This cold day, the second or third of autumn, was full of bright sunshine. Not enough to tempt me to swim. Not even enough to insist I take to the water in my canoe.
There was work to do. The front deck to clear of its summer furniture. A couple of sliding screen doors to bring inside. Fence the deck entrance to the gallery. And the balcony door toward the lake, of our blue room on the first floor.
All actually done, after slow moving ablations. But, accomplished just in time for a visit. From two brothers in their 70's. The former cowboy from Montana, a sometime telephone lineman, and his brother, our neighbor Seth. How they look like their grandfather whom I remember from my childhood.
They came to say good-bye, after their own so brief reunion. Their most vivid memory of their Ossipee youth, was mine as well. Climbing one day when they were middle teen-agers, New England's most treacherous trail - the Huntington Ravine, up Mount Washington. I would have been in my early 30's, taking these boys hand-over-hand, up a trail from which not everyone comes back.
A high-mountain adventure we all remember: they in their early 70's, I almost 90. All of us glad we don't have to try it again. A victory of youth, God-given.
They wanted our picture, to take back to Montana - this fleeting day of pristine blue, and gold, in autumn cold. They walked away, two bothers, cross-lots to the Stevens family home, to take the cowboy to Maine's major airport for Mark's flight home, to another, so different, life.
A little lunch, a little nap, then dress I must, for a last visit of summer, on the Ossipee road, at Maine's border, with my soul-friend, a poet and painter, leader in caring for this earth, the basin for river and water in the land of rising mountains.
My time to see her new building in the woods, where her own dream of fighting the fight for God's good earth is being given life, and flesh. A vision turning to reality. A time for telling of God. And of faith, so needed, for very life on earth.
A touching time for me, late-day, when I might otherwise have been on another river myself, in my canoe, plying quiet waters, so suddenly still as seasons change, and it is summer no more.
We continue to pack, preparing to leave the place I love, not really knowing if I will see it again.
We sit at table. Molly prays - so much to say, from our grateful hearts, while the whirling world beyond this forest home, announces its breathless headlines over the news.
We are grateful for food, for each other, for our family, for the work God gives us, for grandchildren we commend to His care. Then sit in silence at our hearthside after supper, thinking. Writing. Remembering this day of change, so late in our lives. So glad we are, for the remembering.
Molly smiled at me over lunch, and said, "I have an unusual thought. In case you were not able to come back to Ossipee next summer, maybe you would like to write a good-bye to the lake you love."
Several friends have assured me they would see me here next year. I raise the caveat, "Yes, if I am alive." They look at me with an affirming love, and say, "Oh, I am sure you'll make it."
By then I will be 90. But of course, at Covenant Village I live among many 90-year-olds. Some, well beyond that. I am confident Molly will live long beyond that. All the signs of enduring vigor are there in the capacities and the way she is able to live her life.
I have been strangely dogged by doctors and hospitals, medicines, and treatments, despite my daily exercises and attempts at strength over the years.
My sister, bound to her chair as she aged next door to us on Ossipee Shores, always insisted, "I want to die, looking at the lake." Alas, that was not granted to her. Yet, I have much the same feeling.
The New Hampshire poets have written about this lake and these forests and they have helped to stir the deep feelings I long have cherished about this place of my summer childhood and my growing up, and return after return, bringing my Molly and our children with me. And now their children have felt what our Lizzie calls "the Ossipee mode," and have found this to be sacred ground to them.
I'm not sure I ever could say good-bye to this lake and these hills. They are part of my soul, my being. My pictures are in my heart and in my sketch book. They are part of what I feel about life, about God, about this world and about eternity.
I hope I can say good-bye, in my heart, when I have to. But always I will wish and pray to come again, somehow. This is all part of the gift from God, of my own life to me. I so gratefully receive and cherish it, for me, and mine.
Some of us who care have watched with sorrow the decades of the sexual revolution come to America. So much was happening in the decade of the 1960's. Dramatic political change was coming. Presidents and politicians were assassinated. But behind that, and deeper, came an inexorable urge and drive to cast off the restraints of sexual custom that seemed to have come from the moral restraint that was taught and practiced by the religious traditions of our society.
Those restraints had been in the whole spirit of our nation's founding. A high sense of community and caring for each other. In Puritan New England, single people often became part of families where they could live together in fellowship.
But, by the 1960's, "the whole place was coming loose" as one theologian of the day said. Poets saw the disintegration beginning and prophesied "and the center cannot hold." "The world ends," T.S. Eliot said, "not with a bang, but a whimper."
The strengthening ties of family, of marriage, of social relations, and government relation, and finally, of the church itself, gave way.
We don't remember our acquiescence in that, much less our leadership in that. But now so many are part of the retaliation.
A presumed victim of teen-age drunken sexual assault, confesses now that she never told her parents or anyone because she would need to reveal that she had been to a party where alcohol and illegal, under-age drinking was taking place. In the code of her family she should not have been there under those circumstances. She knew better. The boys knew better, too, but the moral restraints that preserve dignity and integrity by the 1980's had already shredded.
We weep and rage, but we do not want to take responsibility ourselves. Our society "colludes," in agreeing to find someone to blame.
It is the game that began long ago in the Garden, when sin insinuated itself in the family of Man, and "blame game" began.
It is not "loose woman," or "bad boys." It is society gone soft, wanting no one to be able to tell anyone else how to live, but all of us making personal choice our top priority. Until that choice has become more sacred than the creation and protection of life itself.
We have delivered ourselves over to be a spiritual, social, and surely sexual dyslexia. We can't see straight. We see double-minded. We are among those whom Jesus saw as "the blind."
It is time to work our way back to the faith, to ancient and trusted truths that long have told us what is right and what is wrong. Jesus said it is the narrow path through the "narrow gate that leads to life!"
We all wonder about death: When will it come, what will it be like, will it be heaven for us? It's the getting there that is so full of God's surprises, the closer we come to that either far-off day - or near at hand day.
We think about it in relation to those dearest to us on earth. Our families. Our wives and husbands. Our children and grandchildren. Dear colleagues with whom we've worked and served at Jesus' call.
Here in New Hampshire, our precious older daughter, our newly retired minister, with her husband Bruce, was up at 3:30 am to meet the cab that was to take them directly to the Humphrey airport, to help them board their 7:00 am Southwest flight for Boston, then to catch the C & J bus for the two-hour ride to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where they were to rent a car nearby and drive the remaining hour north to Ossipee, to be a week or two with Kristen's aging parents.
How we and they had longed to see each other. They'd had little sleep before coming. We'd be up late, talking, we knew, despite their expectations and ours. They'd come to rest after their long summer's preparations for their daughter's wedding. It was time to find rest for the body, and peace for the soul beside, and on Ossipee's waters, we would all be renewed by the time together.
But, that very day exhaustion overtook me in my summer's long program to gain strength, and be renewed myself. I had a long lunch with a young person, once of Colonial Church, who each summer had driven from her home and ministry in southern New Hampshire to talk "church," and ministry and be encouraged by our time together over "lunch without end." We had both looked forward to this long conversation over New England clam chowder and salad in a fine Wolfeboro restaurant looking down up the beauty of Lake Winnepesaukee.
I could feel my struggle for breath as I walked from my car across the bridge to the Garwood Restaurant's side of the street. We met, and talked at length. We prayed, then parted with a hug. A tender, faith-filled time.
But, as I drove home, I knew all was not well with me. The over-taking exhaustion was palpable. Breathing came harder. What was going on?
We called Minnesota after dinner that evening to seek advice from our middle daughter, a Senior Nurse at Hennepin County Hospital. She called back, and was very firm. "You need to take Dad to Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro tonight. Don't wait until morning. Acting quickly is important, with his history of hospitalizations and surgeries, and decades-long struggle with lung disease and bronchiecstasis."
Mother and daughter in New Hampshire swung into action. Bruce got behind the wheel of their rental car and drove us swiftly and safely through the dark, to the hospital.
I received wonderful, cheerful, helpful care by Emergency doctors and nurses at the hospital. Blood was drawn. Tests were made, X-rays were taken. The white count was high, indicating infection. But not quite pneumonia. A decision was made about a strong antibiotic - to begin that night. And with that, miraculously I was released to go home, where I longed to be. Kristen took the wheel and drove us home through the dark. It was 1:30 am when we reached our Tamarack Lodge. We were all tired. Our couple who had come for recuperation, was instead exhausted.
We prayed. They went to bed. It was now up to me to do recovery right - with balance and care.
Those who needed rest had acted in faith to help these old folks, their parents - willingly, silently, setting themselves aside, to help their hosts. It was late next morning when we saw each other. The faithful family, doing what their hearts and their loving faith told them - disregarding their own need.
Something they never expected had happened. They came through for their family. They followed the choice God gave them. In spite of their own need.
How strange and wonderful are faithful families. How wonderfully full of surprises that we know as miracles, from the God Who so loves us, and gives us life.
The day, here at Ossipee, feels full and long, though it wasn't really so this Sunday. We wakened early, to be able to walk cross-lots and see our Tamsie off. I shaved, took pills, dressed for church, heated a little of last night's coffee, and followed after Molly, who'd gone ahead to "help" if she could.
Tamsie, trim and neat, dressed beautifully for her journey, had everything in hand. The engine of her rental car was running and the trunk lid was up and waiting for any last things. Firm and efficient, hugged us each, declaring her love, and was off to Portsmouth, to catch the bus for Logan, and then her airplane home. I gave my required yodel, as part of our long tradition of family Ossippee goodbyes, and she was gone - ten minutes ahead of time. She'll be home in time for Arthur Snow's, Lizzie's son, seventeenth birthday party - an important occasion since his dad's unexpected and sudden death at Thanksgiving time.
We headed for early church and a small group gathering afterward, on the theme of "community." After a beautiful Sunday brunch tradition of eggs, toast, muffins & jam, with OJ, milk as needed, now a 68-year culinary triumph each week, we hunkered down under a sacred patchwork quilt from our first church, a gifted Canadian blanket, for an hour's rest.
At three, it was time for me to head for the river in my beloved canoe, to paddle an approximately two-mile circuit across our bay into Pine River, then paddling the meandering turns to the highway to Portland bridge, and back again.
Usually busy, this Sunday afternoon of early September , the river was all mine. No pontoon boats, no Sea-doos, not even any kayaks, and no responses from my "river rat" friends who live in two cabins along the banks.
Only four or five red cardinal flowers were barely hanging on. Gradually they're being replaced by clusters of beautiful white asters gathered close to the water. Only one splash of red-turned-purple leaves are evident down by the river's mouth.
A long-necked gooney-bird who swims, dives, and flies like a duck was now much in evidence. One of them led me half way up the river.
The usual crowd of ducks, regularly fed by Caroline at their river bank home, were resting hopefully on her front lawn.
Sunday's stream of cars and trucks and motorcycles were crossing my Route 25 bridge from Portland on the way to join yet other motorists going south out of New Hampshire mountains toward the Interstate to Boston. I continued my solitary way under pale skies, as fall's crisp air floated in.
While tying up my canoe at our dock, my daily hard cough overtook me. I made it to the berm above the beach, where I flopped into a deck chair, still coughing. Suddenly, from the campground next door one of the young new owners came over saying, "Arthur, can I help you with your canoe, your paddle, or anything?" I explained my long-standing lung disease, brought home from Africa two decades ago. And we fell into a kindly, long neighborly conversation.
A heavenly intervention, surprisingly sent by God to assure me I am, even in the quiet afternoon of early fall, surrounded by those who watch and care.
And so, home, to the evening with Molly, our first night alone in two weeks, leaving me overwhelmed and grateful to God, Who keeps His promise, to "come to me" when I need Him.
Listening to the Senate hearing of Judge Kavanaugh in his candidacy for the high court, reminds me how ready we are to bait each other, set little traps of conversation, lay unintended meanings on people's words, to try to catch them saying something or taking a position of which we disapprove.
At least, this happens in high places, while in the world of neighbors, and family, it seems quite different. Our intention is much more toward accommodating to each other's lives, sensing the need of others, and speaking to that need: a stated trouble, a persistent problem, a personality need - sometimes that first seems to ask for our understanding, to beg for our sympathy, to show our need for encouragement.
A couple weeks ago, in my little climb on a child's mountain, when I, not a child, could only take baby steps to inch my way up to a resting point, my athletic daughter held out complete understanding, and on the way down, held my hand every step of the way, quietly guiding and encouraging me.
Her response was instinctive, readily offered, and the very help I needed.
That is much more likely to be our response among those we know. Even to a garrulous neighbor, who loves to talk, and needs to talk, we are far readier to listen, and go along, and agree, and encourage, than not.
I believe it is a Christian response. Because we are taught to care. How we need to cultivate that.
For us, here in New Hampshire, it's the day after Labor Day. So many out on Hodsdon Shore down the way. Skittering Sea-doos careening around the bay. Even I, out in my canoe, getting into the river as far as the old beaver pond. Families. Friends. Peace. A Holiday.
But today, so much seeming to break loose. With a picture of Hurricane Gordon heading into the Gulf, David Muir, on his national network program, went from one seeming disaster to the next: The angry accusations in the Senate Committee Hearing, where Judge Kavanaugh had come to be questioned, and insulted, perhaps trapped, as he took the first step toward confirmation as the newest Supreme Court Justice. His family was with him. His wife and young children. Cousins. Aunts and uncles. Friends who care about him.
Protesters could be heard from the balcony. They'd made up their minds. This was the man who could tilt the court toward saving the lives of millions of babies in the womb whom so many in America do not want saved. Angry exchanges, just to get the hearing started - so shrill and threatening that the nominee's little children were escorted out of the room.
But then, another "bombshell" aimed at the White House by Watergate-famed, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward's book on Trump and the White House, called Fear. Quotations from the inner circle around the President from those trying to keep the President "from starting World War III." or from incriminating himself by inadvertently lying to Special Prosecutor Mueller.
One watched, or listened, as press reports conveyed a sense that the noose was tightening, that all of Washington and beyond - the normal, sane people, wanted our nation's president destroyed, dismissed, defeated in every way possible.
Despite numbers of good things, wise things, he's done. His own self-defense seems to betray him and add to the sense of crisis.
You want to weep for him. To reach out and hold him. Speak comfort to him. To say, "despite it all, I see the good heart within. I see, beneath the boasting, and the defending, and the sense of a hurricane in the White House, the will to break through with change, and new possibilities that will help us all. Hold on, Donald. Look over your shoulder toward the Lord Who loves you and is trying to lead you. Take His hand. Take peace. Go slow. Pray. Let the storm be stilled. You are our President. We need you. See the vision. Leave these battles. Take the high way. Offer your best. We have seen the good heart. We believe it's real. God bless you - yes, and comfort and guide you."
A friend who's feeling the effects of age as he enter his 70's, and has been warned by a heart attack, asked Molly and me to write something on aging. Of course, there is so much to say. You want to encourage your fellow oldsters. You want to help them see the new ways they may need to operate, the new assumptions they need to make about this strange new stage in their living, the change and expectations they may make of themselves - particularly in physical ways.
For me, I am finding - after 45 years of leading Minnesota Boundary Water canoe trips - that the paddling alone on my summer Lake Ossipee in New Hampshire, and up my beloved Pine River, and back, has to now, at 89, be done in a slightly different way.
How differently? Slower. Just slower. Take my time. Pull hard when I can, but go for form, for a long sweep of the paddle, take rests when I get to 50 strokes, allow my breathing to come down to slow. Maybe not go all the way each day. Balance going to the bridge at Route 25 with a stopping-place, like what I call the "Beaver Pond." Their old lodges are barely discernable there, and they themselves are up-stream, having abandoned the lower river because of the plethora of pontoon and other power boats who are finding the launch basin at Route 25 their best access to the lake.
Now, I watch for flowers along the river bank, particularly the stunning red cardinal flowers that are so dramatic on their simple stocks, if you chance to find them. This is their season now, and I love discovering them, and watching for them, and treasuring the sight of them.
Early on in summer there are little white paper-like flowers in the tall grasses by the river mouth, and the purple lapin which are mixed in with them. Bee bombs are there, too, in early summer.
Now, as September comes, I look for edelweiss, and asters, and of course, golden rod. I love them all.
They make me slow a bit, in order to get a good look, and so is my journey more restful, more steady, more refreshing.
The slowing down applies to just plain walking, too, even around the house, and surely, out on our dirt road.
Of course, people are another reason for stopping to exchange a few words, whether on the river or the road. It's on the river that I begin with a yodel toward a house or two on the river bank, or even at a passing kayak or power boat. So, I accrue my "river rat" friends whom I cherish each in their own way.
Slowing down does make for more listening in such casual conversations. Every word, I find, is worth it. So often they curry care, and cheer. All part of the disciplines of old age, and bodies that can't do any longer, all that they used to do.
Several decades ago, the now sainted Mother Theresa of India, famously said, at the Washington National Prayer Breakfast, "Well you know, you have your genocide in America, too." She was referring to the fact that in America some millions of infants in their mothers' wombs have their lives taken from them before their birth, by conscious medical procedures.
Across the land, many are afraid to openly confess that that procedure is an act of killing a child who is alive, and is a human being. In church, we skirt the issue. In polite society, we fall back on the fact that our national law, in the Roe v. Wade decision of our Supreme Court, has made it law.
We justify it because the highest court has decided that in the conflict of two rights, the one of a woman's personal decision to not give birth to the baby she has conceived supercedes the right of the youngest and most innocent human being to claim the life he or she has been given.
The issue is deeply theological. Who give this mysterious gift we call life? We human beings are not the givers of life. We are the instrument, the channel, through whom God give His ultimate gift. This has everything to do with His sacred gift of sexual intercourse within "the holy bond of marriage."
God, from the beginning, had His plan for giving life to the world. For creating children and a human race to be His family, His friends on earth. We are disrupting God's will and gift - the very basis of our human existence - by our so willfully interrupting and betraying His plan. We subvert the sacred meaning of marriage and the sacred call to give children birth in the world.
And now the media work hard to strike fear into our hearts that the latest judge to be nominated for the Supreme Court may be willing to join others in striking down the law that for these decades has permitted human beings to legally take the life of an unborn child.
Our society has strayed away from the loving will and the gift that God has given to fulfill and make stable our lives and the life of the human race.
Many things are true that are no longer defended by law. God's commandment says, "Thou shalt not commit murder" - ie. no "taking of life." Yet, we do it in war, in criminal justice as punishment, indeed in any of the ways we take life.
Our justification for taking life is based on an Enlightenment philosophy that asserts than man is the supreme authority in the world. Man's rational judgment and will in all things. Rather than on God's command and gift. In all of this we turn away from God. We reject His will in favor of our own.
He constantly calls us back to Him. He calls us to repent and believe the Gospel, "the Good News."
We struggle in the midst of these compromised lives of ours. And our lives will remain a struggle. But, where we can see our way clearly and honestly, let us take the way of God's gift, God's will, God's love. Especially in the most fundamental things of LIFE, and its precious gift to us all, from the heart and hand of God.
Written August 25, 2018
Today is wedding day for 250 or so close family, and assorted near and distant, all dear, extended family and friends who are winging in to Minnesota for the wedding of our granddaughter Anna to her beloved Nathan in the pristine, white-washed halls of the Wayzata Church our daughter Kristen - mother of the bride - has served so humbly and so well these past 31 years.
The long-expected day is today, and suddenly, as I sit a safe distance from the main entrance of our Covenant Village to watch for arriving family for Bistro lunch here before heading for church, I am suddenly drawn into the occasionally-connecting communication system of our two cell phones and not much more.
Mercifully, it is a little resting time for me, as I just wait - and watch. All of us are counting down to zero hour when we will hear the familiar sound of the Wedding March, or maybe the magnificent organ accompaniment from the Salzburg Cathedral in "The Sound of Music."
Tension mounts, but all are trying to be on their best behavior, getting themselves formally dressed, and their hearts ready to witness the vow of a lifetime to be taken by two wonderful young people.
Gradually, they gather. We crowd in at a table in the new Bistro of our retirement village. And then, off to the wedding.
As it turns out, it is more than any of us imagined: deeply spiritual, full of faith, scripture carefully read, wistful hymns sung, charges of faith and commitment spoken. We couldn't help but know: "This is serious business" to take on another - for life. For everything in life, including faithfulness to each other alone "until death do us part."
Oh, such good words. Such a sobering reminder of what life is. Of what it is to give your life to another, before God. Suddenly realizing God is the critical factor - THE ELEMENT that counts the most, in all the years.
He is the ONE Who gives meaning to our life, to "the living of these days," to adventure of each day that dawns upon us, as the GREAT GIFT from God's hand.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES