Character Sketch — Peter

If he were to notch the states he’d visited like kills on a gun, the number would be thirty and eleven more. But he carries no gun, only a guitar, a pack, and a little dog. Sometimes the little dog walks.

The wind brushes a strand of dirty blonde hair into his eyes, and his tanned, calloused hand pushes it behind his ear. The sun is bright, making his blue eyes seem even more blue as the pupils contract into black pinpricks. He closes his eyes and strums another chord.

Downtown Greenville is a great place to play. He begins to strum the chords of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and a nearby woman pauses to listen. Peter begins to sing the lyrics, and a few more people pause to hear the old classic. His tenor floats over the bustle around him. As he finishes the chorus, the woman drops a dollar in his open case and continues on.

His little dog snores beside the open case. The autumn sun is beginning to set, so Peter sets the guitar in the case and nudges the little dog awake. “Come on, kid,” he says. “Time to find a pillow.”


Something That Occurred to Me

It’s weird how oblivious we can be about what is happening within our bodies
Our appendixes could be swelling with infection right now, and we’d be totally unaware
We wouldn’t know until it swelled so much that we were in pain or until it burst
And then we’d be in the hospital. Or dead.
And there’d be nothing we could do to prevent this misfortune
Because we are completely unaware of what is happening within our bodies

On Watching a Storm

I am like a storm. I blow and moan and throw myself around. I lash and rage. I try to strip the elm, try to tear off all its leaves. I try to make it bend, fall, break. I cry and make lakes in the mud, lakes with islands of patchy grass and weeds.

I flash bright sparks across my eyes. Then thunder my emotion. My breath is hot.

I am like a storm. I calm down; the flashing stops, and I cry in silence.

But then I’m overwhelmed again and cry again aloud. I strip the elm of more leaves and branches, sending them swirling, spiraling to the muddy lakes. I throw blankets of rain, beating off its leaves to make it bare.

My voice drops and I send icy hail, pelting everything in reach, pounding against the elm. I must push it more, push it harder.

My once-hot breath is now ice cold, and I let it out harsh. I drop my warm embrace and send fearful touches instead. The young sapling cannot stand me. He breaks and falls away. It takes a strong elm to resist a storm, to resist my threatening, raging, changing. It takes a strong elm to rustle in the stillness, in the calm before I storm, to rustle his promise to not fall away, to stay steady, to weather it out.

I am like a storm. My voice softens and warms as my weeping slows. The muddy lakes stop rising up the patchy-grass islands. I fall quiet and let the sun come out.

Variations on a Theme: My Friend

CoffeeThe Coffee Shop
Two people—one tall, one short
Two coffees—one decaf, one caffeinated
Two laptops—one PC, one Mac
Two people—one friendship

The Conversation
We sit, facing each other on the couch.
The short hand crosses twelve.
The cat yawns—we do not.
We talk about the future.

The Compliment
Curled up on my couch and watching me—
“I love your apartment,” she says. “It feels safe.”
I am glad.
Who wouldn’t want a home that’s a refuge for a friend?

Poolside Thoughts

There is something lovely about lying out at a pool on a Saturday morning all alone. It’s quiet. Even the sun is not wanting to wake up and stays tucked behind a cloud blanket. I don’t begrudge its hiding. I didn’t come here to tan—I gave up on tanning years ago. I have embraced my paleness. I’m no longer frustrated that I don’t turn tan after a sunburn. I no longer cringe when I notice my legs are paler than the sidewalk when it’s cold. I no longer care if my skin rivals Edward Cullen’s in the sunlight. Pale is its own beautiful.

Lying out at the pool with no one else around gives you time to let your mind wander. You notice the many different bird calls that you hadn’t noticed when you were swimming in the pool. You feel the breeze brushing over your exposed skin and shiver as it runs over your wet hair. You watch the trees lining the pool—they never stop moving, leaves and limbs serenading me.

I think about people—people I love, people I miss. I think about my plans for the rest of the day. But mostly I just sit here and let my mind wander. I feel the same as when I floated on my back in the pool a few minutes ago and let the water carry me. I absorb this beautiful world God made. And I thank Him for it.

On Removing Life-Support

For some, death is fast—a split-second jump from temporal to eternal.
For some, death is slow—a journey few have returned from.

My grandfather has been on this journey.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

My grandfather has been walking through the valley, toward the river, for several days now. I think Jesus is walking beside him.

My grandfather was a quiet man. I imagine he is still quiet—strolling quietly with Jesus through the darkness with mountains closing up around them, with looming boulders and fallen trees, along an old path.

Where are we going? Home.

What about Charlene? I’ll take care of her.

What about my kids? They’ll be okay.

What about my granddaughter? Don’t worry, Ross. I’ve got her too. And she knows that you loved her, even if you didn’t always know how to show love to her in the ways she understood best.

A cry from a wolf, a screech from a hawk, a cold wind blowing past.

She loved you too, Ross.

The valley opens to a dark meadow. The evening flowers open and fill the air with their fragrance. Jesus walks with my grandfather through the meadow.

I am afraid. So was I. But the river is just up ahead. We’re almost home.

Will it hurt? Not while I’m with you.

Will you stay? I will never leave you nor forsake you, Ross. I’ll be with you the whole way.

The sound of water, the smell of damp earth.

On the bank of the River Jordan, Jesus turns to face my grandfather. My grandfather looks away, looks at the river, looks at the mist.

Is it time?

Jesus steps onto the water. It responds to the familiar step and buoys him up. He takes another step, then turns to face my grandfather.

Ross, did you believe that I loved you?

My grandfather’s eyes fill with tears. Jesus reaches out a scarred hand, and my grandfather takes it.

Walk with me, Ross.

My grandfather steps out and meets Jesus on the water. They walk quietly through the darkness and mist. As they walk, my grandfather’s weak body grows stronger. His frailness melts into the river, and he stands straight once again, shoulders back, head high. He looks at Jesus through clear eyes.

They emerge from the mist into warm sunlight. The fragrance of the morning flowers fills the air. As he steps onto dry ground, my grandfather looks at Jesus.

Jesus meets his gaze with ancient youthful eyes, with eyes that know all things, with eyes full of self-sacrificing love.

Welcome home, Ross.