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WASHINGTON’S BIG DECISION

February 16, 2019

On most Saturday mornings, I listen to National Public Radio. I enjoy the programming, beginning with “Only a Game.” For several years, Clare and I both took great delight in “Car Talk.”  “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” is another of our favorites.

Scott Simon closes his “Saturday Morning Edition” with a regular feature, “Simon Says.” This week I recalled one of Simon’s commentaries from 2011. The date was the Saturday before, or maybe after, Presidents’ Day. He entitled his comments, “George Washington: Strong Man, But No Strongman.” I want to share again with you his reflections on one of the most important decisions made by our first president.

Scott Simon said, “The business of building a democracy will probably be less sensational, tweeted, and televised. …This time of year especially, Americans might remember some of the ways in which we made a democracy.

“The American Revolution triumphed with General George Washington’s victory at Yorktown in 1781. Throughout history, a lot of conquering heroes — Caesar, Bonaparte, Castro, and Mugabe — have used great victories to seize power.

“But George Washington went home to Mount Vernon and farmed.

“He was drafted to return to preside over the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The Founders had sharp differences over how to balance the rights of states in a strong federal government that could stand against British, French, and Spanish imperial ambitions. But they all trusted Washington as the most balanced of men.

“As historian Joseph Ellis wrote, ‘Franklin was wiser than Washington, Hamilton was more brilliant, Jefferson was more intellectually sophisticated, Adams was more engaging … Madison was more politically astute, but Washington was still the greatest. And they would all agree to that.’

“The Electoral College unanimously elected George Washington the first president of the United States. He ran for a second term, reluctantly, in 1792. And then, in 1796, Washington did something astonishing and unprecedented for a powerful, popular leader: he stepped down. He declined to run for a third term and returned to farming. [The Constitution did not limit the number of terms a President could serve until after the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt which ended with his death in 1945.]

“There were people who believed that only a strong, longtime authoritarian ruler could keep a country stable in a risky world governed by emperors, kings, and czars. They felt the United States deserved no less.

“But Washington remembered that he had asked his men to fight for a republic. And when he stepped down, he put his young country’s future into the hands of every man with a vote. [Women were given the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment on 26 August 1920.]

“We’ve seen many countries rise up and hold free elections, only long enough for a charismatic, autocratic ruler to win them and hold on to power.

“We all know that democracy can be messy, corrupt, and disappointing. But every few years an event like a revolution or a civil war reminds us why people are willing to struggle and die for the freedoms afforded by a democratic republic.

“George Washington could have been a king. He decided to be a citizen. No crowds massed. No bands played. There is no statue or plaque to mark the spot. But it was as momentous a decision as any president — any ruler — has ever made.”

In 2019 there are poignant examples of leaders who seize power, sometimes even under the guise of democracy. Two especially come to mind for me. Both Vladimir Putin of Russia and Bashar al-Assad of Syria are well-known world leaders, and both have been in power for many years.

Putin is the current President of the Russian Federation. He was Prime Minister from 1999-2000. He was first elected President in 2000 and served until 2008. Because of term limits, he became Prime Minister again from 2008 to 2012. Then Mr. Putin was elected President again in 2012. He is also Chairman of the United Russia Party, the ruling party.

Bashar al-Assad is the current President of Syria, holding the office since 2000. He is also commander in chief of the Syrian Armed Forces, General Secretary of the ruling Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, and Regional Secretary of the party’s branch in Syria. He is a son of Hafez al-Assad, who was President of Syria from 1971 to 2000.

These two men have not done what George Washington did. Once in power, they kept it, even over the objections of many of the people they were elected to represent.

In our American democracy, we expect our outgoing president to step down just as the new president takes office. Even following contentious elections, Americans have witnessed a relatively smooth transition of governmental power. Yes, there have been large protests, much as there were when both Richard Nixon and George W. Bush were inaugurated. But all in all, the orderly, peaceful transfer of power has been the rule rather than the exception.

There have been times in our country when presidential transitions did not go quite so well. In 1800, John Adams left Washington in a snit before Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office.

Following the Watergate scandal and facing conviction on Articles of Impeachment by the Congress, Richard Nixon decided to resign as President of the United States at noon, August 9, 1974. Vice President Gerald Ford would become president. The formal Nixon-Ford transition began when Nixon informed Ford of his decision to resign at 11 A.M. on August 8, only a few hours before he told the nation. Ford had just 25 hours to prepare to assume office, making the Nixon-Ford transition the shortest of any that did not involve the death of the President.

On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the 32nd President of the United States. Herbert Hoover was quoted as saying of the President-elect that he was “very badly informed and of comparatively little vision.” The two were photographed together in spite of the fact that Hoover had vowed to never have his picture made with his successor.

Professor Edward Ayers writes, “No transition from one living president to another was as dangerous as that between James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln in 1861.” After Lincoln’s election and before his inauguration, seven Southern states seceded from the United States and formed a new government, the Confederate States of America. As Lincoln prepared to take office, eight other slave states debated whether they would join the Confederacy. Ayers concludes, “The greatest crisis in the nation’s history grew out of a distended transition between a lame duck President who refused to act and an inexperienced President facing unprecedented challenges.”

According to H. W. Brands, the presidential transition that took place in 1829 was like no other in American history. Andrew Jackson’s inauguration was a hostile takeover of the government. Jackson had been denied victory in 1824 in what Jackson called a corrupt bargain between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. The 1828 election was bitter and dirty. Jackson verbally attacked Adams as a fraud and an aristocrat. The Adams side called Jackson an emperor and his wife, Rachel, a slut. Rachel died under the strain, magnifying Jackson’s anger at his opponents.

Jackson won handily, and his supporters surged to Washington. To the residents of the capital, these ruffians were little more than a horde of barbarians. At Jackson’s inauguration, they swarmed the White House with muddy boots, spoiling the carpets, breaking the furniture, and smashing the china. Jackson fled the celebration to avoid personal injury.

So, these transitions have not always gone smoothly. Still, our first president, George Washington, set an example for all who follow him in holding the office that is considered by many to be the most powerful position in the world.

In 1796, Washington did something astonishing and unprecedented for a strong, popular leader. He stepped down. He declined to run for a third term. He returned to farming.

George Washington became a private citizen. It was a great decision!

Thank you, President Washington.

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PEOPLE THE LIGHT SHINES THROUGH

February 2, 2019

I stopped by the Skillet restaurant recently. I was seated at the counter having a cup of coffee when I struck up a conversation with a fellow I have known for years. As he finished his breakfast, we talked about his father and my dad. His dad grew the very best homegrown tomatoes I ever put in my mouth. On a soggy tomato sandwich made with bread, Duke’s mayonnaise, seasoned with salt and pepper, those tomatoes were out of this world. He recalled a childhood memory of a calendar on the wall with the phases of the moon indicated. Then he remembered reading the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

“My father always planted by the signs.”

I called to mind David Tanner, who also planted by the signs as indicated in the Almanac.

David Tanner worked for my Uncle Asbury, a building contractor. David did all kinds of jobs for my uncle, from screeding poured concrete to laying brick. David was not a skilled carpenter but he helped other carpenters frame many a house. He was always cheerful, usually singing, and he was a diligent worker.

One of the things I remembered about him that seemed unusual was that David always kept a saltshaker with him in the summertime. Occasionally, he removed his old stained hat and sprinkled a little salt in his hair. He said the application of salt kept him from passing out.

I do not know whether that works or not.  David never passed out, and I saw him sprinkle a good bit of salt in his hair.

When Clare and I returned to Spartanburg in 1980, we moved into the home that my grandmother and grandfather built in 1937 after the Great Depression.  Soon afterward, I met the man who would become my personal philosopher.

David lived on the King Line behind the old stockyard, located not far from our home. Though crippled with arthritis, he would walk from his home past our house on his way to the lumberyard.  There he purchased his daily Coca-Cola.

David could barely walk. His feet were so gnarled that they hurt constantly.  His gait was more like a shuffle. In those days, in order to get to the lumberyard, he had to pass a mini-mart.  I asked him why he didn’t just go there to buy the Coke.  He said, “At the mini-mart, it costs thirty-five cents.  At the lumberyard, it costs a quarter. No need wasting money.”

Though every step was painful, David walked twice as far just to save a dime.

Often David would stop at our house, sit in a rocking chair on the front porch to enjoy his Coca-Cola, and then shuffle on to his home.  Many mornings I would take a mug of coffee and join David on the porch. Those were the times when I received my philosophy lesson.

In his starched and pressed khaki pants, David was always as neat as a pin.  One February morning, his knees were covered with mud.

I asked, “David, what in the world have you been doing this early in the morning?”

“Yesterday, I put in my English peas.”

David grew some of the best vegetables in some of the reddest clay in Spartanburg County. As I said, he planted according to the astrological signs.

“But, David, why are your pants so muddy?”

“Got up early. Dug up all the seeds.”

“Why?”

“My daughter was readin’ the Old  Almanac. She told me I put in my peas on the wrong sign. So, I dug ’em all up this mornin’ before daylight.”

“Did you find them all?”

“Found all but four.”

He pulled a paper bag from his pocket. Inside were the muddy seeds. He had planted three rows of English peas the day before.

“When is the right time to plant English peas?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Will one day make a difference?”

“Yes, suh. My daddy always planted by the signs, and he always made a crop. I do the same.”

David was quite a gardener. He and I were standing in my garden late one summer day. My wife brought each of us a cup of ice water.  At the time, Clare was pregnant with our daughter Betsy. As Clare walked toward the garden, obviously an expectant mother, David said to me, “Don’t you let her come in this garden!”

“Why, David?”

“You let a woman with child come in the garden, and every watermelon and cantaloupe will bust wide open.”

Clare had no intention of coming into the garden, pregnant or not.  She handed our ice water over the fence.

David was quite a churchman. He loved going to church. He especially enjoyed singing in the choir.  On Monday mornings, he would give me a report from the Sunday services.

One Monday we were having our early morning porch visit.

“Church was extra good yesterday.”

“What was good about it?”

“We had good singin’.”  David always bragged on the choir.

“How was the preaching?”

“Preachin’ was good.”

“What’d the pastor preach about?”

“Well, he preached about sin.”

“What did he have to say about sin?”

“He’s agin’ it!”

“What kind of sin did he talk about, David?”

“He talked about gamblin’.  He talked about drinkin’.  He talked about smokin’.”

“David, did he say that smokin’ is a sin?”

“Yes, suh.”

David dipped snuff.  He almost always had tobacco tucked in his lower lip.

“David, did the preacher say anything about dippin’ snuff?”

“No suh.  He didn’t say a thing about dippin’.”

“David, is it a sin to dip snuff?”

“No, suh.”

“It’s a sin to smoke, but not a sin to dip snuff?”

“That’s right.”

“Why’s that?  How can smokin’ be a sin, but dippin’ snuff is not a sin?”

He thought for a moment before he said, “It’s a sin to burn up anything that tastes that good!”

David’s church built a new sanctuary. He invited me to come to the dedication. My dad and I went together to the Sunday afternoon service, all three hours of it.

David sang in the choir. Several preachers held forth.  The building was thoroughly dedicated.

After the service, David showed us around the church he took so much pride in.  He explained that the church didn’t have stained glass windows. I will never forget the way that he expressed it.

“We don’t have none of them windows with people on ’em that the light shines through.”

What a phrase!  “People that the light shines through.”

When you know people like David Tanner, you don’t need stained glass windows.  David was the kind of person that the light shines through.

EULOGY FOR A GROUND HOG

January 26, 2019

One cool day in the early fall several years ago, Clare discovered a dead groundhog. The animal was lying near our mailbox next to the four-lane road in front of our home. Though I am not a crime scene investigator, the immediate cause of death was apparently a close encounter with a motorized vehicle of some sort. My best guess is that he was dealt a blow by a truck hauling petroleum products.

The plump fellow was flat on his back, his small feet tucked into his body.

Using a shovel, I scooped the groundhog from the pavement and carried him to a large field next to the railroad tracks behind our house. The next day, I noticed several crows and two buzzards circling his carcass.

Reflecting on this drama, I wondered why our calendars include a special day, February 2, commemorating the groundhog. Why not have special days named for other critters subject to becoming road kill victims? Don’t possums and skunks also deserve days named for them? What about deer whose casualty rate is certainly on the increase? What about cur dogs and feral cats that come to a no-good end on a paved strip of asphalt? Why has the groundhog been the only creature afforded this honor?

On February 2nd the Christian holiday of Candlemas is observed. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the day marks the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season. It was on this day that Christmas decorations were to be removed. Consider these four lines from “Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve,” by Robert Herrick (1591–1674):

Down with the rosemary, and so

Down with the bays and mistletoe;

Down with the holly, ivy, all,

Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall:

The name Candlemas refers to a priest’s practice of blessing beeswax candles for use in churches and homes during the coming year.

February 2nd is the midpoint of winter, falling halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. If on Candlemas, the weather was cloudy and overcast, it was believed that warmer weather was ahead. If, however, the sky was bright and sunny on that day, cold weather could be expected for another six weeks. Hence the rhyme:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,

There’ll be two winters in the year.

Therefore, if a hibernating animal emerging from his den casts a shadow, winter would last another six weeks. If no shadow was seen, according to legend, spring would come early.

The question remains, why the groundhog? Surely other furry animals cast shadows. Why should the groundhog be singled out for a special day?  Maybe this is rodent discrimination.  What about gophers, or squirrels, or rats?

Each year on February 2nd, the population of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, swells from 6,000 or so to well over 10,000.  Visitors travel to the small town sixty-five miles northeast of Pittsburgh, not for the blessing of candles, but for the celebration of Groundhog Day.

Maybe the groundhog was chosen because these animals enter a true hibernation period. Maybe it is because they have such a wide range of habitation – from Alabama to Alaska. Maybe it was chosen because they are so plentiful, reproducing in numbers similar to rabbits and rats. Indeed, farmers in some areas consider these marmots to be varmints.

Maybe the groundhog received this designation because, when frightened, he holds absolutely still, hesitates, and then scurries into his burrow. This might explain the legend that the groundhog sees his shadow, becomes afraid, and returns quickly to his den.

The groundhog (Marmota monax) is known by several names.  The name woodchuck, which comes from an Algonquian name for the animal, wuchak, has been made popular by a well-known tongue twister:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck,

If a woodchuck would chuck wood?

A woodchuck would chuck all the wood

That a woodchuck would chuck,

If a woodchuck would chuck wood.

Another name for the groundhog is whistle pig. Outside their burrow these furry animals are alert. When driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I have often seen several of these critters standing erect on their hind feet, motionless, watching for danger. If alarmed, they give a high-pitched whistle to warn the rest of the colony.

Of course, the one Clare found by our mailbox was also motionless. He apparently didn’t hear the warning.

Groundhogs usually live two to three years. Common predators include wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears, hawks, and owls. Big trucks are also a hazard.

Country folks sometimes eat groundhog for supper. Stews with plenty of onions, garlic, and hot peppers seem to be the preferred recipes.

The groundhog has found his niche. Doc Watson and Pete Seeger have memorialized him in folksongs. Bill Murray and Gaffney’s own Andie MacDowell starred in “Groundhog Day,” a 1993 comedy film directed by Harold Ramis.

On February 2nd, businessmen, wearing top hats and tuxedoes, will coax Punxsutawney Phil, the most celebrated of all groundhogs, from his stump. Phil will whisper his prediction to a Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle representative, and the translator will reveal the forecast to the national news media. Approximately 90% of the time, Phil sees his shadow. Phil’s ancestors started making predictions in 1887. Residents contend that their groundhog has never been wrong.

Meanwhile, in Lilburn, Georgia, Phil’s southern cousin, General Beauregard Lee, will also emerge to see his shadow, or not. He will then give his prediction for the states below the Mason-Dixon Line.

What about the groundhog that died near our mailbox? Did he see his shadow?  I don’t know. I do know though that he did not see the eighteen-wheel truck that hit him.

On this Groundhog Day, may he rest in peace.

THE LEGACY OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

January 19, 2019

The observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday will again give me an opportunity to reflect on my own journey in regard to the issue of racial justice. I share those reflections here.

Major Hugh Neely, my great-great-grandfather, was a portly man with red hair and a long, thick beard.  Growing up I thought that he was an officer in the Confederacy. I fancied him as a hero of the Civil War. However, I learned later from his octogenarian grandchildren that Major was his given name, not a military rank.

During the Civil War Major Hugh Neely taught school in Christiana, Tennessee, and served as postmaster in Fosterville, Tennessee.  He lived in a log cabin on the Shelbyville Pike.  He tried to join the Confederate Army on two occasions. He was originally denied enlistment because he was a schoolteacher.

As the war wore on, he tried again to enlist.  This time he was not accepted as a soldier because he could not see.  He was so cross-eyed he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a shot from a rifle.

Though he was unable to shoot straight with a firearm, Major Hugh Neely had the reputation of being a straight shooter in his conversation. He would have signed on as a Confederate soldier, but Major Hugh Neely actually opposed slavery. He is reported to have said, “No person can own another person.”

Others on my family tree had no such conviction.

Another of my great-grandfathers was Moses Sanders Haynsworth of Darlington, South Carolina. He was the first cousin of Tuck Haynsworth. Both were Citadel cadets when the Civil War began. Tuck Haynsworth fired the third cannon against the Union ship Star of the West in the opening battle of the war. The ship was attempting to resupply Fort Sumter, the Union stronghold in Charleston Harbor. During the war, the Haynsworth plantation, having five hundred slaves, was converted in order to manufacture boots and saddles for Confederate troops.

Born and reared in Spartanburg County, I remember segregated water fountains and restrooms, clearly marked WHITE and COLORED.  As a boy, I gave this blatant expression of inequality little thought. It was just a way of life in the South.

After graduation from high school in 1962, I had an opportunity to travel to Southern Rhodesia to visit my uncle and aunt who were serving as missionaries in Africa. In the country now known as Zimbabwe, I saw something that changed my mind about human relationships. I saw apartheid at work; I saw glaring discrimination in plain view.

When I returned to South Carolina, my eyes had been opened. I could then see the racial discrimination in the place that I loved, the place I called home.
I was cautious with this new insight, knowing instinctively that my changing opinions would not be well received among most family and friends. The Civil Rights Movement was spreading across the South. I had become aware, as never before, that all people are equal in the sight of God.
A young clergyman from Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the cause for racial equality. Vilified by most people I knew, he was branded a troublemaker, a man who had forgotten his place.

Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired a nation to change largely through his riveting speeches. King’s skill with words powered his nonviolent battle for integration and equal rights.

During my freshman year in college, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a sermon entitled “Strength to Love.” Two statements he made in that sermon further molded my attitude about racial equality.  He said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” He went on to say, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

In April of that same year, King was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, following a peaceful protest against segregation. While in jail, King learned of statements made by eight white Alabama clergymen on April 12, 1963, which they entitled “A Call for Unity.” The pastors agreed that social injustices were occurring, but they argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts, not taken into the streets.

King responded in an open letter written on April 16, 1963.  In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he wrote that without direct action, civil rights could never be achieved. As he put it, “This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’” King’s letter further declared, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King also quoted the words of the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

On August 28, 1963, just before my sophomore year at Furman, Martin Luther King, Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, acknowledged, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” His speech entitled “I Have a Dream” is his best known and was delivered to an estimated 250,000 civil rights marchers crowding the Mall in Washington, D.C.

The one and only time I saw Martin Luther King, Jr., in person was when he came to Louisville, Kentucky, while I was in seminary. On March 5, 1964, Dr. King, along with his brother, A.D. Williams King, a pastor in Louisville, led 10,000 people in a peaceful march for open housing. Several members of the faculty at Southern Seminary participated in the march. There, as an onlooker with a group of other seminary students, I saw Dr. King from a distance.

Later, in 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In that same year Martin Luther King, Jr., became the first black American to be honored as Time magazine’s Man of the Year.

On Thursday, Aril 4, 1968, just before Easter, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He had gone to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers.

Dr. Charles Bodie, then President of Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee, was the guest preacher for Holy Week services at Crescent Hill Baptist Church, where Clare and I were members. We attended those services and will never forget how Dr. Bodie, a distinguished African-American preacher in his own right, began his sermon the night of King’s assassination.

Dr. Bodie had spoken with his adult son by telephone earlier in the day. His son was in despair over King’s death. Quoting Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Dr. Bodie lamented, “The times are out of joint.” He then declared, “The times have always been out of joint! They will always be out of joint! This is the world in which we must live.”

The times are still out of joint. The struggle to bring Dr. King’s dream to fulfillment continues.

Our nation will observe Dr. King’s birthday on Monday, January 21, 2019. On that day, I will read again his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” This is a time for all of us to heighten our vigilance and to renew our commitment to an American ideal expressed in our pledge to the flag. That is the national guiding principle of “liberty and justice for all.”

THE BATTLE OF COWPENS

January 12, 2019

Several years ago I took a group of Boy Scouts who were working on the American Heritage merit badge to the Cowpens National Battlefield in northern Spartanburg County. For many, it was their first visit to the site. For me, it was a return trip to a place many in the Upstate of South Carolina take for granted. It is a place that proved to be a turning point of the American Revolutionary War. Many believe that the battle fought in the frozen red clay of Cowpens was the decisive engagement of the war.

Dramatic events led up to that fateful day – January 17, 1781.

By 1778-80, with a stalemate in the north, the British looked south with the goal of assisting Southern Loyalists in regaining control of colonial governments. They then planned to push north to crush the rebellion, estimating that many of the populace would rally to the English Crown.

The British captured Savannah on December 29, 1778, and then Charleston on May 12, 1780. General Cornwallis took command of the British campaign in the south. On August 16, 1780, he crushed the Southern Continental Army under General Horatio Gates at Camden in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. These victories bolstered British confidence, leading them to believe that they would soon control the entire south and that Loyalists would flock to their cause.

The British didn’t expect so much opposition in the backcountry. However, the Scots-Irish came to the American colonies with a chip on their shoulders. Already despising the British for injustices done to them in Northern Ireland, many had been forcibly taken from their homes in Scotland and moved to Ireland to industrialize the country. When their products had proven superior to those made in England, they were heavily taxed. When they came to America, British colonists pushed these Scots-Irish to the frontier to serve as a buffer against the Indians. In the backwoods, they learned to fire long rifles and to fight from ambush. Underestimating the Scots-Irish became an Achilles’ heel for the British.

Lord Cornwallis’ attempt to raise Loyalist support was thwarted when Patriot militia defeated a larger force of British Loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. The men who had crossed the Appalachian Mountains to fight those British became known as the Overmountain Men. Read more…

BREAKING IN A BRAND NEW CALENDAR

January 5, 2019

I had two calendars side by side on a coffee table in our den. One, labeled 2018, was the calendar I used all of last year. The other, labeled 2019,  is my calendar for the new year.

Our teenaged grandson commented, “I guess its that time of year.”

“Yes,” I said. “Its time to break in a brand new calendar.”

He replied, “You know if you had a smartphone, you wouldn’t have to do that.”

“I’m just not smart enough for a smartphone,” I countered.

He laughed.

Several years ago, at just about this same time of year, our daughter and her family were packed and ready to depart on an early morning flight for Chicago. Clare was rocking our three-year-old granddaughter, saying goodbye. The little girl was sad to leave after a delightful Christmas here in the Upstate.

She said to Clare, “When we have time together we must savor every moment.”

We were all surprised at this profound truth spoken by our grandchild. “Out of the mouths of babes…” came to mind. Read more…

OUT WITH THE OLD; IN WITH THE NEW

December 31, 2018

The Romans depicted Janus, the god of doors and gates, as a deity with two faces: one looking backward, the other looking forward.  The month of January in the Julian calendar was named for Janus. Janus characterizes all of us at this time of year.  We look back at the year that is ending. We look forward to the year ahead.

As a teenager, I remember that the last week of the year was the time to take inventory at our family’s lumberyard. Out of school for the holidays, I was available to help count fir and pine framing stacked on the yard, plywood in a warehouse, and molding and trim in the dark bins of a lumber shed.

The concept of a year-end inventory has stuck with me through the years. What have been some of the blessings of the past year? My personal list is always lengthy and includes family and friends. Every year has times of difficulty, to be sure, but even those present opportunities and reasons to be grateful.

We describe a new beginning as turning over a new leaf or starting with a clean slate.  This year a new calendar presents us with 365 new leaves and 365 clean slates.

Here is a story for the New Year that is worth repeating. Several years ago, I was headed out the door to a New Year’s Eve Watch Night communion service at the church.  We had entertained a houseful of teenagers in our home earlier in the evening. We had filled two large plastic trash bags with empty pizza boxes and discarded paper products. Clare asked if I would take the accumulated debris out of the house.  I stuffed the black bags into the trunk of my car and dashed to church in time for the service, delaying the dumping of the refuse.

Following the service, which ended past midnight, I drove home, completely forgetting about the unsavory cargo in the trunk of my vehicle.  New Year’s Day and the day after came and went.

On January 3, I opened my car door for the first time since very early New Year’s morning.  The three-day-old garbage made my vehicle smell like a sanitation truck. I had made a mistake that many of us make in our own personal lives. I had literally carried last year’s garbage into the New Year!

A new beginning calls for focusing on the blessings rather than on the difficulties of a year now past. We have the opportunity to dispose of last year’s emotional and spiritual garbage, leaving behind past hurts and grudges. Read more…