Coal

Coal: (n) a combustible rock consisting of carbonized plant matter

For a season as a young man, I traveled with a gentleman who had a low-budget Las Vegas-type show, and performed at conventions, carnivals and county fairs.

One summer, we were scheduled in a West Virginia mining town for their city-wide carnival, fair and jubilee–all mixed into one. There was no motel in town, so the sponsor found homes for the entertainers to sleep overnight. Most people got to pair off–in other words, two to every house.

Except me.

I ended up driving about seven miles into the hills, and stayed with a family who had a shack that could have been a prop-double for Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

I was still dressed in my stage clothing and upon my arrival, the people stared at me like I had twelve heads. They offered me a meal of brown bread and beans with side-meat and molasses. It was delicious.

But they never stopped peering at me. I was just a kid, so I was really spooked.

I attempted communication. I tried to express interest in coal mining. The only thing I knew about coal was that when I was a boy, my dad had a coal furnace that warmed the loan company we owned. It was my job ever so often to go down and stoke the coal into the furnace. So I had picked up a piece or two and analyzed it. It’s quite an attractive rock. (You can understand that if it got the chance to hang around for several hundred thousand years–how it might become a diamond.)

So ridiculously, and clumsily, I might add–I shared my limited awareness, and even ventured calling it “bituminous” just to show off a bit.

The family had no toleration for my ignorance. Every question I asked was met with a two-word grunted answer. Usually, “Huh. Maybe.”

It was an uncomfortable evening–mainly because I was miserable and felt out-of-place with this common sort.

So imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning to buckwheat pancakes, scrapple and coffee. The mom of the house had also taken an old shirt, sewn up all the holes and presented it to me as a gift.

For you see, while I thought they were giving me a hard time–unwelcome in their home–they, on the other hand, were actually sitting over there, quietly trying to figure out some way to bless the stranger.

That afternoon during our performance, I wore the shirt they darned for me, and the family sat near the front, grinning from ear-to-ear.

It brought me to tears.

I realized that even though I was having a hard time making money, I did not have to live in an old shack and descend into a coal mine, risking my life, to eek out enough money for my beans.

 

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Anthracite

dictionary with letter A

 

Anthracite: (n) coal of the hard variety that contains relatively pure carbon

 

Occasionally I find myself waxing philosophical, for which I truly apologize.

It’s not that opinions are like assholes, it’s more that opinions make assholes.

At least that’s my opinion.

So I pre-apologize for what I’m about to share, even though I think there’s much validity to the idea. Sometimes I think we forget that for “everything there truly is a season.”

For instance, for one time in our existence as a planet, we needed coal.

Brave workers went into the heart of the earth to extract this treasure so that we could fuel our lives and progress the human race beyond the escapades of mere fire.

Many of them gave their lives.

It was a season of coal.

But the truth of the matter is, as we learn to be more expansive, we as people might stumble upon ideas that are improvements, and rather than being sentimental to concepts that have “aged out,” we cling with a maudlin sense of loyalty.

I have this abiding belief that everything in life has been placed on this planet with two purposes. Often the first function is very obvious, but when that viability wears out, we should be prepared to find the additional goal intended for the object.

There are so many examples of this that I shall not bore you. Matter of fact I would encourage you to take this simple notion and study it for yourself rather than having me expound upon it in an attempt to convince.

But this is what I feel about coal: in the 21st century, to have men and women don hard hats and go into the core of the earth to extract this rock of interest seems both antiquated and unnecessary.

Yet for it to become completely unnecessary, we must do two things that the human race pursues with reluctance:

  1. Actually stop mining coal and find a less destructive and debilitating alternative.
  2. In the meantime, let our scientists find that second anointed purpose for this valuable substance.

Without this kind of wisdom, we generally work an idea until it’s exhausted and falls apart or we prematurely abandon a good gift and cast it aside.

Can we learn?

Can we realize that oil lamps were once the rage and very valuable for lighting up our streets, but when we took the time to allow Thomas Edison to illuminate our minds, we found a better way?

We also found other uses for oil.

I am optimistic.

For truthfully, my dear friends–I would rather end up being a fool who believes in human beings instead of a cynic, trying to explain my sarcasm to God.

 

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