I’ve never been 80 before.
November 11 is perhaps best known for the historic signing of documents bringing World War One fighting to an end. This all happened on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. When I was a little boy, the nation would still pause for a moment of silence at 11 AM on my birthday, and factory whistles would blow. Now called Veteran’s Day to widen the tribute, it’s still a very important holiday. Let us not forget.
November 11, 1936, is the date John and Mary Tjapkes welcomed Douglas into the world. Not significant at all, but it’s a matter of public record.
What to write as year 81 begins? It’s a given that I am blessed beyond measure with loving wife, beautiful kids, delightful grandchildren, and yes, even good health after a scary year in 2010. Prior to that I was blessed with a good upbringing, by loving parents.
I could reflect on my careers, my musical involvement, my church, my hobbies. But looking backwards is simply that. In dealing with “now” and in hoping for the future, I’d rather discuss the things that touch me today…things that I wish would touch the world around me, as well.
I’ve had great years in radio broadcasting and in church organ sales. That 50-year period was simply preparation for my work of right now…a daily interaction with Michigan prisoners.
On my 80th birthday, I wish I could wave a magic wand and
-reverse Bill’s wrongful conviction, so he could try to resume a normal life
-send Megan home to be with her new-born baby, so she could try again
-find a lawyer to handle Bob’s well-deserved appeal, as he is indigent
-send Fred home to die surrounded by family and friends
-free old Tony, who has served 40 and wouldn’t hurt a flea
-place Michelle in a cancer treatment center instead of the cold prison infirmary
-prove Jon’s innocence amid riot incitement accusations
-force the state to honor its agreement to free Jimmy
-stop guards and inmates from bullying mentally-ill Gail.
What I can do, as long as God gives me strength, is share these stories and reports with you. I can join with Matt and our many volunteers, supported by our gutsy and involved directors, to respond to these daily pleas for assistance and guidance. I can figuratively hold the hands of hundreds of needy inmates to assure them that someone cares, that God loves them, that they are not forgotten. In some cases, perhaps that’s all I can do. And while doing that, I must continue to stress the incredible impact that is made by simple expressions of love and compassion.
So, as we mark another milestone, be assured that I am extremely grateful for the many, many kind birthday wishes…cards, calls, greetings, messages.
But again, the birthday wishes that touch me the most come from prisoners. I have on my desk a home-made card signed by 30 women at Huron Valley…each with a personal note. That’s a huge birthday gift!
I can still hear my dear friend, gospel singer Alma James Perry, who left this earth far too soon, her rich soprano voice conveying these words as we shared a prison worship service:
If I can plant a rose where thorns have been,
Dispel the gloom and let the sunshine in.
If I can help some broken life to rise again,
I shall not live in vain.
If I can sing a song of love and cheer,
Some song that lifts a soul from doubt and fear,
And bring them back to know that God is always near,
I shall not live in vain.
Back to work.