Shout Out From the Rooftop  

Posted by Brock Booher

I was nervous when I got out the big ladder and prepared to climb up on the roof. It had been several years since I had ventured up there to put up Christmas lights, and the last time I went up there, I broke a tile. I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m not too keen about falling. I had on a new pair of running shoes with lots of grip when I climbed up the ladder and shimmied onto the roof over the garage.

For several years I let my older boys do all the work on the roof. That made me nervous too, but I figured they were much more nimble than I was, and besides they are young and recover from injury much more quickly. Last year I paid the kids to put up the lights. They needed the money, and I didn’t really have time to get them up. This year I had a few days off before Thanksgiving and decided to tackle the job myself.

I made the first trip to Lowe’s and got replacement lights, but when I got home, my wife informed me that she wanted to change out all of our Christmas lights. Back I went to Lowe’s, but I was smart enough to insist that she come along and pick out the lights. (I’m not a newlywed.) She picked out multicolored LED lights for the house, and color-coordinated lights for the trees. I couldn’t see it working out that well, but I saluted smartly and paid for the lights.

I decided to tackle the lower lights first. I got up the first section and turned them on. They weren’t as bright as I thought they were going to be, but after consulting with the wife, I pressed on. That’s when I realized that I was going to be short some fasteners and went back Lowe’s for more. Of course, they were out of the fasteners I needed. I headed to Home Depot, and thankfully, I found them. So after four trips to the store, I was ready to climb up on the roof.

It was late afternoon when I tiptoed across the tile roof and got into position to hang the upper lights. The weather was perfect – no breeze, clear skies, and seventy degrees. All of you living in Northern climates, eat your heart out. I strung out the lights and started hanging them on the upper eaves of the house, carefully watching my foot placement and avoiding the edges of the roof. After a few minutes I got comfortable, but as soon as I realized that I was comfortable, I made myself get nervous again. Complacency kills. I didn’t want my gravestone reading, “Died while hanging Christmas lights.”

 A funny thing happened while I was up there on my roof. Neighbors began to stop and talk to me as if I were standing in my front yard. Now, I live on a street akin to Mayberry, or maybe Beaver Cleaver’s neighborhood. So, it isn’t uncommon to see people out in their front yards prattling on about life, but I guess I never expected it to happen while I was hanging out up on the roof of my house.

One neighbor and I chatted about the recent election and gun sales, two things that seem unrelated, yet are not. Another stopped and related a story from his recent mission trip to Ghana to build a school. I was fascinated and moved by his compassion, but I was more impressed by the response of the people he helped. It made me realize how ungrateful I am for modern conveniences. Another neighbor stopped and talked to me about his job and invited me to check out their new facility (an aircraft maintenance hangar). I visited with the neighbor kids across the street while they jumped on the trampoline. People waved and greeted me as they went to the mailbox, or took their dogs for a walk. It was like being on the roof made me more accessible, or friendly, or maybe they were just worried that I would fall and they wanted to make sure their last words to me were friendly ones.

In spite of all the friendly interruptions, I managed to hang all the lights on the upper roofline and climb down without breaking any tiles or falling off. As the darkness approached, I stood in the street and admired the lights. The color scheme my wife picked out was perfect. The lights, although simple, brought the holiday spirit. I have to admit I enjoyed getting up on the roof this year. I especially liked how it attracted passing neighbors, and wondered if maybe I should get up there more often.

My experience on the roof reminded me of the scripture from Matthew, “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27) The colorful lights weren’t the reason for the season. I went to the garage and pulled out my favorite part of the decorations – the nativity scene. I fixed the spotlight over the nativity scene, centered it on the baby Jesus, and illuminated a depiction of the most important birth in the history of mankind.

Merry Christmas!

Black, White, and Human  

Posted by Brock Booher

I found out the other day that because of my political support of a specific candidate that I am pro slavery. This came as quite a surprise to me. I have never owned a slave (even though my children accuse me of working them to death). I have never promoted slavery in any form. I consider the institution of slavery vile and morally reprehensible. How could someone even think that I am pro slavery?

An old high school buddy had posted the blanket statement – anybody that will vote for Mitt must love slavery.

I stewed over the comment for a while, and then decided that I couldn’t let something so egregious go unanswered. I posted – Do you really think that because I support Romney that makes me pro slavery? I fail to see the connection in any way and I'm disturbed that you would make such a racial comparison.

I grew up in southern Kentucky. As a young man racism raised its ugly head in my hometown from time to time. I can still remember gossip and rumors about who belonged to the KKK. However, because I was taught NOT to be racist at home, the entire idea of judging another human being based on the color of their skin seemed ludicrous. I saw it for what it was, an ugly form of dehumanizing an entire race.

I knew when I posted the response I was probably in for some counterattacks, but it wasn’t an issue I was willing to let pass. I knew that my buddy was a fair-minded person and didn’t mind some dissent, but I figured a lot of his friends would probably agree with him. They didn’t disappoint me.

They countered my post with comments about the “divisive nature” of the RNC and how those policies affected the poor. I outlined a few of the RNC policies that he touched on and asked him again if he thought I supported slavery just because I supported Romney. Finally he answered with a simple “No,” but not on the thread itself. The conversation remained pointed, but not uncivil, so I stayed engaged. I was told that “…most whites don’t (understand) and you will never make them understand.” “The Gop’s underlying tone is one of prejudice as a whole.”Taking back the white house…” was a racial comment. “You can’t get it (meaning that it was impossible for me to understand their plight).” “…they don't teach you the truth about America that Abraham Lincoln aint so honest and George Washington ain't so great…”

After spending a month in Russia (an experience I recommend to anyone that likes to complain about this country), I entered passport control at LAX with two newly adopted daughters and a mountain of paperwork. The lady that helped me was black. Her two coworkers were Asian and Hispanic. They laughed and joked with one another. They were friendly and clearly respected each other. It was an amiable and productive atmosphere.

I interrupted them, and with tears in my eyes, I told them how happy I was to be back in the USA. I went on to explain that over the last month I had been in and out of government offices in Russia where smiles were rare, laughter was unheard of, and diversity was only a word in the dictionary. Watching that everyday scene of mutual respect and ethnic diversity made me proud to be a US citizen.

It is easy to vilify a group because we view the group as impersonal and faceless. When we move from the inhuman group to the individual, it is much more difficult to demonize. That’s why I asked the direct question and made my buddy look me in the eye (speaking figuratively) and tell me that I am pro slavery, which he could not do.

The entire conversation disturbed me. I turned the comments over and over again in my mind trying to come to grips with the feelings of those I disagreed with. How could they possibly feel that way? How could they possibly make that connection?

I posted – If I understand you correctly, I will never “get it” simply because I am white. Does that mean I am automatically racist because I am white?
The philosophy that I, because I am white, can’t possibly be capable of understanding or caring for the black position is the same philosophy that was used to establish the Jim Crow laws of the South. They argued that blacks weren’t smart enough, or clean enough, or civilized enough to occupy the same space as whites. They argued that blacks would never “get it.” If it was bad for blacks, and it most certainly was bad for blacks and our nation, then how is it an appropriate philosophy for blacks to adopt?”

The whole argument seemed like such a non-sequitur to me that it rang absurd. But that wasn’t what they thought or felt, and I wanted to understand why. I couldn’t deny their experiences and feelings any more than they could correctly judge my motives.

I called a friend of mine. He grew up in the bad part of Saint Louis, the youngest of six children to a single mother. He has no idea who is father is. By all odds, he should never have made it, but he did. He is a successful businessman and father. He is a black man married to a white woman. He knows firsthand the struggles that blacks still face in this country.

My friend spoke candidly of his feelings. He still feels mistrusted by many whites, and blacks view him as a sellout. If he speaks like an educated man, people say that he’s a “smooth talker.” If he speaks like someone from “the hood” they view him as uneducated and not to be taken seriously. Even the friendship with his best friend started with a fight over a racial comment. It took them years for them to understand each other. He feels unaccepted in one world, and disenfranchised in the other.

Race is an issue that is charged with emotion because for too many years we haven’t talked about it candidly. We have swept it under the rug and danced around the topic afraid that we would be labeled with ugly names. Slavery ended a long time ago in this country, but we never got the closure we needed. Race issues become politicized and manipulated, but never solved. They affect our interaction in the marketplace, in religion, and in social settings. Racism is still a festering wound that needs to heal once and for all.

If we want to heal the wounds of racism, we must avoid the same mindset that has kept racism in this country alive for way too long. We cannot let our negative experiences with specific individuals taint our view of entire groups. We must avoid assigning a dark motive to everything that happens to us. If we are treated with bias, we must avoid the pitfall of applying the same philosophy of bias that has been used against us. We must carefully examine our lens and keep it free from any tint that might distort the true colors of life.

It’s time we open up and had a frank conversation about our feelings and experiences with racism. I encourage you to sit down with someone of a different race, and really listen to how they feel. Try to empathize with their feelings. Like me, you may not agree with their philosophy or point of view, but you cannot discount their feelings. You cannot deny their experiences any more than they can judge your motives.

We cannot right the wrongs of history. We cannot balance the scales of justice by unjust measurement. If we want to put this issue to rest once and for all, we must start to see each other not as part of the black race, the white race, the brown race, or the yellow race. We must start to see each other as part of the human race.

What's On Your Plate?  

Posted by Brock Booher

I was driving down the street with my daughter the other day and pulled in behind a vehicle with a vanity license plate. You know, the kind that tells the world how cool you are in a coded message of seven characters or less. This particular plate read – LYVSGR8, and judging from the make and model of the vehicle, they did indeed seem to have a great life, or at least a nice car. I asked if her she could understand the message on the plate, and with a little help from me, she deciphered it as well. Then she asked, “Why don’t we have one of those?”

Granted, my life is great, and I have very little to complain about, but I still find things anyway. However, I have never felt the need to advertise some symbolic message in the seven letters of a license plate. I shrugged and kept driving, but her question and recent writing exercise made me think. What would I put on my plate that could symbolize my life?

I don’t think I have any life symbols that I use regularly. I don’t have a Rolex timepiece, but I do have a Casio that synchs up with the Naval Observatory every night and is always correct. I don’t have a gun case full of antique guns, but I do own a shotgun. (I do have three daughters after all.) Maybe I could count my iPhone, but I’ve only had it about a year. Maybe I could count the boat, but I even share that with a couple of good buddies, so it’s not exclusive. Maybe my running shoes, but I wear out a pair every six months.

The truth is that if my house were on fire and I could rush in and grab only one keepsake that defined me, I would probably just stand on the curb and dial 911.

It’s not that I don’t have material possessions. I just spent half a day cleaning out my garage because I had too much junk. It’s not that I don’t like physical items to help me remember who I am. I have a large trophy in the closet and a small bin of certificates, awards, and decorations tucked away under my bed. It’s not that my life isn’t centered on specific beliefs or traditions. My life is one continuum of personal and public rituals that define who I am and what I believe.

I would love to say that this condition was brought on by my incredible modesty and humility, but most of you that read this blog know better. Why don’t I have any symbols in my life that a stranger could use to better understand who I am?

My mother loves to shop for bargains. She frequents garage sales, flea markets, and discount retailers on a regular basis. She has purchased enough luggage to outfit the flight crew of a Boeing 747, minus the catalog cases that they store in the cockpit. (Come to think of it, she has found a few of those as well.) She has bought enough socks to outfit an army platoon. She has found enough good deals on children’s clothing to clothe a small orphanage in Mexico. She has discovered enough hidden deals on kitchen utensils to provide gifts for a year’s worth of wedding receptions. She doesn’t need any of it. Every last bargain was for someone else. All of that bargain hunting is symbolic of her life and her love for shopping for other people. I think her license plate would say – SHP4LUV.

My wife likes to quilt and scrapbook. She has produced some award-winning scrapbooks, (yes they do give out awards for such things) and a variety of quilts. As the kids grow older they love to pull out the scrapbooks and turn the pages of time. They still curl up on the couch in the quilts she made for each of them. They are symbols of her love for her children and her desire to give each of them something to remember her by. Her license plate should say – SCRPQEN or QILTMOM.

I have two brothers that love BMW motorcycles. (Admittedly, they are the best-built motorcycle in the world.) They have both logged thousand of miles in the saddle, but in addition to riding them, they also like to tinker with them. They both scour craigslist for old BMW bikes that they can buy and part out, or fix up. They make a little money in the process and support their riding habit. Maybe they need license plates that say – IRDBMW or BMWMOTO.

When I got married, my Dad told us, “Mowing hay is the next best thing to sex. So, make hay while the sun shines.” He spent a lot of time making hay. I know. I had to haul it all to the barn. He also had ten kids. You figure it out. He still spends hours out on the riding mower every week. The best symbol of his life would probably be a tractor out mowing hay. I think I would pick – MAKEHAY- as his plate moniker.

I want my life to be defined by the way I have lived. I want to be remembered for my mistakes. I want to be remembered for those few moments of greatness. I want to be remembered for my bold attempts, and my tragic failures. The bottom line is that I eschew symbolic items that define who I am today, because tomorrow I might want to be somebody different, somebody better.

So what should I choose for my plate? Maybe – TRYAGN, BTRTMRW, or WHTSNXT?

What would you put on your plate?


Posted by Brock Booher

My toes hung over the edge of the wet limestone. The water from the shallow creek beside me rushed over the edge and fell eighty-five feet into the deep green pool below. The constant hum of the waterfall echoed against the surrounding rocks, but I could still hear Lance and Tom egging me on. Everything had a muffled sound, like I was listening to the world from the end of tunnel, except for my heart. My heart was beating so loud that I was certain it had moved from my chest to my head. I was one jump away from a moment of teenage glory.

We left late on a Friday night for a guy’s camping trip to a nearby state park that boasted some of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. The park was a verdant paradise of meandering hiking trails, deep pools of cool water, and forests full of wildlife.

Tom was quick-witted and had a contagious laugh. He was from up north and didn’t sound like the rest of us. He had a reputation for being a bit reckless. Lance wore glasses and was usually quiet in crowds. His timid nature came off as coy, and the ladies loved him. He never surprised anyone.

As we drove along in Lance’s pickup truck, we rocked out to Phil Collins and told jokes. We talked about girls. We talked about a future full of hope and promise. I was eighteen and had the world by the tail. I had recently graduated from high school and was going off to college. I was going to be fighter pilot in the Air Force, and maybe apply to be an astronaut for NASA. I was going to find the prettiest girl in the world and convince her to marry me. I was going to get rich, and maybe even famous. I was immortal.

In typical teenage fashion, we flew by the seat of our pants trying to squeeze excitement out of every moment. When we found all the campgrounds full, we slept by the side of the road. I tried to start a fire for breakfast using lantern fuel and singed my eyebrows. We went the wrong way down a one-way road and had to pull off onto the shoulder to avoid hitting an oncoming car. Tom lost his sleeping bag. We almost hit a deer. We drank IBC root beer and threw the empty bottles into the back of the truck so we could listen to them roll around and clink together. We didn’t get much sleep, but we didn’t care. We were young. You can sleep when you’re dead.

We started the day with a hike to the bottom of the tallest waterfall. The thin stream of water fell two hundred and fifty six feet into a rocky pool of chilled water. We hiked under the falls and let the water sting our backs. We dared each other to jump into the frigid water and see who could stay in the longest. I think Lance won, but our teeth were chattering and our lips were blue when we got out.

We followed a cable down the face of another bluff to discover a deep green plungepool with a waterfall cascading down the opposite side. Hot from hiking, we kicked off our shoes and dove in. The rising afternoon sun warmed the shallow stream above making the water from the waterfall feel warm and soothing. We dove off the big rock adjacent to the falls and sunned ourselves on the warm limestone banks of the pool. With the help of an old log, we lingered under the waterfall and fell into a state of bliss. In spite of the observers that stood on the lookout high above the water’s surface, it felt like our own private paradise.

While we languished at the waters edge listening to the roar of the falls, something hit the water so hard it sounded like a shotgun blast. At first we thought someone had dropped a rock, and we scurried to safety. Then a man’s head broke the surface, and he let out a rebel yell that echoed against the limestone cliffs of the bluff. We couldn’t believe someone had jumped off the waterfall above us. The jump didn’t look survivable, but he was living proof that it could be done, and his successful stunt mocked us.

Tom was the first to suggest that we make the jump. I wasn’t afraid of heights, so I agreed right away. Lance was hesitant at first, but we convinced him. We left our shoes by the water’s edge for our triumphant return and climbed back up the cable trail barefoot, hell bent on proving our manhood.

When we got to the top of the falls, I walked over to take a look. I hung my toes over the edge of the wet limestone and scanned the water eighty-five feet below. My head began to spin. The hum of the falls and the encouraging shouts sounded like some distant noise. I felt my heart beating in my temples. A moment of teenage glory hung a few feet over the edge, and I could claim it with one jump.

I hesitated. My mind turned from the thrill of the moment, to the danger of the decision.

I thought about all the things that could go wrong. What if I broke something? What if I hit wrong and got knocked unconscious? What if I hit a rock? As I stood there with my toes hanging over the edge of the wet limestone, the sun beating down on my shoulders, and the water plummeting past me into the pool below, I transformed from carefree teenager to responsible adult.

I backed away from the edge.

When I backed away, Tom, the daredevil, surveyed the situation and began to question the wisdom of the jump as well. While Tom and I were coping with a sudden rush of responsible thinking, Lance said, “What the hell.” Then he walked up, and jumped off. We hurried over to see if he had survived the plunge. When his head broke the surface, he let out his own rebel yell and was grinning from ear to ear. He was alive.

Inspired by Lance, I returned to the ledge and stood there again trying to will my shaking legs to jump, but I could never convince them. My moment of reckless abandon had been replaced with rational, responsible, adult behavior. A strange wave of shame washed over me. I felt like I had let myself down. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the scales of life had measured me, and I had come up short.

I told Tom that I was going to hike back down and get my shoes. He begged me to stay, but I knew that it was no use. As I started to walk away, he told himself that he could never let Lance outdo him, and jumped. I didn’t even walk to the edge to see if he was okay.

I made the lonely walk back down the top of the cable trail and waited for them to bring me my shoes. Lance and Tom were chatty and excited with the adrenaline still coursing through their veins. I sat there with my face buried in my hands. They consoled me and told me that it was okay, but I knew that I had passed through a door that would never reopen to me. I had grown up.

I went off to college. I earned my wings in the Air Force and became a fighter pilot. I found a beautiful girl and told her sweet lies until she finally agreed to marry me. I never got rich, or famous. The reality of my mortality became clearer with each passing year. The future, it seems, is a moving target, and growing old is a gauntlet we all must run.

Today, in my mind’s eye, I can still see the water from the stream plummet eighty-five feet into the deep green water of the pool below. I can still hear the muffled roar of the waterfall and feel the warm afternoon sun on my shoulders. Even though I am no danger at all, my heart beats louder and faster, like I’m standing on that ledge all over again.

I will never know what might have happened if I had jumped that day. I don’t regret my life. I have lived a life more exciting and rewarding than any one man should be allowed to experience. But I have always wished I had jumped. Perhaps, if I had jumped off the ledge that day, I would have preserved the reckless abandon of youth long enough to achieve more of the impossible dreams I once had. Somewhere, suspended in the air above a deep green pool of water hangs the reckless exuberance of youth, waiting for me to jump.

Cane Creek Falls

Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch  

Posted by Brock Booher

“Miss Rector is an Old Maid,” wrote my sister on her homework assignment. Miss Rector was the Sixth-Grade Teacher and the Principal of the small country school we attended. She had cat-eye glasses, wore her auburn-gray hair in a 1950’s style bun hairdo, and always wore a dress with matching shoes. You could hear her heels clicking against the tile floor as she roamed the hallways looking for errant students. She lived down the road from the school with her two sisters, and just like my sister said, none of them ever married. She ruled the school with an iron fist, and always got her way, until she went toe-to-toe with my mother over school lunches.

Prospect Hill Elementary served the northern part of Simpson County and enrolled about one hundred and twenty students in six classrooms. It was a brick two-story building with a large auditorium and a cafeteria in the basement. The playground had the usual equipment of the day, but also included a softball field and a large open field with some bushes you could hide or play in. After a good rain we sometimes found arrowheads near the fence. For a country boy, it seemed like an oasis of excitement among all the farms.

Miss Rector insisted that all of her students buy lunch at the school cafeteria. To help keep the program afloat, she made sure that everyone got paperwork to enroll in the free lunch program, and looking back, I guess that most of us probably qualified. My mother took one look at the paperwork and promptly ignored it. I was the fourth one to go to school, and so, in order to save money on lunches, we started taking our lunch. That didn’t set too well with Miss Rector, and she was never timid about her position. I was in second grade when the school lunch scuttlebutt transformed from skirmish to all out war.

My mother was very creative when it came to preparing school lunches. She would bake bread in old tin cans so that the slices would be round like hamburger buns and send us with hamburgers cooked the night before. She boiled eggs from our chickens and added them to tuna for tuna-salad sandwiches. She bought pimento cheese by the bucketful. She would whip up a batch of cookies before school in the morning and stuff them into plastic sandwich bags while they were still hot. By lunchtime they had usually morphed into one gigantic cookie blob, but they were still just as tasty. We picked fresh fruit from the orchard down by Granny’s house, and eventually we bought fancy thermoses for homemade soup. I thought our lunches were great, but according to Miss Rector, they were substandard and not suitable for student consumption.

Miss Rector fired the first shot across the bow when she sent home the paperwork for free lunches again. My mother responded by sending back a note, “We can provide for our own.” Not giving up so easily, Miss Rector singled us out and badmouthed our homemade lunches in front of other students, telling everyone that they “stunk up the place.” Undeterred but busy with young kids at home, my mother kept up the attack with brown paper bags full of tuna salad sandwiches. Miss Rector began inspecting our lunches and enticing us with hot meals as we munched on cold pimento cheese. Like any good revolutionary, my mother plucked along trying to win the daily battles. Like any entrenched power, Miss Rector used her position of authority to intimidate and coerce. It was the classic struggle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

At last, Miss Rector made a tactical mistake. She sequestered us at a table by ourselves and wouldn’t let us eat with the other students. That converted us from pawns in the battle, to zealous missionaries of the cause. We hunkered down against the persecution, and began to tout our freedom to choose among the other students. One day, another student with a shiny new lunchbox joined us at our table. Then a few days later, another brownbag warrior joined our cause. Soon we had an entire revolutionary army of lunchtime guerrillas fighting beside us at our own special table in the basement of Prospect Hill. Like any good revolution, we won by winning the hearts and minds of the populace and wearing down the better-equipped establishment until she no longer had the stomach for the fight.

I’m sure Miss Rector meant well. She gave her heart and soul to the school, and in addition to being the Principal, she also taught sixth grade. I’m sure she struggled to keep that small country school afloat financially, and that the school lunch revenue was a crucial part of her budget. She was a no-nonsense administrator with a knack for producing good students without many resources. She made a career of making Prospect Hill a successful school. But this time, she picked the wrong fight.

Ironically, my mother’s father was a teacher and principal of a small country school as well. My mother saw firsthand all the challenges that came to someone in Miss Rector’s position. She knew of the battles fought with parents, unruly students, and governments that underfunded and overexpected. She and Miss Rector were more alike than they were different, except on one issue – My mother would have nothing to do with government handouts or free lunch paperwork.

In a letter to Miss Rector, she explained that taking free lunches would set a bad example for us children. How could we learn to be responsible for ourselves when we were accepting help we didn’t truly need? She wanted to teach us that when somebody gets something for nothing, somebody else works for free. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

A few years after the school lunch wars, the county consolidated things. Prospect Hill Elementary was put on the chopping block. They closed it’s doors and gave Miss Rector an early retirement. Today the building is gone along with the playground equipment and the bushes we once played in. Last time I drove by there, it was a cornfield. I wondered if that corn ended up in someone’s school lunch?

I didn't use Miss Rector's real name, but this blog is not meant to disparage her just the same. I have searched for a picture of Prospect Hill School. Anyone with a picture is welcome to post it.

José Artigas and Me  

Posted by Brock Booher

You can’t visit a town in Uruguay without seeing a statue or bust of José Artigas, the father of the country. His vestige looks down on the Urugayos in almost every plaza or school in the country. His image is on the money. His portrait is almost ubiquitous as the mate they drink. Funny thing is, he was never even president.

In June of 1982, I made the six-hour trip to Tacuarembó, Uruguay, on the Onda (the prominent bus company of the day) sitting next to a guacho. I tried to carry on a conversation with him, but it was pointless. I began to wonder if they taught me the wrong language. Thirty years later I drove a rental car into Tacuarembó with my oldest son Rian, and my sixteen-year old, Carson. I made the trip halfway around the globe to drop Carson off to live with the Fontes family so that he could experience life outside (way outside) the United States. I was also excited to spend some time with my sons.

I had the address to the home, but it wasn’t on the map, and my phone’s GPS wasn’t any help. “Don’t worry,” I told my boys. “Everybody in town knows David Fontes.” I stopped at the gas station and asked for directions. Nobody knew the address, but when I mentioned David, they had him on the phone in less than five minutes.

Small countries have more reason to celebrate their heroes than big ones. The heroes of small countries have a bigger impact on their history and leave bigger scars on the psyche of the population. Smaller countries also have fewer heroes to choose from. Artigas was no exception. His passion for the cause of the Orientales was unparalleled. He displayed all of the stubbornness and fire of an ardent patriot and put his own life on the line over and over again for the cause of independence.

We spent the afternoon in the house of friends and got Carson settled in. That evening we went to a mixer at Alianza School, the English school administered by David. I think we intimidated his students a bit. Maybe the setting was too formal, or maybe it was my domineering nature, but the students were a bit shy that evening. Having learned other languages, I can relate to that knot in your gut that keeps your mouth from working properly when you try to speak. I think the fear springs from looking stupid or inept. It takes courage to thrust yourself into another language and another culture.
Rian straddling the border

The next day, Rian and I took a trip to the border town of Rivera. The pleasantly hilly city sits smack dab on the border between Uruguay and Brasil. We cruised around the open-air market in search of trinkets in both countries. We ate lunch in Uruguay. We went to the bathroom in Brasil. We literally crisscrossed the unseen line multiple times and discussed the possibilities of disappearing off the grid in such a town (if the occasion was ever required).

That evening we returned to the Fontes’ home and had our last dinner with Carson before leaving him to learn about life abroad on his own. When I hugged him, I wondered how the experience would change his perspective of the world and what impact it would have on him.

The Tower of Terror elevator
Since we were off the beaten path and traveling during the off season (it was the dead of winter in the Southern Hemisphere), we had some interesting hotel stays. One night we froze to death until my son figured out that the maid had left a window open behind the curtains. Another hotel was so old that the only electrical outlet was in the bathroom, and the elevator looked like it came from the Tower of Terror. We only rode it once. Water pressure was usually lacking, except for our hotel in Buenos Aires, where the shower felt like a fire hose. We chalked it all up to the adventure.

When you make a journey down memory lane be prepared for some emotional potholes. I had some wonderful reunions with friends from years past. They had flourished and found a measure of happiness and success, and our visits were warm and satisfying, but not everybody’s story has a happy ending.

Thirty years ago, I knew a successful doctor of a small town. He had a wonderful wife, two children, and lived in a big house. He had helped me deal with the stress of being a Branch President (the same as a local Pastor or Minister) at twenty-years old in a foreign country. I owed him a debt.

I searched him out and found him in a small row house on a dark street. When I knocked at the front door he said he remembered me, but I think he fibbed a bit. We sat at a small kitchen table in a bare kitchen. The night was cold, but he had no heating. Once a portly man, he was now thin, and wrapped in several layers to stay warm. His eyes vacillated between a far-off look and semi-wild excitement. He spoke of his life in platitudes with exaggerated smiles, but when I asked about his family, the truth was self-evident.

His wife had divorced him several years ago because of his drinking problem. Then she had contracted cancer and died. His son still lived with him, but from what I could gather, the son had fallen into the same addiction trap as his father. When I asked about his daughter, he laughed nervously and told me that she was very busy with her life and rarely stopped by.

Still true to the message of hope I delivered to a good doctor thirty years ago, I reminded him that the atonement of Jesus Christ could still apply in his life. I’m not sure if my words penetrated, but his face clouded over. When we embraced before I left, he pulled me so close that the stubble on his face rubbed against my cheek and he held me longer than a customary abrazo.

 The next day we put Uruguay behind us and took the ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires.

José Artigas had a grand vision for the region surrounding the Rio de la Plata that mirrored the structure of the United States, but as is often the case, his vision of independence was overruled by the political ambitions of others. He was outmaneuvered and sent to voluntary exile in Paraguay where he remained until his death.

We spent two days in Buenos Aires enjoying the sights of the “Paris of South America.” We spent all afternoon at the open-air market on Calle Defensa. We ate the famous Argentine beef until we were ready to moo. My son Rian found a leather jacket for a great price. We hopped a tour bus and saw the highlights of the city. We enjoyed the sights and sounds of a hustling, bustling city tucked so far away in the south that people forget that it’s there.

Our last night in Buenos Aires, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about our trip. Although it had been interesting, and we had passed several happy moments as father and sons, and with friends, the journey had a lackluster feel to it. I had expected more. I felt like José Artigas. I had bigger plans, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I would have to accept the reality of the day, and move on.

Sometimes we make grandiose plans that never come to fruition. We feel like the things we do don’t make a difference in the world. We struggle to understand why others can’t see our vision for the future. Perhaps we too are exiled by the workings of others, or by our own decisions to move on. But life’s struggle is never wrought in a vacuum. Someday maybe, just maybe, the relationships we build, the friendships we forge, the lives we try and touch, will bear fruit, and future generations will honor us for what we attempted to accomplish.

We made our way back across the Rio de la Plata and on to Montevideo so we could catch our flight back home. Our last morning of the trip, I went for a run along the boardwalk. It was a great morning for a run. The temperature was cool, but not cold. The slight breeze was welcomed, and the sun was climbing in the sky. Traffic buzzed along the street as I took it all in. As I rounded a small point, the crowded buildings of downtown Montevideo came into view. Off in the distance in that concrete jungle was a plaza with an enormous statue of José Artigas on his horse, and below the statue lay the remains of the exiled liberator that became a national hero.

The statue of José Artigas

Life is a Trek  

Posted by Brock Booher

If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, how do you start a journey of the heart?

A few months ago I got an email asking me if my wife and I would like to participate in a Pioneer Trek as “Ma and Pa.” We would be given eight to ten teenagers, that we didn’t know, and hike through the mountains of Arizona for three days pulling a large handcart. We would sleep under the stars and could only bring the bare essentials. Everyone’s personal belongings would have to fit in a five gallon bucket. No air mattresses or cots. No makeup. No electronics. The irony of sending me, a commercial pilot, an email about such a journey made me chuckle.

If you don’t know the story of the Mormon pioneers, I recommend you take some time to research their saga in American history. In 1844, an angry mob murdered the prophet, and leader of the church, Joseph Smith, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy their anger and hatred. So, in February of 1846 the Mormon pioneers left their comfortable homes and farms in Nauvoo, Illinois, and began their westward trek to escape further persecution. The first group entered the Great Basin of the Salt Lake in July of 1847.

The church started a fund to assist in the migration its members, but as resources became scarce, they switched from companies of covered wagons, to handcart companies. Equipped with a small wooden handcart full of provisions, members of those companies would leave western Iowa and trek 1300 miles through modern-day Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming. At best the journey was arduous and exhausting. At worst it was deadly. However, until the intercontinental railroad was complete, it allowed thousands to migrate to the safety of Zion. More importantly, the difficult journey served as a crucible of faith.

Today we learn from the courage and strength of those early pioneers. We study their journals. We repeat their stories of courage and faith. We give thanks for the miracles they beheld. But we don’t stop there. We actually try and simulate the experience, with other people’s teenagers no less.

I replied to the email and volunteered us as Ma and Pa.

It was over a hundred degrees in the valley when we loaded up the busses and headed for high country. The air conditioning on the bus was struggling, and I was already wondering what I had gotten us into. We piled off the busses into the dusty meadow of the Arizona high country and divided into families. My wife and I had nine children assigned to us – four boys and five girls. We got the introductions out of the way, and started assembling our cart. It was a six by three foot wagon bed with short wooden rails, oversized metal wheels, and a metal crossbar out front for pulling. We stopped to eat a dinner of chili and cornbread and then took great care as we loaded the cart in order to balance the load. At seven o’clock in the evening we organized as companies and hit the rocky trail.

An hour later as we trudged along in the dark eating the dust of a dozen carts ahead of us, I began to wonder why we put ourselves through such things. Do we really gain anything by making ourselves suffer? In a world where technology has made my life easy, what is the purpose of discarding it all and torturing ourselves?

The learning process is different for everyone, but the more senses you involve, the more likely it is that learning will occur. Great sport figures study game films in addition to practicing. Great chess players replay games move by move to improve their performance. The military prepares for war through realistic exercises. Pilots learn through lifelike simulation. Our pioneer trek was a simulation designed to help us develop the same faith and courage of those early pioneers.

We got to camp after nine o’clock under a bright moon and picked a spot to throw out our tarps. While we ate a small snack, I gave a short devotional on faith. Nobody complained or whined about the night’s journey or about the rocky ground, and we slid into our sleeping bags to stave off the coming cold and tried to get some sleep.

If I slept longer that ten continuous minutes that night, I would be surprised. The cold air nipped at the top of my head and ears. The rocks underneath me gnawed at my spine. I worried about the next day. As the moon dipped low on the horizon, I peeked out of my warm sleeping bag and gazed at the Milky Way so bright that I felt like I could reach out and touch it. It made me feel so insignificant to see the innumerable points of light scattered across the heavens. Who was I in such an infinite space? A shooting star streaked across starry night. How ironic it is that a sky of stars can make you believe in God and question your own insignificance at the same time.

I was glad to feel the sun come up. As lay there working up my nerve to get out of my warm sleeping bag, I heard laughter from the camp next to ours and it lifted my spirits. I knew it was going to be long day, and yet the sound of laughter lightened my load. I crawled out into the cool morning and loosened my weary bones.

We loaded up; formed up; and began pulling our cart down the trail at 7:43. I was already tired and we hadn’t even started. The metal wheels of the cart sang in harmony with our metal cups hanging off the back of the cart as we bounced along the rocky ruts. We rotated often and worked together to move the load up and over several hills. We sang songs, told jokes, and played a memorization game to pass the time. Everyone was in good spirits. Then we passed a company that had stopped for mock burial and were reminded how fragile life on the trek could be.

After pulling all morning, our lunch of beef jerky, cheese, bread, and apples was delicious. My wife and I constantly hounded the kids to drink, but one of them still suffered from heat stress and dehydration and had to visit the medic. The afternoon would get very long if we didn’t stay hydrated. After lunch, we pulled for about forty five minutes and then stopped for a rest. While we rested, the scenario took an interesting twist. A rider approached dressed in a cavalry officer’s uniform and recruited all the men to fight in the Mexican-American War (a very real historic event). This meant that the women would be left to push the carts by themselves.

The boys and I hiked up the ridge and waited out of sight. We watched as the women and girls labored to get the carts up that rocky hill. Pioneer women were tough. At the Captain’s signal, we rushed down and began pushing the carts with the women. All the women said that they got teary eyed when they saw us coming out of the woods to help them. After we got to the top of the hill, we parked and had a short devotional followed by juicy watermelon.

Next, we lined up for “Rocky Ridge” and prepared for the hardest part of the day. It was a ridgeline with an incline of about 150 yards of loose rock. You could get a running start, but there was no way to keep the momentum. It would require a stop or two to make it all the way up the ridgeline. It would require the best from everyone.

We organized as companies and while we waited our turn, and cheered on other families. It had been a long day already, and I got butterflies when they motioned us forward, like we were about to go on a roller coaster. I was at the bar with one of the young men. I had the other three young men pushing the back. I had four of the girls on a rope attached to the front bar. Everyone else pushed, pulled, cheered, or chocked the wheels when we had to stop.

We had to cross a significant dip before we started up the incline. When I gave the signal, we eased the cart off of the roadway and down into the dip. At first we held back, not wanting the cart to get away from us, but as soon as I thought we could keep the speed under control, I shouted, and we cut loose. We ran to keep up with the cart for a few feet, and then we hit the rocky slope. We pulled and pushed for all we were worth and made it up and over the first small rise and around a couple of trees before we had to stop and catch our breath. The girls chocked the wheels for a minute, and we made the second big push.

We rounded the corner and could see all the way to the top. Difficult challenges become much easier when you can see the end. We stopped about fifty yards from the top and looked straight up at the challenge ahead. We caught our breath one more time. Then, with a rebel yell we made the metal wheels sing as they flew over the loose rocks. When we started to slow down, several of the company personnel lent a hand. With the top of the ridge in sight, we dug deep and kept the cart moving. The thin air of almost 8000 feet burned in our lungs. The cart slowed a bit, but we willed it forward and up the last ten yards and conquered the summit.

We stopped at the top to catch our breath and get a drink of water. The view was spectacular, and we were all proud of what we had accomplished together. We took a photo to remember the moment, drank water, and then we continued moving our handcart forward to base camp for the night.

The joy and pride of conquering “Rocky Ridge” began to wear off as we continued down the trail. We had no idea how far we had to go. We thought it was short. We thought it would be right around the corner. We were headed downhill, but the trail was rocky and rough. The fatigue of the day began to take its toll, and since I didn’t know how much further we had to go, I wondered if I could make it. We had rigged the cart for going up hill, not for coming down. We didn’t have any brakes, and right about then we needed them. We groaned and creaked along the rocky crevices for almost two more miles until the trail became an almost level and smooth truck road and we knew we were close. I turned the handcart over to our pioneer kids for the last stretch.

We came into camp tired, but happy.  We set up camp, which included a tent for changing, and began to clean up for dinner. We were covered in the fine dust that is abundant in the high country of Arizona. We didn’t have a shower, but I used a wet rag and a bar of soap to get as clean as I could. I probably had enough dirt in my nose to start a small vegetable garden.

Dinner was delicious and even though the kids had enough energy for a hoe down, I was wiped out. The ground was no softer the second night, but I slept like a baby out of pure exhaustion. I got up to go to the portpottie in the middle of the night, and the Milky Way was so bright I barely needed my flashlight. As I walked back to my warm sleeping bag, I could see that the mountain meadow was full of bodies, but nobody stirred. It was an amazing sight.

The next day we enjoyed a day of pioneer activities. We shot black powder rifles. We threw tomahawks. We milked goats. We learned to throw a lasso. We played games and had fun, but that afternoon, we had our camp Sabbath. We held a testimony meeting among the pines. We were exposed to all the elements beneath a clear blue sky and a light wind rustled through the pine needles. In a setting like that you can hear nature’s silent testimony of deity loud and clear.

We took some time for silent reflection and each of us found a spot in the forest to ponder our lives. I took the opportunity to reflect on my own heritage and the blessings passed on to me by my parents. They didn’t cross the plains in covered wagons or pull a handcart across the Rocky Mountains, but they were courageous in their conviction. They taught me to be the same.

That night we all gathered for a fireside, without the fire. We enjoyed a skit, a musical number, and wise words. At the end of the meeting, my wife and another Ma got up to lead us in a music medley made up of a male and female part. They had never practiced leading it together, but they didn’t miss a beat. The soothing female voices rang out among the pines declaring their spiritual worth. The male voices countered it with a strong husky melody declaring boldly of the courage of youth. I sang along with the young men, but was soon so touched that I couldn’t sing anymore. I had begun this exercise in hopes that I might help these young men and women in their journey of faith. Now I stood among them listening to their conviction set to music. As tears left tracks on my dirty face, my heart felt like it would burst. I realized that they had helped me along my journey of faith.

If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, how do you begin a journey of the heart? You begin with a desire. You let your desire lead you on to the path of hope. You follow your hope until somewhere along the path of adversity and trial, it becomes faith. Then, if you continue to follow your faith, step by step, not seeing the end of the journey, you will finally come to your destination. You will stand and boldly declare that your heart has been changed. You will have a testimony of the truth etched indelibly on your soul that will outlast all the physical ailments of your journey.

They say that life is a journey, not a destination. I say that life, if lived well, is a spiritual trek.

Dreams Take Flight  

Posted by Brock Booher

"Is it hard to be a pilot?" asks the fifth-grade boy with coke-bottle glasses.

Each year I volunteer to spend time with fifth graders as their "adopted" pilot and discuss what it's like to be a pilot, the science of flight, geography, and possible future careers. It is a labor of love, but it is definitely labor. I dress up in my uniform, with a special tie, and head to the elementary school to dazzle them with my vast knowledge of the world of aviation.

I remember when I first wanted to fly. I was in the hot summer sun hoeing weeds when a low-flying military jet came screaming by. It looked like he barely missed the trees he was so low and seemed to be outrunning the speed of sound, because I saw him before I heard the thundering roar of the engines. I leaned against my hoe with the smell of dirt lingering in my nose and watched him disappear like a shooting star. Right then I decided that flying looked easier, and more fun, than farming.

My first lesson with the fifth graders is about helping your dreams take flight. I encourage them to dream about the future; to plan for the future; to work for the future they want. I teach them them that goals not written down are just wishes, and that fate favors the prepared. I instill in them the importance of honesty, courage, and tenacity (a new word for fifth graders), and tell them they can control their destiny.

One of the smallest boys in the class said, "I want to be a football player!" Then his face fell and he looked at the floor. "My dad says there is no way I'll ever make it in the NFL." I almost cried when I heard that.

They always ask the same questions. How does a plane fly? Are you ever scared? Do pilots make lots of money? Have you ever shot down another airplane? Have you ever crashed? What's your favorite city? Were you flying on 9/11? Their inquisitive minds are eager to understand the world around them, and I do my best to give them answers that will inspire them to learn more. But I never answer their questions if they don't raise their hands.

I have my old Air Force flying helmet and a flight suit that they love to try on. The flight suit swallows them whole and the helmet flops around their small heads like a bucket. They get a kick out of my patch collection and all the charts and books that I bring to show them. It's like they can begin to see themselves growing into the capacities that the future will surely require of them. They laugh and tease each other about how loosely it all fits, but behind the laughter is excitement for becoming something they can be proud of.

They are a smart bunch and catch on to the science of flight very quickly, even though they have a hard time pronouncing "Bernoulli." I get a lot "oohs" and "aahs" when I suspend a ping pong ball in midair with a blow dryer to discuss the principles of lift, but then the mystique turns to confidence when each one of them comes up and takes a turn. Science leaps from the pages of a book when you have firsthand experience to help you understand and remember.

Much to their chagrin, I do give them homework. They have to write down some of their career goals, figure out how many miles I have flown each week, review the science of flight, and learn about a city I fly to. Each week when the teacher checks their progress, the excuses fly. My parents didn't tell me I had homework. I left my book at home. I didn't have access to a computer. I thought this was just for extra credit. Their teacher takes it all in stride, but when I reward those who were diligent in their tasks, it motivates the remainder to get the job done.

The best part about spending three days teaching fifth graders is the gratitude they display. They wave at me and call my name when they see me. They all say, "Thank You Captain Booher!" like I am the only one that believes in them. They often write me letters and color me pictures. My neighbor's chatty son points at me and says with a wink, "Great job with the lesson today."Another eager boy on the front row swoons and tells me, "You're my hero."

Is it hard to be a pilot? After four hours of standing in front of a room full of fifth graders for three weeks in a row, my voice is hoarse, my feet hurt, and my mind is mush. I feel like that tired kid on the farm all over again.

"No," I answer. "It's much harder to be a fifth-grade teacher."

The Marvelous Mundane  

Posted by Brock Booher

Funerals are not the place to talk about doing the dishes, folding laundry, or the daily grind of a boring job. We most likely will hear of great deeds or the shining moments of the life being mourned and celebrated. Maybe we should change that. Maybe we should hear about how many times the person cooked dinner for her family, or how many days he endured at work in order to pay the bills. What if we took a moment at someone’s passing to celebrate the marvelous mundane that makes life possible?

Think about the day you had yesterday. Chances are you didn’t hit the winning home run to win the World Series. You didn’t win the big case before the Supreme Court. You didn’t solve the crime of the century. You didn’t save the world from impending destruction. Most likely you spent the day with routine things like wiping counters, sorting data on a spreadsheet, or changing light bulbs. Tomorrow will probably be the same – a day filled with menial tasks that don’t seem to make a difference.

Is that all life is – a string of almost meaningless activities placed end to end together until we die?

At the recent funerals I attended, one man’s mundane accomplishments included a thankless job that he trudged off to everyday, yet it allowed him to come home everyday and play catch with his son. His sons valued that memory more than his military service in the Korean War. One woman’s father tasked her as a young girl to learn how to bake bread, but when she passed even the local nail manicurist remembered her for all the delicious breads and cookies that she baked. A young girl spent most of her time at play, but was remembered for her warm smile on the volleyball court. None of the activities seemed heroic, yet each one was remembered more for the mundane than for the unusual, or extraordinary.

Perhaps the key to a life well lived is not avoiding or shirking the mundane, but in finding meaning in those small thankless tasks that make our lives move forward. When we die we hope that people will speak of our heroic deeds and accomplishments, but maybe heroism is found in squaring your shoulders and quietly carrying the burden of everyday life so that others will benefit.

Click to Stop Kony  

Posted by Brock Booher

We live in a new age. In days past we knew who the outlaws were by looking at the wanted posters in the post office. A gritty lawman with a big iron on his hip would bring the villain to justice at high noon with a lightning-fast hand. Apparently today we can stop evil with the click of a mouse.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a digital rock for the past week, you know about the Kony 2012 campaign. It is a clever attempt to raise public awareness about an international war criminal through social media and bring him to justice. Judging from the number of friends who posted the video on their walls I would say that they achieved their goal of raising awareness. I am bit more skeptical of the second part of their campaign.

As best as I can tell, the campaign’s plan goes like this: Use a well crafted video and social media to spread the word about an evil warlord in Uganda that is forcing children to be soldiers. Encourage those who watch the video to spread the word and contact policy makers about stopping this evil warlord. Then policy makers will send materiel and military support to the good soldiers trying to stop the evil warlord. The good soldiers, now better supported and equipped, will bring justice down on the head of the targeted warlord. The video even shows how the dominos will fall after you click the mouse. Brilliant!

Except that awareness and action are not the same thing. Knowing does not always translate into doing.

During the first Gulf War a journalist asked an A-10 driver a probing question that went something like this, “Doesn’t it bother your conscience when you drop your bombs or fire your missiles and know that you are killing people?”

He shrugged and answered, “You don’t need a conscience, just coordinates.” (Coordinates are the numerical equivalent of a specific target's location.)

He understood that armed conflict requires a certain measure of cold, calculated application of deadly force in order to survive, and win. Dealing with an “evil warlord” requires the same measure of detached thinking. If you clicked in favor of the Kony 2012 campaign, would you also be willing to pull the trigger if you had him in your sights? Is it a cause you would be willing to risk your own life to support?

I applaud anyone that raises our awareness of injustice in the world. We tolerate way too much of it. But ultimately catching Kony (or other evil warlords) and bringing him to justice requires someone equipped and trained with deadly ordinance, the clear conscience to employ it, and coordinates.

You can’t stop an international war criminal with a click of a mouse, unless of course the computer is controlling a UAV with Hellfire missiles or GPS guided bombs. In that case clicking is much more than just liking a status.