April 10th, 2008 07:28 EST
The story behind the poem
Often people look at something I write and ask me why it is I decided to write these words. They want to know if a certain poem was based on something that happened to me or to someone I have known. I often tell people that behind each poem there is a story. Sometimes this story might be simple, sometimes it can be a lot longer than the poem itself. In this article, I want to share with you both the poem and the story.
Hopefully somehow it will make it easier for you to understand why it is that I write the way I do.
First, the poem -
After you have
Explored every possibility
Weighed every option
And re-tested every theory
Ruled out the plausible
Explained away all the maybe’s
The could be’s
And even all the should be’s
When you examined
And reexamined all the facts
And still you are left with no real explanation
And only then
Are you truly able to accept
That miracles do happen
Sometimes they can even happen
Ed Roberts 3/22
And now the story behind the poem –
Late in the month of October, 1988 my life changed. I was a restaurant manager working in the kitchen, my cook had called in sick, when there was an accident and I had three and one half gallons of three hundred fifty degree grease spill down both of my legs. Needless to say I was off work for some time, went through several burn therapy sessions, basically had to learn how to walk again, and tried to go back to my old life as a manager.
The company I was working for tried to move me to a different location and told me I needed more “training’ working in the kitchen. One thing you learn when you ever have had third degree burns is that the skin that does come back, when it comes back, has no sweat glands and is VERY sensitive to heat. The owners of the company made it very clear there was no way for me to return to what had been my life for over fourteen years.
I ended up at home, without a job, with a wife and two children I was worried about trying to provide for.
It was then my sister stepped in and reminded me in all of our darkest of hours we are never alone, not as long as we have any amount of faith. Believe me, I had seen a few of my darkest hours: there’s a poem I was able to write ten years later titled “5 Single Words.” Mary started taking me to church with her and gave me a special wooden cross, which I started wearing around my neck all the time. I only took it off to shower, didn’t want to get it wet. My grandfather, Henry, heard that I was without a job and drove from Chicago to take me back with him. He worked at different state fairs mostly sewing names on hats for people with a really old hand-operated sewing machine. He told me I had been surrounded by reminders of what I couldn’t do and needed some time to go out and find out exactly what it was that I could. I went with him and worked different fairs for almost six months, mostly selling souvenirs out of a small tent. It wasn’t easy but it did provide money I could send home to my wife, Letha, and my two sons, Adam and Alex.
One of the last fairs I worked at was the state fair in Birmingham, Alabama. While I was on the road I usually shared a motel room with two other men who also worked for the company Henry worked for. (Most of these weren’t exactly the best places to stay in but we were usually only there for a few hours every night to sleep. It really didn’t matter much what the room looked like as long as there was a bed or a sofa I could lay down on.) One morning, the last Friday before the end of the fair, after I took my shower I left my cross laying on the sink in the bathroom. I hadn’t gotten much sleep that night, it had stormed and needless to say the walls of these rooms were very thin. You could almost feel the raindrops as they hit the roof of the motel.
I didn’t realize I had left my cross until about five that evening and spent the rest of the day missing it. When we got back to the room it was a little after midnight that night. I went straight to the bathroom to retrieve my cross. It was gone. Two other men and I spent nearly and hour scouring the room looking everywhere and anywhere that it might be. We looked under furniture, in the bathroom cabinets, and even went through all of our luggage. At the end of our search we came to one conclusion, maybe the cross had been taken by one of the cleaning people. I got up early the next morning and went to the office to talk to the manager of the motel. I explained this cross wasn’t worth a lot of money, it was made of wood, but to me it was priceless. He told me he would check with his cleaning lady and get back to me. I really didn’t have much choice, I went to work that day without the cross.
When we got back to the motel room there was a note on the table from the manager . He had talked to the cleaning lady and she had told him she never saw my cross when she cleaned the room. She even went as far as to check the trash can to see if somehow she had knocked it there by accident. She understood how valuable this was to me and had tried her best to find it. It comes to a point where you can not ask anyone for more. I believed her. I went to bed that night broken, actually cried a few tears in the darkness, praying that the other two could not hear. If they did, they never said a word.
That night I had a dream, one of those kind of dreams one can never forget. I was in a dark cave. From a small opening in the side of the cave there came a bright light and from this light came a soft voice. The voice said “Look” and a finger pointed to the center of the cave. (I could see nothing but the arm and the hand, everything else was engulfed in a light that was simply way too bright to see through.) I turned and looked to the center of the cave. There was an American flag suspended in mid-air, waving as if it were flapping in a non-existent breeze. Suddenly the flag burst into flame and burned to ash before my eyes. The voice spoke again, “ The symbol is gone. Does not the country and the people for whom it stands still exist?” I turned towards the voice and answered “Yes.”
The voice once again spoke “Look” and the hand pointed to the center of the cave. A dollar bill, one the size of the flag was hanging there suspended in mid-air, the same way the flag had been before. It too, like the flag burst into flame and fell to ash. The voice again asked “What is it that remains?” I turned to the voice and said “Nothing.” The voice replied, this is simply a symbol. It only has the value you give it. Remember, to me it is only ash.” There was a moment of silence then the hand pointed again to the center of the room and the voice spoke ‘Look again.” In the center of the room this time there stood a wooden cross, like the other items it was suspended in mid-air. It too also burst into flame and burned away before my eyes. I fell to my knees and started to cry. The voice spoke once more, “ The symbol is gone. Does not the faith that you carry still remain?’’ I answered softly, ‘Yes.” the hand reached out towards me this time it had my cross dangling from it. The voice spoke, “Then I give the symbol back to you.” With these words I woke.
I truly expected to somehow be wearing my cross that morning. I felt around my neck then got up and went to the bathroom to see if the cross had appeared where I left it. Much to my disappointment it had not. I got dressed and went to the fairgrounds and went to work. That was Sunday morning, the last day of the fair. At the end of that night we tore down all the tents and packed the trucks. We got back to the motel around two o’clock in the morning and went to bed. We left the motel at around ten that morning but not before giving the room one more search. The other men went with the truck to another fair site and my grandfather and I drove to Knoxville to visit a friend of his. (She was much more than a mere friend but this is simply how they referred to each other.)
We got there late in the afternoon and I parked the car in front of her house. Later that night Henry told me we would be spending the night there so I went out to the car to get my suitcase out of the trunk of the car. (Actually I just wanted to get something to sleep in beside the clothes I had been wearing all day.)
I went out to the car opened the trunk, took out my suitcase, closed the trunk lid and placed my suitcase on top of it. When I opened my suitcase I froze, there are really no words to describe my reaction to what I saw. On top of the clothes in my suitcase, with the necklace part aligned in a perfect circle, laid my cross. I stood there for a few moments unable to breathe, unable to do anything other than stand there and try and understand exactly how the cross got there. I was the only person that had the keys to the car. I was the one who placed the suitcase in the trunk. I was the one who originally closed the suitcase in the first place. The clothes weren’t neatly packed, nothing about the way they looked looked any different than when I had closed the lid in the motel room that morning. I simply had no answer. I told my Grandfather I had found my cross and he simply corrected me and said “No, son, your cross found you.” We didn’t talk about it any more than that.
The next morning I spoke with one of the men I had shared the room with, he had called to let Henry know they had gotten everything set up ok. I told him where and how I had found the cross. He first thought I was joking with him but he realized I was serious he just said “Wow!!” I asked him if maybe he or the other man had possibly found the cross and put it in my suitcase but assured me I left the room before them. If either one of them had opened my suitcase, I would have seen them. He told me that he was just happy I had gotten my cross back and it was up to me to accept the way I got it. It was not something I would ever be able to explain away.
In the end, he was right. I spent days replaying the events of those few days I spent working with my grandfather. I even went as far as discussing what had happened with my priest. Like my grandfather, he told me it was up to me to accept what had happened and that I needed to spend more time trying to understand why instead of how.
I still have this special cross of mine, over the years the wood at the top wore through so I could no longer wear it . I no longer question what happened to me over those few days. I lost my cross in Birmingham, Alabama and somehow, by the grace of God, it found me in Knoxville, Tennessee. Miracles do happen, even to a simple man like me.