It was on this day, January 1, 1962, that one of the most meaningful days of my life took place. For Christmas week, our family was visiting my uncle’s ranch in McArthur, California. I loved driving to the end of Lewis Road and seeing the ranch each summer for hay season. This time we were there in the winter. Everything looked different under a blanket snow.
January 1 is my birthday. I really did not expect to get anything for a present. Being on the ranch was enough of a gift. Mid-morning, my uncle Dan said, “Let’s go for a drive.” To me this was special. We hopped into his 1949 Chevy truck, a vehicle I was already using to learn how to drive, and headed out of the ranch driveway. We drove around talking man-to-man. I loved it. The drive only lasted about 10 minutes. When we returned, I walked into a surprise birthday party. There was cake and soda and streamers hung in the ranch house. I was blown away.
My father stepped forward and handed me a gift. It was a single shot pellet rifle. Everything else in the room blurred in contrast. My focus was on the rifle. I held it in my hands in a state of wonderful shock. I looked up at my dad and said, “Thanks!” He answered my question before I could ask it, “See you later.” I grabbed a can of pellets and the rifle and headed outside toward the open fields to shoot dirt clods and tin cans.
That morning held an unknown significance for me. As I walked along Lewis Road, pellet rifle in hand, I had the strange sensation of maturing. I became pensive and reflective. Things around me became articulate. I was a young poet looking for words. A huge flock of Canadian geese out in a distant field were honking. The puddles of summer were now frosted mirrors cracking under the weight of my feet. As I walked along, I was being transitioned from boy to young man. The rest of the morning was spent shooting and dreaming under the brilliant blue sky of the first cold winter morning of my approaching manhood.
A few years ago, Jan and I were talking about what each of us considered the best day of our lives. For the purist, my response may not align with your thinking. Yes, the day I met Jesus and the day I married Jan were wonderful days beyond measure, but they are in a different place. The best day in my life was that cold January morning in 1962. Something was put inside me that day that continues to pour out its valuable substance. It seasons the flavor of my writing and adds content to my conversations. I find that in many ways, I am still that young man who now walks across the frozen fields of winter in a 67 -year old body.
Twelve years ago, I was on a road trip alone. My travels took me near Redding, California, so I decided to see if I could remember how to find the old ranch. It had been a long time. I finally found the ranch, not by road names or maps, but by the familiar scenery still lodged in my memory.
When I pulled off to the side of Lewis Road, I stood at the entrance to the ranch and looked out across the fields that bore my 12-year old feet many years before. Emotion rose up within me – an emotion I still feel as I write these words. I was there again. Free, pure and encapsulated in a beautiful place. As I stood alongside the road, I was the boy-man once again, standing at the gate of manhood. In my mind the fog of age cleared away and I could see a young man walking in the fields, pellet gun in hand, geese honking in the distance and frozen mud puddles under foot. I stood there for a few minutes letting the reel of my memory play out its emotional movie.
I experienced a sense of purity and clarity that day. January 1, 1962 became a template that I would use to arrange the rest of my life. The Apostle Paul described that template in his letter to the Philippians. He had just instructed the Philippians to not worry about life and to pray about everything. Then he added:
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8
The best day of my life had all those elements. It was a true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable day. It was excellent and worthy of the praise of remembrance. Paul’s words defined all the elements I experienced while walking the fields of my uncle’s ranch. The words of Paul and my experience on the first day of my 12th year would become the emotional and spiritual map I would use to set the course of my life. Every so often I revisit the best day of my life to make sure I am still on course.