November 25, 2020

Just above the Horizon (with Bubblegum)

Another moment I have always remembered was walking out on deck one night after supper and finding a young red-haired officer peering into the dark through binoculars. He told me he was scanning the horizon for signs of other ships, and the way to do that, he explained, was to look not at the horizon but just above it. He said you could see better that way than by looking straight on, and I have found it to be an invaluable truth in many ways. Listen not just to the words being spoken but to the silences between the words, and watch not just the drama unfolding but the faces of all around you watching it unfold. Years later when preaching a sermon about Noah, it was less the great flood that I tried to describe than the calloused palm of Noah’s hand as he reached out to take the returning dove, less the resurrection itself than the moment, a day or so afterward, when Jesus stood on the beach cooking fish on a charcoal fire and called out to the disciples in their boat, “Come and have breakfast.”

– Frederick Buechner, “Wunderjahr”
from Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany

* * *

Truth generally doesn’t knock on the door and introduce itself when you open up to see who’s there.

You might recognize a fact that way, the way you open a book and it says Roger Maris hit 61 homers in 1961.

But a fact like that is just like a name on the map, the place you used to live, let’s say.

Truth, on the other hand, comes when you remember how it felt to ride your bike over the old brick street in front of your house in that little Midwest town, while the baseball cards you had clothespinned to the back wheel thwack-thwack-thwacked against the spinning spokes.

And then you recall that one of those cards might have been a 1962 Roger Maris.

You bought it the summer before, when you and a few of your buddies rode your bikes like banshees to the corner store several blocks away, jumped off, set your kickstands, and poured through the door. The smell of bread and candy wafted over the wooden floors and counters and the gray-haired lady in the apron by the cash register greeted you as if you were family. She kept her eye on you, too.

Some older kid had announced that the latest series of baseball cards was out, and every single one of you raced home to dump the change out of your banks, and scrounge it from under your bed, off the kitchen counter, wherever you could find it. You stuffed it into your pocket and the screen door slammed behind you as you jumped off the porch and mounted your bike.

Now, there in the store, you dug through your pockets and counted that change. How many packs could you buy?

You flipped through the shiny plastic packs in the display boxes and picked out the ones you hoped held a rare and precious card. Your grubby little boy hands piled jingling coins on the counter. A few strays had slipped out of your pocket and spun on the floor. You reached down and picked them up and put them in the pile. The lady counted your money, rang it into the register, gave you the change, and handed you a brown paper bag. You and your crew rushed outside to make your discoveries.

You stuck as many pieces of the hard pink bubblegum as you could in your mouth and examined your cards. There it was. Roger Maris. Home run champion of all time.

Then you and your friends, with all your loot, pedaled like mad pirates back to the neighborhood. “Maris! I got Maris!” you cried as you saw the older kids playing wiffle ball in their driveway.

Your bike wheels rumbled over the bricks until you whipped left into your driveway, slammed on the brakes and skidded, laying a line of rubber on the concrete. “Hey mom!” you shouted as you burst through the screen door and the kitchen and bounded, two stairs at a time, up to your room. You fell on your blue cotton bedspread and laid the baseball cards out in front of you.

One by one you looked at them, chomping on your bubblegum. You picked up that special card over and over again, examining every detail.

“Wow,” you thought. “61 home runs, 142 RBI’s. Roger Maris.”

And that’s the truth.


  1. Nice – both of them.



  2. Final Anonymous says

    Good one. Brought up a host of pleasant memories on a day when I needed it. Thanks.

  3. I’m tempted for some gun. Chaplin Mike…while we are talking sports are there any football teams (pro or college) that you like to follow?

  4. ‘look not at the horizon but just above it’ – that’s so true. Thank you for reminding me.

    • Like looking for the feint stars in the night sky …most easily detected when you look “around” them. I’m learning to trust my peripheral vision more where new ideas can surprise me before I can combat them with what I think I already know.

      Thanks for the post, Mike. Special memories there. How’d you pass up the pea shooters on the store counter? Do they make pea shooters anymore?

    • Let me add one from Theilicke. You see the stars only when you look into the darkness.

  5. Mike, there’s a radio program around here that the host signs off with, “Well that’s about it for this week. Go out, find something good, and celebrate it.”

    I’m not much of a baseball fan (used to use poker cards on the spokes of my bike) but this article is cool. Thanks for celebrating.

    • Yeah, those plastic Kem cards were best. I’d use only the jokers so Mom wouldn’t miss them. If she caught you with and ace or a king you were toast.

    • I used the cards left over from endless games of War with my cousins. They were pretty limp by then, but I knew what would happen if I took anything from the bridge deck!

      Beautiful, Mike. I’m teaching my college students about writing reminiscences and will direct them to this.

  6. hmmm…. went into moderation for no good reason…

  7. Beautiful! Brought back one of the more pleasant memories from childhood of my sister and I riding down to the corner market to spend our allowance on Beatles and Star Trek cards in much the same fashion. The girls in the neighborhood would get together and trade a new George for two John’s..that kind of thing. HA! Totally forgot all about that till now. :0)

  8. Nice meditation. When I first read this, I was expecting to be hit with something profound, but nothing came. Then I realized that that was profound in and of itself, and that “meditation” was the perfect description for this piece.

    • Thank you, Rick. You bring out one of the key ideas of this little piece and the point Buechner was trying to make. Profundity (or “truth” as in the post) is not just in the facts. It is a living thing that springs from experiencing the details of life. Life is sacramental, as much about the rumble of the bricks beneath the bicycle wheels as about the fact that Roger Maris hit a certain number of home runs. Or, as in his example, as much about Jesus’ voice inviting the disciples to breakfast as about the miracle of resurrection.