Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Load Just Got Heavier

This story starts in June of 1978 when I graduated from college. There was a bunch of us who hung together, Mike, Clyde, Cindy, and Deb. Mike and I were graduating, and Cindy's folks came to see Mike graduate. They brought along some folks from Cindy's church, Grace Baptist Church of Laurel, MD--including the new pastor there, Colin Smith. He was just a couple years older than us.

The guy was a walking party waiting to happen.

After graduation, I went to MSU, got a Masters' degree and after that got a job with the gubmint. The job was near Laurel, and six weeks after my wife and I were married, we moved there. It was an adventure, living away from home, getting settled in a strange place, and making friends in a new church, Grace Baptist Church where Colin Smith was pastoring.

We lived out there for three years and it wasn't unusual for Mary and me to spend a Friday evening with Colin and Anita watching Kurosawa movies in Japanese with subtitles. Sunday nights after church we'd go to the parsonage and play Rook and eat pizza. I played the best Rook of my life back then.

One Sunday night instead of Rook at the parsonage, we went for ice cream sundaes. We'd gotten nicely settled in and Anita started counting kids. They had five kids all five-years-old or younger. She came up one short. The youngest, little Colin, had been forgotten at church!

Another time Colin took a community-ed class in Chinese. He told the story that at the end of the class the teacher took the class to an authentic Chinese Restaurant. But when they tried to order in Chinese, the waitress gave them a dumb look and said, "I don't understand you. I'm Korean." He'd tell stories with such obvious glee that it was impossible to be around him without having a good time and feeling the lightness of his spirit.

All this happened over 25 years ago. These pleasant memories are a treasure.

But the year 2002 was generally an unhappy one. I had been diagnosed with cancer and spent the previous year in chemo. My father, whose surviving cancer made me think I could beat it too, had his cancer come back. And he wasn't doing well. I'd been sick in January, been CT-scanned, and biopsied to see if the cancer had returned. The results were due the next Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Colin Smith had gotten his PhD in ancient languages at Cornell and was teaching Old Testament Hebrew at Baptist Bible College of Clarks Summit, PA. And the Dead Sea Scrolls were on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Colin and a dozen of his BBC students therefore came to Grand Rapids to look at them.

This entailed finding housing for Colin and Anita as well as the students. Colin's daughter-in-law just happens to be a Grand Rapids native and the daughter of some friends from Trinity Baptist Church. The bulk of the students ended up bunking at their house and we got a call asking if we had an extra bedroom for Colin and Anita. OF COURSE WE DID.

Thus, they stayed with us. It was the first time we'd seen Colin and Anita since we'd left Maryland over twenty years before. He was a lot grayer than I remembered and I suppose I was, too. But the humor and quick wit and merry spirit were just as I remembered. We spent Saturday night sitting around the kitchen table and had a wonderful time. It felt like no time had lapsed before. We just picked up our friendship where we'd left it back in 1983.

That Monday we took off work and went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls with Colin and his students. It's a lot more fun to go through an exhibit like that with a PhD expert in such things who can read hieroglyphics and who summons a bright student, points to a 2000-year-old scroll of Psalms, and commands the kid, "Read that." It was a thoroughly wonderful, carefree afternoon.

Did I mention that I was waiting for cancer test results? We got home and there was a message on the machine. I called back, the test was positive, the cancer was back. Dad had died of cancer the October before. I went into a funk.

But that weekend, having seen the Dead Sea Scrolls that are thousands of years old, having seen Colin and Anita, having been blessed by their fellowship. It contextualized the bad news and made it bearable. And we bore up under it.

That weekend my kids, Jane and Dan, got a chance to meet Colin and see his BBC students. They were impressed, Jane almost went to BBC. (She's saving the world another way.) Nevertheless, when Colin Smith and some other guys went to Lake Ann Baptist Camp to hold a week-long seminar for teenagers, Jane and her friend Lindsay went to learn from him. They were less impressed by the other preachers there.

Just this last Friday, Jane's friend Laura got married. Laura's sister is that same daughter-in-law of Colin Smith, and her husband Colin's son, Ben, was there. Looking at Ben wrangling his son, Bond, I thought of how Ben has the best of Colin and Anita. We spoke at the reception and he has that same quick wit and sense of humor. I was reminded that I missed my friend, Colin Smith.

This long rambling discourse started in 1978 and it comes back there. My friend Cindy, who introduced me to Colin Smith way back there in Ohio, called this afternoon. She said she had been speaking to her parents. They told her Colin Smith died today. Oddly, this weekend I reflected, for no reason, upon the demise of other friends. My mom and dad and other family members. None struck me as hard as news of Colin's passing.

When my Dad died, my step-sister's husband said that he was quite a guy. That's true. I told him then that Dad set an example, now its up to us to set example. I look at my college professors, my pastors, my parents, and I see that I stand on their shoulders and they are giants. When giants like Colin Smith leave this world, they leave a gap for others to fill.

What is the Colin-Smith-shaped void in this world tonight?
Here's a better description than I can write.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Was That You On The Couch With Nancy Pelosi?

I am reputed to be a Conservative and Republican.

Thus I get a lot of spam from the right side of the beg-o-sphere (the spectrum of people sending out pleas for cash lest the republic will fall). The way to understand politics in America is simple. You've got Republicans and Democrats who each have their heroes and antichrists. The heroes of the Republicans tend to be the antichrists of the Democrats and vice versa. For instance, Neutron Newt Gingrich was instrumental in taking control of Congress away from Democrats for the first time in my lifetime. This made him a hero or an antichrist depending upon whether you pull the D or the R lever on election day.

It's an effective system, you write ad copy that says, "send us money, or else (insert name and picture here) will take over Washington and corrupt our precious bodily fluids." Then do a mass mailing to everyone who thinks (insert name and picture here) is the antichrist, and wait for the money to come rolling in.

So, imagine my surprise when I get an email talking about high gasoline prices (about which I am furious), from good ole Newt Gingrich saying, "Drill Here, Drill Now." I found it a compelling pitch. Until I remembered the picture of him and Nancy Pelosi sitting on the "global warming" couch. Oh, that's right, Mr. Gingrich believes that the burning of fossil fuels will cause global warming and said something should be done.

What should be done about global warming? We can solve it. We should burn less fossil fuels. How? By making gas so expensive that most people can't afford to buy it. So, whenever I complain about the price of gasoline, I remember that global warming couch and the people who've made ads sitting thereon.

So, Mr. Gingrich, which is it? Do I believe your spam in my in-box saying we should "Drill Here, Drill Now" or do I believe what you said on the couch next to Nancy Pelosi? Or maybe I'll choose to believe nothing coming out of Washington.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Fellowship of the Two-Cycle Fumes

This story starts 30 years ago. While I was away at grad school my dad and brother, Mark, went to Muskegon and bought Mark's first moped. Over the years my little brother has accumulated quite a stash of mopeds. The total number of mopeds he owns is classified.

And a couple years ago he ran into the Ghost Riders.

Then Mark turned me onto my Honda Metro II scooter a couple of months ago. I figure he didn't think I was ready for a moped. Between then and now, every Monday has either been cold or rainy or busy. Tonight was busy, too, but a meeting got canceled. So, I called my brother.

"Where you at?" I asked. Not much for phone etiquette, I know.

"In my garage," Mark answered. He's cool with the lack of phone etiquette.

"I can be there in the time it takes to get my scooter from my house to yours. You going to Founders?"

"Sure. Come on over."

I got to Mark's house on the other side of town then the two of us drove to Founders microbrewery downtown. I got there and saw about 30 mopeds parked, but only about three scooters. And my 2nd-cousin Lee was there who I hadn't seen in 25 years. He was riding the orange Motobecaine Mark helped him find last year. I looked over the various mopeds parked there. It was a cool sight.

I figure that although I like my scoot, I'll probably be riding my wife's "pink Puch" to subsequent Ghost Riders meetings. I'm buying the pink Puch as soon as Mark gets it running. It's not pink, really, sort of a champaign color. The people have about a half-dozen old guys like me and Mark, but mostly a bunch of kids in their 20s.

After a few minutes of introductions to Mark's friends in the Ghost Riders, we all took off on a ride. My little Honda has this gentle, purring, 4-cycle engine that would never disturb anyone's sleep and its exhaust emissions have a bouquet not dissimilar to rose-water, in my unbiased opinion. This is in contrast to the sound and fury of over two dozen 2-cycle engines. These brethren of the chain-saw engine were belching so much smoke that I could sense Rachel Carlson spinning in her grave. Spotted Owls, no doubt, quaked in their nests this night.

I was unfamiliar with the protocol. The first stop on our ride was to the gas station, where we all bragged about our mileage. A fitting start as we extended a two-wheeled, two-cycle, 100mpg middle finger to the foreign despots who've doubled the price of gasoline of late.

My brother brought his dog in the bike trailer he's modified for canine transport. It's a chick magnet (which would work better if he was more than two years younger than me), but it means he tends to stay near the back of the pack. Since I was the new guy, I kept with him.

However, since I was running flat-out most of the time and sometimes felt a need for more power on hills or catching up, I figure I'll be doing some performance mods on my scooter.

Other guys have some very fast rides. Oddly, these guys would stay near the back then zoom to the front whenever we came upon a red light, where they'd stay in the middle of the intersection until everyone had gotten through. They would act as sheep dogs keeping the herd together. I wonder if the police would approve.

It was great fun to course through the streets of Grand Rapids in a roaring horde of mopeds. A mobile cloud of two-cycle exhaust fumes. After the ride, Mark and I went back to his house and we hung out for a while before I scootered home well after 11:00pm.

I've heard that scooters and mopeds are a fad. Maybe so, but I had a great time with my brother tonight.