Earthbound and Down

Perhaps the most sobering thought is that, after a lifetime of dreaming, I’m still going to die on this planet. That after thinking about galaxies, looking up at the stars, writing about extra-planetary travel, reading books and listening to programs about life out there, and trying to raise myself above whatever provincial concerns that surround me in my own life (wherever I happen to be), that at the end of it all, it is on Terra Prime, a small blue planet orbiting Sol on the mid-western arm of the Milky Way, is where I will spend my last breath.

Somewhere in this black thought is a faint blue line of hope in the spectrograph, but I can barely see it.

To Pam, Ever Steadfast

On Sunday, the world lost the wonder of Pam Blackmon-Bailey. After a lifelong struggle with her own body, she now rests in peace. She leaves behind her husband Craig and three teenage daughters.

Pam was one of my best friends during my time at OBU and one of the reasons I moved to Greensboro those many years ago. We met through mutual friends and over time I was moved to think of her as an amazing woman. From her steady inquisitiveness to her intuitive insights, she was always curious about other people’s lives and troubles, and when she found a solution, she insisted on helping you to find your resolution. She cared. She was inquisitive and steadfast.

I never knew a single soul who found wrong in her.

The last time I saw her was one whirlwind weekend in 1999. She was visiting her sister Stephanie in Little Rock and invited me to come up from Texarkana to hang out with her and her then-boyfriend Craig. We hung out and watched movies, went to bookstores, drank coffee, made dinner, the usual young adult stuff. I went home that Sunday not really knowing that was our last time within hugging range.

I take it for granted that most of my old friends, the ones who I cherish in memory and history, are on social media and that I keep in touch on a semi-regular basis. But I overlook the ones who aren’t there by choice until it’s too late.

You never know where life will take you. But you can know for certain who it will take you from. Don’t let them out of your sight.

Requiem for Greg, Who Lived In Excellence

Requiescat In Pace, Greg Reddin, my friend.

Greg was my best friend in high school. He took me in when I needed a friend. At the time, I was in a state of floating between groups of acquaintances, without anchor, associating with a group of people who insulted me at every opportunity. I would occasionally look over at the lunchroom table where Greg and his friend Steve usually sat, and simultaneously roll my eyes at their laughing antics and be jealous of their joy. After a few weeks with Greg in my bowling class, one day I felt emboldened to ask if I could join their table. Greg swept his arm toward the open chair and accepted.

Within weeks, we found kinship and were the best of friends. Our first outing was to go see “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, and it became a bonding experience for our little group. Later, and for the duration of our youth together, Greg and I would have long conversations about life, friends, love, music, the concept of God, of holiness, of faith, of trying to save the world from itself. At the time, we were brothers in Christ, our only schism being that my church membership was First Baptist and his was Missionary Baptist.

In the course of time, I graduated high school and went on to Ouachita Baptist University. A year later, Greg graduated and went on to Central Baptist College where he and Tanya met and started a lifelong relationship. Greg and I were moved apart by fate, but I still admired him from a distance and held him in high regard.

For the countless years of our adulthood, we were incommunicado — not by malice, but by time and distance; just drifted apart. Through the faculties of the Internet, though, we reconnected a few years ago and caught up. I was surprised at the time to learn of his long and fruitful marriage with Tanya, of fathering 5 wonderful children. More surprising to me was that he went on to learn computer science and find good work writing software in his chosen Arkansas hometown of Conway. During all those years of our youth, it was I who had the computers and programming skill, but he went on to learn it and make it his adult livelihood, for the sake of his family. He exceeded where I made half-measures.

Greg became a vociferous advocate for bicycling in Conway. He helped form a cycling advocacy group, and through that convinced city council to create bike lanes, pedestrian paths, sharrows, and increase the safety and convenience of cycling in the central Arkansas region. There is now a bike path named after him. He exceeded.

Greg and Tanya were avid hikers; I’m sure there is nary a locale in the state where their footsteps did not tread. They took their children along on these adventures and instilled in them a love for the outdoors. He exceeded.

When I learned of his diagnosis with cancer, I was crestfallen. I watched from a distance as Struggle and Hope held a tug of war over Greg and his family. After surgeries, after rounds of chemotherapy, I still held hope that he would turn a corner and get better, that he would return scarred and bruised but enwisened by his battle from within. I thought that he would exceed.

In the end, Greg succumbed to that which ate at him from the inside, weakened by that which was intended to weaken his enemy. By the time he went into intensive care, we knew it wasn’t good.

I got a message from our friend Ruth Ann that he had passed away, age 43, leaving behind a loving family and a legacy of excellence.

43. Greg lived a life of excellence, of servitude to his Lord, of love for his family, of faithfulness to Tanya. He lived his life the right way. He followed the script for success. He breathed the scripture. He did everything right. Cancer.

Where is the justice in that?

Greg, I will miss knowing that you’re out there. I weep for your family and hope, in time, that they will be able to exceed and continue with life. Your pain is over, theirs has just begun. I’m sure that at some point during this struggle they had already made their peace with it, but now the war is over. Their struggle is to piece together what’s left and rebuild, scarred and bruised, but enwisened.

Tanya, I wish the best for you and the children. Greg’s excellence will linger forever in your heart and in their eyes. There is love around you; receive it where you can. You are the survivor. May you also be strong.

Greg Reddin was a good man. An excellent man.

Fortune Falls

Today, I watched a bird suffer and die.

I was finishing my meal at a chinese restaurant, about to crack open the fortune cookie, when I heard a rattling slap on the window to my left. Seeing no one outside, I looked down to see what had hit the window and there it was, fluttering on the sidewalk. Small grey bird with generic brown markings, short but pointed beak in black. The beak was curled downward at the tip, most likely from the impact. Five people trickled by in the first minute; it fluttered and tried to get away from them but got no further than two feet from where it landed. The people noticed, some bent over to see it, but sensing the need for more help than they could invest, they walked on. And I sat inside watching.

I don’t know if the wind was knocked out of it. I don’t know if it was dazed, but for a bird its movements were erratic. The damage was obvious. It pulled its wings in, tried to get up on its feet but failed in standing. Its head twitched and its mouth was open as it tried to breathe. The breaths were deep and fast, and then shallow and fast, and then its eyes lowered and closed. The breaths were shallow and slow, and then nothing. A few seconds of motionlessness, and then its tail and legs twitched. I have seen a death rattle.

The fortune cookie read, “You will be showered with good fortune.”

The horror of death is to die alone and unnoticed. I could not help this bird to live, but I was there to help make its unfortunate death meaningful. I paid attention. The biblical verse of Luke 12:6 says “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” This bird will not go forgotten.