Warren Arthur Hill
Sometime between felling Goliath and ascending to the throne, King David reclined under the Mediterranean sky to write poetry. His muse was God. Scribbling down verse and rhyme, he wondered how to describe the Almighty: potter hunched over a muddy kick wheel, gardener nourishing a tender seedling, mighty fortress shielding all from the storm. Or sheepherder. David settled on the latter, writing, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Under a southern sky, Warren Arthur Hill was born on Sept. 7, 1959, at Fort Campbell, an army base straddling the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Soon after, his dad, a military man, deployed to Korea. Like so many soldiers, he returned stateside as a haunted man. Disinterested in being a dad, he walked on the family, leaving Wanda behind as shepherdess of the house.
Of all livestock, sheep require the most mothering. They are nearly blind, needing constant redirection to keep from getting lost. They are fainthearted, unable to protect themselves from marauders or their stubborn instincts. They can’t flip back over, rendering them paralyzed with hooves pointing skyward. And they can’t gather provisions, destitute until someone else leads them to green pastures and still waters.
Wanda provided by working two jobs in Clarksville, TN. By day at the telephone company, by night at the movies. Life was lean, but she made just enough to purchase the newest Hot Wheels collection and keep her son’s bedroom dresser stocked with Levi’s off the shelf and pressed shirts off the rack. When young Warren heard professional wrestlers were coming to town, he got to go because mom emptied her purse.
Grappling with the metaphor, switching it from helpless lamb to endangered traveler, David turns away from the light in his Psalm. Navigating the treacherous territory of his sinful decisions, he alludes to his unbridled political ambition, his rape of Bathsheba, his murder of Uriah, and the injuries he alone inflicted. Surrounded by the interior enemies of his own making, he walks the darkest valley, praying for rescue from himself.
Popeye had adversaries too. In school, teachers were merciless. They shamed him at the blackboard for inverting his letters, refusing to test him for severe dyslexia. One grandfather was an alcoholic, and so was the other. His dad and best friend too. After the first taste, he struggled to put the longneck down from junior high on. Drinking ended his career as a paratrooper, leaving him homeless across dozens of American cities.
Searching for a place to rest his head, exhausted from all the running away, David is suddenly overtaken from behind, tackled mid-stride. Apprehended, he awaits sentencing. Shockingly, instead, a heavenly host opens the door into eternity and takes him to a divinely appointed room where he’s the honored guest. Hunt down by grace, he says, “Surely goodness and mercy” have chased me into “the house of the Lord.”
While it came far too late, Popeye finally found his home. On earth, apartment 36B in Klondike with Jesse and their adoring kittycat Dolly. At Haywood St., in the dish pit, slinging suds with his buddies while the Rolling Stones sang “Gimme Shelter.” And now, sporting the best mullet heaven has ever seen, he dwells among the flock of saints, tended to- free from liver failure, cancer, and everything else- by the Good Shepherd.
Every night in bed, prior to the hospital and hospice, Popeye and Jesse, tangled up in each other’s loving arms, recited the same 26 words before falling asleep. So, in remembrance of his life and his life after death, let us do the same saying together:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.