We mixers of images and words some times start with an image and then find the words.
Today I started with this image of a trailer I passed while driving east on State Highway 9 near Haydenville, MA late on Friday afternoon, June 22, 2012. I was a mile down the road before I decided to turn around and go back, to see the closed vegetable stand, the wildly-painted truck, and this trailer. On one side of the trailer it says “TRUTH” and on the other side it says “PEACE”.
I wanted words playful words to go with the photo. Here’s what I eventually wrote. Together, the words and prayer became Photo Prayer 2012-29.
Truth doesn’t need us minnows to be its bodyguards. The river doesn’t need us shiners to protect it from other fish, nor the ocean our schooling on how to keep wet. Swim little fishies, swim if you can, out of our puddles, out of our pools. Don’t be among the dammed.
The photo made me think of those agitated folks (never you nor me) who act as though truth needs to be protected from marauders and rescued from kidnappers. That’s when an analogy showed itself — that we are to truth like minnows to water. Some fishies may be mistaken about the water, but the water itself is safe from the fish, safe from us. Nothing can change the truth. It is what it is. (That’s not the same as saying the truth cannot change, but that’s another, more controversial discussion.)
If it isn’t clear, there’s a connection here to John 14:6, where Jesus says, “I am the truth, the way, and the light.” Every Christian who drives by this trailer or sees this photo thinks about God. Don’t they? But why should the word “TRUTH” be there? Who painted it? Why? I like that mystery about the photo, that tantalizing start of a story.
If our relationship to the truth isn’t to protect it, what is it? I first wrote that truth needs singers and seekers, and that we should look beyond your puddle. The word “puddle” reminded me of what is possibly the most-quoted poem by E.E. Cummings, the one about springtime when the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. For that matter, my thinking that truth needs no champion may have evolved from Cummings’ poems. I’m thinking of “when serpents barbain for the right to squirm” and also “Jehovah buried, Satan dead.” (Yes, he did use capital letters occasionally.)
Then I remembered a song still heard on the radio in the early 1950s: Three Little Fishies, a novelty song written by tenor saxophonist, vocalist, and composer Saxie Dowell. It was a No. 1 hit for Kay Kyser and his Band in 1939. Listen to it yourself at either of these YouTube links:
I remember, and the recordings confirm it, that many of the lyrics were often sung as though by a small child who had lost their front teeth and cannot pronounce words well. “Fishies” become “Fiddies, “Itty Bitty” becomes “Iddy Biddy”.
The song I remembered had the three fishies swimming over the dam to find adventure. That’s the playful ending of my prayer, with a pun on “dammed.” What I hadn’t remembered of the song is that, after swimming over the dam, the little fishies encounter a terrifying shark and a whale, and so swim back to mother and safety. My theology says “mother” is always near, even in the wide ocean.
Proudly displayed in my studio is a trophy from the first O’Henry Museum Annual Pun-Off in Austin, Texas in 1978. In the Volley of the Puns team competition, teams of four had a minute of preparation before making all the puns they could on a selected word. The word our team was given was “fish”. We ended by dancing in a line singing “Hare Fishna, Fishna, Fishna, Hare, Hare, Fishna Fishna” while kicking our legs like a chorus line. That brought home the prize. If I make puns on “school” and “dam” in this prayer, it’s because I’m still competing 34 years later.
COMMENTS VIA EMAIL
Pat, a former senior warden at my church, said: “This is incredible. It is amazing that you FIND these things!” I replied, “Amazing that I find these things? When you’re driving down the highway and TRUTH stares you in the face, finding it isn’t hard. What’s hard is for my brain to pay attention to what it sees. In this case, I saw TRUTH for a split second as I drove by, then very slowly I began thinking about what I had seen as I sped down the highway. It took the better part of a minute for me to decide that what I saw so briefly might be worth looking at longer. Only then did I turn around.” To this, Pat said, “Oh, Danny, how often does it take the brain time to absorb what is right before us. This telling says more than the photograph. How many times do we let opportunities pass us by, because we were too slow to act. I am glad that this was not one of those times for you!