The Drawer That Time Forgot

The toy track was set. It had been tied to the end of the chair’s arm using far too many rubber bands and stretched far into the lounge room of my grandparent’s house. Grannie cast her motherly gaze over us as if to say, ‘Go for it!’ Mum cast her motherly gaze over us as if to say, ‘Don’t you dare break anything!’

The little blue car we judged to be the fastest was set upon the track and began its journey down the slope and around the bend. This time a wheel caught a join and caused the car to leave the track half way around the bend, coming to rest in the dark recess next to a bookshelf that had resided beside the fireplace since time immemorial.

I found the car next to a drawer in the bottom of the bookshelf. It was one of those curious drawers that, to some people, seem to be a mere piece of wood but to me seemed like the very treasure chests of Flint himself! It had a strange curved handle and hole for a key, not that I could see one anywhere. I tugged at the handle and the drawer came open, its quiet groans of protest covered by the continuing automotive carnage behind me.

The drawer contained an assortment of little bits and pieces and my ten-year-old imagination was soon lost in a forgotten time. For a moment anyway. It seemed that the whole drawer was filled with old and dusty junk. The first thing I noticed was a small doll. It was the hand-sewn kind with a little pinafore covered in pink flowers. It was so old that it had lost an eye and the material was faded. I thought perhaps that it was Grannie’s but she was so old! I don’t think she was ever a child so why would she have a toy?

There was an odd assortment of buttons and bracelets, a silver marble and a curious looking piece of paper. It said something about a school and it had the name ‘Joan’ on it. I have no idea who that was. I suppose Grannie went to school once but I don’t know when or where or why she had this person’s paper instead of one with ‘Grannie’ written on it.

There was an empty ring box with blue velvet all over the cover and silk on the inside. I checked in the drawer to see if the ring had fallen out but I couldn’t seem to find it. ‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘I hope Grannie knows what happened to it.’

An old ointment tin caught my eye next. Opening it revealed a pair of baby’s socks and an empty box of bandaids. I’d never seen bandaids that looked like that. I suppose Grannie kept them hidden there in case of emergencies but the socks I had no clue about. I peeked around the corner to check but I was already pretty sure that Uncle John’s feet were too big for these socks. I wonder who Grannie used them for?

A gold watch was hidden under some scarlet ribbon. I knew the watch was Grandad’s. I’d seen him wearing it before he died. He used to wear it on walks to see the trains at the railway footbridge. I looked over at Grannie. Where all these things hers? Some sort of trinket box from a long time ago?

Right down the bottom of the drawer there were some pictures. Photographs of people outside houses and at the beach and of a young soldier with a strange hat on. There were some photos of babies I didn’t recognise but they looked much better because they were colour. One caught my eye though: a black and white one outside a church. A young man and lady all dressed up stood there with humungous smiles on their faces. They looked really happy.

My little brother fell off his chair at that moment and began giggling outrageously. Everyone joined in the laughter and in that moment I saw on Grannie’s face the same smile as the lady in the photo had.

I looked at the photo, then Grannie and the photo again. The junk in the drawer wasn’t junk at all! It was the treasure of the story of a lifetime. Looking at the hopeful smile of the lady in the photo, the trinkets and the smile on Grannie’s face as she watched us play told me that it was indeed a long and happy story.

I quickly and carefully replaced the treasures in their little drawer in the dusty corner by the fireplace just as my older brother asked what I was doing. I smiled to myself as I wondered if I had been one of those babies in the photos.

I grabbed the blue car and headed back to the game. It was after all the fastest one.

©PJohnson 2012

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The Sign

The Signpost

 

The Master had bid him come
It was he He wanted most
to set out upon the path
towards the Golden Coast

The signpost stood but six feet tall
and pointed all directions
and round about the signpost’s crown
stood many path selections.

Eagerly the traveller walked closer
to find the path he’d follow
but each and every sign was blank
and it filled his heart with sorrow.

He looked above for guidance
for sun and stars he knew
but the storm clouds swirled about
and hid their faces from view.

With his eyes he followed one path
from near to far horizons end
it could be the right way
if he could but see around the bend.

Fear now gripped his heart.
Indecision ruled his mind.
The empty signpost leered at him.
The fear had made him blind.

What if he selected wrong?
would better here remain
then to wander through the aimless dark
to return to here again.

Hopeless now he delayed
as he stood in shivering thought
what if he never continued
in the pathway that he ought?

Down sat he and thought more
while inside heart was hollowed.
he hoped of close and timely rescue
None came in days that followed.

The lustre of the Master’s quest
had slowly waned.
That first eager step
a memory now drained.

Many days and longer months
from journey’s first inception
traveller stood and looked about
at his own indecision.

Could I not, he asked himself
have sought the Master’s face
on any path I see from here
and set out in His grace?

He recalled the Master’s smile
and how He’d bid him come
with arms and heart stretched wide
‘I’ll treat you like my Son.’

He recalled the months of idleness
where by the post he’d prayed
and day by day his sitting still
had all his hopeunmade.

The first step seemed to echo
in the silence that surrounded.
Hope in heart stirred as fear
was left by the post confounded.

Not far had he walked
by fear no longer hounded
to spy the Master standing, waiting
past a corner lately rounded.

My son where have you been?
Here long have I waited.
Yet glad I am of your arrival.
My love is not abated.

My Lord he cried, ‘I tried to come,
but lost was my fair vision
When I found a signpost blank as snow
In the valley of decision.

 I did not walk or turn about.
I stopped in fear and doubt.
How could I choose an unknown path?
Perchance there’s no way out?’

‘My son,’ he said, ‘I bid you come
and tis good to see you’ve grown.
You shouldn’t fear the path ahead.
Your path, to me, is known.’

Hope

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Remembering

I’ve rewritten some thoughts on Remembrance Day numerous times now. Somehow the words don’t seem to fit.

I had the chance recently of visiting the Australian and New Zealand War Memorials which are both brilliant, sobering and moving tributes to those that have been wounded or killed defending their countries and it has caused me to think very carefully about their sacrifice this Remembrance Day.

Four are my thoughts on this and four times other, better people have more articulately recorded their thoughts on paper better than I could ever hope to. The four thoughts following are linked and in order. I won’t commentate my thoughts on them but I’d be interested to hear yours. I’ll let the words speak for themselves.

The first is the oft quoted fourth stanza of the Ode of Remembrance (1914) by Laurence Binyon:

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

The second is the poem In Flanders Fields (1915) by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae after the bloody Battle of Ypres:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The third thought comes from the pen of Native American Chief Tecumpseh:

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view and demand that they respect yours.
Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.
Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.
Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

Lastly, the words of the Bible:

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

The words that Tecumpseh writes are not in remembrance of those who have died but a challenge to those who still live. I don’t agree with some of what he says but that is for another day. One exception I will make and with this thought I’ll leave you. Don’t live your life preparing a death song. Don’t spend your whole time on Earth without asking yourself the questions, ‘Who am I and why am I here?’ and then looking earnestly for the answer.

Don’t prepare a death song. Sing a life song. Every day of your life. Start now. There are some who already showed us how.

Lest we forget.

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Two Thoughts from Monday (thoughts unrelated to Mondays)

Lend a shoulder,
Lend a prayer.
Not long has past,
since you were there.

Difference was made
by steady hands,
to hold you sound
on shifting sands.

Lend a shoulder,
Lend a prayer
not long has past,
since you were there.

When we stand on the shoulders of giants, we are lifted above the congested life on the ground. We are elevated above the narrow perspective that so crowds our vision for life and the future. When we stand on the shoulders of giants, we are able to see a greater, clearer picture.

Isaac Newton wrote in response to a letter which praised his magnificent mathematical mind, ‘If I have seen further [than those who came before] it is by standing on the sholders of Giants.’ Newton saw further. It was equally important to go, to do, to take the risks he did, but he saw first.

So those two thoughts:

Whose shoulders are you standing on and where are you looking?

Who are you holding on your shoulders today and what are you showing them?

 

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The Brat and The Flagpole

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I had the privilege of visiting the Australian War Memorial just this past week. It was a beautiful Canberra day; blue skies, green grass and throngs of people who had come to pay their respects to those who have fallen defending our shores.
While I was patiently waiting for ‘photographers’ from other nationalities who were taking numerous photos of exactly the same thing exactly in the way, I was forced to listen to two children who were bent on irritating each other to death before they even got into the memorial. At first, I’ll admit, I was annoyed. They were playing amongst the flagpoles and displaying little regard for those forced to suffer them nor was it the time or place to be behaving in such a way.
But.

I stopped and thought.
I looked around for a moment.

To the men whose names are inscribed there and to the families who never saw their loved ones again, there is perhaps no more fitting tribute than a child with the freedom to play amongst the flagpoles in their own country. Even being annoying is a great freedom to have.
It is perhaps a thought you’ve had before. Even so, as you wake up today when you want to, eat the breakfast you want to, talk to the people you want to and go where you want to, remember that that freedom was hard won and worth remembering. Even if it means we have to play amongst the flagpoles, Lest We Forget.

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Manly isn’t just a football team.

After school we played touch football as we most always do. Today was a little different as many of the high school teachers were clearly negligent and failed to turn up and rather than make the kids watch a childish game of touch we let them play.

The first just quietly slipped into the game on the wing clearly eager to play yet not sure if he would be allowed to encroach upon the adults domain. They were accepted and put their hearts into the game. Everyone from the six year olds through to the ten year olds greatly enjoyed being part of an adult world, if only for an hour one Friday.

They point of this musing? Towards the end of the game, the opposing team made a break and a chase was given by a valiant, though possibly foolhardy, nine year old. In short, he found himself pounded into the ground by a somewhat taller and faster moving high school teacher. He was down. Out for the count. Squished. And his dad came over, helped him up, made sure he was ok and walked it off. He ended up sitting out. As I mused over this musing I found that I really admired the way that kid’s dad picked him up and moved him on. He didn’t leave him there hurt. Instead he chose to speak into his kid’s life and teach him that it isn’t worth staying down. What a manly dad.

Wait. What? A manly dad? A manly man!? No, manly isn’t just a football team. To be manly means more. This led me to think of the examples we have to live by and why this world is so full of… well… not men. I think, and bear with me on this, one of the greatest reasons is those preachers of the cinema who assume in their intellectual superiority, that we needed re-educating. Let me explain.

Once upon a time in Hollywood, there would be a problem which had no solution. Then, a hero would walk on. He may be an imperfect hero. Insensitive. Harsh. Rude even. But this man would have a clear sense of right and wrong and regardless of his own well being would not rest until the person or the place or the problem had been set right.

Where are our heroes now? Let’s have a quick look at two. I’m a teacher so we could start with an animation. Madagascar 2 is flat out hilarious but when ever Alex, the supposed hero, is presented with an argument he cries and whines like a two year old. He has absolutely no ability to look past an insult, personal attacks or even stay on topic. I wish he had been a bigger man (lion).

In ‘Batman, The Dark Knight’ Bruce Wayne fights the good fight through all the confusion and finally, when it came to the truth, he chose not to follow. He chose to take the blame for something he didn’t do which actually undermined everything he stood for as a hero. I wish he had been a bigger man. (and here’s hoping that The Dark Knight Rises is better).

Unfortunately, there are many more examples out there. No, I’m not just bagging movies or heroes. I’m just making the point that for all their heroics many of our everyday movie heroes really display an incredible lack of character at the most vital parts of their stories. They chose the right way every time. Except when it matters the most.

Sir Winston Churchill said that ‘All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.’ These are the things that matter.

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I Love The People

 

For many years I’ve listened to people talk about their travels especially those journeys and adventures that occurred in their youth. Stories of planes and trains and far off lands full of interesting people and strange food and mountains.

I now feel as if I can now converse as an equal with such people with tales of my own over a game of cards by the fire.  Yes, I know, New Zealand isn’t really the exotic land those folks tell of and the food is not all that different either but now, when I am aged, I will recall the days of old, when I was young and possibly a little stupid and smile as the memories take flight in my mind’s eye.

I do not think it was the place or the food. Neither was it the adventures. It was the people.  The people made the difference. In short, if you want, when years are done, to be fondly laughing of times gone by with people who matter, rather than a decaying pile of iphone self portraits, take awesome friends with you.

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