(Warning: This post is NOT going to matter!)
I have a truly anti-climactic, self-absorbed, boring and pointless story to tell, which I wouldn’t wish on any reader ever. Let me take this opportunity and talk you out of reading it. Click off right now, and spare yourself the trouble. There is NOTHING to see here. And so, if you are still reading, then I presume there is almost no way I can shake you off. Welcome to my story. Here goes a real rambler….
Starting with just the basic facts: When I was fifteen years old, my family moved from a small town in Texas where we had lived for over five years to another small town way out west. It was a sad move. Very hard. I don’t think any of us really wanted to go, but Dad had been fired as a preacher by the little church he served, and despite his dismissal from the flock of our very bass-ackward, fundamentalist church, practically everyone else in town who was not a member lamented this move too. Several people came to my dad asking him to start another church and assured him they would join it and support him.
Well, all of that is factual, though subjectively emotional too.
But here’s the part I really want to talk about: The Rock.
I was just a kid at the time. I went from elementary school through junior high and into high school in that little town, and I felt deeper roots there than anywhere I had ever known in my short life. I had hoped my friends there would be life-long friends. But we were leaving, and so one of the little, very personal, child-like things I did before going was that I set up a rock on a fencepost and wondered how long it would stay there untouched..
The rock was not very big. More than a pebble, sure… probably twice as big as my fist. Big enough I felt sure no wind short of a tornado would move it. And I found a sturdy fencepost in a fence which looked like it had been there all my life already, and I placed the rock squarely on the top of the post. I checked it, and it sat there solidly. In fact, I checked it regularly for a couple of weeks before we left town, and took every opportunity to inspect it to see if it wobbled or moved. It did not.
The fence was inconspicuous, but it was not hidden somewhere in no-man’s-land. It was near a public area, a fence roughly midway between the Boy Scout hut and the baseball field, yet thirty paces off the road too. In five years of living there, I had never seen that particular fence, and most certainly that particular fence post, disturbed in the slightest.
Thus my rock was hidden in plain sight. I intended it to not be noticed, and I called no attention to it. In fact, I told no one about it EVER. It was just a witness between God and me alone. Our little secret thing. Yet it was almost like a pile of stones one of Israel’s patriarch’s might have set up at Mizpah or at the Jordan crossing, except in this case it was just one precarious stone inconspicuously left atop a fencepost.
It was my mark on the world.
It said I WAS HERE; I belonged. I remember you; do you remember me? But it did not shout or seek attention with anyone but God. And I knew I was leaving it for him to watch, because once I was gone, even I would no longer be able to monitor it.
I knew there would come a day when it would be moved. But how? Under what circumstance?? Who and when???
I was assuredly never going to know. It was a thing that once done would not be appreciated by the one who did it. Still, through the years I have wondered about that rock.
In fact the first year or so after moving away, I am sure I contemplated that rock many times. I can see myself as a new student in my new school the next fall finding my first-period class and standing there at the door waiting for the teacher to arrive to let in the students. I watched so many kids pass by, all of them seeming to have friends, seeming to know where they were going, having a reason to be there and a point to their lives… while I waited for the bell to ring. I think I thought about that rock just then.
Eventually, I too had friends to be with and places to be and things to do, and my world was a swirl of newness – everything from parties to campouts to sledding in the snow. We had a new house, new TV shows premiered that fall, there was a new football team to cheer for, and some of my new friends had driver’s licenses (as soon I did too) which also opened up new vistas. And yet in the midst of all that swirl, I would think about that rock and wonder. .
It’s funny to me now more than 35 years later that I think about that rock still – maybe even more now than I did when I was a kid.
I went back to visit that little town with my family two and a half years later, actually. The townsfolk (not the church) actually put on a banquet to honor my dad and us (his family). As I recall, I was overwhelmed during that visit by how much all my friends had grown up and changed in the intervening time. A year after that, I was graduated from high school and left home, and my travels took me to a town near that Texas town again, and I dropped in for a visit then too. Then a third time, twenty years later, I had an opportunity to stop in on that little town yet again, this time with my dad who was treated like a rock star mobbed by groupies and autograph hounds backstage when the townsfolk discovered he was in their country store! Yet in none of those visits did I check on the fencepost to see if the rock was still there. I mean “the rocket’s red glare and the bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,” but I failed to see if my rock was.
I had not forgot it, but I didn’t get the opportunity to investigate it, and it didn’t seem important enough to try. And anyway, I felt it was too personal – that I would be embarrassed to mention it to others. And anyway, maybe I didn’t want to see it was moved – a bit of denial. I could hope it was still there if I did NOT look. So, I let the rock remain a mystery in what seemed like perpetuity.
That is… until five years ago when my wife and I drove my stepson to San Antonio to drop him off for advanced military training as a United States Marine at Lackland AFB. Our little road trip allowed us to swing by the old home town and spend an hour poking around. I didn’t seek anyone to visit, only the rock.
On that day, roughly thirty years after leaving that rock on that fencepost, I finally had the chance to drive down there, get out of the car, and walk up to the spot. And what I found was a completely renovated plot of land! The fence was gone, not just the rock! Not only that, but just down the road two hundred yards, was bridge across the creek bed which led into the park. I think of all the times (and all the time) I ever spent on or crossing that bridge, and yet it was replaced with a new one! Ironically, though, the old one, in disrepair and disuse, is still there right next to the new one. If I would have had any idea about the temporality of that bridge, I would not have given the rock on the fencepost any thought.
Go figure. But that bridge is another story for another time.
So, I searched the fence line carefully for a rock at the place where I was certain I had left it as a kid when I was nervous about my place in the world and any impact I might have on it. I wondered aloud to God about it. When did it move? How long did my little mark on this world, “set in stone” no less, last? Did it last one year? Two?? Ten??? Twenty????
Did it last even one day?
How did it get moved? Did someone finally notice it, walk up to it and take it in hand and ask themselves or God, “Who put this here? How curious?” And if they did, might I ever find out who it was, and would they remember it now?
Talk about your long shot!
In the Shawshank Redemption, Andy leaves Red a box buried under “a rock that has no business being there” next to a stone wall under a tree, which years later Red finds, and by which their friendship finds new life outside of prison. That too was a long shot, but this? THIS???
Talk about your long shot!
The futility has me asking: Did someone accidently back their Chevy up to the fence and bump it and drive off, thus without even knowing it erasing my little mark on the world?
As you can see, I have given a lot of thought to that rock.
Who moved my rock?
I knew it would move when I put it there; I knew it. I did not actually expect it to stay, but still thirty years later, I walked out to the spot just to check. Just to check. An adult, still worried about what that kid so long ago had done.
And in the years since, I have not talked about it. But I have given it far more thought in recent times than I did as a kid. I mean, I wasn’t thinking about that rock when I went to the Metallica concert in 96 or to Chicago’s Sears Tower in 2001. I wasn’t thinking about that rock at my mom’s funeral or watching the sunset over Yarnell, Arizona. There were many, many special moments in my life in which that rock was the furthest thing from my mind, but it was a rock, and I was sure that short of a tornado hitting it, the wind would not move it. It lacked permanence, but it had staying power – certainly if it continued to be unnoticed in obscurity.
And why did I choose impermanence and obscurity for my rock? Why did I do that?
Because I shared it with God, and I know he is into those long shots. It’s his thing. And I wanted in on THAT.
So, who moved my rock?
God only knows.