Gone Is Gone

I didn’t respect my dad until it was too late.

I didn’t give him a hard time or ignore all his advice or completely fail to appreciate how hard he worked to keep a roof over our heads. I didn’t tell him to go jump in a lake, as I’ve seen others do. I just knew I was better than him. That’s all.

It was easy to do. All those crazy, silly, sometimes scary things that made Dad Dad were just, you know, Dad things. Simple as that.

My dad died when he was 83. It was a hard time for my sister and me but, by God’s grace, I had started to wise up. A little. After all, here I was, a 53-year-old man with a wife and a job and kids and a mortgage, ambitions on hold while all that gets taken care of, and now this. There was math to do and time to be spent and emotions to balance or keep in check while he went through the horrifying process of dying like a fighter and the only options and decisions available to us were bad ones.

The hospice called in the middle of the night to tell me he died and I should come and say goodbye. He looked peaceful. All that struggle is over stuff was true enough but I could only hope his eternity was equally peaceful. I had no control over that. The only thing I had the power to control was the way I’d treated him for half a century.

Maybe if we’re supposed to evaluate our lives in comparison to others I can say, “Not bad,” but the reality is I have nothing to be proud of. Know how I know? I’m a dad, that’s how. I’m on the receiving end.  I know what dads need to be dads and I gave precious little of it to mine.

You can’t be a parent without the respect of your children. It’s that simple and that basic. Neither can you “earn” the respect of people just entering the world, with no standard apart from their constantly shifting moods and desires. They’re new. They don’t know the ropes. They have to be trained into things like respect and wisdom and love and concern for others. From the moment their lives begin they owe you literally everything but it takes years and years for them to grow into the recognition of the simple truth. That’s why we are commanded to honor our fathers and mothers right now rather than waiting until we are persuaded that they deserve it. They will never reach whatever cockamamie “standard” we form out of our youthful ignorance and self-centered rationalizations. By the time they “earn” our respect, our basis for that respect is corrupted like a bad computer file, riddled with our own patchwork of baseless expectations and self-conceived blindness to true value.

If we withhold respect then we are disrespectful. We prefer the ego-stroking satisfaction of judgement to the nourishment of love.

Nothing cripples a man like knowing he’s not respected by his kids. It’s the second worst thing in the world for him. The worst thing in the world is knowing he’s powerless to compel respect for Mom. There is no child-rearing formula, no strategic reasoning, no magical Biblical principles or parental-empowerment snake oil that can overcome a child’s insistence on not respecting Mom. They don’t have to if they don’t want to and you can’t make ‘em.

A dad can take it, if he has to. Even if he’s crippled, he can still get up and go to work and pray for his kids and have faith and look at things “philosophically.” But he can’t live with disrespect aimed at the woman he loves. He can’t live with the inability to protect her. He can’t.

Your kids are the only people in the world with the power to render you truly powerless and actually reduce you to failure.

I don’t know how much of this kind of stuff went through my dad’s old school head back when I was better than him but this post isn’t really about him. I just know I did these things, sometimes gleefully, always with the unquestioned assurance of my superiority. Now that I know better, it’s too late. Now that I have enough life behind me to review and reflect upon I find regret.

You may think regret is one of the negatives, like anxiety or envy or self-doubt. The problem with regret is that it’s legitimate. It’s a simple response to the truth. If the object of your regret has departed this earth, there is no remedy. I will never be able to make things right. My dad is not looking down from heaven or watching over me, hanging on my every word. We all know it doesn’t work that way no matter how many pretty things we tell each other on Facebook.

Gone is gone.

 

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“Down to the Wild Blue Yonder” Recipient of Bewildering Stories’ Annual Review Awards Edition

Bewildering Stories’ Annual Review, 2017

“Down to the Wild Blue Yonder” has been selected for Bewildering Stories Mariner Awards edition. These stories, poems, essays and dramatic works are judged to be the years’ “best of the best” by Bewildering‘s editors. I am pleased and honored to be part of such a great publication.

Click here for the story:

Down to the Wild Blue Yonder

And here is my bibliography at Bewildering Stories:

Harry Lang Bibliography

 

 

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Out of Sight

“No, Mommy!” protested six-year old Sarah Reid.  “It’s too scary!  People will get scared!”

Beth Reid looked at her daughter’s eyes peering out from the holes cut in the old sheet.  The ghost costume was a Halloween classic and Sarah liked Casper the Friendly Ghost.  Seemed simple enough to a busy adult but kids were never simple.

“I know what to do,” said Beth as she rummaged through a desk drawer that was only opened to stuff in things that had no place else to go.  She soon found a big red Christmas bow, which she stuck on top of Sarah’s head.

“What do you think?” she asked hopefully as she held up a mirror.  “Now they’ll know you’re a friendly ghost, not a scary one.”

“Okay!” Sarah agreed as she picked up the plastic Jack-o-lantern with the open top, imagining the candy that would soon overflow.  “Let’s go!”

The eastern sky still held traces of ashy gray behind dark screens of skeletal tress as Beth and Sarah joined the parade of monsters, princesses, comic book characters and last-minute-anybody’s-guess presentations wandering along the suburban street.  The smoky smell of the fallen leaves swishing around the bottom of Sarah’s costume and the radiant, golden beams of candlelight shooting from the Jack-o-lanterns made thoughts of cackling witches and bristling black cats impossible to avoid.  The spooky chill it gave Sarah was, well, spooky but deliciously fun.

“Okay, baby,” said Beth as they came to Mrs. Jorgenson’s house, their first stop.  “Remember what I told you.  Ring the bell and shout, ‘Trick or treat!’ when she opens the door.  I’ll be watching.”

Sarah started up the walk but didn’t let go of Mom’s hand.  “Come with me,” she pleaded, pulling as hard as she could.

“All right,” agreed Beth.  She was in no hurry to not be needed.

The door flew open before Sarah could reach for the bell, releasing a flood of laughing, well-disguised characters of various shapes and sizes, all clutching bags starting to bulge with the evening’s haul.  “Hi Mrs. Reid!” chirped one or two as they passed.  “Hi Sarah!”

Sarah didn’t recognize any of them.  She hoped Mrs. Jorgenson hadn’t heard them call her name.

“My!” exclaimed gray-haired Mrs. Jorgenson, a slight, jovial woman who sometimes babysat Sarah and her brothers when Mom and Dad went out.  The heavy aroma of a dinner that included cabbage filled the little house and Sarah could see Mr. Jorgenson sitting in the dining room, reading a newspaper.  “What a pretty little ghost!  I like your bow,” she added as she slipped two candy bars into the Jack-o-lantern.  “Now let’s see.  You must be… Joey Fein?”

Sarah giggled.

“Melissa Stuart?”

“No!”

“I give up,” sighed Mrs. Jorgenson, virtually overcome by exasperation and bewilderment.  “Who is in there?”

“It’s Sarah!” she announced, struggling to lift the sheet without letting go of the Jack-o-lantern.

Sarah soon picked up on the confusion between what was genuine and what was pretend.  Mrs. Jorgenson certainly saw Mom standing there, yet she really seemed perplexed…

Sarah decided that confusion and good-natured deception must be part of the fun.

They went laughing from house to house, marveling at the transformation Halloween had wrought upon the neighborhood, stopping to guess at who lurked behind disguises or gab with neighbors, friends and classmates.  As the night went on, Sarah inched closer to flying solo up to the bright, friendly porches and doors but could never quite keep up her nerve.

Before long they found themselves around the corner and halfway down the block.  This street gave her a little shiver.  There was one house with a big, shaggy hedge and broken pavement that was scary even in the light of day.  In fact, all the kids were told to stay away from it.  They never went down the street by themselves and always walked on the other side.

“Hi, Beth,” called a voice from the darkness.  It was Mrs. Fein, with Joey in tow.  Sarah knew it was Joey because the helmet of his homemade Stormtrooper costume was falling apart and it was easy to see his face.

“Hi Rachel,” said Beth.  “Did you get that permission slip for the field trip?”

Sarah sighed, knowing the two of them would talk forever.  The wind was getting chilly and her pumpkin head was full and heavy.  It was time to go home.

“Can I go across the street, Mom?” asked Joey, who was old enough to do things like that with a minimum of supervision.  Permission was granted and Sarah was alone with the two forever-talkers.

That’s when she realized they stood at the foot of the broken pavement leading through a gap in the shaggy hedge and up to the dark old porch of the scary old house.

As the two moms talked and talked Sarah got an idea.  She’d been to a lot of strange houses that night, only to discover fun inside.  The spooky houses usually turned out to be the most fun of all.  Maybe this one was fun, too.

Getting up all the six-year-old nerve she could muster Sarah slipped away from the talking moms and glided up the walkway, feeling like a real ghost.  The sheet did its best to bunch itself up under her feet as she climbed the steps but she soon made her way to the darkened doorway and found the bell.

Beth and Rachel were shaken from their mom-talk trance by the blaze of the porch light and a little voice shouting, “Trick or treat!”

“Sarah?” called Beth.  “No, honey!  Not this house…”

It was too late.  The door opened.  A dark silhouette stood out against the light from within.

Beth and Rachel were on the porch with magical swiftness, hearts pounding, ready to face what they expected to find at the door.  They were surprised to see a stout, middle aged woman clutching a handkerchief.  Her eyes were red but she forced a smile as she spoke to her little visitor.

“I’m sorry,” she said.  “I don’t have any candy.”

Noticing the perplexed looks on the faces of the two mothers, the woman explained.  “You expected to find Charlie, didn’t you?  I’m his sister, Doris.  Charlie’s been sick.  I came down from Doylestown to stay with him three months ago.”

“Oh,” said Rachel.  “Well, we won’t bother you.  Come on, Sarah.”

“You don’t have to worry,” said Doris.  “Charlie passed away last night.  His doctor said the stress of the appeal was too much for him.  He always was sensitive.  Anyway, the conviction was overturned.  His name is coming off the registry.”

“I see,” said Beth coldly.  She had followed the media accounts of the case closely.  She was not happy with this piece of news.

“There was more to it than the news reports said,” Doris went on, her voice tense and exhausted.  “It wasn’t as simple as they made it out to be.”

“Is it ever?” challenged Beth.  “Come on, Sarah.”

Sarah wasn’t exactly sure what to do.  She knew this was serious and Mom was mad at the lady on the porch.  Mom told her not to talk to strangers.  Did she get the lady in trouble?

She took a Hershey bar from her Jack-o-lantern.  “Here, Mrs. Doris,” she said.  “Everybody should have candy on Halloween!”

“Thank you, dear,” said Doris.  “Thank you very much.”

“And here’s one for your brother,” said Sarah, handing over a Three Musketeers bar.

“Oh, but, I told you… my brother isn’t here.”

“If he’s a good brother he won’t mind if you have it,” said Sarah, who did not yet understand what passed away meant.  “Is he a good brother?”

The lady couldn’t answer.  She just nodded and went back into the house with her candy bars.

The mothers were quiet as could be as they walked down the broken pavement and back through the gap in the hedge.  Sarah couldn’t imagine what could keep them from talking.

“Fine!” Beth finally said.  “I’ll bring her a casserole tomorrow.  You have to bake her a pie!”

“I can do that,” replied Rachel.

They both acted mad but they were both going to make something delicious and bring it to the lady.  At first Sarah was confused but then she realized she had stumbled upon one of life’s great truths.  Grown-ups pretended way more than kids.

“Come on, Little Miss Sunshine,” said Beth, taking Sarah’s free hand and leading her back around the corner.  “It’s a school night and you still need a bath.”

Sarah hated baths but looked forward to the warm, sleepy feeling she got when she was all dried off and in her pajamas, ready for bed.  She had a whole pumpkin head full of candy.  The old, dark house was no longer a mysterious menace.  Mom and Mrs. Fein had a new neighbor.  And she hadn’t scared anybody.

It was a good night’s work.

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Why Do You Support Monsters?

You have to ask yourself why you support monsters.  Until you can answer this question about yourself you really don’t have the wherewithal to engage in meaningful debate.

When Jesus says, “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble,” why is your answer “Not so, Jesus.  It is merciful, compassionate and progressive to kill the ‘unwanted’ ones?”  You need to answer that question about yourself.

When you resort to hiding behind ‘science’ without understanding or acknowledging that science is exactly how we know the unborn are human beings from the moment of conception and feel excruciating pain when the curette slices or the saline scalds you have to stop and ask yourself why you look away from science instead of being persuaded by it.  That’s a question you really need to answer about yourself.

When ethics, morality, the evidence of your own eyes and conscience tell you “These are people and it’s wrong to kill people,” and your answer is “Conscience avaunt!” you really have to ask yourself what makes you that way.

You have to ask yourself why you’re proud to dehumanize the most helpless among us.  You have to ask yourself why you regard it as a badge of honor to side with monsters instead of defending their victims.  You can’t credibly defend this great evil until you know this most elementary thing about yourself.

Why do you support monsters?

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Adding Velocities or; the Little Engine that Shouldn’t

I haven’t posted anything lately.  It seemed like a good time to rerun this one.

If you stand at the rear of a train moving in a straight line at 60 miles per hour and you start walking forward at 3 miles per hour, common sense and Galileo tell you that you are now moving in a specific direction at a speed of 63 miles per hour relative to the ground.  However, if you’ve been on the train so long that you’ve stopped perceiving its 60 mile per hour motion, you only recognize the following:

  1. You were slacking off until you got up off your fat bottom and started walking.
  2. You could walk faster if you were serious.

If you remember anything from your school days about such thought exercises, you’ll remember that the initial problem is just the gateway.  I’m convinced that people like Einstein only go into physics so they can build elaborate thought-mazes to torment students but since science claims exclusive right to logic I’m afraid we must follow where it’s practitioners lead.

To continue, let’s assume you were doing something before you started walking, say, eating lunch, maybe while going over the family budget or scheduling people to care for your aging mother while the usual caretaker is on vacation, or doing the grocery shopping.  You’ve been at these activities as long as you’ve been on the train; they also fall under the “no longer noticed” heading.  They are just part of the stationary frame of reference against which you measure your anemic 3 mile per hour hike down the aisle.

Along the way you encounter the conductor.  He advises you to return to your seat for safety.  This interruption changes the velocity, the speed and direction, of your walk.  It must be factored in to your calculations.

Moving past the conductor you now come across multiple conductors, or so it seems.  Some are authentic, others are imposters who happen to enjoy telling people what to do.  These run-ins result in more delta v, changes in speed and direction, but in your mind the initial conductor encounter has already been absorbed by the stationary frame of reference.

You continue your walk, making the same, plodding progress.  Like a character in Snowpiercer you’ve lost virtually all connection with the world outside the train; for all you know there is no such place.  All you see is the slow, often interrupted walk past endless rows of seats.

But there is a world outside.  The train travels along a track which now takes it up grades, around curves, from switch to switch.  Focused as you are, you don’t notice these changes but your inner ear does.  You feel unsteady and disoriented but you can’t imagine why a simple, lethargic walk along a straight line would produce such effects.  You’re frustrated; why can’t you walk a simple straight line?  Why can’t you keep to the “straight and narrow?”  Is there something wrong with you?  Has God abandoned you?  Do you have some moral flaw that is somehow manifesting its malignancy in your physical actions and well-being?

You clutch at remedies.  If you could be a better parent, stick to a budget or get more involved in ministry at church, maybe then you could walk a straight line.  If you had the money to fix up the house or pay for the kids’ tuition your walk along the aisle would be a piece of cake.

Maybe, if you could just add enough velocities, you could make real progress.

Never mind that your focus is zeroed in on the end of the train which is speeding you over miles and miles while you eat lunch, take care of your family, pay the bills, work full time, tithe, teach, minister to brothers and sisters, neglect your own health in service to others, spare little for eventual retirement as you spend it on the people you value here and now, draw closer to Christ through reading, fellowship and prayer, lose sleep over souls, take the abuse of the blindly ungrateful and so on and so on.  All those things that get relegated to the stationary frame of reference aren’t stationary at all.  Einstein’s observer on the embankment couldn’t take in a fraction of the action as your train flies past.

Writers often reference the hypnotic effect of clack-clacking over railroad tracks.  Maybe it’s not such a hackneyed device after all.  Maybe we get so intent on making progress that we don’t see the progress we’re making.

Maybe God scratches his divine head as he watches us zig and zag over the landscape of the life he’s given us, oblivious to almost everything we accomplish in obedience to him as well as the rewards he both promises and delivers.  Maybe Jesus’ “straight and narrow” is more than the simplistic moral formulation we assume it to be.  Maybe it is a clear, unambiguous direction about how we ought to live our lives but in true human, pride-filled, sinful fashion we take his perfect declaration, hammer it into something recognizable only to Satan then lament our inability to obey.

But that’s what we get for riding trains when we were made to walk.

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Another Man’s Poem

 

I wish I could remember the words to another man’s poem.

There’s a mountain of myrrh and the lilies where the fawns roam.

But when I feel it most

That old poem is just a ghost of my love for you.

 

A wise king loved a woman when the world was younger.

But he only gave her some of his heart so he fell to the hunger.

I can only speculate

That great king met his bitter fate because he didn’t have you.

But I do.

 

Maybe I’m over my head.

My little well of wisdom is not so deep.

But the king didn’t mean what he said.

His words were fine but his talk was cheap.

 

“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.”

It’s true of everything in the world and it’s true of love.

I’ll say it with my dying breath;

The only thing strong as death is my love for you.

My love for you.

 

Copyright Harry Lang, 2014

 

 

 

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Alternative Facts?

See, there's this thing called biology...

There’s a catch phrase out and who does not love culture, politics,and words? “Alternative facts,” is the new phrase,  as in you are not entitled to your alternative facts.

Au contraire, I am totally entitled to my alternative facts. In a world full of endless narratives, moral relativism, and subjective truth, you do not suddenly get to claim possession of “the facts.”

It’s a bit amusing, I have long been a champion of alternative facts, so when this little phrase suddenly popped up on the news and in the culture, I was quite delighted. It warmed the cockles of my cold little heart.

I know, I know hearts don’t really have cockles, but like I said, I am fully entitled to my alternative facts.

Ever since I’ve been on the internet the bane of my existence, indeed, the very blight on my potato, has been this pedantic assault of the…

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