Stonewall Jackson was one of the South's greatest generals in the Civil War, and he died on the battlefield - shot by mistake by his own men. He's possibly the most famous victim of one of war's greatest tragedies. They call it friendly fire. It's bad enough that a fellow soldier is killed by enemy fire, but the heartbreak is compounded when someone is shot by their own.
It wasn't part of the day that I had planned, but it was an invitation I couldn't refuse. A friend asked me on the spur of the moment if I'd go to lunch with him. He was paying. "Yep, can do!" What I didn't know was that my friend was taking me to a private club where he was a member. We're talking like upscale dining here. I was wearing a dress shirt and slacks which made me among the best-dressed at McDonald's. But apparently it left me sadly underdressed for this private club. The host gently informed me that a suit coat or sport jacket was required for entrance. As I was about to give my friend my takeout order, the host reached into a closet and produced a sport coat. He said, "Just wear this." I did. It was a great place. It was a great lunch. And did I mention he paid? Oh, yeah, right.
I'm glad I was raised in a part of the country that's a real "four seasons" place, because I love all four seasons! Where I grew up, one of them seemed a little longer than the others. It was called winter. But I think fall is my favorite season of all. I love the blooming beauty of the spring, but my favorite is the blazing colors of those fall leaves. It's not that the leaves have no color the rest of the year, but I've never known people to drive far away to see the beautiful green leaves. They will travel to see the leaves of fall. The ironic thing is that they are about to die at that point. But they are something to see!
I don't believe in ghosts - for the most part. There's one kind of ghosts that are all too real. They talked about those "ghosts" in the movie, "Amazing Grace." That movie told the story of the 18th Century British political leader, William Wilberforce. He's really more than any other man, responsible for the abolishing of slavery in the British Empire. And that was at a time when African slaves played a critical role in the British economy and slave-owning interests controlled a lot of members of Parliament. The battle took 20 years, but ultimately thousands of slaves went free. Wilberforce's spiritual mentor was actually the man who wrote America's most beloved hymn, "Amazing Grace." In his early years, John Newton had been a slave trader, capturing and carrying thousands of Africans to slavery in Britain and the islands. Conditions were so brutal that many didn't even survive the voyage. Then John Newton discovered how Jesus Christ could forgive and change a man. In the movie, John Newton is going blind but he's still pastoring his church in London. And he believed in "ghosts" you might say. As he dictates what he calls "My Confession" to a scribe, he says, "I have lived for years with the company of 20,000 ghosts - those I made into slaves. Their blood is on my hands."
There's this picture that hangs on the wall in our living room. It has meant a lot to me in recent years. Just like an identical picture did was I was four years old. That's when my baby brother died suddenly. My grieving dad, who was not a churchgoer, decided he should take his surviving son to church somewhere.
Our kids gave it to my wife and me as a gift, and we had a great night together with dinner and a show. The show is in the same place as the dinner; there's this large, indoor arena with long tables that encircle the show floor down below. During and after dinner, we watched an impressive show of trick horse riding, dramatic spectacle, and rodeo style events. There's one part of the show I'm not going to forget. A rider actually stands atop two horses, one foot on each horse. They begin to gallop around the arena with the lights down, except for the torches in the middle and a giant ring of fire. Amazingly, the rider and his two horses leaped through that ring of fire together! I'll tell you, the emcee called it "a demonstration of three-way trust." Yeah, I guess!
Just another day on the subways of New York. That's what Wesley Autrey thought it was going to be as he waited for the next train with his two young daughters. There it was - the light of the approaching subway. Suddenly, a young man near him stumbled off the platform and fell onto the tracks below. Later, that 19-year-old's family said it was because of a recurring medical problem he had. With the subway approaching, Wesley Autrey made his choice. He literally dove on top of the fallen man and rolled him into the drainage trough between the tracks. Then he threw his body on top of the young man, forcing him to stay down. It was too late for the subway to stop. The train ran right over the spot where one man was literally laying his life on the line for another man. The subway missed them by two inches.
I thought I was going to gag on the smell. I was a little guy, my mother used to drag me with her to the beauty parlor where she got her hair done. I'm not sure what chemicals they used back then, but I obviously must have done something horrendous for my mother to subject her precious little boy to nasal torture. And I wasn't sure what was going on when they put this hood-like machine on my mother's head. For all I knew, it was some kind of mechanical brain-sucker. I didn't know what was going on. Well, Mom used to come away with what they called a "permanent." Now, today, the chemicals don't reek like they did back then, and they've abbreviated the name of all that curly hair to "perm" - short for permanent, which they're not. They weren't when it stunk getting it done; they're not today when the process is much nicer. Let's get real here, perms should be called temps. They don't last.
Our grandson was on a very limited diet - just mother's milk or baby formula for his first six months. But something then happened in weeks that followed. He suddenly became fascinated with what the rest of us were eating. Fascinated, as in staring at the food on our plate, the fork going down to get that food, the fork coming up to put that food in our mouth, and our mouth as it was chewing that food. Then repeat the exercise as the fork goes down for another bite. You could tell by the longing look in his eyes, he wasn't content with that milk or formula anymore. No, he wanted some of that good stuff. If he could have talked, I think he might have said, "Hey! I've been made for more than what I've been getting!"
She was only days old when she was abandoned by her parents. The lady who found her took her to an orphanage where she spent the first year of her life. It was a caring place, but of necessity, it was unheated. So she was too bundled up most of the time to fully develop her motor skills, and she was one of some twenty infants in tiny cribs in a small room. She got to play sometimes in their playroom, but it was pretty small, too. Small is the word, I guess, that would really describe her whole world. Then one day a couple from America came and her caregiver placed her in their arms. That day, she had her first ever ride in a motorized vehicle and her first view of the world beyond the orphanage. Since then, there's not a day that goes by that she doesn't have some new experiences that just keep blowing the walls off her world. She's not an orphan anymore. She's home!