Monday, January 15, 2007

Still Chasing the Dream

“And blessed was she who believed that she would see the fulfillment of all that was spoken to her from the Lord.”
~ Luke 1:45 (AMP)

When Keen made the decision to go back to college at the age of 40, many people questioned the wisdom of that decision. In fact one person told Keen to his face that he couldn’t do it because he was just “too damn old!” To that Keen replied, “Well I’m gonna turn 47 now matter what happens!” Now, eight years later, he is living his dream, and loving every minute of it.

"Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway. We might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use."
~ Earl Nightingale

A couple of weeks ago I received the following email from my godfather in Virginia:

I read your trilogy over the loss of your father-in-law and what I felt necessary to say more than anything was for you to finish your book. You have a gift for writing and although it is hard to break from the everyday, I honestly think you can publish a book. I base this on your column and especially the way you wrote and expressed yourself over the loss of Keen's dad. I obviously don't /didn't know Keen's dad, but the writing was so clear about him that I felt I did know him. It was very touching. So press on while you can...............Bill

Although the book I’ve been working on isn’t written in the same style as my Reflections column, I appreciated my godfather’s encourage- ment very much.

“Dreams must be fed a steady diet of love, commitment and desire in order to grow into reality. Thinking we must ‘face the fact’ that our dream is impossible, is usually nothing more than the dream's way of letting us know it's hungry.” ~ Kate Nowak, Live More Abundantly Productions

I’m sure many of you have been wondering about the status of my book/dream since I haven’t given any updates lately. Basically it is completed, except for some last minute changes that my manuscript editor would like to make before it goes to print. The other hurdle I have to overcome is finding a publisher, which is easier said than done, as any writer will tell you. The literary agent in New York whom I had corresponded with earlier, was still not satisfied with the revised version of my manuscript. So I’ve got a few more doors to knock on before deciding whether I should self-publish.

Although self-publishing is often considered a last resort for authors, I was somewhat encouraged when I heard author Robert T. Kiyosaki’s talk about his experience with the publication of his first book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. He said that when he initially wrote the book he was unable to find a publisher, so he decided to self-publish. After placing an initial order for 1,000 copies, he asked a friend of his who owned a car wash if he could place 18 copies of the book at his place of business. Although the friend was reluctant at first, Kiyosaki convinced him that it was the ideal location since he wouldn’t have any competition! When several weeks passed without a single copy being sold, the friend called and asked Kiyosaki to come and pick up his books, but Kiyosaki was able to persuade him to keep the display up for a little longer. Then one day a miracle happened when all 18 copies of the book were sold! As it turned out, the books were purchased by a single individual who happened to be a top executive of a large publishing house. When the executive contacted Kiyosaki and asked him if he had any more copies of his book, Kiyosaki excitedly replied, “Yes! I’ve got 1000 minus 18!” After that, the book became a national bestseller and Mr. Kiyosaki went on to publish several other bestselling books.

Some of you may recall the letter I received from a woman who suggested that I dig a hole in a field and bury my manuscript. (At least she could have read it first!) Her personal assessment was that I must be filled with bitterness and hatred if I was writing a tell-all book about our experiences with the commissioners and the legal battle which led to the Supreme Court. Although there are probably multitudes who agree with her, I don’t believe it is mean-spirited or spiteful of me to write the truth about what happened to us during that time. As for harboring unforgiveness, it is possible to forgive someone without condoning their actions. We certainly didn’t like what the commissioners did to us, but we have forgiven them, because we know that if we don’t, then God won’t forgive us.

“For if you forgive people their trespasses – that is, their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go and giving up resentment – your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses – their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go and giving up resentment – neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.” ~ Matthew 6: 14,15 (AMP)

So although everyone is entitled to their opinion, it has always been our belief that unless someone stands up against bigotry or corruption, nothing will ever change.

“Learn to do right; seek justice, relieve the oppressed and correct the oppressor . . . . “ ~ Isaiah 1:17a (Amp)

As for the book, I believe that right is right, and wrong is wrong, and what Keen and I went through during that time was truly stranger than fiction. For example, during the late 1980’s when Keen was attending the county commission meetings and writing his weekly column, “My Perspective,” he was called a local loudmouth, political gadfly, and a troublemaker. The commissioners themselves called Keen an idiot, dirt, and the stuff he hauled around in his trash truck, not to mention the “sorriest son of a b---- in Wabaunsee County.” The then-commissioner from Paxico even publicly warned the then-editor of the Alma paper, Bob Stuewe, to take a “closer look” at what he put in the paper to “avoid getting into trouble.” When Keen asked the Commissioner to clarify his remarks, he brazenly replied, “Your articles are offensive and should be censored!” Well, Bob Stuewe was (and still is) an honest man, and the following week he wrote his own front-page editorial stating that in 38 years of being in the newspaper business he had never before been threatened for publishing signed editorials, and he had no intention of censoring anyone’s articles – despite the commissioners’ use of “high pressure tactics.” The following year, the commissioners regrettably carried out their retaliatory threat against Bob Stuewe by cancelling his long-standing designation as the official newspaper for Wabaunsee County. Unfortunately, Bob was forced to sell his newspaper as a result. (The new editor later received the designation back.)

We have always realized that not everyone supported Keen’s efforts to affect change in Wabaunsee County. After the commissioners terminated Keen’s trash collection contract, some people whom we considered friends were overheard saying that Keen “got what he deserved.”

"Even my own familiar friend, in whom I trusted (relied on and was confident), who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me."
~ Psalm 41:9

One of our few true friends, Quentin Katt, told Keen that he heard some guys talking at Gas & Shop and one of them said, “Somebody ought to just shoot him.” When Keen ran for county commissioner in 1990, someone actually shot a large hole through one of his campaign signs out on Highway 99. In fact, the theft of Keen’s signs was such a regular occurrence that our boys would take off on their bicycles every morning to perform “sign patrol.” Then they’d ride back home and report to their dad about which signs were missing so he could go back out and replace them. (One of Keen’s supporters wrote a letter to the editor during that time which read: “You can steal our signs, but you can’t steal our vote!”)

But Keen truly believed that his First Amendment rights were more than just words on a piece of paper, they were inalienable. And as long as he performed the job that he was hired to do, (by the grace of God, he never missed a day), then the commissioners shouldn’t be allowed to punish him for speaking out publicly against them. After all, if exercising your freedom costs you financially, then it really isn’t free.

So Keen fought, and he fought, and he fought some more. He was a trashman by day and a husband and father by night. Yet somehow he found the time, strength, and wherewithal to attend meetings, write articles, and assist our attorneys in battling the case that took over five years to weave its way through the justice system. One time Keen said: “We’ve been fighting for so long, we sleep with our swords.” You see, we weren’t just fighting for our First Amendment rights – we had four young sons to support, and that business was our main source of revenue, the way we put food on the table. So the combination of basic survival instincts and deep-seated principle was more than enough to motivate us and keep our juices flowing.

But there is no question in my mind that my book will be met with mixed reviews (and possibly even threats of lawsuits.) Those who still begrudge the controversy caused by the lawsuit and the negative publicity it generated will say that I should have let sleeping dogs lie. But the fact remains that everything in the book actually happened, and by going to the United States Supreme Court, the case changed the law of the land and literally became a part of history.

And so I will continue to knock on doors and hope, pray, and yes, dream that the story about a common, ordinary trash man, who dared to stand up against the powers that be, will one day be told through the pages of my book.

“Do not, therefore, fling away your fearless confidence, for it carries a great and glorious compensation of reward. For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away (and enjoy to the full) what is promised. But the just shall live by faith; and if he draws back and shrinks in fear, My soul has no delight or pleasure in him.” ~ Hebrews 10:35,36,38a (AMP)

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today, I still have a dream.” ~The Trumpet of Conscience, Martin Luther King, Jr.