Left side of the church, back row, right corner. That was Mr. Miltons' self-assigned seat. From this spot he observed the church folk doing church. Then inevitably, he would doze undisturbed until the rousing notes of the closing hymn reached his rusty ears.
Afterward, he would amble slowly out to an antique army ambulance nearly as ancient as he. It was the shade of overcooked peas and spattered with red-orange Alabama dirt. With coaxing, the metal beast would rumble to life and lumber down the road.
He was brusk, blunt, bear-like...
With a scruffy appearance that was reminiscent of a batchlorized mountain man from a tattered storybook…
a gruff grandfather man. . . a lonely man.
But with time his stolid silence gave way to crusty comments—even a rare compliment.
Once on his way out he paused beside me and with matter-of-fact dignity declared, "I like little girls with big feet."
Swallowing impudent laughter, I sputtered a red-faced "Thank you."
Goodness! How is one to reply! —"Oh yes, they're great for standing on!"
Through casual conversations, he offered his burly friendship in scraps of advice, memories, and dreams.
He dreamed of building a perfectly round house on a plot of good Mississippi ground, and of retiring there alone with a fierce bulldog and a large cat.
His face softened when remembering his lovely mother—a refined an accomplished woman of many arts who, according to him, possessed a classical repertoire so extensive she could play the piano from memory for eight hours straight!
He also advised me to learn how to handle a gun, and offered counsel on what to look for in a good man (if he owned a good truck, that would be a bonus).
In the midst of one of our good-natured chats, I was sitting backwards in the pew to face him, when he paused for a long moment and said, "I want to tell you a story—one that changed my life."
Tweaking his full white beard and leaning slightly back, he began with the majestic deliberation that only the snow-crowned sages can muster.
"He stood on the edge of the cliff and called, 'Come to the edge!'
But they would not come . . . 'Come to the edge!'" His voice deepened with intensity.
"But they would not come. . .
'Come to the edge!'
And they came."
Green and gold glints snapped in his eyes from under those wild white eyebrows.
"And they came . . . and he pushed them!"
Instantly my breath caught like a sparrow thudding against glass, and I felt my eyes widening with innocent horror.
Tears moistened his eyes as gentle rain after years of drought, and his voice softened to a husky tenderness.
"He pushed them . . . and they flew!
They flew. . ."
Silence suspended between us, a mist across the chasm of experience. My feet whispered that they preferred the ground while my heart hiccupped with the possibility of flight. I wanted to fly.
"Words are powerful." His unfaltering gaze drilled to my core. "They can change lives, and therefore, they can change the world."
Life is comprised of edges—the edges of my knowledge and experiences, of my capacity to hope, to love… the very edges of who I am. The beyondness can be staggering in its immensity, but it remains undeniably there.
Human edges, like walls and chains, blockade dreams and confine me to the parameters of the past. But I want to fly—to fly free.
It is as incomprehensible for me to imagine not having edges as for me to grasp the concept of eternity. Yet I hear His voice, the One without edges beckoning to my heart,
"Come to the edge!"
And so I come.
"When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid for you to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly." Edward Teller
"O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up, you understand my thought afar off. . . Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. . . Where can I go from your Spirit? If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me fast." Psalm 139:1, 2, 6, 9, 10