The fire pit crackled and popped for the better part of four hours Wednesday evening in a friend’s backyard.
After making a coffee run, followed by a bug spray run, the three of us sat around the fire and let the conversation flow from one topic to the next. And that felt really good, especially considering the chaotic affairs of the world at the moment.
It reminded me of when Lieutenant Dunbar in “Dances with Wolves” pressed Ten Bears to move camp because of his perceived impending chaos.
“I pushed him [Ten Bears] as far as I could to move the camp,” Dunbar says, “but in the end, he only smiled and talked of simple pleasures. He reminded me that at his age, a good fire is better than anything.”
My buddies and I shared our thoughts on aging (read: comparing our ailments), politics and music.
In our mid-fifties, our list of ailments is far longer than I would’ve expected when I was in my mid-thirties. As much as a young person might have rolled his or her eyes at such talk, just having two other people actually listen and care about your physical pain means so much. It genuinely feels like they are picking up part of your burden and carrying it with you.
We tossed out band names from the 1980s and rated them on a scale of one to ten based on how much we enjoy their music. I appreciated that ranking criteria. I didn’t want to think about their skills or success. I wanted to think about how their music made me think and feel.
That led to me play a song on my phone for the guys – a song that meant a lot to me in the past and helped me crystalize a truth I needed to hear but ultimately forgot. When I saw the musician perform live recently, I asked her about the album that song was on (since the album has since disappeared from streaming platforms), and she said the album was no longer available. A couple of weeks later, she sent me the song, and it spoke the same truth I needed to hear. This time, I think I really got the message. And I wanted my buddies to know that.
I asked one of the guys what his twenty-year-old daughter might be talking about thirty-five years from now when she gathers with friends around a fire pit. And I openly wondered what the country might look like at that point. I don’t know that we came up with any answers – mostly because looking into the future isn’t possible, but it’s hard not to wonder such things.
When one friend went inside briefly, I talked to my other buddy about how good it feels to be in a group that allows us to speak so freely, without any fear. I don’t know how rare that is, but I do know my soul craves that sort of connection.
At one point, all three of us considered breaking up the party around 10:30 p.m. but then decided to sit back down and keep going. We finally left close to midnight, as the fire was dying.
Ten Bears was right. At this age, a good fire is better than anything.
“I have an 8:50 appointment with Dr. Nelson.”
“It could be under Jerry Warren or Lee Warren. Jerry is my first name. Lee is my middle.”
This health network recently added a “preferred name” field in their system and once I added “Lee” to it, things got very complicated. I’m now listed in their system in some places as Jerry L. Warren and as Lee L. Warren in other places. I’ve tried to get this sorted out, but I just get blank stares.
The woman behind the desk looked for my appointment for at least a minute before she said, “Is this appointment for Jennifer?”
I was so confused. “No, it’s for Jerry or Lee.”
“Date of birth, please.”
I gave it to her.
More keyboard tapping. “Your appointment was for last Wednesday.”
“I was here for that. Had surgery here that day. This is a follow-up. I made the appointment a couple of days ago.”
More keyboard tapping. Then she leaned over and asked someone behind the desk for help. That led to her excusing herself and stepping away for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, I stood on very tender feet that I was still nursing post-surgery that she seemed to know nothing about.
Eventually, another woman approached the desk. “You know what, your name is similar to another patient whose name is Jennifer. It must have auto-filled when I took your appointment. I apologize.”
At least I got to see the doctor after the mix-up was resolved.
Later that day, I received a call asking if Charles was available. I get calls for “Charles” probably once a week. And if I tell the various telemarketers that they have the wrong number, they say, “Oh, well maybe you can help me …” before starting a sales pitch.
Still later that day, I received a card in the mail addressed to Mr. Warrant. It included someone’s business card. I’m not all that inclined to do business with someone who doesn’t know my name.
When people get your name wrong, it feels like you don’t really matter – that you are a means to an end. I’m not saying this is true. I’m terrible with names and often struggle to remember them after meeting someone for the first time. So I understand how it happens.
I read an article recently that attempted to answer the question: How many names does the average person remember. The answer? It depends. But the conclusion was, “there are about 150 people whose names and faces you can remember without a prompt.”
If that number makes you feel small, Isaiah 43:1 is incredible news for those who believe: “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’”
“They are his peculiar people,” writes Matthew Henry in his commentary about this verse, “whom he has distinguished from others, and set apart for himself: he has called them by name, as those he has a particular intimacy with and concern for, and they are his, are appropriated to him and he has a special interest in them.”
The next time someone forgets or butchers your name, smile and know that God never will.
Nine days ago, I had minor surgery on my feet. Even though it was minor, the recovery period has been longer than I would have liked, making it difficult to wear shoes. I don’t go anywhere barefoot, ever. So that made it an even bigger challenge as I shuffled around the house and garage barefooted, trying to make sure I didn’t drop anything on my feet.
I was telling a friend the other day how mindful I am of my legs and feet as I’m running errands. As someone who has chronic leg pain, I’m grateful every time I am able to go grocery shopping, pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy, attend a concert or meet friends for a meal.
Without healthy legs and feet, you become dependent on support devices or support from others. I’ve had to do both after losing mobility for brief periods of time. As much as I hate to put others out, I know they are doing it out of love, and that’s humbling to consider.
I’m reminded of Jonathan’s five-year-old son, Mephibosheth, who was lame after an accident (2 Samuel 4), and of the man in Lystra who could not use his feet (Acts 14:8). They both had someone come to their rescue.
I’ve had a group of male friends who go way back to high school. We’re all in our mid-fifties now. Some of us are married and others are not. But we take care of one another, and it makes me feel incredibly blessed.
The truth is, we all need each other. Children need parents to care for them, and aging parents often need their adult children to do the same. And between those stages of life, we all face the prospect of surgeries, injuries, diseases and accidents which will require us to depend on others.
As an older single person, the possibility of facing future challenges alone concerns me. But it really shouldn’t. God has always provided in one way or another.
For now, as soon as I heal up, I’ll continue to look for others who are in need. I’ll run them to doctor appointments, pick up groceries for them and be quick to be their feet as long as mine hold up. And once they no longer do, then I’ll trust God to send the feet of others in my direction – just like he’s always done.
Lakes, ponds and rivers have a gentle way of massaging away the concerns of this world. That’s usually why we are drawn to the water. In his novel, Where the River Ends, Charles Martin said it this way: “People come to this river for lots of reasons. Some of us are hiding, some of us are escaping, some of us are looking for a little peace and quiet, maybe trying to forget, anything to ease the pain we carry, but … we all come thirsty.”
When I was a small child, my grandfather used to take my sister and me fishing at Catfish Lake, located just south of the city. I was always a shy kid who wasn’t comfortable around a lot of people. It’s one of the reasons I loved hopping in my grandfather’s truck on a Saturday morning to head for Catfish Lake. By the way, nothing beat jumping into my grandfather’s truck on a Saturday morning, knowing we were headed for Catfish Lake.
As we pulled up to the place, it always smelled fishy, which gave me hope because if I could smell fish, there must be fish in the lake, and that meant I might just catch one.
As my grandfather baited my hook, my anxieties about being around other people disappeared and my senses came to life. He’d get his own line in the water, then we’d wait … in silence. I think the silence is what I liked best. There’s nothing like sitting next to someone you love and not needing to say anything.
But it wasn’t the type of silence you experience in a library. It was the type of silence that allows you to hear things you wouldn’t ordinarily hear – a frog jumping into the water from the shoreline, a fish jumping out of the water across the lake and then splashing on impact, and the drone of insects.
When the fish weren’t biting, my grandfather would tell me I wasn’t holding my mouth open the right way while holding my pole. He was a bit of a kidder. That’s probably where I got it from. The thing is, I don’t think I ever fully believed him about the mouth thing, but that’s not to say I didn’t try holding my mouth open once or twice, just in case he might be right. I’m pretty sure I looked like a big mouth bass when I did it.
People who know me now would say I’m not an outdoorsy type of person because I don’t like heat or insects, and they would be partially correct. But I still love the silence that can only be found when you are near water. And it makes me want to seek it more often.
I made a Target run one night this week and it was evident that back-to-school season was in full bloom. That led to some interesting exchanges.
“If one of you is guilty, you’re all guilty,” a mom said to two boys – one of whom seemed to be about to spend the night for a sleepover.
“But what if you don’t find my fingerprints?” said the boy who was sleeping over.
Apparently, he was trying to find where his friend’s mom drew the line. The funny thing was, he was enjoying the banter. I loved the innocence of it all.
“In my house, you’re still guilty – fingerprints or not,” Mom said.
That caused chuckles all around, including from me, although, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what activity the boy might be talking about.
A few minutes later, a mom and her little girl were exiting an aisle. The girl was attempting to push the shopping cart.
“Turn right,” Mom instructed.
The little girl started to turn left.
“Your other right,” Mom said.
I literally scratched my head trying to figure that one out.
In another exchange between a small boy and his mom, he found something he wanted and was pleading his case for her to buy it. I couldn’t see what he had in his hands.
“Is it under $30?” she asked. “We’re already buying all these school supplies.”
He didn’t seem to know. And besides, what young child factors school supplies into the happiness equation?
The look on her face told me she was running the numbers in her mind. I’m sure she was balancing trying to accommodate her son’s want with the family’s bottom line.
All three moments were snapshots of motherhood. The first was a glance into a mom’s sense of humor about the way she runs her household. The second was a mother who wanted to gently guide her daughter who was probably just learning the difference between left and right. And the third was a mother who was balancing financial reality with wanting to make her son smile.
The one common denominator was love. All three kids will probably forget these moments (unless sleepover boy was found guilty by association). Maybe the moms will forget these brief encounters too. They were just snippets of an ordinary day. But as a single guy, seeing loving families interacting was a nice reprieve from so much of the bad news I try to avoid.