Category Archives: Friendship

Footfalls

“Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

About the brokerage business my uncle Mike, who was an account executive for a big brokerage house, once opined:  “When you’re done….[All you have are] footprints in the sand.”  I guess we could all say that about our lives, most of us, anyway.  Ultimately, what we have done will be inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, or won’t it? 

I am very lucky to live by the sea and to belong to a club where one can swim and pitch an umbrella at the beach for the day. On gorgeous sunny days, such as this past Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, the view was quite spectacular–one of wispy cirrus clouds, motionless against a bright blue backdrop, as if they were brushed in by a great master, along with blue green waves rolling gently onto a soft, white sandy shore. As I stare out at the serene view on days like this, I count my multitude of blessings, perhaps just a bit more than usual. So grateful to God am I for directing me here and so very grateful for the way He has arranged the day. A small thing, this lovely isle of serenity. 

Though frightfully hot in the midday sun, I resolved–and yes, that is the right word–to walk down to the water from the upper decks of the club. You see–I had had shoulder surgery on my left shoulder to repair a torn rotator cuff and exercise in any form is literally the order of the day.  Huffing and puffing as a went, I cheerfully greeted many a mother and child, many a lone boardwalk stroller. (I just have to get back into shape.) Passing the two young beach chair minders, definitely no more than 21, I joked with them about the tough job they had, “Beautiful day, beautiful women,” and perhaps “A few beers tonight after work to help you deal with the stress.” What a struggle! How I remember and long for those halcyon days….Thin as a rail, fit and sailing every chance I got.  No beer of course, not a drop! 😉 I do, however, remember this jingle: “Surprise people, serve Michelob®.”

Having painted you a picture of this past Saturday’s walk, I would like to mention one small detail, one small detail which has irritated me ever since I first started noticing it–much like the imprint of a small pebble in one’s sneaker on a long beach walk. Much like the litter left on some of the beaches around our great country at the end of a fine summer’s day, I think it says much about the way we think of or don’t think of our fellow travelers. I guess I notice this behavior because there have been times when I have walked down to the water using a cane or a walking stick in my left hand, times when, were I to trip over carelessly placed flip-flops, sneakers or shoes, I might have fallen and injured my shoulder or worse.

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Photo credit: Narin Nonthamand/Shutterstock

Imagine two dozen or more haphazardly strewn about….

 Saturday morning or afternoon Memorial Day weekend, the official or unofficial start of the summer season, or on any Saturday, Sunday, or even weekday during the summer one is apt to find at least a score or more of flip-flops haphazardly discarded at what people naturally think is the end of the walk.  I’m guessing here: it might be an extra five or 10 feet, but hey, I like to walk until the end in more ways than one.  Besides there is a vertical stop erected there to keep walkers from walking off the end of the walk, and it’s a great place to rest and stretch, or pray, activities in which I always engage before continuing on or returning to the house. 

Lest I seem like a curmudgeon, I can imagine the thrill of the children–many of whom are seeing the beach and the ocean for the first time that season, or for the first time ever. As boy eagerly anticipating the first trip to Point O’Woods in the early spring, I felt similar emotions upon first smelling the salt air, and once we arrived, first spying the beach over the top of the stile. I can imagine the parents trying vainly to restrain their children somewhat while they survey the sand for space, for hazards such rip currents or for obstacles such as flotsam and jetsam.   Everyone it seems, regardless of age, removes his or her flip-flops, sneakers or shoes–hurriedly sweeping them out of the way–before hitting the beach, the younger ones leaping joyously onto the sand. I understand; I really do. When I was a young boy, just for fun from time to time, I merrily jumped into it off the stile about four steps up. 

I wish–perhaps I am a curmudgeon–that when people who frequent the beach in front of the club to which I belong leave their footwear on the boardwalk that they would line it up along the edge on one side or the other. Is it folly to suggest that one ought to think that one is not alone? I have even suggested that the club paint pairs of shoe outlines–perhaps in bright colors along the edges to serve as a guide. I have asked but to no avail.  Doing so would eliminate a tripping hazard and enable the full use of the boardwalk.  Speaking of those boardwalks….

As a full time resident, over the course of the past eight years, I think I’ve seen at least five boardwalks wash out, shortened by the ever shoreward march of the waves during a hard blow from the southwest. As I tell strangers, it’s not the hurricanes that do the most damage, but the steady, relentless pounding of the winds and the waves from the southwest or from the northeast. Depending on the prevailing winds that season, the season being the whole year, you get the building or erosion of the beach on one side or the other of the point that forms Cape Fear. Thankfully, though shorter every year, these boardwalks are replaced in time for each season with great thought and care as to where they should run, so as to not disturb the nesting least terns.  As a thoughtful person (I pride myself as such), maybe I should declare myself an endangered species? Before you say I am making fun of these creatures, I love these little birds and have endorsed their protection as a life member of the Nature Conservancy.

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Photo credit: Ray Hennessy/Shutterstock

So there you have it: my inconsequential vignette about Memorial Day. Where one places one’s flip-flops on the boardwalk assuredly won’t change the course of human history, but it might change mine–or someone else’s– if I were to fall as a result of tripping over one haphazardly placed pair or a pile of them and re-injure my left shoulder.  “What a trivial complaint!” I am sure you are saying, but I think, as I run through my childhood memories, that I don’t remember the routine thoughtlessness of people when it came to little things like leaving flip-flops and other tripping hazards in another’s path.  Should I then be surprised if legions of Americans don’t take time to reflect upon the true meaning of the Memorial Day? 

Sandman

(Photo credit at top of page-Footprints: Ksenia Lev/Shutterstock)

What If?

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Photo credit: Artit Fongfung/Shutterstock

God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’

Billy Graham

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Photo credit: Merlin Halteman/Shutterstock

What if you one day found yourself alone? What if—through no fault of your own—the family you were raised in drew away from you? What if your nieces and nephews, or your grandchildren, were too busy with their own lives to take the time to visit you, or even to call? What if no cards came from them at Christmas? What if all those friends who promised always to be there for you were too far away or too busy to spend an afternoon on your porch, share a meal, or to visit your house?  (Imagine a table for eight with seven perpetually empty spaces.) What if you couldn’t get to church because the weather was too bad, the snow was too deep, or you were too sick with a cold or the flu to risk exposing the congregation? What if you—despite your best efforts—always found yourself alone on every major holiday, every Easter, every Labor Day, every Christmas, and every New Year’s day, often even in a room full of people, friends and acquaintances? What if you were a Christian in an increasingly secular world? What if you suffered the soft bigotry of disassociation? What if the only other voice you heard in a single day was your own echo? What if every rock of your life suddenly turned to sand? What if your walk in life was a solitary one?

What would you do? From whom and from what would you draw the strength to get out of bed in the morning?  Whose hand would take yours every day, especially when you needed a reassuring grip? Who would listen to your troubles, joys, your blessings, your stories? Who would tell you some of his own? Who would keep your daily company?

On this Easter, I reflect upon the many millions of people who find themselves in this situation—so distant from their fellow man. Modern life, with its abundant distractions:  iPhones, iPads, headphones, podcasts, radio, and television, has almost perfectly engineered a pallid, prison-less solitary confinement.  I can experience it any day and every day, and I watch as others do the same.  No one, it seems, has time to talk, to be a true friend. I wonder sometimes if true friendship is a fanciful conception one outgrows in one’s childhood, at best by the time one graduates from college. I guess I didn’t. 

Rough and tumble from time to time, growing up at the beach on Fire Island in the summers, suburbia and a great big farm in the woods of Bucks County (The Farm) in the winters, Huckleberry Finn was my hero. I lost myself in Sunken Forest, the fields, woods and streams of the Farm. The kids with whom I attended grade school with were always eager for adventures—we always were—and they didn’t leave me behind, even when I came back from surgery.  No, they wheeled me all over town that day, so much so that my casts created quite a rash that evening. My best friend still is one from grade school Imagine that!  Hank, I have known him since I was five years old.  

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Photo credit: Vasilyev Alexandr/Shutterstock

In ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had.

Mark Twain

About to crash land into 60 years of age, I have so many elderly friends, men and women at least twenty years my senior to whom I have reached out and who have reached out to me for companionship, comradeship, kinship. I find it curious the average age of my friends is in the neighborhood of 75. Perhaps it has to do with complete acceptance of each other as we truly are. After all, it’s a bit late to stand on the youthful stage of pretense. Some can barely stand at all. Some are bedridden, delicately, ever so delicately crossing into their late 90s, some trundle along at church with canes and walkers. All have the most interesting, poignant, sometimes sorrowful, assuredly engaging life stories, especially the veterans, if one takes the time to listen. Listen.  Time to reflect and listen, truly listen. I am so grateful to each of them for what they have taught me along the way.  When one of them passes, as unfortunately happens from time to time, I erase his or her earthly address from my Outlook contacts and replace it with Heaven. Why not? I am quite sure not a one of them will not be there.

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Photo credit: allstars/Shutterstock

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.
Doug Larson

On this fine Easter morning—one so sunlit blue, bright and refreshing that I have the true feeling of spring—I reflect, as I think of the cardinals whom I spy daily all over this island, as I listen to their songs: I think of our risen savior, Jesus Christ, who gave his life that we might have eternal life. Has He not been my companion throughout my life? Has he not made himself known to each of my elderly friends? I reflect upon Christ’s lonely, agonizing journey to the cross, one burdened with the foreknowledge of the Hell He would have to endure on our behalf. Most of all, I reflect upon His precious gift to us, to each of us. He gave his life for you, for me: John 15:13 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

Just like my swift-winged friend the cardinal—a bird I have loved all my life—Jesus accompanies me daily and He has been with me throughout my journey, even in the depths of crushing despair.  So, on those mornings when I find myself alone, which is most of them, I reflect upon Jesus gift to me, the meaning of His life, His wisdom. His song.  Rather than immerse myself in self-pity, I understand I must reflect and listen. The drama of the cross occurred 2000 years ago; although its portent resonates throughout the ages, to find Christ in this cacophony one must quiet oneself.  Jesus is surely with me now, but He is quiet, discreet, unobtrusive: To see him, to hear him, I must reflect and listen. He might draw my attention to him with a cardinal’s flight or melodious song, but to hear it I must listen. 

Sandman

 

 

Kindness

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

Mark Twain

I routinely go up to the altar to pray in church after I have listened to Pastor Eddie’s sermon and as the congregation is signing the last hymn. I use the time to pray for family and friends, Pastor Eddie, and the congregation, as well as to confess sins and ask the Lord for forgiveness. Often, my confessions and prayers lead to tears, as they did today. I am not embarrassed about my frailty in the moment; it is cathartic. I let the Lord lead me, as I did this afternoon.

For the past few months, I have been walking up to the altar feeling an uncomfortable weakness in my legs, a result, I am sure, of my having sat too long—months at a time—and exercised too little, not daily as I should have. Others may not notice it, but I feel it most definitely. My footfalls are increasingly tentative. Time will tell if I can rebuild my strength. For now, I will leave the situation in the Lord’s hands.

As I was walking up to the altar this afternoon, a bright young lady—in all senses of the word— arose from one of the pews across the aisle with the same idea in mind that I had. For whatever reason, she wished to take my hand and to travel as a pair until it was time to kneel. At first, I was taken aback by this most unexpected gesture on her part, not knowing what to make of it. I knew it wasn’t a romantic gesture as much as a courtly one. Be that as it may, the epitome of kindness will forever be represented in my mind by her simple desire to take my hand at that moment.  I will forever remember her smile and the contagious joy she radiated.

Sandman’s Fifth Rule of Chivalry: If pretty girl takes your hand, let her. (I’ll pass on the first four rules, as soon as I have written them down.)

Unbeknownst to her, I had wrestled with feelings of abject loneliness throughout the night, spinning in my bed from side to side all night long with Raleigh to the right of me and Georgia on a pedestal at the foot of my bed. Both cats, it seemed, were doing their level best to make sure that I knew they needed me. To be clear, this feeling wasn’t despondency, nor even close to what Pastor Eddie refers to as “the dark night of the soul.”  I just have to feel, and if I do, I am going to feel with an intensity which scares most, but not me.  I am glad I do. Feeling even profound sadness proves to me that I am still very much alive, and that I have a soul.

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Photo credit: salmon-negro/Shutterstock

As the day began, I honestly didn’t know how I was going to make it through church without falling asleep during the sermon—as I had embarrassingly done last week.  Throughout the service, I sipped some iced tea, hoping the caffeine would provide enough of a lift to get me through to the end. Thankfully, our church secretary had asked me to read scripture, Mark 14: 32-42, and the fear of wanting to do it well also contributed to keeping me awake. (You can Google the scripture.)

I was struck by this beautiful young lady’s kindness toward me this afternoon, and I have thought about what she did ever since I left church. She made my day a happy and fulfilling one by shifting my focus. The first thing I wanted to do after church, if I had the chance, was to thank her, which I did.

How often do we go through our days so wrapped up in our own lives that we never stop to be kind to someone whom we don’t know or don’t know well enough?  How often do we bless others with our words and actions?

Thank you, my dear friend, for bringing joy to my heart today.

Sandman

 

(Photo credit at op of page-holding hands: lightpost/Shutterstock)

Klaus

For many weeks now, I have been holding a prayer gathering at my house on Friday afternoons.   The Lord laid it upon my heart to begin them when I learned of a good friend of mine had cancer.   Sometimes I have guests, fellow prayer warriors, and sometimes it’s just me and my cats, Raleigh and Georgia.

Here is just one invitation I have sent out with a few edits. I always like to quote or close with scripture to give people a reference point to begin their meditations. I think this email captures the spirit of the gathering, and so I share it with you:

Dear Prayer Warriors,

Thus far I have hosted three prayer meetings in my house…. We have sent a wealth of prayers heavenward in support of our friends Dana and Brenda, as well as many others, our nation and the world as a whole. (Even a few cats.) The Lord hears our prayers, as Dana is doing much better.

I realize that not everyone can make it, as some of you live in faraway places. I earnestly hope that you will start a prayer group of your own wherever you call home. Many opine that nothing can be done to change the in which we live as we confront manifest evil in the hearts of our leaders, watch the persecution of Christians and Jews begin anew, as we see the darkness descending, enveloping us. I disagree. Change begins with you, your heart, your friends’ hearts and those of your leaders. Change begins here and now in every prayer and supplication, in every faithful gathering.

Remember Christ was only one person. His message simple, yet profound. He gave his life on the cross for you—through believing—you would have eternal life. His sacrifice changed the world.

Blessings to all,

Sandy

I leave you with Ephesians 6:12-18:

 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints….

As I have repeatedly told my fellow prayer warriors, my dream is to see spawn millions of little gatherings throughout the United States. Despite the fact that attendance at mine has been sporadic, I will not give up. In the words of my friend Klaus who has struggled with health issues, “You must never give up!” That was the morning of the day after Barrack Obama was reelected.  Looking out into the ocean at an orange November sunrise, I was devastated by that news.

Klaus ought to know about perseverance and endurance. He and his wife Monika survived both Nazi and Communist Germany.  When they could do so safely they came here to the United States to work and to raise a fine family.  When we talked about his faith in God, Klaus said, “I have always had [faith in God.]” When I remarked that I found that curious since he, as a materials scientist, had peered through the lens of an electron microscope at the very elements of matter, he looked out into the ocean, describing how at one time we thought the horizon was the end of the known world.  He struggled with his words, but that is essentially what he said.   It was one of those moments when you finish each other’s thoughts, when you comprehend the unspoken. We have enjoyed many such mornings, whole years’ worth. I have never asked him–intuitively knowing the answer. He never stopped to ask himself if he was good enough, or if he could accomplish something, if he knew how, he just donned the “whole armour of God” and walked onward, overcoming every obstacle and foe.

Sandman

 

(Photo credit Plane: KPG_Payless/Shutterstock)