The following article by David Strange was originally published on 25 Dec 2016.
"Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these." ~ Susan B. Anthony.
While preparing these "Memories" stories over the past five years, one of my joys has been looking at old photographs. I particularly like looking at photos of young people who have long-since grown up, lived their lives, and perhaps even passed on long ago. I like to look closely into their eyes. What were they thinking way back then? What aspirations? What realities? How did their lives turn out compared to what they had dreamed? As a Christian on this Christmas day, I even wonder what Jesus might have thought when he was a boy.
One of my favorite photos from my own youth is one of my older brother, Dale, and I sitting on the steps on Christmas morning, peering through the staircase spindles. The spindles were wrapped in red crepe paper in an attempt to look like candy canes; the railing wrapped in fresh-smelling pine brought from the woods. Colorful Christmas cards were taped on the wall; festive little holiday candles sat, tempting me to play with them.
What you don't see is what we see. We are looking at the cedar Christmas tree behind the photographer, festooned with homemade ornaments along with a few store-bought ones, a string of lights, and lots of tinsel.
Dale looks on in excited anticipation. I, as has always been my nature, look on with hope mixed with a little trepidation. What were we really thinking back then? At Dale's age, horizons were expanding, along with the possibilities they promised. For me, my horizon barely reached beyond the house. How could I possibly imagine what life would be like when I had barely experienced it?
Life is made up of experiences; each individual story shaping us into who we are.
Life can be frightening, too. Today especially, life and living seems constantly threatened by evil and corruption. What people do while claiming it to be in the name of God, is so troubling to me. The hatefulness, the downright indecency of people and politicians who loudly proclaim their belief in Christ, yet live nothing like Christ. It reminds me of Jesus saying, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves," and biblical verses warning about people who call wrong right, and right wrong. There seems to be no integrity, no courtesy, no "honorableness." It worries me what will be seen in my grandchildren's eyes someday.
Yet this Christmas day is also a reminder that such things have always been so; that there is always good to be found as well. It was so in the time of Christ. Danger and hatred on every hand ... yet love abounding when searched out.
I find Christmastime good in the strangest places. For example, I really enjoy the abundance of beautiful Christmas lights this time of year; but what really touches me is the single strand of lights in a window, the tiny speck of love that causes the poorest among us to find some way to remember good.
And so, with hope and unknown expectation for the future, I travel on, doing the best I can do with what I am given. Today's column marks the end of a series, at least for now. I started this column in 2011, thanks to reporter Charlie White and the patience of Courier-Journal editors, with three December articles: Tree Tradition Fades but Story Remains, Train Wreck of 1888, and Sugar Valley Has a Deep History; followed by Glass House Restaurant, an article that has proven to be a favorite. There have been so many others, too many to tell, but you can find links to them here. It seems a fitting time to bring it to an end on this new December day.
It has been quite a ride, and one of the better experiences of my life; certainly an unexpected one. Over these five years I have met so many good people and learned so many things. Because of a recent story about a log house, I met Jack Frick, who will soon be 100 years old. He contacted me because he had lived in that cabin in the 1920's and read the story. Because of a story about a few WWII pictures of William Dean Rouse, who died in the war, I was privileged to meet one of his war buddies, 91-year-old Sy Thompson, then living in Washington state. The story was also read by another war buddy of Dean's, 92-year-old Frank Bradford, living in New York. Because of that story about Dean Rouse, two war buddies from opposite coasts renewed a long-lost friendship…just a few weeks before both died. Two more of "the greatest generation" gone from our midst.
Perhaps because of some experience in my life, I have always valued honest service beyond anything else.
"I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was duty,
I acted and beheld duty was joy."
~ Rabindranath Tagor
With much help from my ever-valued friend, Charles Hartley, I am thankful that together we have brought over 250 stories to you in this column and in book form (see here and here). Charles Hartley, there are no words to express my gratitude and respect to you. There are yet so many more stories to tell, so many memories to express. But both Charlie and I feel it's time to take a break.
So, we close this series for now after five years. I plan to perhaps work on another book, or maybe other projects as life will allow me. I have good genes. Most of my family has lived into their 90's so, Lord willing, I might have another 30 or more years to serve…. or maybe only tomorrow. God knows.
Each year, as I make out Christmas cards, I use the time to notice the good people we have lost, as well as the new ones we have gained. Looking at that picture of my brother and me from so long ago, I see that we were barely aware of the world, of what Life might bring. Since then, we have had our losses, and we have had our wins. Time has matured those boys into men. Horizons have expanded beyond their wildest dreams. Hopefully, through life's experiences, times' little moments, there is now wisdom showing in those aging eyes. And just as hopefully, there is still excitement ... even if there is still a little trepidation.
Merry Christmas, everyone! May God bless you all. Farewell for now.
Copyright 2016 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.