Holding our Ground
A few weeks ago in this space, I started a brief story about an old man's ?on the lam? from his retirement community. The idea of initiating the tale was to point out that we?re all wired for curiosity and to suggest that God often uses stories to lead us and guide us along in life. I hope you remember the fictional old man and his early morning escape. Let's see how he's doing. He's got a name - Tate. First name, Walter. Ready?
The sun was up now and the slanted morning light poured into St. Louis's Union Station from above. Tate was relieved when his train was called. Without more distance, he might yet be corralled and unceremoniously returned to his room. In addition, he found the lost glory of the train station most regrettable.
Boarding, he settled into a window seat toward the rear of a middle car. He had herniated discs at L4-5 and C5-6 during his long labors on these very rails, and though he?d received some compensation, he had refused surgical intervention. Now it was too late. He fumbled with the pill container in his pocket, and soon the side effects of its contents and the clack of the rails lullabied him into a stupendous unconsciousness.
When he awoke, a man even older than himself wearing a green trucker's cap with a Red Man Tobacco patch, sat motionless across the aisle. The rod and reel on his lap were suspicious, but it was the old straw creel on the seat next to him which gave him away as a narcotic-induced hallucination. The fisherman turned and put his hand up to the brim of his cap in a pleasant salutation. Tate nodded back maintaining that, hallucination or not, bad fortune follows those who reject friendly overtures on the road. The phantom then returned to his previous posture staring straight ahead, subtly rocking back and forth with the train's forward motion until, along a suspension bridge overlooking a green creek, he vanished, creel, rod, and all, in a slow fade.
?May your lines stay heavy,? Tate whispered. His scrutiny of the tiny typeset which accompanied his medication referenced no side effects of this sort, but then again, this was not unprecedented. Most of the time Tate just ignored ?the people? as he called them. If irritable, he?d upbraid them. If in good temper, he would offer them a snack if he had one on hand. Usually they went about their business until, after a spell, they?d take leave of his society just as the old angler had done.
Tate was reluctant to take any of this up with his physician for fear that he would be prescribed yet another pill, or sent to some ?head doctor? whom he?d find unbearable. Instead, he kept it all to himself, except for that time, unable to sleep, he?d ventured a call to an outlandish late night radio show which purported to broadcast from ?high in the desert? and trafficked in conspiracies concerning the unknown.
?Walter in St. Louis,? the host had said after a long wait on hold.
When Tate told his story about the appearances over the air, the host confessed he found the tale of ?the people? quite chilling. A multitude of peculiar theories were subsequently expressed by callers from all over the country steering Tate away from the pharmaceutical explanation as inadequately profound. Finally, a soft-spoken woman - Allison from Indianapolis - a school teacher and an insomniac, called the phenomenon an encounter with ?the midway place,? where she posited this world and the next bumped up against one another on occasion.
This, Tate thought, was both far-fetched and probably true. He seemed, in fact, to have been residing in just such a place ever since his wife had died a year ago. He had always figured he?d go first. So did she. When she used to ask which hymns he?d like for his service, he would say, ?Surprise me, Mollie.?
As the train lurched onward, Tate removed her faded photograph from his wallet and rubbed his eyes, remembering her casual loveliness and the details of her beauty. ?Mollie,? he confessed, ?I?m stuck.?
?You alright, sir?? the train's steward asked quietly so as not to startle his passenger.
?Pardon?? Tate asked. Though he wasn't prone to startle, Walter couldn't hear well.
?You alright, sir??
?Yes, sir. I?m holding my ground.?
We?re each the protagonist of our own story. We want our stories to go somewhere. We want our stories to make sense, to move ahead, and not to fall back from the destinations we imagine for ourselves. However, we often get put back on our heels by trouble like the kind we?re encountering now. We get pushed back.
This week, if it takes a little escape, if only for a few hours to regain your footing to hold the ground on which you feel closest to God and those you love - do the prayerful work to find purchase where you are.
Help me to see my life as a good story; an adventure with twists, turns, and, yes, some detours, but one with beautiful characters, remarkable scenes, and interesting settings. Despite the trouble around me and the challenges approaching, help me find balance to hold my ground. Then lead me along slowly and narrate me through. Amen.