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Grandpa Larry’s Random Reminiscence: Desert Man

A wiry man with a scraggly beard wearing only a pair of ragged cut-off trousers climbed over a rocky ridge and pulled himself up onto a large flat rock and hunkered down, contemplating the city before him. He had lived in that city. He had grown up with ordinary parents in an ordinary house; gone to an ordinary school and inherited ordinary values. But somewhere everything around him had gone awry. His parents, feuding, separated. Their house was sold. His studies became impossible. Life crumbled. One day, he climbed out of the secret place where he went to think and started walking towards the desert. He scarcely looked back. In his heart was a trumpet call.

As he cleared the congestion of the city and set his eye upon the horizon, his mind slowly cleared and he became aware of a quiet awe and wonder ahead. Deep within the caged and ordered seclusion of his carefully structured being, a young lion was being set free; was called forth from its lair to go out and roam, to go and hunt.

Others had come this way before and had made a narrow but perceptible path. As he made his way further and further from civilization, a certain apprehension overtook him from behind. It came upon him suddenly, like a wave and stopped him in its backwash. It enticed him. It called him back to the city; it promised security. It whispered to him of comfort, orderliness, regularity, familiarity. It was mealtime.

Hesitatingly, he stood in the path with the conflicting urges tugging at him, now an urge to go on, and now an urge to turn back. He sat down in the middle of the path in anguish and confusion and cried out to whoever would hear him, “Which way shall I go?”

After a long tearful wait, he stood to his feet again. Slowly he turned like a radar antenna, trying to sense which direction he should go. As he faced the city and radiated his inquiry, a certain dread and feeling of entrapment returned to him. And as he turned and faced his unknown destiny, radiating the same inquiry, a sense of adventure and awe beckoned him on like soft music. Relieved, he gathered himself together and continued in the direction in which he had started, engulfed with the rapturous music of silence.

He had been in the desert many years and now from his rocky perch he perceived a small figure approaching upon the pathway. As it drew near, he noticed a familiar uncertainty in its step; a halting and starting again. It was a young man who was sobbing gently and stealing forlorn glances back towards the city behind him. Understanding filled the desert man and his heart reached out to the youngster on the path. He knew that he too was being drawn by the music. Now the music changed. It began to take on distinction and deepen; notes took shape. The cadence wavered and changed, first a little, then more so. Nuance became character. And without completely realizing the transition, the music was words, distinct and clear.

“Go to him and teach him,” it said. “Show him what I have shown you. Prepare a place for him and strengthen him. He is the instrument I shall use to stir your city. In him there is gentleness and compassion. You who are so sure and strong they will not hear. But this man will open their hearts and their dull ears. Take him with you. Lead him gently to my music. Teach him to hear it, to sing it, to follow it and to love it.”

The desert man jumped from his rocky perch and started toward the man on the path. His progress had been arrested completely and he was sitting, sobbing. The desert man approached steadily, but not quickly, not wanting to alarm him. He started gently humming the music and the man on the path noticed him and turned to face him curiously. The desert man strode surely to him and sat down in the sand in front of him. He continued to hum and then to sing the music that permeated his being. First the stranger arose, and then the desert man, too. The desert man put his hands on the other’s shoulders and turned him slowly until they were both facing the desert. As the music became distinct, a wisp of a smile came across the younger man’s face. Then desert man turned him back again, quickly. The smile faded as they both confronted the throbbing of the city. He turned him one way and then the other, back and forth, listening and watching as awareness dawned on the young man’s face. The desert man began to sing. With his eyes he encouraged the young man to follow, to sing. Soon they were both singing the melody of the soft desert music, arm in arm in total abandon, as they turned and disappeared into the desert.

Back in the city the throbbing increased. Like war drums it grew in intensity, rising in fervor, anticipating the coming battle.

– Larry Berger, Hashtag Lewisburg City Paper, September 2020. Find this column and more of Grandpa Larry’s writings at

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