Passing It On

by Arthur W. Anderson

A plaque bearing the hymn title showed up among the wedding gifts for a couple about to be married. It was a very informal wedding and the beaming bride, on the spur of the moment, asked the groom to sing it. So square in the middle of the ceremony, the obliging groom sang: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide; When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.” Not even divine aid, it seemed, could rescue the service at that point!

Plaques can be funny, banal, or clever, but sometimes they have just the right word to lift us out of a blue funk. So, I don’t give up on them! The other night I checked out a display of them at the mall. Here was poetry forged on the anvil of grubby experience ensconced in elegant oak frames. Two lines struck me —“I wish for you hurts, so that you will know how to cry. I wish for you fights, so that you will know how to try.”

I wondered what kind of a person wrote these. I didn’t have to wonder long. A beefy he-man popped out of the oak works, stating: “I wrote every one of them.” Dick Johnson was his name. He identified himself as a former announcer for the Green Bay Packers, a fan of the late Vince Lombardi. After leaving the sports post, he moved to North Carolina where he started writing poetry for his children and grandchildren. I was reminded of Robert Bly, the Minnesota poet, who spoke of fathers who share not only their temperament but also their teachings. This husky, Swedish ex-broadcaster chose this way to leave his family, and any interested others, a legacy of his own distilled wisdom.

I found myself drawn to this crusty character who could take lumps of clay, human paradoxes, and tum them into luminous prisms. Nothing, of course, can replace the person who popped out of those stacks of plaques, but the gift of one’s life’s learnings recorded in some memorable way can be priceless.