The fellowship of "Overcoming."

I used this story in a sermon recently, and have had several comments. Thus, I have chosen to post it here.

Come with me to the world of my 4th year. It is sometime during 1947: you must remember that I was only four and the memory is sketchy. It was neither too hot nor too cold, so my best guess would be that it might be fall, since that would be nearning my fifth birthday, and the memory is clear, which leads me to believe I must have been nearer five years of age than four.

Mother and I leave the house through the back door, walk up the hill, past the scuppernong vine which is supported by a large pipe frame, past the barn and along the fence which keeps in our cow and pigs. We enter the woods at the end of the fence which is above one of the small fields where grandaddy usually plants corn.

Crossing the top of the next hill, we leave our property over the barbed-wire-fence and descend down the hill behind the Ashendorf's houses to the River Trolley line which borders Proctor Creek and has a stop at the bottom of the hill where the creek empties into a large rock-bordered pond. When the trolley appears, we get on. It costs a nickel to ride to Atlanta.

The trolley makes its way up Hollywood Rd. past fire station number 22 and onto Bankhead Highway. Past West Fulton High, through Grove Park, weaving its way toward Marietta Street which is approached over a bridge. On the right stands the Simmons Mattress factory. We stop to pick up someone, but I can't see whom it may be.

No one appears, but a strange wooden contraption with skate wheels at its four corners is pitched up onto the aisle. It lands near the fare box and stops there.

I remember a hand. Not a hand like mine, but a powerful man's hand. Suddenly a man appears, looking as if he is floating on the air. Still holding the rail with that huge left hand, his right hand, equally large, appears and grasps the right-side rail near the windshield. Loosening his right hand, he reaches into a pocket, takes out his fare, puts it into the box, and then comes fully into view as he reaches the top of the stairs.

He is a giant of a man from the top of his head to just below his trousers belt. Then he just stops. His trouser legs are pinned up. There is nothing there. I remember gasping as I watch him athletically lower himself onto the platform with wheels, reach up and shake hands with the motorman, and begin to propel himself down the aisle. He seems to know many of the riders and greets them by name, and with a handshake. He comes to our seat, looks over at me, lifts himself up with one hand and reaches over to tousel my hair. "Hi, red," he says with a twinkle in his eye. He goes on down the aisle, leaving my four-year-old self speechless.

"He's a man who's overcome," says my mom. I don't understand, but nod as if I do. Overcome? What does that mean?

"It means that, when he lost his legs in a railroading accident, he didn't let it stop him from living a full and productive life. He goes to work every day. Mr. Johnson, who's a supervisor at the mattress factory says he is one of the most productive workers they have. It means something bad happened to him, but he didn't let that stop him from living, working, and making a positive impact on the world."

"Unhuh," I reply: not really understanding at all.

I'm old now, and I still don't really understand that man's courage and strength. His ability to overcome is beyond my ability to really understand in any intimate fashion. He is one of those heroic figures I can only watch from a distance: admiring their courage, being astonished at their ability to get up and go when most would lie down and die. He's one of those figures beyond my ability to fully comprehend because of the absolute heroism of every one of his ordinary actions, like swinging onto a trolley full of people, rolling by their knees on a hand-made wooden platform, yet towering above them on strong legs of raw courage. He's one of those who has overcome, and he stands tall and unbowed in my four-year-old's memory viewed from the distance of years.

I saw him many times, yet I never knew him...not even his name. I don't know if he was married, if he had children, if he even had anyone at home to love him. All I know is from those brief encounters facilitated by a common mode of transportation. That's all I know.

But, there's this. He marked me. He left an indelible mark on my life...a mark by which I measure the characteristics of heroism. And, as I grow older, I understand more-and-more that heroes are not just those who do superhuman acts which bring them glory. The real heroes of life are more often those who simply make the decision to live as fully and completely as they can, despite the odds. They are single mothers who get up, dress the kids for school, drag themselves out to work, day-after-day. They are fathers who make their way to depressing and demeaning jobs without faltering or complaint to support their families. They mark their children with an understanding of sacrificial parenthood. They stand for the good in the midst of lives surrounded by darkness.

You see, this is a world of heroic beings...but they often are not those we read about nor watch on TV. They are, however, the backbone of strong families...the inspiration of children who strive and succeed in life. They are the people who overcome. Some of you who will read this are among them.

Curtis Rivers
10-14-09

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