man once introduced me as “the most humble man he knows.” It made me feel
uncomfortable and only brought to mind all my sins just before I was about to
remembered the time I was the Youth Pastor where the Pastor decided to have an attendance
contest. The Youth Department verses the adults. The loser would be honey and
feathered. I lost.
forcefully in the bed of a truck they poured honey, molasses, and syrup over
me. Then came the feathers. Everyone laughed. I laughed, pretending it was fun.
When I thought it was over, the truck started, and I was driven throughout the
town while the driver of the truck honked the horn.
In the book, Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender says, “No one is humble by nature…. Humility comes
from humiliation, not from the choice to be self-effacing or a strong urge to
give others the credit. Humility that has not come from suffering due to one’s
own arrogance is either a pragmatic strategy to get along with others or a
natural predilection that seems to befit only a few rare individuals. For most
leaders, humility comes only by wounds suffered from foolish falls.” (p69-70)
That man who introduced me never saw my
failures that still—to this day—haunt me.
Today, I am writing a scene where a man is
reminded of his sins, yet still has to be responsible for someone else’s
irresponsible behavior. He fears the
future actions of another while regretting his own actions of the past. In
other words, he tries to control a lighted keg of dynamite when he wants to
explode. How does a man respond to that kind of stress? One man is humbled,
shaped by the failures of his past; the other is prideful and oblivious to his
In my day to day humiliations I wonder, which
man am I?
There were many interesting people who came into the Christian bookstore where I worked. I tried to be kind to everyone and found myself pulling stories out of them.
Sometimes someone came in crying. “My husband just committed adultery. I don’t want to get a divorce. Is there a book that can help me?”
Or someone came in searching. I loved helping them find their very first Bible. And there was always visitors from out of town that had interesting stories.
I’ll never forget the day after Valentine’s day when a famous basketball coach came in looking for a card for his wife—a day late!
“I’m sorry,” I said, “The lady employees put those cards up right after the 14th.” Perhaps they did that because they knew that no man EVER would buy a Valentine’s Day card after Valentine’s day.
found a generic card, paid for it in cash, and rushed out.
As usual, some of the most memorable people were the ones that were unusual. One homeless man used to come in and ask to play the piano. He played very loud and I had to ask him to stop playing as I was afraid that he would break the instrument. I remember one day he came in dressed only in a dirty white t-shirt one size too small and white cut off sweat pants. He had flip-flops on his white sock feet. He told me that the place he was staying finally put in a toilet. He was so happy that when he asked to play the piano, I let him. Of course, I told him that he needed to play softly because there were students studying in the coffee shop.
unlocked the grand piano and he sat down.
Classical music is my go to music. Tchaikovsky is my favorite. Swan Lake is my favorite music off all time. When he began to play Mozart, I stood behind him quite impressed. Then he suddenly stopped.
That’s not right,” he said, shaking his head back and forth, while he scratched
his behind. After a loud “Humph,” he began the same symphony again…Symphony No.
40 in g minor… IN A DIFFERENT KEY!
I really don’t know the name of the music. I just googled Mozart and chose one
of his most recognizable masterpieces.
Did you hear me? He played it again in a different Key. Then he abruptly stopped in the middle and said, “That’s wrong.” He squeezed his eyes shut for what seemed the longest time.
I held my breath.
should be like this,” he declared, and played the piece in the same key,
however different in several places. As I watched and listened, I realized that
as unbelievable as it seemed, he was rewriting Mozart! When he finished, there
were several students in the coffee shop who applauded.
the concert he stood, and I locked the piano once again. We both walked together to the counter where
I stood behind the cash register.
of breath he leaned in and said, “Did you know that the aliens from Saturn sent
me a message last week?”
moved his hand over the other in a broad circle. “Y’know the rings are like a
NASA sent up the spaceship Cassini, right?”
it glanced along the rings like a needle on a record…and they sent me a
you know what I was thinking. The same thing you are thinking. So, I whispered to
him, “What. Did. They. Say?”
leaned in closely and whispered back, “I. Can’t. Tell. You.”
of course, it was a message to him. Not a message to the world. We said
goodbyes and before he left, he turned around and said to me, “You are only the
twenty-third person I have ever told about this.”
he left, I changed the store’s overhead music to “Mozart for Learning.” And… I
listened for a message from Saturn.
In my long-legged life I have met some extraordinary
people. One that always amazed me was a Japanese woman who would come into the
coffee shop to study. She was working on her doctoral dissertation and enjoyed
Probably the first time I noticed her was
when she went to the ladies restroom. As she opened the door, the barista
called out, “The light switch is on the outside of the room.”
The woman walked into the dark and closed
the door—without turning on the light! I was concerned that she had not heard the
warning. Before I could get to the other side of the room to turn on the light,
she exited. It was then I noticed her dog. Her seeing-eye dog. She didn’t need
the light because she had been blind from birth.
That first day after introductions, I said,
“I bet you save a lot of money not needing to turn on the lights at your home.”
“Oh no, quite the contrary. Turning on the
lights is the first thing I do when I walk in.”
I gave her a puzzled look even though she couldn’t
see it. “Why is that?”
“Well, I don’t need the light. But robbers
need the dark.”
She went on to explain that she could tell
when a light is on as she enters a room. “It feels different. It hums.”
I closed my eyes and tried to listen for
the lights. But I didn’t hear anything but the espresso/cappuccino machine as
it frothed milk for a customer.
As she sat at the table, laptop open, dog
always at her side, we became friends. I always enjoyed talking with her.
I was not the only one who didn’t notice
she was blind. One evening as the store was about to close, as young man approached
her and said, “It is dark outside and the alley way this time of night always
has unsavory characters. Would it be okay if I walked you to your car?”
Without skipping a beat, she replied, “I
didn’t drive tonight. And I already have a ride home. Thank you though.” She
usually took the bus to her apartment. The young man kindly told her goodnight,
yet left somewhat rejected by the woman he was hitting on.
She laughed. “Didn’t he see my dog?”
One slow evening, while I was bored at the
cash register on the book side of the store, she approached me.
“Hello, Oklahoma.” Not her real name, I
couldn’t pronounce her real name. That was close enough. She always knew me
from my voice. Maybe my smell too.
Holding out her cell phone she asked me to
take a picture of her for social media. Someone had sent her a shirt and she
wanted to show them she had received it. A conversation ensued about her loving
to take photos. Someone would say, “Wow, what a beautiful sunset!” She would
take a picture of it and post it online asking people to describe it. Sometimes
she aimed incorrectly and missed the sunset. Her friends were always honest
with her. She loved posting pictures of the meals she had made. She was a good
“I like trying things sighted people do,”
Probably the most unique thing she showed
me was a picture of her doing archery in medieval period costume! I found it
funny that she chose the Age of Enlightenment. She belonged to a LARPing group
in the area. Live Action Role Playing. The picture showed several arrows on a target.
“Are those your arrows?”
“How do you know where to shoot? Is there
a bell or tone sound on the target?”
“Oh no,” she said, “I listen to where the
other archers hit the target with their arrows, and I aim for that sound. I don’t
have to be good. They do.”
The day we said goodbye was a sad day.
From her strength and good humor, as well as her excellent attitude toward her “handicap,”
she always encouraged me. Some day I plan on shooting a bow and arrow. I’m
going to close my eyes and see how I do. Please dial 911 before I start that.
The first time I saw her in the store I
thought this tall thin woman reminded me of someone out of a Jane Austin novel
by the way she walked as if each step was precisely where they should be. She
carried a purse over her left arm and sometimes a green sweater over her
shoulders. When she spoke, it was in a high lilting I’m-more-important-than-you
delicate speech. I had no idea that she was homeless.
She would sashay around the art gallery upstairs and sometimes sit in the coffee shop. Oddly, since she began coming in, we noticed items showing up around the store that were not our merchandise. Colorful glass spheres, candle holders, and other expensive looking nick knacks. Several stores nearby reported such things missing from their shops. We later discovered it was she who brought them to the store as if she was decorating her own home.
One evening she came in and looked at the
greeting cards. At times she would glance my direction and quickly turn away. She
never bought anything, so I watched her closely. Later I did a walk through the
store and she was not to be found. I checked to see if any of our nick knacks
were missing. They were not. When the store closed, I did a walk through again before
I counted the cash register money. When I finished the report for the boss, I
set the alarm and headed home.
The next day, the boss told me that the
alarm had gone off about fifteen minutes after I left for home. I assured him I
had done a walk through. When the police arrived, they didn’t find anything. I
wondered if it was that woman. That night at work I did an in-depth check
looking in every nook and cranny for the Jane Austin woman. Sure enough, in a back
secluded area of the gallery where the heating and air conditioning systems
were, was what appeared to be a nest in the corner. Several water bottles, a
McDonald’s sack, and a green sweater.
I had dealt with a homeless man once
before who wouldn’t leave one night saying this is where he decided to sleep. I
warned him that I would call the cops. “Call ‘em,” he said, and lay his head
back and closed his eyes. Many times, homeless people will do something that
will get them in jail for the night. They call it “Getting two hots and a cot.”
Meaning two free meals and a place to sleep. Normally, I am polite to the
homeless. People are people. But the store had rules and we set an alarm at
night. I called the police. They escorted the man out, however, did not arrest
him for trespassing. I wondered if he had been the one who had made the nest
and set off the alarm. But I couldn’t picture him in that green sweater.
The next Saturday after the alarm had gone off the woman came into the store again. I watched her peruse the greeting cards. Later she got a glass of water and set in the coffee shop. About thirty minutes before closing I noticed she was gone. Travelling upstairs. I found her… asleep right in the middle of the art gallery’s wooden floor!
I kindly woke her and told her that she could not sleep there, and I asked her about her green sweater. She said, “Not mine.” Then she went down stairs and I assumed she left the building. Fifteen minutes later the barista told me someone was in the ladies’ restroom and had been there longer than necessary. Of course, I knocked on the door to see if she was alright.
“Just a minute,” she said. A minute turned in to another fifteen. I know that sometimes the homeless would use our restrooms to take a “sink shower.” But she had been in there way too long. I knocked again and she said, “Just a minute. I’m a lady you know.”
She certainly had her pride and I was obviously not prejudiced, but I was concerned about her sense and sensibility of time. She wouldn’t be persuaded.
I called the police.
Several policemen arrived and they pounded
on the bathroom door and told her they were the police and she needed to come
“Just a minute,” she said with a major emphasis
on the word minute.
They pounded again saying they would break
the door in if she didn’t come out.
Slowly she opened the door and peaked out.
“I’m a lady. I was doing lady stuff,” she said.
They questioned her a bit and she suddenly began talking as if she was British. “Are you from England?” one policeman asked.
“I speak in many accents!” she replied in
her British tone.
After much persuasion and argument (in several different accents) she said, “There are a lot of empty buildings at night and why couldn’t you just let us sleep there?” The police wouldn’t relent. In a huff as if the servants wouldn’t listen to her, she said she would, “Never visit this establishment again.”
She tossed her head back, and with her
nose in the air, she stepped precisely where each step should be… out of the “establishment.”
I never saw her again. I’m not certain, but I think we donated her green sweater
to the homeless shelter.
all started with a casual Sunday drive with my wife.
you want to pick raspberries?” she asked. “I know a great place.”
her directions I drove to a posh neighborhood and parked in front of a palatial
is a walking path behind those houses and tons of ripe berries,” she said as
she exited the SUV and opened the back tailgate. She pulled out two white
buckets and a pair of bright orange coveralls. As she put them on over her
clothing I thought, why does she need those? We’re just picking berries.
We followed the walking path and found enough berries to fill both of our buckets to the brim. I drooled thinking about the raspberry pies we’d bake.
we arrived back at the car, my wife quickly removed her coveralls. I opened the
You can’t sit in the driver’s seat.”
been walking through poison ivy and I am extremely allergic!”
thus the need for coveralls. “What do you want me to do?”
have to take your clothes off and put them back here.”
So, as the sun sunk over the horizon, I hid behind the open car door and took off my shirt, jeans, socks and shoes. As she wouldn’t touch them, I had to quickly rush them to the back and race to get in the car before someone saw me. On the way home I prayed a police officer wouldn’t stop us for anything.
Now, you need to know this before I continue… We lived in a community out in the country where everyone has three to five acres. Many of my neighbors raised chickens as we did and the word was out that a fox had been seen. I didn’t want the fox to steal our chickens. Earlier I had placed a trap outside, but failed to set it yet.
it was dark now, we entered our subdivision. I was glad we had a garage and
garage opener for a speedy escape to sanctuary. I didn’t want to be seen in my whitey tighties
by the neighbors.
“There it is! There’s the fox!” she screamed pointing out the passenger side window.
Sure enough, a fox was in the neighbor’s front yard.
“We’ve got to kill it!” she said.
I don’t own a gun.”
have that BB gun, don’t you?”
I drove into our driveway, hitting the garage door opener and drove into the seclusion of the garage. I ran inside and retrieved the pistol, making sure it was loaded with BBs. I was getting frustrated.
As I drove back to where we saw the animal, I lowered my window. I figured I’d do a “drive by”. Alas, the fox had moved to the yard across the street. I handed the BB gun to my wife who refused to take it.
not gonna kill it. YOU kill it!”
At this point I was very frustrated. I stopped and got out of the vehicle. I marched to the front of the car and aimed the pistol at the fox. Eight shots. I missed him with all of them. It smirked and ran off into the dark. “Aghhh,” I yelled, and turned toward the car. It wasn’t till then that I realized that I was standing right in the headlights in the middle of the street in my subdivision as if I was the main attraction at the circus…in my underwear!
I slunk back into the car hoping one of the neighbors didn’t film the crazy guy standing in the street firing a gun…in nothing but his underwear! Totally embarrassed, knowing surely a video of me was about to be put on YouTube and go viral, I drove home and went out back and immediately set the trap baiting it with cat food…again hoping no one saw me.
a fitful night’s sleep, I checked the trap, and lo and behold there was the
fox! Beautiful reddish fur and black legs. A big bushy tail. It looked at me
with mournful little eyes.
I called animal control to come get
it and they said, “It’ll cost you 50 bucks. There’s been a lot of mange going
around. We would just kill it.” I googled mange. “/mānj/ noun a skin
disease of mammals caused by parasitic mites and occasionally communicable to
humans. It typically causes severe itching, hair loss, and the formation of
scabs and lesions. Foxes that get mange die in three or four months.”
“Okay, thank you, I can do that myself.” And save fifty bucks. I reloaded the BB gun and went outside. I fired all eight shots at close range. The BBs bounced off of the fox and made it MAD. Did you know that foxes bark like a dog? I didn’t. Frustrated again, I yelled, “I haven’t made a dent. I’ve hurt it and now it is mad. I don’t own a gun…but…I do own a sword…”
My uncle Sunny (Yes, that is his name) had given me an old Masonic Knights Templar sword. About four feet long, the blade was about an inch wide. It was VERY sharp at the end.
Feeling guilty and somewhat afraid, I stood with the sword outside the fox’s cage. I held the sword toward the fox and said, in a Spanish accent, “My name ees Jon Hopkins and chu were about to keell my cheecken’s. Prepare to die!” And I stabbed it in the heart. The brave fox reached around and did something totally unexpected. It BIT the sword. It was so cool, I got goose bumps! Then…it died. I slowly pulled out the bloody blade. To make myself feel better I told myself that it was gonna die probably in a month or two from mange anyway. And, like a hero in some fantasy movie, I had saved all the chickens of the neighborhood.
I put the fox in a box. A fox box. And buried him in the trash can with honors. I doubt I’ll ever have the bravado to bite the sword that’s killing me like it did.
Note: So far, I have not seen a
video of me online.
He walked in like a Hollywood movie star who was in-adept at being incognito. Shorts, bright patterned shirt, unbuttoned from the top to reveal a Brillo-pad of chest hair. Tall. Wide shoulders. Worn out flip flops. And sunglasses on a cloudy day.
Not knowing he had walked into a Christian book store he asked, “You got any magazines?”
“Sorry, no magazines. People in the coffee shop just read them and leave them lying around as if we were a library or a doctor’s office. Are you from out of town?”
I love engaging the customers. “What brings you to town?”
“I’m looking for the place that made my sandals.”
I glanced at his flip flops. “Are you talking about Birkenstocks shoe store down the street?”
“No, not there.” He came up to the counter and removed his sunglasses. “A few years back I had these really good sandals but lost one. I need to replace it.”
“You lost it?”
“Yes. I was a dancer for Elton John.”
Looking at his build, I could see that. “What happened?”
“Well, I was up on stage dancing to the song Tiny Dancer. After the song we took a break, and someone called out to me. I knelt down at the front end of the stage and he introduced himself. He was a photographer and he loved my sandals. He ask me if he could take a picture of them.”
I was hooked. A sandal. A dancer for a famous person. A mystery to solve. Wow.
“I told the man, yes, with one stipulation. That he send me a copy of the pic when it was developed. And that is how I lost my sandal,” he said matter-of-factly.
I was confused. “Did he steal it?”
“No. I got the picture in the mail and he had only taken a picture of only one of my sandals. ONE.”
I wrinkled my forehead.
He seemed to get agitated and slapped the counter. “And that’s why I lost my one sandal.”
“Wow, that’s interesting. Did you find the shoe store?”
“Yes and no. The place burnt down….AND THAT IS WHY THE WORLD IS GOING TO END IN FIRE!”
Before I could say anything, like I was sorry for his loss or something, he continued on and on quoting rock songs that mentioned fire to prove his point. I listened intently. Then he put on his sunglasses and leaned in.
“And did you know that the government is hiding all the UFOs in Western Kansas?”
I thought, Where? Kansas is nothing but miles and miles of nothing but miles.
He continued talking about aliens. When he took a breath, I asked him if he had a web site.
He handed me a business card. Yup. He had one.
I immediately got online to view the website. It was full of conspiracy Mumbo Jumbo—nothing made any sense. I was not surprised.
We said goodbyes. As he sauntered away, I thought of the verse in the Bible, “The day of the Lord will come as a robber comes. The heavens will pass away with a loud noise. The sun and moon and stars will burn up. The earth and all that is in it will be burned up.” 2nd Peter 3:10 and… all because of that man’s sandal.
Some people call him the Wizard. Or “that Precious Love guy”. I call him Rob. He called me… Sir Jonathan Moonshadow. Of course, that is not my real name. He says that when he looks at me, he sees the color blue. He likes blue. And yellow. He is a painter. He wears two hats at the same time. One an artist’s cap and on top of that—a cowboy hat. Black round glasses balance askance atop his thin nose making it difficult to see his eyes. His long dark hair and long scraggly black beard looks like a Brillo-pad exploded on his face. Lightening-like streaks of white scatter through this midnight tanglement.
His mouth never moved the same way twice when he talked, especially when he was smoking his cheap corncob pipe. He is thin, and when walking away, his shoulders look like someone forgot to take the clothes hanger out of his shirt.
I met him at my place of employment over eight years ago. I worked at a Christian bookstore that also had a coffee shop and an art gallery. Placed in a college town, it was frequented by students, preachers, and once in a while the ever-present homeless men and women of the town.
Rob came in and looked at the art. That is all. He didn’t talk to anyone. Didn’t look at the books. Didn’t get any coffee. At first, I took him for one of the indigents. Someone no one would ever speak to.
I said a kind ‘hello” to him every time he came in to no response. He was known for being extremely rude to people.
One-day he stood in front of a painting that I did not like, and I told him so. He came over to the counter and we struck up a short conversation about our favorite painters. His was Vincent Van Gough. I told him I was a writer. He said he also wrote. Poems. He shared a poem with me that he wrote. I told him I really liked it so he wrote it down for me in what looked like alien hieroglyphics. Unreadable to anyone but him. I remember one line: “the leaves of three dust winds”.
Not long after our first meeting, my wife of thirty years passed away. Sudden and unexpected. For some reason, I talked to Rob about her a lot. Without knowing it, he helped me grieve by just listening. He let me listen to him talk of his days when he was an up and coming artist. And his younger days of abuse and difficulty with his family. Rob ofttimes vehemently shared his hatred for his mother through clinched teeth and spittle on his wire-haired chin. But mostly, he shared new poems and talked often of his favorite person in history—Wild Bill Hickok. When he said goodbye, he always raised both hands in peace signs and said, “Precious Love.”
At times our discussions leaned toward spiritual themes. They usually ended with him storming out loudly cussing Jesus.
After coming in several times a week for a few years, he came in one day and yelled at me. He was not doing well, and he thought I said something about him he didn’t like. I would never do something like that. To me people are people, whoever they are they deserve kindness. I didn’t see him for several months after that except when he would walk by the store window and flip me off.
Then I heard he was hit by a car.
Not long after that, he unexpectedly came into the store and apologized. “I don’t even remember why I was mad at you,” he said. He shared with me about the accident. He woke up in the emergency room and… walked out. He said he was still having some physical problems since then.
He invited me to his birthday party at a place that sold hot-dogs he liked. I was the only friend that came to his party. I bought him some exotic pipe tobacco as a present.
After several years, I began to converse online with a kind woman in Texas. Being so far away, I told Rob, “Nothing will ever come of it.” He said sarcastically, “Sure it won’t.” He enjoyed listening to my stories about Valorie and our long-distance dates where, although miles apart, we attended the same movies, watched The Voice on TV together, and talked for long hours over the phone.
One day Rob appeared very sad. He’d seen a movie about slavery. It really bothered him. He asked me, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” I gave him a standard answer and asked if I could pray for him. Holding his hand over the counter I prayed for his sadness. “God loves you,” I said. “Precious Love,” he replied.
Our behind the counter, in front of the counter friendship grew. Then came a day after seven years that Rob asked me out of the blue, “When did you become a Christian?” I gave him my testimony of accepting Jesus as my Savior when I was nine years old. I explained to him what the Sunday School teacher that day had called the “Roman’s Road”. As I talked of Jesus’ death on the cross and forgiveness of sin, Rob held his head down. His hats bobbed like boats on a stormy sea. When he looked up tears fell like rain into his midnight sky beard. We prayed together, and he asked Jesus to save him. It was the first time we ever hugged.
We had good times until I told him I decided to marry Valorie and was going to move away. He slammed the door on his way out. I could hear him cursing as he crossed the street.
I bought him a parting gift of a Meerschaum pipe carved like Wild Bill Hickok hoping he would come in again before I left. I prayed he would.
The weekend before my last day of work at the bookstore he came in, we said good byes, and I gave him the pipe. “I will miss you terribly, my friend. But I will see you again in heaven,” I said. When leaving, he started to give me the peace signs, but he stopped, fumbled a little as if not knowing what to do with his hands, and said, “God bless you, Sir Jonathan Moonshadow.”