Typically, a trip to the riverfront in Washington, MO, is an altogether pleasant affair – particularly when I’m in the company of my dear 92-year-old Mom.
And having other family members on hand – my wife, my eldest son, one of my brothers – I’d only expect that to enhance the enjoyment of the moment. The memories begin to flow, as wide and rich and deep as the muddy currents rolling by.
Little wonder, I suppose: Mom and her 10 siblings grew up just a couple of blocks from these very riverbanks, you see. And they, too, spent many an afternoon or evening soaking in the beauty of the scene…encountering the echoes of untold generations who also called this verdant land “home.”
But yesterday’s riverfront visit came packing a barb for me – a memory tinged with a flicker of remorse. I’m guessing Mom’s tale might have been triggered by the gospel story we’d heard just a few minutes before, during the Communion service we shared at her apartment. In it, Jesus teaches about the antics of two sons:
“What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.”
Mom’s story featured a similar hard-hearted son – Yours Truly. She reminded me of the time when, as a schoolboy, I tried to sneak past her line-of-sight…and into the house…in order to avoid helping with the task in which she was then engaged: Moving loads of gravel – from a pile out back to the landscaping beds up front.
Honestly, I don’t remember the details of this escapade from my youth. But they sound accurate enough: I’ve never been one to volunteer for manual labor if there’s even the slightest chance it can be sidestepped. And I suspect my mother recognizes this character defect in me (knows it better, perhaps, than I know it myself).
Mom had a good laugh recalling my hijinks, but I felt the story’s sting.
It was just about then, as I sat silently nursing the wound of a long-since-forgiven boyhood sin, that a prophetic figure appeared – a bearded man riding a fat bike, zipping straight up the steep bank and into the park. I did a double-take and then hailed the stranger…who proceeded directly to our picnic pavilion for a chat.
It didn’t take long for the Old Man (as he calls himself) to begin describing a conversion experience – how his first encounter with a fat bike (while on vacation in Alaska) has since evolved into his life’s passion and avocation: tricking-out the bike and recording adventures for his YouTube channel.
I marveled at the coincidence, too: a confluence of my character defect and his charisma, there at the riverbend. One old man…learning from another…that perhaps it’s never too late to consider changing his ways.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.