“Do You Know?”
Dear Broad Street Family,
There is an old story (as retold by John Fielder) of a West Virginia kid who went to college at a prestigious eastern university, which we kids growing up in Appalachian culture were told over and over again.
The mountain kid really had no business attending there except that his father was so proud of his academic achievements and had worked overtime in the lumber mill in his home town of Wheeling, West Virginia, to pay for the son’s college. Oh, he had some scholarship, but there were books and room and board. And he discovered you really weren’t anybody unless you pledged a fraternity—and not just any fraternity, but one of the elite ones. One of the best … and they wanted him.
So he called his dad and asked for the extra money to pledge a fraternity … oh, and he was going to need a whole new wardrobe, too. And his dad, who never set foot on a college campus, was so excited to hear about his college exploits that the money wasn’t a problem. So it all worked out fine. He had so many friends he didn’t go home for Christmas, and when spring break came along he called his dad and asked for money to go south to the beach. Everybody was going. After all, it wasn’t that much money and he would get a job in the summer and pay his dad back.
But while he was on the beach in Florida he got an urgent message that his dad had had a serious heart attack. He hurried home to West Virginia, but when he got there his dad was … well, he was already gone. Dead. A few of his dad’s lifelong best friends from the plant were gathered together in the waiting room. As they sat talking in somber tones, he recognized them and they recognized him. One man, Wilbur, his dad’s very best friend, gave him a strong embrace, and as they walked away, he handed the young man a pile of neatly folded clothes and a pair of shoes – his dad’s work overalls and his work boots. And he sat there in the waiting room holding his father’s clothes when he noticed the boots … the boots each had a huge hole in the bottom. His father worked in boots with holes in them. His dad who always seemed to be able to ante up the money to pay for his khaki slacks, crisp oxford shirts and penny loafers. That man’s feet burned from the heat of the lumber mill floor while he labored for his hourly wage to provide for him.
And the pain was just too much. He cried at the magnitude of his father’s gift even as he cried in shame at his own preoccupation and lack of appreciation. It would be a long time before he could think of his father without weeping.
Gerald Sittser, in his book A Grace Disguised, affirms that we should never be quick to conclude that people deserve the suffering they experience. But at the same time, we should never jump to the conclusion that people deserve their blessings either. This old story makes me wonder about the amount of time I spend counting my blessings and being thankful for them. My guess is that life would be a lot less stressful, richer, more meaningful and grace-filled if I took into account how much grace has been spent on me. Hmm.
Blessings, dear ones,