The One About A Squirrel

Photo by Evan McDougall on Unsplash
Note: For the next year, I plan to write a short story every day. Some may be 
palatable, even enjoyable(?). Others may be horrendous. If you like them, like them or share them. If you don’t, well it is whatever. I’m doing it as a challenge someone gave me. I’m calling these my fivers. I try and write them without stopping in five minutes, little to no editing after the time limit. Each story or post will come from a different prompt I am given. These are just exercises for me to be in the process of writing.

 

I grew up in small, rural America. Some people have called my area the rust belt; others have called it the snow belt. I called it home. In the sleepy towns of NW PA, there was a small private Christian school that I attended for most of my life from Kindergarten through 11th grade. The elementary wing of French Creek Valley Christian School had these decently giant windows to allow for natural light, as well as a good distraction for most of my classmates while some teacher went on about time, times tables, writing cursive, or the rudimentary knowledge of grammar. Grammar was the time that I would space out in the day, but I didn’t do it in a way that made the teacher genuinely suspect that I wasn’t listening.

One day, I don’t know for how long, but I blatantly watched two squirrels play with each other in the most jovial and playful manner. I don’t remember what drew me in; it might have been the changing of the weather. It was May! May in Pennsylvania was my favorite time of the year, and I found these two squirrel-mates living in a manner that made me envy them. While I heard this teacher go on about adjectives, nouns, verbs, and adverbs, my mind was analyzing what I was watching. Plato made the statement that a student’s formal, lecturing education should happen later on in life while as a youth they should learn the control of self through body and mind training. Education was to turn the light of our eyes to the goodness within us, thinks Plato. Well, chubby little Phil wanted to be jovial and lounge in the sun while I played. I kept hearing my teacher sound like the parents’ from the cartoon strip Peanuts.

As the squirrels played, they seemed to drift farther and farther from me. I watched them intensely, using anything I could to get a good eye on their bonding time. It was somehow a chance to escape the confines of my education to live a child’s dream — to simply be within the world. The next thing I knew my escape was immediately interrupted by the teacher calling out my name. “Philip! What are you doing?” As I heard the teacher, my mind reinstated the necessity to be a drone. However, I was more than halfway out of my seat, leaning more than half of my body sideways to watch the squirrels. Seeking to catch my balance, I spoke the truth. I wasn’t paying attention teacher. I cared more about the squirrels than this grammar lesson.

As I recentered upon the lesson, my mind couldn’t help but go back to the squirrels. Squirrels are funny creatures! Yet, they are fascinating in a peculiar way. I learned something valuable that day that I more recently realized in my adult life. Jovial and playfulness come to us in the moments of sheer non-expectation. Those squirrels did not happen to plan it; no, instead, they found themselves raptured into it. We become overwhelmed by chance to do something many of dream about: to find joy within the most serious of times.

How dare these squirrels to interrupt teaching of grammar for some nutty fun and comradery. But TRULY, it was the opposite! How dare we intrude into the scared moment of joy, innocence, and profound connectedness with a quibbling triffle about constucted rules to communicate through a medium other than oral language.  A bit of pleasure within the fabric of life isn’t found by the removal of things. Friend, joy is located in the midst of life. Connectedness is found within doing, not planning. Playfulness cannot be prepared or forced; instead, it becomes playful from the busy. There is much to say, but squirrels, small creatures of God’s creation, taught me that at a young age. I’m still learning it.

The One Time Water Nearly Killed Me

Photo by Zen Photographer on Unsplash
Note: For the next year, I plan to write a short story every day. Some may be 
palatable, even enjoyable(?). Others may be horrendous. If you like them, like them or share them. If you don’t, well it is whatever. I’m doing it as a challenge someone gave me. I’m calling these my fivers. I try and write them without stopping in five minutes, little to no editing after the time limit. Each story or post will come from a different prompt I am given. These are just exercises for me to be in the process of writing.

 

My first real experience with water was also the moment I remember having a traumatic experience. The trauma was brought on by myself. It wasn’t like my dad and mom acted like a mother bird trying to get her chicks to fly by pushing them out of the nest. No, I jumped into the water thinking I knew what to do. But, I’m getting ahead of this short story.

My family rarely traveled, but, for some reason, we were at a hotel that had a swimming pool. The whole family was excited, and we got ready to go to the pool as one family. It truly was a unique family moment for the Worrall clan. I remember putting on my swimming trunks being overtly excited like a kid given his first sip of coffee. I felt like I was bouncing off the walls. I wanted to urge my mother and father to get me down to the pool; what if it left. What if we didn’t have enough time! All I believed was that the pool was going somewhere and I had to be in it for wherever it was going to go. I couldn’t have been older than six when this magical moment happened. (Pause, if you know nothing about my family. Let me give you some insider information! I’m the youngest of six children, five boys and one girl.)

Alright, so some of the older siblings were able to go to the pool before myself and my sister Alice, had to be accompanied by mom and dad. My third brother, John, had a key to a hotel room. It was a huge responsibility; sort of, not really, but, in my mind, it was like one of the elven rings of LOTR. So, as I rush in giddy as all can be with a dopey smile from ear to ear. I heard my brother John say quite loudly. “Where is my key!? Can anyone see where the room key is?” Somehow, I internalized that cry for help like the Batman signal was being lit by Commissioner Gordon. I had to act, and there was only one person who could save that key. It could just be me…I am the chosen one. The key is small. I’m small. It makes total sense.

Then, in the midst of my glee and hearing the cry for help, my body without hesitation rushed towards where my brothers were at, wading through the water looking for the mischevious room key. It felt like a slow-motion scene from a feel-good action movie! I could hear the music rumbling. My little chubby body rushing towards the water. I screamed, “I GOT THIS!!!” But, I really didn’t. Then, I jumped into the water. As my little legs left the ground and my body was curling into a ball. It was like my analytical brain turned on for the first time. I heard myself say, “I can’t swim!!!”

I hit the water like a brick. Chubby fat rolls hit the water and burned like I made the gravest mistake of my life. I flailed in the water. My mind whispered, “This is it…this is how you die in front of everyone. No one will save you. Evolution kills the weak.” Besides that last sentence, this is what went running through my mind as my body bobbed up and down like an ocean buoy, except I didn’t know how to word it other than, upon reflection, realizing I was drowning.

Right before everything went black, I felt a giant tug on my hair. At that moment, my father rushed to the side of the pool. With my father’s giant hand and forearm, he palmed my head and grabbed my hair. Like a crane, my dad picked me up by the head pulling my hair, and he lifted me out of the water. I was simultaneously grateful, and I was upset that he pulled me up by my head. My dad quickly looked at me with a higher pitched voice, “What in the world were you thinking son??” “Well, dad…” stammering and coughing up water, “I thought…I thought I could find the key. And, and, and…I realized before I hit the water that you never taught me how to swim. ALL I wanted to do was be a hero and help.”

My dad shook his head, and he took me to a chair to relax. He mentioned that I shouldn’t go in the water till I was ready. I had to have some self-awareness, recognizing that I can’t do everything. I can’t be everything. It bugged me to an nth degree. I sat there shivering because the water reminded me of my frailty. My mom came over to me, and she asked me how I was doing. I remember I cried a bit because for some reason I thought dad was going to be really upset with me and that I was in trouble. My mom chuckled at me, for a few seconds. “That isn’t funny, but that is ridiculous Pip.” She told me to let her know when I was ready to go back in the water to come find her and use the stairs.

I sat there for a few minutes with the sniffles and doing that little kid thing when they aren’t crying but are holding back tears. What is that called? Oh yeah, I was whimpering/ sobbing and kinda had this face like I was permanently going to be stuck in the corner while everyone swam. I got the courage to go back in the water after ten minutes. Nothing could stop me, I knew I had to conquer my fear. But, I still didn’t know how to swim. C’est la vie; I’m still here.

 

The One About a Pooping Horse

Photo: Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash
Note: For the next year, I plan to write a short story every day. Some may be palatable, even enjoyable(?). Others may be horrendous. If you like them, like them or share them. If you don’t, well it is whatever. I’m doing it as a challenge someone gave me. I’m calling these my fivers. I try and write them without stopping in five minutes, little to no editing after the time limit. Each story or post will come from a different prompt I am given. These are just exercises for me to be in the process of writing.

Philip means “lover of horses.” For some reason as a kid, I always assumed that meant I was supposed to love horses. Well, I naturally did, and I still do. I guess Ecclesiastes is right that a good name is worth more than many things. Anyway, I got a chance to ride horses for a week when my parents left for a trip, which I believe was for their anniversary. I’m not sure many people know this, but I have quite the imagination. For a week, a family friend at the time would let me ride one of her horses while we trailed the surrounding area. However, one time I very vividly remember my mind concocting a great escape with that horse I was riding. This is that vividly imagined escape.

Mrs. Beers would allow me to ride the horse by myself; I had just turned seven at the time. She would hold the horse with an extra rope to guide my traveling buddy with me, yet every once and awhile I could tell that she would loosen her grip. It would be at this moment when we came to a field that I would grab the reins of my life and consequently the horse to blaze forward in a dash of glory. I would channel my inner John Wayne and let my horse run like the wind. I’d become a modern day cowboy in the hills of NW PA. Everyone would know of my fame, yet no one would ever know where I was. It was a fanciful idea, and my mind raced —at the time, I was obsessed with John Wayne and Disney movies.

Then, the time arrived we came to an open field that overlooked the sleepy little town of Saegertown. She told me to look out, but my mind was entirely focused on letting just a tiny bit go of the rope. She pestered me. My hands became sweaty, and I held my breath. I could feel my mouth wanting to scream, “Yeehaw!!” Then my horse cocked its head around to me, and he shook his head. He felt it, and he knew. In a blink of an eye, I could feel myself tightening my hands around the reins. Before I knew it, my faithful steed shook his head once again, and then he pooped. Like that, my hopes were dashed. At the time, I believed that it would be quite inconsiderate for me to ask a horse to poop and run. A botched plan because of a pooping horse. So, I shook my head, chuckled, and took in the view.

I whispered, “One day, steed, we will race toward the sunset.”

Spelunking & Broad Shoulders

NOTE TO READER: Much of this was written in late July 2017, yet I updated it. I hope somehow you feel encouraged.

This may not come as a shock to some, but I wasn’t good at keeping my cool as a child towards particular people. I was in second grade when I realized there was someone in my grade school that didn’t like me, and he thought he could intimidate me and bully me. Strange because I was the tallest and biggest kid, but I was the one getting bullied. He would make fun of me for no apparent reason, and he made fun of me for being chunky. It was subtle jabs. Eventually one day, I told my pops about it. I was pretty upset because I didn’t know what to do. All I knew is that I wanted to cream him, maybe give him a black eye or two. I knew though I couldn’t do it.

As I told my dad everything, he looked at me and shook his head at me. He chuckled, actually! He brought me close as I was sitting in his office, put me on his lap, and told me something that has stuck with me since then. “Philip, my dear boy, you’re the biggest and tallest. Sometimes, other people will have a problem with you. They will do whatever it takes to rile you up. Force you to say and do things you’ll regret. People don’t like it that you’re okay with you…” I interjected as my dad did his typical hand movements when he starts to make a point. I believe I had a few tears in my eyes and I said, “DAD! What am I suppose to do? All I want to do is make him shut up.”

Sighing as every dad does. My dad got quiet and let me into something that has rung in my ears since those days. “Son, you’re a Worrall. You’re going to have to get broader shoulders. You’ll have to keep getting bigger ones as you grow up. Then, you gotta find a way to let it roll off your back.”

Broader shoulders? Let it roll off my back?? I was confused. As my dad explained what it meant, I realized that it could be my superpower. I was a pretty imaginative kid, but you’d rarely see it. Somehow, I’d use this superpower to take on other people’s burdens and figure ways to lighten their load. I’d meet with other superheroes and save the world. Silly, but we all have done it!

Fast forward to today. I’m twenty-six and second grade was a long time ago that kid is gone. (He and I never became friends, and I eventually got the last laugh. No, I didn’t do anything cruel, hurtful, or destructive.) Still, I hear my father’s words: “Broader shoulders, son.” But, I don’t know if I can have broader shoulders. I’m beat up, and I feel my fragility. I can be so much more; I can be better, stronger, smarter, etc. Nevertheless, all I feel is despondent.

A song by Penny and Sparrow called the “The Literal Heart,” has some lines that echo that feeling within me.

“I could be so much stronger than I am right now
With broader shoulders and a sturdy frame
But that would cost me time and change
That I might not be willing to make

It’s gonna take every drop of young blood I’ve got
So hold on and stop and settle down

I want to sit still and empty
I want to learn the hollow route

A lonely piece of mountain
I want to sit and shut my mouth
But I’ll be damned, I’d rather sleep…”

Now, before I go any farther, quit with your gripping and statements, “Phil, you’re being melodramatic.” Well, your cheeky comments show how little you know me. I detest all forms of weakness and vulnerability in my life. Stoicism has served me well in life, but it does some damage if you’re not careful, which I haven’t been careful when drinking that hemlock.

But, I need to make a point. It is difficult for me to admit that I don’t have broad enough shoulders for everything life throws at me. Why? It is because I want to be rock, not needing anything… or anyone. That seems pretty anti-Gospel because I unquestionably need God at every point in my life.

This point has come clear within some deep emotions and feelings that have surfaced which have kinda uncovered how genuinely vulnerable I am. There are only two people who I think know me to that point that can call me out without me becoming defensive. By calling out, I mean this fact that I carry too much on myself and have the biggest and broadest shoulders with nothing phasing me. No, they aren’t my parents. They know who they are.

What’s my point in this? Well, I take this whole Gospel and Jesus being God thing seriously. And, I too often still associate my life with God through faith as one that is a steady increase in holiness and true purity. In reality, it is sometimes like spelunking. So, my point is that my shoulders aren’t as broad as I want them to be. Within the Christian life, the moments of spelunking can look a bit antithetical to everything we have been taught that we are to progress into holiness. More often than not, we find that we are taking steps backward, and we forget to realize that God came for all of us and God understands the complex nature of life with Him and neighbor. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean we are taking steps backward; it could be the catalyst moment for growth and deepening of our faith.

Anyway, I know I’ll continue to try and have the broadest shoulders. Additionally, I hope in a God that gets why I try to do that. I believe God meets us in the midst of the spelunking so that God’s Gospel found in Jesus Christ looks even more captivating and beautiful. Following God and living out the Gospel isn’t a punctiliar moment, even though we want it to be. It takes a lifetime, and God knew that when He sent His Son.

Own Appeal

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“I never asked to be born, and death’s no question. The sun’s still shining off the same old lessons. Then why does life feel like an educated guess and my thoughts are like meals, I’m a sucker for the seconds. Impressions got a lot of us stressing, but how we are perceived is more about a reflection.”

Some provocative words from this rapper show how steeped a song can become with philosophy. Honestly, the song is more than just a cool beat and some dope lyrics that make you wanna rhyming with the guy. Oddisee shows a bit of his mind, while trying to promote something more than himself. I applaud the guy for his lyrical genius in the song and most of his other ones too. So, as a night-cap, I wanted to introduce you to a song, but I wanted to show you that within music there lies a whole other world that most of us are unaware of: the world of ideas, philosophies, and experiences.