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Dikkon Eberhart

I’ve read autobiographies in which the author describes great Christmas days when he was a child. Sometimes the tale is cute. Sometimes the tale is more than merely cute.

Sometimes the tale has something to do with that boy, you know, with that boy who was born on Christmas Day.

For me, I have a tale to tell. My tale has to do with my father and my uncle and my adult male cousins…and with my guns.

Here’s how it goes--

It is early afternoon on Christmas Day. My father, mother, sister and I have been at Grandmother’s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the past few days. Dad had annual posts at various colleges—where he served as Poet in Residence—but, wherever we lived during any year, almost always in order to celebrate Christmas we came back to this house—to this house where my mother was born and raised.

That year, I was either seven or eight.

Christmas morning had gone very well. My most important present had come from my pacifist grandmother.

Earlier in December, my mother told me that Grandmother had asked her what I most wanted for Christmas. Easy answer. What I most wanted was the double holster belt with two shiny cap guns that I had seen in a store.

However, a few days later, Mom sat me down. “Dikkon, I spoke with Grandmother. You know there’s just been a very bad war, and that’s why your daddy was in the navy, and a lot of people were killed by guns.”

This was the kind of talk that grown-ups used sometimes. They referred to something I could not understand, but, because they were talking with serious faces, I knew I should try to understand.


“Well, your grandmother loves you very much, and she knows the guns you asked for are just pretend guns, but she’s troubled about whether she should give them to you. She wants to know if there is something else instead that you really want.”

I loved my grandmother, and I wanted to help her out…BUT.

That holster belt and those guns!

The guns were shiny, and the holsters had silver stars on them, so I knew they must cost a fortune. Way more than my parents would spend on me…though they loved me, too, of course.

Grandmother was my only chance.

Then I had an inspiration. (Later in my life, I made my career as a salesman. You’re about to learn why that was my obvious career choice. At seven or eight, I knew intuitively how to engage with and how to counter the objection of my customer.)

Here is my earliest sale-closing statement of my life. “Tell Grandmother it will be OK. Tell her I’ll only to shoot people who are already dead. I promise.”

That cracked my mother up, and she told me years later it made grandmother laugh, too, though ruefully: Grandmother really was a pacifist.

But I got my guns!

So, it is early afternoon, and relatives and friends begin to arrive for Christmas dinner. My mother’s brother Charlie is one of the first to arrive, along with my Aunt Aggie, and their daughters, Kate and Susan, who are my close pals—we three and my sister were accustomed to spend hours wrestling around with one another like puppies in a box.

I stand in the vestibule, wearing my guns.

One after another, these tall men come through the outer door, smelling of cold snow and winter wind, their faces red. They all wear overcoats, which they doff as they trade greetings with Dad, who acts as host since my grandfather died two years before. The overcoats smell of the outdoors and swirl a cold air as they are swung off shoulders and hung among others already there.

These men are well dressed, good-looking, competent. They chat with one another as though they are all members of that enviable club—the club of adult maleness.

They notice me; they greet me.

More than anything on earth, I long for membership in their club. I would give up my guns to be a man in an overcoat arriving out of the snow from a world in which I know how to make things happen.

If you are a woman, you will have had much to consider about men. We men, I can tell you, mull a lot over women. But first, when we are seven or eight—and at later times, too—we mull a lot over men.

As we boys come up, we encounter the lives of our fathers. For most of us, we encounter the well-lived lives of our fathers. Our fathers are decent men, who tried, and sometimes failed, and then tried again. On the whole, our fathers are men who succeeded, much of the time.

Along the way, our fathers made their mistakes of course. Eventually, all fathers display their weaknesses to their sons. However we sons already know what those weaknesses are.

When I was six or eight, I imagined I knew Dad’s weaknesses because of visceral sympathy between the generations. I experienced soulful accord with Dad. Here’s what I thought. I know Dad (comforting and cozy); he knows me (sometimes, not so comforting and cozy).

Anyway, Dad and me—we know one another’s weaknesses because we are father and son, and when our eyes met, we transcended the detail of the moment, and we were just…male.

But there is both a sager and a more godly explanation for this communion of maleness between the generations--sin.

At seven or eight, I probably knew the word sin, but it had no context for me. In our family, we were Episcopalians, after all, as high as could be. (This was long before my wife’s and my venture into Judaism.)

More to the point, my father was a poet, whose heart was tuned, really, to the muse. Sin had nothing to do with anything that had to do with us.

Yes, a shaft of jabbing badness cut at my guts, sometimes, and made me keep secrets. But—I crouched inside myself in confusion—perhaps boys keeping secrets is just the way things are.

Jabbing badness could not be in my adult uncle and cousins who wore their Christmas overcoats. Nor in Grandfather, who had been so kind to me before he died. Nor in Dad. How could there be jabbing badness in Dad—who was Dad! Nor in my favorite uncle, Charlie, who knew so well how to play.

I was the only one who kept secrets and who experienced that jabbing badness.

But perhaps soon I could stop keeping secrets. After all, now I had my guns. Maybe my guns could keep me safe from jabbing badness.

Oh! Wait.

What is it about that boy who was born today? Did he have jabbing badness and keep secrets, too, like me?

There was something different about him, everyone said so. Even angels said so, from heaven itself! About him, there was something more powerful and more holy that I didn't understand, something more powerful and holy than my everyday jabbing badness.

Yes, I had my guns, and they would surely help, but maybe that boy would help, too.

Before we sat down for Christmas dinner at Grandmother’s long table we sang songs about that boy. That just shows how important he is.

What were those songs we had just sung, about how quiet was the night outside, and how holy it was…and what was it about a Star?

Maybe…if I try really hard to know something about that boy….maybe....might the jabbing badness go away?

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Dikkon Eberhart

Remember throwing pebbles in the water when you were a child?

My wife and I have four grandchildren living with us now. The three of them who are six, five, and two are excited to throw pebbles now, and the five-month-old will almost certainly join in with his brother and sisters as soon as he learns how to walk.

When I threw pebbles, I remember being fascinated by the concentric ripples. I loved to watch as the ripples spread out across the water’s surface and diminished in size while still continuing with their energy, gradually slackening until they were gone. But if the ripples reached the shore, they kicked up tiny breakers there, which wetted the sand where it was dry.

Of course, I was a strong boy, and I loved big rocks, and I wanted to make the biggest splash. A big splash and big ripples made me feel good. But here’s a secret answer. I would not have revealed my secret answer to you, if you had asked me, at ten, which I liked better, a big splash or the smaller ripples.

Honestly, I liked the smaller ripples better. They had subtlety. You could see how their effect impacted the water for a long, long time.

I’m thinking about ripples right now because of a Facebook post I read a few days ago.

A woman Facebook friend of mine received a message from someone else out of the blue. With her permission, I reproduce it here verbatim (names have been removed).

I'm not sure you remember me. I met you 20 years ago outside of Women Services on Main St in (location removed). I was only 15yrs old. You saved my sons life ❤ I was alone, there to start a two day procedure. Day one of the procedure he would be termination they instructed me to wait at home come back the next day and have it completed. However, that night I felt my son move. The next day on my way into the building I met you. If I'm not mistaken I believe you read me some scriptures and made me aware of other options. So I decided to have the laminaria removed and continue with the pregnancy. That day you took me home and you never left my side, took me to your church, linked me to several agencies. You were truly a blessing to me. Today my son (name removed) is almost 20yrs old away at (name removed) College beginning his sophomore year. I miss him so much he's the best thing that ever happened to me. When I think of him I often think of you. I often wonder how many other women you have been a blessing to. You have always held a place in my heart. Peace, love and blessings always ❤

What a delight this was to read!

How mightily the Lord has blessed the woman who wrote to my friend, and her son.

My friend was the Lord’s pebble.

The Lord splashed my friend down in that town. Ripples began. My friend spoke to a fifteen-year-old. The fifteen-year-old was preparing to abort her son on the morrow. That night, a ripple passed through her womb, and she felt her son move. The next day, another ripple brought my friend to the Women’s Services building, again, with a Scripture. And so the ripples continued to widen.

My friend had made a friend for life…for LIFE.

She had made a friend for her own life, of course (which fact remained unknown to her until she received that Facebook message), but most importantly for the life of that fifteen-year-old mother and her son.

And yet the ripples from that single splash continued to widen. Twenty years passed. Twenty years!

Perhaps during those twenty years the writer of this message has told other people how that ripple of the Lord broke against her dry sand and wet her parched soul. Wet her and refreshed her enough that the ripple reached her womb and floated her son inside her, so she felt and thereby knew him.

And more to this.

When I read this message, it had been public for two days. In that amount of time, 874 likes had occurred, and 143 comments had been written, not a single one of which deplored that the Lord had dropped a pebble.

May the Lord be praised for dropping that single pebble that He dropped twenty years ago.

And last.

The Lord keeps right on dropping His pebbles. His will be done.

Faced as we are today by a secular culture that preaches the rightness of aborting babies, many of us Christians feel stymied and afraid.

​But twenty years ago, a friend of mine whom I did not yet know -- she spoke in a timely way to a fifteen-year-old girl, which caused the love of the Lord to flow into that girl and to stop her in the very act of killing her son.

And so, for at least those three persons—and twenty years later, for 874 others--the world changed.

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Dikkon Eberhart

This piece is really just for fun, so don’t expect any lofty theological or biblical insight.

It’s also about parental pride.

It’s about our son Sam and about how proud Channa and I are of his effort last weekend. She and I were talking about his effort afterwards, and she made a point that got me thinking both about Sam and also—oddly enough—about the apostles and about the prophets.

I’ll tell you Channa’s point in a minute, but, first, here’s why I was thinking about prophets and apostles.

The apostles were a team, and they played a team game.

Their Coach brought them together, showed them The Way, kept their spirits up when they were doubtful or downhearted, chided them when He was tired of their unremembering what He had told them before, applauded them when they got it right, and kept letting them know that a time would come, very soon, when He would not be beside them and they would need to play the game by themselves.

Which, of course, later, they did.

On the other hand, the prophet (any prophet) was a loner.

He was out there on his own. No one helped him; he wasn’t even honored in his own country—to be biblical about it.

Nor did he know whether "‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them"—to be Shakespearian.

What was he to do?

All he could do was to tell the truth—devil take the hindmost.

Each of them told the truth, the apostles and the prophets. Each competed against the enemy. Each sought to win in battle. And—this we are assured—each does win.

(An army friend of mine -- cavalry -- read this post and cautioned me: soldiers fight as teams if they are to be successful, not as solos.)

All things work together for good—this is another thing of which we are assured, right there in no less a place than in Romans 8:28.

It's possible that those whom we have come to call prophets and those whom we have come to call apostles would not have chosen that particular role, if they had been given a choice. Yet each one faithfully did that which was thrust upon him to do.

So that’s how far my thought went about the Apostles and the Prophets before my thought turned back to Sam.

Sam is not a soldier, but he is a dedicated Special Olympian. Over the years, he has competed in basketball, softball, track-and-field (long jump and 100-meter dash), alpine skiing (modified giant slalom), bowling, 50-yard snowshoe racing, bocce, and swimming (freestyle and back stroke).

Here’s Channa’s idea. Some of these are team sports—basketball, softball, bocce. The first two of these are won by making instant tactical decisions based on the ever-changing circumstances on the court or in the field. Bocce does not require instant decisions, but tactics and team play are needed to prevail.

The other sports are based on individual effort (unless it’s a relay).

Sam likes team sports because he likes to be part of the team, but instant decision-making about where it is tactically best to throw the ball, right then, is not one of his skills.

On the other hand, he knows how to go fast. Get in the water or on the slope—and GO!

The majority of Sam’s gold medals have been earned in swimming or in alpine skiing.

The important event last weekend for our family was the Virginia Special Olympics Swimming Tournament, held at an enclosed aquatic center near Richmond. Seven swimmers from the Roanoke club were chosen to compete, Sam being one. Channa and I attended also, so we could watch the competition and have a weekend away.

Sam was selected to swim in three races, 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle and also 50-meter backstroke. All three occurred on Saturday, with about an hour-and-a-half between the two freestyle races but only about fifteen minutes between the longer freestyle race and the backstroke race.

Competing that weekend were hundreds of swimmers, in hundreds of heats, and assisting them were many coaches, volunteers, service providers, and parents. The aquatic center ran the event smoothly. It takes a day-and-a-half to run all the heats. It’s a noisy, echoing, crowded, humid, hot and wonderful time of upholding the spirit of Special Olympics.

Sam’s first race was the 50 free—eight swimmers, paired up as best as possible on the basis of their results last year and on any time trials available. Sam took a silver. The winner was in a class by himself, so Sam was the best of the other seven swimmers by about a length. Good fellow!

After a rest, Sam’s next race was the 100 free. Again, a field of eight. Again, one very competent swimmer dominated throughout.

So the placements I was interested in were second, third, and fourth. These three were evenly matched swimmers. Sam was an easy second until the first turn, when he lost a body length just turning. By his second turn he had faded to a likely fourth. He was fourth during the whole third leg. Starting the fourth and last leg, second and third were neck-and-neck, and Sam was a length-and-half behind. He was flailing a bit.

Then two things happened. One of the neck-and-neck swimmers just seemed to give out. He dropped rapidly from contention, so Sam had third wrapped up. Then—with about fifteen yards to go—Sam earned his second silver medal of the day.

He was a length-and-a-half behind. I saw him take one look at the guy ahead. Then he put his head down and churned and churned, gaining with every stroke. A half-length behind. Even. A foot ahead, two feet, a half-length.

Go, Sam, go!

Sam won his second silver medal, with a flat out effort, by a length and a half.

Proud parents! Last year, Sam took a gold in the 100 free. I was ecstatic. But his competition was less formidable last year than this year. This year was a different event all together. We saw Sam determine himself to win his battle…and win it he did.

The biblical prophets did the same. Sam is not a prophet—except about what he suspects his mother will say he may have for lunch.

Why the Special Olympian and the prophet came together in my head, triggered by Channa’s idea about the difference between the genius of the team player and the genius of the solo-sport player, is that I saw, with my own eyes, in Sam's final fifteen yards of the 100 free, Sam make his determined effort -- to swim the truth about what he knew was to be the way of the world during that fourth leg.

Some prophets deal with the entire functioning of God’s sovereignty and of the universe which He created. Sam’s scope is smaller. But what Sam made happen was his truth.

And he held onto a glimmer of that truth when, about fifteen minutes later, he swam a 50 back.

“Oh, he’s so tired,” Channa commiserated, watching.

All I could think was, “Hold that place, hold that place, hold that place.”

He did, and he took the bronze.

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