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I was talking to my mom the other day about an email we’d both received – about an American soldier in WWII and how he had done brave things on the battlefield. For example, killing the enemy, saving his compatriots, just doing what soldiers do.

And she, having grown up in Germany during World War II, sent me this note:

You know Tom-Son, looking at war and the so-called ‘victories’ from both sides, something became clear to me during that war. I was between 10 and 14. In school we talked about how many air planes had been shot down, how many ‘Panzer’ (tanks) or ‘Gefangene’ (captured, how many ‘enemy soldiers’ were killed, until…

Pastor Gotthilf Hoelzer one day somberly made the remark

“THEY WERE ALL THE SON OF A MOTHER”

That brought those ‘victories’ into perspective.

During the war, there was no TV. Everyone who had one huddled around a radio in the evenings to hear the “special bulletins”, the “Sondermeldungen”, to hear how the war was going.

Mom was born in 1929, in Germany, at the height of the Depression.  This is the Depression that Hitler got Germany out of.  The Depression where he convinced many people that he was the right person to be their “leader” – their “Führer” – before things went completely crazy.  The unemployment situation was absolutely dire, and mom’s parents – my grandparents – had found employment by working at the milk “Sammelstelle” – a collection station where the farmers would bring their milk to be processed and sent to the larger dairies.

Mom told me just a short paragraph of a story – a story that boils down to six words, but at the same time, could not be told in a hundred lifetimes:

“I remember one family on our ‘milk run’ in Hanseatenstrasse. Their soldier was there when Stalingrad was surrnounded and was expected to be taken by the Russians. The German troops were trapped. The adults of that family were huddled around their radio to listen to the ‘Sondermeldungen,’ knowing that they would not see their man come back.  They were all crying. Their little girl did not understand and she said : “Lasset me doch au mit-heula’. (essentially: “Tell me what’s going on so I can cry with you”)  She sensed that all those hearts around her were breaking and she wanted to know why…

It was most likely that the adults were crying about her Dad.”

And a flood of images came to my mind.

…the chores still needed to be done, but they were rushed so that everyone could gather around the radio to hear the news of the day.  The husband, the father, the brother, the son of someone in that room, was in Stalingrad.  Hitler himself had ordered that there would be no surrender. The 6th Army of the Wehrmacht, which had stormed into the city that summer was either decimated or being left there to die.

In that moment, the adults realized that their son would not come home.  His father, who up until that moment had been looking forward to sitting down with him and hearing his stories, and in hearing them, would relive some of his own battles in WWI.  But he realized as he listened to this news, that he would not hear them, or his son’s voice, ever again.  He remembered back, remembered seeing his wide open, trusting eyes as he, like all fathers, tossed his little boy into the air and caught him again and again, his laughter ringing like a joyous bell.  He remembered his birthdays, his baptism and confirmation in the church, and his marriage at the little town church flooded his mind as the tears flooded his eyes.  He remembered how he was able to sit down, after a hard day’s work, and celebrate that German tradition of ‘Feierabend’ which, while hard to translate into English, can best be summarized by the meaning behind the phrase “It’s Miller Time” .The work is done, it’s time to rest.  He’d been looking forward to the end of the war, to be able to have a huge Feierabend with his son, because the work – the war, would be over.

But there would not be any more Feierabends with his son.

Not now.

Not ever.

And he wept.

Unashamedly, he wept.

For the companionship he would no longer have with his son, for the laughter they would no longer share, for this stupid war that was taking thousands of sons from their fathers.

The enormity of what he was hearing on the radio was too much to bear.  He tried to read his wife’s expression, and saw the sorrow of a mother who’s being told she’s lost her only son.  She was inconsolable.  The words she heard from the radio, those of victories for the fatherland, of bravery and sacrifice, were overcome by her own memories.  As she sat there, the words turning into a dull buzz in the background, she remembered the moment when she knew she was going to have a son, the first spark of life inside her.  She remembered waiting to be sure, and then remembered the simultaneous look of shock, doubt, surprise, and joy in her husband’s eyes as he realized he was going to be a father. She remembered sharing that special communion a mother has with her child as she nursed him. She remembered his first day of school and his last.  She remembered the gleam in his eye when he told her about that very special girl, the one he wanted to become his wife. She remembered their wedding day, and how this girl became part of their family.

She remembered his laugh, that belly laugh that can only come from the absolute, unrestrained joy of a little boy, and how it had gotten so much lower in tone over the years, but still, the joy was there.  She loved to watch, and listen, as he and that special girl laughed together.

And she realized that she would never hear that laugh again, not from her son, and not from that special girl.

Not now.

Not ever.

And she wept.

Unashamedly, she wept.

For the companionship she would no longer have with her son, for the laughter they would no longer share, for this stupid war that was taking thousands of sons from their mothers.

She held that special girl in her arms, trying to support her, as she was lost in her own thoughts of him.

He’d been in her class, in school.  They’d grown up together. They’d laughed and had a history together that started long before the day they walked down the aisle. And as her vision blurred with tears, she saw images she knew she’d never see again.

She remembered the bashful look in her husband’s eyes the first time he talked to her, the nervous look on the day he proposed to her, and the confident, anything but bashful, look on the day they were married. A part of her smiled at that memory.

She remembered the moment when she realized she was going to have his child. She remembered waiting to be sure, and then remembered the simultaneous look of shock, doubt, surprise, and joy in her husband’s eyes as he realized he was going to be a father.

She remembered seeing her daughter’s wide open, trusting eyes as he, like all fathers, tossed his little girl into the air and caught her again and again, her laughter ringing like a joyous bell.  She remembered the tough times, and how hard he worked to keep food on the table, and a roof over their heads and how he, despite the Depression, had kept them fed. She remembered quiet evenings sitting by lamp light, quietly sewing, or reading, no words, just companionship, and how much that meant to her.

She remembered when everyone had chipped in and bought the radio, and how it had filled the room with music and laughter; how they had invited friends over and they were able to dance as if they had their own orchestra.

She remembered the light in his eyes as he saw his daughter take her first steps, and how once that happened, there was no stopping her.

And she remembered trying to decide whether to be proud or horrified, or both, when the draft notice came in the mail. She remembered her guarded tears as a train took him to parts unknown for basic training, and the anguished tears she shared with his mother after the train was gone, and they knew he wouldn’t see them.

She remembered that first visit home – how he’d changed, and how proud he looked in that uniform.  There was still a sense of pride in her, but there was also an uneasiness that that took quite a bit of strength to keep from turning into outright terror at the things that can happen to a soldier, both to him and by him.

She remembered looking at his hands, the ones that had recently held a new life, wondering if they would be asked – or ordered – to take a life.

She remembered the next trip – the last one – in spring, when he wasn’t allowed to tell her where he was going.  She remembered holding him fiercely, and how, as she looked into his eyes, she saw the love, the caring, the gentleness of the man she knew, and she remembered, how the sound of the train whistle changed that completely.  She saw the eyes of her husband turn from the look of one who gives and nurtures life, into the look of a soldier, one who takes it.

She remembered recoiling at the shock of this transformation, and how he had pulled away from her. Both of them had brave faces, both had heavy hearts. He turned, walked toward the train, and only once turned to look back.  In that moment, she saw, for a split second, the eyes of her husband saying goodbye. Neither of them knew it would be their last .

At first, the radio reports and the newspaper accounts were all full of victories and successes. Then, as the months wore on, September came and went.  Hitler had said that Stalingrad would have fallen by then, but it hadn’t.  October came, November came, the Russian winter came, and the news then was that the 6th army had been cut off and surrounded.  The news reports confidently said that a relief force was fighting its way down to help them, but the Russians fought them off.  Then Goering said he’d resupply what remained of the army with 750 tons of supplies a day, by air. But there weren’t enough airplanes left to even get one third of that, and like so many other things in this war that they’d been led to believe were necessary and would succeed, this had failed as well.

They’d been listening warily to every  news report, wondering how much of what they were hearing was the truth and how much was lies. They would get bits and pieces of information about what was happening, and it would, all culminate in an overwhelming sense of dread as the news reports came in. Every night, they sat by the radio – the thing that had brought so much joy, laughter, and music, but now it brought nothing but strident propaganda and death.

And then the news reports stopped altogether.

She wasn’t sure exactly of the moment it happened, but somewhere in those weeks of silence from the eastern front that cold winter, she knew. She knew she would never see her husband again.  She knew she would never hear his laughter again, or see the look of love in his eyes as she felt his love inside her.  She knew she would raise their daughter without him.  She knew that she would never again be able to drowsily reach over to his side of their bed and feel his warmth, or hear his soft breathing.  She knew now that she would miss even his irritating habits, like cutting his fingernails with his pocket knife. She would never have to ask him to clean up the cut off fingernails again, or clean his dishes off the kitchen table after dinner.  She knew she’d never hear him say grace in that wonderful way he said it, thanking God for the simplest of meals, as if it were a feast, fit for a king.  He made her so proud when he did that.  He was grateful, even for the little things.  She remembered that. Oh, what she’d do for those little things – to hear him say grace again, to hear his breathing, to hear him tell her what a good breakfast she’d made, to feel him lift her off the floor in that all enveloping hug he’d always used to say good bye.  And she realized, with a start, that when he’d said goodbye that last time, at the train station, that he hadn’t lifted her up like he always did as he said goodbye…

Somehow she knew that from that moment, nothing would ever be the same.

The news reports 3 weeks later confirmed it.

She would not hear his voice again.

Not now.

Not ever.

And she wept.

Unashamedly, she wept.

For the companionship she would no longer have with her husband, for the laughter they would no longer share, for this stupid war that was taking thousands of husbands from their wives.

She remembered her first married Christmas without him, just a few weeks earlier.  They were supposed to be done with Stalingrad by September, and here it was more than 3 months later.  They did what they could to make it a joyous Christmas, with Mama, and Oma, and Opa, but it seemed hollow.  Through it all, the church service on Christmas Eve, and the “Heiliger Abend” later at home, her – their – daughter kept looking at the door, and kept asking, “Wo ist Papa?” (Where’s Papa?)

Christmas and New Year’s came and went, and still no news.

Finally, in late January, there was news.

No, not just news.

The News.

The regular radio programming was interrupted by music, and then, The News.

The relief force had failed.

Goering’s Luftwaffe had failed.

Stalingrad had fallen.

It was so hard to look her daughter in the eye as she tried to give her the news that so many mothers had had to give their children over the last few years, that their father had joined the thousands, the millions, who had “fallen” in the war.  They used that word, in their dialect, “Er isch g’falla” – “Er ist gefallen” – “He fell”.

It didn’t mean that he’d fallen.

It meant, quite simply, that he’d been killed.

Stalingrad had fallen.

A son, a husband, a father, had fallen.

And she wept – for him, how cold and brutal it must have been – she couldn’t imagine and didn’t want to.

She wept, for her daughter, who would never again feel the gentle touch of her father’s rough, work worn hand, hear his laugh, hear his deep voice call her name.

She wept for his parents, now across the room together, but each suffering their own world of pain, realizing their legacy was at an end.

And she wept for herself, that she would not be able to grow old together with him.

And as her daughter said, “Lasset me doch au mit-heula” – “Lass mich doch auch mit heulen” – “Tell me what’s going on, so I can cry with you” – she held her, hugged her, lifted her up off the floor like her father used to, like her husband used to, and as the radio droned on in the background, mother and daughter melted into each other, and the little girl finally understood.

She would not hear his voice again.

Not now.

Not ever.

And she wept.

Unashamedly, she wept.

For the companionship she would no longer have with her Papa, for the laughter they would no longer share, for this stupid war that was taking thousands of Papas from their little girls.

Her mother realized she would not be the only child who lived through that war who lost a father.  But even still – for months afterwards, the little girl would stand at the window every day, waiting for her Papa.  She wanted her Papa to know that he wasn’t alone, that she was there, waiting for him, that his little girl hadn’t forgotten him.

The finality of it all, the stupidity of it all, the arrogance of it all, was just too much.  Every day there’d been reports of so and so many thousands of the enemies killed – and she realized, that for every one of them, every one of them, this act was being played out, too… Every day, in Germany, in Russia, in countries far and wide in this war, in living rooms and kitchens, in barns and shops, in factories and train stations, someone was getting news that a beloved part of their life had been savagely torn from their heart.

Of the million soldiers in the Wehrmacht, The German 6th Army, 750,000 had been killed or wounded.  Many more simply froze or starved to death.  After the siege, the 91,000 left in the city had surrendered.  Of those, only 6,000 would ever see what they knew as the fatherland again.

Mom went on:

On the one side of the Strenger Haus (where she grew up) was Karl Beisswenger (with 3 children) and on the other, my cousin Karl Klotz (2 children, Kurt u. Elsbeth), who never came back from that war. And upstairs, it was Paule Rosenberger’s father.

That’s the face of war.

No, only part of the face of war.

That’s not mentioning the dead from the ‘Bomben-angriffe’. (Bombing attacks)

I better not get into that.

War is Hell.

On both sides.

Mom

The images came unbidden – in the blink of an eye, if you will.  A story that could be told in six words – but at the same time, could not be told in a hundred lifetimes.


One of the things I’ve done for years is tell my son stories about – well, I call them “Stupid things that Papa did when he was little” stories.  The goal of these was in some ways to make sure he realized I was human and could make mistakes, but also that if you looked at something just right – no matter what it was, you’d find some humor in it.  And… hopefully… a lesson.

I’d always figured I’d had a relatively quiet childhood, but the other night, I was telling him one of these stories, and his jaw dropped,

How did you survive to be old enough to breed?”

Of course, me telling him the story as history, and then him repeating it back to me as stupidity, make for some incredible laughs, as well as lessons on what not to do, and precisely how not to do it…

So with that… A Saab story.

­Over the years, I’ve owned a small herd of Saabs, and I’ve learned that you cannot have a Saab without having a story to go with it.

In my case, I’ve come to the conclusion that the stories far, far outnumber the cars, but that’s okay.  As long as the Saabs last, the stories last longer.

When I was growing up – I had a 1967 Saab 96 with a 3 cylinder, 2 stroke, 850 cc monster of an engine.  Monster?  Monstrette? Monstlette? – Beats the heck out of me what you’d call it – this was in the days when the high school car to be seen in was a Chevy Camaro with a 350 cubic inch V-8 engine.  Anything less and you weren’t part of the “in” crowd…

My car had a 3 cylinder, 46 cubic inch engine.

A two stroke.

You mixed the oil with the gas.

Like an outboard.

Oh, I wasn’t part of the “in” crowd. I was so far from the “in” crowd I couldn’t even see it.

The car was built with an integral roll cage so strong that one of the ads they used to have on TV showed them rolling the car down a hill – sideways, and then having a guy drive off in it.

It was like driving the result of an illicit liaison between a Sherman tank and a chainsaw.

So I had some friends who also drove some cars that weren’t Camaros (heck, given what I was driving, NONE of my friends had Camaros) – one was a buddy who drove a 1965 Dodge Dart, and since his dad ran the local propane dealership – that car ran on – you guessed it – propane.

So my buddy Bert and I would, as teenagers the world over do, spend weekend evenings driving aimlessly, burning oil and gas (in my car) or propane (in his) – and one day, he mentioned to me this railroad crossing, that if hit at the right speed, would get you airborne.

Now on this particular crossing, that was advisable.  The rail bed was several feet higher than the road bed, so the pavement climbed steeply up to the rails, crossed them, then went down the other side.

Sherpas guarded this crossing.

Now given that trains weigh more than cars, the rail bed had actually sunk quite a bit – so crossing over meant climbing up to greet the Sherpas, then going down into the rough no-man’s land that was the rails, climbing back up from the rails to the top of other side, then finally back down.  It was kind of like crawling over the crater of a volcano.

It could tear the suspension out from under your car if you did it slow.

If you did it a little faster, you’d sail right over the crater that was the tracks, land on the other side, and it would be this wonderfully gentle jump.

We didn’t do it just a “little” faster.

Oh, one additional piece of information here is that this road ended up at a T intersection, and you have to imagine that the arms of the T are sagging a bit, as the top part of the T was in the middle of a curve.  Big picture what this means is that it was a blind intersection.

You will see this material again.

So my buddy Bert tells me about this railroad crossing – and how, if you cross it “juuuust right” you catch air.   Not just the “oh, we’re flying over the volcano” air, but “Wave bye bye to the Sherpas” air.

Okaaaay…

Then he suggested that he and I take the Saab out there that evening and jump it. (and, given the adventures he and I had already had in the Saab, this suggestion was not out of the ordinary)

So we headed out there.

Something to remember about country roads is that in the summer they’re often paved with ‘poor man’s asphalt’ which consists of a mixture of oil poured on the road followed by lots of gravel  Eventually, enough cars drive over it , and enough of the oil evaporates that the oil and gravel slowly transform into pavement.  Until that happens, it’s just a bunch of very loose, light colored rocks, each one looking for its own personal windshield to hit.

We headed out 507 heading south, hung a left on 336th, and I accelerated to get to the crossing.

Whee.

It wasn’t very exciting – in large part because I couldn’t see much of it (it was getting dark), and I wasn’t going fast enough, Bert assured me that hitting the ramp from the other side was much, much better.

About that “going fast enough” bit – from the intersection to the crossing is 528 feet.  The acceleration of a two stroke Saab, while it sounded like the engine was absolutely screaming, was not what one would call head snapping.

So we headed further up the road, up a hill to a spot where I could turn around.

Now Bert had said that to land properly after jumping the tracks, you had to hit the gas just as you hit the ramp up the crossing, to lift the front end off the ground.  That might have worked with his rear wheel drive Dart, but the front end of my front wheel drive Saab wasn’t going to go up when I hit the gas, it was just going to go faster.  Not by much, but still, faster.

He wanted me to hit the tracks at 60 mph. (Please note: the fact that the speed limit’s 35 is completely irrelevant here.)

So I came roaring (such as one does with a 3 cylinder engine) down the hill toward the , – well, the engine wasn’t roaring, it was screaming, it was the pavement that was roaring with the noise of the tires on that gravel.  I made it up to 60, and instead of seeing a road in front of me at the place of the crossing – that white crushed gravel in my headlights –looked like I was driving straight toward a white wall… I’d slowed to 50, and Bert wanted me to hit the gas to go faster.

I left it at 50, and we did, indeed, hit it.

The car, and the seats, rocketed up and hit us like airplane ejector seats.

The roar of the pavement was gone, many feet below us.

And the sudden silence, as we found ourselves floating up against the seatbelts, was deafening.

We waved at the Sherpas as we went by.

We looked across at birds that had been flying overhead.

We looked down at our houses – both of them – four miles in either direction from where we were.

We could see airplanes in the pattern at McChord AFB.

We looked at each other, not fully comprehending that we had both become passengers in a physics experiment.

Oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling.

“Have we hit yet?”

“I don’t think so.”

And then we did hit, and all the roaring came back, along with the sound later identified as my freshly rebuilt exhaust system plowing a furrow into the road.

And we bounced.

Zero G Silence.

And hit again.

Three times, and by the time the wheels stayed on the pavement long enough for the brakes to start being useful, that T intersection was getting awfully close.

I stood on the brake pedal.

Now the Saabs of that era had a rudimentary antilock brake system.  They were designed so that if you did what I was doing (standing on the brake pedal) – after so much pressure had been applied – a check-valve under the back seat wouldn’t let the back brakes take any more, and all the rest of the braking would go to the front wheels.  The logic of this was that if the back wheels locked up, the car could spin (anyone ever having done a handbrake turn knows how this works).  In this case, I stood on the brakes till the FRONT wheels locked up, let go, stood on them again, they locked up again, stood on them a third time, but by now the stop sign at the intersection was getting awfully close – and I had to turn right or left.

Straight forward was not an option. There was (and actually still is) a large tree on the other side of the intersection.

The stop sign whipped past, I spun the wheel to the right.  Bert says we went up on two wheels.  I don’t know, I was hanging on to the wheel for dear life, and all I knew was that while for the last few seconds had been all about deceleration to either stop before crashing, or slow down enough to make the turn, now it was literally a race for our lives in acceleration, because we had no idea what was coming up over the little hill from the left side of the T intersection.  Whatever it was, could have been a motorcycle, could have been a logging truck, or anything in between, it would have been doing at least 55 mph – the speed limit on 507 there at the time.

Since we were so blatantly running a stop sign without even the remotest chance of actually stopping , any other traffic would have had no warning of the little red jellybean of a Saab suddenly appearing  in a cloud of blue smoke in front of them.  As hard as I’d been standing on the brake pedal before the stop sign, I now tried to shove the gas pedal through the floor, to get every one those 850 cc’s and 46 horses to keep us from  becoming a hood ornament  on a Kenworth.  I didn’t take my foot off the gas or look back till I’d redlined it in third, and then I could breathe.

Bert and I stole a glance at each other in stunned silence, the only background noise being the unbelievable roar of the two-stroke through a pavement-modified exhaust system.

Nope, our parents were not going to hear about this one, not for a long time.

But while I was writing this in an almost entirely Right Brained (creative) kind of way, the old Left Brain started getting curious – and started pestering me until I really got to thinking about the whole thing, the bouncing three times, the hitting the brakes three times, the “have we hit yet? …. I don’t think so…” and started to do some math.

The distance from the Sherpa guarded railroad crossing  to the intersection to is  a little over 1/10th of a mile.

According to Google Earth, it’s 628 feet.

I was going at least 50 mph when I hit it.

That’s 73 feet per second.

That meant that from the moment we launched past the Sherpas, I had just under nine seconds before I was going to arrive at that stop sign. (628/73~=8.6)

The crossing was so steep that it bottomed out the suspension and squashed the tires, which then helped launch the car even higher than the road angle itself would have.

I’ve calculated about how long it took to say that “Have we hit yet?” bit – and it seems to average about 3 ½ seconds.  At 73 feet per second, that would have put us about 256 feet past the Sherpas when we hit.  Timewise, that seems about right.  However, we need to factor in the ballistic trajectory into the whole thing, which cut almost 100 feet off that range and translated it into a number I could hardly comprehend.

According to the formula for a ballistic arc, which this was, if I had a 73 foot/second velocity at an angle of 45 degrees, we’d end up with a range of 167 feet.

I’m using the formulas here to do the calculations – and the only variables I know for sure are the launch speed (50 mph = 73 feet/second = 22.35 meters/second) and the time it took to say ‘have we hit yet? … I don’t think so…” (about 3 ½ seconds) – that leaves us with a launch angle of about 45 degrees, which seems hellaciously steep, but combining the slingshot effect of the suspension and tires, plus the absolute craziness of the actual railroad crossing (which has since been repaved to be far, far gentler) – is the only thing that comes close to fitting.

We’ll also end up with a height of 12.74 meters – which, if I can believe it (and I’m perfectly willing to have someone correct me)  translates into about 41 feet.

Holy flopping cow…

That meant we had 461 feet, or just under 5 seconds of barely controlled chaos left from the moment we hit the ground before we’d get to the stop sign.

But we bounced three times.  The noise of that first hit was so great we thought we’d broken all the windows.

Call it a second and a half in the air for the first bounce, a half second for the second one, and a quarter second for the third one, that’s 2 ¼  seconds in the air again – haven’t touched the brakes yet, but no gas, either.  We’ll say I was averaging 45 here, – that’s 66 feet per second – that’s another 115 feet.  Add to that the two times I was on the ground – we’ll call that about 2-3 car lengths each – that’ll end up with another 45 feet.

Add those together and you’ve got about another 193 feet gone before I could even think of hitting the brakes.

Unless something miraculous happened, I now had 167 feet, and just over 4 seconds, before I was going to slide through the intersection.

I hit the brakes – hard.  The front wheels grabbed for a split second, then locked up on the gravel and started sliding.

I let up and hit again.  They started sliding again, but I’d scrubbed off a little bit of speed. I let up and hit a third time, felt the wheels lock up and at that point I was at the stop sign, still doing at least 25 mph, but locked up front wheels don’t steer worth a dang, so I let up on the brake, spun the wheel, jammed it into second, and simultaneously realized, as the engine started screaming, and the broken exhaust roared to life, that second was too low a gear to be in. I got up to 32 mph (the top of the range in second) and went to third, floored it for a bit, and only then checked the rear view mirror to confirm that we were safe.

It is only now, more than 30 years after the fact, that I understood why we never found the marks on the road left by the exhaust system.  We were looking about 100 feet short of where we actually landed.

So I started this by mentioning that I’d had these “Stupid things that Papa did when he was little” stories I told my son.  There’s more, lots more.   I’ll be writing them down as I can.

Take care – and no, just in case anyone thinks about doing this – I don’t recommend it.

If any one of a number of things had gone wrong, (losing a tire on landing, a car in the intersection, brakes not braking enough) I wouldn’t be here to write this.

I find myself wondering what would have happened if I’d just said no.  (Note: multiple teenage males, “no” is not an option…sigh…)

But 41 feet?

Oh… my… gosh…

Telephone poles aren’t that high!

Be safe out there…


I wrote this a few years back and thought I’d share…

Sunday:

After a wonderfully busy Saturday that made me want to spend sunday being comatose, Michael (my six year old) came up to me, with far more energy than children should be allowed to have on a Sunday afternoon, and said, “I want to go treasure hunting.”

“…and just where do you want to do this?” said I (trying to maintain my important job of holding one end of the couch down)

“In the back yard. You draw the map.”

— Now let’s see if we can follow the logic here…

“I draw the map, put an “x-marks” on it somewhere, and we dig there and we find treasure?”

“Yes, we find treasure there.”

“So what if I put an “x-marks” over here?, will we find treasure?”

“Uh huh.”

“So if I draw a bunch of maps, each with an “x-marks” in a different place, we’ll find treasure all over the place, right?”

“Right.”

I could feel my hold on the couch slipping…

“So even without a map, there would be treasure anywhere we dig under the back yard…”

I drew a map.

I had him go out and measure off paces, from the gate, to the sandbox, to the slide, to the fence, and as he came back each time, we made one more measurement on the map.

We went out, got our digging tools, and started pacing. We ended up in the shade by the fence in the back yard, in a spot where he’d dug many times before, and started digging.

He dug a bit, then I dug, and we chatted about life, how things were going, the boat ride we’d taken saturday (where he’d actually driven the boat). Since it was hot, we decided to put some water into the hole, so many trips with buckets later, we had it full.

I asked him if he wanted to take his shoes off.

He knew what that meant, and with a big smile he took his shoes and socks off and stuck his little feet into the muddy water.

I joined him a couple of minutes later (having gotten a couple more buckets of water in the meantime)

So we sat there, our feet invisible under the surface, talking, giggling about how icky our feet were, what mom would say if she saw us, why there were pine needles growing out of our toes, stuff like that…

And I realized something…the time we were spending together on a warm, lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon, was wonderful.

Michael was right.

There was treasure in our back yard, anywhere we dug.

Because the treasure wasn’t gold or silver…

…it was time.


I was at church this morning – sitting in my usual spot up in the balcony, when Pastor Dan started to talk about Holy Communion – and about forgiveness.

I’d heard it before – but something clicked this morning, and to explain it, I have to tell a little story…

Where I work, there’s this concept of “No worries” – almost like the “Hakuna matata” bit you hear in “Lion King”.  Examples of how you might find it used would be like this:

You, talking to boss, needing to take the day off on short notice, “Hey – um – I’m sorry, but I need to take my outer Mongolian wombat to the vet.”

“Oh, no worries!”

Hmm…

You, after something had muffed up… “… so that’s where we stand.  It’s broken, and this is what it’ll take to fix it.”

“Okay – no worries – we’ll fix it and get it done.”

You, after you muffed something up. “Hey – I – um – I muffed this up – and we’ll have lost some information…”  and as you’re standing there ready to flog yourself for muffing something up, your boss says, “No worries, let’s figure out what it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again and move on.”

Something about this is feeling familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it.

I’d been in work environments where the attitude is quite a bit different – where you had to watch your back every minute, where the only time you’d feel someone’s hand patting you on the back was when there was a knife in it.  It wasn’t a pleasant situation in the least.

In fact, it took me about 4 months of working where I work now to understand that someone patting you on the back could literally be doing just that… Patting you on the back…

And after awhile – I realized that this whole concept of “No worries” was just that… If you heard those words from someone, they truly meant “No (zero, zilch, nada) worries.”

The problem would be dealt with – and then the issue, the ‘transgression’ if you will, forgotten.

* Poof! *

Gone.

No.

Worries.

Period.

This is still sounding familiar, but I still can’t put my finger on it.

Waitaminute!

Hmm…

The problem dealt with… the transgression… forgotten…

Haven’t I heard words like that before?

Wait – wait… seems this was written about a LONG time ago, in a country far, far away, by a guy who used to chase sheep around the countryside…

Yeah… Book of Psalms – chapter 103…

 12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

 “But wait.” (in the immortal words of Monty Python) “there’s more…”

Paul’s letter to the Hebrews… chapter 10 (he wrote long letters) verse 17 – plus or minus a couple…

Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more…
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.

Hmm… There’s still something out there that I’m missing…

<shuffle shuffle>  – yeah, here it is…

…so this whole “no worries” thing – the deal is, I let my boss know either I muffed something up – or it got muffed up, or it muffed itself up (computers are very creative when it comes muffing things up).  And he says, “No worries, let’s figure out what it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again – and then move on.

Wait – so I don’t have to keep beating myself over the head with my own failure?

…and this whole forgiveness thing…

So the deal is, I let God know either I muffed something up, or it got muffed up, or it muffed itself up (people are very creative when it comes to muffing things up).  And God, even when we muff it up ourselves,  goes, “No worries, let’s figure out what it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again and move on.”  In fact, in that story those quotes are from – you can find the whole story here.  Jesus Himself says to a gal who was caught “in the act” of a pretty serious sin, “No worries, let’s figure out what it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and move on.”  But think about it – the people accusing her said she was caught “in the very act.”  Um… you don’t do *that* kind of sin all by yourself, so it’s clear that she “had help” muffing up – but they were going to make her pay the price, and the guy gets away scot free.  But Jesus saw right through that, all the way to the bit about “It kind of makes sense that those accusing her may have had a little experience with that particular sin” –  because of what happened next.

What happened next?

He wrote in the dirt, it’s never clearly stated what He actually wrote, but her accusers left, starting from the oldest to the youngest after He started writing.  Yathink maybe He was writing the names of the people who’d already done *this* particular sin?

So they left – and there’s no one left to accuse her.

And Jesus quite literally saved her life, because they were looking to stone her – and kill her.  And he said, “No worries… Go – try to do better.”

And He forgave her.

Wow.

No worries.

Can you imagine how hard it would have been to accept forgiveness at that level?  But that’s what He told her to do.

And hard as it is sometimes, I’m supposed to accept this whole forgiveness thing, whether it’s from my boss at work, or from God.

And I’m supposed to do my best to learn from the mistake, and move on…

Because my boss isn’t accusing me of anything…

And God isn’t accusing me of anything…

Hmmm…

No worries.

Cool.

Tom Roush

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