Via Non Facta: Everest

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood…

To understand humility as more than a theoretical concept, to be dethroned, struggle in a wilderness, to cry out for God’s strong arm, to not feel like the beautiful one, the popular one, to be overwhelmed by converging deadlines, tempted by conflicting choices. This and more I see for you, should you decide to take the road less traveled.

To embody humility, to find your limits and surpass them, to overcome, to willingly pass up a throne, survive in any wilderness, to know God’s strong arm is always there and has always been, to appreciate the beauty in others, to not covet popularity, to be able to stand in your choices, come what may. This and more I see for you, should you decide to take the road less traveled.

If you turn away from this, if you choose the well-worn level path, I promise you, you will regret it one day. Maybe not today, or this week, or even this year. But there is no man who doesn’t wonder, when he gets enough height to plainly see the trajectory on which his choices sent him– what he could have done, would have done, had he climbed the mountain. The level and pleasant road is not the road less traveled. There’s a reason that road is overgrown. Only now, as you face it, do you begin to understand why.

You may not recognize it because you’re at the base, but this is only the first of many Everests; at each one you’ll have a choice: climb it or walk away. The flatter route tastes bitter later, when you see fellow climbers who chose the challenge and overcame, when you look up and see their shapes, small as ants against the sky above.

Imagine the end, though you are at the beginning. Do you want to be the one to say, “I took the road less traveled. And it has made all the difference.”?

Timothy McVeigh & I Agree on One Thing

DSC00183My favorite poem was basically written by the one-legged pirate, Long John Silver. What’s worse, my favorite poem was also the favorite of Timothy McVeigh, infamous building-bomber-baby-killer, who went so far as to quote it just before leaving this world by lethal injection in June, 2001. I remember thinking that McVeigh was about to meet the true captain of his soul. I remember wishing that “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, the real-life inspiration for Treasure Island’s antagonist, wasn’t my favorite poem. But still, it is.

Don’t go. Stay with me.

I can still picture my 8th grade English classroom, and the balding, feather-haired, doughy teacher who introduced “Invictus” to me. A muted man, I hardly remember a thing about his character, but I do remember the feeling of being broadsided by the power of words. It was the first time I loved words enough to write them on my heart. Perseverance was my only prince back then: the only strength I knew, and “Invictus” was the portrait of my prince.

Henley ascribes his “unconquerable soul” to “whatever gods may be.” This too, was me. I could have written that poem, had I been so gifted. And– agnostic I remained until I was 27, until my own strength failed me for the straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back time, and I dived into a faith that has held me ever since.

Poor Henley. How he inspired 8th-grade-me and so many others. Yet he most likely died, not knowing how strong he could have been.The strongest we can ever be, we can only be after admitting our weakness– at least once. The moment I acknowledge my limit, God pushes it way beyond my wildest imaginings. That’s what Henley never knew, though he had an iron will.

A broken bone heals stronger than the original bone. Henley never broke.

Henley had reason to call this life “a place of wrath and tears.” When he was 12 years old, his father died. As if that weren’t enough, Henley developed tuberculosis and had to have his foot amputated. “Invictus” was written as he lay in the hospital, in the agonizing phantom pain that plagues amputees. His remaining foot was in jeopardy of being amputated as well, but Henley wouldn’t have it.

Just “how charged with punishment [were] the scrolls” for Henley? More than most of us can imagine. I don’t know about you, but I wish, when in my own shallow ruts of despair, that I could be half the person Henley was in that Mariana trench experience of losing a foot and a father.

When Henley speaks of life’s “bludgeons,” he’s not being theoretical.

So that’s it. Henley, in one sense, is my hero. In another, I pity him. I no longer agree with many of the notions in “Invictus.” I don’t think it all resides in me. I know that God is completely in charge of my ever-so-conquerable soul. I still hope to have an unbowed head–if it must be bloody– but a deeply bowed soul in the presence of my Lord and Savior.

Nelson Mandela drew strength from “Invictus” while in jail and passed it on to his fellow inmates. Later, he motivated the South African Rugby team with its empowering lines. I still love “Invictus” for its message of strength, but I now know the name of that strength: Jesus. He is my strength, my shield, my everlasting hope.

I wish Timothy McVeigh didn’t like my favorite poem.

But think about this: Hitler liked tea parties.

Invictus 

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit, from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeons of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

 

It matters not how straight the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

— William Ernest Henley, 1888

 

 

 

Low Budget Cards: A Valentine Tradition

 

Every year as long as I can remember, Bob has made Valentine’s cards. Using only crayons and a pen, he creates these hilarious, memorable, unique expressions of his love. His cards are one-of-a-kind works of art that make us laugh or cry or both. He calls them “Low Budget Cards,” and he even has a trademark.

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Nothing’s More Fun Than Doing The Assignments I Give My Students

The Assignment: A 10 line iambic pentameter conceit poem.

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His Favorite Pair of Jeans

He once compared me to a pair of jeans,

Velveteen-threadbare, torn, and faded jeans.

We were as close as clothing then, denim

Dressed and pressed against each other. Thirteen

Years my best friend. So best he could forget

The holes, the stains, the fraying edges, warm

As skin, smoothed by tears and friction. When I’m

Washed out, blue, thin and barely held together.

When seams give out and fabric tears completely,

I’ll still be his favorite pair of jeans.