Over the course of many weeks, I’ll be sharing truths from Magnet Ass and the Stone-Cold Truck Hunters––not only the truths that came to me through the book-writing process, but also those that shined through the life of a simple farmer and war hero, who trusted God with all his heart. "Magnet Ass" and Al Milacek are one in the same. He didn't choose the nickname; it was given to him by crew members in Vietnam who often wondered out loud, "How come we get shot at every time we fly with Al?" Leaders and innovators and men and women who hold fast to their beliefs will always attract flak. The truths found in this blog and in the book, will make the journey more bearable. This is “Magnet Ass” explained as simply as I can.
Read other posts in this series: #MagnetAss
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Magnetic Wisdom #1:
Don’t worry about the stuff that hasn’t happened yet.
Magnet Ass was just a man, but he taught me not to worry. Al never worried, not in my presence at least. He savored each day like it was his last meal. Because of his health, I imagined him to be a prisoner in his own body. As I got to know him, however, I discovered it was I who was the prisoner––and he as free as a bird.
The metaphor of “prisoner” is a good one for human existence. Like the concrete walls of a jail cell, our bodies limit us on every side. We cannot crawl one inch outside our proper skins. Each day is a form of confinement too, offering twenty-four hours to every man and woman, and no more. Such limitations can be maddening. “It’s too tight in this cell,” we tell ourselves. So, we pick away at the plaster, using our minds to engineer our jailbreak. Through the holes we create, we send our thoughts forward to tomorrow and backward to yesterday, attempting to expand our territory, secure our significance, insure our protection from harm. We call this “foresight” or “hindsight”, but it’s real name is “worry”––worry about the future and worry about the past.
Magnet Ass revealed his secret to a happy life in a conversation we had not long before he passed. “Don’t worry about the stuff that hasn’t happened yet,” he told me, his words punching me in the face, leaving me numb with their simplicity.
“You okay?” he asked.
“No, I’m not,” I said. “I just realized I’ve never lived a complete day in my life––how would you feel?”
He smiled because he knew I was getting it.
Picture an inmate taking his first hot shower in years. Do you think he would rush through it? Or linger, taking his sweet time?
Most adults waste “now” like it was hot water. It runs through our fingers and down the drain before we know it’s on us. Each morning, we are wet with “now” for a brief, glorious moment––but by breakfast, we are baked juiceless with regret and fear. Not so with children. Upon rising, they slip into a bathtub of “now” and stay there throughout the day––through playtime and squabbles, schooling and disappointments, discipline and tears, sibling rivalry and miniature wars waged to establish position in the family hierarchy, until at last their skin is pruny with the present, and bedtime comes around again, and the concerns of the day slough harmlessly away in their dreams. Children are saturated with the “now”. We adults say we want to be like them again. What we are really saying is… “Dear God, how have my bones become so dry?”
Here’s a thought...
God, who knows no limits, became a man. He locked Himself in a mortal cage, bound by time, space, gravity, the common cold. Once in that cage, He taught others how to live gracefully within its confines. “Let today’s troubles be sufficient for today,” He said. “Don’t worry about what tomorrow might bring, for tomorrow might never come. And why are you concerned about yesterday’s failures or successes? Are you trying to live yesterday again? It’s gone, I tell you! Gone with the setting sun!”
What would it be like to know every detail of the future? What if you or I could see specific events ten years from now––the marriage of a son or daughter, the long-sought promotion in a chosen field, the conclusion of a degree or a manuscript or a campaign or a building project? Would such foreknowledge be satisfying? Would it really help us pass the time between now and then with greater delight? Or would the satisfaction be so diminished by the time the ten years finally passed, that we would stand like a bored observer at our child’s wedding, wondering what the cake would taste like at the reception?
I imagine the cake would be dry.
And what if our glimpse into the future revealed details that were dismal? What if we could see our wife’s body ravaged with cancer? Or the company we had worked so hard to build lying under a heap of debt? Or the church body we had come to depend upon disintegrating due to scandal? Would such foreknowledge be worth the sleepless nights we would surely face in the decade to come? I suspect we would weep until we were dry.
Again… the dryness.
And what should be said about our backward glances? At best, they are attempts to learn from our mistakes. More often, they are regrets about our failures, cogitations about things we’ve said or done or thought that can no more be changed than what we had for lunch a day ago. Like a rocking chair, such preoccupation with the past gives us something to do––but doesn’t get us anywhere. At other times, we look backwards because we are relishing in our successes. We don the letter jacket of yesterday to feel better about ourselves today. Pride comes next, followed by entitlement, complacency, judgmentalness, and other dry, dusty attitudes.
Observing Magnet Ass’s life assured me of this: The past is a desert––the future a mirage. If a man wants to really live life well, he must immerse himself in today, drinking deeply from the water it provides, until his jail cell becomes an oasis.
Jesus emphasized this thought when He said, “So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34).
Worry not, my friends… worry not.