Thursday, June 02, 2005

Reflections at Mile Marker 109, 2005 Edition

Psalm 104:31-32 (King James Version)

31 “The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works.
32He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.”

Coach and I took another trip to Wichita today. The part the Volvo dealer had ordered a week or so ago was in and so we headed out at about seven-thirty to get it attached to the rest of the car.

As we started out I remembered how things were just before I retired. I’d made the trip south on the turnpike so many times it had become too common to me. If I had to put a number to it I’ll bet I missed the glory of the Flint Hills a hundred out of a hundred and one days back then. It had just become humdrum, a drudgery.

Ah, but now I look forward to these little day trips. So it was this morning, June 2nd, 2005.

The hills are especially beautiful this year. The late rain and early spring rains, along with the burning, have produced the most incredible green that I’ve ever seen. It is a sight to behold!

I think it was right about my favorite spot, mile marker 109, that Nancy mentioned something Curtis McCauley said the other night when he and his wife were over for some barbeque. Doctor Mac, as I know him, says he’s retired, but he does more work these days than most of the young bucks I met in the corporate world. One of the things he’s currently doing is providing transportation for young people who have somehow made it into the “system.” I think that most are products of broken homes. At any rate, Doc spends a good part of his time taking them to doctor’s appointments, counselors, or an absentee parent. Not too long ago he was taking a young boy from Emporia to some sort of appointment. Their course took them through the Flint Hills, and somewhere along the turnpike he asked the boy a question. “Did you know that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills?” The boy seemed a bit puzzled, so Doc continued with an explanation. “Some of them are black, and some of them are brown, but none of them are green.” The boy seemed even more puzzled with this. Curtis,who finds it almost impossible to avoid mischief, then decided to add more puzzlement yet. “Why do you think that God doesn’t make them green?” he asked. Now I wasn’t there, but I can almost see the gleam in Doc’s eyes as he parried with the lad. I think he might have been thinking “I’ve got this kid stumped.” But, after a minute or so of reflection the boy offered this wonderful piece of youthful wisdom. “If they were all green,” he replied. “God wouldn’t be able to see them from “up there.”

I’d have to say that the boy won this little battle of wits, and I also think that Curtis was delighted to have been the boy’s foil. Curtis has one of those gruff exteriors, but inside is lurking a universe of kindness and love. I don’t think he does all this driving around for the money. I think he does it because he cares about these kids; I think he loves them and wants to give them a little bit of caring that they would otherwise never get. Absentee parents and the “system” just can’t do those things.

The thought of this wonderful little exchange did something for me. As we passed south of that treasured marker on the turnpike, I felt the recapturing of the awe and the wonder I had felt before the trip had become drudgery. To that end, I’m going to re-post a bit of free verse I penned one morning as I stopped a bit south of mile marker 109.

The things I felt then I felt this morning. I felt that wonderful sense of my own smallness. I felt that wonderful inner sense of being “known. I felt that wonderful inner sense of being loved.”

It now follows. I hope you find it edifying.

Reflections at Mile Marker 109, Kansas Turnpike
Phil Dillon
© 2002 Phil Dillon

It’s the cusp of dawn. I’m chasing Orion’s Belt and bull-haulers down the Kansas Turnpike. At mile marker 109, about a furlong or two south of the cattle pens, I stop.

The occasional rush of southbound traffic breaks the dawn silence. Like a general poised in his appointed place, I review the early morning parade. Saints and scoundrels, gospel singers and politicians, truckers, ranchers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, mothers, fathers, children, all pass by. Problems and opportunities wind their way down the highway with them.

I touch the highway sign. Mile marker 109. I feel the bits of rust creeping up on the metal. It’s man-made, temporal, placed on the edge of the eternal. It speaks. “This is where you are.” It speaks of commerce and progress passing by. It speaks of cattle and concept drawings on their journeys past a solitary milepost planted on the edge of eternity.

I turn, take a step, and cast my gaze across the prairie. Like the storied astronaut of my youth, that one small step transports me from one world to another. Thoughts pass by. Some pass quietly, humming like the Toyotas and Fords on the highway. Others I hear in the distance. Their low, grinding hums become roars as they draw near, like the Peterbilts and Kenworths hauling their precious cargoes from Chicago to Dallas or the Twin Cities to San Antonio.

While the darkness has not yet surrendered to the day, there are hints of color along the rim of the eastern sky. I sense that they carry the faint whisper of an announcement of the millennium to come. The ageless ritual proceeds, moment by moment. Light overcomes the darkness. The unbroken sky and the endless sea of grass now join together in a hymn of praise. The morning breeze caresses the tallgrass. The blades of grass, in turn, wave gently to and fro, worshippers caught up in the glory of this moment.

Thoughts glide effortlessly through the air, then stop to gently kiss the earth. The earth gratefully receives the kiss from above and pleads, “Maranatha…..Maranatha.”

A hawk circles above, wings outstretched, reaching for an unseen spire. As he circles, the dawn sun touches him, revealing his priestly robes and eyes of fire.

I sense that I’ve entered a great cathedral. I’m overwhelmed by my own smallness. I fear. The hawk descends slowly, gracefully and speaks. “You are indeed small. But, fear not. You’re known…..You’re known. This is where you are. Mile marker 109. This is the place where the line between now and forever is drawn. Here you own nothing, but are given the grace to be a part of everything. The language of the world you left is ownership. The language here is stewardship. This is the place where moth and rust do not corrupt.”

His appointed ministry complete, he now lays hold of the morning currents and moves effortlessly off to the east.

I feel the warmth of a tear as it drifts slowly down my cheek. My epiphany’s complete. I turn back and take another small step, returning to the world I left moments before. I take my place in line with my fellow travelers, the builders and dreamers, the movers and shakers, the commerce and the concepts. Our daily procession has taken us past this place…..mile marker 109.


Pastor Phil Morgan said...

Beautiful piece. Thank you.

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Lucas Stephens said...

This is a well-written depiction of the scene. I can almost see what you have described. I enjoyed the bit about Curtis and the young lad. Thank you for pointing us to the grand and glorious creation of our Father, God.

Wayne Leman said...

Wow, Phil, it's like prose poetry. And since I've been in those Flint Hills, I'm glad you could take me back there. Keep experiencing the wonder of the hills and our God who made them. And keep warming your cheeks with those tears of gratitude. Oh that more of us might take the time to smell the roses, or the Flint Hills, along the road of life. Thanks for sharing with us. We've exchanged comments before, but this time I came in from the Christian Carnival. Thanks for sending your post there so I would be pointed to your blog to read it.