Farewell, Old Friend


My closest bookstore has gone out of business.

This makes me sad.

And the sad part is, it makes me sad not because the impact on me will be that great, but because of how my brain works.  I’m less sad about what it means for the future than what it means for the past.

I am, for those that don’t know this about me, an overwhelmingly nostalgic person.

I didn’t even go to that Books-A-Million that much anymore. Heck, I probably went more frequently to the Barnes & Noble I had to pass it to get to, simply because I had more reasons to go to that shopping center.

And there’s another Books-A-Million still open in town, so if I have Books-A-Million-specific needs, I can still go there.

Truth be told, and this is probably why the Books-A-Million is closing, I do the bulk of my book-buying online these days.

So the real net impact on me is pretty minimal. There are plenty of other options.

But none of those other options have the same memories.

I went to the store a week ago today, the day before it closed. I went mainly to see if there were any bargains to be had, but, being me, couldn’t help to be haunted by memories on practically every aisle. Many of happier times, a few not so much. Those aisles were touchstones of those memories, and it makes me sad that I’ll not be able to revisit them again, never be able to stand where I stood when … Never be able to look again where I saw …

And that’s silly, and I know it. But it’s who I am. And who I am will miss my Books-A-Million. I ended up leaving before the sense of loss swallowed me whole. The sense of loss over a bookstore I didn’t even go to that much anymore.

Silly.


I will add this, however — in the last three years, every book chain in Huntsville has had stores close except for Barnes & Noble.

Guess which is the only book chain in Huntsville to carry Homesteading Space.

T’was Grace That Taught My Heart to Fear


I’ve been judging Jonah unfairly. And I didn’t realize it until I read someone else judging him the same way.

You know Jonah, right? God tells him to go preach to the rather nasty folks in Nineveh. Jonah hops on a boat and high-tails it in the opposite direction. Big storm comes. Jonah tells the crew to throw him overboard; storm stops, fish swallows Jonah. Jonah has a big heart-to-heart with God; fish spits him out three days after he was swallowed. Per God’s instructions, Jonah preaches to the nasty folks in Nineveh. Ninevites repent; God spares them. Jonah gets ticked off at God’s grace in not destroying the people he doesn’t like. Tree grows; tree dies; Jonah learns nothing. The end.

Jonah’s come up several times this year — in a series of sermons I heard, in a study I was given to read, and now again in the latest book I’m reading.

And the unfair judgment of Jonah I made, that was also in the book I’m reading, was this — Jonah was quick to want grace for himself, but resented it being given to others. What a hypocrite, right?

The book I’m reading made another assumption, though, and that’s what triggered my realization that I’ve been unfair.

The author talks about how unpleasant it must have been inside the fish. And, you know, that’s almost certainly true. In fact, the author says, Jonah probably started praying for deliverance and grace immediately.

That makes a lot of sense. But it’s not what scripture says. This is what scripture says:

Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said: [[Prayer Omitted]]. And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

The fish swallowed Jonah. Jonah was in the fish for three days. He prayed. Got responded immediately.

Now, you could make the assumption that the timetable is general instead of precise. But, I don’t think so.

Jump back a little bit. Jonah’s on the boat. The storm comes. Jonah knows it’s from God, and he knows it’s because of his disobedience. The sailors confront him about it.

At that point, someone else might have been on their knees, praying for God to stop the storm and promising to do whatever He wants. I mean, it sounds like the sort of storm that would have gotten someone’s attention, and probably inspired some reconsideration.

Not Jonah. He looks at the sailors, and tells them to throw him overboard, knowing it means almost certain death.

Jonah’s not quick to ask for grace. He’d rather die.

But he doesn’t. A fish swallows him.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the author’s right. Maybe Jonah started begging for mercy at that point. But, you know, given his behavior on the boat, I don’t think so.

I think he was waiting to die. As the author was quick to point out, without a miracle, there’s no way a person could survive that. Jonah was that, since the storm didn’t kill him, being digested would.

And so, he waited. Patiently. In unimaginably unpleasant conditions. Waiting for death.

Sitting there, inside the fish. “Any minute now …”

And on the third day, he realized it wasn’t going to come. God wasn’t going to let him die.

Those three days were God waiting for Jonah. Waiting for him to stop wanting to die. Waiting for him to start wanting to live. Waiting for him to humble himself to ask for grace.

Jonah wasn’t a hypocrite. He wasn’t quick to want grace for himself. He was just as willing for himself to die as anyone else.

But God wasn’t. His grace wasn’t just freely offered to Jonah. It was, literally, irresistible.

Because sometimes grace is difficult. Grace isn’t a free ride. Grace for Jonah meant that he still had to do the thing he didn’t want to do. I’ll admit, I’ve been at the point before where Jonah was,  where it seems easier to give up. But God wasn’t going to let Jonah have that option.

What about  you? Are there times you’d just as soon avoid God’s grace? And what does it take to make you accept it?

Paperback Writer


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I can remember, as a kid, singing along with The Beatles — “And I want to be a paperback writer.”

(I can also remember, as a wee kid who couldn’t understand the song but had watched the cartoon Tolkein adaptations too many times, singing along to “Be the Black Rider,” but that’s beside the point.)

And now, I am a paperback writer. That’s kind of cool.

In the mail yesterday, I got my advance copy of this fall’s paperback release of Homesteading Space,which is already available in hardcover and Kindle editions.

Order yours today!

To Praise A Soul’s Returning To The Earth


And I swear I’ve tried to be worthy of
The name they gave me when I was young
But I ain’t that pretty; I ain’t that brave
My kids have seen me cry
They should have given her name to my sister Marie
And that don’t mean a thing to you
That don’t mean a thing to you but it does to me

— Lori McKenna, “Lorraine”

My mother looked at me Saturday under the shining sun, and said to me, “You know, you have as much gray hair as your dad.”

Later that day, my uncle called me over to the table where he and my aunt were sitting. “How old are you?” “36” “See, he was three when we got married.” I thought maybe they were just trying to figure out the timeline, perhaps. But, no, he then tells me, “We were just talking about how much gray hair you have.” Um, thanks?

But it’s a fair comment. I started getting gray hair a while back, and never stopped. As I like to say, I’ve earned every bit of it honestly.

My family got together this weekend to return my grandfather to the Earth.

His funeral was held over a month ago, and on Saturday we gathered together to scatter his ashes at Camp Sumatanga near Gadsden, a place that was dear to him.

That picture at the top? My hand is whitened from the ashes of my grandfather.

When he died, I wasn’t really in a place to blog about it, but instead posted a link to an article that had been written about him only a week before his death. About the only comment I did make was about the fact that I am William Hitt, son of William Hitt, son of William Hitt.

My father talked about that some Saturday. His were bigger shoes to fill. While I have always been called by my middle name, he and his father were both Bill Hitt. For my dad, going into Etowah County and introducing yourself as Bill Hitt was really saying something.

I’m blessed that it’s not the same for me. I’m not called by the name, so I’m not measured by it, either.

But, Saturday, I couldn’t help measuring myself by it.

And I don’t know how I stand up. It’s hard not to get discouraged during a time of unemployment, but, in general, I’ve felt like I’ve done OK by the name David Hitt.

But William? Have I carried it in a way that would make my predecessors proud? Or that I feel is worthy of them? I don’t know.

The funny thing is, my grandfather was a Methodist minister and, in his other job working with juvenile delinquents, a de facto social worker and counselor. I’m a writer by vocation. But as I get older, the more I focus avocationally on finding my ministry and on putting myself in a place to do counseling. It’s not been intentional, and I hadn’t even thought about it until this weekend. But perhaps the name does have some pull.

It didn’t, help, though, when the minister who performed the scattering ceremony, an old friend of my grandfather who also performed his funeral, talked about there being William Hitts there, and how the name would live on after my grandfather.

And that’s why I mentioned the gray hair at the beginning of the post. Right now, I’m the last. It’s not impossible that I could continue the name, but with every day it becomes more unlikely. It’s also possible that one of my brothers could pass it along, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel like somewhat of a failure for the fact that I haven’t.  And it saddens me.

I wanted to end, however, by sharing two things, the minister, Watt Washington said that stuck with me, and that belied somewhat the things I was feeling.

“There’s no point in worry about what you could have done, make sure you’re doing what you can.”

“If there are words of assurance, it would simply be two words: Look forward.”

If I Could Turn Back Time


Sorry for two days of re-runs in a row, but this post from two years ago today is oe of my favorites, and I wanted to share it again.

Earlier in the year, I was leafing through The Book of Questions,and got to the one about what you would do differently if you could go back in time and change something in your life.

For the longest time, I didn’t have an answer to that question. I was sufficiently content that where I was at that moment was the ideal culmination of everything I had walked over the years — good, bad and ugly — that changing anything would only run the risk of ruining that ideal. Today, I’m less confident in that.

At the same time, the typical answers don’t appeal to me. One person’s answer was that they would have gone to grad school right after college. For someone else, their question was whether they still would have married the person they did, knowing how it turned out. I’ve always wondered, purely academically, what would have happened if I’d taken a particular job offer a decade and change ago.

And, that, for me, is the heart of the issue — I can only wonder. I don’t know. Even if I were given the opportunity to make the changes, I don’t know whether any of those would make my life better today. Would I be better off if I’d taken that job? If I’d majored in something else? If I’d made a different decision about marriage or buying a house? Maybe. Maybe not.

Last night, though, for the first time, I decided that if I had it all to do over again, I just might do it. Knowing, for the first time, what I would do differently.

And my answer wouldn’t be any of those big picture things. I would take a very different approach.

I would listen to a bigger variety of radio stations. I would borrow more CDs. I would go to more concerts, and pop into more clubs to hear more musicians I knew nothing about. I would have danced. Badly, of course, because I couldn’t do otherwise, but unselfconsciously. I would have danced with that girl at that wedding, many many years ago. I would have danced at mine.

I would have spent more time outside. I would have gone for more walks. I would have done more activities outdoors. I would have taken better care of myself. I would have let myself be bad at outdoor activities, until I wasn’t as bad at them.

I would have talked to God more. I would have listened to God a lot more. I would have prayed properly a lot less. I would have taken church groups more seriously. I would have taken church services less seriously. I would have read more things about God I disagreed with passionately, to see if I knew why.

I would have read more books and watched more movies I thought were mindless mainstream pablum, to see if I was right. I would have learned what people liked about them. I would have learned what I didn’t.

I would have learned to identify more than one constellation. I would have appreciated that the heavens are a testament to the magnitude of the Father. I would have appreciated the same about the thunderstorms and the brilliant summer sky and the dreary fall day that seems utterly unappreciable. I would have spent more time in the rain. I would have danced in the rain.

I would have watched even less television.

I would have dared more for love. I would have risked more for attraction. I would have been rejected more. I would have been hurt more. I would have cried more, but I would have cried tears that were worth their price. I would be more proud of the scars from fighting for losing causes that were worth both fighting for and losing.

I would have smiled more. I would have laughed a whole heck of a lot more.

I would have paid more attention to which of my acquaintances were really my friends. I would have valued family a whole lot more. I would have talked to strangers. I would have accepted a lot more invitations.

I would have eaten foods that were utterly unappealing to me, at least once. I would have gone to a lot more restaurants instead of falling into patterns.

I would have bought more Apple stock, even when I couldn’t afford it.

I would have valued the random.

I would have been more open-minded. I would have had the courage of my convictions. I would have been less of a snob. I would have been more confident.

I would have tried to figure out who David Hitt was, instead of letting him be who the situation called for him to be. I would have been me, and I would have believed in me. I would have tried to figure out what it means to be the beloved handiwork of the author of the universe.

And, you know, I think if I had done those things, the little details — what should I study? where should I live? who should I marry? — would probably have taken care of themselves.

“There’s no point in worrying about what you could have done, make sure you’re doing what you can.” — Watt Washington

Didn’t Fall With The Fall


I’ve missed the beginning of fall by a day or two, but wanted to re-publish this post I wrote two years ago.

Those that know me know that I don’t really do favorites. I don’t have a favorite color, or a favorite food, or whatever. I recently had trouble accessing a computer account because it asked my favorite color as a security question and I had no idea what I had answered.

But, increasingly, I think fall may be my favorite season. Part of that is pragmatic — I prefer the more agreeable temperature to the heat of summer or the cold of winter. For me, fall is the most likely season to have a day that’s just perfect.

The funny thing, though, is that part of it is for a reason that’s completely irrelevant. Going outside on a day that’s archetypically fall to me, on a day that just feels like fall, I can’t help but be taken back to the feeling of beginning a new school year.

Fall weather takes me back to that feeling, of starting something new, of unlimited possibilities, of anticipation of meeting new people, doing new things, getting a fresh start. Even though it’s been more than a couple of years since I started a new school year, that feeling remains.

And, really, there have been a few times in my adult life that have reinforced that — I graduated from college and moved to Indianola in August, so was very much experiencing the new that fall. Two years later, I moved from Indianola to Houston in early October. I moved back to Huntsville in the month of August, and moved into my house the following fall.

It’s a good feeling, and a good reminder — that, even now, there are unlimited possibilities, fresh starts, and new beginnings; that there are new friends to make, new places to explore and unwritten adventures just waiting around the corner to be had.

“Here Comes Skylab!”


@jeff_foust noted that the news about the impending re-entry of the large UARS satellite is bringing back memories of the return of Skylab, and shared this insightful video on that event by “esteemed science journalist J. Belushi.”

(In retrospect, the mental image of Skylab striking the World Trade Center is rather disturbing.)

The Safety of Bondage


Joseph and Moses being awesome.

Be patient with me, this is going to ramble a bit. But hopefully it’ll make sense in the end. And, really, that’s kind of the point, but we’ll get back to that.

We’re going to start with Joseph. Not the stepdaddy of Jesus one, the and-the-amazing-technicolor-dreamcoat one.

For those that need a (very) quick refresher. Joseph’s dad loves him more than all his brothers and gives him a technicolor dreamcoat and Joseph goes around wearing it and telling everyone how God sends him dreams about how awesome he is and for someone reason this makes everybody rather dislike him so his brothers decide to kill him but they put him in a hole instead and sell him and he gets taken to Egypt where his life basically kind of sucks for a very very long time but eventually he becomes friends with pharaoh and is all sorts of Egyptian awesome which is convenient because there’s a famine and his brothers who thought he was dead come to Egypt looking for food and the run into him and he’s all like, hey, even though you tried to kill me, your my brothers and I love you and here have some food. Cool? Cool.

And Joseph, at that point, is able to show grace to his brothers, and be all cool about the whole trying-to-get-rid-of-him thing, telling them that what they meant for evil, God meant for good.

And everybody enjoys the food and learns a good lesson from the moral of the story and they all live happily ever after. The end.

Except …

It’s not. While we love to treat the Bible like it’s an anthology of collected stories, it’s really one big narrative. The story keeps going from there. Joseph and his brothers ride out the famine in Egypt and decide to stick around, where eventually his family starts breeding like rabbits and become slaves and are forced to make bricks without straw until a Charlton-Heston-lookalike tells pharaoh to let his people go.

So let’s replay that moral, shall we: “What you meant for evil, God meant for good — to wit, FOUR HUNDRED YEARS of slavery and oppression.” Um, thanks?

To be sure, God knew it was going to happen, too. When He was working all of this for good, He knew that good was going to be centuries of bondage. In fact, He had told Abraham it was going to happen: ““Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” In fact, God even tells Abraham which generation it’s going to start with, which makes you wonder why they didn’t think to be a little more careful with the whole going-to-Egypt thing, but that’s another story entirely.

So, yes, God had the entire Joseph-and-his-brothers story play out not only for the happy redemption for that family, but also so that he could put his chosen people into slavery for centuries. As much as the former was His plan, so was the latter.

In fact, since we’ve already established that you have to look at the thing as a continuing narrative instead of short-story collection, let’s jump back a bit. Not too terribly long before this, there was no chosen people of God. There were no Jewish people, no ten commandments, no ark of the covenant, nothing. There were just a bunch of pagans ever since the tower of Babel.

And God decides He needs a chosen people, so He goes to this one pagan guy named Abram and tells him he’s going to be the father of a new nation, and changes his name to Abraham. And Abraham has a son named Isaac, who in turn has two sons, Jacob and the other guy. And one day Jacob wrestles with God, and so God gives him his new Indian name, “Wrestles-With-God,” or, in his language, “IsraEl.” This name is so perfect for God’s chosen people and their ongoing wrestling with Him that the nation carries it to this very day. And Israel has a bunch of kids, including the aforementioned Jacob, and this generation of twelve is the first generation of the “people of Israel,” God’s chosen nation.

So sending them into slavery is not only something God chose to do with His people, it was the very first thing God did with the people of Israel. He picks Abraham to father His people, He picks Israel to be the namesake of His nation, and He takes the first generation of Israel and packs them off to Egypt first thing.

Ultimately, this would become a very key part of their history, their narrative. At the end of the bondage came the exodus and the passover, key elements of the Jewish faith and important bellwethers of the messiah. The events surrounding the end of their bondage becoming defining for the nation of Israel and serve as a touchstone for their faith in God. God had to lay that foundation in the beginning, because everything that came after would be built on it. Four hundred years of slavery, followed by one of the most important events of the Torah. What man meant for evil, God meant for good.

Still with me? Good. Because I have one more place to go, and this one involves a little bit more of a leap.

Remember the prophecy God told Abraham, about his descendants going into bondage? God told him a few other things that day. He reiterated His promise that he would father a nation. He told about the four hundred years of bondage, and added that it would end with His people coming out with great possessions. And God also told Abraham that the land where he then was would belong to his descendants.

Abraham was there then, and his descendants would be there again, and when they returned, it would be promised to them. But, in the meantime, there would be four centuries of bondage.

Now, jump ahead four hundred years. While they were in Egypt, the Israelite people had increased greatly in number. This was what led to them being put into slavery in the first place, but apparently continued the entire time, since it was what led toward the end of that period to the culling of the first-born sons, which was how pharaoh’s daughter ended up finding Moses in a basket. So a much-much-larger nation of Israel comes out of Egypt than the one that went in, and it goes back to the land that God had given to their great-great-…-great-granddaddy, and, oh crap, it’s full of giants. Well, that’s no good.

Despite the fact that God had promised His people they could take the land from its occupiers, twelve scouts went to check it out, and what they found was that it was populated by an incredible fearsome number of giants. Ten of the scouts said they couldn’t beat them, the other two said they could, but only because they believed they would have supernatural intervention.

Because of the doubt of the majority, God makes them wait a while before they take the land, but, ultimately, the Jewish population of 3 million moves in, wipes out the existing population (to be fair, after giving them the chance to leave peacefully) and claims the promised land.

So replay that four hundred years, but ignore what’s going on in Egypt and focus on the promised land. In the time of Abraham, the promised land is a great place to be, but, sometime in the intervening centuries, an occupying force moves in and takes it, a force so large and powerful that it frightens the millions-strong nation.

Given that wiping out the incumbent population when you conquer an area was not that unusual at the time, what would have happened if Israel had not been in slavery in Egypt at the time? What if, instead of being taken into bondage, Abraham’s descendants had stayed in his promised land, and had been there when the new occupiers came in?

The story might have been a whole lot shorter.

If you only look at what’s happening in Egypt, the story of the Israelite slavery is one of suffering and woe. But if you look at the larger picture, it may well be the lesser of two evils. Yes, there is hardship, but if the alternative is complete destruction, hardship looks a whole lot better.

In that light, the time of God’s chosen people in Egypt is not a story of suffering, but one of gestation. The Egyptian slavery was a protected womb in which the nation not only survived but flourished, growing safely in number to the point where it could conquer and hold the promised land.

What man meant for evil, God meant for good.

Life Is Improv


My fellow Face2Face Improv troupemate Wendy Morgan recently wrote a blog post titled Principles To Learn To Be An Effective Actor.

Now, I don’t know enough about scripted acting to speak to how good her principles are for that, but I can tell you that, for improv, her “secrets” are dead on:

1. Listen to who’s talking.
2. Affirm people if at all possible.
3. Care about the other person.
4. Everyone needs to shine.
5. Give, Give, Give.
6. It is not about you.

The cool thing? While these are great principles for acting in an improv scene, really, when you come down to it, that’s not a bad set of rules for life, either, is it?

Can You Beat That?


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