The following is an excerpt from a memoir I’m writing. I’ve always enjoyed reading memoirs from other writers but never considered writing one myself. Beyond this post, the material may never see the light of day, and if it does, it will likely be edited from what is published here. Either way, I enjoyed writing it and wanted to share it with you. Thanks for following the blog. I appreciate you. Hope you enjoy!
I recall being fascinated with rainbows as a child. Not so much that I had posters in my bedroom or rainbow colored grip tape on my skateboard, but enough to stand in awe any time one was visible. It still amazes me how colors stretch across the sky after a rain shower. I suppose God could have chosen any number of ways to delight his creatures, but the rainbow, with its simplicity yet all together otherworldliness, was his desired method.
I think we complicate the arts these days. Some of my favorite art seems simple at first glance. Coldplay’s Parachutes is one of my all time favorite albums, yet, the instrumentals and song structures are not that spectacular. Even so, I think the album is as close to perfect as anyone can get. It doesn’t get in a hurry. It’s not trying to impress you. It takes you on a journey. Good music is like that. Like ascending a great mountain or road tripping across America, good music takes you somewhere memorable. Quite frankly, it’s hard to make something both beautiful and simple. Try it sometime. Coldplay did it once. The rainbow does it daily. Like a sunset, some people take it for granted while others slow down long enough to marvel at its beauty.
I grew up in southeast Missouri where springtime brings a plethora of rain and thunderstorms. Rain showers in Missouri last all day, at least, that was my perception of them as a child. When my wife and I lived in Colorado, my memory of their duration helped draw us home. It’s funny how things that annoy you all your life become cherishable in later years. Showers come and go quickly out west. They never bothered me when I was bicycling around Denver and wanted to stay dry, but on the occasions when I’m by a window in my house with a cup of coffee, a quick rain shower rarely does the trick.
I don’t remember how young I was, but when I was a little guy, a rainbow formed across the alley from my childhood home. I can still smell the air. It had an attractiveness about it, like a friend calling you that you haven’t heard from in awhile. Have you ever had moments like that, moments where it felt like everything was about to change and all you had to do was answer a call? On that particular day, I laced up my shoes and sprinted out the back door like an Olympian. It’s easier to have a pep in your step when something promising is ahead. The Bible says God created rainbows as a promise to humanity that he would never again destroy the earth with water (Gen. 9:8-17). That’s a gracious promise considering he flooded the earth because of humanity’s wickedness, and as far as I can tell, wickedness has not fled the earth. Without the promise, I wonder if God would consider doing it again.
Our culture talks a lot about rainbows. Many people associate them with love, which is fitting considering the Biblical narrative. I had my own idea of them as a young boy. For me, rainbows were a means to gain wealth. In kindergarten, my classmates assured me, “If you make it to the end of a rainbow, you’ll find a pot of gold.” I grew up in a poor family, though I didn’t realize it at the time. All I knew was that I wanted gold. I needed it. The yearning to capture a pot of gold has stayed with me into adulthood, though I now realize it’s promises are more fanciful than attainable. In some cases, they are downright destructive, as we place so much emphasis on their fulfillment that failure can bring forth a Hemingway-like depression.
On the day the rainbow appeared behind my house, I ran as fast as my little legs would allow. My breathing intensified quickly. There was promise in the air and hope in my heart. Before arriving at prosperity, I had to cross an alley that separated the neighbors property line from ours. It’s the same alley I destroyed years later while learning to drive a stick-shift, the ruts of which are likely still there as a testimony to a 16 year olds determination. After crossing the alley, I had to sprint the distance of a dirt basketball court which appeared to be the length of a football field. Years later, on that same plot of ground, I’d meet a college student named Cliff who was so good at basketball, he could have out-hooped Michael Jordan. I was nine and Cliff was like a god. When I first met him, I spent my time rummaging through piles of rusted metal on the side of our neighbors’ shed. The random stuff people collect is crazy though often entertaining, and in this case, it made for a great deflection from my true purpose. I pretended not to notice him, busying myself with the shuffle of metal, although I got the impression he noticed me. The truth is, I was watching his every dribble, his every shot that would effortlessly glide through the rim. His shot seemed to have a majestic cloud that followed the ball like the one I saw so frequently playing NBA Jam. “Hi, I’m Cliff,” he announced from across the alley, after correctly guessing I was not going to introduce myself first. “Wanna play a game of H-O-R-S-E?”, he added. Cliff reminded me of Larry Bird, for his 3-pointer was a thing of beauty, worthy of a championship ring. He seemed so out of place. I felt frustrated that a man with such talent would be wasting it hooping in a run down southeast Missouri neighborhood. Cliff was the first person to ever share the gospel with me. He also gave me my first Bible, a Kid’s Application Bible. Although I never read it, I still have it to this day. Inside the front cover, there is a handwritten note, in cursive it says:
In this book you will find many things – the secrets to peace and happiness in life, many examples of what a “real man” is, and the greatest love you’ll ever find – the love God has for you. Read it often, and never give up.
Your friend, Cliff
I prayed with Cliff before he gave me that Bible. I didn’t know what was happening, but I was delighted he was spending time with me. I clung to those last words, “Your friend, Cliff.” I felt like the coolest kid on the planet. The best part of all, I got to play basketball with him. For years, I never understood why someone so great would stoop down to the level of a nine year old. I would surely thwart his progress or curse his game, so I thought. They say no act of kindness is ever wasted. I believe no gospel witness is either. I’d love to say Cliff and I became great friends, but I didn’t see him much after that. At any rate, the rainbow I was chasing years prior was just beyond that court. As I ran it’s distance, I considered how proud my mother would be when I dropped a pot of treasure by the back door. I could imagine her face, perspiring from the grind of homemaking, and her eyeballs expanding to the size of basketballs. I envisioned the coins from my treasure pot reflecting the midwest sun into our sliding glass door while mother’s jaw dropped. Perhaps my dad would stop screaming at our family when the financial burden of raising one was lifted from him. I figured I’d buy him a new Harley-Davidson and my mother a ticket to a Cher concert, which is the only reason I ever remember her leaving us at home. She made several trips to St. Louis during my childhood to watch Cher wear many outfits and sing about life after love.
I was losing steam when I arrived at the end of the court. There was a small hill at the court’s end which connected to the busiest street in my neighborhood. I’m pretty sure cars drove a hundred miles an hour down that road. I’d have to cross it to make it to the end of the rainbow. Yet, I could see its end clothing the trees like Joseph’s technicolor coat. I was almost there. My life was about to change forever.
The problem with rainbows is that they never stop moving. Like trying to hop a train in motion, a rainbow seems to pick up speed as you chase it. When it was safe to cross, I sprinted the distance of that busy street only to find the rainbow was further than I calculated. For every one block I’d run, the rainbow seemed to run two. I remember feeling disillusioned, though I wouldn’t have known that word at the time. I can’t even begin to count how many rainbows I’ve chased since that day. They have looked different from the one in my childhood, but they always promise prosperity and happiness yet are just out of reach.