Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ragman by Walt Wangerin, Jr.

[Written by Walt Wangerin, Jr, but I felt moved to share it.]

I saw a strange sight. I stumbled upon a story most strange, like nothing my life, my street sense, my sly tongue had ever prepared me for.
Hush, child. Hush, now, and I will tell it to you.
Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear, tenor voice: "Rags!" Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music.
"Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!"
"Now, this is a wonder," I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city?
I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn't disappointed.
Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad X. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.
The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers.
"Give me your rag," he said so gently, "and I'll give you another."
He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.
Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then HE began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear.
"This IS a wonder," I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.
"Rags! Rags! New rags for old!"
In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.
Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.
"Give me your rag," he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, "and I'll give you mine."
The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood - his own!
"Rags! Rags! I take old rags!" cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman.
The sun hurt both the sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry.
"Are you going to work?" he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head.
The Ragman pressed him: "Do you have a job?"
"Are you crazy?" sneered the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket - flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.
"So," said the Ragman. "Give me your jacket, and I'll give you mine."
Such quiet authority in his voice!
The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman - and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman's arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it on he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.
"Go to work," he said.
After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, and old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.
And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.
I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.
The little old Ragman - he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And then I wanted to help him in what he did, but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died.
Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope - because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep.
I did not know - how could I know? - that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night, too.
But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence.
Light - pure, hard, demanding light - slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.
Well, then I lowered my head and trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: "Dress me."
He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!

Monday, April 5, 2010


Perhaps you have heard the phrase, "If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated." As a former soccer player, hydration was very important. It was necessary to drink sufficient water every day and especially the 24 hours before a game to prevent dehydration during the competition, for it was difficult to replenish fluids quickly enough while running around for two hours. The more hydrated I was, the more apt I was to play at peak performance; the less hydrated I was, the more likely I was to become fatigued, ineffective, and perhaps even have my muscles cramp up.
Even now, although I am not playing sports at the same intensity every day, I can see the importance of drinking enough water (the same could be said for getting enough sleep). I find the more water I drink - especially in place of coffee, soda, beer, etc - the better I feel, the more sound I sleep, the more energy I have, the easier it is to fend off colds, etc. And the better I feel, the healthier I am, and the more energy I have leads to being more productive at home/work, easier exercise, and generally enjoying life more. (Now, I'm not saying that drinking water leads to happiness like some magical fountain, but I am saying it is one of many factors that I have noticed that makes a difference in my quality of life.)

Now that I know this and have experienced this correlation, I have been able to be more intentional about how much water I drink. Most of us have heard that people are supposed to drink a doctor-recommended minimum of 64 ounces of water each day. (That's eight 8-ounce glasses, or more than the equivalent of 5 cans of soda.) Its one thing to know how much to drink; its another to be intentional enough to actually drink that much. Every day. And more on the days that require it. Every week. Every month. Every year. For the rest of your life.

Sounds like a lot of work - a lot of being intentional. But if that's what it takes to be healthy - which can help lead to happiness - isn't it worth a little effort on the front end and a little effort each day, one day at a time? Isn't it worth it to avoid thirst at the very minimum? Fatigue? Weakness? Sickness? I know this is extreme, but what if we never drank at all? We would die... eventually.

And so it is with communication and relationships.

Water is to our bodies, as communication is to our relationships. Instead of thirst, fatigue, and illness, without proper or adequate communication we can experience misunderstandings, frustration, and loneliness as symptoms that appear.

Like our bodies, our relationships require a certain level of communication to maintain themselves. Each relationship we are in requires a different level (quality, depth and quantity) of communication. My relationship with my spouse requires much more and much better communication that my relationship with my mail carrier. Some days communication comes naturally and easily because we're around each other and nothing is going on to distract us. Other days/weeks, communication is more difficult because of work, kids, other responsibilities, etc. Being intentional about communicating is so important because otherwise life will get in the way. I would say this is true for ALL relationships, not just for people living in the same house.

If you're not communicating well with your employees, co-workers, or superiors, how effective would you be as a company if you didn't know what/how each other was doing?

If you're not communicating well with friends, are they going to feel as connected and feel those positive feelings that made them want to be friends with you in the first place?

If you're dog didn't communicate with you, would you know when to let him outside or would you be cleaning up messes?

Again, my recommendation - for whatever its worth - is to be intentional about your communication with others. Set aside time on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. Make a covenant with yourself to make communication a priority. If you are not a communicative person, and you are living with a spouse/partner, then use helpful tools like "3 things that happened today and how you felt about them" or describing how each of your five senses were stimulated that day or buy a book or questions (even "would you rather" books). Plan date night for the first Monday of every month. Read a chapter from a book each night and discuss. Even with non-partners, set aside time to call, text, email, write, meet with, or talk to those people.

I'm just sayin...

...be intentional about communication - get your daily allotment in - before your relationships get thirsty.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Parable of the Wooden Spoons

This is not a Ryan original, but it is one of my favorite parables of all time about a motto that I have learned to follow: serving one another. I suck at it, but I'm learning.
A holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said, "Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like." The Lord led the holy man to two doors. He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in.
In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew which smelled delicious and made the holy man's mouth water. The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished.
They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths. The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. The Lord said, "You have seen Hell."
They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man's mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.
The holy man said, "I don't understand."
"It is simple" said the Lord, "it requires but one skill. You see, they have learned to serve each other."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why Jump Ahead?

Have you ever heard someone say something to the effect of, "I wish I could just jump ahead 5 years (or some interval of time)"? Usually its said by someone on the verge of, or in the middle of, a situation that is less than desirable. For example, I remember saying something like this in college, especially in my last semester. I didn't want to continue to trudge through the slow process, the daily grind, the early mornings, the late nights, the studying, the exams, etc. I just wanted to jump ahead to the end of the semester or graduation. I knew I'd make it, but I didn't want to wait for it, particularly if I had to deal with the "crap".

So, I admit that I have said something like, "I wish I could just get to graduation" - or something remotely close to that. We have all probably said or heard someone else say something to that effect at some point in our lives.

But recently I realized that that is a foolish statement - or at least a statement that doesn't really make sense if you really think about it. Let me tell you why I say so:

To begin, I will pull from mathematical theory. Envision a timeline, if you will, that starts with your birth on one end and continues (visually to the right like a y-axis) into infinity - though likely more like to 78 or so. Note that your "present" life is some point on that line between birth (point zero) and the right end of the line which represents the future. As it were, that "present" point would slowly move to the right as time passes by. If life had a pause button, we could stop/pause your "present" life. We could also just choose any point in your life up until "present" that would take a snapshot of your life at that time. Now as any mathematician would know, there are an infinite amount of points between point zero and, say, point 78. We generally count our life in years, months, days - and we could go down to hours, minutes, seconds, fractions of seconds, etc. But when we talk about a "point" in time, a "point" really has no significance as far as duration; it is so minuscule, it really almost doesn't exist at all. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that we, as humans, cannot detect or sense a specific "point" in time - even as it is happening. [For instance, if you were to prick your finger with a needle, although you can see the needle hit your finger with your eyes and it appears to happen at the exact same time that you feel the needle with your finger, in actuality, there have been an infinite amount of "points" between the time the needle actually did touch your finger and the point at with you saw it and the point at with you felt it (since it takes time - however little - for signals to pass through your body from your eyes and fingers to your brain).]

What I'm getting at is that as far as the above example illustrates, everything we experience, we experience so quickly (in time) that it is basically in the past before we even really comprehend it. By the time you are done saying the word "now" it is already in the past. As I see it, the idea of "experience" or "present" is really just those memories that are most recent. So, whether something happened to me one millionth of a nanosecond ago or 6 months ago or 12 years ago, its all in the past and is a "memory" or an "experience" from the past.

Where I'm going with this is that even if someone were to skip ahead in life, nothing would really be or seem different at that particular point than if they went through the time in the first place (assuming they didn't want to forget or erase from memory the time they skipped): the things that was most recent would be more fresh in the mind and the things that happened longest ago would be deeper in memory, JUST LIKE IT IS NOW.

So the idea of skipping ahead is kind of like moving a scroll bar on a computer's (dare I say iTunes) video controls: just because you jump farther ahead, it doesn't change, alter, or undo anything before that point. It still exists and you would still know its there. So if you don't like your current situation, it is pointless to wish to jump forward, because even if you could it wouldn't be any different then just getting there in normal time. But since you can't anyway, instead of wishing, why don't you be proactive and do something about it?