Friday, February 10, 2006

Valentine's Day

Proverbs 25:25 (King James Version)

“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

I couldn’t find the newspaper this morning. The carrier usually throws it to the north, about a half block away from our house. Today, however, he added a new wrinkle to our on-going dance. After spending a good ten minutes trying not to look like a prowler stalking the houses around Tenth and Neosho, I gave up and went back inside the house. Nancy, who’d just gotten up and was anxious to read all the goins’ on, asked me if the paper had come. “If it has,” I said, “I can’t find it. I think the carrier has found a creative way for me to get some useless exercise.”

I was content to start the morning without the news, but Nancy wasn’t. So, she decided to make her own search of the neighborhood. About three minutes later she came back in, today’s issue of the Kansas City Star in tow. The carrier, who’d gotten even more creative than I’d imagined, threw it to the south, dark print up, at the end of our driveway.

We settled in. I read the sports section first; Nancy did the main pages. I followed the sports with the entertainment news; Nancy did the metropolitan and editorial section. We completed the morning ritual by trading the metropolitan and the entertainment sections with one another.

I felt quite vindicated in the end. The newspaper, as is almost always the case, wasn’t really worth the trip. Getting caught up on the latest muggings, hearings, terrorist bombings, riots, murders, rapes, pandemics, editorial opinions, licentious affairs, or legislative recriminations is not the ideal way to start a day. Yet, we continue to do it, along with millions and millions of our fellow Americans. It’s become a habit we can’t seem to break.

At about 8:30, Nancy took the newspaper upstairs and ran it through the shredder. Ginger, a stray cat we found about a month ago outside our local ice-cream parlor, was spayed and de-clawed yesterday. The shredded newsprint is going to be used in her litter box. It’s much softer and cheaper than the scented stuff one buys in the stores these days. It’ll also be gentle our her paws.

At about 10:30 we brought Ginger home from the veterinarian. Twenty minutes later she deposited her seal of approval in the litter box. The newspaper does have some useful purpose after all. Ginger’s happy, and the deposit made is a perfect symbol for how I feel about the state of journalism and the world these days.

Isn’t there something good going on out there? To read our newspapers or watch our media you’d be inclined to think not. It’s all a damned mess.

In the midst of all this madness Nancy and I are celebrating Valentine’s Day early this year. Her mother is having cataract surgery early next week and she’ll be in Kansas City with her while I stay here to take care of things on the home front. So, a few hours from now we’ll be eating tenderloin, Crème Brule, sipping wine and thinking back through our twenty years together, somewhat like I did semi-poetically on Valentine’s Day a few years ago:

Friday, February 14, 5:00 A.M. – I get up as quietly as I can and go out to the pickup truck to get the card and the gift. I shuffle through some old newspapers and dig them out. I go inside, make the morning coffee and plant the card and the gift next to the coffee pot. The gift is a piece of Czech crystal. I’m hoping it will bring Nancy memories of a trip we made to the Czech Republic a few years ago. In my mind’s eye I visualize Nancy reminiscing about dinners served at Milos O’Partney’s Inn. She’s sitting, dreamily, a fire warming her, Arnie the St. Bernard at her feet guarding her, and Milos and his wife serving exquisite food and wine and even more exquisite hospitality. The front of the card has a calico cat snuggling up to a golden retriever who seems to be basking in the glow of the attention he’s getting. The inside of the card reads, “Some relationships just can’t be explained.” As I pour my first cup of morning coffee I think, “Yeah, that’s us for sure.”

Friday, February 14, 5:22 A.M. – I have some time to sit, read, and think. I read
Jeremiah’s words – “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace, they say, and there shall be no peace.” I then stop and consider the theme carried by three of Israel’s prophets who alternately tell us to “Beat swords into plowshares and then, paradoxically, tell us to “Beat plowshares into swords.” I gaze across the coffee table. Book titles gaze back at me – The Two Faces of IslamThe Threatening StormWhy We FightMaking PatriotsPeace Like a River.

Friday, February 14, 6:30 A.M. – I can’t resist the temptation and go upstairs hoping to make just enough noise to wake Nancy without being too obvious. By the time I get to the top of the stairs I see that she’s already awake. I go back downstairs and wait. In a few minutes I hear the shuffling of her feet and then hear the words that have become so familiar to me over the years – “A gift for me? Oh, Philly, it’s beautiful…Thank you.”

Friday, February 14, 6:40 A.M. – Nancy sits, coffee in hand, in her wingback chair. I gaze at her. I smile and tell her “I love you.” She smiles back. “I love you too.” I try to think of something more profound to say but wisely give up. I sense that there’s something far deeper going on inside of me to be captured in words. I decide to just sit and gaze at her, hoping she’ll know what’s going on inside of me. She gazes back. I somehow sense that same something going on inside of her. It’s also too profound to express in words. We sit silently, accepting the moment for what it is. There are no “sweet nothings.” There’s only a morning silence pregnant with unspoken sonnets flowing between us.

Friday, February 14, 6:55 A.M. – Nancy breaks the silence. “You know, I’m really wondering about the trip to Ireland right now. I mean, it’s probably nothing. It’s not that I’m afraid. I think it’s just the times. I’m sure everything would be okay, but I’m not sure we could enjoy the trip with all that’s lingering in the air right now.” I listen and gather my thoughts. There really is something in the air. It’s not anthrax. It’s not VX. It’s just…something. I think ahead a few weeks. The unthinkable has now become thinkable. We’re going to be getting on a jetliner in Chicago bound for Dublin. Thoughts seemingly dredged up from some pit now race through my mind. “Thousands of gallons of fuel.” “A tempting target.” I pause. The thought of being eulogized by Peter Jennings, Chris Matthews, and Aaron Brown now becomes more than I can bear. The thought of Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon pleading for “Peace, peace,” as my DNA is being splattered all over the Sears Tower brings me to the brink of the abyss. I try to put a brave face on my thoughts. “Let’s give it a few days before we decide.” I think it’s my way of comprimising with the current reality.

Friday, February 14, 7:15 A.M. – It’s Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. But, I know somehow there is more. It’s all wound up together on this special day. The deep, profound love that I have for Nancy is also bound together like the Gordian Knot with other things in the air. It’s a beautiful evening meal in Prague. It’s tea at Beuley’s in Dublin. It’s September 11, 2001 in New Mexico. It’s Osama. It’s Saddam. It’s the “Orange Alert.” It’s all wound up together. I’m told that the German theologians have two terms for expressing history, one expresses the facts and dates, the other expresses what they view as the unseen hand driving history to “some” conclusion. They’re not sure what that conclusion is and that, of course, is what makes German theology German theology. Nothing, as they see is either firm or certain. They call the two schools “history” and “high history.” As I sit and cast another gaze at the one I love I can almost see two rivers colliding. One, as the poet has said, is filled with “Armies on the march and evil reports.” The other is filled with unread sonnets and gazes cast from heart to heart and eye to eye, expressing love too deep for words.

Friday, February 14 – 8:05 A.M. – I leave for work, my daily pilgrimage south through the Kansas Flint Hills to Wichita. As I ease on to the Kansas Turnpike I reflect once again on all that’s in the air. It’s Valentine’s Day in the shadow of September 11, Osama, and Saddam. I turn the radio on to 89.7, National Public Radio. A sultry New Age voice is now reminding me that I’ve also got to worry about Kim. I turn, momentarily, my eyes straining as they try to focus to the east across the highway, hoping to see something that will drown out the added burden brought so seductively to me. I search the horizon and wonder what the day will bring as I begin to see clouds gathering in the east. Anthrax? VX? I plead to Heaven. “You’ve promised You’d split the eastern sky. It’s all twisted, Lord. It’s all twisted. The pretty people, the beautiful people, the people with the straight teeth and the crooked smiles seem to be ruling the day now and they’re calling good evil and evil good. Maranatha…Maranatha.”

Friday, February 14, 8:38 A.M. – I turn the radio off. It’s Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2003. As I move south along the highway I think of all that’s in the air. I think of love. I think of war. I think of sonnets drifting slowly across the Flint Hills. I think of menacing words hissing across the airwaves. I think once more of love. It’s Valentine’s Day and I sense deeply that the air is…..full.

I think one has to dig a lot deeper to find the good news. It’s a matter of faith. A couple of days ago Nancy read something to me from Frederick Buechner’s “Listening to Your Life” that struck a deep chord in me. Buechner was recalling something a professor named James Muilenburg once said that had a powerful impact on his life:

“Every morning when you wake up,” he used to say, “Before you reaffirm your faith in the majesty of a loving God, before you say I believe for another day, read the Daily News with its record of the latest crimes and tragedies of mankind and see if you can honestly say it again.”

Well, I’ve read the news of the day and I find myself re-affirming the truth my faith proclaims. The time is coming when the good news will be separated from the bad, in the same way sheep will be separated from goats. The time is coming when all international disputes will be settled. The time is coming when peace will reign, a time when the endless wars will cease. The time is coming when justice will truly prevail.

Behold, I am coming soon,” Holy Writ declares. That message, so often overpowered by the news of the day, is the good news that’s missing in all the insanity that so often seems to rule our world.

Sometime later this afternoon I’ll be reading the Friday edition of the Emporia Gazette. I don’t think there’ll be a lot of good news there either. It’ll be my afternoon test of faith, I guess.

Buechner’s professor’s question is as relevant to our time as it was to his. Can you still believe after reading the newspaper? I’ve taken the question to heart. I’ve read the news of the day and I still believe. I believe, as the multitudes who’ve gone before me believe that the good will overcome the bad, that wrong will be made right, that justice and truth will be vindicated. I believe that the day is coming when only good news will fill the airwaves :

Revelation 22:1-3 (New Living Translation)

“1 And the angel showed me a pure river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2coursing down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.
3No longer will anything be cursed. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him.”

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Dr.John said...

The blog is far too long to comment on the entire thing. I just want to say that getting and reading the paper is not a habbit but a morning ritual. If you break the ritual the universe slides out of order. You don't want that to happen so keep looking for the paper.

Anonymous said...

sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I lived in a world where
Friday, February 14, 6:40 A.M. could belong to me.

Marti said...

What an adorable picture!

I loved the gentle understanding and tenderness between you and your wife.

The good news is everywhere, in the laughter of a child, the opening of a flower. They just don't bother to print them in the newspaper (and I love the appropriate use you've found for their dreary reporting! LOL!)

Happy Valentine’s Day!
Marti at her new blog,

Anonymous said...

I took the to read your blog
and I find that everything you said was true.In fact I agree with everything you said.May God bless you.I hope to read more in your blog.