The Open Door
By Tim Tron
Once more, my life has returned to the open door, once discovered nearly half a century ago.
It was unexpected, but a welcome visit from one of our department’s professors. He had stopped by merely to say hello, a cordial inclusion if you will. Since starting my new position in life, many of my colleagues, with whom I serve, have had little time for fellowship with the end of the semester and then the Christmas break all occurring so quickly it seemed. Since we are still now in the stretch of time that precedes a new semester, there is finally time to learn about one another. There are no students, no final grades due, just a few staff members and faculty preparing for the coming days. The professor who had dropped in, who for now I will call Dr. Mo, seemed to be as curious about me as I was him. Our conversation traversed from pleasantries of the recent holidays to that of teaching, and life.
After I shared with him my recent application to Graduate School, we began to talk more in-depth about how classes in the Computer Science Department are structured. Before long, we were comparing various instructional methods, albeit his from a much higher plane of learning than what I had been accustomed to. It was about this point when he asked me a very profound question, one that seemed vaguely familiar. “How do you explain to a student that programming a small piece of code or project is important?”
The question, in fact, reminded me of something one of my former High School students might say. It could easily be considered the bane of thought that all High School Math teachers hated to hear, probably the most irritating question heard, “When am I ever going to use this?” We knew that the question originated at home because our students often told us that their parents were of the same mindset. So, the disdain for learning something that has apparently no useful value in life is not simply a secondary level education problem, from what I was hearing. It was something that permeates our culture no matter the level or institution.
Dr. Mo then asked, “How would you tell them it matters?”
The answer swirled around in my head amongst a hundred examples, all of which seemed to point to the obvious – sometimes the big picture is difficult to see when you are in the middle of the forest. Yes, the answer was there, but something else was speaking to me at the same time. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
Suddenly, in my mind, that ancient door opened, and I stood up.
We had so badly wanted to go see what all the ruckus had been about. For a couple of days, machines and men had been working on the demolition of the now-deceased widow Mrs. Wolfe’s home. Her husband, the late Dr. Wolfe, had died long before I was born, so we never knew much about who he was or how he came to be a Doctor. To us, his legacy was simply the sweet, old Mrs. Wolfe, who, too, was now gone forever. One by one, the elders of our little farming community of New Harmony, Indiana were disappearing, and with them a way of life.
Word was that the historical society had purchased her home and that they were going to knock the stately old house down and rebuild something in the style of the rest of the other historic homes in town. The historical society and the common townspeople always seemed to be at odds. The former, with their sophisticated overbearing attitude of wanting to create a “Shangri La,” if you will, where people could come from far and wide to escape the stresses of life. Here in this Midwest utopia, they could learn of the Rappites, a failed social concept, and how they too merely meant to find a place where work and God could comingle. In the end, their demise became the inspiration for the more recent history seeking philanthropists’ desires.
Meanwhile, the farmers of the area merely sought to feed their families. Slowly, we watched as our little agricultural town was gutted, the elitists eroding what once had been a thriving farming community. The destruction of Mrs. Wolfe’s home was simply another casualty in the unspoken class war.
Just the summer or so before, Mrs. Wolfe had asked my grandma if any of her grandchildren might be able to cut her grass. My grandma had quietly pulled me aside one afternoon asked me if I could help her elderly neighbor. You see, to us grandkids, it was an honor to have grandma pull you aside to ask you to do anything for her. So, I was beside myself when I learned that grandma wanted me to help her dear elderly neighbor. It was a sunny summer day when I pulled the aged push mower across the pasture. We never had a lot of contact with Mrs. Wolfe, but what little we did, we always came away feeling blessed. That particular day was no different. After the last strip of grass was mowed, I shut down the mower and went back to pick up the can of gasoline near the front porch. Mrs. Wolfe had come to the door and motioned me to come over. I peevishly walked up to her as she leaned out the heavy wooden front door. “Come here now,” she said, smiling sweetly. “You take this,” she motioned waving the paper money at me.
“No, ma’am,” I responded, “I didn’t’ do it for that.”
She wouldn’t have any of my righteous posturing, and her eyebrows furrowed, “Now you come here and take this,” she said, in a sterner voice. “You can take some of your cousins to town and get a treat at least.”
She knew my weakness, doing for others, and with that, I apprehensively walked up and took the money. It shocked me to see the entire $5.00 bill in my hand. It seemed like the most money I had ever seen at one time, and in those days, probably was. Shocked, I backed away, thanking her profusely as she closed the door, smiling broadly.
“You tell your grandmother; thank you for me,” she said loudly through the glass of the door.
“Yes, ma’am,” I quipped as I raced off to show grandma the newfound wealth. Grandma wasn’t happy about the money, but she eventually softened to our pleading, and we made that little jaunt to the dime store in town later that day for a sweet treat.
Now, just a couple years removed, our pleading convinced grandma to let us have our way once more, and we soon found ourselves exploring the piles of debris among what little was left of the former Wolfe estate. Nothing much remained but save for piles of wood and one single door frame. As we found our way into what had one time been the living room, the one from which Mrs. Wolfe had handed me that vast sum of money, my heart became sad. Here our proud neighbors had once lived, content, and stately in their home. They hadn’t imparted their societal wishes upon us, but rather chose to live in harmony with us, accepting us for who we were, and likewise, us them.
Slowly, I walked up to the remaining door frame, with the door still intact. One of my cousins called from behind, “Be careful,” as my tender, young hand reached for the doorknob. Slowly, I opened the barely standing door and from within what once was the coat closet, now sat a pile of rubble. We began to pick a few chards of wood and brick off the top, and much to my surprise, below the soot and dust, was a pile of brown, tweed cloth-covered books. We began to look through them, like archeologists in an Egyptian burial tomb, shaking our heads at the hieroglyphic shapes on the pages. The writing inside books was a mystery. There were some recognizable words, but most of the book was written in some alien language, complete with crazy symbols and letters we had never seen before. We each grabbed a book and raced back to our humble farmhouse to show grandma. There, we reconvened as was common, around the worn Formica covered kitchen table. We even turned on the overhead light and with studious awe and our best intellect, tried to decipher the ancient code.
We were as lost as a ball in high weeds.
Grandma was even at a loss for words. She simply said, “Maybe one of you someday can figure it out,” and she left it at that. It was at that moment she had planted the seed, knowingly or not. Later that day, I would vow to my cousins that someday I was going to learn how to read that book, no matter how long in life it would take.
“You do that,” my cousin Peggy replied sarcastically with her mischievous grin.
As I stood up from my chair, Dr. Mo watched as I walked over to the bookshelf. My weathered hand reached into the array of books and pulled out a single, tweed cloth-covered book titled, “Applied Mechanics.”
“You see, Dr. Mo,” I said to my guest as I slowly opened the book, “sometimes the answer takes a lifetime to learn.”
There, written inside the front cover in his own hand, were the words, “property of John Wolfe.” I then shared with the professor of finding the book as a child and how I had taken the vow to someday learn how to read the funny writings inside. Those questions as to, “Why would we ever need this,” echoed in my mind as I spoke. Then, to show him the significance of the moment, I turned to the back of the book. There, carefully placed over 100 years earlier, Dr. Wolfe had placed something that was to encourage not only himself but a young neighbor farm boy many decades later; a manually typed page, neatly folded in half, containing his test and quiz scores from the class for which the book was intended. The faded, barely visible date read, 1916-1917.
Turning to my new friend, I continued, “When we can show someone the significance of something in context, how it fits into the big picture, we can then begin to appreciate the little steps that it takes to get there.”
Dr. Mo smiled and nodded in confirmation.
I continued, “We may not be able to explain what we see at any given point in time. Sometimes, our experience is beyond what we can describe. But with time, God provides us the wisdom to achieve a new level of comprehension. Like the prophet Ezekiel trying to describe the visions of Angels that some say more describe that of alien spaceships, he too could only use a language of which he was capable of understanding.”
I handed Dr. Mo the book so he could look at it more closely. He smiled and said, “This book is more than just a book. It has a singular significance beyond all other books like it because of this personalization.”
“Yes,” I nodded, “indeed it does.”
And so, once more in life, I returned to that barely standing open door of the Wolfe’s ancient home. Grasping the handle, I opened it wide, without fear, for God was with me. There were no cries from leery cousins to warn me of the dangers, only the voice of God beckoning me on. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Step in with me, Dr. Mo, step on in and let the light shine within.
Thanks be to God.
Timothy W. Tron lives in Collettsville, NC. with his family. He is the former Director of the Trail of Faith in Valdese, where he still volunteers and helps with tours. He is the author of a new Christian series, “Children of the LIght”, with the first book being, “Bruecke to Heaven”, and his recent book, being the second, “The Light in the Darkness”. He is an active blogger, artist, and musician. Timothy also has a BSEE from UF, and is a Lay Speaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit his website at //www.timothywtron.com/