How Did They Feel?

My Thoughts

Ever have one of those phrases get stuck in your head and wonder how it got there and why? I do. I have come to see it as the Holy Spirit speaking to mine to remind me of something or to teach me something. The phrase that has occupied my thoughts this week is: “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Of course, I had to wonder why this was haunting my thoughts. I couldn’t remember who said it or where I heard it.

Seasons of Life

back bus education school

As I am sure you know, life has seasons. Each culture seems to have these defined according to what is going on in that society. Currently, we are in the “back to school” season. We have had our share of this with four children through high school and college, but this year was a little different as our oldest daughter’s “back to school” would actually to be as the teacher.

Usually, my summers are consumed with work and working around the house to make repairs. There are a few trips to the beach with my wife and mini vacations. I might even have some sort of garden. This summer a good portion of my summer was spent helping my oldest daughter move from college to our house and then from our house to the new house for her to be on her own.

Children coming back home with all the stuff they have with them, in this case, to include two cats, can be challenging. To be honest, it has worn us out and taxed our patience. It was a break from our routine. I am a routine type of person, and I was definitely out of my routine this summer. Looking back though, it was a good summer.

This last weekend, we traveled one more time to help my daughter get established in her new home and role as teacher. She asked for help getting things to her classroom and setting things up. I could tell she was anxious about getting things ready. Today is her first day as teacher.

My wife and I were in the classroom waiting to assist where needed. We cut out wall hangings, sharpened pencils, moved furniture, but we also just sat there at times watching our grown-up daughter work through her paperwork for her students. Proud? Very.

During one of my tasks, I looked up and saw a small poster my daughter had hung near her desk. It read, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. – Carl W. Buechner.” I took a picture and wondered, how have I made my daughter feel this summer? I hope she felt encouraged, loved, appreciated, valued, and accepted.

20180730_180712At the end of my life, when folks gather around my graveside, I hope they remember good things of how being associated with me made them feel. That doesn’t mean life is all rainbows and unicorn cookies, holding hands and singing kumbaya. It does mean, even in challenging and difficult times and just doing life, we can, as the Apostle Paul says, carry each other burdens. That is, we can let people know that we cared enough to care how they feel.

Isn’t that how God deals with us? He cares for us during the ups and downs of life, through the hills and valleys, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Life is messy, and even in the messiness of life, people need to know you care. It is important to wonder, “How did I make them feel?” I pray I make people feel and know I care.

Endangered Christianity

The Statement

black microphone

I have heard it said by more than one person that “Christianity is only one generation away from being extinct.” Usually, the one speaking is trying to get across to their audience the necessity to reach out and share the good news of Jesus or Christianity will be gone. It’s a combination of a fear factor and a warning. The audience, I have been one, nods in agreement as the message sinks in. We had all better get busy winning souls or there will be no one left to carry on after we are gone.

Question Everything

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

Even though it sounds good, there seems to be a lingering thought somewhere on the periphery that tugs on the brain. It asks if the statement is true. Are things that desperate? I believe the statement is one of “truthiness,” as I have heard one public speaker call it. “Truthiness” is something that sounds true and logical, but when examined further, it doesn’t pass the litmus test.

Incorrect Presumptions

To accept the statement of “endangered Christianity” at face value is to agree to several basic, incorrect presumptions:

  1. It presumes the continuance of Christianity rest solely on the shoulders of the present generation, and without the evangelistic actions of that generation, Christianity is doomed. Yes, we are commanded to reach, teach, and disciple, but we plant the seed. God waters. The thinking that it all rests exclusively with man leaves God totally out the equation, which leads to the second presumption.
  2. The statement presumes God is not capable of sustaining the Christian faith. This is not biblical. Even in the darkest of times in history, God had a remnant of believers. Case in point is when Elisha ran from Jezebel and begged God to die. He complained that he was the only one in all of the land that followed God. God responded that He had 7,000 followers who did not bow to the state-sponsored religion. God is quite capable of maintaining a following. Further, even in the darkest times yet to come as spoken of in the book of Revelation, and during the Tribulation times, God will still maintain a remnant of followers.
  3. Another presumption is one that would be shared with the devil himself: somehow God can be defeated. This thought process leaves the Christian believing they are fighting a losing battle. They wring their hands while looking to the eastern sky chanting “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” They live a life of someone who is waiting to be rescued from a sinking ship rather than manning their battle stations on a spiritual destroyer.

There is, however, a danger to going to the opposite extreme. We can smugly sit around, not doing anything, “because Jesus has won the victory, therefore I do not need to fight at all.” This too is not biblical. We are commanded to act. In many places, we are ordered to reach the world around us – proclaiming the good news.

In the book of Jude, we are told to “snatch” the perishing as one would a stick from a fire. Paul said “blessed” are the feet of those who proclaim the message of salvation. In another spot, he says faith comes by hearing the Word of God, and hearing by someone telling. Jesus gave us the Great Commission in the 28th chapter of Mathew, to go into all the world. We, as the church, are expected to be obedient to the commands and calls.

The Conclusion

Truly, it is a joint venture with God and His church to continue what Jesus started. There will always be someone who responds to the love of Christ and then will be obedient to tell others, who then respond. There is no danger of the Church going anywhere. It might get lazy. It might get beat down. It might dwindle. It might even lose power, but the Bride of Christ will continue on until He says it’s the end of the age.

More Enjoyable Stories

Last month I featured several stories I enjoyed from new-to-me writers. I would like to introduce to you more new-to-me writers and some of their work. Some of their short stories are listed below along with the website links to the author and the story. I have given you a little taste of the story line. I hope you enjoy these as I did.

First Class – David Rae

Ruth took out her compact mirror and inspected her appearance. She was pretty enough for sure and her make-up was immaculate. Her hat was slightly shabby but decent. She could easily pass for a school teacher or perhaps the wife of a tradesman rather than a pregnant housemaid, who had been curtly dismissed and sent home in disgrace. Continue reading…

David Rae’s Website Homepage – http://davidrae-stories.com/

The Writer – Lorraine Johnston

The key slid into the lock. Richard entered his apartment, carrying his mail and his briefcase. He felt the stress leave his body as he crossed the threshold. He loved his apartment, even though it was much smaller than the house he had shared with his now ex-wife. He had his writing room. That’s all that counted. Continue reading…

Lorraine Johnston’s Website Homepage – http://lorrainejohnston.com/

The Diplomat’s Wife – Selma Writes

Patting and humming, Victoria paced the floor, burping her baby. She rubbed his back gently.

Why does it take longer for you to burp and fall asleep with me than you do when daddy rubs your back? Perhaps he’s a better back rubber than I. Oh, I cannot wait for him to return.

With heavy eyelids, she glanced over at the clock. Five thirty. She stifled a yawn and hummed quietly.

Patting and humming, patting and humming.

It’s not your fault that I’m sleep deprived, it’s not your fault. But these four nights without daddy’s help has turned me into a real zombie. I cannot wait for him to come back to us.

She sighed, caressing her baby’s head gently. His golden curls latched around her fingers. She paced the parquet floor. Continue reading…

Selma Writes’ Website Homepage – https://www.selmawrites.com/

A Letter To My Daughter’s Mother – M.E. Cooper

You don’t know me, but because of you, I am a mom. Because you made the choice to leave her, your newborn baby, where someone was sure to find her, she has had a love filled life.

I can’t begin to know or imagine the thoughts and hardships you faced when you made this decision. I don’t know if you wanted her and couldn’t keep her, or if you just couldn’t handle the prospect of being a mother at that time. I do know the policy of your country made boys more favored than girls. Maybe this is what influenced your decision. But whatever the reason, the question of why you did what you did, is one that will always remain a mystery to me. Continue reading…

M.E. Cooper’s Website Homepage – https://me-cooper.net/

The Game – Guest Post by D.L. Strand

Every once in a while you come across a piece of writing that strikes a chord within you. When I read this short story, I immediately loved it. It touched, what I believe, every writer who has been at this craft for any length of time feels. I asked if I could share this story. You can find other writing from D.L. Strand here.

The Game

The old man sat at his desk, scanning the fresh-typed words. His Olympia Manual waited patiently. Silently. Eager to record any thoughts he felt like sharing.

The words wouldn’t flow as they once did. There was a time when the hammers struck sparks and the words exploded off the page for those who read them.

He pursued the revelation. The constant eureka. He didn’t know how the process worked. It just worked. Of course, some days were better than others.

Especially now.

This was the tragedy of age. He knew he wasn’t as fast as he once was. Not as sharp. The audience was smaller, many of them moved on, one way or another.

His fingers, like his back, grown bent and stiff with age, moved slow and ponderous on the keyboard. Still, like a well-worn hammer, they pounded out the words as they came.

Still, every morning he sat down at his well-worn chair – the one that leaned slightly to the right – and hunted.

There are those who think inspiration a gift. He knew better. He knew Inspiration as a fickle mistress, to be wooed, seduced, pampered. The more you romanced her, the more she’d flirt with you.

She never came on strong. Not at first. She’d lightly tease the fuzzy edges of his dreams. Stroke the embers of his imagination. Eventually, he’d lose himself in the seduction. The fire. Unaware of the world around him. Typing furiously. Images scorching the page. Fingers struggling to keep up with the drama playing out in his head.

Sometimes he chased her all day, it was true. Never catching a glimpse. But later, after he’d left his desk and put his labors behind him, she would tempt some half-formed dream out of his thoughts. It could be during the news, a movie, while drifting off to sleep, or in the shower.

It seemed, that sometimes, running water drew her to him. Obviously, it wasn’t his body. Not anymore. Not ever. He had after all, the frame of a writer, built through years of sitting – stooped over his typewriter – drinking black coffee, eating donuts or whatever his wife put in front of him. Some days, he was unaware that he had eaten at all. But the evidence was there. The empty cup, the smeared plate.

It wasn’t that life didn’t attract him. He loved his wife. He loved the mornings spent together over eggs and coffee. And he loved the children they’d raised together.

He knew that it hadn’t been easy. Artists are a selfish lot, after all. Everything takes a backseat to the muse.

He was committed to his muse. And why not? Had they not shared 1000 stories? Created people? Worlds? Gods? Had she not given him a life richer than any he’d hoped for, had he worked for a company or gotten a job?

Job! It should be a four letter word. Who cared if he ate. Art drove him. He could go days without eating, but never a day without his art. No, never that.

So he sat in the place where he knew, one day he would die, surrounded by his volumes of his work, and those his peers. His awards. A fan’s standout letter claiming his words changed her life. A  framed note from an old teacher insisting he had no talent. In many ways, that letter gave him more pleasure than any of the awards or acclamations.

Today, he sensed a slight difference in the air. In the pressure on his face. In his lungs. Was it the weather? The season? No, he thought to himself. Nothing so mundane as that.

He searched for the cause. Not with his eyes or nose, but with his fingers. His mind. He knew that the change was not external. And yet…

He asked his muse, what was the change? If he could gain the truth of it, he could express it.

He sensed a stirring at his back. A bony hand on his shoulder. It was The Call. The one he’d dreaded. No Muse reached out for him today. No, it was her cousin, come to steal his breath.

He felt the icy breath on his ear. “Your efforts are done. Cease your toils.”

He typed on as if his fingers could flee for him.

‘I won’t leave with another story in me.’ He pressed on, struggling to remain, to complete just one more tale. To share another small slice of his soul with a hungry world.

“Come. She’s no longer yours. Moved on to younger fingers – agile minds. Her faithless eyes gaze elsewhere.”

Bitter sweat racing down his neck, he hunkered down, and continued his pursuit. His fingers floundered here and there.

“Stop this folly. Let someone else have their turn. Step back. Stand up. Release your pain and be free.”

He leaned in all the harder. His brow furrowed – squeezing words out of his mind. It dripped slowly, like juice from a spent orange.

“Come.” Another bony hand grasped his shoulder. An ache clutched his chest.

“NO!” He shrugged off the clasping hands. Not while I have breath in my lungs. Life in my fingers. They flailed for the formless. The story. The song. Just one touch to scratch another tale out of the scaly mind that once gushed forth prose and song like a fountain of shimmering water.

The Presence leaned in. Weight bore down on his shoulders. The final kiss to end his tale.

His fingers began to falter, to stumble, to slow.

‘Wait!’ He thought. “What was death, but the ultimate inspiration?”

He inhaled deep and righted himself. Ripped out the spent page, replaced it, and began the race anew.

He recognized The Shade for what it was. Just an outfit. A costume.

His Muse loved him. Loved the chase. She tried one final time. “Have an end.” She whispered.

He smiled. “No.” He whispered back “Let’s dance.”

She smiled and kissed his head. Her man. Her writer. He’d just needed a little push after all.

The shot fired. The game was on.

D.L. Strands Websites:

http://dlstrand.com/

The Storyteller’s Pub

 

Remember

On water, land, and in flight, they answered the call,

Protectors of liberty and right, against evil and the wrong.

Marching to a different drum, they sang a different song.

Misunderstood by many, as to why they gave their all,

 

America, these are your daughters, these are your sons,

These are your warriors, who gave all when they gave.

We recount to the generations, the valor of the brave.

Now we are the watchers, we volunteer to be the ones.

 

Listen now, dear children, of our country’s warrior band,

Hear their stories, honor them, be proud of their fight.

How one could give their life in pursuit of the right.

Grasp what was given since the beginning of our land.

 

As the flags are lowered, and the lone bugle plays.

Turn your thoughts to heroes, and the sacrifices made.

To the guardians of freedom, and the high cost they paid.

To those with warrior hearts, who stepped into harm’s ways.

 

You are their legacy, the torch is passed down to you,

Hold high your heads, as Tap’s last note is played.

Hold tight to their memory, and never let it fade.

Salute, remember and give these heroes their due.

Memories Make the Best Gifts

The cool, crisp December breeze hinted of a cold winter around the corner, but it would never slow down high adrenaline children like us. With Christmas less than two weeks away, there was plenty to do during this break from school. My itinerary was full.

Halfway through the third grade, all I had on my mind was snowball fights, building igloos, and riding toboggans and trash can lids down our neighbors’ snow-covered hill. Though we never seemed to have enough snow to finish that igloo (it melted too quick), we always had enough for the fights and the sliding.

Today was a special day. Today we were going to find our Christmas tree. By we, I mean, my Mom, my nine-year-old, older brother Billy, my four-year-old, younger sister Shirleen, me, and Nicki, our Husky. This was our annual tradition.

“Tracy, hurry up!” Mom said.

“I’m coming. I can’t get my boot on. I think I have too many socks on,” I replied from within the house. Sitting on the floor, tugging on my boot, I was losing the struggle to get dressed.

“Then take one off!” She turned to Billy who was standing near her in the front yard. “See if you can help your brother. I don’t want Nicki taking off with the sled with your sister on it.”

“Ok, Mom.”

Billy ran into the house to help me or so was the pretense.

“What are you doing you, big baby? We’re waiting outside. Can’t you do anything right? Give me your foot?”

Billy took my foot and pulled off my half applied boot. He rolled his eyes when he saw I had four socks on that foot alone.

“Why do you have so many socks?”

“I didn’t want to get cold.”

“Take two of them off. Then put your boot on.”

“Will you help me?”

“For Pete’s sake. Do I have to do everything for you? You’re in the third grade.”

I poked out my bottom lip and fought back the tears.

“Give me your foot.” Billy peeled off two socks and shoved the boot onto my foot.

“Ouch! That hurt! You scrunched my toe!”

“C’mon. Mom’s waiting. Better put that lip in before you trip over it.”

I sniffed. Billy pulled me toward the door. I pulled back against him.

“Just stop. Okay? Listen, today we get to ride the sled with Nicki pulling it. Remember how we did that last year? How we went into the woods and got our Christmas tree? Remember how fun it was?”

“Boys?” Mom’s voice came, muffled through the door.

“Coming!” Billy shouted. He turned to me. “C’mon. I’m sorry. Okay? Let’s have fun. I’ll let you ride first with Shirleen.”

I rubbed my eye.

“Fine. Okay.” I said.

Billy pulled the jacket hood over my head and tied the drawstring.  He opened the door to let me through. I had so many layers of clothes on, I waddled out into the yard. Mom smiled at me, looked past me to Billy who shrugged his shoulders.

“Okay. Who’s riding first? You both have gotten so big, Nicki can’t pull all of you.”

“Billy said I could,” I said.

“Okay. Get on the sled behind your sister and hold onto her for me. I don’t want her falling off. Billy, thank you for letting your brother ride first.”

Billy smiled.

I hopped up onto the homemade, wooden sled, sat and grabbed my sister. Nicki licked my hand, and Shirleen squealed with delight.

adorable animal breed canine

Nicki, our blue-eyed, Siberian, fluffy, husky dog was our best friend. If mom had asked him to pull all three of us, he would have until he fell exhausted. He was attached to the sled with a rigged rope harness. Crude, but effective enough to pull the sled, given enough snow.

“Billy,” Mom said, “Would you like to lead Nicki?”

“Sure, Mom.” Billy picked up the rope and pulled on it. Nicki needed no more urging. The sled lunged forward. Shirleen and I lunged backward and almost rolled off the sled. Mom grabbed my arm and sat us upright. I think she anticipated this happening, because she was quick with the one-handed recovery, while she held the handsaw in the other.

Our movement was slow, but it was meant to be. Mom wanted us to enjoy the time and the beauty of our surroundings. Even through my eight-year-old eyes, I could see the beauty God displayed in those Cascade Mountains. The green firs and pines laden with snow, dotted the landscape as we searched for the right tree. In the distance, Mount Rainier covered in white, sported a cloud halo and seemed to smile its approval on our endeavor. A green carpet of evergreens lined its base.

Something caught my eye as I looked around in amazement at this winter wonderland. It scampered toward the wood line.

“Look! A rabbit!” I said. Nicki stopped and perked up at my exclamation. The little creature was in no hurry as he lopped along and disappeared into the brush.

“Easy, Nicki.” Mom said. “Not today buddy.” He wagged his tail in acknowledgment.

treesBilly tugged on the rope, and we plodded forward again, the snow crunched under the sled and his boots. We stopped a short distance away from a grove of Douglas firs of various sizes. The blue-green needles sparkled in the sunlight as the afternoon warmth had melted some of their frosty adornment.

“How about one of these?” Mom asked.

“Wow,” I said. “Which one should we get?”

“Billy, why don’t you and your brother see if you can find us one?”

Mom picked up Shirleen and stood her in the snow to play. She waddled up to Nicki to pet him. He licked her face in welcome. She pushed him away with her mittened hands.

“No!” she said in her tiny voice. “Bad dog. No.” Nicki licked her again. She stumbled and fell backward, landing face up in the snow. She, like us, had so many layers of clothes on that she couldn’t right herself. Mom pulled her back to her feet, and she headed for Nicki again.

“Okay. C’com let’s see what we can find.” Billy said to me, and we took off into the grove. The air was thick with the smell of the trees.

 

“Don’t go too far.” Came Mom’s voice.

“There’s so many, and they all look cool,” Billy shouted back.

“Can you find one near the edge that we can get?” Mom asked.

“Yeah, I think we can. C’mom, Tracy, let’s show mom the first one we looked at.”

We plodded out of the grove and stopped at a tree we passed on our way in. Mom led Nicki and the sled, while she carried Shirleen. She plopped Shirleen down and picked up the saw.

“Billy, you and Tracy think you can cut it down?”

Our eyes got wide. This was an honor. It would be our first time to cut down the Christmas tree.

“Sure!” We answered proudly. Mom handed Billy the saw and showed him where on the trunk to make the cut. With the first pass across the bark, I breathed in deeply the smell of the fresh cut wood. Billy cut at the tree until the saw became sticky with the sap. The fragrance of fir strengthened. I traded out with him. We took turns sawing between stripping off layers of clothes.

An eternity later, the tree swayed from the cutting. Mom held onto it and tilted it back so we could finish the cut. With the next to last cut, the tree fell over. Billy separated the last of the bark from the stump with a swipe from the saw.

“Tracy, watch your sister so Billy and I can tie the tree to the sled.”

I chased Shirleen through the snow, as she played a game of tag with Nicki. Mom and Billy lashed the treasured tree to the sled. Once secured, Mom grabbed a giggling Shirleen on one of her passes by Nicki and plopped her down next to the tree. She instructed her to hang on.

Billy took the rope and led Nicki and his cargo toward home. I triumphantly carried the saw as I pulled up the end of the parade. We were triumphant in our mission.

Mom led us in Christmas carols as we proceeded. Good thing. It kept my mind off my wobbly legs and rubbery arms. It’s tough work for a third grader to cut down his first tree. I am sure we were a sight as we marched victoriously into our yard.

Mom untied Nicki from the sled and removed his makeshift harness. He shook his coat with the freedom. He ran around the house and shot back to us. He didn’t seem too tired. We went in the back door and shed our boots, mittens, and layers of clothes and headed for the kitchen.

We all sat at the kitchen table and recounted our glorious adventure over hot cocoa while Mom stoked the fire in our Franklin wood stove in the living room. We laughed. We giggled and sang more Christmas carols. Mom rejoined us and joined in the merriment.

When we finished our cocoa, Mom and Billy attached a stand to the tree and brought it in the house while I watched Shirleen. They stood it up in the living room in front of the picture window. As I warmed myself at the Franklin stove, I breathed in the fresh fragrance of Douglas fir. I thought of what a fine looking tree we had obtained. I also noticed, past the tree, out the window, in the distance, haloed Mount Rainier smiled in agreement.

Even today, when I happen to smell the wonderful fragrance of fir, I think back to delightful memories of Christmas and thank the Lord for them. I also thank him for my Mom, who has shown me over the years that memories make the best gifts

I Wonder

It was a hot, humid day in early July. July 2nd, to be exact, 1862, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The intense summer sun reminded me of my boyhood days in Alabama. For a moment, I longed to be home, sitting on the porch or skipping rocks down at the creek.

I was crouched down between two large rocks when Tom slid next to me. He looked up the hill that lay before us. His sandy hair stuck out from under his cap like straw from a scarecrow. He turned and fixed his pale blue eyes on me. In his slow Southern drawl, he spoke.

“Jeb? What’s wrong with you? You haven’t fired a shot.”

I bowed my head.

Tom shook me.

“Jeb!” He growled in a hushed whisper. “What’s goin’ on?”

He shook me again.

I cleared my throat.

“I can’t – I just can’t.”

Tom looked around like he was looking to see who might be watching or listening.

“Can’t what?” He grabbed me by my arm. His voice cracked. “Jeb, don’t go squirrely on me. Ya, hear me.”

His whiskey and tobacco laden breath made me shudder. I blinked and looked into his wild eyes as they searched mine.

“Tom. I don’t know what’s goin’ on. You know me. I ain’t never had a moment’s hesitation to pull the trigger, but I just can’t.”

Tom looked down at my shaking hands, and then searched my face again.

“Whatcha mean, Jeb? Whatcha mean?” He let me go and then looked up the hill. He squinted, and then looked at me again.

“You mean – up there? Isn’t that a Yank officer up on that hill? Standing there, plain as day?”

“Yeah.”

He half-smiled.

“Since when can’t you shoot a Yank? You getting soft on us?”

I didn’t answer.

His smile faded. He got in my face again.

“Jeb, you the best we got. Ain’t no one a better shot in the 15th Alabama than you, and ain’t no one been more willin’ to take down a Yank.”

He spit. Tobacco juice spittled down his chin. He wiped it with his sleeve.

“I know, Tom, but not this one. There’s somethin’ – different about this one. I can’t. When I first saw him, I thought it a mighty good thing to put him out of the way. Tom, I had him, perfectly certain, several times and I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I just couldn’t. I tried, but I can’t.”

Tom shook me – hard.

“Jeb! You gotta understand. We need to take that hill. We done hit it twice and was pushed back. Many of us done fell. You gotta kill as many Yanks from a distance as you can. One less Yank means one less of us that dies. If you kill an officer – if you cut the head off the snake, the body dies. You’ve got do it. It’s your duty.”

“I can’t. Don’t you understand? I tried. I did. Every time I take aim at him, my hands shake, and something comes over me. I’m ashamed. I can’t pull the trigger.”

“You should be ashamed that you can’t kill a Yank! He ain’t nothin’ but a flea on nanny’s dog’s hind end.”

He spit.

“No! I’m ashamed to pull the trigger. I can’t explain it. I go to pull the trigger, and I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed to shoot him. He’s in plain sight. I’ve dropped deer further away than this without hesitation. But I’m ashamed to pull the trigger on this Yank.”

“Why? What is he? Something special? I heard Col. Oates talking to his brother earlier. He thinks that’s the 20th Maine up there. If that is true, then that could be Chamberlain, and he needs to be dropped like a Christmas turkey.”

“It is Chamberlain, and that is the 20th.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know. I can tell by the way he conducts his self with his men. I can also see his rank.”

“Listen to me, Jeb. We gotta take that hill. If we take that hill, then this could be our chance to end this God-forsaken war. We’ll be able to see the whole valley below, and we can rout the Yanks. We’ll split them in half and turn their own guns on them and then Lee can march into Washington and force Lincoln to stop this war. Jeb, are you hearing me? We gotta get up on top of Little Round Top.”

The steely look on Tom’s face faded. I could tell that he was convinced I couldn’t go through with shooting this Yankee officer. He shook me one more time and pushed me back against the boulder. He looked back up the hill, spit, looked at me, and then walked away, back to the remaining regiment.

I don’t know how long I sat there. It seemed like days. Ashamed that I was ashamed.

Before the sun went down that day, we were ordered up the hill one more time. As a sharpshooter, I maintained my position and supported my regiment. They fought valiantly, as they assaulted the hill with volley after volley. Men fell like swatted flies.

I took out several Yanks as they stood up to return fire. I felt redeemed. I had no problem now in the heat of battle to defend our cause and my fellow soldiers. I caught sight of Tom as he led his men over a little knoll right into a clod of Yanks. One had Tom dead to rights, but I made sure he didn’t fire.

Tom turned toward me. Our eyes locked. He nodded his thanks. I returned it.

I quickly reloaded my rifle to prepare for another shot. When I looked up, Tom was gone and so were his men. I’m not sure what happened next. I dropped one more Yank, and then they came over the breastworks with fixed bayonets. They were a wave of blue, yelling at the top of their lungs. Bugles blared the charge, and their flags flowed in the wind. They must have gotten reinforcements.

Our own buglers sounded retreat, and we fled. We weren’t taking Little Round Top, not today, not ever. It wasn’t meant to be. I grabbed my gear and headed out of there like the devil himself was after me. I heard later that Tom had fallen on that knoll. I stopped one Yank from killing him, but I couldn’t stop them all.

I’m still not sure why I could not shoot Col. Chamberlain. I heard that even one of our officers tried to shoot him during that bayonet attack and failed. He had a better chance than I. How could the officer’s revolver misfire just at the time it was aimed at Chamberlain’s head?

Chamberlain was hailed as a war hero. He even became governor of Maine. I wrote him a letter telling him how I had him in my sights twice, but could not pull the trigger. I recounted to him how each time some peculiar notion shut me right down, so I gave up his life to him. I also told him that I was glad of it and hoped he was as well.

I learned that he wrote me back, and invited me to visit him in Maine to see if I had made a good choice. I never received the letter, nor did I answer him. How could I? It was revealed to us that at that critical moment, on that critical mountain, he and his men had insufficient ammunition to defend another attempt by our forces. If we had pressed the moment, and taken that hill, Tom’s words may very well have rung true.

Looking back now, I gotta wonder. If I could have brought myself to drop Col. Chamberlain that day, on that hill, would have things been different? Would we have taken that hill? Would Tom have died as he did with my secret? Would we have split the Yanks, and taken Washington, like Tom said? Would Lee have ordered Pickett’s Charge the very next day in an all-out, last-ditch effort to win this battle and maybe the war? Would have fewer men, on both sides, have died?

I wonder if God Almighty had his hand on me to shame me not to kill Chamberlain because there was a higher power and purpose at work. I wonder.