Hairy bittercress, a woodpecker, duck toots, and laughter

I recently heard my church friend, Dr. Art Charlesworth, a university professor state these words:  “perfection is boring.”

He cited an example of a gifted musician performing a newly written song in a concert. At some point, the musician botched up the lyrics and had to pause.

But, Dr. Charlesworth also referenced his own pursuit of perfection related to technology. 

He was counting on technology to start a class for his students, but something wasn’t working properly. In a panic, he reached out to university staff and friends who frantically offered suggestions. None of the suggestions worked until someone wisely told him—“reboot your computer.”

For various reasons, we all pursue perfection.

I pursue perfection with my lawn. Right now that perfection is being ruined with a pesky, pesty weed—hairy bittercress. The bad thing about this nuisance is its seed pod. When the seed is mature, the pod fires out into the lawn like a rocket blast.

We have a woodpecker who is pursuing the perfection of claiming his territory and searching for a mate with the arrival of spring.

As the first rays of sunlight crest into our neighborhood, this wacky woodpecker lands on the metal cap of our chimney that serves our den. 

With the same fierceness of tapping into the cobbled bark of a pine tree, this woodpecker attacks that metal cap. This beak hitting metal sound is like a jack hammer pounding asphalt.

 After several rounds of metallic tapping, the woodpecker lets out a bellowing squawk as if announcing—“ok ladies I’m here, I own this section of Rollingwood.” And then the rapid fire tapping returns its sound reverberating through the den. 

I think to myself with all the energy Woody is using trying to attract a Woodette, if he happens to get lucky, I’m wonder if he says to her when she arrives—“I’m sorry, but I have a headache.”

Oh, the pursuit of perfection.

During the pandemic, the Commander Supreme and I have been Zooming with our cherished group of college friends. We Zoom once about every two weeks on Sunday afternoons. 

Butch, Dan, Doug, the two Steves, and I have been through a lot in the fifty years we have known each other. But somehow, through the good and the bad, the guys, our spouses, significant others, children, grandchildren, and pets have held together.

Perfection is part of those conversations. It is still a part of our DNA for lots of different reasons. But, I sense that each of us in our on unique way is coming to grips with the imperfections of aging—our health both physical and mental.

A recent call had an animal theme. 

Doug had recently adopted a little dog named Corky. Yadkinville Steve had adopted a big cat named Todd, and Butch shared with us a recent encounter with a drink named a Duck Fart.

While we were all eager to learn about Corky and Todd, that drink  name made all of us ducklings a bit curious.

If you have experienced a difficult day, and you sense an urgent need to forget that day, I think a Duck Fart within a few seconds would erase that day, and probably the last twenty years.

The duck fart is a layered shot of dark Patron tequila, Crown Royal, and Bailey’s Irish Cream.

The next time our college friends can safely schedule an in person gathering, we will be sampling the Duck Fart. And, I’m sure for those who partake— nap time will arrive quickly.

And now, I have a confession, I love my college pals, and as heartfelt and honest as those conversations can be, I need those Zoom chats for one very simple selfish reason—those calls make me laugh—sometimes to the point of tears.

No matter who or where the humor comes from I need that laugh. We know each other so well that the humor usually comes from our own self-deprecation or gentle pokes at each other, and at the bottom of that laughter is something priceless— love.

I treasure that laughter. 

For in that laughter in those few brief ticks of time, the world goes away. Its troubles, fears, worries, anxieties— vanish. This relief comes as my ears ring with the priceless sound of laughter.

If God gave us laughter, I am grateful.

But, I’m even more grateful for the love and laughter from our college pals. In its own unique way that laughter has sustained us.

If “perfection is boring”— then laughter is an imperfect perfection for our souls.

And God knows all of our souls need to laugh.

Author’s note: On Sunday, March 28, Might Be Baloney enjoyed post number 200 on our WordPress site. I want to thank my family, relatives, friends, and strangers who have patiently put up with my posts since 2017. I am honored that you take the time to read the posts, and even more appreciative when you comment with encouraging words. A special thanks to our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, who completed the template for the blog. Please check out some of her photography on the site. Many thanks, and the photo is of the pesty, pesky weed Hairy Bittercress by Bill Pike.

“senseless”

On the evening of Friday, February 26, a spectator who wanted to enter the gym to watch a high school basketball game failed to comply with a request to wear a mask.

For whatever reason, John Shallerhorn took exception to the request. A confrontation took place between Mr. Shallerhorn and a school staff member. 

Tulane University Police Officer, Martinus Mitchum, who was working security for the game went to assist. Apparently, Officer Mitchum was able to get Mr. Shallerhorn out of the gymnasium. 

At that point, Mr. Shallerhorn pulled out a gun and shot Officer Mitchum in the chest. Transported to a local hospital, the officer later died from the wounds.

Tulane University Police Chief Kirk Bouyelas called Officer Mitchum’s death—“senseless and tragic.”

When I served as an assistant principal at a large suburban high school, attending athletic events was one of my responsibilities. The purpose was to keep an eye on the spectators. Police officers worked those events with us too. Rarely, did we have to call on them to assist us. 

Clearly, our high school athletic events were not trouble free. But usually,  spectators complied with reasonable request made by school personnel.

I wonder if Officer Mitchum would still be alive if Mr. Shallerhorn had complied with the request to wear a mask?

I also wonder if and when America will become tired of these “senseless” murders?

When are we going to say enough, and help people figure out that there are other ways to solve problems instead of pulling out a gun and taking a person’s life.

Sadly, I’m not sure Americans want to bring an end to gun violence.

We appear to have grown accustom to this pattern of disrespecting human life. In 2020, over 19,000 Americans died from gun violence.(Gun Violence Archive)

Just think of the impact of those losses.

 Life is forever changed for the trigger puller and the person killed by the bullets. Families and friends of these men must respond to the challenge of trying to put their own lives back together. 

Attempting to put lives back together in a tragedy like this is almost impossible. 

Sadly, I have seen first hand this excruciating pain. Close friends from college lost their youngest son to a “senseless” murder at the hands of a stranger. Almost two years after this tragedy, their hearts, their emotions, their souls have not healed. 

In all of those athletic events I worked, I noticed a difference about nightfall and daylight. A handful of times a severe, late fall thunderstorm would force football game officials to postpone the game for that night. 

 Usually, the game was rescheduled for the next day to be played in daylight on a pretty Saturday afternoon. Those Saturday afternoon games were as calm as a church sanctuary on a Sunday morning.

To me the difference in setting between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon was the darkness. There is something about darkness, the cover it provides, that seemingly makes a person a bit more brazen.

I wonder what made Mr. Shallerhorn, the trigger puller, so brazen on this evening at a New Orleans high school? What darkness snapped inside of him?

According to media reports, he had some prior skirmishes in not complying with laws in our society. After killing Officer Mitchum, police officials learned that before Mr. Shallerhorn entered the gym, he robbed a person of a gold chain. The victim, who was simply sitting in his car, cooperated when Mr. Shallerhorn raised his shirt to expose a gun tucked into his waistband.

Officer Mitchum was described by colleagues as a “dedicated police professional who had a heart of service for the Tulane community.” With no hesitation, Officer Mitchum’s dedicated heart of service responded to the school staff person in need. 

I assume countless times in his career Officer Mitchum’s heart of service had responded to similar circumstances. But, on this evening, he encountered the wrong heart. A heart that for whatever reason did not stop to think before pulling the trigger.

Every community in America has a Mr. Shallerhorn and an Officer Mitchum.

And every community in America has these sad, senseless, tragic stories left to families to wrestle with in their hearts for the rest of their lives.

Why?

There are many reasons.

But ask yourself this— why is America very adept at launching billions of dollars into space exploration, but very inept at solving our country’s internal problems?

Seeking solutions for “senseless tragedies” will be tough work.

That tough work is a two way street. Potential solutions must include learning from the troubled heart and the dedicated heart of service.

This is urgent work. 

We can’t delay.

All of our hearts need these “senseless tragedies” to stop.

Writer’s note— news feeds from the Associated Press and assorted New Orleans media outlets were reviewed in preparing this piece. For me my writing start date was 3/5/21. Also, the photograph was taken by me. The handgun pictured belongs to a friend who has the proper training and licensing credentials to own it. Bill Pike

It’s not the parking space, it’s the hospitality

It is a well established fact that even the whisper of the word snow in a weather forecast for the South creates a commotion.

The only good thing about Southern snowstorms is that they are usually short-lived. 

These winter weather blasts, roll in, dump a few inches, repaint the landscape, give children hope for a day off from school, and in a couple days most of the snow minus a stubborn, graying snowman is gone. 

Despite cold temperatures, Sunday’s snowstorm in Richmond was melting away. It was Tuesday, February 2. Trinity United Methodist Church members Nell Smith, Catherine McSorley, and I were waiting on our church grounds to meet a representative from a local sign company at 12 noon.

After a long Methodist slog through samples and budgets, all of our antiquated interior signage was gone. Replaced with sleek, simple new signs strategically positioned so that guests, visitors, strangers in a strange land can find their way in the maze of our building.

Now, we were ready to improve the signage on the grounds. The goal the same—help people navigate into the building.

We had a good meeting. 

In less than an hour, we shared our opinions, learned about sight lines, proper placement of signs, and value engineering. We left the representative with all of the requirements for the project so that he could develop a plan to meet our needs.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this meeting centered upon parking spaces for visitors, who are now called guests, but who in most cases are strangers to our grounds and building.

Since our meeting, I’ve thought quite a bit about our discussion related to designating the best parking spaces on the grounds for visitors, guests, or strangers. And, I’ve concluded that special parking spaces for visitors, guests, or strangers aren’t needed. 

No, there is something much more important needed for visitors, guests, and strangers, and that is hospitality.

As I was writing this piece, I highlighted the word hospitality, and my computer produced this definition:  The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of visitors, guests, and strangers.

Churches come in all kinds of sizes and shapes. 

But no matter the size or shape of your church, the most valuable asset in that building and on those grounds are the congregation.

And one of the most critical pieces of work done by a congregation is hospitality. A congregation must at all times be prepared to offer a friendly and generous reception to visitors, guests, and strangers.

Churches who do not have the capacity to offer this essential hospitality might as well shut their doors, turn off the lights, and contract with a local relator to sell the place.

I’m not spouting anything new here. This isn’t rocket science thinking. 

And, yes I know my tone is a bit harsh.

But in truth, the survival, the future of the church really depends upon how a congregation connects with visitors, guests, and strangers.

Well before COVID-19 paralyzed us, churches were struggling. In many instances, hanging by their fingernails, just waiting for someone to push them off the edge of the ledge into the church graveyard.

It will be interesting to see if churches learn from COVID-19. 

Will they return to the same predictable paralysis that they stubbornly held on to before the pandemic? 

 Or, will churches have the courage to take a look in the mirror, and say we need to make some changes, if we don’t, we’re dead.

Churches talk about being welcoming, welcoming to all. I think the question I have for churches about being welcoming to all is simply this—do we really mean it?

For sure having proper  signage in place is an essential piece for helping visitors, guests, and strangers to find their way about a church. 

But, the most critical piece of that way finding is the people connector. 

Can a congregation step out of their comfort zones, their familiar patterns of friends, and consistently welcome the newcomers? 

Like a paint brush stroke, a southern snowstorm can in a few hours transform a landscape. 

But transforming the thinking of a congregation about hospitality isn’t always a brush stroke or a quick hitting flurry of snowflakes. 

On December 31, 1967 on Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin the National Football League championship game was played between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. This game has been labeled the Ice Bowl because of the weather conditions.

According to the National Weather Service, at kickoff the temperature was minus 13 degrees below zero, and the wind chill was calculated at 36 degrees below zero. The field was frozen.

Over time, sportswriters have called this one of the greatest games in the long history of the National Football League.

On a last second play, Packer’s quarterback, Bart Starr, squeezed into the end zone scoring the game winning touchdown.

When Pride Still Mattered is a book written byDavid Maraniss that takes a detailed look at the life and career of Packer’s coach Vince Lombardi. Chapter 24 titled Ice gives readers lots of insights about that famous game.

In the post-game press conference, legendary Packers coach Lombardi, told the media that the story of the game wasn’t him and his decision making. 

He nodded to the adjacent locker room where the players were trying to reclaim their bodies from the brutal weather conditions. In Lombardi’s mind the victory came from the players and something the coach referenced in his speeches as “character in action.”

Sports announcer Ray Scott in Maraniss’ book described that last downfield drive by the Packers to score the winning touchdown as “character in action.” That group of determined players moved confidently downfield, and Scott felt what he saw in that drive was “the triumph of will over adversity.”(Maraniss 426)

Churches are not immune from adversity. But how churches respond to adversity is important. 

Post COVID-19 might just be the time for churches to relaunch to reconnect with communities and individuals who have been hurt by the pandemic in countless ways.

In order to make those connections, congregations can’t ignore hospitality.

Irregardless of signage, congregations must feel and sense what it is like to be a stranger in a strange parking lot, sanctuary, fellowship hall, classroom, or corridor. 

And in those critical moments of awkwardness, a congregation must embrace “character in action” with friendly and generous hearts, hearts that can put that stranger at ease.

Forget the parking spots for visitors, guests, and strangers. 

Make sure your interior and exterior signage works. 

But, do not neglect hospitality. 

Put your “character into action” and remember these important words: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2.

Old sign in church parking lot photo by Bill Pike

Extra Weight

I didn’t like what I saw on the National Weather Service’s map—ice storm warning.

 Snow and sleet can be pesky winter time pests, but freezing rain in my old brain is the worst type of frozen precipitation.

Freezing rain glazes all surfaces with a coating of ice, and it does not take much of a coating to reek havoc.

The worst of that havoc is for trees and power lines. 

As the rain drops fall they freeze when they hit that 32 degree or below surface. Each little drop continues to add to the thickness of the ice. That build up of ice adds extra weight.

 At some point, the tree or the power line can’t handle the stress of this seemingly harmless clear coating of ice, and they snap. When tree limbs and power lines decide to snap, the outcome usually isn’t a good one.

This was to be the story for Richmond starting on the evening of Thursday, February 11. 

First, the storm gave us a cold rain. This was followed by a round of sleet, and then the sleet converted to snow. A few inches of snow piled up before the snow stopped, and the freezing rain took over.

All day Friday into Friday night, and late into Saturday afternoon, the gentle rain and mist provided its coating of ice.

My wife and I knew that our pretty tree lined neighborhood was well known for losing power in all kinds of weather environments. Once the remnants of a hurricane toppled a massive oak in our front yard. From that fall, we were lucky— no loss of life or injuries, and property damage was minimal. 

So through Friday and into Saturday and Sunday, we were on edge just knowing that in a quick blink we would lose power. A couple of times, we experienced the fearful flicker, but surprisingly, we never lost power during this storm.

In our own yard, we heard the crackle of two large magnolia limbs fall from our east side neighbor’s tree into our backyard. 

On Sunday morning, we heard the sound of the quick whoosh and thud of something bigger than a tree limb falling. We scurried to different windows to peer into the glazed gray and white landscape, but did not see a fallen tree.

Our oldest daughter and her family in Summerfield, North Carolina lost power. She sent pictures of fallen trees and crews working to clear trees and raise power lines back to their normal height. That included a couple of photos of our two grandchildren bundled up in their 50 degree house.

Local media gave the same accounting here— auto accidents, trees down, power lines down, internet out, and no heat. 

And in those miserable conditions, utility crews are using their expertise and training to safely restore power. Safety is the key word for them. 

This is dangerous work even in good conditions. And while customers grow impatient with the inconvenience, these workers know their protocols, and they know— shortcuts are not an option.

I waited until Monday morning to clear off our cars and to remove  snow and ice from our driveway and sidewalks. I was amazed at how thick the ice was on the snow covered cars.

 I used the handle of a broom to crack its surface. And that thickness of the ice glaze could also be seen on tree limbs and shrubbery.

For sure this crystal glazing was pretty, but it is an unwanted disruption too. 

With the cars clear, I walked up to Trinity to check on the church. The walk down Stuart Hall Road didn’t reveal much. Near the creek and off into Francisco Road I could hear the hum of generators. 

The church held up well—a couple of large pine branches had snapped. Luckily, they fell and landed harmlessly. Without a doubt pines and magnolias struggled with the extra weight of the ice as did all kinds of green shrubbery.

Sometimes like pine and magnolia trees in an ice storm, you, me, we, us struggle with extra weight. That coating of additional weight can wear us down.

That additional weight could be attempting to manage the physical weight of our bodies. We ignore our internal voice—get off the couch, don’t have that second piece of cake, and we block out the words from our doctor—you need to drop a few pounds.

But, life creates other weighty burdens for us too. 

Sometimes, we are blindsided by a burden.  

Sometimes, our procrastination catches up with us. 

Sometimes, the stress of a burden can make us physically ill.

Struggling with the weight of a burden can deplete our hope.

Depletion of hope isn’t good for anyone.

At some point in this stretch of winter weather, our youngest daughter lamented the gray no sunshine days.

I remember a handful of times on commercial airline flights taking off in dismal gray weather. As the pilots guided the plane through this thick cloud deck, I was always surprised to find the brightness of the sun above that layer of nimbostratus clouds.

I told Elizabeth, just remember above those clouds somewhere the sun is shining, and that is something to hold on to.

When life adds extra weight, we look for something to hold on to, something to support us, steady us, give us balance, stability.

That support might come from a friend, a stranger, or maybe the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. 

The widow never “lost heart.”

When the ice storms of life burden us with extra weight, remember the sun is out above the gray—don’t lose heart.

Ice storm coatings 2/15/21 photo by Bill Pike

Heart work: “deliver us from evil”

Ever had these words burn your ears—“I’m disappointed in you.”

I know my ears have been seared by that statement.

Many times in my life, I have disappointed people with a poor choice or decision.

I am imperfect. 

In some instances, my lousy thinking wounded hearts and souls.

My old brain will not let me forget the hurts I caused.

Forgiveness is a tough wrestle.

Honestly, I wrestle with lots of things on a daily basis. I imagine that you do too.

Somedays,  I wrestle with God.

Often, I wonder if I’m really wrestling with the devil?

I wrestle with procrastination.

I wrestle with the internal voice in my body—especially about aging.

I wrestle with worry— my most persistent pest.

I wrestle with the future for our grandchildren.

And in truth for a long, long, long time I have been wrestling with America.

Lately, that wrestling has been over our division. I’m afraid our division is our end.

What has happened to us?

It appears that we have lost our capacity to distinguish between right and wrong.

Not as a Democrat or a Republican, but as an American the insurrection in January was wrong.

Why is this so hard for some Americans to reason out?

But even more disturbing to me was the outcome of the second impeachment trial. 

Again, why were the choices made by our former president so hard for elected officials to reason out?

Seven Republican senators recognized the truth and voted for impeachment. Afterwards, some were censured by their state supporters for doing the right thing.

Even more troubling is my hunch. 

I sense the elected officials who voted against impeachment really knew in their hearts that the former president was guilty. But, they put blinders on their hearts blocking out that capacity to see the truth of his errors.

In the second season of the Andy Griffith Show, there is an episode titled—A Medal For Opie

In this episode, Sheriff Andy Taylor’s son, Opie, trains for a race in a local event. Opie is optimistic that his training, including encouragement from his father and Deputy Fife will help him to win the race, and earn his heart’s desire— a medal.

Opie finishes last. He is crushed.

Instead of joining the celebration of his friends who finished better than he did, Opie mopes off and leaves the event. This wandering off catches the eye of his father.

Later in the day, a dejected Opie is questioned by his father about his decision to leave. It is quite a conversation. 

Opie stubbornly holds on to his logic—“his friends defeated him, they took his medal, they are not his friends.”

Andy is focusing on the basics of sportsmanship—“how to lose with courage and dignity by congratulating those who performed better.”

Opie is unbending in his assessment of the event. He refuses to accept Andy’s logic. 

Sensing they are at a stalemate, Andy leaves Opie to ponder these piercing words—“I want you to know one thing—I’m disappointed in you.”

I do not always understand my country. And despite my country’s imperfections, I love my country. 

But, right now, more than in other time in my life I am disappointed in my country.

I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed The Lord’s Prayer.

Recently, I have thought quite a bit about these words from that prayer—“deliver us from evil.”

I think the “evil” in America is this division we have inside us.

I wonder if we have the fortitude to confront the division in a reasonable way so that we come to our senses?

I wonder who is going to deliver us from this division, this evil?

Some might think God will deliver us. 

Some might think this whole mess— the pandemic, social injustice, and the insurrection is all part of God’s attempt to wake us up.

I’ll leave that to you to sort out. But, you know—we can’t even agree on how we interpret the Bible.

One thing is certain, we can’t hope to work through these challenges if we continue to betray our hearts.

Delivering us from our evil is heart work.

The blinders betraying our hearts need to be removed.

America can’t continue with this disappointing evil division.

We must invest in the hard work of changing our hearts—now.

We are better than this.

 Our hearts know it, and so does God.

Delivering us from evil comes down to this—can we rediscover and put to work the love that God built into our hearts?

As 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us, God did not put us here to be timid.  He built us and our hearts to use his “strength, love, and self-control” for challenges like this.

Delivering us from evil, pushing back this debilitating division—can that be done?

Yes, but I must embrace that “strength, love, and self-control”.

What am I waiting for?

Shouldn’t I be tired of disappointing God?

How about you?

Mammoth Lakes, California in the Eastern Sierra mountains August 13, 2018 photo by Bill Pike

Welcome to the ACC, Commissioner Jim Phillips

Commissioner Jim Phillips welcome to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The dynamics of a move, the transition from one part of America to another is always interesting for a person and their family. I hope this change is going well.

My hunch is you will welcome a break from Chicago winters. I suspect you will chuckle quite a bit at how we Southerners have panic attacks when snow is forecasted. In that flurry of hysteria, bread and milk producers laugh all the way to the bank.

Additionally, I would advise you not to get tangled up in any in state geographical squabbles about North Carolina barbecue. Here is my advice—forget the barbecue, focus on the peach cobbler with a monster scoop of vanilla ice cream from Homeland Creamery.

Here is some more geographical advice as you learn about the state. Let a North Carolina raised professor of linguistics instruct you on how to properly pronounce— Mebane, Beaufort, and Conetoe.

And while we are focusing on the importance of geography, here is a bit of wisdom about the ACC men’s basketball tournament. This advice comes from Floyd’s Barber Shop just up the road in Mt. Airy— the ACC men’s basketball tournament should only be played in Greensboro, North Carolina—nowhere else.

I’m sure the orientation about the league from ACC staffers has been thorough for you. However, in not wanting to run you off, I suspect the staff or former Commissioner Swofford, have delayed discussing with you the following file—  ACC Security CONFIDENTIAL: The Wacko From Virginia.

Commissioner Phillips, I’m that wacko. 

You see I grew up just a stone’s throw away in Burlington. My affection for basketball and the ACC started in the fourth grade. 

I have a deep respect for the courage and the vision of the leaders from the original schools who founded the conference. As I’m sure you are aware that birthing took place in Greensboro in 1953.

 Well before the concept of branding,  the conference created a highly respected brand. Grounded in that respect was a collective desire to construct a tournament that was unique and durable.

This cherished tournament has served as a model for others across America. Replicating the ACC tournament really isn’t possible. Here are some reasons that come to mind—the quality of the players and coaches, the loyalty of the fans, and most important—the character of the citizens of Greensboro and their leaders. 

I have always struggled with the geographical expansions implemented by the league. In my old brain expanding a league is only about branding and that troublesome green stuff. 

And I think that is why Greensboro is so important to the tournament. Greensboro might not be as alluring as other cities, but Greensboro understands the essentials of hosting and hospitality. 

Greensboro knows the lineage, the heritage, and Greensboro knows that the focus should be on basketball—not a push to expand the brand in cities that really have no relationship with the league.

 My logic might not play well with some, and I understand. But, Greensboro is the pulse, the heart—the city that has helped to frame the success of the tournament. If allowed, I believe Greensboro is positioned to take the tournament deep into the future.

That confidential file about me will probably tell you that I am still a fan of the long gone, but not forgotten Andy Griffith Show. A character from the show Ernest T. Bass occasionally comes into Mayberry from the hills and disrupts the town’s tranquility.  

Now, Ernest T. is long gone, but I need to alert you— his ghost is still around. I’m told his ghost gets mighty riled up when the ACC tournament isn’t played in Greensboro. 

Because of the pandemic, it was a wise move to bring the tournament from Washington back to Greensboro this year. Intelligence reports indicated that Mr. Bass was well prepared to invade the Capital One Arena.

I want you to be successful as commissioner. But, in order to be successful, you do not want to irritate Ernest T.

Veteran security analyst lose sleep trying to figure out how to contain his clever ability to disrupt in any environment. However, there is a simple solution—keep the tournament in Greensboro.

I think Commissioner Swofford knew in his heart that the tournament should be in Greensboro. Heck, four of the original founding schools are located in North Carolina. 

That is an important part of the league’s legacy, and that foundation should be a part of the chapters yet to be written.

 Commissioner Phillips during your tenure, we are going to learn a lot about the leadership in your heart. I hope your heart will come to understand that Greensboro is the logical location for the tournament.

Greensboro!

Author’s note:  This piece was submitted to the Greensboro News and Record as an op-ed. To my knowledge, the editors for the paper chose not to take it. I’m sure they have good reasons. However, if you would like to share the piece with ACC fans who believe Greensboro should be the permanent home of the ACC men’s basketball tournament feel free to share it. Be safe, Bill Pike

pounding

I suspect on the evening of Thursday, February 25 our neighborhood friend, Charlie, slept well. 

That afternoon, Charlie had survived a tough assignment—keeping an eye on his granddaughter as she scampered about the Trinity Preschool Playground at our church. 

This assignment had another degree of difficulty too.

 Charlie’s granddaughter had brought along her bicycle complete with training wheels and helmet. Riding around on the smooth asphalt of the back parking lot meant Charlie had to be quicker on his feet.

But Charlie, also kept an eye on an old fool—me. I too was taking advantage of this spring teasing February afternoon. I wanted to do some early spring cleaning around the dumpster and the cooling tower at our church.

Charlie saw me wrestling with an old extension ladder left by the dumpster. Someone had tried to ram it in the dumpster, but it wouldn’t fit. So armed with a hacksaw and a sledge hammer, I made the ladder fit. 

I think Charlie was worried about my pounding on the ladder’s frame. From a distance he thought—“Wow, old Bill sure has a lot of frustration in him today, I hope he doesn’t blow a gasket.”

But, Charlie’s observation made me think. You know we all experience times in life when life really pounds on us. Sometimes, that pounding arrives courtesy of our own shortcomings. 

When this happens to us, how do we endure that pounding from life? Luckily for us the pounding of life might be silenced by the help of another person.

My wife and I recently watched the seven part Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit. This series was based upon a novel of the same name published in 1983 by Walter Tevis. The “queen’s gambit” is a move in chess. Chess becomes the central pivot point for Beth Harmon, the main character in the book and miniseries, as life begins its pounding on her.

Scott Frank, writer and director  of the series, gives the viewer just enough flashbacks to know that Beth Harmon’s early life is no picnic. All of this turmoil ends up in her being orphaned. 

At age nine, Beth is placed at the Methuen Home for Girls. There she learns to play chess taught by the custodian, Mr. Shaibel. Over a period of time, Mr. Shaibel recognizes that Beth is a very gifted player. Chess becomes her passion. 

As a teenager, Beth is adopted by a dysfunctional married couple. Eventually, the husband leaves, Beth and her adoptive mother bond, and in high school Beth’s chess skills begin to bring her national and international attention.

But her brilliance and success in chess are derailed by the unexpected death of her adoptive mother, and Beth’s own personal demons with tranquilizers and alcohol.

This pounding of self destruction takes quite a toll on her. Beth’s life is in complete shambles, opportunities in chess are squandered, her reputation is tarnished, and then one day in the stupor of a continuing hangover her doorbell rings.

Stumbling down the staircase to the front door, Beth is shocked to see her best friend from the orphanage, Jolene. 

For a few seconds, the characters shared the surprise of seeing how they have changed. But in that first quick glimpse of Beth, Jolene senses something isn’t quite right with her friend.

Jolene has reached out to Beth to let her know that Mr. Shaibel has died. Jolene wonders if Beth would like to attend his funeral with her.

They attend the very bleak church funeral, and after the funeral the women make a stop at the orphanage. Jolene stays in the car, but Beth with some reluctance enters the building and goes to the dimly lit basement room where Mr. Shaibel taught her to play chess.

In that room, Beth discovers a bulletin board of newspaper clippings that Mr. Shaibel kept about her accomplishments in chess. She removes from the board a photograph of her and Mr. Shaibel, and returns to the car.

Back in the car, Beth has the breakdown— the good cry, the cleansing cry, the beginning of a restart. 

But, Jolene’s work isn’t over.

Jolene who is working at a law firm and saving her pennies to go to law school takes a gamble—she loans Beth the money she needs to travel to Russia for the Moscow International Chess Tournament. (Wikipedia)

Jolene saves Beth. 

Life’s pounding on Beth stops. 

And I know what you are thinking. Bill there is a huge difference between real life pounding, and this Hollywood script based upon a fictional novel.

That is a valid point, but like in chess, let me counter your assertion.

People who help to stop the pounding on other people appear in real life too.

Just ask Moses Ingram, the actress who portrayed, Jolene. Ask her about Nana Gyesie, a student advisor at Baltimore City Community College.

Ingram aspired to be an actor. She credits Gyesie for the encouragement and collaborating with Ingram to develop a plan for achieving her goal.

In a recent interview in the Washington Post, here is what Ingram said about her student advisor:  “He never minimized my dreams. He dreamed with me. About everything my dreams could be. And then he brought it down to layman’s terms and was like, ‘Let’s come up with a plan to get you where you want to be.’ And that’s what we did,” Ingram said. (Keith L. Alexander Washington Post 2/25/21)

With more encouragement, stage experiences, and determination, Ingram was accepted into the Yale School of Drama. She graduated in 2019.

Life has always been tough, but 2020 was brutal for lots of people. And, I want to be very honest, we are a long, long way from leaving 2020 in our rearview mirror—the pounding on people continues.

It makes absolutely no difference to me if the inspiration to alleviate the pounding a person is experiencing comes from a fictional character  or  a real live human being.

However you, me, we, us need to remember— one person can stop the pounding in another person’s life, and we never know when that opportunity might appear.

We might not ever know how that quality time Charlie spent chasing his granddaughter on a pretty February afternoon will impact her.

But, I would wager someday, Charlie’s granddaughter will remember fondly the time, patience, and love he shared with her.

And if the opportunity presents itself to ease the pounding experienced by a frazzled friend, neighbor, or stranger—you, me, we, us are obligated to give our time, patience, and love to those in need.

That pounding needs to stop.

Spring cleaning photo by Bill Pike

This box of love

One of my biggest imperfections is my soft heart.

I am a sentimental pack rat.

I find it difficult to let go of pieces of paper that bring back memories and emotions.

My wife, the Commander Supreme, is trying to see the future.

She tells me, “William, our children are not going to want to sort through all this stuff when we’re dust.”

I know she is right. 

But, the other day she raised the degree of difficulty for my paper departure decisions.

The commander gave me a box of cards, letters, photographs, and some paper scraps.

I think she knows in her heart that going through this box will be tough for me. She has given me time and patience.

I did my initial skim of the contents, and I had to stop. 

So with February giving us a lousy stretch of winter weather, I sat down to take another look.

This deeper look only tugged at my heart more.

I started with notes of thanks from two elderly neighbors from when we lived on Stuart Hall Road. Immediately, I was captured by the remarkably beautiful penmanship. Those notes really made me think. The notes confirmed their love for our children, the Commander’s baking, and the assists we gave with yard work in the fall and winter.

But, one of those notes really stuck with me. The writer stated in appreciation of our kindness that we must have had really good parents. That was a keen observation as the Commander and I were blessed with good, kindhearted role models in our parents.

In this box, are a couple of cards from one of the sweetest ladies ever to grace this planet, Margaret Harrod, my grandmother. The cards were signed in pencil, but the words are still clear. Time has not smudged her love. 

We called her Granny, and the more I age, the more I respect her perseverance and endurance. 

She raised my mother, and my mother’s sister and brother on her own. When abandoned by her husband, somehow, Granny with her children made the journey from Mississippi to North Carolina.

Another sweet lady was my Aunt Evelyn, one of my father’s sisters. The program for her funeral, postcards from traveling, and birthday cards are in that stack. In one note she apologized for not being as quick on her feet as she used to be when she and my father met our family at Disney World.

My mother’s sister, Mildred, and her daughter, Lora, loaded the box too. 

Mildred was one of a kind. 

She reminded me of Shirley MacLaine’s character Ouiser in the movie Steel Magnolias. But, under her tough veneer, Mildred was one brilliant woman, with a heart that always said in those notes that she loved me.

Lora still is one of kind.

She and her husband Graham were life long educators in Greensboro. They are two peas in a pod. Lora’s notes and cards convey love too, especially toward our children and in news about her grandchildren.

A newspaper clipping announcing the marriage of my sister is in the box. She is stunningly beautiful in that photograph, and she still is today.

There is card from students I taught where my teaching career started at Martinsville Jr. High School. They were acknowledging my marriage to the Commander Supreme. 

Reading those names took me back 46 years. Some of those students really challenged my classroom management. But, in a unique way, I learned from their toughness. And reading those names made me wonder how they have managed life. 

The box also has 25 Christmas card photographs of my Uncle John’s family. Each photograph shows John and his wife, Hedy, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Those cards are all about the progression of love.

Shoved in a big envelope is a large assortment of cards and notes. 

One of my favorites is a postcard from Ocean City, Maryland. It is from Jeffrey Callow, son of our college friends, Dan and Judy. Jeffrey is thanking me for a tape I made for him of songs by the Beach Boys. Now, Jeffrey has a son who I’m told has an ear for the Beach Boys too.

Seventeen years ago, I turned 50. Two cards in the box honor that occasion. 

One is from my wife’s oldest sister, Susan, and her husband, Larry. And the other one is from Amber, the secretary at Lakeside Elementary School. I will never toss those cards. Susan and Amber have something very sad in common—the demon of darkness pushed them to take their own lives. 

I expect to take some more time and go back through the box again. If I really work at it, I reckon I might be able to reduce the contents a tiny bit.

But, the more I think about the box, the more I realize the box contains something very, very special—love.

Nothing in the box is hostile, toxic, or negative. 

That box, its contents are grounded in love.

How fortunate I have been to be surrounded by that love at every stage of my life. I imagine my life would have been quite different if not for that sustaining love.

Makes me wonder about some of the difficult people and the challenges of the moments I encountered with them. I wonder if anyone had loved them— even a tiny bit. 

One of my favorite songs on the Beatles Rubber Soul album is “The Word.” The song is simply about the word—“love.”

In the song’s lyrics, the writer ask this question: “Have you heard the word is love?”

Is it possible that the troubling headlines we read everyday might be solved by asking a question about love at that very moment?

I know what you are thinking, Bill, you clearly have lost your mind.

That is quiet possible, but ask yourself this—what might the world look like if we were better at inserting love into our decision making?

Should love just be boxed up as a bunch of cards, notes, and letters passively stored on a shelf in a basement or in the corner of an attic? 

Or should love be a word of action, a word of change that pushes us to reassess how we make decisions in difficult situations with people who haven’t been loved?

I think I’m obligated to share the love from that box.

How about you and your box of papers that show how you have been loved—aren’t you obligated to share that love too?

This box of love photo by Bill Pike

Hey God, thanks for the disruption

On Friday, February 5, I had lots on my mind and lots to do as I headed to work at Trinity United Methodist Church. But little did I know God had other ideas about my day.

When I walked into the church office, our Preschool Director was there. She quickly introduced me to a young lady sitting in a chair. I did not recognize this person. But, I was told she had gained access into the building, and needed some help.

This young lady who I’m going to name Audrey, did not waste anytime in telling me she had already reached out via e-mail to our senior pastor. Audrey was surprised that she had not heard back from him.

So, I explained that COVID-19 had changed our day to day operations, and most of our program staff works from home.

With that said, I asked Audrey what was her need? I wanted to know if there was a way we might be able to offer assistance.

Quite simply, she was looking for shelter.

 Audrey had been staying at the Regency Inn at the corner of Parham and Quioccasin roads. Her credit card had been compromised in her attempt to pay for lodging.  Audrey believed this breach had been the fault of the management of the motel. 

She further explained it would be the first week of March before she would receive her monthly distribution from some type of retirement account she had. But, Audrey also made it clear touching one of her pockets that she had $250.00 in cash.

I listened. 

My mind was trying to sort out fact or fiction, truth or not quite the truth. But, then Audrey had also tossed God into the mix. 

This whole departure from upstate New York— south was on God’s shoulders. She described her trek like Jesus when he asked his first disciples to stop and drop what they were doing to follow him.

That is what Audrey told me, God had taken over her life, pushed her to follow his leads, and I could detect no hesitation in her commitment. 

Now, hearing all of this, my brain is in a deep struggle.

So, I hit the pause button. 

I asked Audrey to sit tight while I made phone calls to local agencies who might be able to offer her assistance.

At this very moment, I knew that the nonprofits and the systems in place to work with the homeless in the Richmond area were maxed out. But, I had learned enough over the years that it is about getting a homeless person into the system—that is the starting point.

I started with the crisis hotline and left my contact information. 

Next, I called CARITAS, a local nonprofit that we have supported for years. They do practical, good work with the homeless, and now they have a new program and facility designed specifically for women. Left my contact information and a brief description.

Then, I reached out to a caseworker in the Social Services department in Henrico County. One of our Sunday school classes had worked with her in assisting two local families in December.

God must be watching my dials, the caseworker answers her phone. 

I explain the circumstances, and I ask if she has a listing of local motels/hotels that rent to the homeless. She did, and she sent me the list via e-mail.

I saved the last call to our senior pastor. He picked up too. 

Again, I gave him the background, and I asked if he had received an e-mail from Audrey. He confirmed he had received an e-mail from her. However the message only stated these words—“do not be afraid.”

I suggested that we consider putting Audrey in a room at one of the local hotels for five days. I would provide her the key phone numbers so she could get into the local systems, and I would gently explain to her this would be the only financial assistance the church could provide. 

Our pastor agreed, and I headed back to the church office.

Back in the office, I pulled up a chair and explained to Audrey our plan. She seemed pleased, and I handed her a piece of paper with the phone numbers for the two nonprofits we needed her to call.

She was agreeable to this proposal, and once again, I departed to try and secure a room for her close by. I was sensitive to find a place near the bus line and also some restaurants within walking distance.

About three miles from the church at the intersection of Broad Street and Glenside Drive, I located an Extended Stay America. I made a phone call, explained the need, and secured a reservation.

Then, I sat down with Audrey again and informed her about the arrangements that had been made. Audrey reported she had made the two recommended phone calls, and I thanked her for her initiative.

In prepping for the drive over to the Extended Stay, I asked our church office manager to ride with us.

We learned a bit more about Audrey on the drive. 

When we arrived, I found the office, confirmed the reservation, made the payment, and brought Audrey in so she could complete the required registration and be directed to her room.

With that, I made sure she had my information card, I wished her luck, and I departed.

At some point on the ride back to church my phone rang. We were stopped at an intersection, I did not answer the call. But, I assumed it was Audrey. When we arrived at church, I checked the the call, and it had been from Audrey. The message she left was simply one of thanks.

Two hours of my day were gone. 

I spent the afternoon catching up my to do list, and thinking.

I thought about all of the needy people who had trickled into the building during the last ten years. Most, we never saw again despite their promises to repay us. 

One person on a Sunday morning, we found out was a scammer. There are three other churches  near us, and this person had visited all three and had been successful in securing a nice chunk of change from each.

But Audrey was different. 

She was articulate, bi-lingual, sounds like she had a successful career at a community college, and yet, I wonder what was really going on inside her head. 

The suspicious part of my brain, anchored by Deputy Fife took over. 

Was she on the run? Had she committed a crime? Was law enforcement looking for her? Were her parents and her brother aware of this nudging by God to drop everything and follow him.

Was she a con artist? Had she really been at the Regency Inn? Did she roll some innocent companion for the $250.00? Did she use the God assertion for a soft touch like me, knowing that a church person would easily buy into that line of thought?

Next, I questioned myself. If I was any kind of real Christian, why didn’t my wife and I offer her the hospitality of one of the empty bedrooms in our home? 

Was this God plucking the wiring in my brain? Was he nudging me to second guess my decision making?

Hey Bill, don’t use the Pastor’s Discretionary Funds to help Audrey, put her up at your house for a few days. 

God continued—I thought you trusted me. I thought you cared about people. What kind of heart do you have?

About mid-afternoon, I took a break to check my e-mails, and there was an e-mail from Audrey.

The e-mail was basically a thank you note with a lot of heartfelt dignity to it.

But, there was also a paragraph where Audrey shared an experience in her life. In that experience, she put a stranger up in an empty room in her home. And in that paragraph, Audrey cited verses from the Bible to affirm her reasoning by opening up this room for a stranger.

After reading that paragraph, my brain really tore into me for how I opted to assist Audrey.

Before her checkout date, we exchanged a couple of brief e-mails. One was to confirm to her that I had spoken with a staff person at  CARITAS about her. 

As of this writing, we are four days past her checkout date, and I have not heard from Audrey.

Recently, our youngest daughter recommended that my wife and I watch the movie, The Dig

The story takes place in England just as the British are anticipating war with Hitler’s Germany. A widower with a young son hires an excavator to unearth some mysterious mounds of earth on her property.

There is a scene when her son, Robert Pretty is in distress because he realizes his mother’s health is failing. Upon the death of his father, people had said to Robert that taking care of his mother was now his responsibility.

With his mother’s health declining, Robert sees himself as a failure, that he has let his mother and family friends down. He says— “And I failed. I failed.”(Moira Buffini)

The wise and patient excavator, Basil Brown, who is with Robert in this moment of self-torment says to him—“Robert, we all fail. Every day. There are some things we just can’t succeed at. No matter how hard we try. I know it’s not what you want to hear.”(Moira Buffini)

Screenwriter, Moira Buffini, words about failure ring true to me.

 But they are hard to accept when God disrupts my day with a stranger. 

Because I want life for this stranger and all the strangers in the world to be all right, ok, and safe.

I wonder what these words from Philippians 4:13 really mean to my heart now:  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

After today, I wonder if I really can do all things through him who strengthens me?

How will I react the next time God disrupts my day?

Who knows maybe God is done testing me.

Perhaps, I failed his test today with this stranger.

Second guessing is part of the learning from the unexpected, disruptions, and interruptions in life.

And even though I might be frustrated with myself and God, I think he knows in future circumstances that I will not stop trying to help strangers— even if I fail.

Hey God, even though I don’t understand you—thanks for the disruption.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash