Living in the Shadow

As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

Psalm 103:15-16

My eyes burned from lack of sleep, because Hugh, the old man beside me in the truck, had insisted that early in the morning was the best time to fish, even if that meant getting up hours before the sun. Still, I was glad that we’d started before the roads got busy. Despite Hugh’s waning eyesight, he had to drive because I was unfamiliar with handling a stick shift, so the road became an obstacle course where the lives of men hung in the balance. I made peace with God on the way.

We traveled without speaking, Hugh’s waning hearing making conversation ungainly and impractical on the highway. Eventually, we pulled onto a dirt trail; the predawn Kansas sky was stained the color of my dark blue jeans while the sounds of nature were drowned by the rumble of Hugh’s F150 as we barreled toward our unseen goal. Finally we crested a hill overlooking a triangular lake, descended, and parked along the far side, which was a dam of dirt and chunks of concrete. Hugh tugged a rod from the truck bed and plucked a lure loose from a metal tackle box.

When I asked what lure I should use, Hugh tacitly pointed one out—he was there to fish, not teach—before he shuffled toward the water, the squishing sound of saturated earth under boots silencing the noise of nearby insects. He must have been my height at one time, but the vertebrae in his back had compacted on each other, shrinking his frame. I watched him for a while; Hugh had no patience, like a child, which was why he used lures rather than bait. As he meandered along the shore, each cast was a precise motion directed by years of experience, infused with precision and cunning. Even the sages among the fish were naive before him, yet Hugh’s steps were short and heavy, like those of an infant learning how to walk for the first time. Continue reading “Living in the Shadow”

Chapter 9: The Annals of Gray Illnesses

Growing up in a large family meant reliable exposure to sickness of one form or another. With five boys and four girls running around, even mild illnesses tended to resemble plagues as multiple members of the family would contract the illness at the same time. While the diseases and injuries were rarely enjoyable, they did keep life interesting, much in the same way typhoons broke up the monotony of the tropical year in the Philippines. Besides, amongst the kids, bouts with sickness and scars gave one a sense of distinction.

3 ring circus coverThe most heralded virus in Gray lore began with a piece of candy, a piece of candy from strangers no less. These outsiders were local children beyond our fence who happened to have hepatitis. Esther, who was only three, contracted the disease when they generously shared their candy with her. At the time, Esther also had an affinity for the taste of toothpaste, an addiction that she fed by making her toddling rotation around the house, perusing the bathrooms where she sampled each accessible tube, regardless of brand, flavor, color, texture, or expiration date.

Normally, this odd craving was harmless, if rather disgusting, but once Esther was infected, her compulsion provided a medium for the pathogen to spread. Before long, every faithful hygienist in the family joined the club of sallow skin and amber eyes. My parents naturally contracted the severest cases, and eventually Dad was checked into a local hospital. Every other member of the family who was of teeth-brushing age caught a milder case, everyone that is except for Enoch and me. We never got hepatitis; we didn’t brush our teeth. This is likely the only story in existence where not brushing one’s teeth actually pays off. Continue reading “Chapter 9: The Annals of Gray Illnesses”

The Compliment I Rejected

I was given the compliment during a nonfiction writing workshop in my senior year of college. The class sat in a circle of tables and chairs, with the elderly, bearded professor, Douglas Atkins PhD, seated near the doorway while the early afternoon sun lit up the room. I wasn’t the best writer in the class or even the second best; I fell into the competition somewhere after those two positions. Still it was my turn to be critiqued.

Having my essay analyzed by my peers felt akin to how I imagine the nude model for an art class to feel; I felt exposed and wanted to hide behind the furniture. It wasn’t that I felt my writing was bad, though the essay was far from a masterpiece. Rather, I cringed inside at the idea of having such intimate thoughts and feelings, my thoughts and my feelings, captured on paper and revealed to others.

Then something happened that I didn’t expect. One of my classmates compared my writing to E. B. White, and others, Dr. Atkins included, agreed. It was something about the sentence structure, the reflective tone, and the fascination with nature, they said.

Inwardly, I rankled at the comparison. I even took insult, not that I let on, and immediately dismissed the comment. White and I were nothing alike, save perhaps our love of nature. If I’d considered White further, I probably would have concluded that he was a pretentious rambler convinced that each of his thoughts was riveting. Continue reading “The Compliment I Rejected”

In the Cool of the Evening

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:3-4

Part 1: 2012

Midnight prayer walks are my favorite part of the summer. I was in high school when I initially began meandering around our neighborhood late at night and praying. Much to my parents chagrin, I’d slip out the front door as they were heading to bed, though when I informed them that I was praying not prowling, they were hard pressed to criticize. Kansas summer heat is tenacious; even at night, long after the passing of the sun, the ground exudes warmth. Still the shift in temperature makes evening ideal for such an activity. Lightly dressed and often barefoot, I’d pad through the darkness, skirting lamplight, seeing less but feeling more: the caress of a breeze, the gravel between skin and sidewalk, the brush of an ungainly insect.

Mornings have seldom held any appeal for me—to me, waking is like dying—while something about the end of day and human activity renews me. Though weary in body, my mind revives and creativity comes out to amuse anew. Emotions I haven’t had a chance to sift through drift to the surface, and thoughts, unfinished and unfettered, are reborn. From a young age, I was taught that God, while Creator, is also our friend. Accordingly during my late night ramblings it’s been perfectly natural for me to share my reflections with Him—at least normally. Continue reading “In the Cool of the Evening”

My Nipples Seem so Pointless Now and Other Thoughts from a First-time Father


Abigail and I started our third week as parents several days ago, and Lizzy is still alive. I consider that successful parenting. Now that the blood and gore is in the review mirror, along with those slimy, green, poopy diapers, I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts about childbirth and the first several days that followed.

I did crack some jokes in the birthing process. No, I didn’t actually tell my wife, “Imagine you’re pushing a bowling ball out of your body. See, now a baby doesn’t sound so bad.” I made that comment the day before my wife went into labor. To Abigail’s credit, she only shushed me once during labor and never got violent. Continue reading “My Nipples Seem so Pointless Now and Other Thoughts from a First-time Father”

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