“‘Curiouser and curiouser!’” cried Alice…she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English.” This quote from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” comes after Alice experiences the effect of eating some cake that caused her neck to “open out like the largest telescope that ever was.”
Everyone knows the common and versatile definition of the word “curious:” being inquisitive; prying; showing keen interest; defining something as odd or strange. But the archaic Latin meaning has more depth: “something made or prepared with skill, something done with painstaking accuracy, with obvious signs of paying attention to detail and marked by intricacy.” We all have a degree of talent in some area, but it will not take one far unless the spark of curiosity ignites the imagination.
Once Alice saw the white rabbit, she was engaged, and curious enough to follow. When she came to the cake with the sign that read, “Eat me,” she did so. She had no idea what she would discover by chasing a white rabbit or consuming a magical cake. The formula was simple: being curious fired the imagination which afforded discovery. Think of all the discoveries Alice made about herself, her family, her society by following that white rabbit down the rabbit hole.
When the white rabbit appears in the imagination anything can happen. The act of creating is an act of bravery. Something is always at stake to the creator because they may lose something and never recover. That is the nature of creation. But there could be so much more to gain when one takes that risk: learning secrets, learning lessons, learning harmony in daily life.
Lewis Carroll began his story with Alice being very bored, and in her boredom she discovered the white rabbit. Don’t be afraid of being bored. There is freedom in boredom. A white rabbit could come along, so be on the lookout and be curious enough to follow. Stay curious and stir up the wonder of your imagination.
Funky word, right? It sounds like a second cousin of gesundheit. The Germans know how to take meaningful phrases and form them into a single word. I recently met up with the word geworfenheit and found it means “thrown into the world.”
Credit for this phrase goes to Martin Heidegger, an influential German philosopher of the last century. I do not pretend to be a philosopher or a student of philosophy, let alone an expert in Heidegger-speak, but the meaning of the word hit me hard. If we have been “tossed out” by the randomness of natural selection or cosmic arbitrariness or systematic favoritism, then what sort of effect does such pitiless disregard have on one’s soul?
It does not take a world pandemic for someone to feel the pain of isolation. It is a brute fact that many people go through life unnoticed or unattended, no one looking, no one caring. Many struggle just to feel alive on any level of heart and spirit.
However one approaches the reality of our existence—how we got here, what we’re doing here, where we’re going from here—we each must decide what we do with the time before us, who we might do it with, and for whom.
If we believe we are here to indulge our moods, create the conditions to achieve success for our self-interests, and muscle our way to the top of the heap, then being “thrown into the world,” is nothing more than a dog-eat-dog world-view; any “means” to justify the “ends.”
I do not accept the premise that I have been flung out into the world to live solely by my wits and to die by myself. I suggest we adopt a different phrase to live by: “love thy neighbor.” If we weigh risk vs. reward, then a life of loving one’s neighbor has the greatest reward. We are not “thrown into the world.” We should grasp the world, look into the eyes of those who come across our path, embrace and love them. There will be pain, but it can be shared and the burden can be light.
I married a queen, not one of royal pedigree, but of the hometown variety. She was Homecoming Queen not once but twice at her local high school. I began courting the queen about eight years after she wore her crowns, and within six months of courtship, I started plotting and scheming my marriage proposal.
I’m a romantic by nature so it was important to set the right atmosphere for the occasion. I got out of rehearsal early that day and went by Kay’s office to get the key to her apartment. She had a fireplace, and I wanted to take full advantage of the ambiance a fire would offer. It was her birthday, and I planned to cook the one dish I knew how to prepare, Beef Stroganoff. Weeks earlier, while cruising antique stores, Kay had pointed to an early 20th century, American crafted nightstand she liked, and while her back was turned, I bought the piece and picked it up a few days later. (This nightstand resides on her side of the bed and holds a stack of books a foot high.) I placed the nightstand beside the fireplace and set a scroll of a sonnet I had written on top tied with a strip of lace. I’m no Shakespeare, but I could improve on the greeting card doggerel for this occasion. I believed what I had written would up the “wow” factor and help seal the deal along with a bottle of Merlot, some Grover Washington (the stereophonic sounds of a scratchy LP and the crackly popping of burning logs in the fireplace were perfect mood enhancers), and candles.
Dinner finished, the fire at a nice glow, a glass of wine consumed, the antique nightstand “ooed” and “ahhhed” over accompanied by a nice kiss on the cheek, the sonnet read followed by another kiss, this time on the lips, and did I detect a little moisture in her eyes at the tender care I was demonstrating on her birthday? O how she was in for the biggest surprise of all. It was carpe diem time, and I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. I sat down on the carpet in front of the fireplace, shifted around to face her, our legs crisscrossed beneath us, and took her hands in mine.
Now here is the moment in every romantic film where the music swells and the characters speak the predictable dialogue and respond with predictable reactions. But my “Would you marry me?” moment did not end with the joyous leap into my arms or the burst of joyful tears. Kay didn’t leap or burst into anything. She didn’t even say anything. Too much shock and awe to her system, I surmised. She bowed her head and her lips began to move. What was that? I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Was this prayer time? Was she consulting God? Couldn’t she have given me the “yes” I expected and then we both could pray? Sure, I wanted God to be a part of all this, but on my terms and in my timing. I had set this stage. I had scripted this scenario. God should just rubber stamp it, right? The romantic mood I had so careful orchestrated seemed to be disintegrating like the crumbling logs in the fireplace. The longer Kay continued in this silent and pious moment, the more my heart began to fill with anxiety. Was she talking to God just to avoid answering the question? Was she talking to God for an answer to the question? A wiser man would have sat quietly and waited. Instead, I blurted,
“Either tell me now that you’re going to marry me, or I’m leaving.”
Here is a perfect example of going up to the edge and jumping off, and to make it worse, using a terrible line of dialogue to launch myself into this abyss of my own design. What was I thinking? It is as painful to recount as it is to watch, however, watch we must.
There was no mistaking the tears in her eyes this time. The moisture on her cheek glistened in the firelight as she raised her head and whispered,
“Well, I guess you’ll have to go then.”
A wiser man would take a step back, take a deep breath of clean oxygen to clear his head, and maybe, just maybe, if he had only a fraction of the wisdom of say, anyone above middle-school age, he might admit that his brash and hasty, and BRAINLESS ultimatum, was spoken in jest or make up any excuse for blurting out something so outrageous. You would think that, right? Wrong. “Hoist with his own petard,” as Hamlet says of his Uncle Claudius’ knavery, which is to say, “He shall blow himself up.” Subtlety of action is not my strong suit. In my mortified condition, I untangled my legs, grabbed the half-empty (not half-full considering my state of mind), bottle of wine, and stormed out the door. I would finish the Merlot alone, thank you very much.
For what felt like an eternity, I remained in the “cone of silence.” Not only did I not speak with Kay or any of our friends, I stopped going out all together. I only went to the theatre for rehearsals and performances and then back to my cabin in the woods where I would look out my window and lick my self-inflicted wound. I shed a lot of tears. I uttered a lot of prayers. I walked for hours through the woods and pastures where I lived. The isolation was discomfiting and only contributed to my gloom.
At some point in my misery the intervention came; a call from my sister. The news of my abrupt departure had traveled through the grapevine by way of mutual friends. Does my dear sister ask me how I’m feeling? Does she commiserate? Does she inquire after my side of the story and stick up for me? Does she offer encouragement? No. After all this time I can still provide the exact quote of her brief statement: “Big brother, you are the biggest fool in the world if you let Kay Patton get away. Get on your knees now and crawl back to her and beg her forgiveness.” Click, and like that, the phone line was dead.
Kick a guy while he’s down. No mercy; a trait my sister will use anytime she is confronted with her big brother’s foolishness. I waited a few hours allowing her words to stew, and finally, I did get on my knees, I did crawl, but only back to the phone, and dialed Kay’s number. After admitting my idiotic performance that night in her apartment was a huge mistake, I did ask for forgiveness. My groveling was the most honest actor’s performance I had ever given. No fabricated emotion. I was “in the moment” as we actors say when actor and character are unified in perfect harmony of expressing truth, and this moment was raw and real. And Kay’s response? She was gracious enough to accept my apology and allowed an opening for a second chance.
Our reconciliation led us to the altar six months later, and on May 12, 1979, we were wed. Now forty-two years later, we get to celebrate a designated day. But I count myself a most fortunate man to have shared a million joyous experiences with this lady since given a second chance. Oh yeah, and much thanks to my sister, Nan Gurley, for her take-no-prisoners’ phone call, or this day might never have happened.
I did not have to prepare an audition for my first role on the stage. I just had to be the right age (five), work for free, and the son of the producer, my father. It was a production of the Greek tragedy, “Medea,” and I played the younger son of Jason and Medea.
The play came in last in the competition at the Dionysia Festival when it premiered in 431 B.C. A mother’s fillicide as revenge against her husband’s infidelity was not acceptable behavior even to the Greeks back in the day. But it is a tragedy, and someone has to die. So I became the sacrificial lamb.
The death scene (thankfully carried out off stage), did not require a lot acting talent on my part. I just had to play dead on command. Just before the big “reveal,” my stage brother and I took our positions on the floor behind a closed door, and the stage manager poured ketchup all over our white togas. I remember vividly the door flying open, the stage lights flooding into the room where we lay, and the blood-curdling scream from the actor who played Jason when he beheld his dead sons. Trying to remain “dead” in that moment was my first big challenge as an actor. I wanted to jump up and run away.
Jason and Medea would not be put on the cover of today’s “Parents” magazine, but my parents did not seem concerned that this theatrical experience might scar me for life. While I might have suffered some nightmares from time to time, there was no permanent damage. I did not know it at age five, but the art of storytelling became firmly established in my psyche, and my artistic life had been determined.
It is one of my earliest memories. I was four years old when I witnessed my father drinking, gambling, attempting a robbery, and then dying by his own hand from a knife thrust into his heart. I watched him die right before my eyes, and I had no ability to distinguish the degrees of the semblances of truth.
When Hamlet says, “…the play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” he means that he will use a dramatic performance to test whether his uncle, Claudius, is guilty of murdering his father. And when Claudius sees the reenactment by the players, he flees the scene. When I saw the performance of my father’s death, I too fled the scene, whisked away in my mother’s arms, screaming.
Dad was playing the role of Billy Bigelow in the musical “Carousel.” Backstage after the show, I hurled myself into his arms sobbing in relief. That night Dad lay the instrument of his death on our dining room table; a rubber knife no longer than six or seven inches from blade tip to butt end. He even demonstrated how he used it.
This moment was a marvelous reality, one not fully explained or understood, nonetheless, irrefutably before me. I was an eyewitness to it all, and afterwards, I was tucked into bed by the one who had performed the feat. This was the mystery of storytelling, the story of my father, all-powerful, who could create such a wondrous illusion. My impressionable heart was frightened and awed by the experience of life, death, and resurrection. I did not know that these powerful themes would become foundational beliefs for life.
I am very slow to commit to technology that might improve my daily life. Living in a high-speed, full-scale digital cosmos does not appeal to me. I still use a flip-phone, and it has not been that long since I began to use the texting feature, though with reluctance. My reading material comes in hard copy form, not electronic. I shoot pool, play poker, and pinball (all poorly), not video games. I have an antennae on the roof that gets about a dozen free channels, four of which I watch. When people tried to get me to open a Facebook account so I could gain a couple of billion friends, my eyes glazed over.
I live like an animal, you say, but no more. This old dog decided he could learn a new trick or two. I not only had a website designed for my professional work, I also joined the world of Facebook. Now to all of you who know of my snarky attitude regarding social media forums (much like the snarky naysayers in the early days of television who considered the box of tubes a “vast wasteland”), I deserve all the slings and arrows of snide comments you care to throw at me. Be brutal. Be brutal. I accept the barbs.
But hold on. I have taken one more technological step in my journey from cave-dweller to enlightenment…the newsletter, delivered electronically courtesy of Mail Chimp. This will be the first of many to follow. One may rightfully consider that I have lost my mind, but since I love to write stories and explore ideas, perhaps this new forum may be a pleasant experience for us all.
So the slippery slope begins. And who knows? Sometime in the not too distant future, I may upgrade to an iPhone allowing me to do live feeds on Facebook. But don’t panic. My navigational skills in this wide, wide world of social media are still quite limited. And the beauty of Mr. Mail Chimp is that should you ever cry “uncle” from an over-consumption on my musing, you can always click that “Opt-Out” button.
Most of you know I love being outdoors and hiking on trails both foreign and domestic. Beside the joy of walking through the beauty of nature, I look forward to encounters with fellow hikers. I remember teasing my father once when we were headed out for a day of hiking that I thought he looked “too dapper” for the trail. His reply, “You never know who you might meet on the trail, Son.” Words to live by.
We are all smiles in this picture, but I met five of these ladies under a difficult circumstance. On this particular day, I had led a group of men on a nine-mile hike. As we were walking out we met up with two of these ladies who had gotten separated from the other three. They expressed some concern about their friends, but felt the stragglers were not far behind.
These ladies had read about the great waterfalls on this trail, but had no idea of the length or difficulty of the strenuous hike. When we got to the parking lot, I sent the guys in my group on home. The sun had set and the fading twilight was barely getting through the thick summer foliage of the forest. I told the two ladies that had walked out with us that I would go back for the other three. If I had not returned by dark, they were to call the rescue squad.
Fortunately, I only had to walk a mile when I found the three of them resting on the trail. They spoke little English, but enough to realize that I had been sent by their friends, and those friends were waiting for them in the parking lot. I was able to explain that I was familiar with this trail, and that even in the fading light, I would be able to escort them back to their friends.
It was completely dark when we made it to the parking lot. It was a happy reunion for everyone even in our exhausted state. Before I could slip away, they ladies insisted that I give them my phone number. “We cook for you. We cook for you and your wife.”
I was not sure this would happen, but within a few weeks, I got the call with the invitation. And so, Kay and I spent an afternoon with our five new friends along with some bonus friends. We feasted on a meal of Asian cuisine fit for royalty.
The blessing of a “chance” encounter led to the pleasure of new friendships. Dad’s words took on new meaning, a deeper almost prophetic meaning. “You never know who you might meet on the trail, Son.” Yes, words to live by.
There is a well-worn path in the back field behind our house. When Covid shut down the world, including our local gym, I took to doing laps around the perimeter of our acreage. The gym has since reopened, but I have enjoyed cutting large repetitive circles on terra firma and not jogging on machines with conveyor belts or on Nordic tracks so much that I have yet to re-up at the gym. May not for a while…may not at all.
I have traded in the sounds of heavy-metal cranked up to motivate faster fat-burning, or multiple screens of cable commentators or infomercials, or the audio spillage from the personal earbuds used by those on either side of me, not to mention the huffing and puffing from their accelerated heart-rates, for the early-morning sounds of the outdoors. I hear the wind in the trees, the chirping birds, lowing cattle, the scolding honks of Canadian Geese as I pass by the pond—it must not register in their little goose brains that they are the trespassers—my own footsteps crunching along the worn path. Funny how my soul wakes up a little brighter with sounds of nature. From this clarity has come a plethora of ideas, and voila, a newsletter is born. What? Another newsletter you didn’t know you wanted and can’t live without? Too much oxygen to the head, you say. Well not so fast.
The title “Conversations at the Crossroads” comes from the prophet Jeremiah in chapter six, verse sixteen: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’” Who of us does not face daily crossroads, desire good and wise council, and need peaceful rest for our souls?
My world-view is seen through the lens of an artist. It’s the way God cut me out of the miry clay, and I was offered two skills on my way out the door: acting and writing. I’ve tried to use those skills well, keeping in mind the physicians’ oath to “first do no harm.” These talents were not given to me solely for trade-craft as I slogged through life making a living. Through these gifts, I believe the Almighty was offering a wider, more inclusive vision for my future, if I chose to walk that path.
Beginning soon, you can receive my bi-monthly newsletter. Click onto my website: www.henryoarnold.com or sign up directly here https://henryoarnold.com/subscribe/ The first and fifteenth of every month “Conversations…,” will arrive in your in-box. The content will be wide-ranging: art, literature, insights into biblical themes and narratives, theatre, film travels, and family dynamics, each one written through the lens of my personal stories and life struggles. The newsletter will offer updates of my literary and acting projects, and first-look scoops of content from my books. For videos promoting my books and performances, I will use my Facebooks pages and my YouTube channel.
“Conversations at the Crossroads” encourages considerate engagement via email. Send comments to: [email protected]
But remember, thoughtful brevity goes a long way should you choose to comment. With an open mind and heart toward others, I take the responsibility to be kind, genuine, vulnerable, and forgiving, practicing the “treat others as you would like to be treated” principal. “Conversations at the Crossroads” will be an honest window into my life as human being. You will read about many stumbles and struggles in my life, but my hope is that we might affirm one another as we trek those “ancient paths” together. I love a good conversation while walking, so I hope you will join me.
Thank you for subscribing to the “Conversations at the Crossroads” bi-monthly newsletter.
The content will be wide-ranging: art, literature, insightful narratives on biblical themes, theatre, film, travels, each one written through the lens of my personal stories and struggles. The newsletter will also offer updates of my literary and acting projects, and first-look scoops of content from my books.
Below you will find all archived “Conversations…” just in case you miss any newsletters that did not reach your inbox at the time you subscribed.
I have written often in the past of my hiking adventures. Taking journeys on my own two legs is a preferred choice of travel. Themes from “Song of the Open Road” by Walt Whitman has always fueled the wanderlust in my bloodstream.
I love the company of other trekkers, but also enjoy the solitary walk. There are those trails that are favorites that I go back to time and again just to be among the familiar: the landscape, the water falls, the rock formations, the twists and turns of the path through thick forests, but mainly I return to remember. To remember and process the circumstances, thoughts, and feelings that might have driven me to this trail. To remember the companions who walked with me, our conversations, our laughter, a shared meal.
A cherished memory of hiking my favorite trail is with my two brothers and our father. It was a few years before he died, and he was struggling to make the final ascent at the end of the trail. We had to stop more often than usual for Dad to catch his breath. In one of those restful moments, Dad said, “Boys, this may be the last time I can do this trail.” It was, and since then every time I make that final ascent on that trail, I think of my Dad and my brothers.
There is always an extra thrill of finding a trail that is new to me, every step taken into the unknown, every view is new, every smell and sound is fresh and different to my senses. I am able to imagine myself (or trick myself), into thinking that I am the first to trod this path, to see these wonders of nature. There is a heightened expectation and a marveling. There is also a level of trepidation with each new trail taken: come upon some scenic wonder that would take my breath away by its splendor or come upon something that might do me harm. To be awed by the sight of an avalanche tumbling down the snow-capped mountains or to freeze in fear at the rattlesnake stretched across the path. I am blessed with wonderful collected memories of trekking adventures. Still there is so much I have not experienced in the creation of God.
There are many words I love to speak and hear spoken, but there is one simple phrase that elicits a special thrill when I hear it or speak it: “Walk with me.” It makes me feel like a kid again when my friends would come to the house and shout, “Come out and play.” With each invitation, I bolted out the door knowing anything could happen that might bring pleasure or danger, and for me, growing up, there was plenty of both.
Such an invitation was given to Abraham, through whom the nation of Israel would come into existence. In essence, Yahweh said to Abraham, “Come out. Walk with me.” It was an invitation to leave behind everything and everyone he knew and take a new trail with new landscape, new skies, and new companions. All that was familiar and comfortable would be abandoned, yet for Abraham the invitation was irresistible.
Some two thousand years later Jesus made a similar invitation to a couple of guys walking a familiar road after the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. The two men were discussing the recent events of what they had assumed and hoped might be a big change in the fortunes of Israel. These two had put their hopes on a “prophet, powerful in word and deed…,” who they believed would set Israel free from oppression. Instead, the prophet was crucified. “Walk with me,” Jesus offered, and they did. The two men had no idea as to the identity of their companion. They accepted the invitation of a stranger. Turned out this unknown person was a Master Teacher who put into context all the biblical writings “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” why this “powerful prophet” they were lamenting had been crucified. The peripatetic lecture given by a mysterious stranger along a hot, dusty trail proved life changing for these two men. And it began with a simple invitation to walk.
In the Old Testament Bible, between Abraham and Jesus, Yahweh extended many invitations to the prophets to “walk with me.” These prophets were not just mouthpieces giving forth oracles. They were the equivalent of artists in our modern day. Certainly they were artists in their use of language, of having visions and explaining them, of giving performances that revealed the truth of the times, and of affecting culture. Those who witnessed these artistic performances by the prophet/artists had various reactions to what they saw and heard like any audience at any time in history when witnessing a creative work of art. What all these prophet/artist had in common was full-scale devotion to the truth. The words they spoke and wrote, the visions they described, the performances they gave were saturated in the truth. All artists are devoted to the truthful expressions of their observations of the world that come in a variety of art forms. So, in a way, all of us who live artistic lives could be considered prophets.
Forty-five years ago now I heard in my heart what I believed at the time, and still do, to be an invitation from God to “walk with me.” I chose to accept (I’m no special case, the invitation is inclusive), not really knowing the One who was offering me this invitation and certainly not knowing where this long trek would take me, or who my closest companions might be along this journey. Many of these companions have been and still are my fellow artists, and we have created some beautiful and always truthful works together. Many of them have been companions in faith, and what wonderful and enriching activities we have done together to extend grace, mercy, kindness, and compassion to the world.
For forty-one of those forty-five years my closest companion has been Kay. I could not have created all the works of performance and literary art without the infusion of her love and devotion. It is impossible to overstate the value of her companionship. The best thing to come out of accepting the “walk with me” offer from God, aside from the personal invitation of rescue and redemption, was the gift of Kay. She was a total surprise. Kay had heard her own “walk with me” invitation, and I had the great good fortune to be included in the deal. We were given the opportunity for our separate paths to become intertwined, at once still separate and yet interwoven; a work of art in itself. All the other works of art I have created pale by comparison.
So the journey continues. At times the traveling has tried my soul. I have felt abandoned and battered. I have been bewildered to the point of anger. I have grieved from loss and cried out from my wounded heart, but I have not once regretted accepting the invitation to “walk with me.” From such experiences true character, deeper faith, and steadfast belief are chiseled into the soul and frees the prophet/artist to shape his and her creations. Future prophetic/artistic creations are ahead for me. Future volumes of “The Song of Prophets and Kings” are in the making as well as other books. Future performances with my fellow artisans will be witnessed. And I leave you with the last lines from “Song of the Open Road” as my own invitation to “walk with me.”
“Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”
Cover Art by Lewis C. Daniel
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