It’s a day that I look forward to. The first of its kind was three years ago when my brother and I harvested our first real batch of honey, about 10 gallons, from our beehives. Last year, we got about 20 gallons and we estimate that, today, we got around 24, a respectable yield for 4 hives.
All year long, I saved glass jars in anticipation of this day, saved them as an act of faith that they would be filled with something sweet, beautiful and valuable at summer’s end if we did our part and the bees did theirs. And what I ended up with was an assortment of containers, in all shapes and sizes, each cleaned multiple times before being lined up, sparkling, to catch whatever honey might be extracted from the hives.
From 9 this morning until almost 9 o’clock tonight, we worked in sweltering heat doing the messy but rewarding task of filling our jars, almost a hundred of them, with the sweetness of a year’s work from 200,000 bees. By day’s end, the empty containers glistened with pure gold – some darkened with the early nectar from the tulip poplar trees, some lightened to translucence with the nectar of wildflowers – each a monument to hard labor and a compelling instance of transformation. They represent millions of foraging flights and the microscopic contributions of no-telling how many blossoms from trees and flowers in the area surrounding our home place.
The honeybee, and the harvest, is a tutorial in wonder. From empty to full; from barren to sweetness; from labor to rest. The season is over and a new one begins…
Last night, my dear friend, Benjamin “Shorty” Floyd, whom some of you know from my album People in my Town, died, just a couple of weeks past his 86th birthday.
He was, from every worldly standard, a poor man.
He could not read or write, didn’t finish high school, and grew up when it was hard to be a black man in America.
His laughter was irresistible.
He cried easily when he felt joy.
He spoke of Jesus as though they shared meals together.
He repeated himself a lot as he got older – “I have been all over the world, all up to Spartanburg NC and Macon Georgia. The Lord been good to me.”
He had an old dog named Queenie who must wonder where he’s been these last four days, since Thursday last when Shorty was taken to the hospital.
He dearly loved me and my brother and proudly called us ‘his boys.’
As thankful as he was for it, his house was, by any grade, an old shack — drafty, dilapidated, small. This coming Saturday, a group of us had planned to do some renovation for him — to make his small porch more accessible, to fix his door, to chop his firewood and get it closer to his house.
He sang with meager talent but huge enthusiasm.
He usually wore farmers overalls, and had a habit of only buckling one side.
He spoke a brand of English that was all his own and prayed in a gibberish that was barely understandable except for the dozens of times that he’d call the name of Jesus.
He would talk back to the televison when he watched the evening news.
He was an elder in every sense of the word at the Longstreet Baptist Church where, he said, “the doors (doze) is built on welcome hinges.”
He trusted a God Who “sits high but bends low” and He loved the Christ Who taught that we should “do unto others as we wish to be done about.”
Though he could not read it for himself, he loved the scriptures and quoted them frequently.
When we sang happy birthday to Shorty last year, he expressed his reluctance to have “and many more.” He believed in and longed for a home not built by human hands.
By the time he took his last breath last night, his body had long been worn out and tired. The same might be said of his heart, which was sensitive to and grieved by the brokenness of our world. He wearied of people who showed so little reverence to the Lord of Creation, and was stung at how cruelly we can treat each other at times.
He was a glistening jar waiting to be filled.
And last night, what was empty became full.
What was bitter became sweet.
What was weary found rest.
What was common and unrefined became golden.
The season is complete.
And a new one begins.
“He has crossed over.”
And, as a long tiring day concludes, I feel some fullness myself. A fullness of thanks, of sweetness, of sadness, of curiosity. A fullness that tells me I am rich to have the indelible memories of a rickety porch, some listening hours, and an old black man whose heart was pure treasure.
I just returned from the worship service that celebrated Shorty’s life. At the family’s request, I edited a copy of the spoken words that i used for Shorty’s song on “People in my Town.” We played the recording at the gathering this morning and it was a perfect eulogy for the occasion. If you haven’t heard Shorty, here is the version of his monologue that we used this morning, complete with his singing of “Come and Go”.[audio:shortyfloyd.mp3]