Opinion – 4/6/2007

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 6, 2007

The Panolian: OPINIONS – Billy Davis

From the 04/06/07 issue of The Panolian        

Life-altering changes bring choice of battles

In my underlit office here at the newspaper, a row of four, black-framed newspaper stories hang along one paneled wall, turning a little more yellow every day.

The oldest story, a Panola People story dated Wednesday, August 22, 1990, shows the winner of The Panolian’s "Young Poet Award," a 15-year-old Billy Davis. He is holding his award and wearing atop his nose the biggest pair of eyeglasses ever made.

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A second frame on the wall holds the poem that earned the first place award and also a second poem that earned an honorable mention.

Bordering the newspaper story and framed poems are the fruits of that labor. One is a full-page Panola People feature story dated Wednesday, April 24, 1991, in which I did an all-night ride-along with the Batesville Police Department. The second framed story is a guest commentary from 1992 about my memories of J.P. Hudson baseball.

Together, all four framed newspaper stories tell a tale: when I won the poetry contest, I used my new-found fame to ask the Howell family if I could write for the newspaper. They agreed, and my first free-lance assignment was interviewing Jerry Lawler when rasslin’ came to town.

On a rainy weekend at what is now Batesville Junior High School, I got paid by The Panolian to hang out in the locker room and get my name in the newspaper. I haven’t wanted to do anything else ever since. Because of the courtesy and trust the Howells showed me, I’ve never wanted to work anywhere except right here.

I’m now 32, not 15, but I still picture in that locker room, fumbling nervously with a note pad, and tripping nervously over my own questions, as Mr. Lawler grinned and smacked his gum.

I’ve been staring at those yellow stories for several days now. Why? A psychologist would explain that I’m looking back at the past because I’m having trouble seeing very far into the future.

In fact, right now I’m having trouble seeing very well at all. After being diagnosed with diabetes last week, the medication is dropping my blood sugar and playing havoc with my eyes.

My sugar level isn’t terribly high, and I caught it early in life, but the news from the doctor "-Mr. Davis, you are a diabetic" still affected me. Sitting on that examination table, my response to the news was to reflect on the wonderful life I’m enjoying and wonder how long it will last.

Diabetes is not a death sentence, but the news came as a crushing blow to my naive belief that the body functions well regardless of how we treat it. In other words, I realize I am mortal.

And the diagnosis came amidst life’s ordinary challenges: a too-high propane bill and a too-low propane tank, vehicles that need repair, and a lawn mower that won’t run even though the grass keeps growing. Those are little worries that normally would nip at my ankles, but over the past few weeks the little bites have kept coming and coming.

Right now I feel like I’ve got bite marks from head to toe.

Added to the financial woes and health worries came a joyful, life-changing announcement: my wife Shannon and I are expecting a baby in early November.

But Shannon and I want her to raise our baby at home, not in a daycare. That’s a choice that creates more challenges and demands wise decisions, and right now it seems like an impossible fantasy when the savings account is being sucked dry by 10-year-old vehicles and doctor bills.

On the eve of Easter, Shannon and I have discovered that we are walking through a valley. That’s Biblespeak for a period of testing that comes in the lives of mature believers who are hand picked by our Guide because He believes we can endure the journey.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he wrote that Christians "rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character; and character hope."

I liken this current walk to boot camp in the U.S. Marine Corps, when the drill instructor strips a recruit of his civilian life in order to rebuild him as a United States Marine.

Shannon likes to tell the story of evangelist Mickey Bonner, who died at age 65 in the middle of his sermon.

A Google search validated Shannon’s memory. Bonner died in 1997 while preaching in Knoxville in front of 14,000 people.

On stage, he told the audience that Christians "must learn to pray with the mind of Christ and it comes only when we humble ourselves before him. It comes only when we are broken."

And then he slumped to the floor.

A decade later, I believe those words are true.

Like Don Quixote, I’ve spent too many years fighting the windmills when the real fight is elsewhere and is in desperate need of reinforcements.

If a lesson of my brokenness is that life is short, then the lesson I’m learning at this very moment is to quit playing war in the backyard and sign up for boot camp and then the battle.

If believers were serious, and we truly lived what we say we believe, then we would do something to fix the broken home next door and the broken heart across the office.

I believe this world is not lost so long as we are still in it, but it’s slipping away quicker and quicker every day, one broken home and broken heart at a time. Meanwhile, churches are too busy fighting the windmills, or each other, to pay attention.

In 32 years I have never done one thing – anything – to help fix it.

That is my problem. To fix me, I must be broken.


(Billy Davis can be reached billyd@panolian.com or by writing to P. O. Box 1616, Batesville, MS 38696.)

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