The elderly gentleman walked briskly down the leaf-strewn sidewalk in the frosty morning air. The neighborhood had gone through multiple metamorphoses throughout the five decades he had resided here, just three of the original homeowners remaining.
Roger Cullins was one of the fortunate ones. He still had his independence, his debt-free home, his health. So many friends had lost one or more of those freedoms, he mused as he walked along on his daily trek to Jefferson Community Park. Stopping to wipe his brow, Roger spanned the tree-lined street with bespectacled eyes. Most of the regular inhabitants were at work or school, but the deserted area--in its very desertion--held a unique charm. Yards were covered with bumpy blankets of multi-colored leaves, patches of green grass peeking through them, willy-nilly. A birdbath here, and a neglected autumn garden of late-blooming flowers there, and squirrels scampering around gathering food for their winter larders graced the scene. Occasionally, a chained dog claimed his attention, barks echoing spasmodically like a jazz concert’s percussion beat.
Up ahead a few yards loomed a forlorn, deserted park, Roger’s destination. Arriving a little breathless, he sat down on the single wrought-iron bench, its chain-staked links as rusty as his arthritic knuckles. A lone, tarnished iron trash barrel stood sentry close by the rarely-trodden path. A flag-flanked pavilion spire peeked through a tree’s lacy barren branches, the gazebo’s picnic tables loosely anchored to its cement slab. Roger marveled at the massive tree trunks bordering this, his sanctuary, knotty and sturdy pedestals for their presently stripped, branches.
“Lord, why?” he murmured for the hundredth time, “why did You take Heather instead of me?” knowing in his heart that his precious wife of fifty years had been too good for this world.
He felt so useless nowadays, his children and grandchildren spread across the country, their careers like telephone wires connecting distant horizons. He smiled through his memories of bygone excursions to this very park, the scene before him lighting up with bas-relief figures of playing children and gossiping parents, playground equipment shiny and freshly painted, and checkered blankets spread intermittently on the ground laden with picnic lunches and napping babies. Off in the farthest corner stood the basketball court, teenage jocks’ grunts and victory yells vying with the persistent dribbling thwacks and swooshes of the ball.
“Ah, yes, the court where I learned how to love,” the old man reminisced . . .
Neighborhood hooligans Jackie and Frankie shoved and decked players in their paths, sweaty bodies slamming and dunking an air-leaking worn basketball across the court. Rog could not believe their blatant disregard of others. He seethed while his son, Blaine, was purposely tripped repeatedly.
“Enough is enough!” adrenalin surged from his gut as he advanced toward the court.
Suddenly, Rog stopped cold in his tracks. Blaine, limping from his most recent fall, was offering his water thermos to Jackie, a lopsided grin on his sweat-streaked face. Jackie, usually surly at best, flippantly accepted the peace offering, draining the canteen like a rescued desert survivor. Blaine’s bloody, cracked lips and bruising, scraped knees needed that water, but instead, he had chosen to give it away to that creep. What happened next became Roger’s mantra for all subsequent personal relationships. Toughened, frightening, rough Jackie gave Blaine’s shoulder a friendly squeeze.
“Sorry for giving you such a hard time, Blainey-boy. Thanks. You’re all right.”
At the supper table that evening, Rog congratulated his son on the basketball game.
“But, we didn’t win,” Blaine protested.
“Son, in losing you won--by doing just what Jesus would have done.”
Rog learned that day that, indeed, giving an enemy a cup of cold water seemed to be the answer to a lot of life’s relationships, many times resulting in that former enemy’s salvation.
“When did my child become my teacher?” Rog had commented to Heather at bedtime . . .
Suddenly, the dribbling basketball sounds grew closer and louder. Roger opened his eyes to see two youngsters, obviously playing hooky from school, fighting over the ball’s possession. The larger contender finally slammed his fist into the other little guy’s face, bloodying his nose in the process.
“Hey, that’s no way to act,” Roger advancing on the scene and dabbing the little boy’s face with his handkerchief while looking up at the older boy.
“Son, you remind me of another boy that used to come here. His name was Jackie, and I think you’d like to hear his story . . .”
"(Jesus said to them) . . .Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. . . If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. . ."
The Bible, Luke 6, NIV
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