SONY DSC{Day by day in Lent 2017, reflections on mugs I see in the alliterative Kellam kitchen cupboard. I’ve counted, and I think I do have enough to lead all the way to Easter.}

The mug pictured here is one of those “home made” plastic mugs that provide a nesting place for a computer-printed paper image. Our son Jim, the biology professor whose other title is “ornithologist” gave us this mug while he was working successfully on his Ph. D at Purdue University.

Age and leakage have diminished the graphics, and some of the computer ink has faded over the years. The overarching theme is “Woodpecker Research,” and the subtitle there is “Department of Biological Sciences.” Our names have faded away, but still clear on the other side of the mug we are named as “adjunct members.” That was Jim’s way of thanking us for our support as he made his way through labs and woods, around lakes and up streams, into classrooms and lecture halls.

As I look at those downy woodpeckers and remember Jim’s Purdue years, there was one adventure we look back on with mixed feelings. Peril was endured, and injuries overcome, so there was great anxiety followed by profound thanksgiving. In doing some research with radio transmitters attached to birds and an antenna held high to capture the birds’ movements, Jim had discovered that one transmitter had become detached and lodged in a tree in a wooded university property. The transmitters were rather expensive, so Jim wanted to retrieve that one in the tree. It was pretty high up.

He engaged the assistance of a forestry student to get into that tall tree, climbing ropes flung over branches. (I’ll bet that’s not the official forestry lingo.) But CRACK! The branch they were using broke. Jim told us that as they fell those forty feet onto the forest floor he had time to think two thoughts. One: this might be the last pain he’d ever feel. Two: he felt the air blowing through his hair as he dropped. The two guys bounced off the loamy forest floor. His companion was seriously hurt and said he couldn’t get up. Jim lay there for a few moments to determine if he could move limbs, and if he could get up.

He did manage to get to his feet, and decided to find help at a nearby golf course. He made his way through the woods, over a fence, and onto a green at the course where some guys were playing. They saw Jim approach, obviously disheveled and bleeding, but instead of coming to his aid, or even driving him to the clubhouse to summon help, they said he could use their golf cart if he wanted. So generous. When he said he’d never ridden or driven in one, they kindly gave him a lesson and as he drove away, they putted. (I’m still pretty ticked about that. Bastards.)

Jim got to the club office and asked the attendant to call 911. The guy said he didn’t know exactly how that worked. Jim did it himself. And then waited for the emergency vehicles to get to the golf course, where (and I love this part) they drove a vehicle right over the lovely course to get to the place where Jim had emerged from the woods. Back over the fence he went, leading the rescuers, until they found Jim’s colleague still lying there, waiting. The EMTs attended to him, and then said to Jim, “You fell too? You should be on a stretcher!” The two researchers were carried to the ambulance and taken to the hospital.

While in his hospital bed, he got at least one phone call from a concerned friend. “How did you know about this?” he asked. “We saw it on the news!” Jim waited a day or so after he got home to call us with the news of the close call. He wanted to be sure he was OK. He hadn’t wanted us to worry. A cracked vertebra would remind him of this accident for years to come, but we are all so grateful he recovered fully enough to recently finish an Ironman competition.

It’s safe to say that Jim completed his woodpecker research, wrote his dissertation, and moved into college teaching without going back high into tall trees. He’s left the heights to the birds.

If you have read other entries in this series, you know how I like to, well, research the derivation of the words we use so casually in writing and speech. I looked up “search” and found that it comes from a root that means to “go around.” I can see that. You go around looking for something. To “search” for that something, that cure, or solution, or lost coin or sheep, or the lost chord for that matter, is to, according to my source, “investigate leading toward [a] discovery.” Clever. Notice that the investigation may not actually lead to discovery; but only toward discovery. If you don’t actually discover something, the search wasn’t necessarily a failure. You were still headed toward, indicating progress made and yet to be made. Keep searching.

Research, re-search, is understood to be more intensive. Maybe going around again and again. I so admire the researchers who are on the way to finding a new medication, if not a miracle cure. I admire those looking around the vast reaches of space, or at underwater reefs, or forensic evidence. Microscopes, telescopes, binoculars, bifocals…all helping us to see what’s out there or in here. Search again. And keep it up.

Those of us not professionally engaged in the sciences probably don’t consider ourselves researchers until it’s time to shop. Look into the reliability of a new car, or search out the best deal on some item for the home. Ever searched for a church? Or, investigated a politician’s stand? Or, used the internet to learn about a disease? We all do research, don’t we? If we are at all inquisitive.

It turns out that I do a bit of research for lots of these Lenten reflections. I look up words, definitions, people, songs, scripture passages, quotations. I’m not writing for the ages here. It’s not the stuff of a dissertation or even a sermon delivered before a hundred people in church. But I do research so that I can tell the truth. So I can be precise. (I almost wrote “fairly precise,” but you know…it’s either precise or it’s not.) I may write in a light-hearted way, but I’m attempting to be honest. And that means, in this writing and in my day-to-day living, I go around again, keeping my eyes open for new things, discoveries, delights, light, or, better, Light.

One of the gifts of “retirement” is having the time to search and re-search. A lead character on a TV show we watch says to his investigative team, “Learn things!” as he sends them out. I’m a pretty old guy, and I still like to learn things. Even if I can’t always remember them.

One of the gifts of Lent is to embrace the time to research the soul, the spirit, the self, our relationship to God, and to our neighbors, to learn new things as we approach the newest thing Easter offers. Go around again in prayer. Search out the fruits of silence. Head toward deeper understanding. Toward it.

Best keep our feet on the ground though, at least until Resurrection Day!