Thursday, August 18, 2011

Out of the Darkness

The sun was shining as we stepped out of the car and walked the brief expanse across the warm, asphalt parking lot. My sister, Deb, and I had spent the morning at the Seattle Gift Show and we had driven across town to check out the permanent showrooms. The trip had taken us on the city streets through the commercial warehouse section of the city that we’d never seen. As we stepped up on the sidewalk, Deb notice the flowering trees and leaned into to it to check out the beautiful, white blossoms. The trees were located on the western side of the building, close to the awning which only provided it with afternoon and late afternoon sun. As a result, the trunks on the trees each had a distinctive bend to them…appearing to reach to the sunlight to the west.

“You know why the trees are leaning to the west, don’t you?” I asked my sister.

“Well yes,” she responded. “Plants always grow toward the light.”

“Actually the light is retarding the growth, I replied. "The growth is actually taking place on the dark side of the plant. The light is actually preventing the growth."

My comments stopped her in her tracks. I had taken college Botany close to 30 years ago and I remembered performing the experiments in the lab where light was only provided to a plant on one side and we would monitor the growth of the cells. In other experiments, we would measure the growth of plants where they had light 24 hours a day or where we would deny the plants light at all. What we discovered was that plants will grow faster then they don’t have any light at all…for a while anyway. If the light is restricted long enough, the plants will die. I know now my explanation wasn't completely scientifically correct, but it is the dark side that is actually growing taster.

As we drove back to Tacoma later that day, we talked about the light…and darkness…and growth. It is amazing when we think about the interaction that occurs between those three elements. And not only in plants, but in our lives as well.

Like many people, one of my phobias is the fear of the dark. I really think that it is a natural, innate fear in most of us that gets reinforced in a variety of ways throughout our life. For me, I had plenty of opportunities during my childhood to reinforce the fear. His name was Geoff (my little brother.) He seemed to take great pleasure in finding ways to startle…or outright terrify me in the dark on our farm in North Idaho. Eerie old barns and garages and trees gave him all the tools that he needed. Very few people like the dark.

But sometimes the seasons of our life can also be filled with darkness. They are times when we can’t see clearly what’s going on…or where we are headed…or what the future holds. I’ve been there more than once. The three years I spent in prison were one of the darkest times of my life. I saw a lot of men there who were slowly dying. Not in a literal sense, but dying nonetheless. They hadn’t learned the lesson of the plant.

An interesting phenomenon is actually occurring in the plant on the dark side…on the side away from the light. When the light strikes the plant, a hormone is produces that migrates to the cells located in the darkness. And this hormone causes an amazing thing to happen. It causes the plant cells on the dark side to stretch!! As a result, these elongated cells “bend” the plant toward the light (which we interpret as growing toward the light.) I love this lesson of nature because that’s what I need to do when I find myself in a season of darkness.

When we are surrounded by darkness, that’s when we have the opportunity to grow the most. We get stretched in ways we’ve never been torn before and find ourselves facing situations that we don’t have an answer for or an understanding of. The real growth in our lives occurs during the darkest times. It’s when we feel hated and ostracized that we can best learn to love and forgive. It’s when we are poor and have nothing that we learn the real value of giving…even if it means we give the last that we have. It’s when we are sickest that we appreciate what little health that we have remaining…or choose the live out the last days of our lives the best we can. It’s when we see someone that we love dying (or hear of their sudden death) that we examine the true value of every person’s life.

But like the plant, we have to allow the “light” that is there to stir within us the willingness to be stretched. We have to be willing to endure the dark season because it leads us to the light season. A time when our life flourishes and grows stronger. When we can celebrate the lessons and changes that occurred in the darkness. A time that we can let our light shine into the lives of those who find themselves in the dark.
Photo from Bing Images

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I’ve always loved numbers. I remember as a little boy…laying in bed at night and silently counting as high as I could before I would fall asleep. Not counting sheep, just practicing my numbers. I did the same thing with the multiplication chart. Over and over, I would do them in my head. As the train would pass by on the Great Northern railroad tracks that ran behind our dairy farm in North Idaho, I’d try to count how many cars were in the trains as it whizzed past. Even as we would lay out on the front lawn in our sleeping bags in the summer at night, I’d look into the sky and count as many stars as I could. Counting cars on our Sunday drives provided a nice distraction to the bodies of three siblings squeezed into the backseat of the Rambler station wagon with me.

My wife Paula was always amazed that I could remember phone numbers…and dates. I knew (and still know) the date that we met, the date of our first date, the day I proposed and our wedding anniversary date. Sadly, I also know the date that our divorce was final. The birthdates of our children and our grandchildren and engraved forever in my memory. I guess sometimes, it’s a curse to remember too many numbers.

August is a month full of numbers for me and I have found them swirling in my mind a great deal this past week. It seems each one is associated with a memory…mostly painful. A grandson’s birthday. Release from prison. A date with Paula. Since I’m not getting any younger, I thought I’d put down a list of numbers that seem to have some significance.

6427 - Number of days Paula and I were married
2564 - Days since I last saw my grandson and grand daughter
2552 - Days since I kissed Paula
1463 - Days I've been out of prison
1086 - Days spent in prison
851 - Average number of days between seeing Paula in the past seven years
365 - More days of supervised release
341 - Number of days I've had my antique business
284 - Number of days that I've been selling antiques at the Tacoma Antique Center
260 - Miles round trip my sister Deb drives when she comes to auction with me
137 - Milepost number on I-5 that you take to go to my antique space
43 - Number of antique auctions I've attended in the past year
41 - Number of months I was sentenced to serve in prison
26 - Number of birthdays my grandchildren have had in the past seven years
26 - Number of birthdays I’ve missed for my grandchildren in the past seven years
23 - Hours spent on a bus from Seattle to Bakersfield, California
23 - Date in July of 2004 that my marriage ended
23 - Date in February of 2004 that my life changed forever (can you spell FBI?)
13 - Date in December of 1986 that we were married
13 - Date in August of 1999 that I had my first grandchild
6 - Thickness of a prison mattress…in inches (if you're lucky)
4 - Number of grandchildren
3 - Numbers of siblings that I've renewed a wonderful, loving relationship with
3 - Number of children
1 - Years until I can move freely…anywhere I want to without permission
0 - Number of parents still living

Not all numbers are bad. They are just real. And they serve as reminders to me. There’s one other thing about numbers that I like though…some of them change. Some get bigger, and some get smaller. As I reflect on the list, there are numbers to celebrate...and numbers that I'd like to just let slowly fade from my memory. Maybe....just maybe, time will allow that.

Photo from Bing Images