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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: The Kingdom of God (03/12/09)

TITLE: In the Soft, Half-Golden Light
By Jim McWhinnie
03/12/09


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In the daylight hours the streets of Manhattan flow with yellow taxicabs and panel trucks, the conveyances of the overheated commerce that makes this city live. But come the nighttime, the sidewalks once crammed with three piece suits and harried ambitions now become the shadowed alleys of street cleaners and street walkers, the world of those who have somehow been left behind. It was also the world I knew as a young man who worked as night watchman at the Salvation Army lodge.

Come six o’clock, the line would form of men who lived their lives one bowl of soup at time, surviving the streets one more day, maybe with one more bottle of muscatel to soothe their moldy despair. Two hundred men would take their turn stopping at my green, folding card table. “Name please. Do you have your ID? Empty your pockets. Your clothes go in the bag by the shower. Dinner at seven. Lights out at nine. No smoking. The bus leaves for the labor pool at 6:00 a.m.”

These weathered, old knights of the road, they knew the routine, it had become their way of life. Some had taken to the road after the war and simply had stayed on the road too long. Others were broken men, casualties of bad homes, bad breaks, or bad choices.

While they showered, we would fumigate their clothes, replace socks and underwear that needed to be replaced, maybe provide a hand-me-down shirt or a half-worn pair of trousers. They would dress and comb their hair with one of the thousands of Salvation Army combs we always had on hand. Where all those combs came from, no one knew, but we always had boxes and boxes of them.

Dinner would always begin with a table grace that I usually provided, but every so often an old fellow named Wild-Eyed Jack would recite a prayer that his godly grandmother had taught him when he was a boy on a farm in upstate New York. That was before the War when a grenade had stolen away his right eye and left with a life of limping and begging, a life of aching pain and the pity of folks who walked on by. After biscuits and soup, green beans and a necessary slice of onion, Bear, our grizzly cook, would always bring out platters of ginger snap cookies. I always loved those ginger snap cookies.

Soon after, I would begin corralling the men into the long, one room dormitory, each of them to a cot covered with a drab green blanket with the Salvation Army shield imprinted in black ink upon it. I would give a warning or two that lights out would be coming soon. Then, when I felt the moment had come, I’d flip the light switch and they would one by one slip away into few hours of dreams of what might have been - and I suppose now and then - of what might one day be.

I would sit and watch over this household of broken dreams and worn out souls as a soft, half-golden light from the illuminated cross that hung on the far wall would settle upon these old, snoring men. And for one more night in the flow of eternity that gentle light of that old cross would bath those two hundred one-time little boys with the gentle grace of God.

That Salvation Army lodge at midnight, there in the light of that cross, was one of those places that one finds in the realm known as the kingdom of God.


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This article has been read 693 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Norma-Anne Hough 03/19/09
Thank God for the work of the salvation army. Sad but beautifully told.
Ruth Hayes03/20/09
The imagery in the second to last paragraph is strong and smoothly delivered. Beautiful!
Dolores Stohler03/20/09
Well written and quite interesting. The Salvation Army is truly a Godsend to many; it would be a great loss if they were unable to continue their work in the present recession. I live in an area where charities are struggling; let's all remember to give generously to the soup kitchens and others.
Eliza Evans 03/20/09
Great idea! Really lovely. Wish I would have thought of it. :)

I will tell you something though. If this wasn't a Challenge - I wouldn't have read through it. I'll tell you why.

I am a really lazy reader.
Your sentences are way too long - one after the other. Long sentences actually make the reader work-- and some of yours are very long!;)

Your second sentence is 37, your fourth is 37.
The sentence "Dinner would always ..." is 46 words!

Personally, I don't think sentences should ever be that long without some kind of break.

This sentence is 45 words. Then, when I felt the moment had come, .... But it's better because you have at least given us a break in there. That makes such a difference. Whew! :)

A long sentence is generally considered anything 20 words and above. (I think)

Mix it up a bit. Short, longer, medium length sentences. Best of all read it out loud. Listen to the rhythm - if you're out of breath and running to catch up .. the reader is, too.(wink)

Have someone else read it over, if you can.

Incidentally - shorter sentences can often pack more 'oomph' For example - I like the line I always loved those ginger snap cookies. :)

With all that said .. I know you are on your way to being a wonderful writer. The ambiance is gorgeous. You just need to clean up the technical stuff (that's the easy part!)and you'll be flyin'. I mean it! :)

In fact, I'm sort of jealous because the actual story part seems easy for you. Beautiful job. I look forward to more.:)
Sonya Leigh03/20/09
This is truly a stellar piece of writing. Your tenderness and loving attitude towards the men in the shelter melts my heart. You have tremendous talent.

Don't worry about the long/short sentences...I teach an Institute for Excellence in Writing course to home schoolers (IEW) which allows any length sentence as long as it is grammatically correct (Hemingway once wrote an entire opening paragraph as one long sentence). Only rule is, don't string too many long ones together without what IEW calls a VSS (very short sentence) to give the reader a rest. Actually, I didn't find that your sentences detracted from your piece at all. They were beautifully written.

Keep up the great work!
Eliza Evans 03/20/09
I agree with Sonya.
Mix it up. :)
That's the key.

And I did admit that I am lazy. :)


Eliza Evans 03/20/09
It's been a long time but the reference to Hemingway twigged a memory. Funny - but is he not known for his short sentences? Was that not even one of his personal writing rules? (I could be wrong)

Anyway. I hope the writer of this piece is not confused or discouraged.

I want to encourage you to stay true to your wonderful voice and convictions. Take what serves you .. and chuck the rest.

I really love your writing!! It's wonderful!
Judy Meyers03/21/09
I am a lazy reader too. (That's my fault!) I noticed myself skipping over some words to get the message. The message is wonderful and the Salvation Army is a picture of how the Kingdom of God works in the hearts of people that want to serve God.
Jan Ackerson 03/21/09
I found this lovely, from the title to the last word.
Chely Roach03/21/09
Absolutely excellent. Loved it.
Gregory Kane03/23/09
Hey, you have done really well here for constructive criticism. Fantastic! I don't think that I need to add much at all except to comment on your title. What's particularly moving about the story is the way in which you play with light and shade to add some great atmosphere, something that is reflected (no pun intended) in your title. Well done indeed
Tallylah Monroe03/24/09
I don't think you have to be lazy to stumble over long sentences. I also felt that did detract from this piece.
But still, this is one of my favorite entries this week. I could really see the scenes being played out.
Sheri Gordon03/26/09
Congratulations on your highly commended. I loved having this inside look into the Salvation Army. And it's written very well. Great job with the topic.
TJ Nickel03/26/09
Congrats on your placement. I liked Wild Eyed Jack and would recommend making him the focal point of this story (or another) and using him in the beginning. There were structural problems with sentences and flow, but this piece was full of promise.