Saturday, August 04, 2007

Preserving Home: Part V

You are reading Part V in my series of articles about how I came to love America, and why I have joined the fight to stop the madness of lawbreaking illegals in our community (by the way, every illegal alien in America is a lawbreaker simply by virtue of being here without permission).

Read Parts I-IV here:

The summer prior to my entering the seventh grade, my parents purchased a home in the quaint, Ohio town of Berea. Berea's name came by the flip of a coin in 1836. Town founders could not decide between the names of two Biblically referenced towns, the other name being Tabor. Reverend Henry O. Sheldon, a ministering circuit rider, flipped a coin. John Baldwin, a town founder, called heads. Berea won.

Berea was a city in Greece during apostolic times. Today the once ancient city is known as Veria. Biblical Bereans are known for their daily examination of the Scriptures to confirm the veracity of Paul's messages to them.

"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." (Acts 17:11)

It would take a number of years after I moved away from Berea before I made the connection between those early Christian Biblical scrutineers, and the town where I grew from boy to man. But today, I can only smile as I consider the irony. For it was in that town that I met my Lord one March evening in 1968, and began to understand that the Bible would forever be the most important book in my life.

Once again, our home did not sit at the top of the rise on the grade of our street. But it did sit angled on a corner lot, occupying almost a half an acre. Built in 1948, our Cape Cod style home included a full basement, an attached garage, and a half-story finished attic with two shed-roofed dormers off the back. This large room with a half bath at one end served as a shared bedroom between my younger brother and myself.

My view from our front porch brought into focus little more than the homes and yards of a few neighbors. But over time, my view from that home expanded geometrically, as I lived through not only the most tumultuous decade of my life, but also through the most tumultuous decade of my generation.

My clearest memory of that first year in Berea is from November 22nd, 1963. That afternoon, sitting in Mrs. Snodgrass' sixth period, seventh grade English class, we heard the chilling announcement by our Junior High School Principal, that our President, John F. Kennedy, had been shot in Dallas. The principal's voice came unexpectedly over the small speaker mounted on the classroom wall above the door. The news not only interrupted our lesson for that day, but irrationally disordered our world for a good while.

Mrs. Snodgrass held herself together until the bell rang, signalling the end of the period. As the last student exited the classroom, Mrs. Snodgrass burst through the doorway, a handkerchief held to her face. Darting past students and other teachers, she cried unashamedly as she ran down the hall toward what I can only assume was the comfort of a fellow teacher or friend. I still choke up today as I replay that scene in my mind. I saw then, perhaps for the first time, that the adults I looked up to for guidance and leadership, were, in moments like this, almost as weak and as vulnerable as any young child. The seemingly insurmountable gulf between me and my adult mentors shrunk a bit that afternoon. My march toward manhood had begun.

That weekend our family sat huddled around our small, black and white television, and watched everything we could of that horrible episode as it unfolded in real time. My innocence shattered. Little did I realize how Kennedy's murder would set the stage for a massive, cultural upheaval that would forever change American culture.

On my fourteenth birthday, my parents gifted me with a guitar. Bob Dylan had entered my life, and his songs had begun to take me to distant places, places of the imagination. His A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall grabbed hold of me, shook me, and pierced me through the heart.

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?

The "blued-eyed son" is perhaps the Anglo-Saxon American, sheltered from the horrors of life in the dark corners of the world, or perhaps even the dark corners of his own country. Dylan takes us through this story in several stages. First he asks the "blued-eyed son" where he has been. Among other places, the son replies:

I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard

Dylan then asks what the "blued-eyed son" has seen. Among other things, the son replies:

I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin'

"What have you heard?" he asks:

Heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin'

"Who did you meet?"

I met a white man who walked a black dog,

"What'll you do now?" he asks:

I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin',
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
But I'll know my song well before I start singin',

That song, and others like it, opened a doorway for me into a world I knew existed, but which I could not see first hand. Tucked away in my cozy, suburban home, television images and lyrics from Bob Dylan carried me beyond my insulated existence in baby boomer America. Yes, I had seen the "Whites Only" signs in Huntsville, Alabama, a stunning reminder that all was not right in America. But twice now, I had attended an integrated school, once in Cincinnati, and now, here, in Berea, where the neighbors behind us and across our street were black. But this was suburban Cleveland, not the inner city, and not the deep South. I partially grasped the reality around me. But still, I understood very little.

Yet Dylan began to take me there. With his songs "Oxford Town," "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "The Ballad of Emmitt Till," and later, "Hurricane," Dylan painted a portrait of an America that few of us "blue-eyed sons" really knew. His lyrical renderings brushed fresh imagery into my imagination, and beckoned me into a world of deeper understanding.

Dylan's work is so complex, so rich with linguistic artistry and intimation. He is clearly the poet of my generation. Sadly, many are put off by his gravelly voice. Seeking a more soothing and produced sound, they have missed out on this prophetic troubador's poetically powerful message.

This song, along with similar tunes, laid the groundwork for my teen years. I had begun, at fourteen, to hear the call. I did not yet recognize its source. Nor was I able to articulate its meaning or its purpose. But resonating with a profound echo in the caverns of my soul, a transcendent voice began to speak my name.

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