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Hello everyone! What are some of your favorite things to do on Sabbath? I like to watch nature shows, listen to music, and read! :)

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Wings Are Free

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The motorcycle and I were 12 feet above the ground when I suddenly found reli­gion. That was the peak. If I couldn’t find God here, chances of finding Him elsewhere were slim. It was like an eternity up there, just me and God and death staring me in the face. It was as good a time as any to find religion.

But my heart sank faster than the cycle when gravity won out. The next thing I knew, I was lying next to the twisted motorcycle, watching the oblong wheel spin round and round, and suddenly things didn’t seem so funny anymore.

I was too numb to walk, and I lay still while my buddy across the parking lot collapsed in laughter. Right then I almost wished I had died, just so he would take my situation seriously. It was too hard to get up, so I closed my eyes and shook for a while, realizing now how afraid I was of death.

Not that it was something I should have been frightened of. All those Bible stories had talked of death as nothing but a sleep, and then there was always the glorious resurrection.

But sometime in church school I found out there were two resurrections—one to life and one so that you could die all over again. After that, things weren’t so certain anymore. I was sure that I was bound for the wrong resurrection. So when the motorcycle climbed the 10-foot cyclone construction fence at 50 mph, it came home to me that I wasn’t ready to die.

They say a lifetime flashes before your eyes when you face death—at least the survivors say that. But I didn’t have time to remember my whole lifetime, only one odd moment of it. Flying 12 feet in the air, you can think of the strangest things.


It happened one spring when I was in love and in high school. Rather, the high school was a boarding school. Not any boarding school, but a religious school—an academy, if you like.

Now, I wasn’t such a bad guy in academy, but when the religion teacher told me that one harbored sin (a harbored sin isn’t just any sin; it’s a special kind) was enough to keep me out of heaven, I figured right then and there that I had no chance for wings. God and religion could wait, I decided—at least until I was old enough and bored enough to unharbor my sins.

So there I was with my friends. It was a beautiful Sabbath afternoon. Church had let out late, and I hadn’t been able to sit with my girl for very long at lunch because of it. But still, it was just a beautiful day, one of those days when clouds and sky and even melting snow smell like summer. Some of us had walked a ways out into the woods where no one could see us and spread out a blanket, turned on the portable record player, and started playing poker.

After a while I got a little fidgety. Not just because I was losing the five bucks my folks had sent me to get my girl an Easter present either. It was a fantastically alive day, and I was restless—call it spring fever, maybe. The old Crawfish River streamed over sparks of sunlit stones, while up in the soft blues of sky (or maybe it was in the greening trees) I could hear the trilling of a Blackburnian warbler. Then over the hill I heard a hubbub of voices.

Everyone must have heard the voices at the same time, because we all dove for everything at once. Somehow we managed to squelch the rock ’n’ roll before anyone but the very gifted could hear. My record got scratched, but I didn’t mind particularly. We’d just man­aged to get the poker chips and cards under the blanket (I was bluffing my way with a pair of deuces anyway) when what should pop over the hill but the heads of a nature group. Pretty soon their legs and the rest of them followed along, and they were looking at us with binocu­lars. Binoculars!

Actually, I think they were bird-watching, for about this time every week they did those kinds of things. Mr. Gatchet, the boys’ dean, was at the head of the group, and he absolutely beamed as he focused on that Blackburnian warbler.

We were just managing to look casual when he smiled at us and said, “Beautiful day, isn’t it!” We all mumbled how beautiful it was, and then I heard my name.

“Paul,” Mr. Gatchet asked quickly, excitedly, “why don’t you come on along with us? That Blackburnian is the seventh new warbler I’ve seen today. That beats last year’s record by nine days!” He was looking at me right then, just smiling away. I wasn’t feeling so good.

I don’t remember what I told him, but he nodded to me and then walked away, the rest of the crowd following single file after him. But my reputation was at stake here. If anyone found out that I liked to watch birds, they might put me back with the freshmen, or throw me to the outcasts! I mean, it could be two years before I had another date!

But I wished I could have gone. I wished I could have just up and done away with card games forever, and walked in the cool green­ness and maybe even found a golden-winged warbler. I think my conscience was bothering me. When Mr. Gatchet looked right at me, I felt the guilt written all over my face, and I was just so tired of it all. I wanted to walk right over and tell him about the northern shrike I’d seen the day before. I wanted to have nothing on my head but the sunlight and the warm breezes. But I was stuck.


So, funny thing, that’s what I thought of the day my buddy taught me to drive his motorcycle and the brakes wouldn’t work and in the panic I kept shifting up into higher and higher gears until I roared too wide around the corner, hit a cyclone fence, climbed 12 feet into the air, and found religion.

But maybe it wasn’t such a strange thing to think of. Because suspended, as I was, for that split second in the air, I felt again, as on that poker-playing, bird-watching Sabbath in the woods, the same sense of wanting to be clean and free and ready to die whenever it hap­pened. Of wanting to walk right up to the Lord and smile at Him and talk about the beauties of Blackburnian warblers and northern shrikes, knowing that He forgave me and that it was all right because I really loved Him and loved the way He put colors on wings and set them free in the sky.

This story originally appeared in the June 30, 1984, issue of Insight. At that time Paul Freeman wrote from Boise, Idaho. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in psychology from the Univer­sity of Nebraska.

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