My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 16, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
The sun was beginning to come up as I drove into Little Rock. A faint yellow-orange glow forced its way through the overcast sky. For the past two months, I have been going to Little Rock very early in the morning to pick up the auto glass that I need for my business. My supplier no longer delivers to Polk County, so I have to make two trips a week to Little Rock to pick up my glass. I had a large order that would more than fill my truck and a busy day scheduled when I made it back to my shop.
As we started to load the truck, my supplier’s software system was slow. The warehouse employee enters each piece of glass into the software to bill me and take the glass out of inventory. What should have taken just a few minutes dragged on for half an hour. I was getting restless thinking about the long drive home and the customers who would be waiting for me. Finally, with every slot in my rack filled and with four side glasses and five cases of urethane crammed in the cab of my little truck, I was on my way home. There was barely enough room for me in the S-10, and it wasn’t easy to shift gears.
After driving for an hour, I needed to get out and stretch my legs and use the bathroom. I pulled off the road into a busy gas station, parking in the only space available. As I got out, I noticed the sign on the door of the vehicle next to me. It said, “Elmer Beard, Poet.” A spry, older gentleman was walking towards the car. “Are you the poet,” I asked? “Yes, I am.” We exchanged pleasantries and talked about the weather. “Let me give you a copy of my book of poetry,” my new acquaintance said. “I would like that,” I answered. “I am a writer and have a copy of my latest book in my truck. Would you like to trade?” Both of us had to move things around in our vehicles to get to our book. We each signed our books to each other, and after exchanging phone numbers, we went on our way. As he was leaving, Elmer’s final words to me were, “If I come to Mena, I will give you a call.”
As I was driving home, I thought about my interesting encounter with Elmer. He had been so polite and upbeat. He seemed like a man who enjoyed life and lived it to the fullest. It was such a chance meeting at a random gas station beside the road. But Elmer had made a deep impression on me, and I couldn’t get him out of my mind. If I had been able to load my truck without the software issues, I would not have been in the right place at the right time to meet Elmer. But I was thankful that I had. I couldn’t wait until I had time to sit down and read his book.
That evening, I sat in my favorite turquoise Adirondack chair on my deck and started to read Elmer’s book of poetry. The cover has a photo of Elmer in an old Ford pickup from the early sixties. The title is “Let Reason Roll: Race, Religion & Reflections. I was intrigued by the author title at the bottom of the book; Poetry by Elmer Beard The Octo Griot. From the book, I learned that Elmer is in his eighties. Octo is the Latin prefix for the number eight, so that part made sense, but what about the griot. A quick internet search led me to the answer. The Oxford Dictionary lists the definition of griot as “a member of a class of traveling poets, musicians, and storytellers who maintain a tradition of oral history in parts of West Africa.”
As I read his poetry, It seemed like I began to know him as a man. Elmer has a way of exposing his inner self through simple words. He tackles tough topics with gentleness and the insight of someone who has gained wisdom from his life experience. The friendly, unassuming black octogenarian grew up in the small southern town of Chidester, Arkansas. He earned degrees from Arkansas Baptist College and Henderson State University and spent many years as a teacher. He ended his teaching career as an adjunct English professor at Arkansas Baptist College and National Park College in Hot Springs. In addition, Elmer made a difference in his community by serving for sixteen years on the Hot Springs City Council.
As I finished the book, I kept going back and rereading one short, simple poem titled “The Least We Can Do.” Elmer’s words kept going through my mind as I longed for a world that followed the simple concept of the poem. “I am who I am. And so are you. Courtesy is costless. The opposite is expensive. Respect is deserved. The least we can do. Is be kind and gentle. Regardless of values. Or our experiences. That’s the least. We can do.”
People who are kind and gentle have the potential to be rude or proud, but they have deliberately decided not to behave that way. They have intentionally chosen gentleness. That takes more strength than it does to treat others harshly. In his book Grace for the Moment, Max Lucado offers a pledge that we could all make our own: “Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.”
For us as Christians, it is the least we can do. Galatians 5:22,23 (KJV) says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. When we see harshness and hate for others among Christians, we can see that they are not living in the Spirit. “Just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” Matthew 7:20 (NLT)
Gentle Reader, gentleness is a strong hand with a soft touch. It is a tender, compassionate approach to others, even those who are different from us. “Kindness, peace, love—may they never stop blooming in you and from you.” Jude 1:2 (VOICE) I leave you with the words of the Octo Griot, “I am who I am. And so are you. Courtesy is costless. The opposite is expensive. Respect is deserved. The least we can do. Is be kind and gentle. Regardless of values. Or our experiences. That’s the least. We can do.”