A Sound, a Thin Silence



The kangaroos and their Joeys run free in the cities of Australia.  The people multiply and the grasslands decrease and the kangaroos and their joeys run free in the cities of Australia.  The dingoes used to chase the kangaroos and their joeys, but the people multiply and the grasslands decrease and the dingo is no more.  The kangaroos and their joeys run free in the cities of Australia.

The government tries to protect the kangaroos and their joeys, but hey, don’t sweat it, cause, you know, big brother does its best, know what I mean?  And that’s not all, government tries to protect the dingo and the people and the grassland, too, catch my drift?  But it’s all cool, man, even if easy answers don’t come.  Like, I’m telling you, it’s weird though, a sound, a thin silence.  It comes, know what I mean?

The drought in Kenya eats away at the lake and the plant life dies.  The drought in Kenya kills its people and the Ethiopians leave their own drought for the Kenyan lake but the drought in Kenya kills the people and the people say this is not our fault, this is not God’s fault, this is the fault of big business; this is the fault of the West.  They have too much; their much has stolen the water of our lake and we die, cry the beleaguered Kenyans, swirling to heaven on cloudless skies, wrapped in dry shrouds, their burials parched and barren, their angst a lingering memorial to their belief that the largess that invades the West has left a dusty residue of want in third world countries.  Hear us, great cities of the West, they moan, don’t let the embers of our passing be merely grist for your mill of big business.

What nags at me is that sound, that thin silence that says there is something that can be done.  I’m just one person, but does being just one person negate what can happen if that one person gets involved?  It’s easier to leave it all up to government to find a cure, come up with a fix and I’ve tried that, but that sound, that thin silence, it’s still there pulling, saying I won’t be satisfied until I do my part.

There’s a boy I know from a small American town who grew into a tough Marine.  He fought the battle of four tours in Afghanistan and now he’s in Boston working as an EMT.  He was one of the first responders at the bombings.  He heard that sound, that thin silence.  Also, I know a Real Estate tycoon who hired workers and built houses and the salaries he paid meant people had hope they could reach their own dreams.  But, that sound, that thin silence penetrated his slumbers, propelling him on to great joy wrapped in the gossamer sound of laughter of the children of the garbage dumps who escape their prison for an sunny afternoon and feel their souls fly like the wings of the baseball tossed to them by the tycoon and they will sleep that night, bellies full, on cushions of love and care because he listened.

Then there’s this attorney, can you dig it?  The guy takes vacations to hammer nails to rebuild houses in New Orleans, can you beat that?  And one year, he delivered water purifiers to Haiti.  Oh yeah, he heard that sound, that thin silence, but don’t think that lets him off, ‘cause the government says, you have too much, rich guy, you need to pay more taxes.  It’s your duty to pay for those who haven’t had your success.  Right?

A wannabe actress waits tables in Hollywood, and a Pasadena fireman sees the wannabe actress on the stage and the Pasadena fireman and the wannabe actress fall in love.  And, the Pasadena fireman and the wannabe actress set up life in a Pasadena house.  But their dreams are disturbed by that sound, the thin silence, so the fireman and the wannabe actress sell the Pasadena house and travel to India where they slog through red tape and muddy powers that be until six months later, 7 Sisters Rescue Home opens and girls sold into sex trafficking find a refuge.  The US government says, you sold your house; you owe us for that profit.  The government thinks it has heard that sound, a thin silence, but what it hears is spend, spend, spend and we’ll pay for it by raising taxes.

In the muggy South, the young computer guru labors long into the night while his young wife and five small children struggle without enough food; and the car sits on blocks and the children play in a house that is too small and wear hand me down clothes and the young wife believes.  The young computer guru creates coding for the first online shopping cart and the fledgling online book seller pays the young computer guru with stock options, and it’s cool dude, ‘cause ten years later everyone’s older, right?  They’re like in a huge house and the clothes are new, but the computer guy and his wife, they can’t sleep, know what I mean?  They keep hearing that sound, that thin silence and some dude tells them about Eastern European children too old to stay orphans, their government’s about to dump the orphans on the street, so the computer guru’s family takes a flight of fancy, aloft in the skies to an ancient land on the other side of this spinning blue ball where they alight in a world of old stones, stained with a millenium of cries and struggles and battles of its people and there the computer guru’s family slogs through the red tape river, their green retirement dollars flung out before them to light their way and when they emerge they get to come back home to America and bring with them a teen-aged brother and sister who went from about to be homeless to still being able to be kids who play soccer and run marathons and learn English and the computer guru’s family just grew to seven kids, just like that.

I think that’s pretty amazing, but of course, the government says it needs the revenue more than the computer guru and his wife need the adoption deduction, so sorry but the tax code is changed.  Thin silence?  What’s this sound you talk about, says the IRS, your government is hurting, citizen, pay up.  It’s your job, Mr. Computer Guru to meet the financial burden of your government.  It’s not our fault you decided to spend your money in a foreign country to make a couple of kids American citizens.

And in the West the beauty queen and the musician conquer the entrepreneurial world and talented singers, dancers and musicians are employed to entertain the famous.  And in their house in the hills with the plate glass views of the city, the beauty queen and the musician encourage the lonely and the lost and the needy that hide beneath the pretty veneer of the talented singers, dancers and musicians.  They keep hearing that sound, a thin silence, so they keep giving their lives to help others.   Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Entrepreneur, says the US government, you’ve earned enough to be in the rich category, so your tax bracket just increased, aren’t you lucky.

I look at all of this and think, can I hear that thin silence?  What happens if I open my ears and let it change me, too?  Am I ready for the adventure, for what it might cost me?  Am I ready to give up my dependence on tax breaks and social security retirement to do the right thing?  I have to open my ears and hear, I have to, because nothing else will satisfy.  A sound, a thin silence.


To value or not to value….

image source:google images

     image source:google images

Monday night TV at our house is PBS and Antiques Roadshow.  First, the      original show that is recorded in Great Britain, which is especially fun because those antiques are really old.  Next is the American version with relatively newer antiques, followed by a new show this season, Market Warriors, which is about four buyers who hit flea markets and sale houses to find treasures that are then auctioned off, hopefully for a greater price than what the buyers spent to purchase the items.

The fun in watching these shows is to see if that stuff around the house that you thought was junk is just junk, or if that loved item that some ancestor was sure was valuable, really is valuable.  I like to test my knowledge and see if I can recognize the item before the expert tells us what it is.  I know what I like, but I also know that most of the ‘tells’ that indicate value or worthlessness are mostly Greek to me.  If I can learn by watching and guess the designer or manufacturer then maybe I can move beyond my ignorance. That isn’t the real reason though, because ignorance isn’t that big a deal; everyone is ignorant about something.  To change that, you just have to learn.

But can I move beyond an upbringing that was filled with cast-offs, cheap, mass-produced functionally adequate furniture, clothing, housewares – all devoid of any real beauty or value?  Can I move out of the cookie-cutter suburbs and into something that actually has some class?  We had no money, no class and no fine culture.  Can I cover up that basic beginning with a coat of sophistication like you’d cover over a cheap, pressed cardboard backed dresser with a new finish?  Will I then feel valuable?  Will I then BE valuable?

And what is real value?  Mother grew up with even less that we had when I was a child and she loves these shows as well.  Is that because she sees the beauty in things, whether of value or not?  Like the three-quarters finished paint by number canvases we found when going through stored boxes looking for the oil paintings she did years ago.  We hung her oil paintings in the house and I sat the paint by number canvases in the box for Goodwill.  Mother took them out of the box and keeps saying she is going to get some double stick tape and put them, unframed, up on the walls of her bedroom; walls that already have hanging on them the original oil paintings that she did as well as oils done by friends; walls that also have outdated calendars with pretty pictures but which can’t be thrown away because they’re pretty.

Why would she even care about the old paint by number paintings?  Is she able to see some beauty that I can’t?  Doesn’t she know how tacky they will look on the walls?  Actually, I can see the beauty of the scene, if you stand far enough back that you don’t key in on the paint by number aspect, but there’s no monetary or resell value to it.  So, why keep it?  Why clutter up the full walls with one more thing that is cheap and mass-produced?

The clutter that covers every space in the house drowns out all beauty for me.  It’s too much.  It threatens to close in on me, so my mind’s eye tries to shut it out and it becomes some dark, busy background that drives out the air and leaves me feeling stifled and I find myself breathing shallowly, barely existing.

And then, some person on Antiques Roadshow brings out their treasured tchotchke and the appraiser tells them it’s worth hundreds or maybe thousands and as I look at it my childhood memory is jogged.  Mother turns me and says that the one she has, that is just like the one on TV is in the cedar chest, and “don’t forget to keep it, don’t send it to Goodwill.”

image source: google images

image source: google images

My breathing expands, I take in more air.  There is value, right here in all the clutter.  Right here in my classless childhood.  Not really because there’s something here that’s worth some monetary amount, but because Mother, whose family survived the Dust Bowl, the depression and years as itinerant workers, recognized value and held on to it.  And I see that she has a classiness that I had missed before.  A classiness that has nothing to do with things and everything to do with the intrinsic value we each have.  We’re God’s creation.  We are the thing of value.  All the stuff that fills up life, whether it’s sophisticated and expensive or classless and cheap is just that, stuff.  Once again I see that I do have value, and with that reminder, I have hope that I can look beyond the things and recognize the true beauty around me and the real value within.


I remember when everyone had a phone in their home.  A phone connected by phone lines to telephone poles.  When the phone rang it was because someone you actually knew or did business with wanted to talk with you.  You had to be pretty well off to have a mobile phone and they were rare and big cumbersome things.  It hasn’t been all that long ago, either.  All of my nieces and nephews were born, although only one of them was old enough at that point to have their own child, but now all of my great nieces and nephews have their own cell phone and live in homes without landlines as that old phone system is now called.  I wouldn’t be surprised if my great-great nieces and nephews have cell phones – well, perhaps they’re still a little young.

I’d never even heard of robocalls until I returned to California five years ago.  That could be because the last three or four years that I lived in Nashville, I’d only used my landline for my business fax machine and no longer had an answering machine on it.  I like to think salespeople were calling and got the high pitched squeal of a fax machine. As a salesperson myself, you’d think I’d have some mercy for them, but I didn’t.  Seventeen years ago I’d started selling Real Estate using a pager and the shared computer in the office but it wasn’t long before Realtors had cell phones and their own desk computer and/or laptop.

Back in California, in Daddy and Mother’s house, however, there is still a landline and an answering machine and we get from three to six or seven robocalls a day.  Some of them are recorded messages and some are real people on the other end who want to sell something or collect money for some “good” cause.

“May I speak to Cri-ley Dean?”

“Crile.” I correct them.  Like Lyle but with a C and an R.  “Mr. Dean died recently.”  They express some sympathy and then start in on their reason for their call.

Other times the caller asks for Zelda or Mrs. Dean and I answer in the affirmative.  This is just so much easier than taking the phone to Mother, watching her fumble with the remote to mute the sound of the TV and then listening to her try to hear what they’re saying, get a word in edgewise and attempt to get off the phone without caving in and promising to send money.  Then after she finally hangs up she’s irritated at all the nonsense calls and fusses about how no one she knows ever calls her anymore.

It’s just easier to take the call myself and get rid of them but how long can I use the excuse that Mr. Dean died recently and our income has been drastically reduced?  It will be four years this April since Daddy died.  The reduced income bit is still true but the bizarreness of the half-truths swirls around me like the fog of a make-believe land where you can say anything and have it be true.

The easiest thing is to not answer so we’ve taken to looking at the caller ID and if it’s an 800 number or a number we don’t recognize, we let them talk to the answering machine.  And Mother fusses again about all the nonsense calls and how no one she knows ever calls her anymore.

If it were up to me, I’d just cancel the landline and handle everything by cell phone but it’s too soon to do that.  For one, thing, whenever I’m away from the house for several hours, I call to check on Mother and she needs to be able to call for help if need be.  She isn’t interested in a cell phone and would have difficulty working one, but most of all, the landline is a tether for her that ties her into the familiar past, when she and Daddy made calls to their children and friends called and Daddy handled the business of the house and life in general on the phone.  This summer it will be thirty years that they’ve had the same number.

Time continues and that make-believe land where anything can be said and be true isn’t all that different from the dreams of yesterday that have become our reality for the world is a different place than it was when Mother and Daddy, about my age now, moved into this house with excitement and hopes for the future.  A future that they could never have foreseen would be littered with robocalls.

As for me, while Mother is tethered to the past so am I.  My days move in a half-life of hope for a future of experiences beyond these walls and a half-life of caring for Mother and her house.  One day that tether will sever, Mother will be gone and what will be left will be just my life.  Will it be in time to be out in the wide world or just in time for my own waning years, pestered by robocalls?  Only God knows and there I must leave the unknown.  In His hands.  Because He who loves me best will be here with me.  With or without robocalls.