For Lent our pastor suggested we either opt to give up something or begin an activity that we had not faithfully done before. Since I am not one who easily disposes of things (ask my children), I decided on the second option. My Lent resolution was to write something every day. This would not be difficult for me; I had a myriad of ideas floating around in my head just waiting to be organized. Finding the discipline to resist spending time on Facebook or shopping on Amazon.com would be harder, but I convinced myself I could do it. Determining which ideas to mold into a readable piece of interest was made easier after reading a letter to the editor in our newspaper. The author expressed how the conflict, dissension and fear America experienced in the decade of the sixties, was very similar to the separation and anxiety felt within our society today. The mind is a curious apparatus. It follows you through life, thinking of nothing much but your daily routines. Then suddenly, like a match that lights a piece of dynamite, something will ignite it, and your mind will explode with a thousand memories. I had lived through those times, and the first memory that came to me was this:
Rivers I’ve crossed now have run dry.
Hopes I have lost I cannot find.
Where is the life I used to know?
With the world’s strife, I’ve watched it go.
Flowers I picked when I was young
No longer bloom; meadows are gone.
Hate, destruction now fill the air.
Where is love? No one seems to care.
In my youth, the world seemed so fair.
That glow – the glory – is nowhere.
Will it return before I die?
Or will those rivers always run dry?
These words, which I had to pick from the deepest convolutions of my brain, were written in the sixties. It was the song I sang during the talent portion of the “Miss Northern” contest sponsored by my college in South Dakota. I remember grabbing the emcee and telling him he HAD to announce that I had written it myself, since my weak singing voice and twangy guitar-playing alone were certainly not contest-worthy. Following the program, a gentleman approached me and asked if he could have a copy of the song. My words had resonated in someone else’s soul! However, as I dug up these words from their grave of 50-plus years, I realized they sounded a bit morose, almost as if someone suicidal had written them. I had certainly not been suicidal. I even had a boyfriend, which was my major concern in life at that time. I dug further to try to explain my own words.
In the sixties we were in the middle of a war in Vietnam. We saw our sons, brothers, husbands and boyfriends shipped off to a tiny foreign country where they stumbled through the mountains and tangled jungles, shooting and being shot at by members of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. Who were these people, and why were WE fighting with them, anyway? We witnessed some of those very soldiers – those who were lucky enough to return – being spat upon in the airports and on the streets of our own United States. Why the hatred? Why the anger?
In the sixties we lived through the assassination of a beloved president. John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president and the youngest man to be elected president, had been an icon to many. He and his young family had been an inspiration for those of us who were just beginning to find our voices and build the ideals on which we would base our lives. Why would someone steal him from our country, leaving us with a feeling of emptiness and fear for the future?
In the sixties newspapers were peppered with headlines about race riots and sit-ins, major events in the American Civil Rights Movement. One of the movement’s strongest leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968. We rural South Dakotans were somewhat sheltered from those tensions, since there were no African American people in our small town, and only 0.2% in the entire state. However, I remember my mother telling me that the daughter of one of her acquaintances had gone off to college and met and married a black fellow. My mother was appalled. The girls’ parents shunned her. Why? Aren’t we all of the same God?
In the sixties our country was in the middle of a Cold War with the Soviet Union and communism. The Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, bragged of his intent to “bury” America. Placement of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba (later referred to as the Cuban Missile Crisis) brought fear of a nuclear attack on the United States. Schools began to have drills to prepare for such an attack. Families scurried to supply their homes with provisions and places for a “bomb shelter.” In our rented apartment we had a small storage area in the basement of the house. It became our shelter, which we stocked with canned goods from my father’s grocery store, jugs of water, and a transistor radio. We were ready. But why did this have to happen? Why couldn’t the people of the world just get along?
In the sixties women began to stand up for themselves and the rights they had been denied for years. Few of us were elected to offices or working in anything other than clerking, secretarial, nursing or educational positions, and women generally made much less than males. Most people had the mindset of my mother, who told me as a teenager,” I hope you never have to ‘work’ (meaning outside of the home). But you should go to college just in case something happens to your husband.” After I had been interviewed for a teaching job in a surrounding small town, the school official called and said, “Your credentials are excellent, but we have decided to give the position to a man.” Why was it all right to put sex before competence? And why was it all right to TELL me that?
The decade of the sixties was indeed a troubled time for our country. After living a totally sheltered childhood in the fifties, it is of little wonder that the words of my song reflected a feeling of despair. In the ensuing years of my life, I experienced some of that same hopelessness in personal situations. But in those later decades, the meadows of America were painted with flowers of all colors, and I rafted down rivers so wild and full that the water had to be baled out in order to stay afloat. That is not to say that the United States had no problems during those times, but there was not the disparity which had permeated the sixties – not until recently, when a dreadful disfigured dragon reared its ugly heads, spitting out vermin, spreading discord throughout the land and once again threatening to divide our people.
Growing up I was totally removed from any politics. My parents chose to register as independents “because we were business owners,” they later told me. They simply voted for the person or the platform in which they believed. My naiveté was so all-encompassing that I honestly had no idea of the difference between a liberal and a conservative until I was in my mid-twenties. Today that would not be possible. Television and radio news programs, newspapers and magazines are full of politics. The Internet, Facebook, and Twitter, rattle with vitriolic rants, each side chastising the other as if its members were ogres unfit to live in our country. Parents and friends argue with and/or shun their loved ones if they do not believe as they do. And I find myself once again asking, “Why the anger? Why the hatred?”
In the sixties and seventies the peace sign was the vision of hope for war protestors and hippies. Popular at the time was the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” which ended with these words: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
My original intent had been to end my composition here. I would implore the readers to resurrect the peace symbol; to replace harsh words with a smidgeon of understanding for those whose views differ from theirs; to be patient; to be kind; to be loving; and to realize that the healing or our country must begin within each one of us.
Then something extraordinary happened. While accompanying my friend and her husband to the office of an oral surgeon, I noticed on the other side of the room a dapper young gentleman dressed in shorts, a blue checked shirt and a stylish hat. I was sitting alone, when the young man came up and asked politely if he could sit near me. His mouth was full of gauze, and he was a bit difficult to understand, but he told me had had just had a wisdom tooth removed.
“Do you have any big bills to pay?” he asked.
“No,” I replied. “Why?”
“I’m with a company that helps people consolidate or pay their bills.” He proudly flashed a button displaying the company logo.
“I do have a friend that could possibly use your help.”
He grabbed one of the business cards from the office counter and wrote his name and number on the back of it. “We have a website, too,” he said as he handed me the card. “I’ll give you the address.”
I wrote down the web address on the card under his name, which I was unable to decipher. “YOU should have a business card,” I told him.
“I know. I’ve been meaning to get some made.” It went quiet for a moment. Then he exclaimed, “It’s a miracle I’m here.”
I looked up from the magazine I had been paging through. “Really? Why is that?”
“I was in a car accident in 2005. I have these burns all over my body.” He lifted his legs one at a time to show me the scars on his calves. His elbow looked as if it had been pieced together with metal.
“Ouch!” was the only thing I could think of to say.
“I collided with a truck carrying explosive materials. The fire started immediately. A man pulled me out. The rescue vehicle driver said he saw him pull me out and place me on the ground, but by the time he got to me, the other man was gone.”
My eyes widened with awe. “It was an angel,” I said.
He nodded. “Then God spoke to me. Some people don’t believe God can speak to you, but He spoke to me.”
“I believe He does,” I said. “What did He say?”
“He told me that He was the one God of all people and that He was gong to save me. I was going to be all right. And I am. God is good.”
I smiled at him and agreed, “God is good indeed.”
By that time, other people had entered the office, and he was off to peddle his business to them. As we were walking out the door, he called to me, “Don’t’ forget to look on our website.”
“I won’t,” I answered. “By the way, how do you pronounce your name?”
“Hay-soos,” he replied. His name was Jesus.
At lunch I asked my friends, “Why would this young man share his story with me?”
“Because you look safe,” one said. “Because you’re a good listener,” the other offered. But I could not get it out of my head. Granted, Texas is known for its friendly people, but why did Jesus share such personal information with me, a stranger? Later that evening I opened my computer file to continue writing. My answer was there – at the end of the fifth paragraph: “Aren’t we all of the same God?” – my question. “He is the God of all people” – His answer.
It was no accident that Jesus and I were in the same place at the same time. I believe that God brings people together for a reason. He sent Jesus to help me see that the message I was writing was not really mine, but His. Jesus delivered the answers to my questions from long ago that were still plaguing me. God does not view us as black, white, or brown; as liberals or conservatives; as soldiers or protestors; as women or men. He claims us ALL as His children, and like any loving parent, He wants His children to “just get along; to be patient; to be kind; to be loving.”
My chance meeting with Jesus made me realize that since the sixties I have grown in my faith, in both God and humanity. I have seen so much more love than hate in my life. Yes, I am unhappy with the troubled state of the world today, but I am not despondent, for I know I can do my small part to make it better. God always has been the source of my strength, but now – because of a reminder from young Jesus – I know that He will also be there to protect and preserve our country during these times of turmoil and to guide each of us in the right direction. Although He cannot totally obliterate the strife or the hate or the two-headed monsters from our country and our world, God will always make certain that each one of us is surrounded by meadows rich with fragrant flowers, and that the rivers never ever run dry. God is good indeed.
© 2017 Penny Radtke Adams