God's Sense of Humor Elicits a Poem:“Phyrric Paladins”
Years ago, while studying at Brigham Young University, I was going through a struggling time, financially. During one particular week, it was clear that, having run out of money, I would need some extra sustenance before my classic guitar students arrived for their weekend lessons; otherwise, I would go hungry for a couple of days. Also, there was another problem approaching the following week, as it was going to be my turn to provide refreshments for our Family Home Evening Group (a number of single students, meeting weekly in a quasi-family setting to share faith and friendship). I wouldn't have enough money for this, either.
The idea of “going hungry for a couple of days” was not a complete bete noir for someone like myself, having been engaged in a program of weekly fasting in order to attain increased wisdom and virtue, and to overcome my weaknesses (for which I felt a great need and desire). But I was already rather thin by this time, even gaunt, from maintaining a spartan discipline of weekly fasting for months, now turned into years. Therefore, an additional, exigent fast could prove health-breaking.
I besought the Lord for guidance to help me get through the sparse two or three days that were coming. (If I could just get something to eat on a certain day, I calculated, I would be able to survive until the weekend.) As I prayed, I received an unmistakable response from God, that the answer to my emergency would be found in the BYU campus newspaper, The Daily Universe. Immediately, I remembered that, during one or two previous “times of want” (which many a struggling student has experienced) I had responded to an advertisement by the manager of a large fruit orchard for student day-laborers, who were paid immediately after their day’s work. By this means, I had “made it through” tough times before, and would be able to do so again, I thought. (But something, a foreboding, kept telling me that God’s deliverance, this time, would be of a different sort—though I hadn’t the least idea what that meant.)
I obtained a copy of The Daily Universe and turned to the classified ads. To my surprise, I could find neither the orchardist, nor any other employer, advertising for day-work at that time. “It must be in some other part of the paper,” I thought, and scanned the entire periodical from front to back for such advertising, but could see nothing relevant to my problem. Finally, in desperation, I prayed for reassurance vis a vis my previous inspiration. Again, I was prompted that the source of my deliverance would be found in the campus paper. Obediently, I re-read The Daily Universe from page one, word-by-word. This time, I noticed something that had not caught my attention before. There was to be an “ice cream-eating contest” held at the Wilkinson Student Center on a certain day—the very day (I had calculated) I would need to eat something in order to “survive” until the weekend!
“The Lord has an enormous sense of humor!” I laughed, rejoicing in His deliverance now, as in the past. But the recollection of something else gave me pause: In addition to my continuing regime of fasting, prayer, and study to improve my character, I had been following Benjamin Franklin’s example of concentrating each week on a particular virtue that one wished to inculcate—and this week’s virtue was temperance. How could I participate in this ravenous eating-contest, abandoning the very self-discipline I had been nurturing—merely for the sake of going along with the crowd? Perhaps I might just sit there and eat normally, enjoying the festivities with the others, without attracting too much attention for not “pigging out.” But this, too, caused a conscientious dilemma, because I would not be fully doing my part to add to the innocent fun of the occasion. Again, I prayed, but now with confidence that I was getting somewhere. To my surprise, the Lord responded that the answer was again in The Daily Universe. This time I looked instinctively at the announcement again, recalling there was something else written there that I had skipped over in joyous haste after grasping the main idea. There it was! A poetry-writing contest was also being held in conjunction with the ravenous repast. The subject-matter of the literary competition was to describe the ice cream-eating contest itself. The answer: I would enter the poetry contest as well, and work doubly hard on that event, while simply enjoying a meal of ice cream in the other, without being a slacker in aggregate.
The resulting poem, “Phyrric Paladins,” written with an alliterative style and flourishes reminiscent of medieval warfare, portrays what I envisioned (amusingly prophetic, as it turned out) might transpire following such a “martial” engagement, as, afterward, the “combatants” (including one very salty history professor) sat semi-flattened in their chairs, groaning, jokingly bewailing that they had ever entered so perilous a fray.
With this unexpected nourishment, I was able to survive (joyously) till the weekend—and was further elated when notified that I had won the poetry contest, the prize for which was a full gallon of ice cream! Blissfully grateful to God, I went to Baskin-Robbins, sponsors of the delightful festivity, and requested that my prize gallon might contain equal scoops of all thirty-one of their delicious flavors. Happily, they complied, thus providing the refreshments for the following week’s Family Home Evening group! Irrepressibly, on such an occasion, one could only sing the time-honored Christian hymn, “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow—and Melt In Your Mouth.”
A merry heart doth good like a medicine. ~Proverbs 17:22
Weapons poised, their mettle set,
steel-eyed they gaze the field.
Alarums blare, bold chants declare:
"The enemy shall yield!"
Spoons a-flash and teeth a-gnash
as grappling gullets gulp
And slashing strokes sweep down the foe
to shivering, shriveling pulp.
See the gelid adversary
\ leveled in the wake~
English Toffee, Almond Fudge,
and Strawberry Cheesecake!
But hold!~m’thinks I spy a wry
and wretched turn of fate:
Alas! The victors too lie vanquished~
roundly! Each prostrate
with pain upon his pallet now
a changéd chorus sings~
A song forgotten, now recalled~
of “temperance in all things.”
From Poems on Purpose (in revision) by Ralph Sheffield
Copyright © 2005 by Ralph Sheffield All rights reserved.Back