Born For Adversity

OK, so where was I…

I’ve been out west for the past few days, catching up with my younger brother and his family in the beautiful state known as Utah. His son was graduating from high school and it seemed to be the perfect excuse for me to go on the road with my youngest daughter. Father and daughter trips rock, I think. My brother is a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force, and is going to be deployed to Iraq within a few weeks, thus adding special emphasis to my desire to see him before he leaves.

He has done very well for himself, my little brother, moving up the military officer ranks and writing this makes me not a little proud to say so. It has been a tough road and he has paid his dues; nothing was given to him and at the same time, nothing was easy. He’s getting close to the end of his career and retirement is looming in his not-so-distant future. I can write that last sentence with a little jealousy thrown in, but that’s just me.

While there, we attended a cook-out in his honor given by the men of whom he commands, and it was patently obvious that they care a lot for him. We Johnson boys have that affect on other people, it is in our blood and part of what makes us tick. I was proud for him, again, but maybe in a different light than those in attendance would ascertain. To them he is Lt. Colonel Johnson, master of the finances on a base level and controller of massive defense department funds. Right ear of the Major General, solver of logistical puzzles, and yet still provides an innate ability to throw in a good round of golf from time to time. These are the things they see, and yet I know so much more about him.

We’ve fought with fists. We’ve loved the same girls. We’ve shared cars when we needed a ride and a bedroom growing up when we were small. I am honest when I admit that out of everyone in my family; he knows my heart the best. We are brothers in every sense of the word. Those at the picnic see the brass and rank insignia; I see the boy who cried when he busted a hole in the gas tank of his ’65 Thunderbird in our driveway and painfully watched a full tank of gas drain out into the gravel. When he cried, I cried. And the end of the story is that I gave him the money to refill the tank following a repair.

By the same token, he’s the guy that stood by me and helped me through a painful divorce, and later played intercessor for me when I was too shy to approach my future wife. I still think that trumps a tank of gas in the long run. But we were good for each other in all of the things life dished out to us, and though later separated by incredible distance, we remain close despite our infrequent amount of communication.

What will the future hold? We do not know. But the writer of Proverbs assures us “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” At first glance, that does not sound complimentary to a brotherly relationship, but you may need to read it again. What I see, and what I know from experience, is that friends are good and surely a good friend will always be there for you. But a brother? A brother is one who will be there through the really tough times - the times of adversity. A brother is there for you when there are no other possible solutions to your problems and you have reached the end of your proverbial rope. And I think we have been. I feel it in my heart and I know it throughout the distant memories I can call my own.

I’ll be praying for him while he is in the distant land of the Chaldeans. I have no doubts about his safe return in the meantime. I have peace on the matter; something passed down to me obviously from above. I’m hoping he has the same peace and that his time over there will not only go by quickly, but most of all it will pass in an uneventful manner. He’ll be needed here by me, and we’ll still surely need each other - when those painful times of adversity find us once again in the future.

Swinging By The Tail

Delmar O’Donnell: Well, where are you going, George?

George Nelson: I don't know. Who cares?

Delmar O’Donnell: (To Everett) Now, what do you suppose is eatin' George?

Everett McGill: Well, they say that with the thrill-seeking personality, what goes up must come down. Top of the world one minute, sad the next. Yes, sir, it's as if our old friend George is an alley cat and his own darn humors are swinging him by the tail. I wouldn't worry, Delmar. He'll be back on top again.

In this scene from my all-time favorite movie, George Nelson has become depressed after a day filled with robbing banks, shooting up livestock, evading the police, and otherwise causing havoc throughout the Mississippi Delta. George is referred to as ‘Baby Face Nelson’ and this offends him somewhat. However, it is readily apparent that he is merely a caricature of a boy trapped within a man’s body while living only for the thrill of the moment. In an otherwise humorous movie, this is a poignant scene that allows the viewer a time for thought and reflection.

There are a lot of George Nelson’s out there in the world today, and the number increases daily in our modern, cultured society. Our children grow up with very little thought of responsibility as all requirements for such have been sacrificed on the altar of secular humanism. It’s the self-esteem of our children that matters, society preaches to us today. We should do nothing that could conceivably damage our children’s sense of self-worth, as that may seriously affect their ability to function as adults later on in their lives.

A chronic lack of discipline crossed with a large dose of instant gratification is today’s formula for allowing children to develop into their own versions of George Nelson; thrill seekers with their own dark humors swinging them through life by the proverbial tail.

On the news yesterday I watched a report on a teen-aged girl who cursed at her grandmother. The 80-something granny responded by slapping her across the face. The young girl then called the police, and they responded by arresting the evil grandmother. Granny obviously didn’t buy into the self-esteem building program, but she paid a hefty price for it.

It makes me reflect on my childhood and the way my parents raised me with the help of my own grandmother. To curse in front of them, or at them, never crossed my mind. Not only would it have been suicidal on my part, it also would have exhibited a dramatic lack of respect of which I never felt. This respect for adults carried over into my community, following me to school and jobs I performed while growing up. Yes, I knew certain adults back then that probably didn’t deserve respect from not only me, but others as well. Yet I respected them anyway as they represented the older generation regardless of their circumstance. To disrespect an adult in public, and to have my parents find out about it later would have meted consequences I was most assuredly not willing to pay.

Times have changed. Discipline has been removed from the school system and in literally every facet of our children’s lives. On the rare occasions when a child does get reprimanded at school, parents are called in for a meeting in which they vehemently defend their children despite the offense or the evidence displayed against the child. The government passes ever more legislation for our school system, new methods to madness, and the test scores continue to fall. From “It takes a village” to “No child left behind” – we are bombarded with new and exciting catch phrases while nothing seems to really be working. Johnny still can’t read. Sally can’t write. Billy can’t get a job. Joey was arrested for drugs.

Kids grow up with an inflated sense of self-worth, expecting to be the CEO of the company from the first day on the job instead of actually working their way into the position. They buy houses and cars with money they don’t have, stretching their meager budgets to an unsustainable limit, unable to fathom that it took their parents a lifetime to accumulate what they have. When the reality of life sets in - the reality that society tried so hard to shield them from as they grew up, they are left feeling empty and worthless. At that point either maturity kicks in, or they give up and turn to something else. See “government dole” or “entitlement programs.”

My parents adhered to the teachings of the writer of Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” With a wisdom of their own, honed from G_d’s Word and through their own experience, they trained me in the way I should go. I didn’t always take that path, but as I became older I rediscovered the path and followed it. In the end that has made all the difference in my life.

I do not know what the final outcome will be for this generation of young people today. I have a responsibility to only my own children, and I did my best to train them in the way they should go. But not having a responsibility for another’s child does not prevent me from sharing in the fruits born from the consequences of those said children. In fact, it is going to truthfully affect all of us down the road somewhere soon in our country’s future.

But if you can actually read this blog, then you've probably already figured that out.

Boast To The Future

“If I lose that camera,” I said adamantly, “I will buy him a brand new one before the day is over with.”

Those were big words coming from the mouth of an eighteen-year-old college student gainfully employed through only a minimum wage, after school part-time job. I was on my way to a concert in the Superdome and wanted to use my brother’s new Nikon FM camera. 35mm SLR cameras were hard to come by back in the day, but my brother did not seem to mind if I borrowed his. We had worked it out. (He is my little brother) The problem surfaced when my parents objected to the loan. After all, our destination was New Orleans, which was considered a septic tank of hedonism and crime even back during the early 1980’s.

A group of my friends and I drove to New Orleans that afternoon, camera in hand. (My egregious boast having finally swayed my parent’s minds) It was a big concert bill for our area of the country: Charlie Daniels and the CDB, Kansas, Molly Hatchet, and the surviving Lynyrd Skynyrd band members on stage not too far removed from their tragic accident. A concert whose memories would surely last me a lifetime and something I believed I would be telling stories about to my grandchildren far away in the illustrious future I was certain awaited me.

Yes, the concert was fantastic! It was everything I imagined it would be and more, and was only topped several years later when I saw my guitar-hero Joe Walsh live at the Coast Coliseum. In fact, I would tell you today that the night in general was special – six young friends venturing out into the real world on their own for the first time to see a major concert in a big city. (New Orleans remains a big city to me even today, and I’ve lived in New York) It was magical. At least until the last hour or so, at which point the unthinkable happened.

My best friend and I left the group and took the vacant tunnels that led up to the unoccupied terrace level of the Superdome. Our goal was to get pictures of Lynyrd Skynyrd from an almost overhead angle, or at least a lot closer than our vantage point allowed us to do from the crowded floor. In those dark corridors we were assaulted by what would be known by modern standards as 'a gang', and the mayhem that followed I remember very little about today. We emerged from the tunnels beaten and bruised, yet lucky to be alive, I guess. However, the camera was missing, and all I had to show for it was a broken strap. The police were no help, of course. It turned out that sort of thing happened all the time in the big city, and they smugly informed us rubes that we were fortunate not to have been seriously hurt or even killed in the incident.

Tails tucked between our legs, wiser but nonetheless lighter in our pockets, we took a dismal ride back to Picayune in the by now early morning hours. As we switched cars in a local parking lot, a policeman drove up and asked us where we had been and what we were doing, etc. They do that sort of thing in a small town. As we related our sorrowful epic of woe, he smiled. He wasn’t smiling at our misfortune - I’m sure of that today looking back with the hindsight of many years since that night. He was smiling at our naiveté in the overall situation – six lost souls trapped awkwardly in those painful years between boyhood and becoming an adult. Other than the smile, I remember something else about that unnamed but obviously kind hearted policeman. He explained, specifically to me, that any time you learn a valuable lesson in life, it will cost you something.

With not a little chagrin, I faced my parents and my brother the following day. And I did in fact buy a new camera for him, although it was not easy to do on my part-time salary at the time. But I learned a lot more than just how to be safe in the city on that dark night so many years ago. I learned volumes about the pitfalls of boasting, and how frivolous it can be to brag about a future plan that may or may not ever be.

Solomon writes: “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” I cannot be assured of anything beyond what I am able to see right now and only here in the present. My life, my breath, and my very heartbeat are all in G_d’s hands. He decides by His will what will or will not come to pass and only He can control those things in my life. That may sound as though I believe there is nothing I can do to change what is known as fate in my life, and in many, many ways I know this to be true. However, I can hedge my bets on tomorrow by how I live my life today. By staying within what I know to be His will, or at least by doing my utmost best to do so, I’ve learned that things will always have a funny way of working themselves out in my life.

After all, Someone was with me in those dangerous tunnels that night, and the only proof I need is that I am still here to write about it today.