the story: my dad served in the Army in World War II. His last assignment during the war was in Belgium. As a veteran he has received some assistance from the VA over the last few years: like medications and hearing aids.

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There is a benefit for veterans who fought in foreign wars called the “Aid and Attendance” benefit. For years, Dad has checked many of the boxes to qualify: WW2 vet in the European theatre, and he is legally blind. He has not been able to qualify though because he and mom planned carefully for their retirement and paid premiums for years for long term health care insurance. Now at ages 94 and 91, Dad and Mom have outlived their insurance coverage, which means they should be able to qualify for the veterans benefit because of the reduced income.

Five months ago we started the application process which we were told could take six to eight weeks. We were told that the benefit would certainly start as early as Thanksgiving. It didn’t. (I guess, to be fair, they didn’t say which Thanksgiving.) We contacted Senator James Lankford’s office for help. They checked and said the application is pending—waiting on verification of his military service, which is odd since he has received VA benefits as I mentioned above. Also, we included copies of his discharge papers with the application.

Then my niece, my dad’s Grand-Girl, Ashley, discovered that there is a website where ostensibly you can create a log-in to monitor the progress of the application.

So she navigated the convulated path to entering the monitoring website. Now when we check to see if the application is moving forward we get this message:

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Did I mention my dad is 94 years old?

Did I mention he is a veteran of World War II?

Did I mention I have never in my life heard
my dad even hint that he might be “entitled” to anything?

I don’t know for certain that the current government shut down is impacting the progress of my dad’s application, but government shut down or no, I can’t escape the feeling that our government is deeply damaged, that it is full of self-serving, arrogant bureaucrats, who are out of touch and out of control.

Is it hopeless? If we’re talking about my dad’s application for a benefit he qualifies for, deserves and (here I’ll say it) is entitled to, I sure hope not. If we’re talking about the bigger issue of governance in America—let me say this, I’m ready to let Trump have his damn wall to put an end to this latest chapter of disgusting nonsense.

Trying to stay positive here, one upside to “the wall” might be that once it is built we can all go there to bang our heads against the north face of it.

Understand; this is me talking, not my dad. I didn’t even ask his permission (which has gotten me in trouble more than once). My dad, and my mom, are of the Greatest Generation. They are beautiful people who trust in the Providence of God.

Me? You would think with parents like these I would have a better attitude. Maybe when I grow up.

Here is a picture of Dad a few years ago at the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. He is with my brother-in-law, Fred, a Vietnam era Marine who served three tours of duty in the Middle East; and his son Joe, currently in the U.S. Navy.

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(You know, I can’t help but wonder if the current POTUS has even strolled through this memorial, or the Korean War Memorial, or the Vietnam Memorial and read the inscriptions there. Oh wait, I forgot about his pesky bone spurs.) (Sorry. I was raised better.)

In case you can’t read the words on the wall behind them, the inscription reads:

D-DAY JUNE 6, 1944

You are about to embark upon the
Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these
many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.
I have full confidence in your courage
and devotion to duty and skill in battle.

—General Dwight D. Eisenhower

WINTER

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

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That’s how the old poem goes. The poem is, “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti, c. 1870.

Winter’s not my favorite season, yet some of my favorite things are a part of this season: Christmastime, family activities, fires, hot chocolate, spiced cider, mulled wine, strong coffee and rich food. But I miss the sunshine, the leaves and being outside. I complain of humidity in summer and the dry air of winter.

Winter seems quieter, slower, more contemplative. I can almost picture the scene where Ms. Rossetti penned her poem. From that first verse you might think she was depressed or in despair. Winter can do that to you. But when you read the rest, you see she was contrasting winter with something else. Something new. Something with promise, like the coming spring. The poem continues:

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Maybe that’s the key to seasons of bleakness whether they be in winter or summer, in abundance or poverty. 2018 has had it all, or so it seems. The world seems meaner somehow, more base, more selfish, more arrogant, more misguided.

But it also seems more hopeful. I have the privilege of being around immensely creative young people and wonderful family. They seem more energized, more visionary.

I want to be among those who understand there is more to the poem, more to the story, more to this life.

Most know of the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Many know these words to be the introduction to the Declaration of Independence. Many would see these unalienable (which means you can’t give them away) Rights to be the highest form of humanity. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but there is more.

If we stop with these then we will put all of our hopes in political solutions. That’s the mold they are cast in. It should be clear to us that the ultimate answers are not in politics. There is more.

We always speak of the turn from one year to the next as the NEW year, fraught with opportunity, a new start. I am resolving to aim higher, drink deeper, see more, listen more, give more and live more. And with all that living there is a chance that at the end of 2019 I will weigh more. Just being honest.

By the way, that old poem was made into a wonderful Christmas Carol. I highly recommend James Taylor’s version of the song. You can find it on his album “At Christmas” along with a lovely version of Auld Lang Syne; perfect for midnight tonight.