“You have ALS.” The pronouncement from the neurologist comes down like a life sentence from a high court judge. “Do you know what that is?” I’m caught off-guard. I stammer, in my already deteriorated speech pattern, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease?” The term is fresh in my memory because the renowned scientist and thinker, Stephen Hawking had just died, after living with ALS for many years. The thought was incongruous. I was just having trouble pronouncing my words, that’s it. No other issues. My expression must have been quizzical. “Bulbar onset,” she continues. I would look that up later. I wait a moment, I counter,”How sure are you?” “Eighty-five percent. There is no definitive test,” she states matter-of-factly. “And there is no cure. It’s always fatal.” Ouch! I had been through a litany of tests and consultations over a four-month period – ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, electromyography, consultations with a speech pathologist and a otolaryngologist as well as my family physician who was quarter-backing the process. I’m in a state of shock. This diagnosis is totally unexpected. She hands me an in-house book with spiral binding and full colour cover, entitled ‘Living with ALS. Your life will never be the same’. As if to somehow mitigate the certainty of her conclusion, I offer “I’m still working. I could retire, but I enjoy what I do. I do tax and accounting. We are right in the middle of our busy season.” The neurologist smiles, “Well, it’s time to retire. Go home and wrap it up.” I am processing the conversation, the words, the shock of it all. I have hardly ever been sick a day in my life, never been a patient, no history of any illness, never smoked or imbibed. Is this for real? The neurologist interjects, “By the way, in your book, there is a sheet of calling cards. These are the people on your team, and you will be seeing each of them every time you come.” I breathe deeply. That is an immediate comfort. I am going to have a team. Apparently, I matter. I go from seeing my family physician once a year for a routine medical to having a whole team, who’ll see me every six to eight weeks. I stand to leave, when she turns “Would you be interested in being part of a study? It could be expensive, a thousand dollars a day. We don’t have all the details yet.” “Yes,” I answer without hesitation. I have no idea what it is or how it works. I’m an early adopter by nature and it’s worked out so far. “My secretary will set a follow-up appointment.” “Thank you,” I struggle to enunciate. For some reason, I feel slightly optimistic. More to follow.
Although I have been alive and well since December 20, 1941, not everything is callable from memory. Writing is my favorite activity. Besides, it stimulates memory and brings about a refresh. There is tremendous value in recalling the past and tracing the positive and negative influences on the present. This is how we learn and grow. Ideally, it never ends.
From my earliest memories, I have always had a fascination with the natural world which persists to the present time. Think about this. With natural vision, humans can only see a defined, limited portion of the total spectrum of the natural world. Electron microscopes and powerful telescopes launched into orbit are needed to see beyond. At the time of writing this piece, neither the smallest particle nor the limit of space has been discovered. Knowledge around the complexity of the natural, living, reproducing world continues to grow, in concert with the remarkable work of science led by the smartest and brightest people on earth. At the same time, social ills, suicide, hunger, disease, and wars persist and spread. Global warming threatens life as we know it. Meanwhile, mankind is driven by the conviction that eventually, human effort will make the world a better place, and if not this world, then one developed on a planet beyond. No one is offering a comprehensive way out. Enter the Bible.
The Bible itself is a collection of sixty-six separate books. History records that these were written over a span of 2,000 years by 44 authors who came from an eclectic list of bygone eras, countries, languages, customs and backgrounds. The first set of five books, the Torah were written by Moses around 2000 B.C. and the final book, The Revelation of Jesus Christ was written by John, the Apostle, before the end of the first century. The genres encompass history, poetry, prophecy letters and narrative accounts. The writings were assembled as one volume by Jerome around 400 A.D. When read and studied as a whole, a remarkable coherent, cohesive, epic story emerges that envelops the universe and everything in it, including the reader. The story starts at the beginning of the world and ends in a future yet to be experienced. The recorded history is accurate. The science has not been disproven. The stories are deeply engaging. The poetry is profound. The principles are invaluable. The promises exceed the imagination. The Bible declares that the human spirit and soul can be rescued and made new, literally born again.
In unique ways, copies of the Biblical writings were protected and preserved by a variety of cultures and communities from the time of their writing up to the modern era. Today, the Bible stands as the most-printed book in the history of the world, perhaps the most cherished book of all time and remains the best-seller of all books year after year.
I recognize the skilled and difficult work of the Bible translators who must understand, interpret, resolve and convey the essential meaning, word by word, subject by subject, page by page, book by book to the readers of their generation in their own language. There may be apparent inconsistencies in original texts or the unusual choice of a word used by a translator, but none of these issues detract from essential content, nor from the inherent power experienced by a searching reader. Within the text, the claim is made that the authors wrote at the impetus of the Spirit of God Himself. Thus, the Bible is widely accepted as the Word of God. However, when the Bible is read by a seeking, expectant reader, the Spirit of God reliably and consistently translates the words written on the page and brings them to life in the mind, life and spirit of the reader. This coming to life of the written Word, in a deep and profound way, is called the release of the rhema word, the living word, pertinent to the reader and to that moment in time. Thus the process of experiencing the rhema word is both exhilarating and inexhaustible. The Creator God is able and desires to speak to me directly, personally and continuously – every moment, every day of my life. He wants to speak to you, dear reader. Preface every reading, however brief, with the simple prayer: Lord, I accept the words on this page, as your Word to me. Speak to me, I pray. In Jesus name.
Fire, water and wind! Phenomena experienced the world over, and when managed well, these are invaluable resources. Especially water. Even kids are attracted to water, splashing in the bath tub, running through puddles, paddling in a shallow pool. Finding water in unexpected places is even more fun.
In some parts of the world, the winter snow melt and early spring rains create fresh ponds in wetlands, farm fields and even backyards. In my small town in Ontario, Canada, every kid knew how to find a good spring pond. Some years, the early Spring rains would give way to a late winter freeze. The ponds would turn into vast expanses of smooth ice, another opportunity for fun. That’s a story for another time.
When a pond shows up, you need a raft, boat or canoe to experience the water. My craft of choice was a wooden boat, not really a sea-worthy boat, but still a boat, and big enough for two or three kids. Abandoned by its previous owner along the banks of the Speed River, my older brother who we call Buster saw a future for the old boat. He retrieved the boat, loaded it onto a wagon and pulled it down to the road, across the bridge, up the main street and finally all the way to our back yard. As the spring rains arrived, the ponds appeared and the water levels rose, the boat was hauled one more time, to Huckleberry Marsh, the biggest, closest pond in the neighborhood, and left for the next adventure. Friend Robert and I could hardly wait for the chance to explore Huckleberry Marsh by boat. Easter holidays and early spring rains provided the perfect opportunity.
The day is quiet, grey and overcast with the possibility of showers. I see the waiting boat drawn up on the west bank, stern floating and bow resting gently on the grassy bank. I see no oars or paddles. In the boat is a rusty tin can, used for bailing out water, should the boat leak. I step into the boat. As I turn around to look back, my weight shifts and the bow silently slides off the grass bank. I’m adrift. I sit down instantly. Within seconds, I’m away from shore. “Bail! Bail!”, Friend Robert shouts. I grab the tin can and awkwardly scoop water and dump it overboard. What now? I have no oars or paddles, only a bailing can. I’m seven years of age, and I can’t swim. And the water is cold. Adrift, I keep bailing. My mind goes into overdrive. What can I do. What can anybody do?
I remember a story about water and wind. Aunt Vera is my Sunday School teacher who faithfully teaches stories of the Bible. I remember the story of the parting of the Red Sea, how God caused a strong wind to blow, so much so that the waters parted and the fleeing Israelites were able to cross on dry land, and escape the pursuing enemy.
I pray. “Dear God, please rescue me now like you rescued your people, Israel. Amen”
I sense a gentle breeze. The wind. The wind is picking up. I feel wind on my face. It’s a cold wind. It’s a west wind. Rain does not come from the west. Clearing comes from the west. I watch in amazement. The West wind is picking up and moving Buster’s old boat and me in it steadily across Huckleberry Marsh. I keep bailing.
Friend Robert is not waiting. I see him in the distance, running. He is making his way around the pond, all the while keeping an eye on the boat. I’m wet and cold. I keep bailing and the west wind holds steady. The leaky, old wooden boat with its valuable cargo, me is bound for shore.
Not willing to wait any longer, Friend Robert predicts my landing spot, and is wading out into the cold spring water. He keeps coming, now up to his middle. I sense a lull in the wind. I look for rope to throw, none in the boat.
Not content to stand by and see what happens, Friend Robert keeps coming. The water is getting deeper and Friend Robert is up to his armpits. My bow is within reach. Now on his toes, he lunges forward, grabs the bow, hangs on tight, turns and struggles towards shore. With a gentle pull, the bow is drawn up on the grassy bank. I stand, shaking, stiff, and wet. I’m on safe ground and I’m thankful. Prayer answered.
Stories like this are not immediately recounted upon getting home. That might call for a curfew or some other punishment. Wet socks are quietly hung to dry like it’s an everyday thing. When the story does come out, it’s a managed release, no drama, just two kids playing on a pond in an old boat. The boat? – it survived to sail another day. And prayer? An ever-present resource. More to follow.
Against a cloudless blue sky and mottled green leaves, my eyes see only red apples, some redder than others and some bigger than others. I realize that may be a selfish thing, to always want the reddest, the biggest, the best. Is this the way we’re made? Hey, why not choose the best when there’s no good reason not to. The thought leaves quickly and I return to the job at hand. I’m going to pick the reddest, the biggest, the best apple. Why not? Simple to do. Climb the tree. Find the limb. Spot the apple. Reach for it. Grab it firmly. Twist the stem gently. Pull back. Apple safe in hand. Don’t drop it. Climb back down. First make a plan. Then follow the plan. I’m ready.
The aroma of the apple orchard at harvest time is pungent, kind of sweet, even intoxicating. On the ground are an assortment of fallen apples, in various stages of decomposition. Some can be rescued and used for apple cider. Some are already being eaten by worms and wasps. There’s a buzz in the air, almost like the orchard in Spring when the trees are full of blossoms and thousands of bees are hard at work gathering nectar and spreading pollen. The orchard is also home to a herd of white goats, under the watchful eye of one large male goat who stands taller than the rest and has a pair of knarled horns. Around the farm, he is simply called ‘Billy’ and not to be crossed. The mother goats and their kids are docile and have no reason to fear my presence. Billy stands on guard.
From the ground, I spot the reddest, the biggest, the best apple. My apple! I leave my position of surveillance and make my way to the tree trunk. Without a ladder, I reach up to the lowest branch, hold tight and ‘walk’ up the trunk to a point where I can get one leg over the branch. Then I gradually shift my weight until I’m sitting on the branch, one leg on each side. Every kid knows how to do this. From there, I look for the next branch closest to my apple. As I move carefully into my next position, I hear a thud, and then another, as ripe apples drop to the ground. I realize this can’t be avoided. My apple, the reddest, the biggest, the best apple is still there, hanging firmly, waiting to be picked. Maybe Farmer will come out and gather the windfalls or simply ‘falls’ as he calls them and take them home to Farmer’s Wife to make apple cider and apple sauce for next winter. I discover that my apple, spotted from the ground, is much harder to see up in the tree. Climb higher. I climb higher to get a better look. I see it now, but it is out of reach. I stretch as tall as I can, and hanging on to the trunk with one arm, stretch further with my free arm towards my apple. I have to reach even further. I stretch more. Not enough. So I inch out on to the branch, still holding on to the trunk. Inch out more. Stretch more. Just a little more. More. My fingers touch my apple. My free hand grasps the apple firmly, twists and ….. a sharp ‘crack’ breaks the silence. Thud. My world goes black. The orchard is silent and still. Time passes.
I am lying on my back. I struggle to open my eyes. I see a blue sky beyond the perimeter of the apple tree spreading above. I struggle for air, for another breath. My body won’t move. An eternity passes. I sense a new presence and open my eyes. The blue sky and apple tree have disappeared from view. I am staring into the face of a strange, hairy creature with beady eyes like a pair of cats-eye marbles. As my capacity to breath painfully returns, I smell a strange, unpleasant aroma.
Instinctively, I turn my face away. I remember being told by Farmer that billy goats have bad breath. The strange creature above me is the the billy goat. I don’t move. I can’t move. Where is my apple, the reddest, the biggest, the best apple? I close my eyes and wait for strength to return.
In the distance, I hear voices, “Are you okay?” Closer now, “Are you okay? What happened?” I can’t muster an answer. Farmer and Boy see evidence of a broken tree branch and ask no further questions. I only care about one thing and mumble, “Where is my apple?” Farmer and Boy say “Don’t worry, there are lots of apples.” I have my heart set on my apple. Finally, in weakness I whisper “My apple. I picked the the reddest, the biggest, the best apple. Where is it?’ Farmer and Boy stand silent, seeing no evidence of the apple on the broken branch or lying on the ground. “Let’s get you up to the house. Mother is serving fresh milk and homemade peanut butter cookies just out of the oven” “Okay”, I agree. Farmer takes one arm and Boy the other and I am gently raised up. First, standing shakily and then, step by step, we make our way through the gate and up the path to the farm kitchen.
Bedtime at my own house comes sooner than usual. I lie on my pillow, thinking about my adventure in the orchard. Tired, a bit sore, and thankful no bones are broken. I think about my apple, the reddest, the biggest, the best apple on the whole tree, maybe in the whole orchard. I so wanted that apple. Then it dawned on me. The goat, Billy, he ate my apple. I will never know for sure because Billy doesn’t talk. To him, probably just another windfall. But for me, I had my heart set on it. Then the thought occurs, “just being in that orchard is my windfall. Farmer and Boy care for that orchard. And I get to explore, climb and eat all the apples I want”. As I drift off, slowly falling asleep, I remember the words of Farmer, “Don’t worry, there are lots of apples.” He’s right. And tomorrow might be another day in the orchard.