Monday, May 07, 2007

Small Biography

Like Hawthorne, I am disinclined to talk overmuch about myself. And yet, again like him, I feel compelled to lay down a simple, to the point, biography. It isn’t that I believe that my life is something one might find interesting, but rather I feel that I am always on the threshold of losing the memory of my childhood. And though many woes and sorrows that have plagued me would cease with a loss my childhood recollections, I find myself reluctant to let go of those memories. There were numerous happy times, but I am not convinced that a desire of their memory is the source of that reluctance. And of course, nothing brings memories to the forefront like attempting to put them on paper in written form.

Please, you would be wrong to think me introspective. I am not. Though analytical beyond what is healthy, I am not one to sit and analyze my own life. There were, and are, lives out there more worthy of analysis than my own, and it is inadvisable for anyone to waste their mental facilities in trying to draw conclusions from a life so impotent and lived so superficially as my own.

I was born in 1974, and like most, I do not remember my infancy or early childhood years. My parents informed me that I spent the first two years of my life in a small suburb in Morristown. They financed a new home and moved in upon its completion. They have photographs, so I suppose it must be true.

Ironically, upon moving out in my adult years, I have moved into the house adjacent to this home, directly across the street. But that comes later.

My father apparently became weary and rather bored of the near maintenance-free life in the suburbs, and wanted to live where he could expend his aptitude for the mechanical and the arduous. So when I was two, my mother and father bought an old, roughly 500-600 square foot, four room house in Rutledge. The home had no bathroom, and limited indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse in the back yard, adjacent to an old storage barn, about one-hundred feet from the house. This house was extremely old and drafty. My mother used to tell me stories of drinking tea or coffee in the living room on cold winter evenings, and the liquid freezing right there in the cup.

Shortly after moving in, my father and some uncles built a bathroom and rear porch on to the house. The bathroom was a welcome addition, but the house’s floorplan necessitated that one must walk through my parents’ bedroom to get to it. My father also built a quant little workshop in front to work to store his tools.

My father didn’t enlist me to help with any of the potentially dangerous chores until I was near a teenager, but I did what he thought I was able. The winter was the worst. We heated the home with a small, Warm Morning stove. Every fall, he would fell one or two of the many tall pines surrounding the house and cut them up into small logs. He would then bust it with an axe and I would help stack it. He wouldn’t let me bust wood myself until I was nearly a teenager. Every Saturday, we carried adequate wood in to heat for the entire week. My primary job was to re-fill the kindling box with kindling. My father worked at a furniture factory and brought home a truck load of ply-wood scrap during the fall of every year to replenish our kindling bin in preparation of winter. We also burned coal on occasion.

The house’s front porch was wood and terribly deteriorated. My father set to work and replaced it with a concrete front porch within the first few years.

My mother worked off and on. I remember distinctly that the domestic financial situation, though never completely sound, was always more tolerable when she was working.

I remember hot summers and cold winters. As a child and young adolescent, I frequently spent every daylight hour outside wearing only shorts and shoes during those hot summer days. Living in the country was a sheer delight for me. And though, at the time, I often envied some of my city dwelling cousins of the temporal conveniences that city life affords, I am thoroughly convinced that I was the more fortunate. I had acres and acres of clear, rolling hills and woods to tromp through. Much of the cleared land was set-aside for cattle grazing, so after their morning feeding, these fields seldom saw human activity. In fact, during my childhood, I’d wager these fields saw me more than their owner. I was moral about it, and never did anything to harm the cattle that grazed the hills.

I remember catching minnows, tadpoles, and crawdads in the creeks. I also enjoyed watching the Terrapins soak in little pools of the creek on the hotter days. I came in contact with nearly every type of wildlife that can be found in Appalachia.

I did not always enjoy these amenities alone, however. I had a first cousin very nearly my age that lived directly across the old gravel road. Though he was more inclined toward materialism, for I knew any materialistic inclinations on my part would be profoundly futile and consequently resolved that fact early in life, we shared the same love for the freedom associated with living in the country. We initiated community softball and football games in various neighbors’ yards. We rode our BMX’s up and down the gravel road. And we trampled through the woods together, in search of anything of interest. Outside the obvious inclination for mischief, which I myself did not have, we were a picture of old Tom and Huck themselves.

In fact, curiously enough, my cousin and I were never really competitive until we started gaining more and more neighbors. And, of course, the competitiveness stemmed from the fact that some of these neighbors were girls our age. We were both to young to really experience physical or even emotional attraction to the opposite sex, but we intellectually comprehended that girls and boys were meant to share some type of exclusive relationship, and that for the boys, this relationship sometimes denoted status definition. So when the local girl was courting me, I was consequently the proverbial alpha-male of the neighborhood, and likewise my cousin, when said girl undulated away from me and conspired with him, assumed the crown and all the rights and privileges thereof, though I cannot recall what those rights and privileges were exactly. I will digress here, for I do not wish to badger you with the details of this undulation. Suffice to say that it often drove wedges between my cousin and I, and it wasn’t until she moved away that our friendship regained some of its former glory.

My cousin and childhood friend was killed in 1993 in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. He had driven his girlfriend home late one night, and was killed on the return trip. He would have been 21 the following December.

Quite often, I would spend time with my grandmothers in Morristown where I would interact with some of my other cousins. Here, I tapped into the inferior joys of city life. We attended a public swimming pool within walking distance. Things like stores were well within walking distance too. Being from the country, I foolishly thought that they had it all with so much close at hand. Both my grandmothers had cable television, which produced a clear, color picture that made the black-and-white picture from our old antenna look pitiful. I was amazed and envious at the conveniences city life offered.

School days were extremely torturous for me. I suffered tremendously from “Tom Sawyer” Syndrome, where I longed to be running outside, and was locked indoors for the majority of the usable daylight hours. School recess brought some relief, but ultimately only whetted an already bloated appetite for freedom. To add to my frustrations, I frequently forfeited my recess time through mischief, though I myself will admit that my mischiefs were not really malicious, but the result of a young boy who was used to unencumbered freedom trying to adapt to 6-plus hours of being cooped up in a room and being made to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.

During my early childhood, neither of my parents was religious. My father frequently drank alcohol, and though my mother seldom took part in his indulgences, she did nothing to deter him. My earliest memories of my parents are not fond ones. In the summer, we frequently spent the weekends camping with my father’s family. I enjoyed this, for I was with my city cousins in a more primitive country setting. We swam in the lake, sat around the campfire, fished, boated, and basically did everything one typically does when camping. At the time, I was just at home in a tent on the lake as I was in my own house. I miss camping, and wish that it could be done today the way we did it then.

I was around 7 when my parents succumbed to the evangelistic efforts of my cousin’s father, who pastored a Baptist church, and we, seemingly overnight, became faithful, church-going people, and though I myself never developed a fondness for corporate church experiences, my father advanced to leadership positions within the local church and was eventually ordained as a deacon. This meant that Sundays typically spent on the lake were now spent in church. For a young boy whose only ambition was to be under the big blue sky, this was a serious problem. I equated it with making me go to school on the weekend. This probably contributed to my surviving distaste for church, as well as nearly all things corporate.

Around 9, I perceived and comprehended most of the principles of the Gospel and was consequently saved. But retarding the influential “Tom Sawyer” Syndrome proved impossible. I was saved during a revival service, and went to school the very next morning. I, being then extroverted beyond what I had any right to be, walked right up to my third grade teacher and announced, rather loudly, that I’d been saved. I had also resolved to give a bloody nose to the first person who said anything condescending about the whole idea. To this day, I am not sure how the Lord would have felt about my following through with this resolution, for in the scriptures, pedantic zeal of that sort is regarded as both virtue and vice, but I digress, yet again.

My fourth grade year was my most trying. Corporal punishment in schools, in the form of “paddling”, was then permitted. And my teacher was the one with the notorious reputation of over-using the freedom. This was also the first year I was introduced to the cruel punishment of “writing sentences” as well. Every offense, regardless of how trivial, provoked him to mentally flip a coin whether to deliver a paddling, or to assign the redundant writing of sentences. I received at least two paddlings a week throughout that entire school year, and I was forced to write innumerable sentences. Sometimes just merely looking at the student beside you would incur this teacher’s wrath. He was a hard man, and he stifled what little motivation I had to learn at that age. This is why I am against whippings in schools, though I am stringently for it in the home. I have never been able to adequately shake the feelings of betrayal by my parents for not taking some type of action to condemn this man, who was known to have received threats, even death threats, from other students’ parents. If a teacher treated my child the way I was treated during that year, I would have been in school board meetings breathing fire and brimstone.

Sadly, I never fully recovered from that experience, and though my desire to learn has recovered, my ability to learn and retain knowledge suffered irreparable damage during those formidable years.

The year after that was a welcome one, but became the first full year of school where I became acutely aware of the presence of peer groups and the establishment of status within those groups. Since I had no ambition to impress my peers, I quickly became a loner, with usually only a single, patronizing friend. But, to some extent, my fifth grade year also became my salvation. Though I had a television at home, and understood the idea of storytelling, I had never read a book. Hence, the only time I’d spent in the school library was when there were group activities that I was part of going on there.

That year, my school teacher read to us Where the Red Fern Grows out loud for the first 15 minutes of class. I was amazed. I looked forward to that time every day. After she read that book, I promptly went to the library and checked out another to read for myself. I couldn’t believe it. For so long I had missed being outdoors, and with this little item, it mattered not whether I was cooped up. With books, I could run through the forests again, or sail the open seas, or I could even interact with mythical creatures right there in the confines of the classroom.

A world was opened up to me that I never knew existed. Occasionally, we had a RIF day. RIF was an acronym for Reading Is Fundamental, and RIF day meant we could attack a table full of books and pick out one we wanted to keep. Needless to say, RIF day was joy unspeakable to me, who was unable to buy books then. We also had a flyer that circulated that allowed students to buy books fairly cheap. Sometimes, my parents would hesitatingly permit me to buy books from it. But we never had much money, so I wouldn’t approach them about this often. I was content to borrow books from the library.

Through my remaining school years, voracious reading was my primary pastime, especially during my free time at school itself. And to this day, that teacher stands as my favorite teacher for this simple reason alone. In fact, only one other teacher read to us, but made the critical mistake of reading us Greek mythology, which is a no-no in a small town comprised mostly of conservative Baptists. She was terminated shortly after I graduated high school, much to my dismay. But alas, it was my fifth grade teacher that fostered in me an undying love for books, for which I am eternally indebted.

In the fourth grade, I tried out for football, but quickly realized the discipline that would be required to be a competent player was more than I wanted to invest in such a whim. I decided to quit, and I regret that decision. I would give anything to have played football from my first opportunity to my last. I did play 2 ½ years of baseball. I say ½ years because halfway through my third year, my team had not yet even acquired uniforms, and I grew weary of their neglect and quit. The very next year and I would have started high-school baseball, had I stuck it out.

I have nothing significant to say in regards romance during my high-school years. I was thoroughly convinced girls did not like boys who did not have money, nor were they interested in boys whose company could not contribute to their own public image, and since I had neither money nor eminence, I didn’t bother trying. In spite of several advances by various girls, I was convinced that no girl would enjoy my company due to my financial shortcomings, my obscure interests, and my total inability to assimilate, so I either ignored them, or, politely as possible, turned them down. I was rather soft-hearted during my high-school years, and some of the more popular girls exploited that attribute to get me to give them rides home from school to avoid riding the bus. Since the area was primarily rural, bus rides were terribly uncomfortable due to poor road conditions. And, like everything else, whether or not a student was constrained to ride the bus became one of the many criteria that defined status and popularity, thus girls had no problem approaching me with their ardent requests of getting a ride home. The one time during my entire high-school era that I attempted to woo a girl was met with the predictable rejection I’d anticipated, so I suppressed any romantic notions until my mid-twenties.

Though I remember not having much money, when I was around nine or ten years old, my father was able to trade around and commandeer a dirt bike for me. I ripped woods up with that thing, and it too fostered in me a thriving love for all things racing, particularly motocross and supercross.

As I said earlier, during my fourth grade year, my academic constitution suffered irreparable trauma and crippled my ability to learn. But in my high school junior year, I was strangely faced with the sobering reality that my livelihood could be affected by this, so, all too late, I started to be more diligent in my studies, at least, as diligent as I could be. But even my best efforts only returned failing, or barely passing grades.

A close personal friend of mine was active in a local rescue service. He petitioned me to join and I did. After taking the first of the required classes, and realizing that advancement in this field did not necessarily require academic proficiency, I chose this field. I wanted to be an Emergency Medical Technician, and hopefully go on to be a Paramedic. During my senior year, I heard about a scholarship where two students were going to be sent to E.M.T. school. I did everything I could to earn that scholarship, and lo, I did. It wasn’t until years later that I found out that the awarding of that scholarship had nothing to do with merit, but rather was to be awarded to students whose family was too financially encumbered to pay for the class on their own. I was most displeased, for I had done much, believing I was meriting the award instead of simply being patronized for being “poor”.

In fact, during my entire stint in high school, the only honor I was able to achieve was that of being featured in the paper when supposedly “outstanding” students were honored. I generated a 10-page computer program on an Apple IIe that would perform linear programming, a concept taught in what was then their Algebra II/trigonometry class, in less than 2 seconds. This was pretty impressive since it took your average high school student 3-5 minutes to complete the same problem on paper. My algebra teacher, another one of my favorites, noticed this and was mesmerized. A typed manuscript of the code revealed that hundreds of calculations had to be made and maintained in order to complete this. She never understood how I could do something seemingly so advanced, but barely pass her class in spite of hours and hours of tutoring.

This honor was quickly offset by the school mandating me to attend another class. When I walked into the class, I saw my thoughts written on the faces of every student present. Apparently, students had been evaluated, and the ones that were high risk to be “blue collar” factory rats were all huddled into this class to learn about work ethic and how to perform when doing non-skilled labor. Ironically, they removed me from my computer class, a class I was genuinely interested in at the time, to attend this utterly useless and boring class.

At any rate, after high school, when I started attending E.M.T. school, my curse returned in all its original fury. E.M.T., like nursing, is a course requiring state licensing. At the time, to qualify for state license testing, one had to average 69.5% or greater on four tests given throughout the course. Surprisingly, with my inability to learn and retain knowledge, I was able to score in the high 70% to the low 80% margin on the first three tests. These test scores may seem mediocre to my readers, but to me, they reflected hours and hours of diligent study. But when I should have been studying and preparing for the fourth and final test, I suffered a car wreck, and was also visiting both my grandmothers who were hospitalized at the same time. And their hospitals were on opposite ends of Knoxville. And I also lost my job at this time.

I knew I was going to blow this test, and I did. But I didn’t figure it would be low enough to knock my average below 69.5%. It did. I averaged an even 69%, and the instructor was adamant about not letting me make up that other ½ point required. He said there was nothing he could do, that the state defines the criteria and he could not deviate from it.

I was devastated. Everything I had invested in the last five years was gone. There was no way neither I nor my parents could afford the $500 required to re-attend the class.

My work life continued to be unending frustration as well. I had acquired a job in a local hospital during my senior year of high school as an orderly. Money, though a nice perk, was not my primary motivation for getting this job, but thought this job would contribute to my getting the scholarship. Soon after graduating, and over ¾ into E.M.T. school, I lost my job at the hospital, as I mentioned before. So my current job was lost and my hopes for a job were also lost. I had to work temporarily at a Farmer’s Co-Op during that following summer, still in shock from having my entire future stripped from me.

From there, I fulfilled my school’s prophesied destiny for me, and got a job in a furniture factory. I worked there not long and moved to another, much larger furniture factory, where my father worked in fact. In nine years, I worked my way up to being in their design and engineering department. But I hit the ceiling of any advancement. So I went to trade school to learn technical and engineering drawing techniques. I had briefly worked with AutoCAD before and found the program interesting. I earned four technical certificates in drafting, AutoCAD, 3-dimensional drawing, and Parametric modeling techniques in Autodesk Inventor. I am currently working for yet another furniture factory as a CAD technician.

In the mid ‘90’s, I met a man who was a Pentecostal preacher. In appearance and attitude he was everything I did not like in a potential friend. He was stringent, dogmatic, disciplined, and worst of small, extremely intelligent. I was not in the will of God at the time, and did not want to be around him to remind me of that fact.

Well, God must have had other plans. At the time, the department I was working in had people working in teams of two. My partner and this preacher’s partner conspired and went to the boss wanting to work together. He agreed and the preacher and I wound up a team. The man I was working so hard to avoid became my working partner for a full eight-hour day, or rather night, since we worked third shift at the time.

To make a long story short, without sounding judgmental or condemning, this Pentecostal preacher led me back to God’s grace, and subsequently became my best friend. We have spent numerous hours together helping each other through some of life’s most trying times. He has since moved to Texas, but we still talk on the phone and e-mail.

I became a little narrow-minded early after my rededication, and soon saw this as an impediment of Christian maturity. So I asked God to lead me to teachers that would impart, not just doctrine, but His very heart to me. As a result, I found myself saturated in Puritan and Fundamentalist teachings, including John Bunyan, A.W. Tozer, T. Austin Sparks, and David Wilkerson. I also found myself deeply attracted to C. S. Lewis’ writings and philosophies, and esteem him as my father in the faith to this very day, following the pattern of Paul and Timothy. I own over thirty of his books. Through him, I was introduced to the intellectual feast contained within Christianity, and I became a student of allegory and metaphor, and enjoy this over all types of Biblical interpretation and study.

I began re-reading some of the books I had read as a young man, but this time with new eyes. In a Lewis documentary I watched, they said Lewis thought that the literature he read as an atheist was read, “…with the point left out.” the point, of course, being Christ. Was it coincidence that the mythologies and literary works of nearly all cultures involved a god becoming incarnate and dying, only to conquer death in the end? I wondered if I was guilty of the same mistake. And indeed, I discovered that I was.

I began asking myself, “How did I miss it before?” I took books like The Lord of the Rings, a personal favorite of mine, and thought, “No wonder the hero of the story just happens to be physically the weakest character (2nd Corinthians 12:10b). No wonder I enjoy the story of a man who was King by hereditary right, but chose instead a life of humility to fight and prove his place on his throne (Phillipians 2:7-11). ” I had met these elements before in the pages of Scripture. I will certainly digress on the profound metaphor given to me in Narnia, and its primary character, Aslan. I haven’t the room, and the reader probably hasn’t the time for that lengthy discourse. Suffice to say a door that was already open was re-opened for me.

In late 1999, my mother approached me about meeting a girl that she knew. My mother was working at a bank at the time, and this girl came to her window on regular occasions. This girl had reluctantly agreed to meet me, but now getting me to jive with this conspiracy was going to be the tough part for my mother, for no man wants to be fixed up on a blind date by their mother. I had nearly written off women at that point, though not willingly, and flat denied my mother’s request. Then she said something that changed my mind. It turned out this girl my mother wanted me to meet attended a church in Morristown known for its rigid disciplines. I found this curious, and I had always wanted to meet the man who served as her pastor at that time. This man and this church were notorious in the community as hard-nosed, long-faced holiness. The pastor was always on the front-lines fighting to oppose the legalization of liquor-by-the-drink when it was on the ballot. He never hid behind the walls of his church, but stayed in the community eye as an ambassador for Christ. I was an admirer from afar.

Long and short of it is that this girl and myself met November 5, 1999 and married May 5, 2001. I admit that this girl was exactly what I wanted in a spouse, but was unsure about the ethical ramifications of it. Should I introduce to someone else the misfortune that has plagued me all my life? Do I really want to ask someone to suffer my curse with me for the rest of my life? These reservations made me delay my proposal for months. I knew I loved her, but was having a hard time justifying this move. Ironically, I am now having the same reservations about having children, for my greatest fear is that they inherit this dysfunction. Before I finally gave in to these reservations and proposed, I made her aware of fate’s vendetta against me. We married and purchased the house directly across the street from the house I was born in, and to this day, she is still beside me… suffering.

Interesting note, the preacher who married us was the man who built the house in the 70’s, and is also the man our street is named after. He also happened to be the pastor of the church I was attending at the time.

Finally, in 2002, after throwing my shoulder out paying softball, lab work revealed I had too much calcium in my blood. My doctor wanted to remove two of my parathyroid glands in order to regulate the calcium metabolizing in my body. When they performed the surgery, they discovered a tumor that had consumed most of my thyroid gland. They removed the tumor and the entire thyroid, and I was diagnosed as a Thyroid Cancer patient that day. Residual thyroid tissue, along with any remaining molecular Cancer cells, has since been ablated using radioactive iodine, and this procedure constitutes a radiation treatment. I have now had three radiation treatments and am hoping and praying that Cancer will no longer rear its ugly head in my life.

In 2005, I lost my mother to Lung Cancer. She had always been a heavy smoker, and I knew that her years on earth was purely God’s grace as it were, so it was somewhat expected. But that made it no easier. My father has since re-married, moved out of the little house he and my mother bought when I was two years old, and has sold it.

For the sake of brevity, I have omitted most of the minute details of my past. The task of recounting those would be tedious, and far too boring to justify the effort. There are both happy and sad times to be recounted, but would require a much larger medium than can be found here. I am not even sure I could recall all the events.