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  Thursday October 30th, 2014    

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The weight of their words (06/17/2007)
By Janet Lewis Burns
The real measure of one's wealth is how much he'd be worth if he lost all his worldly possessions. There is an old story that goes like this. A small town church was holding auditions for a religious operetta honoring the Heavenly Father. Professional performers came from a nearby city to try out. With every confidence, they sang out boisterously with apparent acting and musical skill. When the director asked if there was anyone else who would like to audition, an elderly man wearing overalls and bent from a lifetime of hard labor, shuffled on stage. There was some tittering among those present. Without accompaniment, the gentleman sang the 23rd Psalm with clarity and such reverence that everyone stared in disbelief. The director gasped, "How is it that this humble old man can stir such emotions with his common voice?"

"Ah," a wise minister in the crowd spoke up, "the opera virtuoso has an impeccable, refined voice and knew the words perfectly"¦but the old man? There is no doubt that he knows the Father."

Words that ring true can be steppingstones to what's most meaningful in life. Words can also be hollow, boastful, hurtful, and insincere. A man is tallest when he's on his knees.

The power and influence of opinions and writings of others are extremely effectual. Our school library offered its generous helping of thick and foreboding volumes of love sonnets, classics from the 18th and 19th centuries. Yellowed, brittle pages dripping with nostalgia and pining led me to put a great deal of myself into meaningless drivel, quality time wasted on self-indulgence.

With maturity I broadened my horizons. Reading Lebanese poet and artist Kahil Gibran enthralled me and led me to philosophical contemplation. His 1923 "The Prophet", which underwent its 67th printing in 1963, aroused more substance in my poetry attempts, but my frail tolerance for rejections became disheartening.

Putting any lame ambition to pursue writing on hold as I fell into the role of wife and motherhood, I began reading more and more environmental and nature chronicles, some beautifully illustrated, which took me away - to wallow in the deep recesses of the natural world. Annie Dillard's "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" ignited the flame.

When I read that my former high school English teacher Bob Reige had passed away, it brought back his encouraging advice, which I hadn't taken seriously, to go on to school in the field of journalism.

Lewiston celebrated its 125th birthday in June of 1988. I was moved to write a poem called "A Certain Possession", to commemorate my folks and a distant relative Jonathan Smith Lewis, our town's founder. After my poem was run on the cover of the Lewiston Journal, I began submitting a column to that paper through the 1990s, dubbed "Minnesota Windows".

This experience opened a whole new avenue of creative writing, as well as boosting my confidence. I am grateful that the Edstroms gave me a chance, having printed "From the Heart of the County" in the Post for the past eight years.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

I think of my late father Lawrence Lewis in that way, a soft-spoken man of few words and a bubbly giggle. Dad's honesty and integrity, and how he lived his life spoke volumes. I suppose it wasn't always easy living with four chattering and demanding females! No wonder his voice was seldom heard.

It pains me to recall the silent void between us those times I disappointed him. The weight of words unspoken wrinkled his brow and rendered me speechless. The heart is often at a loss for words. Sometimes we have to read between the lines.

Bonds with our fathers, regardless of how strained or unapproachable they may seem at times, are not secured nor severed by words alone. Love has a way of breaking through the most cumbersome barriers. Don't hesitate to speak from your heart.

Happy Father's Day to families everywhere!

 

 

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