Thursday, September 29, 2011

Through Bleary Eyes - Esther 1 'n 2

It was after midnight one night and sleep just wouldn't come. I thought I'd do a little light reading, and jumped into this Old Testament book about a beautiful, courageous young woman. "Hmm," I thought to myself, "what this inspired book of God needs is a little editing from me!" And look! I'm still alive to post it here—God has a sense of humor, too!

The Book of Esther - through my bleary eyes
Esther 1

It was the party of the century. For six solid months King Xerxes, ruler of 127 provinces from Sudan to India, partied hearty with his royal pseudo friends, complete with an open bar. One night, he ordered his eunuchs to call his wife, Vashti, who had already hostessed the men’s wives, to come and stand in front of all his intoxicated friends so they could admire her beauty. Sounds like he wanted his beer buddies to be jealous of his wife as well as his kingdom. But his drunken demand ticked off Vashti. She refused to come, honoring her personal boundaries, which embarrassed and upset her husband. He asked his wise guys for advice as to her refusal. They said she had disrespected him and there would be no end to the discord that would occur in everybody else’s castle once her women friends heard about it. They advised him to kick her out and let that be a warning to every other woman in the land not to get too big for their britches. Women needed to understand that their husbands were rulers over their households. And by the way, they needed to speak their husbands’ language in their homes. No more Pig Latin, apparently.

Esther 2

After the king sobered up, he reconsidered his rash decision. But it was too late. The laws of the Medes and Persians are made of cement. Vashti was vanquished. Bummer. But not to worry. There are always more fish in the sea. His wise guys suggested he advertise on Craig’s List for virgins who’d like to attend his rose ceremonies. One of the eunuchs, Hegai, would herd, I mean guard, all the virgins in one big hotel, pamper them with facials and mani/pedis, and the king could date them all, narrow down the list, and finally choose one of them to replace his ex. “Sure,” the king said. He was a deep thinker.

Now there was a man named Mordecai, a Jew, who was exiled from Jerusalem and living in Xerxesville. He was guardian to his orphaned cousin, Esther, who was so beautiful, she could easily have been named Miss Persia and gone on to win Miss Universe. He had raised her and thought of her as his own daughter. For some reason, she caught the attention of the king’s toadies, and she was brought, along with a lot of other innocent girls, to stay at Hotel Hegai. She caught the attention of Hegai while she was there, and won the grand prize of special beauty treatments and lots of chocolate, all hand delivered by seven women from the palace. Wow. That’s a lot of chocolate. They even put her up in the hotel’s penthouse. See what good looks can do for a girl?

Mordecai wasn’t far away, though. He kept his ears to the ground every day, checking on Esther while she was having spa treatments at the hotel. He’d told her not to tell anyone that she was a Jew. The MP’s (Medes and Persians) were pretty racially prejudiced at the time . . . oh, yeah, they still are there in present day Iran. It took twelve months of mud packs and Brazilian blowouts before the fair young maidens were considered lovely enough to meet the King up close and personal. By then, they were all another year older, you know. Each girl had a chance for a one night stand with the King. They just had to be smart. They had to know what to take from the hotel with them for their Ken and Barbie Date Night, and the next morning they were chauffeured back to the hotel. Then it was just a lot of hanging around in the hot tub, eating donuts with the other girls, trading stories and hoping they’d get the final flower at the impending rose ceremony.

When it was Esther’s turn to meet Xerxes, she decided not to try to figure out what to bring from the hotel on her own. Instead, she asked the eunuch in charge what he thought she should bring. Pretty smart cookie, there. Stroke the little guy’s pride. All the other girls kicked themselves for not thinking of it first. But they couldn’t hold it against Esther. She was a crowd favorite and was even named Miss Congeniality by a unanimous vote. All this happened in October when the King had been in office for seven years. I’m not sure why that matters, but it’s in the Bible.

Well, the whole thing worked and the King was smitten with Esther. Nobody else even tied for second. He gave her a royal tiara, made her his wife, threw another blowout party for all his friends, and proclaimed the fourth Thursday in October as Queen Esther Day. It might have been the third Friday in October. Whatever. He even had some royal china and paper weights made with both their pictures on it for the tourists.

And they should have just lived happily ever after all of that. I mean, the king sobered up and married the prettiest little Jew girl in the . . . . oh, yeah. That’s what went wrong. He never checked her passport to make sure she was legal. Bummer again. Esther wasn’t trying to skirt the law or be dishonest. She was just listening to her Uncle/Cousin Mordecai’s advice, and he was just trying to keep her pretty head attached to her pretty shoulders until he figured out what to do about that unfortunate nationality of hers.

Well, Uncle Cousin Mordeai had become quite a fixture on the castle grounds. But nobody knew he and the Queen were relatives. He was drinking a Starbucks one afternoon in the Castle Coffee Shop when he overheard a couple of the king’s bellboys griping about only being paid minimum wage or something like that. The two guys got each other so worked up, they decided to take out a contract on the king’s life instead of just contacting their local union like normal, sane people. Mordecai heard their whole amateur plot and he told Queen Esther about it. She told Xerxes and gave the credit to her Uncle Cousin. The King had his CIA agents check it out and sure enough, it was true! Suffice it to say that those two guys were never heard from again. CIA agents don’t mess around. The King even put the whole thing down in his journal. He had a touchy feely side that way.

Through Bleary Eyes - Esther 3 'n 4

Esther 3

Now for some reason, King Xerxes became very fond of a pompous politician named Haman. He created a special position in his legislature just for the guy, and all the other fellas had to bow down anytime he strolled past by order of the King. Which he did a lot. Back and to, back and to, until the rest of Congress got pretty fed up with his arrogance. But Esther’s Uncle Cousin Mordecai refused to bow when Haman walked by. Which annoyed Haman so much he couldn’t sleep at night, what with all that stomach acid and reflux. He was so enraged at this one man who wouldn’t pay any attention to him that he decided to get even. He decided to get MORE than even. He’d discovered that Mordecai was a Jew, which made Haman hate ALL the Jews in Xerxesville. He plotted to have all the resident Jews murdered as revenge for Mordecai’s bad manners. Talk about holding a grudge. Sheesh.

Well, the King and Queen had just celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary with a nice quiet dinner at home with candles and roses and one of those cute violinists strolling around them all night. Meanwhile, Haman was in a habit of making big life decisions based on the roll of some dice, and a few months later, January I think, he played a little game at the craps table. He rolled a seven and a five, added them up, and decided that Fate was telling him December was a good month for the Jews to die.

He was a sneaky little creep, though. He didn’t just come right out and tell the King what he was so ticked off about. He fed the King a story about how there were some religious fanatics living in his city who were leaches on the economy. He told Xerxes it would be politically correct to stop tolerating them and just finish off the whole bunch, once and for all. He even offered a bribe to the King if he’d take him up on the idea. Talk about nerve!

Well, apparently good old Xerxes wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Or else he just wasn’t really listening all that closely to Haman that day. I think he just wanted to get rid of the guy, so he told him to put away his wallet, made Haman a co-signer on executive orders, and went back to watching his ballgame.

You know what happens next. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Haman wasted no time and signed a bazillion executive orders dictating the total demise of every man, woman and child with names ending in Stein or Berg on December 13th, which was probably a Friday. Attackers were given permission to loot the homes of their victims, too, just for a little incentive. It wasn’t going to be a sneak attack – it was made a law under the authority of Haman, the King’s right hand man. In eleven months to the day, Jewish citizens would be extinguished. Then the King and Haman shared a couple of beers, while Mordecai and all the Jews read the order and tried to figure out if it was something they said.

Esther 4

Mordecai’s reaction was as intense as it gets: he ripped his clothes apart in anguish, put on funeral attire, and headed back in tears to the Starbucks where he’d saved the King’s life. That’s gratitude for you, he thought, as he drowned his sorrows in a caramel macchiato. And he wasn’t the only one. Terror and grief seized the heart and mind of every victim destined for the sword. Guns hadn’t been invented yet. It was the worst epidemic of depression the world had ever known.

Esther’s servants told her of Mordecai’s mental condition and his pathetic wardrobe as soon as they saw it. Esther sent him a Sears gift card so he could put on something decent, but he refused the offer. Finally, she sent a trusted friend to ask Mordecai what was bugging him. The news she received was shocking: she learned how much money Haman had tried to bribe her husband with, and saw the actual legal directive signed under Xerxes’ authority to wipe out her very own people. Of course, he didn’t know they were her people – yet. Mordecai sent word through Esther’s agent begging her to use her influence with her husband and save all their lives. Preferably before December 13.

Esther was in quite a pickle. As she dictated to the courier to explain to her Uncle Cousin, absolutely everyone knew that it was a death wish to approach the King while he was watching a ballgame in his Man Cave. You simply couldn’t just saunter in there uninvited. And if you did attempt such a crazy thing, you’d be at his mercy, hoping he’d hold out his golden scepter to you compassionately and not use it to hit you in the head. Besides, the play-offs were going full force. The King hadn’t even seen her to kiss her goodnight in over a month. What Mordecai was asking her to do could end up making her the second ex-Mrs. Xerxes. It was just too dangerous.

Mordecai was a little taken aback by her response, and actually got kind of snippy with her. It was the stress. He sent back word through the poor, tired little messenger that Esther shouldn’t be selfish just because she lived in a big, fancy house. “You can pretend you’re not one of us for a while, ignore our predicament and somehow we will still be rescued. But cowardice is never rewarded, and you and your relatives will eventually suffer for it. Still, on a happier note, who knows, maybe you were promoted to your unlikely position as Queen Of The World for such a time as this.”

She always was a good girl with a sensitive spirit. His words hit her hard. She made up her mind. With privilege comes responsibility. She texted Mordecai back: “You’re right, of course. I need you and the rest of the town to fast on my behalf for the next three days – my friends and I’ll do the same. Then I’ll commit an act of civil disobedience and approach my husband without an invitation. And if I die, I die.” Sensitive girls tend to be a bit dramatic.

Through Bleary Eyes - Esther 5

Esther 5

The three days passed pretty quickly. Esther lost a couple of pounds, put on a beautiful gown that fit better now, took a deep breath and walked down to the Man Cave. She had pretty good timing. The Bears had just killed the Rams in overtime and the King was in a good mood. He saw her stand in the doorway looking like a magazine cover and suddenly remembered he had a wife. He extended his golden scepter to her which meant, “Hey, Baby, what’s up?” and she accepted his invitation to come in the room and talk.

“What’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?” he asked.

Esther took another deep breath.

“Well, I’ve been craving minestrone soup, Caesar salad, rib eye steak with baked potatoes, lasagna, jalapeno hummus with pita bread, and Snickerdoodles. So the chef fixed up all that stuff and it’s waiting down in the cafeteria for us. And I thought you could even invite your best bud, Haman, to join us for dinner, too.”

She waited with baited breath to see if he’d take the, uh, bait.

“Yum!” her husband exclaimed.

So the three of them sat around the table and feasted. Over his fourth glass of wine, King Xerxes looked at his beautiful wife and was inspired to give her a little gift.

“Esther,” he said, “I feel inspired to give you a little gift. But I’ve run out of ideas. Why don’t you tell me what you’d like me to get you and it’s as good as yours. I’d even be willing to turn half of my kingdom over to you, even though this isn’t a community property state.”

Esther kept her eye on the prize and took another deep breath.

“Darling, you’re so sweet!” she gushed. “A girl needs time to think, with an offer like that. Why don’t you and our dear friend, Haman here, plan to have dinner with me again tomorrow night and by then I’m sure I will have thought of something.”

It was a win-win situation. Esther was still alive, the King was fat and happy, and Haman couldn’t wait to brag to his wife and friends about how he and the royal couple were thick as thieves. He chuckled to himself all the way out the door, nodding to all the poor nobles who weren’t as popular as him, when suddenly he made eye contact with Mordecai. Who would not bow. It completely threw off his groove. But he kept thinking to himself, “December 13th, December 13th,” and went home to take some Tums.

Of course, he was big man on the campus and all his neighbors dropped by to rub shoulders with him and listen to him brag about his good fortune.

“I’m practically a member of the family, you know,” he boasted. “I’m the only one they invited over for supper!”

“We know,” muttered his wife.

“And, I’m invited back again tomorrow night for Tacos and Margaritas!” he gushed.

“Amazing,” his wife said, and rolled her eyes.

“Yes, but I can hardly even enjoy my good fortune. That guy, Mordecai, still acts like I’m a nobody whenever I see him. He’s ruining all my fun.”

Well, of course, Haman knew his audience. And they didn’t let him down.

“What?! Who does he think he is?!” his wife and friends demanded. “He can’t treat you like that—you’re the King’s best friend! Tomorrow, just see if the big guy will do you a favor and turn Mordecai into a shish kabob. It’s a small thing to ask. Then go on to dinner with your friends and have a good time.”

Haman rubbed his hands together in glee. What a great idea! Then he told the castle carpenters to set up a pole with Mordecai’s name on it. He knew everything was going to turn out fine.

Through Bleary Eyes - Esther 6

Esther 6

That night, a bad case of insomnia set in on the King. Fresh out of Sominex, he decided to find something boring to read and see if that would help him fall asleep. Now if the King ain’t sleepy, ain’t nobody sleepy. So at three in the morning, he had his aides bring him The Giant Book Of All The Great Stuff I’ve Done While I’ve Been King. The condensed version.

Yawning, he thumbed through it and was just about to fall asleep when he saw his journal entry about Mordecai ratting out some back lot thugs and saving the King’s life from an assassination attempt.

“Hey, Joe!” he yelled to his clerk. “Did we ever do anything nice for this Jewish guy who saved my life that one time?”

“No. Can’t think that we did.”

Well, by then it was going on seven and who should show up in the foyer but his good buddy, Haman, looking to ask King Xerxes for that little shish kabob favor. When the King heard that Haman was waiting to see him, he invited Haman in to ask a favor of his own.

“Hey, you’re just the man I wanted to see,” Xerxes bellowed as Haman entered the room. Haman straightened his tie.

“If I wanted to honor somebody in a really big way, what would you suggest I do?” Xerxes asked.

Haman’s heart began to pound and he flushed with embarrassment. “He must plan to honor me, his BFF!” he thought to himself. “How appropriate!”

“Well,” Haman answered, “If I were in your shoes, oh mighty ruler of all the important parts of the world, and I wanted to show my admiration for someone, my Worshipful Master, I’d throw a ticker tape parade in his honor! Oh, oh! And get this! He’d be the only one in the parade--all eyes would be on him! You could even give him one of your royal robes—just one from the back of your closet, no need to make the poor guy too self-conscious—put him on one of your very own horses with one of those huge, beautiful royal crests on the stallion’s head?—and find some schmuck to lead him up and down Main Street for everyone to cheer and applaud!”

Out of breath with excitement, Haman waited eagerly for the King to give him his just reward.

“What a great idea!” the King exclaimed. “I’m putting you personally in charge. Go get one of my robes and a horse and do just what you have said for Mordecai the Jew who’s always hanging out over at Starbucks. And I don’t need a poor schmuck to lead him around town—you can do it for me!”

Every now and then, there’s a little justice in the world. Haman obeyed the King and led Mordecai around the town that morning, shouting for all to hear,

“This is how the King honors people who have his back.”

It was an Excedrin moment for Haman. Tail between his legs, he headed home where his family and friends tried to stifle their chuckles and work up a little sympathy for Haman and His Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

“Wow,” they said, “Sucks to be you.”

None of them thought he had an ice cube’s chance in Hades of getting rid of Mordecai now. And while they commiserated with Haman, the chauffeur arrived to take him to dinner at the palace.

Through Bleary Eyes - Esther 7

Esther 7

Things were about to get a lot worse for Haman. If you have a queasy stomach, you may just want to skip over the end of this little chapter. Fair warning.

Haman arrived at the castle, met up with King Xerxes, and the two of them joined Esther for tacos in the cafeteria. Haman didn’t have much of an appetite, but did his best to pretend to enjoy himself. After finishing off his flan, the King sat back with his Margarita glass and admired his beautiful Queen. He remembered his desire to give her a special gift, brought out his checkbook and, pen paused in the air, asked her what little trinket she’d decided on. It was the moment of truth.

“Remember,” he said with a smile, “only up to half of my kingdom. Don’t get greedy now!”

Esther drew herself up to her full stature, looking more elegant and royal than the King had ever seen her. Mordecai would have been proud.

“Your Majesty,” she began in earnest, using his full name, “if it’s true that you are over the moon for me and willing to show such amazing generosity, then the thing I’m asking you to give me is my very life. I’m also asking you to spare the lives of my people. All of us, my people and myself, have been betrayed and will certainly be murdered in cold blood—annihilated—unless you step in. If we were only being sold into slavery, we could take it, though, and in that case I would never ask for your intervention.”

King Xerxes was stunned.

“Who did this?” he demanded. “What’s his name?”

Haman tried to blend in to the Persian rug.

“This vile man eating at our table,” she exclaimed, pointing. “Haman—enemy of the state!”

The King stood up in a rage, nearly knocking over a jar of salsa. Fists clenched, he quickly strode out to the garden to collect his thoughts before coming back in to commit homicide. Haman was terrified. He couldn’t run. There was nowhere to hide. Brought down by a woman, and a Jew at that, he began to cry like a little girl, literally throwing himself onto Queen Esther, who had taken a seat on the couch, and begged her to spare his pathetic life.

Just at that moment, Xerxes burst back into the room, surveyed the scene, and lost his cool.

“Who do you think you are? Now you molest my wife while she’s here with me?”

It was as good as a death sentence. Seemingly out of nowhere (cuz the Bible cuts to the chase a lot like that), the royal executioners appeared, threw a flour sack over Haman’s head and waited for orders from the King.

One of the eunuchs knew about the shish kabob pole out in the courtyard and commented, “There’s a 75 foot pole outside that Haman erected to kill Mordecai on—remember him? The man who saved you from the teenage assassins that time?”

Haman tried to glare at him, but it was hard to see through that flour sack.

So, here’s the part where you may want to skip to chapter eight.

Rage filled the King.

“Is that so?” he said with a smirk. “Well, what goes around comes around. He sealed his own doom,” . . .

Okay, I have a weak stomach and can’t tell you how they decorated that huge May pole out in the courtyard. I’m skipping on to chapter eight. Suffice it to say, the King’s anger subsided and Haman’s wife became a widow.

Her mother was right—she should never have married that loser.

Through Bleary Eyes - Esther 8

Esther 8

The safer chapter.

Things began to look up a little for the Queen. She finally confessed to her husband her relationship to Mordecai, as well as her heritage, but it didn’t phase him in the least.

“You could have told me,” he gently chided, and rumpled her hair. She felt so silly.

The King probated Haman’s entire estate the next day and gave it to his wife, Esther, minus all the relatives. Then he called her Uncle Cousin Mordecai into the castle where he promoted him to the status recently vacated by Haman, the enemy of the Jews. Finally, Esther appointed Mordecai guardian over her newly acquired estate. And if this were an American story, this would be where the happy ending appears.

But this is a Medes and Persians story—remember the King’s careless edict which couldn’t be changed? Uh, huh. That equals three more chapters before we’re finished. Take a break if you need to. I’ll wait.

All the stress had taken its toll on Queen Esther. There was still that troubling little death sentence which awaited her and all her people. She collapsed in an emotional heap at the King’s feet, begging him to rescind the edict Haman issued against the Jews. Unfortunately, Persian politics were a lot like poker: a card laid is a card played. Once written, a law was inflexible. That’s when Esther came up with a suggestion on how to circumvent the Jewish extermination proclamation.

“Tell me if you think this is a good idea,” she said, standing slowly, “and if you really love me, and if you like my ideas, and . . .” Her insecurity began to show a little. “Here’s what I suggest: make a new law that overrules the other one!”

“Why didn’t I think of that?” the King thought to himself, proud of himself for marrying such a smart cookie.

“What a good idea,” he told Esther and Mordecai. “Ok, Mordie,” said Xerxes, “write it up as seems best to you on my stationary in my name in behalf of the Jews and it’s as good as done.” Ready for a cold one, he headed back to the Man Cave.

You see, in the words of Edmund Burke, who would live about two thousand years later, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Esther surrounded herself with men who were better than that.

Even though it was still nine months before D-Day, they got right to work. Thousands of people scattered over hundreds of miles of Xerxesville needed to be told they had the right to bear arms and defend themselves against enemies both foreign and domestic. Secretaries scribbled and couriers delivered the important documents by horseback to everyone. Come December 13th, Jews in every city knew they had the King’s permission to assemble and protect themselves—to destroy beyond recognition any armed men of any nationality or province who even tried to harm them or their women or their children. And, as a bonus, the Jews were given the right to plunder the property of their enemies. What a deal.

Suddenly, Mordecai was a hero in Xerxesville. And the King was such a humble guy, he let Mordecai take the limelight for a while. When he left the palace, Mordie was dressed in some crazy new threads with lots of royal bling, just a little token of appreciation from King Xerxes and the Missus.

The country was filled with jubilant Jews who knew how to celebrate. They partied so loud and so long, full of thankfulness at their eleventh hour rescue, that some Xerxesvillians got intimidated by their enthusiasm, crashed their party and defected. By the time the festivities wound down, there were more registered Jews than when they began.

That’s some crazy math.

Through Bleary Eyes - Esther 9

Esther 9

It was the day of reckoning. Nine months had passed since the Jews throughout Xerxes’ kingdom learned that their King really did have their best interests at heart. Nine months to sharpen their swords. Nine months to formulate strategies. Nine months preparing to defend themselves from a well publicized invasion. You would think, wouldn’t you, if you were planning to attack citizens who had that much time to organize and who had the full support of your own king, that it might be a good idea to sleep in come December 13th so you’d still be alive to enjoy December 14th?

Somehow, Haman’s original cohorts never got that memo. So when the time came to attack, they did a little high five in the city center, kissed their women goodbye, jumped on their horses to go commit some genocide, and planned to be back in time for dinner. They chose poorly, Grasshopper. And there were a lot of empty chairs at the supper table in Xerxesville that night.

The Jews had the upper hand in every way imaginable. Their enemies attacked them with fear in their hearts and doubt in their minds, despite their boasts. That alone was their death knell. The invaders had no support from their government in this fiasco because the King’s advisers had thrown their allegiance in with the King’s new right hand man, Mordecai. Smart move. Those weaklings knew which side their bread was buttered on and, typical politicians that they were, everything always boiled down to bread with them. Mordecai’s reputation as a good and powerful man was legendary throughout the King’s lands. The truth was, the officials were all afraid of Mordecai, so they turned their backs on their troops and hid out in the back rooms of the palace until the skirmish was over.

At the end of that fateful day, the reports of the Jews’ victory over their enemies was incredible. Right there in downtown Xerxesille alone, they massacred five hundred men. They also killed the ten wretched sons of Haman the Horrible, who’d already met his Maker and didn’t make a very good first impression with Him. They took no captives, showed no mercy, and made short work of the threat to their homes and families. But they took no plunder from their enemies. They did only what was necessary to protect themselves and those they loved.

That evening, the King marveled at the success of the day’s Shock and Awe Campaign. Talking with Queen Esther, he said,

“Five hundred and ten men alone were killed right outside our door today! Can you imagine how many were killed throughout my entire kingdom? We may have a shortage of eligible bachelors around here for a while! I gotta give it to ya, though. You sure know how to clean up the riff raff. Is there anything else you want, sweet thing?”

“Well, if it’s all right with you, honey,” she answered sweetly, “tell the Jews they’ll be on a high alert again tomorrow—and since the apples didn’t fall far from the tree, display the bodies of Haman’s ten sons in the courtyard the same way his was.” (Like how I got around that description again?)

Xerxes mouth fell open. “Guess hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” he thought.

So the Jews went at it again. On December 14th they wiped out another three hundred men in downtown Xerxesville. But they took no plunder. And neither did the rest of their countrymen. What they took were the lives of 75,000 invaders, and when it was over the Jews were free of oppression.

The Jews in the countryside were a little more efficient at exterminating pests than those in the city, and got the job done the very first day. That freed up December 14th for celebrating their first Independence Day. They ate hot dogs (kosher, of course) and potato salad and set off fireworks . . . probably. It’s a funny thing, though. They didn’t take any loot from their enemies. Yet, to this day, they exchange gifts when they remember and celebrate their victory. The only thing they wanted from their enemies was freedom. And they honored it with sacrificial giving to others.

Meanwhile, the city folk didn’t get to party until December 15th, but what’s wrong with that? We’d all be a lot happier if every national holiday was stretched out over two days.

Mordecai wrote down every detail for the benefit of posterity. Then he mailed letters, stamped with approval by Queen Esther, to all 127 counties in Xerxes’ kingdom, instructing them to make December 14th and 15th an annual holiday. He left the details up to them, but insisted that they celebrate big time the anniversary of their deliverance from their enemies with potluck socials and donating clothes and toys to homeless shelters. Gratitude begets gratitude. Mordie wanted them to share the wealth.

The Jews liked the idea. Who doesn’t like a good party? Haman the Horrible had plotted against all the Jews to destroy them. He relied on Persian dice, called Pur, to choose their expiration date. But when the King saw how he’d been played for a fool, he turned the tables on Haman, and the little creep and his ten rotten offspring were all caught in their own net and hung out to dry.

The Jews, who had a wicked sense of humor of their own, referred to these two days of celebration as Purim, since it was the roll of dice that set everything else in motion, too. But don’t get me wrong, they took this happy holiday seriously. It became a tradition written in stone. They would never forget the deliverance they had seen, never forget what happened to them personally, and always remember how they united and freed themselves from oppression.

They had seen that there is strength in numbers. They saw that cheaters never prosper. And, good farmers that they were, they knew we always reap exactly what we sow, we reap much later than we sow, and we reap much more than we sow. And they taught all of this to their children, making them promise to pay it forward to the end of time.

Through Bleary Eyes - Esther: The . . . End

Esther 10

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how things can look so hopeless one day, only to change drastically the next? The story—the facts—of Esther’s courage and influence on a powerful king are recorded for all to see in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia. And if you read about how powerful and mighty King Xerxes really was, you’ll have even more respect for Esther and Mordecai and the risks they took when they confronted evil at its core.

The King’s rule of his country was strong and typical: he taxed them just like all governments do, but showed more common sense than many.

As for Mordecai, what can I say? He was a Jew, exiled from his homeland, hated, hunted and placed on a hit list by a powerful madman, rescued at the last minute in a twist of “fate”, and elevated to the second highest position in the country of his exile. He never let this honor go to his head but, instead, used it for the good of his people. They loved him for it. He was a crowd favorite to the end because he always put others first. It seems to me that the book of Esther should have been named instead for her Uncle Cousin Mordecai. But I have a hunch he wouldn’t have liked that. Truly great people never seek the limelight—it just finds them.

Mordecai’s legacy was the courage and integrity he showed at the lowest moment of his life. When he had no logical reason to believe he and his fellow Jews would be rescued, he believed it anyway. He never bowed in worship to anyone but the One True God, even when it put his life in jeopardy. He did everything he could, at the right time and in the right way, to prevent the triumph of evil and to protect and save his innocent countrymen. He did not run. He did not hide. He stood his ground.

Maybe the way this story ends is only amazing to us. Mordecai knew Who gave him his strength. Who gave him his wisdom. And Who had his back.


I’ve taken a few liberties in the retelling of this story. The names have not been changed because the innocent have nothing to be ashamed of and the guilty don’t need protection. But the dates were converted according to our current Gregorian calendar in a way that I found convenient. Call it author's prerogative. Still, to clarify, Purim is usually celebrated in March. And Starbucks wasn’t the beverage of choice in ancient Persia. But it should have been. I used a few other terms that aren’t very Biblical sounding, but the essence and facts of the story are true to the Book of Esther. I think she’d agree.

And I think she’d echo the words my sister often says to me when I let her look into the inner sanctum of my sense of humor: “You ain’t right.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind

I don’t know what you call ‘em. But they’re everywhere. They burst across my peripheral vision from both directions about a mile an hour faster than whatever speed I’m driving. I’m pretty sure the survivors are doing high fives from the side of the road just like their maniacal cousins on that GEICO commercial.
No, they’re not teenagers. Worse. They’re desert rats.

We moved east to a suburb of Queen Creek, now known against my will as San Tan Valley—blech, what a dumb name with embarrassing initials—four years ago this month. I never thought I’d live in Queen Creek. Ever. See, I gave up my pseudo-western identity years ago, which mostly means I quit listening to C&W music. I don’t own a horse. I can’t do the Electric Slide. I never wanted to live in the actual desert desert. You know, with the rattlesnakes and the scorpions and the cowboys and the dirt lawn and the scrubby palo verde trees and the unrelenting sunshine.

But life is funny. Never say never. A beautiful, affordable neighborhood materialized here only thirteen minutes from my daughter, her husband, and the grandbabies and . . . poof! All my priorities changed, right along with my address.

Now whenever this city girl needs a dose of civilization—which is, at least, almost every day—there I am, driving the shortcut backroad to the freeway, past the junk strewn mini-ranches bordering the state's neglected desert landscaping, and all the R.F.D. mailboxes that jut out thoughtlessly into my driving space.

And suddenly, my very presence at fifty miles an hour signals some kind of Wii game for prairie dogs.

What is it with these little furry midgets? Do they have a death wish? Terminal attention deficit? Rodent tics? Don’t they get it? I don’t care if they want to play chicken on the asphalt – do it to somebody else’s truck. I don’t want their gooey bodies squished onto my tires. It’s just . . . disgusting . . . and icky . . . and unhygienic. Who’s gonna clean up that mess?

I mean, seriously, do they have the IQ of a ground squirrel or something?

I used to fret about running over rattlesnakes when I drive that road. Hey, I watch TV. I know poisonous reptiles are rubbery. I heard they can fling up underneath your bumper, climb through the air conditioner vents and attack you from the steering wheel in your own car. I’ve had anxiety attacks just worrying about it. But not anymore. I’ve only seen one in all the time we’ve lived here . . . dead . . . in the middle of the road. There wasn’t a single tire track on his body, though. Just a lot of tiny little footprints.

I think he was trampled to death by prairie dogs.

Maybe it was an omen. A warning. I know it’s going to happen one day. There I’ll be—late as usual—driving too fast on that scrawny shortcut through the desert when a dozen tiny terrorists shoot across my path, pointing and laughing at my panicked expression. Just like their Middle Eastern counterparts, they don’t need fancy gadgets to bring me down—they’re low-tech, all the way. Wielding the element of surprise with the expertise of a ninja, they are consummate professionals.

“Oh my gosh,” I’ll think to myself, “ I underestimated these little insurgents.”

Swerve to the right—no! now the left!—brake hard, speed up—good Lord. . . it’s an ambush! And the next thing you know, I’ll be upside down in a ditch, clean tires spinning aimlessly in the air while I search for my dignity.

That does it. I’m not gonna be taken out THAT easily. I have my pride, you know. My rights to the road. My two ton SUV.

Fair warning, my furry little friends. I’m not afraid of you and your band of assassins anymore. Go ahead, bring it! Give it your best shot, you dusty diminutive demons. Play hopscotch in my path like fleas on crack, you beastly bunch of bullies. My days of tire terror are finished.

Tomorrow I’m buying a Hummer.

Game. Over.

(Photo courtesy of latinvera26's photostream at

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Showdown at The First Church of Starbucks

It wasn’t exactly a banner day. I was two quarts low on caffeine. Fourteen hours low on sleep. A litre low on tears. The answer to this Sunday morning’s problems was the same as always: Starbucks.

End of discussion.

So I took my sad little self to the corporate magnate clone I always escape to because it feels so warm and welcoming there. I headed for the drive-thru. I had less than twenty-five minutes before my eyes would slam shut, rendering driving impossible and catastrophe inevitable. And with a twenty minute drive home, speed was of the essence.

Rats. Cut off at the pass by two selfish drivers who didn’t care that my needs were way more important than theirs. Twenty-four minutes til brain implosion. I decided to take a chance and go inside for refueling.

Big mistake. The First Church of Starbucks was already in session. There were only two empty parking places. One faced the street, thirty extra steps away from the Door of Hope and Indulgence. The other was curbside, saving me precious seconds. This was a no-brainer. Good thing, since mine was MIA.

Now, I admit it. I drive a gas guzzling, land barge of an SUV. On purpose. So don’t even get me started. But I can spin that thing around on a dime and put it exactly where I want it, when I want it, better than you can with your tiny little smart car. What I can’t do very well is control the stupid door. As I drove my ginormous vehicle between the two white lines of my parking spot—spacing it perfectly—my body began to reserve its flagging energy, shutting down superfluous browsers. And that’s the reason I lost control of my door when I opened it: finger failure.

Did I mention the beautiful new Harley Davidson I parked next to? With the gorgeous maroon paint and expensive, sparkling flecks throughout? The one on my left—the driver’s side? How about the cute little white tattoo I thought it needed? Did I mention that? The one shaped like the corner of a heavy truck door?

Suddenly, I no longer needed caffeine. I needed a bodyguard. Or a lawyer. There was no hole to crawl into. No way I could pretend it wasn’t a white paint ding from MY vehicle. No way I could feign ignorance. For Pete’s sake, I parked in front of the plate glass windows—next to the sidewalk social club cafĂ©! Everyone saw my transgression. There was only one thing I could do: beg for mercy. In a public place. Where there’d be a lot of witnesses to my demise.

Lucky for me, Starbucks is a VERY public place.

You see, I know a little something about bikes. I even know that’s what you call ‘em. Yeah, I’m cool. My dad put me on his classic Indian when I was barely a year old and entertained the neighbors by driving me around in my frilly pink dress and patent leather Mary Janes. Sorry you missed it. At fourteen, I learned that new white Keds tennies go on the foot pegs, not the exhaust pipes. That’s the last time that boy ever took me for a ride on his rubber adorned bike. When I was sixteen, my boyfriend sent me off alone into the desert on his little Honda dirt bike and I was nearly never heard from again. Thank goodness for the ten-year-old who came to my rescue and kick-started that stupid piece of . . . machinery.

And last year I saw the movie, “Wild Hogs.” Which is where I learned that some bikers are not nice people. They eat morons like me for breakfast. Who says TV isn’t educational? So, since it was Sunday and I was at The First Church of Starbucks, I did the only logical thing I could—I began to fast and pray. Breaking out in a cold sweat, I realized that soon I would finish life as I had begun—alone.

I never thought it would end like this—me, a bike dinger, and High Noon at the Coffee Corral.

With a swagger that betrayed the confidence I didn’t feel, I walked through the double doors of the new millennium’s saloon. Conversations screeched to a halt. The canned jazz piano sputtered and stopped. Counters cleared, baristas scattered. I stared at the frightened patrons, searching through the tree hugger crowd for the Stranger who would seal my fate today—The High Plains Drifter.

I saw his woman first. Slender, attractive, she flashed a friendly smile at me until I asked if that Harley outside was hers.

“Why?” she asked, concern and fear playing a duet across her face.

“I may have left my brand on it, m’am,” I replied.

“Oh, dear,” she moaned, mopping her brow with a tan paper napkin. “You’ll need to talk to my husband,” and she backed up towards the wall.

It was then that I saw him. Short, slightly paunchy, his mouth accentuated by a round, white Van Dyke . . . or maybe it was just covered with foam from the espresso he held. He wore a black leather skull cap, a leather jacket that matched the one his lady cowered in behind the condiment table, and rolled up blue jeans. With deck shoes. Deck shoes?

“Looks like you been doin’ some drinkin’,” I said to the man in the quarter gallon hat holding a sixteen ounce cup.

“What makes you say that?” he replied.

“Intuition, I guess,” I answered back, thanking God I’d stayed up late watching “Wyatt Earp” last night. “So, you’re ridin’ around on a purple Harley these days, are ya?”

“It’s eggplant. And who wants to know?” he answered, stone faced, widening his stance.

“Well, you parked it a little close to my white Tahoe, mister. And now you’re sportin’ a white raspberry on her right flank. You oughta be a little more careful how close you get to the lines, ya know.”

“You sayin’ you dinged up my ride?” he sputtered, concern filling his face, calling my bluff. “Show me what you done!” he said and headed for the door, both arms pumping in agitation.

Hmm, I thought to myself. Maybe I should have tried a different tactic.

In no time at all we stood outside next to his injured bike. He spat on his finger and rubbed at the abrasion. Then he stood up straight and looked directly into my chin.

“Well . . . you’re lucky. It’s only a flesh wound. You had me scared! This here’s my baby! I’ve got some stuff at home that’ll clean her right up. Don’t give it another thought,” he said generously, and headed back inside to comfort his wife.

I followed him, grabbing my iced coffee from the counter. It seemed only right that I apologize to the biker and his babe, thanking them for their charitable attitudes. So I did. Then carefully backing my truck out, I headed home, lost in my thoughts. You know, life can really surprise you sometimes. That’s not at all how it went down on “Wild Hogs.” Or “Wyatt Earp.” There really are some forgiving people in this world. I just didn’t expect to run into one after a run-in with his bike.

I learned a few things that morning at The First Church of Starbucks.

1) Use the drive thru when you’re sleep deprived – caffeine’s on the way. You can afford the wait.

2) Always tell the truth and admit your mistakes – just do it in a well lit area.

And finally,

3) That’s the last time I drive my husband to the airport at four o’clock in the morning. From now on, he can call a cab. I'm done with westerns.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Being Positive

So now I’m in a place in my life—a season—where I’m not busy raising or educating my children. I’m involved with them, but they’re not the focus of my life. I’m not in a church. I’m too tired of the politics of church to fight my way into relationships with people, or settling for the “community” that’s offered only when you sign up for a committee. I want REAL community. It’s hard to find. I’m weary of looking and lonely without it. I’m not employed—by choice—but am unfulfilled by vacuuming and cooking lowfat, late night meals for two.

Now suddenly, I find myself thrust into a political struggle that grips my passions. It’s not a popular fight. It’s under the radar. It’s gargantuan, but it’s barely visible.

The solution seems obvious to most people: “Better safe than sorry” or “Then don’t fly.” Easily said. Until you’re the one singled out in an airport because someone became suspicious and turned you in to authorities. Who have no choice but to treat you like a horrific criminal first, clear you of all charges later, and leave you alone in a mud hole of humiliation. It’s unclear how many Americans are being treated this way right now because the liberal media doesn’t normally report these cases of abuse. And they’re becoming—God help us—more and more normal.

This morning I saw the link for MSNBC’s report (huge kudos to them) about a Jewish/Arabic American citizen housewife from Detroit who was pulled off a plane Sunday at gunpoint and strip searched because paranoid passengers on her Frontier flight saw her sitting next to two Indian males who didn’t even know each other.

My mouth is still dropped open, the tears still falling, my mind still reeling. What has happened to our country? Ten years after the towers fell, Sunday’s national memorials were devoid of spiritual leaders, firefighters or police—all purposely left off the invitation lists—while the president reminded people to observe the “Day of Service”. Suddenly we are being told to move on and forget the devastation of terrorism’s first strike, while at the same time being trained to become our own Big Brother to every stranger we see.

What a paradox.

Janet has unveiled new public service announcements promoting her campaign entitled, “See Something? Say Something.” Fabulous. If being seen is a crime, which was Shoshana Hebshi’s experience three days ago (, then we’re all screwed.

Or we’re all on the fast track to agoraphobia.

Despite how well these incidents are kept under wraps, thanks to the internet it’s easy to uncover more “isolated” incidents than the mind can comprehend. My mind's circuitry is on overload, threatening at any moment to reward me with my own personal rolling blackout.

Somewhere there has to be a way for this inexperienced, retired home educator, late bloomer Baby Boomer to make a difference in the fight to hang on to our constitutional freedoms from governmental harassment. Opting out on this front isn’t an option. It would be a death knell for our grandchildren.

How does one do the backstroke in a river of mud?

I see a lot of facebook friends struggling with the same issue of swimming in murky waters. Every day they post positive thinking encouragements. I can choose to be happy. I can forgive. I can have more character than the next guy. I can overcome all by my positive-thinking-self.

No, I can’t.

We used to have a red-headed beagle. When she was afraid, she stuck her head under the dust ruffle on our bed. Just her head. It wasn’t hard to find her unprotected rear end because it stuck out into the room for all to see. But she thought she was safe as long as she couldn’t see us.

I know Christ is the answer to living with hope in a country of chaos. But even Jesus spoke out sometimes. He got in the face of Pharisees and complimented them with the feel good phrase, “you brood of poisonous snakes.” He told them they were as alive and clean as “white washed tombs.” Sometimes He said nothing because silence speaks louder than words. But He never pulled punches in the face of evil. And still He was full of peace. And joy. And hope. And Life.

Excuse me. I gotta go. I suddenly remembered where I can find a Refuge. It’s not hiding under the bed. It’s in the Arms of the One Who sees everything I’m seeing. And is taking notes.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. ~ Exodus 14:14

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering Joe

I read the name into the microphone that morning beside Tempe Town Lake. “H. Joseph Heller, Jr.” It was one of about twenty listed on two cards I was given as I waited my turn in line. I knew I couldn’t keep the cards—though I wanted to—so I singled out this name because I knew I could remember it. I know another Joe Heller.

Howard Joseph Heller, Jr. was 37 years old when he died in the World Trade Center.

He was a family man with four children—the youngest a mere sixteen months old, the oldest was eight. His wife, Maryjean, still lives in the yellow farm house he was restoring in Ridgefield, Connecticut. He put bread on the table by working as a commodities floor broker in “the pit” beside his friend, Ralf, who said Joe was a very good man who loved his family.

When the first jet hit, Joe called Maryjean, telling her he was fine and planned to escape down an emergency stairway. It was six weeks before they found his body.

I found Joseph Heller’s flag among the other four thousand before I left The Healing Fields at Tempe Town Lake Beach. There wasn’t much written on the biographical card attached to the flagpole—just his name and place of business. Climbing into the privacy of my truck after an hour and a half at the memorial, I let the tears fall briefly and spoke the words of my heart, “I’m so sorry.” I left determined to learn more about the person whose name I’d chosen to represent all the names on my cards—people unknown to me and all the hearers listening from among the flags today.

Thank God for the internet. Even an obscure life can be googled.

Though the flags were beautiful, I was drawn to the place where every citizen was invited to participate in reading the names of those who died on 9/11. At least four times as I waited my turn for the mike, I heard someone end their reading by adding that the deceased was “my close friend.” Maybe New York isn’t so very far from Arizona. Even more heart breaking, at least three times I heard a woman’s name given, followed immediately by the sob-catching phrase, “and her unborn child.”

I waited a long time in the sun today, but desert storms late last night granted us a cool morning with light breezes. On the lake, skulling boats rowed by in silence. Cyclists and joggers passed us on the sidewalk near the water’s edge, intent on their morning’s outing, but glancing curiously at the event on the beach. Looking up towards a light blue sky patched with airy white clouds, I saw a few pedestrians and more cyclists pause on the Mill Avenue Bridge, looking down in reverence at the forest of flags blowing peacefully below. It was a fairly quiet, reflective scene. Commercial jets regularly flew past, following the visual of the long lake on their flights out of Phoenix, and news choppers hovered overhead from time to time, unfortunately drowning out the sound of the very memorial they were filming. But the setting was serene, and I watched happy toddlers running through the flags while their parents paused to reflect on the lives represented there.

I had time to people watch, "Norman Rockwell" style. A weary wife and husband took a break on concrete curbing under a tree, holding the leash of their bulldog, Tank, who sat at parade rest, dressed out proudly in his insignia adorned Marine cape. Against the backdrop of thousands of eight-foot-tall American flags, four cyclists paused—seated—on their bikes, their flag designed shirts blending in with their background. They listened to the names in silence.

I caught sight of three soldiers, backs to us, dressed head-to-toe in desert camo. They walked to the grassy hill across from the podium, each strolling down a different row where they were swallowed up in a sea of flags, only their boots visible briefly as the breeze united the fluttering flags into one, long magician’s curtain. Soon, the soldiers’ combat boots vanished from view—a sobering visual of the lives recounted by the reading of names.

I’m glad I went. I’m glad I met Joseph Heller. There’s an unsettling emphasis this year on marking this day of remembrance with community service rather than honoring our war dead. There is real danger in forgetting that this isn’t a feel good day about doing nice things for other people. This is a day honoring the lives of innocent men, women and children who perished at the beginning of a never-ending conflict with terrorism that threatens every element of our lives today.

Taps sounded for the third time as I left The Healing Fields.

Rest in peace, Joe. You are not forgotten.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Profile of Courage

I’ll never forget what I couldn’t believe.

From the moment my eyes locked on the two burning buildings, my mind scrambled to understand. All these years later, I still don’t understand. I was certain on that day in 2001 that the firefighters who ran into the raging inferno in New York would come out again. Firefighters are superheroes, you know. But even superheroes are no match for flaming jet fuel. Especially seventy-eight stories up. And the buildings that were designed to withstand airplane crashes gave way to the impact of blackened terrorist hearts.

I watched TV coverage of the attack on innocent Americans from seven a.m. until four p.m. with a mixture of shock, fear and grief that day. But no tears. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know what the World Trade Center actually was until I saw it burn and implode in a city thousands of miles away. I felt sick to realize hundreds or thousands of people died in real time as I watched the towers fall. But I didn’t cry. Not until four o’clock. Not until the news finally reported with certainty that the death totals would include hundreds of firefighters who ran into a building as everyone else ran out.

That’s what heroes do. That’s what firefighters and police officers do. They run into deadly situations. They risk their lives when everyone else is running for theirs. And that’s what my husband did for thirty-eight years. Putting his life on the line for his job as a firefighter, for his children, and for his wife. He did it with no thought for himself. I’ve never known a more selfless man. Even when he trained with his new department here after ten years of experience as a Florida fire officer, his training captain was amazed by his humble attitude and servant heart. And told him so.

We’ve known many incredible men and women in the fire service over the years. And, to be honest, a few who were not so incredible. Happens everywhere. But the vast majority love their jobs and would have run into those buildings, too, if fate had them working for the NYFD on that day. I am certain my husband would have been at the front of the line. He has taken the heat for me more times than I can remember. He has taken the heat from me more times than I want to admit. He’s taken the heat on the job unnecessarily. But he has never wavered in his devotion to either his job or his family. He’s not afraid of heat.

He is a strong tower into which I have run many times. But he never crumbles. He knows Where his own Refuge is, his own High Tower. His identity as God’s man makes him both secure and a security to others.

I wish with all my heart that the New York towers had been built of the same stuff as my husband. I wish the heroes of 9/11 had lived to hold their wives and children another day. That there would have been no reason for them to even be called heroes. And I wish I knew how to say thank you to the men and women of the fire service and their families. Only they know the sacrifices they make every day so that you and I will be safe.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13 NIV)

I love you, Rob McLeod. You are my hero.