Follow by Email

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Wretch Like Me






  I went to a reunion of sorts this weekend of my fraternal family. Our 100 year old grandmother died a while back so the gatherings had diminished. She had been the glue I suppose. 
  I’ve always liked visiting this gregarious crowd. My mother’s family was quiet with a rye sense of humor. My father’s were loud and animated. Arguments and stories flow like a rushing stream. There is a torrent of laughter and backslapping.
  And then there are the seven sisters. As a child I adored these red headed, loving ladies. At puberty I began to rebel eventually lapsing into what would become that old bugaboo most folks call a “checkered past.”
  Funny though, as I “ripped and ran” with wild abandon these sisters would periodically rise up in my mind’s eye. Gently they would reach out their arms to embrace the freckled child called “Scotty”. I always knew two things. They loved me and they loved God.
  You see there were many times I went down a path head long into trouble. I could see it coming. Sometimes I could not stop myself so trouble came. Then there were the times when I could hear the verses of “Just As I Am” echoing as the sisters watched from underneath the shade trees.
  Sometimes I could hear their voices … “ We love you, Scotty. Always remember, Honey, Jesus is watching. You don’t want to hurt Jesus’ feelings now do you?” As angry as I was, bottom line, I did not want to hurt Jesus’ feelings.
  So I got to go with my family to see the aunts and uncles and cousins. My son is a cancer survivor. He went through a grueling year of chemo and is back in school. He wanted to go. He loves roots and history and the blood of his ancestors. I know he’s looking for the warriors that have guided him through his torture.
  They were there, these aunts and uncles that have lived their lives as warriors for God.
They asked me to say the blessing and I was honored. As we bowed our heads I spoke the words that Father gave me. In them I could see the blood of life and I was grateful for the power and example that these fine people planted in me as a child. I was grateful for these copies of the Bible that saved a “wretch like me.”

Amen …

Scotty

  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Autumn Reflection



                                    

  I adore the fall. This morning as I walked behind the garage at work, my steps became muffled and I realized that I was treading on a bed of amber, gold and rust colored leaves wet from the night’s heavy rain. The woods behind were silent except one sparrow chirping into the gray morning light. The trees are near bare now yet here and there a splash of color like oil on a canvas surprises … a small gift from a friend.
  The air smells of moist earth and frost escapes my mouth with each breath. Light dims and an aura of melancholy brings the blazing hearth to mind. The thought of a warm library full of musty books and overstuffed leather chairs bleeds into an awareness that this chill is like a bridge to imagination. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Freak Flag




                                             

 Those of us born in the mid fifties have seen a transition of society that few have witnessed. I’m not referring to technology or war. We were raised with “spare the rod, spoil the child” and the idea that each generation would do better than the last. Our parents had grown up during the Great Depression. Their ideals and ideas were marinated in the cauldron of poverty and want so they were adamant that we seek material gain as a primary endeavor. Eisenhower was president. Home ownership was the American dream.  Conservative political and social ideals were the norm. You not only did not rock the boat but you sought to fit in at all costs. Feelings were “best kept to oneself.”
  As the page turned to the sixties and we entered grade school we watched John Kennedy debate Richard Nixon and knew something was stirring. We were watching the faces of change but did not know how vast a change lay ahead.
  For many of us life was rooted in soil like that of the television series “Happy Days” from the seventies and eighties. We went home for the summer after the tenth grade in continental slacks, starched oxford button down shirts, Florsheim tassle loafers and Ivy League haircuts. We came back the following September in pocket t-shirts, bell-bottom pants, blue jean jackets and hair covering our ears.
  Living in Charlotte, N.C. was like being in a delay time warp. In the summer of 69 we began to hear through the “grapevine” about this thing called “Woodstock” up north. During the fall we all went to see it at the drive in movie theatre out on Wilkinson Blvd. By then we had the act down pat. Chevy vans with mattresses and shag carpet were turned sideways to the screen as most of us stood and wandered about the pungent fog of a crisp fall weekend night.
  Mixed among the Chevy vans were plenty of 50’s and 60’s era muscle cars. There was no lack of letter jackets and brush cuts still. You see, we were southern by birth and heritage but Woodstock by default because we were young and this was the music that spoke to us all.
  For the next few years we experimented with life with all the gusto of youth. Easy Rider cruised through our psyches and we read Kerouac and regaled at the antics of Timothy Leary and his ilk.
  And then there was the music. Achievement fell by the wayside as we patterned ourselves after the bad boys of rock and roll. Hendricks, Morrison, Jagger, Duane and Greg Allman …. The list marched on. Names like Edgar Winter, Cream, Blue Oyster Cult, Blind Faith exploded in our minds as we bean bagged our way through black lights and purple haze.
  “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin’. We’re finally on our own. This summer I hear the drummin’, four dead in Ohio” We heard the lyric and we were shocked at the travesty of injustice and violence yet something had slipped our grasp.
  The choppers wopped their way through our suppers as we rushed to escape our wardens. We saw the body bags carried from the cargo jets but they were zipped up you see.
  Carlos Casteneda wrote of visions and we copied the act while leaving the concept of spirituality in the dust of the southwest desert.
  We mimicked the tortured poets of the rock world in all their actions, dress and mannerisms until we became a southern version of them.
  Lynard Skinnard played the Cellar and we partied the night away in the muck and mud of a beer-sodded floor that looked and smelled like dirt. The darkness forgave all. We became darkness and we wallowed in the detritus of a dream that had been born in the music of peace and love.
  The “Deadheads” wore tie-dye but we wore sequins and tight pants with shag haircuts as we plied the bars and saloons of Independence Blvd. Chaka Khan gyrated along with us as we shot pool and gathered in the name of hedonism to eat the flesh and bone of our ideals.
  We called ourselves “Freaks” as in “let your freak flag fly” until we were like old men sitting on bar stools telling rerun stories because we were too burned out to care anymore.
  The “devil had gone down to Charlotte” and we had sold our soul because we did not know who to be. We had lost our way and were destined to roam an aimless road to nowhere having forgotten how to care. We lived for no one but ourselves.
  As time rolled on the price of our negligence began to become visible. Few married. Even fewer bought homes or finished college. As we sat on the bar stools our eyes hollowed and our cheeks sunk. Our tight pants began to be loose and we could not afford new ones that fit.
  John Prine sang of a “hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes,” and we looked into the blackened pool of our existence where we could see the reflection of anguish that understood the lyric.
  There was no way home from here. It was a dead end and we did not believe we had the energy to make our way back to the fork in the road that we had not even seen when we passed. There had been no conscious choice …  only laughter. And then there was silence.
  I know you’re out there. If you’re reading this I need you to know that the fork is a long way back but you can make it. There really is a “city on the hill.” It is not made of gold but of spirit.
  I see you there in your Super Bee flying down the highway toward the beach. I remember how happy we were to greet each other at the bar when the entire world was new and the girls smelled like strawberries.
  I remember the shackles of your ten-year-old black Dodge rattling across the too high speed bumps at school.
  I smell the musty beds of the seedy hotel at Myrtle Beach and feel the gritty sand beneath my cheek as the slobber runs onto the pillow.
  Yet these memories are not the end of the story. There was a narrow way that led to life. I stand there now at the headwaters waiting for others to come. Lord willing I will be here to help them when they arrive. I will be here so that they will know. We were "lost but now are found." Each day the world is made new. Each day another fork in the road. The difference is ... now we can see it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Awakening



  Years ago I went on my first river-rafting trip. It was also the first time I’d ever gone formally camping. Once while hitchhiking across country I had slept in a sleeping bag in the high desert of Arizona but had never taken gear, set up a tent, built a fire and all that.  I liked the rafting but abhorred the camping.

 “I normally get paid to work.” I grumbled.

I was uncomfortable and put out but soldiered through because I knew it was good for the family. I went back every year for five or six years out of a sense of obligation to the group.

  My wife went on a couple of other trips to different rivers but I refused other than the yearly church trip. Then, one October we went to a river down south in the fall. This was a “different animal”. 

  The Chatooga looked like one long landslide of granite had tumbled into the rushing, cold, gray water. Four hours we lived among huge boulders with forest rising on either side.

  We rode seven-foot drops while soaring hawks watched from above. We stood at the foot of 100-foot falls as they took photos of us. Each of our group is grinning ear to ear from under the white plastic helmets they insist that you wear. The element of danger creates a bond with the folks you are with. You have to work together or you can get hurt.

                             xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

   I sense Indian spirits astride their painted ponies, camouflaged by the turning leaves. Half the day is in the shadow of the cliffs and forest with welcome breaks in the warming sun. I feel as if I am being bathed in nature as wind caresses my skin and the rust colored leaves dance on the air.
  Back at the rustic old wooden center of operations with its welcoming porch we regale one another with our spills and bruises, watching slide shows of ourselves engulfed by boiling white water. We laugh and joke at our faces forever frozen in moments of truth as the river has it’s way with us. 
  Back at camp we prepare a meal and gorge until we all meet by the blazing bonfire. Everyone laughs while some listen to the college football games, all basking in the warmth of the fire. I note the chill of the starlit night as I take mental photos of these grins of camaraderie.
  I've come to the tent that I did not mind setting up. I've lit the lanterns, put on some warm socks and lie here listening to voices outside as they fade with the dying fire. Some will talk until the wee hours. It used to bother me but now it’s ok. I’ll fall asleep to the sound of folks at ease with themselves.
  A few weeks back after work one evening I groused to my wife,

“I dread this trip.”

 “REALLY?” she said surprised.

 I knew even then there was something amiss in the comment. Now I know why. The truth is I stopped hating camping a long time ago. The truth is I feel close to God here.  He’s in the river. He’s in the wind and the mutating embers of the blazing fire. Most of all He’s in the people all around me, here in the woods, under the towering trees that reach ever higher into the infinite night sky.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Flowers of War





Where have all the flowers gone?
What did we do with peace?
Did grace come once then abandon us,
To war and leave a lease

On hard times and hate and massacre,
On disease and pain and doubt?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Can you hear the children shout?

On fire they flee to darkest woe,
Searching for escape.
Listen close to bells that ring on high,
Drowning in hopeless hate.

Cast off the seed that leads to war
Call the master’s name.
Heed the toll of clarion call.
Deny the devil’s shame.

Rise up to purge unfettered gall
From all the despot’s phlegm.
Renew the Son that lies within,
Cease-fire and answer Him.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Christ and the Martial Arts



 For the past year I have been avidly reading and practicing internal martial arts. This is basically the study of life force energy and how to connect with and use said energy or “qi”.
  At it’s most advanced stage one begins to connect with “shen” or spirit. For me it is all a form of meditation and mind body discipline that develop fighting skills. Why would I want to develop fighting skills you may ask; to protect and defend, to build confidence? The first rule of the martial arts I seek to practice (as a novice) is to avoid a fight. Once one ensues, the idea is to neutralize violence with minimum or no damage to the “opponent” or “attacker”. Through this process one expands their existence and seeks to improve each day their constant contact with a God of their understanding.
  I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he lived as a flesh and blood man, died on the cross to save us from our sins and rose from the dead into spirit form. Eventually (three days as the story goes) he ascended into the heavens to be with God the Father for eternity. We know God through Christ. We seek to follow his teachings and emulate his behavior here “on earth.”
  Jesus meditated. He walked in contemplation. He sought in each moment to be all that he could possibly be and carry the message of the Father. I believe that this is what martial art, in its true and sincere form, seeks to do.
 As I practice, I bring God to the fore drawing qi from my surrounding into the dan tien (lower belly area) Many of these practices stem from Taoist thought and tenets. I am not a Taoist. I do think they have some powerful methods for living. I do believe that as Christians we can utilize a myriad of practices throughout the scope of human experience to maximize our potential as spiritual creatures living in a material world.
  There is commentary suggesting that many practices of meditation and martial art are “sinful”. It has been said that their purpose is to drive Christians toward darkness and away from Christ.
 All I know is that if as a Christian I bring my beliefs into a practice; each time in each moment, inviting my God with prayer, then the practice is Christian. If I seek to do good and benefit my fellow man in Christ’s, name then my activity is Christian.
  If someone believes they have fallen from their Christian faith as a result of these practices then I contend that it was not the practices that brought on the fall. It was instead their perspective. It was the fact that they put something else in front of their Christian faith.
 When I put anything in front of Christ I lose it and I lose Christ too.  The good thing is He’s always with me … no matter what.

In Christ’s name … peace and blessings. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Red Bridge



  The red lacquer bridge is a beckoning place. I have been there in my dreams. Here I commune with the animals. Life surrounds me as hawks and wolves and holy men. There is a sound of low hum vibrating through us all. It is the life force calling us home. Come and rejoin the circle that is existence. Come beyond what we see and know in this place of flesh and bone. Come and be united with the universe. Come home … come home … come home.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Redneck Pride



  Not long past I saw a link on “Facebook” to watch a video called “Redneck Pride”, With an idea in mind. I clicked on it.
  It was a litany of monster trucks slinging mud, obese women in spandex, rotten teeth and mobile homes with junk cars in the yard. The video was a hog sloppin “yee-haw”  of offensive, stereotypical garbage that many ethnic and or racial groups would have been up in arms about had their “ilk”  been drug through the mud (no pun intended) in such a way
  You see, for a brief moment I had thought that when I clicked on that link there would be a tribute to someone or something like my stepfather.
  I had in my mind’s eye a man as self sufficient as any on earth, a hunter, fisher, planter, mechanic, carpenter, musician, patriot, dutiful father, husband, son, in other words a true renaissance man.
  When I saw the title “Redneck Pride” for a brief moment I had deluded myself into thinking that someone had taken an opportunity to recognize those who take pride in taking care of their own. I thought that they might want to elevate, just this once, a group of folks in the southern region of these United States who came from the land and live in communion with its bounty and its hardships. I dreamed they might praise a type of human being who knows the truth of God like frosty breath on a freezing winter morning in the woods, rifle in hand, matching wits with the environment that is their birthright, that flows like honey in their blood.
  I was na├»ve or maybe just hopeful enough that they might show someone building a cabin with their own bare hands as the wife carries, cleans and organizes; just the two of them alone on a mountain top toiling in the grace of God for a future they believe in.
  I mistakenly thought that maybe for once a vertebra in the backbone of America might be honored for the core of life that it is rather than some stale joke that is told over and over until many believe that it’s true. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Decision

Month's before my son was diagnosed with cancer I wrote this. Somehow it rings of a deeper truth to me;  a place in the mind that transcends ... portends ... delivers.


  Pacing under the garish fluorescent light his heart pounded in his temples and his lips trembled. His adolescent son was dying. Just days before he had been pacing the sidelines while the boy sprinted up the soccer field for a shot on goal.
  Tyler’s kidneys were failing. The only way the doctors could stop the insidious attacker was an immediate transplant. Ben was devastated but couldn’t donate. A few years prior he had been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition.
   His wife was not a match. The fraternal twin brother Cameron was a perfect match but had a heart condition that was inherited from Ben’s side of the family. The odds were not favorable for surgery on Cameron. There was no time. He felt responsible for it all.
   The two boys were like a photo and its negative. Cameron was like his father, Tyler a carbon copy of the mother. He loved them both … his tall gray-eyed blond and the sinewy brown-eyed athlete with tangled dark hair.
  How could God ask him to make this decision? He was afraid. He wanted to puke. As he paced further he cast a furtive glance through an open door and saw the stained glass and pews of a small hospital chapel and entered in.
  He walked to the front of the dimly lit room. Here the antiseptic institutional smell became a thicker, sweeter aroma. He moved quietly to the cross at the front of the empty room and dropped to his knees. Clasping his sweaty palms he bowed his head and began to plead for the life of his sons.
  Memories of the boys flooded his mind’s eye until he remembered. Once, he had heard a woman share about the death of her infant daughter. She had told the story of standing on a balcony begging for her child’s life … some miracle to change the reality as it was. She had shared that suddenly in her anguish she was suffused with a light that told her to let go. “Let go of your pain. Surrender your will to God.”
    The frail, lovely saint shared that it was in that moment she had become free from the burden of her agony. She’d been able to surrender the life of her child to the heavenly Father. She understood, as her Bible had taught her, that she was only a steward. God had always been the Father and He would take her daughter into his loving arms.
  There was no peace in this for Ben but he no longer felt so alone. His gut churned and the horror of powerlessness threatened to consume him.  Suddenly he sensed the presence of someone near. He looked up and Cameron stood there crying.
  “We know what you’re doing Dad and we need for you to stop,” the boy croaked..  “Never, for a moment, has either of us questioned how much you love us. Not for one second have we ever thought you loved one any more than the other,”
  Cameron knelt down beside Ben, took his hands and with quavering voice explained, “There’s no choice to be made. Were Tyler to die and I hadn’t done everything in my power to save him … I don’t think I could go on. One thing I’m certain of is that I’d never forgive myself. It would be worse than death to let my brother die knowing I could have helped him and didn’t.”
   To this day, Ben says he’s not exactly sure what happened next. He tells me his only memory is of his gray-eyed child kneeling before him, as through the blur of his tears, Cameron became a man much too soon.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Back Home



  It’s been a while now since my son was diagnosed with bone cancer. Eight months to be exact. Eight months of chemo and wasting away while we tend to him and try our best to be good parents to both him and our other boy.
  I’ve been trying to keep my head on straight with some eastern practices of qigong and meditation combined with some martial arts. There’s been flute and drum music to go along with it and it’s all been helping.
  I ceased to write and post for a while. You see I got tired of crying. Tired of writing my pain and wanting this to go away. God as I have always known Him just can’t help us much here you see. I have a saying, “ He built the race track but He’s not driving the cars.”
  Folks tell us “You’re in our thoughts and prayers.” I know they mean it. When a child suffers, we all suffer but each day we wake and he hobbles to the car or couch to find his way through the haze of medicine and fatigue that has been his world too long.
  It’s slow at work today so as I was looking for some information online when I saw a video of Carrie Underwood singing an old song called “I Told You So.” When she was done they asked her to be the newest member to the Grand Old Opry. After a gracious joking moment she cried. You could see her life’s fruition on her face like a child who’s run the race and won. My heart went out to her as the memories flooded in.
  Then I realized. I had grown weary of sadness so left my roots to be somewhere that did not pull so hard on my heartstrings. I had in fact run away. My Dad used to listen to the Grand Old Opry … and so did I.
  My Momma’s with the boy today at home. It won’t be long until I get to go there and see him. I’m going to hug his neck instead of petting his baldhead. Then I’m going to tell him how proud I am to be his father.
  You see there comes a time when a man’s got to go to sea and stand on a blustery deck headed for foreign ports leaving his heart behind.
  When he’s done he’s got to go home again whether it hurts or not because he’s needed.  One way or another this thing’s going to pass and when it does I’ll sing an old country song while riding down a back country road.
  I can cry then because I’ll know in my heart that we all found our way back home.

Blindness


What blindness comes with waking
That we only know ourselves walking
In this world?

What veil of sorrow hides the beauty?

Were we to pull back the mask of consciousness,
Would day and night blend into eternity?

Are we only a faithful step away from reality
As we cast about in our hopeful waiting?

Do we reach into the ether like a grasping hand,
Where no one is looking?

There they have ceased consciousness.
Are we the dream while awakening awaits our sleeping?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thoughts From the Hospital



                                                  Thoughts From the Hospital

  We’re late in the ninth month of what is supposed to be a 12-month cycle of intense chemotherapy for my son. He was diagnosed with a cancerous bone tumor in his leg the day before school started last August.
    Early in the process it was daily anguish. Existence felt like a “crying out for mercy”.
We have watched him wither. We have watched him bounce back a little in between the cycles of toxic intravenous infusions at the hospital. It has become progressively more difficult for him to “bounce back”.
  I was writing a lot in the beginning. I intensified what had been an informal meditation practice. I also began to read and practice other Eastern disciplines and exercises including martial arts.
  I say this wondering if the aforementioned practices have “calmed” my voice or rendered it inconsequential? Simply put … I got tired of crying. I wearied of the agony and fear. I hardened the wounded part of me and began to search for balance and strength in places I have not known before.
  Writing has been a salve for a perpetual broken heart these past few years. It is also a way for me to share experience, strength and hope with folks. I believe that I am called to do this yet feel that here must be more than pain to share.
  Last night he asked for a hug and whispered in my ear, “ I’m tired, Dad. I’m so tired.”
Pain? Is that all there is? No … as I looked in the mirror this morning I realized there was something else lingering there. It’s name is anger … smoldering, breathing … anger.
  What powers that be would allow these children to suffer so? What omnipotent, omniscient being steals youth, replaces it with pain and offers no solace?
  I asked him did he want to pray?
  “No Dad. I don’t think so.”
  What can I do to help him? He asked for wet cloths and some water. I gave him that.
Then leaning in, clasping my fist I mumbled,
  “ All I can say, Son, is maybe don’t fight so hard. Roll with it. Let go.”

 This is it, I guess. This is what I have to offer. This morning I hugged him as he lay there and whispered, “I love you.” As I walked out the door to go to work my heart was breaking.  I turned the corner; wiping my eyes when I spotted two women and a small girl who stood not much more than knee high. The women pushed her IV pole as she tottered along. Blonde fuzz covered her head where once her hair had been. She had on pink cowboy boots and an off white frock.
   I walked past but as the electronic doors opened I looked back. She gazed up at me with that curious, friendly look children have that ask, “Do you see me? Will you be my friend?”
  Transfixed by her dark, flashing brown eyes I softly burred … “ I like your boots.” She smiled as her mother asked her to say thank you. I turned for the elevators thinking, “It’s me that needs to be saying thank you.”
 
  

Monday, May 7, 2012

And the Music Plays


  It was the late 60’s; we were young and had immersed ourselves in the music and culture of a new age. Mesmerized by the steady drumbeat we could not recognize the incessant beating of our own wings as we flew too close to the sun.
  We demanded change shouting that the “church of man” was built on nothing more than hypocrisy. If we could tear it down then something new would rise up and take its place. We lamented as CSNY wailed,  “Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground.”
  What rose instead was a mindless culture of self. “If it feels good do it,” we chortled, denying the Sunday school teachings about Christ, self-control and deprivation in search of spiritual growth.
  We called it the “Age of Love,” but unlike Christ we loved ourselves more than our brothers and sisters. We confused sex with love while “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
  Today most have at least begun to breathe an air of reality that is no longer clouded by the smoke of blinding idealism. We can hear the message of our fathers. We know that as they toiled at the “machine”, they loved us. As they wearily trudged to church angry with the “hippies and protesters”, they prayed for forgiveness for us and for themselves.
  Yet we could not see them then there on their knees crying out in suffering that their children would be lost.
  Many foundered in a world without values, taking not giving, yearning for all the wrong things. So we sang with glee along with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” not recognizing our festering pride.
 Pied Pipers of the New Age we were steeped in drugs, unable to resolve our own inner conflict. We no longer wielded the bolt cutters that had once set us free from chains of delusion. We short stepped in our shackles until it seemed as if the music had died. All that remained was the haunted echo of a dream.
  Today we stand as fathers ourselves hoping like those before us that our children can find their way. Yesterday a man came and told me that one day he had met my son. He told me that my son was beautiful and I thought he meant his chocolate flowing hair and pearly smile. 
  Then this grizzled old warrior looked me in the eye and said, “When I shook his hand, I couldn’t help but see his clear, pure spirit. It made me love him. It made me want to hug him but I didn’t want him to be uncomfortable so I walked away feeling somehow better for having shook his hand and looked him in the eye.”
  Today the music plays again.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dead Willow

The willow is dead.
Earth could not sustain his spirit.
The birds no longer nest.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Heaven's Garden




  We once spoke during a discussion at church of heaven and hell as things that are here on earth. That is to say that they are not some concepts that exist in the ether beyond our purview but rather our experience in this life. Today I am conscious of this on a gut level beyond typical awareness.
  I have been blindly working for some time now. One of my sons is battling cancer and work has been a way to seek normalcy even though the awareness of his struggle permeates each breath like invading pollen.
  Then on a recent morning I received a call. “We want to come and work in your yard … do some landscaping.” After some reassurances that my yard was by no means an eyesore (simply kindness I think) I croaked a grateful, “OK … I suppose that would be alright.”
  I rushed out the door to work and began the cycle of making calls, answering email, tending to property issues and generally “putting out the fires”, that self employment demands of us.
  My other son had a soccer game and it kept playing on my mind. Guilt was creeping in but there was so much to do I wasn’t going to be able to make it on the busiest day of the week. The next thing I know I’m “texting” my partner who is engaged in another aspect of our business asking if he could fill in for me for a couple of hours. To my surprise, in just a moment or two he responded … “yes.”
  A few hours later, after much rushing about I was standing on the sidelines watching intently as my son and the other youth were engaged in the throes of competition. Their focus was palpable. We were all caught up in the tension as our lives intertwined with the hopes and dreams of our children. As I gazed about at the parents, relatives and friends I realized that our commonality had bred nothing other than a form of love.  
  Afterward we all shook hands and hugged, basking in the glow of a game well played (a scrappy draw actually)
  Driving home I thought of the folks from church that had been working in my yard. It had been difficult to say yes to their offer yet the myriad of tasks needing to be done had rested heavily in a corner of my psyche for a while.
  Pulling in the drive their labor was strikingly evident. They had removed dead shrubs, cleared ivy and weeds, mulched beds, dug and elevated and swept and cleared. Full  bags of mulch were stacked neatly here and there. They had informed me that they intended to return.
  Tearfully I wandered this garden of my life, grateful for the dark shades I wore. I envisioned their bent backs and their hands in the dirt. I knew that some had been children and older youth. It was unseasonably hot. They would have been sweating profusely. All on a Saturday when they could have been playing or resting or tending to their own.
  Maybe it seems melodramatic but in that moment I felt lifted beyond what I had been before. I loved them. I loved my partner and friend. I loved them all for what Thomas Merton described as their, “intrinsic excellence”. This, I feel, is ultimately their love of God and the hope of heaven that is what makes us unique among creatures “in God’s image.” 
  Heaven is what I feel now. Through these acts, for a spell, I can truly surrender all things to Him. I can love Him more intensely through my fellow man.
  We have been given many gifts during this time of trial and tribulation. Folks have contributed their time, labor, money, materials, food and they have prayed. Yet the greatest thing they have given is to show us their love of God. In so doing they have broken through the veil of suffering and shined a light into this often hateful and darkened place.
  They have shown us heaven here on earth in all its glory and all its grace and we will be eternally grateful.

  Peace and blessings to all of you. May these words serve as my humble attempt to praise Almighty God through the grace, dignity and love that are our fellows.

Amen

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Half-way


                                                



  As a parent, dealing with my son’s bone cancer has been an expanding evolution. It’s been five and a half months since the diagnoses. He’s lost 40lbs. We set up an IV each night now because he can barely eat most of the time. There are mouth sores and nausea so everything that goes down tends to be a torment.
  His mother is worn down. His brother seems angry. I have arrived at a place of resignation cloaked with a dutiful determination like a too heavy coat.
  There are good days with his wry grin and jokes about my age. Sometimes he wants to go to eat mussels at Olive Garden. Last time he was cheerful when we left. When we exited the car at the restaurant he had gone pale. Head hanging he stood quietly leaning forward on his cane. He’ll touch his long thin index finger to his temple as if trying to recall something.
  It’s like a “tell” saying, “I’ve gotten nauseous and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.” I want to say calmly, “Let’s just go back. There’s plenty to eat at home.” but I don’t because in a way I know it would be admitting defeat … or even worse stealing a moment of joy from him.
  He perseveres through the meal. I’m a little on edge and watchful. It’s way too loud and garish. We notice an alarming exposure of hairy “butt crack’ like a too fat plumber at the table beside us and it provides a cleansing laugh.
  Home on a dreary weekend of no chemo he immerses himself in an Xbox game. When this all began I admonished him for playing it too much. Now I’m glad for anything that distracts him from this plodding and shrunken world.
  His dog, Willow, continues to be a too large lap dog. Though he sits in a tiny game chair with his salvaged leg propped on an ottoman, she is splayed across his now alarmingly thin lap watching the game as if to give advice while he peers over her white bulldog head.
  Sometimes when we have to “hook him up” to the IV we’ll look over after a few minutes. He’ll be flushed and thin lipped. At first I thought he was sick. Now we know. He’s angry. He’s angry at this hateful trial that rest heavily in his young heart.
  The truth is we’re all angry but not with God or ourselves. We’re angry at the random insidiousness of this disease that wants to steal a  boy’s youth. We’re angry at the hateful response the body has to the only protocol for cure.
  Maybe the anger is a good thing. At least we all feel the same. We’re all fighting in the same battle.
  His school class went to Disney this past weekend. One of them said, “You know we’ve missed Corson all year but we miss him even more on this trip. He’s always been with us when we went somewhere.” One of them brought him a leather bracelet that said “I win.”
  Corson told us a while back that when all this was over he wanted to get a tattoo. For a moment I hesitated. Then he told me what he wanted it to say.
 “I win, Dad. I want the tattoo to say, I win.”
  I think I’ll get one too.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Harry




  Many years ago when I returned home after a stint in the U.S. Navy I was living in “apartment city” near downtown. There was a couple of square miles of singles frolicking in pools, dancing the nights away and generally wallowing in hedonistic rapture.
  Many were working while attending college or beginning careers on the bottom rung. It was a wonderful time of friends and blood boiling youth. I couldn’t help but at times be mindful that we were moving forth into society with much more liberal views than the generation before us.
   It was funny though that in many ways we had one foot in the Woodstock 60’s while the other seemed to be surreptitiously planted in an Elvis and Buddy Holly mode that harbored deep and abiding attitudes straight from a 50’s southern culture.
  Enter Harry Fosdick (or so I’ll call him) Harry lived down the way from us. I was living with a feisty young Italian Yankee I had met in San Diego. We had a third floor unit with a view of the pool, a mattress on the floor and a lot of Indian cotton and tapestries.  I’d go to school courtesy of the V.A. in the mornings and lifeguard in the afternoons for a little extra money 
  It was a macho existence with lots of chest swelling and horsing around. Hormones were the rule of the day. Harry was kind of refreshing because he was a little brighter than most and even though somewhat effeminate in an odd sort of way he appeared strong and athletic and could hold his own.
  I related to him because we were both rather political and had many compatible interests in music and art. I could be myself with Harry unlike many men where it seemed there was always a need to alpha posture in some way that could at times leave me scratching my metaphorical head a little.
   Even in the service I had tended to graduate towards the more introspective people though they were often what regular folks would call rough necks nonetheless. The truth is I was a rough neck myself (or thought I was anyway)
  Often my “girlfriend” and I would hang out with Harry. He was a lot of fun and had a good job so was able to carry his own load unlike many of the student types we sometimes hung out with.
  I had asked him about his lack of girlfriends a time or two. He shrugged it off saying he’d just not met the right girl yet and was picky. Sometimes when the Italian Yankee and I were fighting I’d go over to Harry’s and he’d sit up talking with me and let me crash on his couch. He was a good guy. I liked Harry a lot.
  One day down at the pool some jerk started going on about Harry “being a queer” and all. It wasn’t the first time it had come up. Like I said, Harry was a little effeminate in a fuzzy kind of way.
   I’d even mentioned it to him a time or two and he’d said, “ No … I’m just as heterosexual as the rest of you, Scott.”  I’d simply moved on.
 So I set the guy straight and told him I didn’t appreciate his disparaging tone about a friend of mine. I suggested he might take a lesson or two from Harry on how to be a decent sort.
  A couple of weeks later Harry invited us to a party at his apartment. He liked it if everybody got a little decked out so we put on our best “rock and roll” duds and went across the way around 10:00 PM.
  Harry came to the door and greeted us with a hug just like always. There was a small crowd and a couple of folks I didn’t recognize, which was a little unusual since we were a rather close knit group as a general rule.
  Introductions were made and I couldn’t help but notice that one fellow absolutely had to be gay. I mean he was doing the whole “queen like thing” with the wrist and all and had this high-pitched voice.
   He was conversational and witty so I just shook it off and went on about my business. Our attitude in those days was sort of “live and let live” as long as you keep it to yourself. If anybody ever got “funny” though they’d end up on their butt. (Well that was the dialogue anyway)
  It wasn’t long until Harry came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked me to come in the back room to talk with him for a moment. We were always having these deep sessions about feelings and folks and such so I didn’t think anything about it.
  We went in the bedroom. He sat on the bed and I sat on the little chair across a couple of feet away. I leaned in with my elbows on my knees and chirped, “ Wha’s happnin’, Cap’n?” We used to say that all the time.
  Harry took a deep breath and muttered, “I’ve got something I need to tell you.”
  “Ok, Harry … anything … what is it.”
  “Scott, you asked me once if I was homosexual and I told you no. I’m sorry about that because the truth is that I am.”
  To this day I don’t know why I was surprised. I sat there looking at this man I had known for a couple of years and I did not know what to say for a moment.
  He continued, “I didn’t want to tell you because I valued your friendship and Gina told me you would probably not want to associate with anybody that was gay.”
 He continued as he gazed down at the carpet,
   “I’ve always been a private person and discreet in my personal affairs so it was no big deal but now I have someone I really care about.”
  He looked up at me, “ I don’t want to hide anymore.”
  There are moments in my life when I look back and I have no idea what happened or why. This was one of them. I stood up, motioned for Harry to stand with me and I gave him a long, close hug.
  I remember we were both kind of sweaty and smelled like cologne. He was a hairy guy so his beard sort of chafed my fair Irish cheek. I patted him on the back and whispered in his ear …
   “It doesn’t matter Harry. You’re my friend and this ain’t gonna change that. You are who you are. Thanks for telling me.”
  We separated and when we looked one another in the eye we were both a little misty.
  “Ok, Ok … that’s enough of this. Let’s party,” I exclaimed.
  We turned and walked back to the den where everybody was shouting over the Christopher Cross album playing on the high end stereo system while “oohing and ahhing" over the exotic fish in the salt water aquarium. (You would of thought I could figure it all out, huh?)
  So I had my first gay friend. He took us to some “gay places” and introduced us to some of his buddies. You know they were some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known. I usually enjoyed their company until every now and then things would get a little creepy and I’d have to hit the trail.
  Funny how life works. To this day I don’t have any qualms about gay folks. Even though I’ve been accused of having a “redneck streak” a mile wide (that story another day) I just shake their hand and invite them into my world making sure as best I can that nobody gives them any crap and move on. They have done the same for me.
  I can’t for the life of me figure out why folks get so crazy about it all. I don’t think anybody wakes up one day and says,
  “You know what? I think I’d like to be ostracized for the rest of my life. I think I’d like to have to fight tooth and nail to have the same civil rights of any other citizen. I’d like to be ridiculed and judged and called names. I want folks to attack me emotionally and physically for the remainder of my days on this planet. I want to say I’m gay because I think it would be a fun thing to do.”
 Oh well, who knows? Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. What's a dumb ole redneck know anyway?
  All I do know is, if everybody had a friend like Harry, I’ve got a feeling this whole gay prejudice thing would play out in a totally different way. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Last Night




Last night we sat in the glow of the screen
 Being together, resting on our recliner
Of pain watching apes grow smarter as
Humanity wallowed in its ignorant science.

Ever glancing at his strained countenance
I worried for his future in silence.
 He’ll not tell us when his stomach boils
And the blood drains into his toes.

He’ll only persevere as the hatefulness
Breeds and he searches for strength.
No salve will heal this blood wounded
Place of nagging body betrayal.

 The note from his mother laying on the
 stark white tile of the kitchen says,
 “He got sick on the floor outside
 the bathroom after you went to sleep.”

Guilt lies under every rug in this
House of doubt. Each day we climb
Further into the unknown, praying
For a respite that eludes our grasp.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rear Naked Choke


 As a child, I was surrounded by men that felt violence was an integral part of life. They were rather expert in its application. Where they may have been lacking they were subsequently expert at convincing the surrounding world that they were not. 
  Raised during the Depression in rural S.C. my Dad was one of these men. The simple truth was that you did not mess with Dad. He might hurt you if he got upset. He might be sorry later but that wasn’t much of a salve.
   There were times here and there when I tested him in tentative ways as sons will do but he was not one to playfully tumble. They say young boys learn boundaries by wrestling and such with their fathers. I built “walls” instead.
  That brings us to the story at hand. Recently one of my sons announced that he was fond of a young girl and would like to invite her over. She was a charming and lovely “child”. They are passed the age of puberty so hormones are obviously at play. They were joined at the hip for most of the afternoon to a physical degree that made even this reformed old rounder a little uncomfortable though it was all innocent enough.
  I made a couple of cracks about it but tried to give them some space. There were certainly no closed doors involved and a lot of checking in. I worked out on the heavy bag and did an exercise video, then joined them for the Super Bowl in the den.
  My son and I began to discuss one-handed push-ups from the video and both got down on the thick carpet to exhibit our minimal abilities in this area. I was fatigued and the point I was trying to make was that I could barely do one of the push-ups in a partial way when reasonably fresh.
  The next thing I know my 14-year-old soccer-playing athlete that is built out of something like wire cord is on my back attempting to subdue me by choking from behind. My first reaction at this assault was to rise up, turn and plant this rabid 140 plus pound monkey onto his back but midair I realized that we were dangerously close to the glass and slate of the fireplace. I shortened the maneuver just in time so that we fell alarmingly close to disaster.
 Well he not only did not release his hold but dug in with all his might until his skinny forearm restricted my air passage. I attempted to grasp one of his fingers and peel his hand away but he quickly jerked it back from my sweaty grasp and resumed his choking.
  Suddenly my animal instinct rose up like a flame exploding in a back draft and I reached back to grasp a handful of his thick brown hair. In the moment I began to snatch and rotate out of his grasp, something happened. It would probably be more accurate to say that something did not happen. I froze.
  In my mind’s eye I could see the young woman-child watching from the couch. I could tell that he was choking with every ounce of strength that he had. It was evident that he was willing to do whatever it took to win this “contest”. I sensed that he needed this with every fiber of his being.
  The problem was that I needed it too. I needed to prove my masculinity and strength. I needed to show my now deceased father that I was a man and could be as violent and powerful as anyone who walks the face of the earth but I did not.
  I let go of his hair, reached down for his forearm, shrugged my shoulders a little in order to find some breathing room and I laid there tense for a pregnant ticking of seconds.  He squeezed even harder until I heard him say, “Ok, ok … I heard something pop. I’m gonna let go … don’t get mad. I was just horsing around.”
  We stood in unison as I managed to humorously mumble, “Nothing like a surprise attack to get the blood going.”
  We all laughed it off and spent the remainder of a pleasant evening watching the Super Bowl until we took the young lady home.
  Later as we readied for bed I told my son that I did not appreciate the surprise attack from behind. (He has always had a propensity for such) I suggested that if it happened again, regardless of whom was present, that he might find the result to be somewhat different.
 The next day the whole thing lingered. I shared it with my brother to get his reaction. He too had spent a childhood ruled by fear and has many of the same defense mechanisms that I carry … namely a quick temper and an inability to take any degree of what we perceive to be “crap” from anyone.
  He was nothing short of astounded at how I had reacted and much to my surprise was rather complementary of my control.
  I told him that all I could make of it was that when I felt my temper flare the night before a better part of me had somehow miraculously taken over. My desire not to harm my son in any way had won out over a lifetime of conditioning.
  In the moment there had been no clear conscious thought. I had simply “let go” rather than fight back. 
  Years ago during a spiritual retreat I had heard a grizzled, large and obviously powerful man share that his alcoholic father had physically abused him all of his childhood. He said that as a man he had learned that his father and his father before him had also been abused in the same way.
  He told the group that he had a son now and that he felt God had left him alive on this earth through all of his sins and escapades so that he could break the cycle of violence between father and son.
  I knew in the moment that as I sat and listened to this scarred yet humble bear of a man that in many ways the same was true of me. I chose to stop any corporal punishment of my children, mild as it was, shortly after. 
  I did not know then how deeply God had embedded the pain and hope of that man’s sharing until I felt my son choking me from behind with all his might.
  I suspect that on some level what he heard “pop” might have been the chain of violence that had festered deep within since the beginning of my consciousness.
 So here in the dim light of a restful Sunday morning I feel deep and abiding gratitude. All I can think is,
   “ Thank you, Son for the gift of who you are. Thank you, Father … for every breath I take.”



Friday, January 27, 2012

Forgetfullness

On the last day of the summer past one of my sons was diagnosed with bone cancer. Since then we as a family with him at our core have lived in a surreal place of pain and fog and forgetfulness.

I say forgetfulness not only because I misplace things more often or miss an appointment in my hazy waltz through this maze of fear but because when the nightmare of disease possesses a loved one you learn to forget as quickly as possible.

To dwell on what is or meander down the nostalgic path of easier days is nothing less than pure folly. It only leads to depression, anger and more fear.

When we forget we open ourselves to new reality. We wash away the “if onlys” and shake the hand of determination that is the best friend of our loved ones courage. Laughter is the salve that protects us from horror. Yet I wonder if that is what I have done when this demon did not possess my son.

Children have suffered for time memorial from horrible illness while I played, worked and generally concerned myself with the trappings of middle class existence. While they lay dying I harbored vanity while devoting most of my free time to self.

Yes I believe in service to my fellow man and have done what I could but I always go home to the warmth and comfort of knowing my loved ones are sound and protected.

For the remainder of my days I cannot imagine taking for granted the peace and serenity that comes with having a safe and healthy family.

It has been said that gratitude is an action. My son is fighting for his life but he is alive. He gets angry and complains. He jokes and he cries. He calls me “old man” and grins waiting for me to “cut” him back. I kiss the top of his smooth white head careful not to let a tear fall there where he might know my sadness.

When this is done there will be less forgetting. One thing I will not forget is the gift of each breath. I will not forget that children all over the world lay suffering in agonizing pain. They suffer more than physical pain. They suffer the doubt that fatal disease delivers to their door each morning and there is no end.

Can we all remember? Can we all beat a drum, run a race, sit with a child, cook a meal, take the children to see the friend that is still their friend though temporarily living apart?

This pain will never let me forget. Does it take this for us to remember?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Can You Remember?


Can you remember the clover at late afternoon on a hot summer day? You wore your favorite cutoff blue jeans, fluffy frayed at the ends. Your bare feet were engulfed in deep green dewy coolness.

Do you remember lying down on your back to feel the tickle of that wafting, sweet earth along your sun-warmed limbs while sweet smelling sweat dried at your temples?

Can you see now the marshmallow white cumulus scudding across the blue sky like some ethereal lagoon that you had yet to see but yearned for?

Can you recall the woods at the dead end of hot asphalt where day bright turned to shadow as you entered the leafy cave?

Picking your way along the well worn but narrow path you tried to tread silently on the crunchy detritus like an Indian.

Did you draw an arrow from your quiver when the brush rustled?

Did you aim and release the power that reached into the forest to capture life that would sustain your tribe?

Do you still remember the young warrior who only knew truth and dignity?



Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Reflection on "Tin Soldiers"

 My heart is breaking in this moment. Crosby, Still, Nash and Young wail, “Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground.” I see my son bald and hobbling on his crutches by the Viet Nam veteran’s memorial. The black wall reflects his pale struggle. His face stern, determined yet washed in misery. The orphanage rests on the hill across the lawn and hedges.


  Rise up America and protest the injustice of war. Cease to live the lie that imprisons our love. Save the children you can. Plenty are suffering without our lashing out at those who would breathe different air; might believe other than we believe.

  Let us embrace all men in the blanket of peace and tolerance. We can be strong without war. We can use the power that is a gift of the Higher Power who I chose to call God to heal all mankind. We can move into this century with a new perspective. War against injustice. War against intolerance. Make peace with your fellow man.

  How easily we forget ...