I wrote a few days ago about Thanksgiving in August at Cheri’s mom’s house. As is always the case with any Thanksgiving meal, there are almost more leftovers than food actually eaten. As we got ready to leave for home, lots of the food got divvied up and put in different kinds of containers. We ended up with four Styrofoam boxes like you get when you can’t finish your meal at a restaurant. They went in the larger bag, and I placed them all in the back of our SUV for the ride home.
It’s an hour and ¾ ride from front door to front door. At close to the 15-minute mark of the trip, it happened. Those four boxes succumbed to the vibration of the highway, and began to squeak against each other. It was a constant rattling, a persistent rubbing against the Styrofoam – it was, to be sure, a “little noise.”
Our mode of travel when I was growing up was a 1964 Impala station wagon – dark navy blue – with two rows of seats, and then a “way back” seat that faced backwards. Two things were true in the early 60s: the cars were built with any moving parts being metal on metal – the idea of soundproofing or quieting just didn’t exist; and the roads of the 1960s were never smooth, either with rock laid over tar, or tar used to seal cracks which left you with a continual thump, thump, thump as you drove along the streets or highways. The combination of those two realities meant that there was always the threat – and usually the probability that something somewhere in the car was going to rattle or squeak. Not a huge sound, like things were falling off, but more like the sound when you have a fan that’s a little off-kilter, and it makes a tiny “cling” or tapping sound.
The other thing that was as true as a summer sunrise was that Dad absolutely, totally, with every fiber of his being HATED little noises. Rattles, tapping sounds, squeaks, rubbing sounds, rhythmic drumming – however you want to describe them, or imitate them, Dad’s life mission, it appeared, was to hunt them down, and without mercy, silence them forever. It was almost a quest, not unlike the knights of the Round Table searching for the Holy Grail. Dad’s search was for silent running. It was also true, somehow, for some reason, even after years of flying in noisy planes as a navigator, that Dad had great hearing, and so even the smallest creak was detected and detested.
When we were on “dry land” as it were, it was possible to vanish as Dad would seek around the house to find the “little noise” – it was his mission, after all. However, when we were all loaded up in the car, driving down the bumpy road, and noise began, with Dad at the helm, he couldn’t stop to find the source. As is always the case with the commander of the vehicle, Dad would delegate. He would say, with no kindness, “What’s squeaking back there?” since it always came from the back of the car. “Fix it” was his next order. With that, three or four of us would slide out of our seatbelts (the back seat, facing backwards apparently had not need for the belt…), and start the hunt for the little noise. It could be something on the floor, or the seat itself rubbing against the frame, or vinyl against vinyl where the cushions met. We were self-educated in the process of searching, discovery, isolation, and repair/removal. Dad was the pilot, and we were the technicians.
But we were on a strict timeclock. Now and then, a little noise would be incredibly hidden, or unidentifiable. As the seconds ticked on, Dad would encourage us with words like, “Find it!” and “Do I have to stop and fix it myself?” Tender moments, to be sure. He never did have to stop, however, since we eventually always found the culprit, and cut its head off, and brought silence and tranquility back to the vehicle. Until we hit a good bump, and something would start rattling again…
I have to confess that driving home with squeaky Styrofoam, I began to find myself mimicking my father, who’s been gone for 27 years. I kept telling Cheri, “It’s just the food containers, that’s all – they are just rubbing against each other…” Cheri suggested that we pull over and fix it, but for some reason, I didn’t want to. We headed for the next long while, with squeaky, rubby little noises, that frankly, the world never needs to hear!
I think its curious that for most of us living our lives, it’s not the big things that set us on edge, like injustice, or violence or even stupid decisions made by others that impact our lives. Sure, they affect us, and even cause us grief or frustration. I think, however, that it’s the little noise the finally pushes a button in us, and causes us to react, to overreact, or to act terribly poorly as a response. When you hear of road rage, what you actually hear about is the inability to let the stupidity of another driver just go. Something “squeaks” in our lives, that heightens our anxious, hypersensitive feelings, and sends us into combat, or search and destroy mode. Facemasks, quarantines, school openings, social distancing, or watching others completely ignore what others are saying is so important for health – and then we hear of dozens of people who became sick after attending a funeral for a loved one in which all these important things were forgotten.
That quickly translates into getting upset with a pet that won’t stop whining, or a child that won’t stop whining, or a spouse that won’t stop whining, or the sound of our own voices, whining. We search for peace and quiet and the deliverance from those little noises, those squeaks that drive us crazy, although if we stop for a moment, we may have to admit we are mostly crazy right now without the rattle or the squeak.
When the boys were little, and would for some reason end up over the top in their reactions to whatever the world was throwing at them, and would start to cry or get angry, or even have that temper tantrum, the best thing we could do at that moment would be to hold them, and hug them, and in that firm grasp, yet loving, allow the messy stuff to go away again, and to simmer down and to find joy in life once more. I wish someone would do that for each of us today – just hold us and shush us, and say it’s ok. We all need our moms right now. Instead, perhaps what we need to do is to imagine God’s arms holding us, telling us it’s ok, and this is not the end of the world, or even the end of anything. It’s just a rattle, a squeak, a little noise that is not worth getting upset about. Maybe that will help.
Word for the day: phosphene. Pronounced FAHS-phene, it’s actually a pretty funky physiological experience. It comes from the Greek phos which means “light” and phainein, which means “to show.” You know when you rub your eyes pretty hard, and before you open them, you see all different kinds of colors and shapes? That’s phosphene. You see, no light really enters the eye – instead it is an “entopic phenomenon” with the source of the image and the colors lying within the eye itself. Have you ever sneezed or coughed really hard, or stood up too fast, or cracked your head on the cupboard door or such? More than likely, you experienced a phosphene, sometimes pretty dramatic, with wild colors or swirls or sorts. They aren’t quite sure what causes it, since it is counter to the normal way our eyes work. Normally we don’t produce color and image – our eyes process objects and colors and bring it into our brains. So – if you sneeze pretty hard today, enjoy your phosphene as a mystery of your own body and life.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.