Lessons from Papa

A few years back, one of my beautifully creative sisters had an idea to make a traveling family book. We would take turns having it at each household and add items of memories, messages of love, funny clips, pictures or whatever moved us. Then we would ship it on to the next house, letting it make its rounds. My sister Susie has a beautiful gift of accompanying people in her life and this book was a unique way of connecting the souls in her family.

Photo by charan sai on Pexels.com

Papa’s Gifts

My Father understands legacy. He is always thinking of his four daughters and how he can cultivate our gifts. So, when Susie started the “family book” it was no wonder it inspired in my dad an old memory that was also about connecting people, even though at the time it was created he was just a tiny boy and understood so little about what it actually meant and what it had to do with the person he would become.

Visiting his grandparents’ dairy farm near Austinburg, Ohio, my dad remembered seeing a cross-stitched sampler of a few lines from a (then) popular poem “The House By The Side Of The Road” which hung by the door in his grandparents’ house. The poet, Sam Walter Foss, lived in New England in the later part of the 19th century. As I researched his work, I found so many interesting connections between him and my dad, the best of which is that his style of work is most incredibly like my dad in his writings and drawings. Papa often makes home-spun quippy poems and comics, as Sam Water Foss did in his day. These two great poets (I have posted some of my dad’s work here) both had/have great faith and a love for the gentle side of humanity.

The House by the Side of the Road
THERE are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
Nor hurl the cynic’s ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish – so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
Sam Walter Foss

Sam Foss House in Candia NH from New England Historical Society

The poem speaks to me about the way we are created us to love one another in an ongoing relationship that can at times be uncomfortable. Real love asks us to spend of ourselves.

We Are Relational Beings

Since the beginning of time, evil’s greatest weapon has been fear. Our fears are often rooted in what is unknown, and what is unknown is “the Other” and “one another”. Evil wants us to fear others so much that we just isolate ourselves, which leads to great loneliness. People’s differences scare us. We have a natural inclination to assimilate, but in order to find our similarities with one another we must put ourselves and our judgments aside, and ask for the grace to seek understanding about what isn’t familiar to us.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road, Where the race of men go by- They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong, wise, foolish – so am I. Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat, Or hurl the cynic’s ban?

In order to have any meaning in our lives we need relationships. We can’t know God or each other unless we risk a little something. By stretching out to one another we go beyond the borders of ourselves, which frees us from the lie that we are “safe” by removing ourselves from relationships. We are reminded that the remedy to this fear is to ENGAGE with one another. God gives us the greatest commandment, to love Him first and each other as ourselves.

37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40

Sharing in the Other’s Cross

But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-

Not only did this poem remind me that my life is not my own, it belongs to God who created it–wove it into existence, and has a purpose for it–but it reminds me that in order to have a relationship with God, it cannot be separated from others. We serve Him by serving each other. I serve another when I help them carry their own cross. This is love.

And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice And weep with the strangers that moan, Nor live in my house by the side of the road Like a man who dwells alone.

As we celebrate Papa’s Birthday this week (I can’t be with him so I am writing this Ode to Papa) I will be adoring the thought of that small curly-haired boy at his grandparents dairy farm in the 1940’s, in who’s heart tiny seeds were planted from a wall-hanging of a famous words from a man he never knew, but he would grow to emulate in virtue and talent. I love you Dad!

Papa’s sketch of his Grandparents’ dairy farm
Baby Papa on the left

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”

–St. Augustine of Hippo

4 thoughts on “Lessons from Papa

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