Tough Choices

Sometimes the choice is pretty clear and simple. Say, for example, I need to pick up a dozen sheets of drywall. Right off the bat I know I’m not taking the car for this particular errand. Pickup truck is definitely a better choice. It guzzles gas like a teenager sucking soda pop but it’s pretty darn handy for hauling stuff. Conversely, if Randa and I are wanting to cruise out to Colorado to go hiking on the Western Slope, the Silverado is staying at home. We’ll take the thirty-four mpg Fusion for that excursion. Like I said, easy decision.

What’s not so easy is deciding which bicycle I want to ride. My commuter bike is lighter, faster and takes less effort to pedal up the hills of eastern Cowley County. My trail bike, with its bigger softer tires and front suspension is much more comfortable. The tires and front shock absorb a very significant amount of the wretched road patches on the county’s back roads. Which means my wrists and rear end hold up a lot better on longer rides. But the legs pay the price for that comfort, having to work quite a bit harder and for a longer time to cover the same territory.

Generally I consider the planned route and the overall goals. If I’m wanting to cover more distance in a shorter time, and especially if I can cover that distance on smooth pavement, I’ll go with the commuter bike. And wear the padded biker shorts. Usually, I’ll average two-to-three miles an hour faster.

Pretty much all of our choices involve some sort of trade-off, what someone several years ago labelled “opportunity cost.” Doing the one thing means not doing the other. Some of our choices are pretty darn complex, complicated and not all that easy to settle on. But whenever any of those choices draw us mighty close to what we know just isn’t right, it really shouldn’t be that hard to decide. Integrity should never be the sacrifice.

But we should be mighty dang sure we aren’t letting pride or stubbornness masquerade as integrity.

H. Arnett

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Hidden Transgressions

About four miles out on Cowley Seventeen from Ark City, the road curves up out of the river bottom. For a little while, it runs right along a low ridge. A spill of old gray boulders marks the transition from upper to lower and ends up against the timbers. Riding along the route in December, you might notice a bunch of bare-branched oak and elm, maybe a hickory or two scattered in along with hackberry, hedge and what have you.

Not more than a half-mile north of the curve, there’s a spot where a culvert runs underneath the road from the high pasture on the east to the boulder-lined spillway on the west. I guess on account of its convenience and the steep drop—and the fact that it probably isn’t their property—someone decided that would be a good spot to dispose of an old refrigerator. Always works best, you know, to make sure your trash ends up in someone else’s territory.

My guess is that that old fridge made quite the noise as it tumbled down across those rocks. The most severe rains over the years spilled enough water down through there to shove the thing about a hundred feet away from the bottom of the ridge. It lies there in the woods now, rusted a good bit more than when it first went in, I imagine.

My guess is that hardly anyone knows it’s there. It’s even possible, I suppose, that the landowner doesn’t know. It’s not lying up there on the edge of the road in plain sight. But just because a thing is hidden away doesn’t make it right. And getting away with it doesn’t make you innocent.

H. Arnett

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Training Time

In the past three years, I’ve done several remodeling/upgrade projects that have required me to work in the crawl space under this house. The upside is that it’s probably the “nicest” crawl space I’ve worked in: the entire area is covered with tar paper, it’s dry and relatively clean, and high enough that I can almost sit up in the space between the floor joists.

The downside is that it’s still crawl space.

In some areas it’s just, you know, “crawl.” But with gas lines, drain lines and ductwork, there’s a lot of bear crawl and some belly crawl. It wouldn’t have been fun when I was one-fourth of my current age. At sixty-five, it’s somewhat aggravating and definitely body ache inducing. All that twisting, turning, bending, stretching, rolling and reaching is mighty effective at defining what parts of my body are not used to that sort of thing. Which includes most of the parts between the top of my head and the bottom of my feet.

Along with the soreness, it’s actually pretty good conditioning for the slower parts of the mud runs I enjoy doing. You know, the crawling through tunnels, slogging through mud pits, that sort of thing. If I would just spend a little more time planning out my home improvement projects, I could arrange it so they would coincide with Warrior Dash, Conquer the Gauntlet, LandRush and Burden Dayz.

That way, I’d get double benefit out of the training and the remodeling.

Kind of like scheduling your next aggravation on the road to coincide with your next frustration at work. That way you can get those patience and forgiveness muscles really stretched out and limbered up. All set for holiday shopping!

H. Arnett

Posted in Aging, Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Exercise, Humor, Remodeling/Construction, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

About the Neighbors

Having grown up—mostly—in rural areas, I was a bit suspicious—and intimidated—by the idea of living in town, much less in a large city. I had the notion, perhaps well reinforced by family, friends and the movies, that life in an urban area would be loud and dangerous. Well, that can certainly be true…

But I also found that living in a city could be quiet and pleasant. What I discovered is that in many respects what city you live in isn’t nearly as important as which neighborhood. While the city certainly affects many conveniences and opportunities, safety and quality of life often operate in far smaller zones.

When we lived on Mitchell Avenue in Saint Joseph, we were literally across the street from the city-designated “high crime” district. On one occasion during the four years we lived there, someone broke out the window of our car and stole the in-dash CD player. Otherwise, we weren’t targeted.

Nonetheless, there was the regular noise of neighbors fighting and yelling at each other, the constant harangue of pickup trucks with very loud exhausts and the perpetual single car drag races away from the traffic light a block away. There was also the consternation of aesthetic hostility; you couldn’t look out any window or in any direction without seeing ugly. Broken down cars sitting along the curb, trash piled in someone’s back yard, junk piled in someone’s front yard, weeds growing six feet tall along the alley, broken windows in a deserted house.

Go three blocks east or three blocks south and it was completely different. Well maintained homes, well-tended yards, cars with four fully inflated tires, etc.

Here in Ark City, we’ve lucked out again. We live in an amazingly quiet neighborhood. Very little traffic, neighbors who keep their places looking good. People who respect each other and live considerate lives. I reckon even heaven will be more about the people who live there than about the zip code. Although I hear the weather is pretty good, too.

H. Arnett

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The Blessing of Frustration

Having finished up a small job of taping drywall joints yesterday, I carried my tools and mud tray outside to give them a good cleaning. A fine hard spray from a garden hose does a right fine job of cleaning the compound out of all the little corners and crevices. I expected that within a very short while I would have a kit of fine clean tools.

I turned on the faucet and directed the nozzle toward the taping knife. Nothing came out of the hose. A sudden suspicion led me to give one of the loops a nudge. It was so stiff it hardly budged. When I gripped it with both hands and tried to bend a slight vee I heard a cracking sound. Yep, that hose wuz froze!

So, instead of the quick easy cleaning job I expected courtesy of the hose and faucet, I ended up pursuing my goals via a small cleaning brush and a bucket of warm water. It took a few minutes longer but used only one-and-a-half gallons of water. And, with the brush, I was actually able to clean off some old spots of dried drywall mud that previous hosings had failed to remove.

Sometimes we are forced to find a better way because the usual isn’t available to us. Might be that’s God’s way of taking us to a better result than the easier way would have brought us.

H. Arnett

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The Noise of Hope

Like many other things in life, the number of young ‘uns we have for Children’s Time at church varies quite a bit from Sunday to Sunday. This last Lord’s Day, at least a dozen came up front for Dianna’s lesson. Sometimes there are only two or three.

Dianna sat down on the floor with them. She gave each of them a tiny little battery candle and talked about how light takes away our fear in the darkness. I thought about how good it is to see so many babies and small children in a church. Especially in a time like this when rural congregations are disappearing about as fast as pecan pie at a potluck.

The cries, the babbling and even the fussing are reassurances to the older members—and their preacher. The blending of elderly, middle-aged, young marrieds, teenagers and little ones gives notion of a future, a continuation of work and faith.

While one of the toddlers who could barely toddle wobbled her way around the rest of the kids, we all sang “This Little Light of Mine.” The young ones held up their glowing candles, some cautiously and some with wild, waving abandon. After the song, they each got a sweet treats from the basket we keep up front under the pulpit. They headed back toward their seats, some thundering up the aisle and some plodding along as if they were headed to math class.

One of the babies in the back fussed a bit and another one babbled. I smiled to myself and thought, “These are good sounds; this is the noise of hope.”

H. Arnett

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A Calm and Hopeful Fog

A heavy fog settled into the city last night,
dimming the lights and dulling the sounds
of traffic and trains and softening the corners
of the jagged edges in my brain.

It came so sudden it almost felt like rain
as we were walking along the sidewalk
from the theatre to the car parked
across the street from the police station.

Glazed bricks on the old avenue
shone faintly under the lights
and the rusted steel frame of the storm sewer
glistened as if it had been polished or new.

We drove home wondering
what it must be like out along the river
where the darker waters flow past
the old concrete trestles and wooded banks.

Here in the nearness of skies that brush the earth,
and the coming season of humble birth,
I can imagine angels singing in such mist,
poor shepherds kissed by their songs

and all of creation longing for a light
greater than its darkest night.

H. Arnett

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