A lifting

He watched the phrases dance across the page.

He heard the melodies. He felt the rhythms. He smelled fresh lilacs and tasted mint. And all the world burst forth from on the page.

Tensions, pent up, eased. His shoulders relaxed, having never sensed their tightness.

The cascading waterfall in his chest slowed to a trickle.

“So, this is peace,” he whispered, and was well.

A respite from the rush of frantic need, the quiet nearly overwhelmed him until he sank into it and allowed it to surround his troubled soul, to comfort him with its nothing. He scarcely had noticed the weight until it was lifted, and now this freedom astonished him with its lightness.

He heard the scratch at the corner of his consciousness, and he knew the relief was temporary. One by one, the troubles would settle on his shoulders again, but now he knew what it felt like to shrug them off, and perhaps he would learn to shrug.

And on the first day

One dog licked her back paw, the other chewed a bone. The washing machine whirred from the next room.

It was the first day of the rest of his life.

He scoffed under his breath. “Cliche much?” he muttered. But it was true. He had awakened very much aware of his mortality. His neck ached. He walked slowly and gingerly through the house. His body, never particularly athletic or toned, felt worn.

He had listened while Bob Goff read his book Everybody, Always over the last couple of days. It was a book about love and forgiveness and the supernatural power of Christ, and overcoming through persistence and that forgiveness and love.

“Persistence,” he scoffed, thinking of his lack there. Still, today was the first day of the rest of his life.

He remembered writing about the second day, a long time ago — how if you stumble on the first day, then you can start on the second day of the rest of your life, or on the third day, and all you’ve lost are a couple of days.

Or — and the insight crashed against him like an ocean wave on a windy day — was the idea all along to treat every day like the first day? The first day of any new venture is full of promise and hope and energy and “You can do this” because nothing has gone wrong — perhaps a little bit of anxiety because it’s new and unknown, but there’s all the excitement of a new beginning, a new hope, a new direction.

“Today is the first day …” and it’s always today. Every day is a new first day, a new promise, and a new hope.

Every day is the first day of the rest of your life — and suddenly he was excited, and he knew how to live, and to love. He wasn’t sure he could be that refreshed and ready every day, but it was the anxious optimism of the first day on the job, the eagerness of the first day of vacation, and the joyousness of a wedding day. It was the discovery of a cliche turned over and examined to find a new meaning, perhaps its intended-all-along meaning.

He saw at last, and every day became the first day from then on.

To honor the fallen

We set aside this day every year to honor and remember the people who have died in war. From time to time someone points out that the best way to honor the fallen is to work to ensure there is no war.

But war goes on, and perhaps it always will as long as we turn for leadership to disturbed people who would violently take land from and kill those they perceive as enemies.

Life is a precious gift, too precious to leave in the hands of death merchants. To honor the victims of war, may we raise a chorus of “Never again. May we resolve our future differences in peace.”

The truth about War

Roger Mifflin, proprietor of the “Parnassus at Home” bookstore, chats with his new employee Titania about the lessons learned during the recently ended Great War, in this passage from The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley (1919).

“Sometimes I thought Truth had vanished from the earth,” he cried bitterly.  “Like everything else, it was rationed by the governments. I taught myself to disbelieve half of what I read in the papers.  I saw the world clawing itself to shreds in blind rage.  I saw hardly any one brave enough to face the brutalizing absurdity as it really was, and describe it.  I saw the glutton, the idler, and the fool applauding, while brave and simple men walked in the horrors of hell.  The stay-at-home poets turned it to pretty lyrics of glory and sacrifice. Perhaps half a dozen of them have told the truth.  Have you read Sassoon?  Or Latzko’s Men in War, which was so damned true that the government suppressed it?  Humph!  Putting Truth on rations!”

He knocked out his pipe against his heel, and his blue eyes shone with a kind of desperate earnestness.

“But I tell you, the world is going to have the truth about War.  We’re going to put an end to this madness.  It’s not going to be easy.  Just now, in the intoxication of the German collapse, we’re all rejoicing in our new happiness.  I tell you, the real Peace will be a long time coming.  When you tear up all the fibres of civilization it’s a slow job to knit things together again.  You see those children going down the street to school?  Peace lies in their hands.  When they are taught in school that war is the most loathsome scourge humanity is subject to, that it smirches and fouls every lovely occupation of the mortal spirit, then there may be some hope for the future.  But I’d like to bet they are having it drilled into them that war is a glorious and noble sacrifice.

“The people who write poems about the divine frenzy of going over the top are usually those who dipped their pens a long, long way from the slimy duckboards of the trenches.  It’s funny how we hate to face realities.  I knew a commuter once who rode in town every day on the 8.13.  But he used to call it the 7.73.  He said it made him feel more virtuous.”

There was a pause, while Roger watched some belated urchins hurrying toward school.

“I think any man would be a traitor to humanity who didn’t pledge every effort of his waking life to an attempt to make war impossible in future.”

Would you rather be safe or free?

From the archives: I wrote this in 1999, not long after the infamous shootings at Columbine High School. I really can’t add anything 24 years later.

Would you rather be safe or free?

Those are the choices, you know. There are ways you can try to protect yourself and your children from the possibility that the events of Littleton, Colo., never again happen. But the only way to do it is to lock us all in cages.

You can have a society where no one tells you what church to attend, where no one monitors what you read, write or say, where no one keeps you from going to a Packers game or driving to see an old friend in Missouri.

But you run the risk that someone else may worship Satan or Hitler, that someone may read, write or say persuasively hateful things, that someone at the Packer game may try to sell you a $40 ticket for $250, that bad people will use the Interstate to transport illegal goods or kidnap your daughter.

So the solution is to regulate what church you can go to, what you read and write and say, and place checkpoints at city limits and state borders.

You can have a society where you are free to protect your property or defend your person, or to hunt and feed your family.

But you run the risk that someone with a sick mind will arm himself and kill you or your children.

So the solution is to make sure only the police and military have weapons.

You can have a society where, if you obey the law, no police officer or military unit will ever knock on your door and search through your personal belongings or drag you down to the county jail.

But you run the risk that your next-door neighbor is manufacturing narcotics in his basement or scheming to overthrow the government.

So the solution is a police state.

You can have a society where, if you are accused of a crime, no one can throw you in jail without proof, or torture a confession out of you,  or force you to testify under oath that you did it — even if you did it.

But you run the risk that murderers will occasionally escape justice, or criminals get out of prison and commit new crimes.

So the solution is to lock us all up.

When you have a free society, there will be times when someone abuses his or her freedom and harms someone else, perhaps even kills someone else.

The only way to try to prevent such abuses is to take away our freedoms.

And the bad things will not go away.

Confiscate our guns, and criminals will use knives or bombs made of pipe or fertilizer — or steal guns — and we will be defenseless.

Regulate what the media reports, and you lose the right to know what’s happening. Regulate the Internet and you depend on the government to inform you. Regulate what singers can sing, writers can write,  and painters can paint, and you begin to lose life itself.

And even then, you will not be safe. You will only have built a cage and crawled in. It will be easier for evil to find you when it decides to look.

So how to prevent future school shootings?

Teach children right from wrong. Teach them to cherish life and other living things. Teach them good choices from bad. And punish them when they do wrong, when they harm living things, when they choose badly.

Our nation, this bold experiment, has thrived because of the notion that the only limit on my freedom is that it not impose on yours. The most defining speech of our history concludes, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Sometimes the people of the world look at America and says, “How can they tolerate such things!” But most of the time they envy America and wish to live in a society as tolerant as ours. Immigration has always outpaced emigration because of our promise. 

We must live free. Or we die.

– – –

This essay and more have since become part of my book Refuse to be Afraid. Just sayin’

Sentences add up

It’s funny how the little algorithms work. I had nothing to write for Wednesday’s blog, so I wrote just one sentence to keep my daily blogging streak alive, titled it “This is a sentence,” and went to bed.

It appeared dutifully Wednesday morning, and down at the bottom the algorithm, as usual, offered three “Related” posts: “Write the next sentence,” “Letters into words into sentences,” and “W.B.’s Book Report: Several Short Sentences About Writing.” All three of them had been more well-received than average, and all three were about writing more than one sentence and if — you’re stuck with nothing to say — how to write that next sentence.

Oh, I had great excuses. I had awakened at 3:15 a.m. Tuesday, I had put in my first 10-hour day at the day job in several weeks, I was dead on my feet (Technically, I was sitting, so I was dead on my tail) — I barely remember writing the one sentence.

That’s not really the point.

The point is that if you aspire to be a writer, if you present yourself as a writer, there is a certain truism to which you need to adhere. It’s easy to remember, just two words.

Writers write.

Now, I forgive myself for writing just the one sentence. I really was exhausted. I had written about 4,000 day-job words and even dashed off 200-300 Jeep Thompson words during the course of Tuesday, and I had helped to assemble more than 50 pages of newspaper to send to the printer. The blog was not the highest priority of the day.

Still, writers write, and I have set the blog as a daily priority. I made the commitment long enough ago to measure in years.

I forgive myself, but I don’t intend to do that again. Oh, all things come to an end, and one day so will my daily blog streak, but I plan never again to write one sentence and call it a blog post.

Unless its a really, really good sentence.

– – –

P.S. It has come to my attention that some of you have not yet obtained your free copy of the ebook Jeep Thompson & the Lost Prince of Venus: Episode 1: Journey to the Second Planet. This is the looonng-awaited opening salvo in an epic adventure of time, space, and other worlds. Jeep Thompson and her vampire friend, Blaine, live in a world not unlike our own — but not exactly ours; our world doesn’t have vampires, don’t you know — and they are plunged into an intrigue that starts with an odd vehicle under a tarp in her garage. Did I mention it’s free? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain — and how often do you get to read a novella with a 15-word title? Go on, click this link and start reading the adventures of Jeep Thompson.