More Than a Passing Blessing

Some we see in familiar hallways
nearly every day of our work week.
Others maybe only once in a while.

Something about them—a kind smile,
a gentle word or some good thing we’ve heard
about them from someone else,
or maybe just the way
they quietly go on about their day,
taking care of whatever emerges
and pitching in to help others—

Whatever that something is,
it reassures us a bit about whatever else is going on,
reminds us that there are others,
gentle but strong,
good-hearted and honest to the core,
bearing their own unseen burdens
without resenting the world,
sharing wisdom and humor—
sometimes in the same sentence
and sometimes with considerable space in between.

Whether you call it “lucky” or “blessed”
you know that you and your life
are better for knowing them
and sometimes just seeing them
without them even knowing you’re there
is enough to make your day
take a turn for the good.

And in the finest of fortunes,
someone like that has decided
to share their life with yours.

H. Arnett

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Of Work and Caring

I had opportunity recently to get to know a couple of my colleagues at the hospital a bit better. Short, private conversations that helped me better understand situations—and the people involved. Those brief talks gave me a different perspective, helped me know just a bit more about their walks beyond the tiled hallways and key-coded entries. Time spent with connections that help turn acquaintance into knowing.

We catch too few of such moments, I think. Too much of worry and business, too little of the sharing that truly makes us care. The knowing of one another that stretches our awareness, the bits of understanding that help form a picture of what lies behind the scenes. We gain the meanings of unspoken words, understand the shadows that sometimes drift behind the eyes. And in that growing insight, realize—again—how the stronger bonds of friendship can give such rich meaning and strength to work relationships.

Perhaps some sorts of work do not depend so much on such deepening. Some might argue that factories and offices, bridge work and street cleaning, and a great host of other occupations and undertakings can move along quite nicely without any sort of deep caring for co-workers. Perhaps so… but I am skeptical.

Even if we care only about the work itself, the accomplishment of the owners’ ends, I doubt that a lifeless formality produces more and better work. And if we care about the workers at least as much as we care about their defined duties and designated outcomes, then a bit of thoughtful reflection informs us that their caring about one another matters.

The willingness to pitch in and help carry the load when another is sick or injured or dealing with “stuff at home” is much more prevalent and powerful when we care about the one who cannot be there and care about those affected by the work. The desire to do excellent work is stimulated and strengthened when we feel accepted, valued and cared for. Both process and product are improved when the people involved have come to know and love one another.

Such knowing and loving depend upon us having a mind to occasionally take a bit of time to listen to one another and see the other in ways that go beyond the doing of duty, the taking of tasks. A caring that goes beyond what is asked and attends to what is needed.

H. Arnett

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Neighbors in the Hood

As Randa and I ate our Saturday morning breakfast on the porch, I noticed a bunch of small branches and twigs scattered on the driveway. “Looks like we had a bit of wind last night,” I commented.

Further investigation revealed that, indeed, we did have a bit of wind. Small branches with their clumps of green leaves littered the streets and yards of our neighborhood, with the occasional accent of slightly larger ones as well. Most of the slightly larger ones—about one to two inches in diameter—were dead limbs, already stripped of their bark and weathered gray. As I drove slowly around the block, I saw a bunch of dead branches and, every now and then, green branches as much as four or five inches thick.

I was surprised that we’d had winds strong enough to strip that much from the trees, leave that much litter in yards and streets, and yet Randa and I both had slept right through it. But what I saw a bit later, though not especially surprising, was more impressive.

One neighbor was picking up branches from the yard of a vacant house while another was removing branches from the street. A half-block away, a third man cleared a large clump of Johnson Grass that had grown up around the guide wires of a large utility pole. That was also on a vacant lot but was right at the edge of the street near the busiest intersection in our neighborhood; it had been a small eyesore for several weeks.

None of the men were working on their own places. None were being paid for what they were doing. No one had even asked them for their efforts. They were simply doing things that needed done, working to make things better, pitching in to help out other people who might never even know the kindness that had been shown them. It reminded me—perhaps oddly—of the Carpenter’s account of the Good Samaritan. In that small bit of history, he taught us that being a true neighbor is actually a matter of chosen action, not an issue of ethnicity, religious or national identity or genetic affiliation. It’s what we do or don’t do that determines whether we are neighbors.

As I observed these men pitching in without deliberate cooperation, I took note that these are the kinds of things that decent people do. Little ways of showing love and concern. Things that make a place like this seem more like a neighborhood. Without these small acts of caring—and the large ones when they are needed—we’re not really neighbors. We’re just people who happen to live in proximity.

H. Arnett

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A Few Seconds of Courtesy

I was waiting to pull out from a local auto dealer’s parking lot a couple of days ago, planning to turn right onto a four-lane street. The posted speed limit is 45 at that point and our 2016 Ford Fusion has pretty decent acceleration skills. I paused while a couple of vehicles passed headed in the direction I intended to travel. There was a bit of a gap between them and the next vehicle and I started to execute a snappy pullout into the traffic.

Something made me think, “There’s nothing behind this next car. I wonder how much longer I’d have to wait here until this vehicle passes?” Even though it violated my basic masculine nature and made me twitch inside, I decided to wait and see.

About three-and-a-half seconds.

Yep, that’s how long it took for me to be more considerate. Just over three seconds. Not even long enough for a good yawn. But enough time to be courteous and let the afternoon proceed more comfortably for both of us.

I could have pulled out and accelerated hard enough to be out of the way. The other driver could have easily moved over into the left-hand lane. Maybe if the Fusion and I were in good enough sync, the driver wouldn’t have had to even ease a foot off the accelerator or twitch the steering wheel slightly left.

There have been plenty of times when I’ve made a right hand turn into town traffic, pulled out into the near lane with someone coming in the left hand lane. And I’ll probably continue doing that, depending on traffic and degree of proximity to making it to work on time. In some settings, you either jump in or wait an hour or so for the morning rush to be over. But when I can take just three or four seconds and show courtesy to other drivers and my passengers, I’m going to go with that.

I should probably let Randa know about this new plan of mine ahead of time. Otherwise the shock of my patience and consideration for others might be more than she could bear.

H. Arnett

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Of Naming Rights and the Nature of Rivers

I have wondered for some time how it is that folks decide what to do when two or three rivers come together. More specifically, how they decide on the name to be conferred upon that particular stream of water after the confluence.

For example, when the Allegheny, Monongahela, and the Ohio rivers join at Pittsburgh, was it just for convenience of spelling that folks decided that what kept going downstream from there would be called the “Ohio River?” Fewer letters, fewer syllables, simpler spelling and more convenient pronunciation? Makes sense, but then wouldn’t “AlMoOh” have worked just as well? “Allenongohio” was definitely out. While hyphenation might be the solution in some marital unions, the folks who have to paint signs for bridges would have had a conniption over what happened in Pittsburgh!

It certainly wasn’t ease of spelling that let “Mississippi” take precedence when said Ohio River joined it several hundred miles downstream. Is it just a matter of who’s bigger when they meet? Depending on recent rains upstream, I’m not sure the Mississippi is always sending more of the upper United States down to New Orleans when it meets up with its cousin at the pointed edges of Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri.

Of similar situation though smaller scale is the intersection of the Smoky Hills River and the Republican River near Junction City, Kansas. We recently passed by that connuberance on our way to a wedding rehearsal in Manhattan. Maybe that’s what got me to wondering about the naming rights in our culture.

Sometime a long time ago, the residents of the area or at least the ones who had a say in such matters, decided not to give prominence to either river. In fact, per their decision, neither river continues from that point on. I suppose “the Smoky Republican River” would fail to convey the sort of respectable image the dignitaries and other influential denizens of the area might desire. I’m pretty sure if it got put to a vote today in Topeka, it’d definitely be known as the “Republican River.” Instead those folks from back whenever decided the mingled waters that flowed from that point on would be known as the “Kansas River.”

Allegedly also known as the Kaw River, it slides, jags and jogs east for about a hundred-and-fifty miles. It ends, so to speak, at Kansas City, when it yields its stream—and surrenders its name—to the Missouri River. Even though the Missouri would never become what it is without the contributions of the Kansas, that’s just the way of the world as we know it.

Every river has its tributaries and those vary from other rivers that may rival the namesake in size, length and volume to the nameless ditches and tiny creeks that also feed into the system. It’s not the nomenclature or the recognition that measures our contributions to the flow of the stream. Every bit counts and every one of them does its part to add to the river—and depending on the exact nature of the rain—to also do its part to carry for a while the erosion of the fields and cut away at the banks.

Rivers and marriages are a continuous interaction of influence and terrain, each shaping the other, remaking what has been given into some new form, bearing what is born from all that it has been through and all that has come into it. Though each may be called “over” at some point, life still bears proof of their existence.

They all carry forward old ways, customs and habits born of ancient channels and yet occasionally cut a new path when the load of what must be borne becomes more than what can be carried through the old paths. And yet even in that, even in the raging flood, it is still a river.

And such it will be when it returns to quieter times.

H. Arnett

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A Green Valley in the Heat of Summer

A bit east of Junction City, Kansas 18 intersects with I-70. That particular junction is about sixteen miles or so southwest of Manhattan. So far as I know, it’s not a spot of any special reputation, just a place where one road runs into another. If you’re traveling east on I-State-Seventy and want to get to the Little Apple, K-18 is probably your best choice.

Toward the middle of a hot August afternoon in Kansas and wanting to make it to Manhattan a bit ahead of a scheduled wedding rehearsal, we took the exit. As we eased to a stop at the end of the uphill ramp, I looked off to the southeast. I’d had no expectation whatsoever for the view that lay before us.

Miles of green valley opened up beyond us. Ripples of trees and pasture spread out between the ridge we were on and the one well off to the east. The ripples of color, shape and texture continued along the opposite ridge and off as far as we could see to the south. Not the usual tones of August in this particular section of the country but it has not been a usual year. Heavy rains flooded many sections of the state throughout May and much of June, with sporadic rains continuing thereafter.

In a more normal year, the seemingly endless stretches of rolling pastures throughout the Flint Hills have tanned and browned by mid-August. Cattle roam for miles searching for shade and green sprigs of grass in the ditches and low spots. Any livestock roaming this year are simply struck with wanderlust.

Not having time for wandering or wondering, we paused for a moment, looking at each other and briefly voicing our surprise. Then we turned north and headed toward the converging of the Republican River and the Smoky Hills River.

It seemed a good day for seeking mergings and the valley lay so rich and promising before us.

H. Arnett

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In Times Such As These

In times such as these
when it seems so easy
to forego all degrees of courtesy,

when it seems there is so much debate
and so little discussion,
when it seems much more the fashion
to charge forward,
words blasting like weapons
rather than serving as instruments of understanding,

when it appears
that we’d rather make clear the distance
rather than build some bridge of connection,
that there is so much yelling
and so little listening.

In times such as these,
might not we try to be
a gentle voice
in which are heard
words of truth spoken in love?

Might not we
hold fast and firm
to the sure ways
of righteousness, peace and hope
without letting go the satin ropes
of decency, dignity and kindness?

It might be good
if we who claim to be Believers
would take the time
to make rather sure
that the lines we are drawing
do not wrongly define
the gospel of the One Who Came
to tear down the wall of separation,
to call all people to repentance,
to bring unity instead of division,
forgiveness instead of vengeance,
salvation instead of damnation,

regardless of nation,
or political affiliation.

Who both told and showed
that we should
turn the other cheek,
choose meekness over power,
return good for evil,
endure injustice rather than inflict it,
defend the widow, the poor and the orphan,
give no place to self-righteous hypocrisy,
and forgive even unto seventy-times-seven…

in a single day.

H. Arnett

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