Happy Trails Coach K

I would not trade anything for growing up in Burlington, North Carolina. I was lucky, blessed, fortunate. Burlington was sandwiched between Winston-Salem and Raleigh. 

In that stretch of miles through the Piedmont of the Old North State were the four universities that made up the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference(ACC)—Wake Forest, N.C. State, North Carolina, and Duke. Slowly, this conference would develop into one of America’s hotbeds for men’s college basketball.

Nicknamed Tobacco Row, the stories of the players, coaches, and fans became legendary in the intensity of their rivalries. Perhaps, he didn’t know it on March 18, 1980, but Michael William Krzyzewski, Coach K, in his own unique way was going to add to those stories and rivalries when he was hired to coach the men’s basketball team at Duke University.

It took a while for the young man from Chicago, who played college basketball for Bobby Knight at Army, to find his footing at Duke and the ACC. At the end of his first four years, the impatient Duke alumni wanted Coach K’s head.

Despite the demands of alumni, Athletic Director, Tom Butters, did something remarkable. 

Instead of firing Coach K, Butters tore up his existing contract, and gave him an extension. That brazen decision changed the course of basketball at Duke for forever.

But, we all know that forever, doesn’t last forever. On June 2, 2021, we learned that Coach K planned to retire upon the conclusion of the 2021-22 basketball season.

Since the fourth grade, I have followed Duke basketball. 

That allegiance came courtesy of my fourth grade friend, John Huffman, whose father was a Duke graduate. I remember tagging along with the Huffman family for football and basketball games at Duke.

My parents were Duke fans too. As Methodists, they liked the strong affiliation the denomination had with the Duke Divinity School. Perhaps in their parental dreams, they held out hope that I might find the path to becoming a preacher. They could see me attending graduate school at Duke. Somehow, I sense God is relieved that didn’t happen.

As a young Duke fan, I was a poor sport. I would cry if they lost. I would really cry angrily if they lost to that team based in Chapel Hill. And yet somehow, in those furious tears, my father did teach me about sportsmanship.

Later, my wife, the Commander Supreme, had to revisit those sportsmanship lessons. No doubt this was needed. Especially,  when I attempted to watch a Duke basketball game on television with our children. Our son’s young genes were very similar to his father’s after a tough Duke loss.

In truth over the last several years, I have watched very few Duke games on television—even championship games. I don’t want to put myself through the anguish. I’m still capable of “chastising a the screen of an unresponsive television too vehemently.”

When Coach K’s retirement was officially announced much was written. During this upcoming season, even more words will be put in print. And, I’m sure, win or lose, this last season will be chronicled for a book or even a documentary.

Coach K would not know me from Adam. 

Yet, displayed on our basement wall, where I spend time writing are the following: a piece of hardwood floor from Cameron Indoor Stadium, a picture of Coach K, our son, and me from when our son attended basketball camp at Duke, and two framed letters from the coach. 

I have a third letter from him in my desk drawer. That letter deserves to be framed too.  After all he said: “Your letter was terrific.”

As much as I admire him and respect what he has accomplished, if given the opportunity, I would have told him to retire earlier.

I have no understanding of why he insisted on chasing the one and done players. Personally, I believe his desire to win betrayed his judgment.

Quietly, I thought to myself, why couldn’t he see this? 

From my inexperienced perspective, Coach K’s success had come from his ability to develop players over time. This was because his knowledge of the game and his ability to teach the game were unsurpassed.

Additionally, I also wondered why highly recruited players sometimes ended up transferring after a couple of years? I guess they wanted more playing time. But, were there other reasons?Does loyalty receive any consideration in these decisions?

And, I questioned his stubbornness. It appeared Coach K relied upon the same rotation of players even when that configuration didn’t seem to be working in games.

In truth, I too am loaded with stubborn imperfections. My flaws are questioned. I guess this is part of being human.

And to show you how little I know about basketball, I figured Johnny Dawkins or Tommy Amaker would be announced as the new head coach— not Jon Scheyer.

But, I think this handpicked selection of Scheyer by Coach K is another example of Coach K’s ability to think and analyze deeply.  He has exceptional psychological insights. Coach K contemplates all angles like a puzzle maker analyzing shapes for a precise, perfect fit.  

Personally, I like the selection of Scheyer. To me he holds something special. In 2010, he captained the Duke team that won the national championship. 

At the beginning of that season, not many experts or fans would have given this team much of a chance at winning a championship. But, they did.

 Who knows, someday, tactical historians of the game might conclude— that season, that team was Coach K at his absolute best.  Experience, hard work,  and a cohesive bonding of the player’s personalities had something to do with that team’s run—no one and done mentality was present.

I guess the Duke haters in the world are momentarily satisfied. Their venom will be resupplied once the new season begins in November. 

Oddsmakers in Las Vegas are probably already contemplating this team chances of winning the national championship.

But, in a blink, a layer of pressure was instantly installed over this team. I’m sure Coach K is already thinking about how to deflect this distraction. My hunch is he will tell them to go out and play and have fun. We all know that will be easier said than done.

But, at the end of the day, I think that is what Coach K did during his career as a player and coach. 

He played. 

He coached.

He had fun. 

He led with his heart. 

And most importantly in all his success, his heart had the capacity to build relationships.

Hard fought and heartfelt victories come from the building of relationships.

Coach K, thanks for sharing your heart with basketball.

But, I also think your heart gave us lessons beyond basketball. 

And, at the end of the trail that might be worth more than you will ever know. 

Author’s note:  This piece is dedicated to my father William Avery Pike, Sr. He was a good son, brother, husband, father, son-in-law, brother-in-law, grandfather, father-in-law, cousin, friend, and neighbor. His goodness came from his big, gentle, caring heart. I was lucky to have that heart for my father.

My father always there for me.

Bears, the Bible, Bullets

My wife’s brother-in-law, Art, is a patient man. 

Art is tolerant because he still allows me to fly fish with him. 

With great instructional insight, Art has attempted to make me comfortable with a fly rod. 

My clunkiness with a fly rod is based upon years of surf fishing in the Atlantic. I can heave the line of a surf rod for many yards. But, the fly rod, I have yet to master letting the rod do the casting.

A few years ago, I was fishing with Art in the Eastern Sierras just outside Mammoth Lakes. We were up early to fish a section of the San Joaquin River. 

In an old pickup truck, Art drove us off the main road into a section where the morning sun was just starting to angle in some light. Art spent a bit of time rechecking the fly rods, and then we walked toward the still sleeping San Joaquin.

Now, I don’t remember if either one of us caught any trout, but that’s ok. Sometimes fishing is more about the scenery than what decides to bite a fly.

But, I have thought about that excursion a few times. I have always wondered— if a bear had stopped by to chat, how would I have responded.

“Hey, Bill, I heard you’re visiting from the East Coast. Thought, I’d stop by and see how the trout were biting. If you caught any, I would like them for my breakfast. And by the way, if you have not caught any trout, I’ll give you a head start, you’ll need it since you are wearing those waders with the special boots to keep your toes dry. But, I’m going to have you for breakfast. If you’re planning to poke me with that flimsy fly rod, that won’t work. They are like tooth picks to me. And, I apologize, I forgot my manners. My name isn’t Booboo. Here in the Sierras, they call me the Mauler Hauler. I maul the fisherman and haul their carcass back to my den. Bill, you know that head start, I was talking about? If I were you, I’d get moving, I have a powerful appetite this morning.”

Now, luckily for me that daydream in the Sierras never happened. 

However, I did via a colleague at work stumble upon a bear story in of all places the Bible. Yes, that’s right. There is a bear story in the Bible. 

Now, before we go any further, I want to give you a warning. This isn’t one of those Bible stories that will fill your heart with joy.  Remember, I referenced bears. 

Anyway in 2 Kings Chapter 2, the prophet Elisha was out for a walk near the town of Bethel. According to the scripture, some boys came out of the town, and they picked at Elisha over his appearance. 

Elisha was bald, so the boys shouted out at him multiple times: “Get out of here baldy.”

For whatever reason, Elisha didn’t appreciate this taunting. In fact, Elisha was a bit peeved with their behavior.

Of course, these young fellows had no idea, they were provoking, a prophet. Elisha turned to glare at them, and at the same time he called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord.

In an instant, two bears came out of the woods. According to Biblical sources that day, the bears mauled forty-two of the boys.

Knowing that the bears had things under control, Elisha went on about his trek to Mount Carmel, and later he returned to Samaria.

Don’t you just love the Bible.

Two bears maul forty-two boys, and in Mark Chapter 10, we read:  People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”

Now, unfortunately, when the forty-two boys were mauled, Jesus had not been born. So, during the encounter with the bears for the mauled boys, I wonder who was on guardian angel duty? Or furthermore, who would have granted Elisha’s request for a curse to be implemented?

Seems like management up in heaven might have had some rules of engagement before issuing a curse that would allow two bears to maul forty-two boys.

It’s been a long, long time since Elisha was called “baldy.” Not always by bears, but people all over the world are mauled every day. Quite often, this is mostly done by other human beings who out of the blue snap and usually harm an innocent person.

At least, that’s how I would describe Aiden Leos, the six year old who was riding in the back seat of his mother’s car near Orange, California back on May 21. 

Aiden was in his booster seat, when he and his mother were victims of road rage. A person fired a gun into the back of his mother’s car. The bullet struck Aiden. He died from the wound.

People mauling people. Of course, this makes a lot of sense.

Five days later on May 26 in San Jose, California a mass shooting took place in a light rail yard. Ten people died including the perpetrator. 

More people mauling people, again this makes lots of sense.

According to police investigations, and reported by assorted media outlets, the perpetrator in San Jose used three semi-automatic handguns and fired 39 rounds. In a search of his home, officers found twelve more firearms, and another 25,000 rounds of ammunition. 

Deputy Barney Fife on the fictional Andy Griffith Show was allowed to carry one bullet in his buttoned shirt pocket. He was permitted to put the bullet in his firearm only during extreme emergencies. 

In America, it is sadly ridiculous what we have allowed ourselves to become. We are so far removed from Barney Fife’s single bullet. 

We don’t want to admit it, but no individual needs 25,000 rounds of ammunition in his/her home. This is mindless. I am not against freedom. But, I’m really struggling with how we continue down this disturbing path of senseless mauling of life with firearms.

Check this out if you need confirmation that we are on the wrong path— according to an April 16, 2021 article in Forbes Magazine, writer Jack Brewster, wrote:  In 2021, the U.S. is currently on pace for about as many Americans to die from gun violence as last year, with 5,415 killed so far

Think about that, so far in 2021, 5,415 people have been killed by a person using a firearm—what is wrong with us? We know this isn’t acceptable.

 Why are we so paralyzed? Why are we so numb to this senseless, senseless mauling of life toward each other? 

How have we become so far removed from kindness, respect, dignity?

Why is our mental health so unstable and unpredictable?

 Too frequently, our only solution to solve problems and our differences is a firearm—why?

What kind of person can lose control and purposely fire blindly into a vehicle and kill a six year old? 

I wonder if ancient words from James 1:19 were ever a part of that person’s life —My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this— everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

In our impatient America, what might we be like if were better listeners, if we more carefully thought about our responses when angry, and if we didn’t snap in a nanosecond by pulling a trigger?

Sorry, this isn’t just 2021.  I sense in my old brain that we human beings have always been maulers—we don’t value human life. 

Initially, whatever kindness and love that might have been placed in our hearts for lots of different reasons gets pushed aside—mauled by a dark evilness.

If we want to stop this firearm violence in America, then we need to understand those reasons that make a heart go bad.

And one of those reasons that hearts go bad is related to all of the divides present in America. We need to remove our blinders—we are still divided. 

These divides are not shrinking. Talk about a mauling, our division, is potentially the worse mauling America has ever faced.

Why are we so far removed from these castoff words: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Corinthians 1:10

When I read about the senseless death of Aiden Leos, my heart is pierced.

And I’ll take that anguished piercing a few steps further, as I think about these words from Hebrews 13:5-6“For he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper;I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

What a question—“What can anyone do to me?” 

Ask that question to the family of Aiden Leos, the ten families in San Jose, and the family who will be notified today that a loved one is dead from a bullet—what can anyone do to me?

 This is a mess— a vicious, repetitive, destructive mess.

In a mess like this, I must blame someone, so I’ll blame God for this trouble.

God is always an easy target.

But, who knows, maybe God has thrown up his hands and shouted out in frustration—“I’m done, I can’t get through, I’m not being heard, they don’t listen— I’m finished with these people.”

God isn’t responsible for this mess.

I, you, me, we, us are responsible.

How much longer can we allow the timid chambers in our hearts to be silently mauled by this unacceptable violence and division?

We know the answer—no longer.

In a scene from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, inmate Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding appears before the parole board. The words Red speaks to the board are painfully honest as he responds to a question about being rehabilitated, and whether he is sorry for his crime. 

Red states: “There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then, a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I wanna talk to him. I wanna try to talk some sense to him—tell him the way things are. But, I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that is left. I gotta live with that.” (Frank Darabont, screenwriter The Shawshank Redemption)

I hope we can find a way to talk some sense into our country. 

Deep in our hearts, we know that the way things are—are not right. 

Not coming to our senses will only add to our list of regrets. A list that is already too long.

If we aren’t careful, it’s going to be too late.

And I hope and pray that our hearts will talk some sense into us before it is too late. 

Because everyone of our hearts knows this— Aiden Leos and everyone like him who died from the senseless pull of a trigger deserve better.

At peace in a car seat, a far cry from Aiden Leos. Photo by Bill Pike

Memorial Day 2021: Clandestine Operation in Daylight

The call came early on a spring morning. 

A question was posed.

The former Marine Corps Sergeant, who had served his country in Vietnam, wanted to know if I would be willing to participate in a clandestine operation. 

Briefly, he described the mission.

I told him he could count on my help.

Next, his mind pattered out the details, and I listened.

He ended the conversation with— I’ll be back in touch.

On the morning of Thursday, May 20, 2021 at zero seven thirty hours Operation Flagpole Swap began.

It was a beautiful May morning, bright sunshine, clear blue sky. A foreshadowing of summer heat was encroaching Richmond.

Along Forest Avenue, drivers of cars, trucks, and school busses with tires whirring on worn asphalt scurried toward their  destinations. 

In their hustle, most were oblivious to the Sergeant and his helper in the Veterans Memorial Garden on the front lawn of Trinity United Methodist Church.

Who knows, we might have been tough to spot among the faded azalea blooms and the green canopy of dogwoods.

The Sergeant and his loving bride had done the prep work. Somehow, the Sergeant, now in his mid-seventies had coaxed the old flagpole out of the ground. 

On a previous afternoon, with its concrete base still clinging to the tough aluminum, the flagpole had been carefully placed in the bed of the Sergeant’s pickup truck.

This morning, the Sergeant, as if preparing to lead his men into the dense undergrowth of a Vietnam jungle came prepared. Buckets, water,  bags of Quikrete, shovel, two levels, trash bag, new flagpole, and precise tools chosen for settling the refreshed base were all present and accounted for.

And yes, age, combined with some health skirmishes, had worn on the Sergeant. But, he still had his core, his drive, his determination, and most importantly, his commitment.

Silently, his mind worked. He barked no orders at me. I followed his patient cues.

In all my years of knowing the Sergeant, he has talked very little about his experiences in Vietnam. Even though I am curious, I respect his silence. Sometimes, memories are best left unpacked.

This morning the chatter ranged from family, to Baltimore where the Sergeant had been raised, and the three young men memorialized in this garden.

I knew just enough about the Sergeant’s military service to learn that he had keen eyesight. In fact, this whole clandestine operation was about his still perceptive eyes. 

The Sergeant had noticed that the current flagpole was barely peeking over the tops of the dogwood trees. He wanted to insure that the American flag would stand tall above those trees for many years to come.

Years ago, the Sergeant, another church member who served in the Army during Vietnam, and five volunteers restored this garden. We followed all of the church’s requirements in seeking approval. In following the formalities, we also promised to maintain the garden until our last day on earth.

This morning, we are following no protocols, no blessings, no permission, no recording of minutes for approval in a formal meeting, no Robert and his rules of order. No, on this May morning, we are clandestine in daylight following the eyes in the Sergeant’s heart.

On September 5, 1969, December 22, 1969, and February 13, 1970, the hearts for the Jinkins, Ranson, and Olzer families at Trinity United Methodist Church were changed forever. That’s when they lost their sons to the war in Vietnam. 

Marker in the Veterans Memorial Garden Trinity United Methodist Church

I have no clue how receiving that news must have felt for each family. Even strong hearts struggle to recover from losses like that. And the mind, the mind wants to forget. But, the hurt is too deep, the hurt can’t leave. Try as it might, the mind can’t bring itself to forget.

To be truthful that is why I am here this morning with my friend, the Sergeant. I don’t want to ever forget those fallen hearts.

The new flagpole was in place. 

The Quikrete was working properly. 

With a few gentle nudges from the Sergeant, the pole was level on all sides. Even though he didn’t show it, I know the eyes in the Sergeant’s heart were moist.

I imagine on Memorial Day there will be lots of moist eyes. 

Rightly or wrongly, America, and its wars have been good at making the families left behind cry.

Who knows maybe some day those demons deep inside us that provoke us into war will find peace. 

A peace that isn’t temporary, a peace that will stop the breaking of hearts, and the flowing of tears. 

Perhaps, that is why we honor the fallen because we continue to hope for that peace.

New flagpole in the Veterans Memorial Garden photos by Bill Pike

Listen, you’re not listening to me

Late in October of 2020, my body was trying to get my attention. 

My body’s irrigation system was working too frequently . 

Basically, my internal voice was saying—“Listen, pal, you’re not listening to me. You are irrigating way too much, you need to make an appointment to see your doctor, now, not later.”

So, I did.

In early November, I had my appointment with my regular doctor. I explained my symptoms. A urine sample was taken, and the infamous check of the prostrate gland was given. I equate that test to buying a car.

The urine test revealed a slight infection, so an antibiotic was prescribed. Additionally, I was prescribed a pill designed to assist with the flow of my irrigation pipes and my slightly enlarged prostrate. Additionally, I could take an organic—saw palmetto.

Took the antibiotic for ten days, infection cleared, and I took my other meds as prescribed. 

I don’t believe the first prescription made a significant difference. But, I could tell a difference if I let my supply of saw palmetto run out.

Doctor changed my prescription, and again I didn’t see a significant change in my irrigation.

In April 2021, I had my annual physical, urine sample, blood work all good, PSA good, but in my mind I was still irrigating too much. So, my doctor made arrangements for me to see an urologist.

I had my appointment with the urologist. Urine sample good, bladder capacity test good. He found no concerns in any of my numbers sent from my general doctor. Additionally, the urologist found with the car buying test no nodules, only a slight enlargement of the prostrate normal to my age group.

The urologist is treating me for an overactive bladder. He directed me to resume taking the saw palmetto. He prescribed a new medication  and set an appointment for me to return in four weeks. The urologist did warn me that the new prescription might have sticker shock.

That afternoon, I was notified by our pharmacy that my prescription was ready. I drove to pick it up. At the counter, I gave my name, birthdate. The clerk came back to the register scanned the label, and simply said 439. 

I asked for clarification did you say $4.39 or $439.00? This time, she clearly stated $439.00. I looked at her, and politely replied, “I’m not worth that much.”

I guess my body language signaled frustration, and almost in unison, the pharmacist and the clerk informed me that the manufacturer had a coupon on line. So, I snapped a photo of the prescription label and returned home.

I applied for the coupon on-line, and printed it out. The company was spouting that consumers might qualify for receiving the first prescription free. But, I doubted that offer as I read the fine print.

When I returned to  the pharmacy with my coupon, the pharmacist could not have been more kind and patient. He took the coupon and attempted his magic at the computer. Despite his efforts, he could only lower the cost to $400.00. 

I thanked him for his time and effort, but I declined the prescription for a second time.

Back at home, I used the patient portal for the urologist to communicate that he needed to find me another drug for my over eager bladder.

Could I have paid the $400? 

Yes, but I looked at it this way.

To my knowledge, I am not dying. Even though, some days, I think God is trying to kill me with church work challenges.

Plus, I was trying to be practical. Even if this super pill worked, there was no way I would shell out $400 every 30 days.

I thought to myself what would a person do who needed an expensive medication to live, but who did not have the resources to make a purchase? I imagine many people across America find themselves in this dilemma— even with the proper health insurance programs in place.

Since late October, I have thought about a couple of things related to prescriptions.

First, I wonder who comes up with the names for the drugs? Here are the four I have encountered on my journey at this point:  Tamsulosin, Alfuzosin, Myrbetriq, and Darifenacin.

Seems to me this is a problem for consumers, especially when my pharmacy leaves a phone message:  “Your prescription that starts with the letter D is ready for pickup.”

Perhaps pharmaceutical companies should work with paint companies to name their pills. 

If like me a person is having a problem with his/her irrigation system, these paint names from Sherwin-Williams seem to be a reasonable alternative to those drug names:  Cloud Burst, Raging Sea, Fountain, Bora Bora Shore, Gulf Stream, Ebbtide, Briny.

Also, I have found that my pharmacy is overly keen to refill my prescription. I had barely completed my first 30 day supply of Tamsulosin when I was notified that a 90 day supply of my new friend, Tam, was ready for pick up. 

When I called the pharmacy to whine about the refill, here were my questions: “How does your computer generated refill brain know if Tam is working in my body? Shouldn’t a refill be determined with the me, the patient, consulting with my doctor after a thirty day trial?”

Here is the answer I received, “You don’t have to accept the refill, if you don’t want too.”

At that point, I wanted to respond: “Listen, you’re not listening to me.” 

This week in the mail, I received a slick package from the manufacturer of the $500 wonder drug (Myrbetriq).

Basically, the package contains the materials for me to keep a three day journal about my irrigation system while using their overpriced pills. 

But, also included are health tips, bladder exercises, quotes from Confucius and Ben Franklin, and catchy phrases like:  something to chew on, food for thought, and mind over bladder.

In looking at this packet, I thought to myself what a waste of resources.

 Why invest in this slick production? 

Why aren’t you using your energy and creativity to figure out how to make your $500 bottle of pills more economical to purchase?

And what is even more disappointing to me is this: the company sent this slick marketing ploy assuming that I picked up and paid the $400.00 for their pills.

Making assumptions related to a person’s health isn’t wise.

As I continue to read Beth Macy’s book Dopesick, concerns related to our health systems, pharmaceutical companies, and government agencies responsible for regulation are becoming very clear:  “Listen, you’re not listening to me.”

Some of my prescription hardware photo by Bill Pike

Mother’s Day 2021: No idea how you loved me

I remember being told that the delivery was challenging. Despite difficulty, on that June morning nearly 68 years ago, you brought me into the world.

A lot has happened since cancer robbed your last breath on August 31, 1992. Yet, somehow, for 39 years, you took care of me.  This was despite all my imperfections. 

As an infant, at times, I was a light sleeper. 

Also, along the way, I was prone to ear infections.

I was very adept at car sickness. Sunday afternoon rides to Greensboro to visit relatives were often treacherous.

Potty training was a challenge too—I was a bed wetter.

Additionally, as I grew, I was overweight, quite chubby. That meant you had to look extra hard to find jeans/pants labeled husky.

Like all Pikes, I was stubborn. I still recall the cold winter morning when I refused to put on a coat. My father who loved me as much as you, took care of my stubbornness, I deserved it.

For certain, my years in school drove you nuts. Only one year, sixth grade, I made the honor roll and earned perfect attendance. After that year, my brain disappeared.

Sometimes in the summer, during the teenage years, your slug killer, a can of beer would disappear from the refrigerator. Those slugs crawling around in your flowers thanked me.

And, I broke the law too. 

High school homecoming parade fall of 1970, for my friend, John Huffman, I drove a Cadillac convertible down main street in Burlington. John and Maggie Runyon sat on top of the back seat of that caddy waving to the crowd. 

When we drove past you and your co-workers at the office where you worked, I thought your eyes were going to pop out of your head. That’s because you knew I didn’t have a driver’s license.

I was impatient with you after the December 1972 car crash that could have taken your life. 

That concussion and other injuries were slow to heal. I could tell you weren’t the same. I should have been more patient with your healing. I wanted the mother back that I knew before the crash. No excuses, I was simply stupid.

By some miracle, I did graduate from high school. Found one college in America that would accept a fool. 

Married one of the Cloud sisters, and I know you remember your now grown grandchildren. Luckily, Lauren, Andrew, and Elizabeth learned lots of good habits from their mother. 

Now, you have four great grandchildren that I know you would adore. No question, you would spoil them rotten just like my wife, the commander supreme does.

Sometimes, I catch up with my pal, John Huffman. Inevitably in our conversations, one point will be made—how lucky we were to grow up when we did. And we always, always, acknowledge in those talks the key—the love from our parents.

I remember you once telling me, maybe during your last days on earth, “I only asked God for one thing, let me live long enough to see my children grown and successful.”

And while, I don’t know this for a fact, I would assume those words might have been planted by your mother, Margaret Harrod. She was quite a role model.

I keep coming back to this truth—you loved me even when I was at my worst, when disappointment weighed in your heart, and I’m sure you thought many times why did I bring this lug into the world?

And perhaps, that is what makes mothers unique— they find a way to love a son, a daughter— when no else can. 

I have no idea how you loved me. But, I am forever thankful for your courage, your strength to keep loving me.

Today, Mother’s Day, I hope your angel wings take a rest in the wild blue yonder.

 I love you.

My mother and me circa 1954 photo provided by Bill Pike

Hey God, we’re weary down here

It was close to 9:30 on the evening of Saturday, April 17. My phone rang. The name of the senior pastor at our church appeared on the screen.

“Bill, this is Larry, I apologize for calling you late, but I have some bad news,” he said.

There was a slight pause, and then with no hesitation, he stated:  “Jason Coats died this afternoon.”

He continued, “Jason had gone out for a run. He had a heart attack and died. His uncle called to notify me.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. 

Jason was the chairman of the Trustees for our church. 

Since September, we had talked by phone, exchanged e-mails, participated in Zoom meetings with the Trustees, and during the last few weeks, we had actually met at the church to discuss the work of the Trustees.

Larry asked me to notify the Trustees. As soon as I hung up, I pulled out my computer to send an e-mail. Since it was late, I let the Trustees know they could call me on Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning, the vice-chair of the Trustees called. Catherine, like me, and the rest of our church couldn’t believe the loss. We talked for several minutes. Even though Catherine had worked with Jason since September, she told me because of the pandemic—“I had never met him in person.”

To look at Jason, he was the picture of health. There was no hint of a potential problem.

I thought of all the runs and races I had participated in during my old life. Not once, no matter the distance, weather conditions, or how I felt did I ever think I wouldn’t cross the finish line or complete the workout, and not come back home.

I can only imagine how Jason’s wife and their two children were feeling. Numb, crushed, heartbroken, fearful, and weary come to mind.

On the following Saturday, a private memorial service complete with COVID-19 protocols was held for family and close friends. The service was also live streamed, but that afternoon 46 people were in attendance in our sanctuary to pay their respects.

The service was beautiful from the heartfelt table display of personal items capturing the favorites of Jason’s life, a stunning video of photographs of family and friends, and the tearful tributes to Jason by two close friends and his wife, Valerie. 

Their emotional stories were just what they needed to be—unique to their memories and experiences with Jason. Through their words, it was clear that love impacted everything that Jason did in his 46 years.

In Beth Macy’s book Dopesick, a weary mother who lost her son(Scott) to a drug overdose confronts the young man(Spencer) who provided the lethal drugs. In the federal court sentencing hearing, the mother looks Spencer in the eyes and ask him a series of stinging questions:

“Spencer, will you be there to visit me when I am old and lonely? Neither will Scott.

“Spencer, will you be there to eat dinner with me, mow my lawn, and wish me happy birthday? Neither will Scott.

“Spencer, will you be there to hold my hand when I am sick and dying? Neither will Scott.” (Macy page 115)

No one who spoke at Jason’s funeral pointed a finger of blame at God for this tragic loss.

 But, I imagine, being human like me, they have questions for God. Questions like the grief stricken mother asked in the courtroom.

“God, where were you on that Saturday afternoon, where was Jason’s guardian angel, where was a Good Samaritan, where was your simple saving touch?”

Just in case you haven’t noticed God, losing people like Jason wears on us, it wears us down, it makes us weary.

We have been worn weary by the pandemic, senseless acts of gun violence, our incivility toward each other, our inability to solve the divides that grow between us,  the starving in Yemen, and the civil unrest in Myanmar.

In truth God, no matter where we look in this world, there are challenges, challenges that wear people down— causing them to lose hope.

Isaiah 40 verse 28 states:  “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

You can tell me to take a hike, but I have to ask God—are you “tired and weary?”

There is no shame in answering truthfully, but I can understand how you might be tired and weary. 

God, you are dealing nonstop with a world in constant turmoil and chaos, a world that seems far removed from you. A world that has lost its bearings, its compass, a world that does not know which way to turn.

And, God, I have to tell you, when we lose a person like Jason— I lose my bearings, my compass. I don’t know which way to turn because I look to you to prevent a loss like this. 

I have bugged you about this before—why, why, why, why?

I do not understand.

How can an evil plotting terrorist continue to live, and a church loving, God fearing gentleman like Jason lose his life.

Yes, I know, I’m being a pain.

 But, I worry about you being tired and weary—why?

 Well, quite simply, I sense that you are tired and weary.

And that’s because at this very moment, I believe many people are tired and weary too.

At my mother’s funeral, one of the pastors read these words from Isaiah 40:

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

God, that weariness out there touches us all. And as discouraged as I sometimes feel, I’m going to hang on to one word in that scripture—hope.

I have always liked the words of screenwriter, Frank Darabont, from the movie, The Shawshank Redemption

In the letter that Andy wrote to his friend, Red, he said: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.”

With much sadness in our hearts, everyday, we lose good people like Jason Coats. 

I will never understand those losses. 

But, I believe the challenge after a loss is to inch forward. To inch forward, we must carry with us Jason’s love, his goodness, his passion. Those good, essential qualities can’t die.

And I am sure that even though God will not admit that he is tired and weary, I can’t let God’s goodness, his hope, his strength die in me too.

Yes, I am weary, but I will find renewal in hope, and I pray that somehow we will all find that hope too.

That hope is the only way.

Rest in peace Jason, and God hold his family.

A pretty spring afternoon, photo taken in Summerfield, North Carolina on the afternoon of Saturday, April 17 by Bill Pike

The Beer Whiner: Are you kidding me craft brewers? Seltzers and low calorie beers!

Back on April 6, 2021, the Brewers Association released their annual report assessing  how craft brewers fared in 2020 a year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, volume share, retail dollar value, barrels produced, brewing jobs, and volume change were all down.

 Also noted in the report is that draught beer sales fell 40%. This is a direct impact of the pandemic shutting down bars, restaurants, and tasting rooms. But, the article also notes that the pandemic forced craft brewers to put on their thinking caps to find new and different ways to reach consumers. 

Interestingly, in 2020, new openings of craft breweries outpaced closings. Although a challenging year to launch a new brewery,  there were 716 openings and 346 closings. I am certain there is lots of pain in those closings, and while I am no expert, I would assume that the fallout from the pandemic will bring more closings in 2021.

When I check out the display cases in local grocery stores, I am amazed at the explosion of seltzers. I am not a seltzer drinker, but everyone seems to be pursuing that market share. This includes the big box brewers and craft brewers of all sizes. The upsurge in seltzers, parallels a decline in beer sales, and this makes  me wonder what this shift means for producers of ciders?

If you doubt seltzers are hot, in a press release on February 5, 2021, Anheuser-Busch is investing $1 billion to modernize their plants, and $50 million will go to increase their ability to brew seltzers. Once again, this investment in seltzers can be linked to a decline in beer sales.

Also, I note in those display cases something I never thought I would see—craft brewers offering low calorie beers. A craft brewer brewing and selling a light beer seems so counterintuitive to one of  their original passions— not to be like the big box brewers.

While I am disappointed that craft brewers are offering seltzers and low calorie beers, I recognize that these moves are about cash flow and in some instances survival.

And, in thinking about survival, I believe we must ask how many breweries can a community support?

 Over the last few years in my community, Richmond, Virginia breweries have continued to open. They have opened at such a pace that I have not been able to visit these newbies. I often wonder if some might close before I have a chance for a visit. 

And, yet, some experts believe that over saturation isn’t a problem. I wonder what the owners of a failed brewery might say to that reasoning? 

For many years, Anchor Brewing in San Francisco has been a favorite of mine. I still remember my first Anchor Steam Beer from a trip to California in the summer of 1980. When our oldest daughter lived in Chicago, I could always find some different Anchor beers to sample that were not available in Virginia.

But, I was saddened when in August of 2017 Anchor was purchased by the giant Japanese brewer Sapporo. Now, I’m wounded a bit more with the January 26, 2021 announcement that all of the iconic Anchor labels are going away. New labels, new graphics will now grace bottles, cans, and packaging. 

Anchor has been around for 125 years, tweaking packaging is one thing, I just hope they don’t tweak the beer recipes. This new packaging is all about marketing. The goal is to grab the attention of new beer drinkers in a different way from the previous iconic Anchor labels.  

But also buried in this flurry of activity are several new beers including “Little Weekend” —Anchor’s move into low calorie beers. Again something I never expected to see, and a beer that I  whiningly never plan to try.

And while on the topic of whining, I’ll come back to one of my pet peeves about craft brewers—the pricing of their products.

Recently, I was surveying the beer, cider, and seltzer displays inside the coolers in one of our local grocery stores. In case you haven’t noticed, most craft brewers have shifted away from single bomber bottles that offered 16 or more ounces of beer. 

Those bomber bottles have been converted into 4 packs of cans that hold 16 ounces of beer a piece. I’m making the assumption that aluminum cans are more cost friendly to the brewer than the bomber bottles, plus they fit better on a display shelf.

I took note of four displays of 16 ounce cans by four different brewers. Three of the brewers were located here in Richmond, and one was an import. The pricing range was as follows:  $5.99, $9.99, $12.99, and $13.99.

From those four beers, the average purchaser of beer might be surprised that the $5.99  beer came from Germany, the well known Bitburger Premium Pilsner.

That same average consumer might be astonished that the higher priced beers are brewed in their own backyard. It is an easy drive in Richmond to any of the three breweries. 

Again, my usual whining, this pricing makes no sense to me. 

How can a beer brewed in Germany cost less than beers brewed in my own city? I know the craft brewer pushbacks—quality of ingredients, labor intensive, and the need for clever branding/advertising to sell the beer in an over saturated market.

Not that I want to support the German brewery, but simple math could make the choice easy for me. There is an eight dollar difference between the cheapest and the most expensive four pack.

Another interesting angle here is that the three local beers are all distributed by the local Anheuser-Busch distributor. And to add to this pricing factor, on this afternoon, there were only two four packs of the Bitburger left in the cooler, and the other three beers were in full supply. I wonder why, could it be pricing?

But, there are more questions to be asked about that tier of pricing. What is taken into consideration as the brewer and distributor wrestle with setting a price for a four pack of 16 ounce cans? Does the retailer have any say in making these decisions? More importantly, does the brewer, distributor, or retailer care what the consumer thinks about pricing?

I guess craft brewers know they can’t offer a $5.99 four pack of 16 ounce beers, and stay in business. So, they focus their energy on convincing a distributor and retailers that the quality of their local brewed beer is going to generate sells.

This possibly creates a purchasing dilemma for the consumer. The buyer wants to support local brewers, but the obvious difference in cost might eliminate any consideration to purchase a local beer. 

I wonder if craft brewers understand this predicament? What might craft brewers learn by walking into a local grocery store to the beer aisle?

 My hunch is craft brewers probably don’t think a lot about penny pinching beer consumers. Their data and demographics are linked to purchasers who don’t blink at a $13.99 price for a four pack. Plus, experience tells the craft brewers that some consumers will pay even more for a unique  beer that is establishing a legacy among beer drinkers.

But, as craft brewers continue to steer into the future of the post-pandemic is a break in pricing something they should weigh more carefully?  If a 2021 Brewers Association annual report continues to show a decline in the critical reporting categories, how will craft brewers respond, will an adjustment in pricing be considered?

As much as I whine about the pricing of craft beers, I still hold these brewers in high regard.

Back in April on a cool, but pretty Sunday afternoon, my wife, youngest daughter, and I drove to Ashland, Virginia to the Origin Beer Lab. This tiny brewery is an off-shoot of Center of the Universe, another Ashland based brewery. The concept behind the Origin Beer Lab is this brewery gives the Center of the Universe brewers a chance to experiment with different beer recipes and styles on a smaller scale.

Ashland is a postcard town. Its heart is split with an active railroad track in the center of the business district. Attractive storefronts, the campus of Randolph Macon College, and pretty restored homes are all a part of the charm.

At the Origin Beer Lab, visitors have three seating options— out front to catch the rumble of passing trains, a cozy inside, or a sunny back patio. Even with COVID-19 protocols in place, the gentle and knowledgeable staff was very hospitable as we found seats on the patio.

But there was an indication that someone at Origin or Center of the Universe had been thinking about pricing. On Sunday afternoons, all growler fills are half-price.

And in all my whining about beer, that’s all I’m asking: what will it take for the owners of craft breweries  to re-evaluate how they price their well made beers?

If sales and market shares continue to fall, will craft brewers still be able to command higher prices for their products?

That is a tough question to answer, and perhaps the key to answering that question might just be in the taste buds of consumers.

Will consumers be loyal to traditional passions of crafter brewers, or will consumers continue to push brewers into non-traditional areas to soothe their fickle palates?

And, I can’t forget my friends at Anchor Brewing. It will interesting to see if sales increase with a new labeling profile and new beer offerings. I just hope they don’t forget the strength of their brewing roots.

As we move further into 2021, I suspect we will learn more about beer consumers their tastes and their wallets.  Hopefully, we are on the cusp of an improving post-pandemic environment for craft brewers. 

I say this even though I still find it hard to believe that craft brewers are brewing low calorie beers and seltzers.

A pint glass of Galileo Aged Foeder Bohemian Style Pilsner from Bench Top Brewing Norfolk, Virginia photo by Bill Pike

That Voice In Your Vision

When I was a kid, I enjoyed tinkering with tinker toys. As a rapidly aging, grumpy geezer, I enjoy a different type of tinkering—tinkering with words.

One of the most challenging pieces of writing is what I call “tired eyes.” Tired eyes happen after a piece has been written. Now, I have the challenge of proofing the piece to find errors. My best editing trick is reading the piece out loud, and even that isn’t full proof.

The most frustrating misses are the ones found after a piece has been posted to my blog. For whatever reason, my tired eyes didn’t catch an error, and that drives me nuts. 

I’ve had the privilege of writing three books for children. In two of our books, we found overlooked errors after publication. This was despite countless re-readings, and using non-tired eyes for proofing. I couldn’t believe it. With the third book, we pledged not to send the galley proof back to the printer until we were absolutely sure we had the manuscript perfect.

Tired eyes can impact life too.

Our eyes can become weary as they are too willing to accept the errors of life in front us. We move on without challenging.

This is dangerous. Why is this dangerous?

Well, the risk in the moving on is that we stop listening to the voice in our vision. 

You know, Bill, I have always felt you were a bit wacky, and I think you just confirmed that for me—there is no voice in my vision.

Sorry, but I beg to differ—there is a voice in your vision. 

After your eyes scan in something disturbing, that hushed librarian voice says to you, “I can’t believe this is happening, someone needs to speak out about this situation.” That’s the voice in your vision.

It is a quiet, squeaky, nudging whisper. This voice wants to prod you, me, we, us forward, but we often close our ears.

Ted Williams was one of the best hitters in baseball. He worked. He learned. He studied his positioning and swing in the batter’s box. He intentionally observed the movements and habits of opposing pitchers. And, Mr. Williams was blessed with a gift— extraordinary vision.

According to USA Today’s publication Baseball Weekly, Mr. Williams did not realize how blessed his eyes were until he signed up to serve in World War II. In his medical examination for admission, Mr. Williams learned his vision was 20/10. That vision led, Mr. Williams to become a Marine Corps fighter pilot. 

David Halberstam’s book Summer of ’49 takes a look at the baseball pennant race that season between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

He describes a day when Mr. Williams of the Red Sox strikes out. Williams comes back to the dugout complaining about striking out. Thinking out loud, Williams believes he was called out on strikes because home plate was out of line. His teammates gave him grief about his theory.

But, before the game the next day, the Red Sox manager went out to measure the placement of home plate. And he found, that Ted William’s assertion was correct—home plate was out of line.

Ted Williams followed that voice in his vision. He trusted his instincts. He spoke out. His speaking out brought about a change. 

Right now, America needs the voices in our vision. We are still a divided country. 

Our wounds for lots of different reasons are deep. These wounds are not healing.

 Why is that?

 Are we incapable of healing?

 Have we lost the capacity to see what is so obvious?

If Ted Williams through his vision could theorize that home plate was out of line, why can’t we see how dangerous our division is to our country?

Singer songwriter, Jackson Browne, has written many thought provoking songs. His first hit, “Doctor My Eyes,” has always intrigued me. This one verse really makes me think:

“Doctor, my eyes, tell me what you see. I hear their cries,

just say if it’s too late for me.”

For a long, long, long time these cries of division have been present. We can no longer ignore them.

If we continue to ignore this division, then it is going to be too late for America. We can’t let this happen, we must overcome this tiredness in our eyes. 

The silent voices in our vision need to speak out with helpful, healing, hearts. 

Listen you, me, we, us—don’t let it be too late.

Note from the author: Thanks to my sister, Lisa Henry, for the reminder about “Doctor My Eyes.”

Home plate at the University of Richmond’s baseball field, photo by Bill Pike

“Does this story have a point?”

On the afternoon of Friday, April 9, I was in a mechanical closet in the Preschool wing of our church building. 

Aside from electrical panels, the three mechanical closets each house two cooling units. I was attempting to spruce up these small closets by removing useless clutter, vacuuming, and giving the old concrete floors a quick mopping.

At some point, our office administrator, Paula, tracked me down. A young man was in the church office, and he was requesting financial assistance. 

I dropped what I was doing, and listened to Paula’s initial information.

From there, I walked to the church office and introduced myself to Albert.

His short-sleeve shirt revealed an abundance of tattoos. Albert was wearing shorts, and he quickly explained his reason for being in Richmond. 

Not sure if this took place today or the previous day, but Albert had visited Dr. Le at VCU Hospital. Albert showed me his legs and referenced previous skin grafts from an encounter with burning gasoline. 

Periodically, Albert checks in with Dr. Le to make sure the skin grafts are healing properly. To tell you the truth, I saw nothing unusual about his legs. But, my eyes are old, and they have no expertise with skin grafts.

Then Albert explained a couple of mechanical challenges with his car. These unexpected repairs had reduced whatever funds Albert had for getting back to Jacksonville, Florida. He asked for snacks and gasoline money.

I listened, and then asked him to sit tight. Down in the Trinity Hall kitchen pantry were an assortment of prepackaged snacks and some bottled water. I found a small box and loaded it up.

When I returned to the church office, there was no Albert waiting for me. Paula told me he was in the restroom. Also, Paula shared she had given Albert a couple of face masks made by our Stitchers. He had indicated to Paula that their dogs had been nibbling on their spare masks.

A few minutes later, Albert returned, and I handed him the box of snacks and water. He seemed very appreciative.

We walked out into the lobby of the entrance to the office, and I asked Albert—“how did you end up at our church?”

Albert replied he was simply looking for a church that was open.

I said to him, “I’m not trying to be difficult, but in the past, we’ve had people stop here and at the other three churches along Forest Avenue. At each church, the people made the same request for assistance.”

Albert appeared a bit befuddled with my story telling, but he assured me this wasn’t his intent.

I asked Albert to return to his car and to follow me in the church pickup truck to the neighborhood Mobil station three short blocks away. There we would fill up his car.

On Rock Creek Road, Albert pulled in behind the pick up truck. Without interruption, we turned left on to Forest Avenue.

At the station, he lined up with a pump, and with my credit card, we had approval to start pumping gas. While the gas was pumping, the lady he was traveling with came out of the car. Albert encouraged her to show me her identification, but I declined the offer.

There were two good sized dogs in the back seat. Albert’s lady friend was very affectionate toward them. Soon, the pump stopped. The tank was full.

Albert thanked me and blessed me, and he commented, “Now, we can head out to the highway.”

They pulled back out on to Forest Avenue. He made a right turn at the stoplight in front of the shopping center, and they were gone.

On the drive back to the church, my old brain was full of questions. 

Had I been snookered again?

Do people looking for assistance network with each other? Hey, that old guy over at Trinity Methodist has a soft heart, you can get a tank of gas and maybe some snacks off of him.

Albert and his lady friend gave the appearance that they had lived hard or that life had been hard on them. Was my impression wrong?

I wondered about the car—an old Saturn SUV, with 30 day Virginia license plates. 

I continued to ask myself questions—is it possible to trust the story of a stranger, or will skepticism dominate my thinking?

I did confirm that a Dr. Le does work at VCU, and he is a specialist in working with burn patients. That gave me a bit of optimism, but I still had questions.

I admire the screenplay and the actresses and actors who portray the characters in the movie Steel Magnolias. This film is based on Robert Harling’s play. Ouiser Boudreaux’s character played by Shirley MacLaine is real gem.

In one front porch scene, her friends are listening in as Shelby politely informs Ouiser about meeting a man that Ouiser dated before her two failed marriages. As Ouiser listens to Shelby’s story about this man, Owen, she respond’s with a very curt and direct question to Shelby’s account—“Does this story have a point?”

Right now, I’m asking that same question to myself. Does my story about Albert, his lady friend, the two dogs, and the request for assistance  have a point?

Maybe.

When my time comes to make the jump up to the blue yonder, I don’t expect to make the cut. But, if my luck changes, I suspect I will ask God a question about Albert.

“Hey God, do you remember that April afternoon when Albert stopped by Trinity looking for some help?” I’ll ask.

And God will look over at one of his angels and ask, “Do we have a file on Albert from Jacksonville?”

In a few seconds, the angel will answer, “That file is classified.”

I’ll look back at God, and I’ll say, “So much for transparency up here in heaven.”

God will chuckle and reply, “William, your still a wise guy.”

And he will continue, “In the Bible, at least nine times, these words are written—“love your neighbor as yourself.’’ On that April afternoon did you show love to the stranger, your brother, your neighbor, Albert?”

I will respond, “Yes, God, I did, but in all truthfulness, there was an abundance of distrust pinging in my brain the whole time.”

“So you distrusted Albert’s story, but Albert trusted that a church might be able to help him. I wonder why Albert had that trust?” God asked.

Silence overtakes me. Once again, God has me boxed in a corner. I’m fumbling for a response.

My mind was tempting me to say, “I’ll bet the answer is in that classified file,” but I didn’t.

Finally, I responded, “So, even though I distrusted Albert’s story, I still have an obligation to find a way to help him. And God, you are grounding your reasoning in an assumption that somewhere along the way, rightly or wrongly, Albert learned that churches have the capacity to help those in need. Plus, your nine scripture citations really leave me with no options.”

So to answer Ouiser’s question and my question too, this story does have a point—“love your neighbor as yourself.”

And God said, “William, even when you doubt the stranger’s story, the point of the scripture  is to trust those five words.”

Mechanical closet Trinity UMC photo Bill Pike