Tuesday, April 17, 2007


This is a world seeded with sorrow today, even as the tractors are out in the fields seeding something better. It’s not just the shooting in Virginia. A few weeks ago I was in the grocery store when the manager asked the clerk who was checking me out to leave the counter and go do something else. She protested that it was not her job, that she didn’t know how to do it, and that it would make her late leaving for home. The manager insisted.

She was plainly exhausted and her eyes brimmed. It tipped over into anger. “If I have to do that, I’ll walk out of this store.”

“If you walk out of this store, don’t come back.” She is a woman with kids. She went to do what the manager said.

More recently I was in Great Falls in the grocery store behind a woman whose husband just got back from Iraq. He’s clearly suffering from trauma -- has to sleep in a separate room, is on temporary leave. Drinking. There is no counselor available. The marriage is in danger. The clerk was a young man who knew this woman and somehow was part of the Malmstrom Air Force Base family -- maybe he was moonlighting, maybe he was a veteran, maybe he was married to a soldier. He was counseling her gently: “Take care of yourself. Confide in others. Go to his commanding officer.” I was in no hurry and wouldn’t have wanted to hurry this exchange anyway. His best piece of advice was “Believe in the future.”

I preached Sunday in Babb and Browning, always a pleasure to see people and to drive up to the mountains. But I was very conscious of how much the people had aged since I was their minister for a year in 1988-89. Smitty turned 89 on Sunday and we sang “Happy Birthday,” which made his hearing aid squeal. He grinned but was impatient because he wanted to go ice fishing after church. (He’s been fishing almost every day that I’ve known him, but the ice is about gone for the season.) Clara, his wife, is on oxygen now and carries a portable unit. She moves slowly but still valiantly does her job making coffee and folding orders of service.

That was in Babb. In Browning were the grandparents of one of a recent sequence of boys who have been knifed to death at parties. These were not bad boys, not drunks. The uninsured auto parts and repair business that the family has run for many decades burned to the ground not long ago. Their grown daughter plays the incredibly clever and complex digital organ for services. On the first day of school that she was in my English class long ago, she looked me up and down and said, “Oh, I WOULD get a recycled Lucille Ball for an English teacher!” I liked her from that moment. Now she runs the Succeed in School program.

Both congregations are even smaller than they were before.

Yesterday was sixty degrees, no wind, comfortably overcast, and I went out to work in the yard. Not much debris blows around in Valier, but in my flowerbed I found a piece of paper with what appeared to be answers to catechism questions, carefully printed in pencil. I don’t know what the last question was, but it may have been “what do you pray for?” The answer was “Give us something to look forward to!”

Then I came in the house, checked the email, and got the news that they think they’ve discovered what has killed all the bees: cell phones. The cell phone messages destroy the bees’ ability to tell where they are and get back home again. If we give this country a choice between bees and cell phones, what do YOU think they’ll choose? It’s an easy choice for me. BEES.

Not that I’m surprised. I’m still grieving over the fungus that’s killing all the frogs. It’s a little early for frogs here, but soon it will be warm enough for them to begin to sing. Will I dare drive around the lake, trying to hear them before they are gone?

There’s a missile silo only a mile away, but I don’t worry about it much. Others are worrying that it will be decommissioned, because that will mean fewer customers for the stores and cafes, fewer jobs, fewer taxes. No one obsesses over annihilation in a mushroom cloud the way we used to when I was the age of that South Korean shooter in Virginia today. All we worry about is money and drugs -- some worry that they’re around and some worry when they’re NOT around.

Last night I almost overdosed on Helen MIrren, which I thought was impossible. It was “Elizabeth I.” 211 minutes of scenery chewing. Some drawing and quartering -- quite vivid and detailed. So tonight I turned to Sigourney Weaver: “Imaginary Heroes,” a slow stupid tour of the faults of suburbias with Sigourney looking and acting pretty ugly. (It only cost $4. I might just throw it away. That’s what I did with the last Val Whatsis murder mystery, which was just a little too horrible.)

My last attempt to keep from sinking was the blog called “A Day in the Life of an Ambulance Driver” If anyone can say something about a campus shooting, he can. But why? Instead, he told about delivering a premature baby in the back of the ambu while it struggled through an ice storm. (The vehicle, not the infant.) Heroism on the parts of all involved, including the baby. He couldn’t talk her into naming the baby for him. She said “Ambulance Driver” was too generic.

Now I’m okay. “Believe in the future.” “Give us something to look forward to.” Babies and all that. The daffies in the front yard are up about five inches.

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