• Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

On August 15, 2010 I relive a most significant, startling event, a graduate school event 51 years ago. This event occurs on a Friday in June 1959. At this time, to help pay expenses, Doris and I are renting out rooms upstairs and in the basement in our apple green house on the east side of Bloomington, Indiana.

Thursday, the evening before, a misshapen bird careens, like a drunk, in a first floor bedroom and in the kitchen. Flap. Scratch. Bonk. The bird’s beak is turned up, rather than forward. It frantically swoops into a living room wall, trying to get a toe hold. How did this invader get into the house? It panics as we chase it. Finally we get it out the front door. I follow. It crashes into a bush on the north side, and I’m afraid to get too close. It’s ugly. After I am convinced it has left the yard, I go back in and insist we carefully sweep the first floor and get all the feathers out. They’ve contaminated our space. I carefully feed feathers to the flames at the back fence in the black night. Only a complete incineration will rid us of the spirit of the ominous intruder.

This Friday evening feels tense, and not only because of the obsessive cleansing and burning of the night before. Doris is pregnant with our first child, to be born in September. Will we have a healthy baby? I remember the birth of my mentally retarded brother. The strange, foreboding personality of an ex-Marine, Ron, rooming on the second floor, infects the house. He’s not a Christian. I am very worried about my sister Jan who lives with us and is showing interest in Ron. I don’t want her to date a non-Christian. Friend Kan Ori from Japan, also rooming with us, is facing his doctoral prelim exam like I am. Some of the peers of Kan and I are having nervous breakdowns as they seek to make sure they’ve memorized everything. Will I pass? Will I be the first in my family to get a PhD? Will I survive the alien environment of secular study, outside the cocoon of my Bible college undergrad community?

Ron and I talk in the living room this evening. With a Bible, I tell him how to accept the Lord. He seems interested. After we agree to meet again, I get a nail and a hammer, intending to wedge a loose screen into place in Jan’s room. While working, I feel claustrophobic. It’s muggy. In gray shorts and white T-shirt, with the nail in my mouth, and my hammer in hand, I begin a walk, announcing, “I’ll be back soon.”

My sandals flip flop. Sun is dying. Spring semester has ended. Feeling generalized anxiety, I head north on Jefferson Street toward the railroad viaduct, and then west on 10th Street. I am now talking earnestly to God about being in a strange land, no longer surrounded by family tradition. I need direction. My walking goes into auto pilot. “God, who are you? Show me who you are.” My meditation intensifies. Cars recede into a dream. Night closes in. A vision develops. I will crumble my troubles by circumnavigating the city of Bloomington, like Joshua encircled Jericho and its walls came tumbling down. God talks to me. “Taste me in the shower dripping down your face. Smell me in the ionized air. Feel your legs. Hear me in the breeze. See me in the shadows.” God and I are having a power talk. The house troubles I have left are now a couple miles away as I circle northwest Bloomington. It doesn’t occur to me that my parting word about being back soon is not true. Time disappears. I am marching with God’s drumbeat into freedom from anxiety. Flip flop.

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