Roy Exum: My Garden This April

Wednesday, April 1, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The lush green of the trees and the bushes, the beautiful birds so full of song, my rose bush coming alive, and the fact that today it is not raining cannot dull my heavy heart as I stay in prayer for all of us in the midst of our world’s pandemic. Already there is no one who hasn’t been affected in some way by the fiercest storm any of us have ever known, and already I know we will be stronger, kinder, nicer, and more caring in a way that knows no borders. Curiously, we can wash our hands, respect another’s space and follow every rule to the letter but the truth is all we have is our faith. Don’t you wish everything that matters had the same approach? Because of the virus, I am adding a couple of plants to my first day of the month ritual in search of orchids and onions. We’ll let our visitors begin …

A LILY to the most important Easter I have ever known and never has its story needed more desperately to be told. People are going to die yet each who will perish in these black days ahead still has the opportunity of Everlasting Life. I don’t know why this plague has smitten us, and not until we get to heaven will we ever learn the answer. But if God has allowed it, the same God will see us through it. God’s children are using their God-given gifts to develop God-given vaccines, and medicines that carry the hope that 80 percent who are infected will survive. Remember this: Without a faith you are without hope – with a faith, hope makes all things possible.

A PALM for this Sunday, especially with our church doors shut at the start of the world’s Holy Week. This particular Palm Sunday a lifetime friend who has suffered horribly with the coronavirus is on schedule to be released from Memorial Hospital’s stupendous care and, virtually against all odds, will return home with his family for another Easter celebration. Boy, I prayed a bunch of “single shots” for this one (that’s where you don’t dare dilute the prayer’s full power with others you love or things you care about – just a single plea). Mine were among millions, yet I’m convinced God hears even the smallest prayer … and my pal is coming home.

AN ONION to the tragic news that the fabled and beloved Bennie Adkins, a Medal of Honor recipient, is gravely ill from the coronavirus at the East Alabama Medical Center in his hometown of Opelika. He is diagnosed with COVID-19, making him one of the most high-profile cases in the nation in battling the lethal infection that has gripped the world and killed thousands. The Army Command Sgt. Major, age 86, was among those who shared their valor at the Grand Opening of The Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in late February. Shortly after he was drafted in 1956, he earned his Green Beret tab and served in the Army for the next 22 years. In March 9-12, 1966, he was in the Battle of A Shau (Viet Nam) where the American troops were out-numbered 10-to-1 and Bennie became a man of lore. His Medal of Honor citation reads, “During the 38-hour battle and 48-hours of escape and evasion, fighting with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms and hand grenades, it was estimated that Adkins killed between 135 and 175 of the enemy while sustaining 18 different wounds to his body.” President Obama, when presenting Bennie ‘The Medal’ in 2014, still laughs. “When he was in my office before the presentation, he asked me if he could sign back up … his lovely wife (now deceased) was not amused!”

AN ORCHID for America’s valiant response to the ever-threatening virus and for the leadership of President Donald Trump, Governor Bill Lee, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. With our first responders, our doctors, nurses and hospitals focused and ready, there is nowhere in America that I could feel more protected and blessed than where I now stand. When this is over and, yes, it will end, never forget the bravery and resolve of those closest to us.

AN ONION to the panicking Erlanger Hospital CEO Will Jackson, who will be remembered years from now as the general who immediately shot his own soldiers as the coronavirus crisis just now is really getting hot. He just announced he is “furloughing” non-essential employees because our Level One Regional Health Center is losing money in this pandemic like every other company in the world. Erlanger is different – it is a necessity – and rather than improvise and lead his 7,000 employees, he tosses our own to the curb. None of us knows what will happen in the next several months but its an easy guarantee Erlanger will need every willing hand, just as every family that wears the Erlanger crest will need every dime. It is alleged nurses who are quarantined due to exposure must use their vacation time for pay. And, what’s this … the furloughed cannot apply for unemployment? How are they going to feed their children? Mercy!

AN ORCHID to the Erlanger Trustee who can reverse such folly, with the faith that all of us will get through this somehow. And, no, you don’t cut management wages, suspend vacation accruals (!), or suspend retirement contribution … you sell helicopters, you delve into last week’s $50 million line-of-credit, and get creative. The Trustees must emphasize every major hospital in America is going through the same thing. We’re all in this. Go to pharmacy, get Will a dose of gumption, tie him to the mast, tape his hands to the tiller, then point the bow of Chattanooga’s greatest gem into the eye of the storm. It is going to get worse, but you call back every “furlough,” apologize and beg they help row. Buck up! This ain’t some Air Force base. I’ve been in more hospitals than Johnson & Johnson and Bayer combined. What separates Erlanger from all the others are “the furloughed,” brother.

AN ONION to the snippy Erlanger nursing supervisor who sent a string of the worst emails, or tweets, texts to a fellow colleague last week. Sure, I’ve got a copy that deserves the wrath of hell but now’s not the time, just like its chicken droppings to furlough anybody in the mess we are in. My family went through some hard times in the 70s and 80s, but our employees were our greatest asset, not a one came close to ever being “furlough.” Our people were sacred. The only people entitled to “furlough” are missionaries, and that’s with pay because they’ve got to live … just like the rest of us.

AN ONION to every April Fool’s Day that begins with temps under 40 degrees.

AN ORCHID, two actually in the names of research scientists Dawn Richards and Elizabeth Forrester, for leaping into the fray of the pandemic and coming up with a miraculous way to read coronavirus tests. The two, members of our Baylor School’s faculty, will be counted among America’s greatest front-line warriors when “this too shall pass” and the best part is they’ll explain to their students in a way the flame will continue to shine for generations. It’s the biggest scientific thrill I can remember since UTC’s glorious professor Dr. Irving Grote, working side-by-side with John C. Krantz, created an antacid-buffer that Chattanooga Medicine Company sold to Bristol-Myers who would market it as Bufferin. Far better, in 1955, Dr. Grote mixed a dihydroxy aluminum sodium carbonate compound that became Rolaids. But, best? He is the reason my beloved aunt, Martha McDonald, became a doctor. (When he died in his sleep in 1972, his wine collection had over 3,000 bottles from over 100 countries.)

AN ONION to the silence of a baseball bat hitting the ball flush, the pop of a starter’s pistol, and all the empty rims that were wasted without March Madness. The Masters golf tourney, ‘The Run for the Roses’ at Churchill Downs, and now Wimbledon postponed. Man, I’ve never had an itch that needed scratched so badly.

AN ORCHID to the glorious life of Walter Forbes, Jr. There was nothing he wasn’t into or knew all about before his death last month, and his darling Kitty should write a book about their adventures. Only problem with that she wouldn’t know where to start and she’ll join Walter in heaven long before the book’s end, not matter how fast she can type. Of all the people who have shared my path, only Walter … so help me this is true … only Walter would laugh the very minute he saw me, and I would too. Darndest thing: not a world would be spoken but we’d look at each other and laugh. Church, funerals, grocery store made no difference. We just laughed with each other. Oh, I miss Walter deeply.

AN ORCHID to Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany, for donating $5 million to the people of New Orleans to help feed those in need during the coronavirus. Brees, far and away the classiest player in the NFL, had just signed a $55 million contract extension with the Saints when he triggered a star-studded partnership with New Orleans businesses to feed 10,000 people every day. What’s more, Brees has built all-inclusive playgrounds all over ‘The Big Easy’ and done all kinds of other stuff with his money for the public good.

AN ONION to Jorge Zeballos, the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich., who when President Trump visited the city in December, did a “selfie” photograph of himself holding a sign that said … with each word spelled out ... “F*** Trump, F*** McConnell, F*** Graham.” Again, this is the “Chief Equity Officer.” He was so proud of himself he posted the ‘selfie’ on social media. And three days later he wondered why his position and his office was terminated immediately by the college.

AN ORCHID to Alex Trebec who, on his first anniversary with pancreatic cancer, said, “There have been good days and there have been bad days.” The “Jeopardy” host also joked, “If the cancer doesn't kill me the chemo will!” But what matters is what came next. “If I would have stopped the chemo, it would have been a massive betrayal to my wife and soul mate, Jean, who has given her all to help me survive … It would have been a betrayal to other cancer patients who have looked at me for inspiration and a cheerleader of sorts, for the value of living and hope, and it certainly would have been a betrayal to my faith in God and the millions of prayers that have been said on my behalf.” Wow.

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