Poverty 101? Take An Incomplete!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 8, 2014 by michaelcogdill

After I spoke at an event this morning, the mom of an Auburn journalism student approached, naturally incandescent with pride in her daughter. Proud, but a tad troubled, I could tell.

Someone, or a group of them, at Auburn has been filling her daughter’s head with gloom speak about her chosen profession. You’ll make nothing. Brace for poverty. Steel yourself for a life lush with canned beans and government cheese. (Not a thing wrong with either, by the way).

There is, however, something wrong with educators trying to cap the expectations of a student. Education is about broadening, not narrowing, expectations. No, that’s no sturdy realism they deliver. Nor is it refining pragmatism, teaching a kid she’ll be poor. It is, I believe, a rant of quiet resentment. A seething desire not to see the student out-soar the instructor.

In my college experience, at Georgia and North Carolina, rare was the professor who tried to cap me with low expectations. Those who did, I don’t remember. I recall only those who said, yes, get after it. Your dream is up there. Here are the afterburners of learning. The tools. Light ‘em up and get the hell after it. Work hard. Get there.

I am a student of the liberal arts, and I celebrate this. Yes, I studied journalism, great literature, the humanities that make us human. I did the math, too, sure. But language lit the air of my heart. It’s still my electrical charge. And I am not poor! Not by any definition.  Thank God, I am anything but poor. I have a tremendous lot, and many to thank for it.

But more than this, I am not measured by my wealth, nor by poverty. I take my measure by the capacity to scatter some worth about the place, especially to those on the downside of advantage. That’s wealth. That, in the end, is what this essay is about. That value set should forge its way off the tongue of those professors at Auburn, and every college and university around the globe.  Teach it.  Demand the mindset from your students.  Inspire them, after all.

Students, don’t believe the drivel of little minds with big pedigrees who say because you study this, you’ll never amount to some significant that. You get to choose whether to believe the doomsayers who, so often, were too afraid to dare. Don’t believe them. Haul off and dare. Dare grandly.

It’s up there. You can reach it, with work. What you love will give you the ride.

Anything For Love? Really? A Thought Born of The Bachelor

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 18, 2014 by michaelcogdill

I admire the one Juan Pablo rejected.  Clare Crawley turned resolute after all.  Stood for her womanhood, not a famous bachelor’s feminine ideal.


Yet something troubles me. Clare told the TV audience when she loves, she loves 1,000% and would do ANYTHING for that love.

Anything? Really? In the fullest defining of the word “anything?”

That anything rattles awake my voice as an advocate for female sovereignty against domestic violence. It shakes me at my core as a man advocating for women to see their individual strength, apart from men.

In the helicopter, Juan Pablo (and there’s no evidence he’s violent at all, by the way) said something that troubled Clare deeply. He hit a trip wire of her intuition. Yet the bomb of self-protection didn’t go off. She showed up the next day to get a proposal from that same man. The one she told off with brilliant power moments after he rejected her.

And in that angry repudiation of him, her intuition was showing. She revealed that there was much she didn’t even like about the man, much less love.

I believe in that moment, Clare learned something about the deceitfulness of the cultural undertow that yanks far too many strong women down to drown in the folly of absolute devotion to being a princess bride. I hope many women learned it. Women AND men.

Last night, as I keynoted an event about domestic violence, I had the chance to talk directly to some very young women in the audience. They’re early to mid teenager — the age when so many women begin to feel the pressure to scan the horizons of their lives for a wedding cake. To pair off. To get validated by their peers with the very idea that they have a man in their lives. For them, likely a boy masquerading as a man.

To the entire audience, with focus on the very young, I said something I’ll echo here: You are a sovereign woman in the making. Ever evolving. A singular human being adored by God. You need NO man to validate that. No man to impress your girlfriends with your capacity to catch a dude. You are a life to get celebrated and lived daringly, with courage and independence. NEVER sacrifice this in the name of pleasing, or catching, a man.

You know this, of course. Deep within. Men who set off that intuition about your sovereign womanhood call you to speak up, to walk away, to seek your relationship fortune elsewhere. Seek it apart from the bravado of boys. Demand of your relationship only the most caring machinery of real men.

Real men celebrate and cherish the sovereignty of womanhood. They are never threatened by it. Anyone who slings around the Philistine notions of male dominant machismo is a threat to this truth. Oppose that threat by leaving it in the dust of your fast feet. Those who wave the scriptural codes of “submit to your husband” abuse holy writing. This is narrowness, ignorance running amok, and a contributor to abusive relationships everywhere. Run. Flee for you life. Your life is waiting. Split it wide open with your great self.

Now, before the hell raising starts about me as an opponent of marriage, know this: I’m a celebrant of relationships that are forged in mutual respect, adoration, the highest embrace of the sovereignty of the individual. There’s beautiful, authentic love in such weddings of the spirit. On the other hand, there is no God who will ever love your relationship more than God loves you. God never wants you absorbed into one that wounds. That stifles the real you.

Okay, reader, by now the song is surely an ear worm. Yeah, that one. That Meatloafian idea of “I would do ANYTHING for love.” Remember the whole of the lyrics? The song says “But I won’t do that” after all.

So ladies, ponder what that means to you. Under your personal rubric of “I won’t do that” for love, list for yourself what you won’t tolerate. Write down and settle up on the abuses you will never take. List how many ways you refuse to get yanked down by that undertow of romantic idealism that says “If you don’t have a man, you’re less a woman.”

And men, this is a calling to us all. Real men never abuse women. Not in ANY way. Our hands, our words, and our mindsets ought never resemble some Sasquatchian cad. If yours do, shave that bad boy Yeti off yourself. Let the fur fly. There’s a real, truly strong and gentle man under there somewhere. But the discovery of him? That’s your work to do.

Not hers.

The Philip Seymour Hoffman in my Granddaddy

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2014 by michaelcogdill

The latest news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, and clearly his last days, calls out a reminder.

It’s easy to believe such an addict is a party-loving hedonist. A self-obsessed pleasure junkie seduced by a lifestyle as much as a drug. Sure such an addict exists. But that archetype is simply a template of a deeper human tragedy.

My grandfather was an opium addict. Paregoric killed him far before I was born, and my novel, She-Rain, became the shovel that let me dig into his life. The book cut me an entryway into the grave that was his spiritual tragedy. His life became an opiate-walled tomb long before he lay for his last breath. No, I’m not twaddling around making excuses for him. He’s accountable for his premature death. He’s responsible for not living to hold his grandson. But the writing spade me into his humanity. In his brokenness, each of us can see some portion of our own frailty.

In She-Rain, I sought to illustrate the tragic folly of trying to incubate a life in a syringe. But much more than this, the book reveals the humanity of every addict, and everyone wounded at the point of that needle.

She-Rain is haunted by this, and more. In the book, the son of that opium addicted father believes he sees his father’s ghost on a roadside. He’s sure he hears the resurrected man whisper, “You belong, son.”

I never got to hear my grandfather say such to me. He died an addict nearly bereft of his great human dignity. But writing of him in a work of fiction, I hear his voice, and a truth he never understood for himself until it was too late. Those words “You belong” remind me I belong to real life, not despair and tragedy and indignity. I believe the spirit of my granddad knows now, beyond this mortal world, he belonged to something greater than he could see. He needed no numbing opiate to achieve peace after all.

And so it is with Philip Seymour Hoffman. In him we find giant of a talent and a haunting to match. Now it’s reported he wrote, in a set of diaries found in his apartment, of being plagued by demons. So this sets me to wondering. As a grandson and son of addicts, I wonder, do addicts think themselves alone? Tragically so? Do they live in a self-imposed exile, deeming themselves different from the world? Set apart from a humanity that will never understand the sufferings ghosting around in them? I believe their demons are the same ones after us all — perfectionism, shame, old malice, rusting dents of childhood and the ever renewing sense of never being good enough. Perhaps because they can’t be vulnerable enough to share their ghosts with the world, they turn to the likes of heroin, or gin. They graffiti the psyche until the authentic self is painted over. My granddad had his own devils, and hiding them with a spray of paregoric cost him, everything, long before that last breath. I believe in the weeks before he died, he scarcely recognized his image in a mirror or even the thoughts of his own mind.

After I posted an RIP tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman, I heard from a woman who knew of Philip’s kindness, his apparently gentle way with the world, his refusal to let celebrity and giftedness give him amnesia of where he came from. There was enormous goodness in the man, clearly. Yes, a man in need of tough love, that he was. But those who believe condemnation of the man is the only stout brand of tough love show weakness, not strength. They prove condemnation is an addiction all its own. I heard from one of those condemning personality types, as well. I believe that person is perhaps Hoffman in reverse — deeming his demons lesser, not greater, than those of the souls around him.

So I write this in hope — the steely muscle of it. I hope Philip’s children, his partner, all who loved him hear the words “You belong.” You belong to a life carried on an updraft, far upward of the cesspool life and death in which your beloved was found. Your Philip was not your problem to solve, and you do not belong to his inner torments. He chose his elixirs that kill and denied all of us his enormous God-granted gifts that were to be. Be angry with him, for a time. But resist the drugs of pride and bravado and unforgivenness. Don’t take them, expecting hurt to diminish, or authentic strength to rise. Authentic strength is found in true vulnerability, radical and daring love — yes, even of the self.

In this, may we all hear, and live by, the words, “You belong.” Authentic strength is born of the humility that says we are a common humanity with an uncommon God, to whom we all belong, after all.


NO! What I Mean?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 by michaelcogdill

A kind soul nominated me to give a TED speech a few months ago. I almost made the cut, but got the axe in the end. At the very last stage of approval, the TED committee said “no” to what I wanted to say about the word “No.”

Fitting, I guess, having “no” turned on a speech about the word ‘NO.’ But, this very blog proves a good, sturdy “NO” can even stop a “NO.” With all respect for TED (I dig y’all, knowing you can’t say yes to all of us), I’m saying NO to the committee’s NO! I’m going to give the speech right here, for the world to read. I think it’s an “idea worth spreading” anyway. NO hard feelings.

At the University of Pennsylvania in 1967, some researchers did something maddeningly unethical. Yet with results revealing some hard truths about how we see the world, and too often get stuck in it.

Their results remind us we all have a voice, and most of us need to apply more of it to that single word that has changed the world.

Yes, the word is NO. Yes, just a fraction of a breath will say it. But it’s a revolution. No — said and meant — has near superhuman strength.

Back to those researchers. They actually took to shocking dogs. Yoking dogs together and delivering electric shocks. Terrible thing to do. And the research concluded that a dog who believes he can’t avoid the shock — can’t do anything to govern or escape it — will begin to show signs of clinical depression, similar to humankind. The dog learns to feel helpless.

The dogs couldn’t say “NO!” Most people can. Yet, too many won’t.

Learned helplessness afflicts humankind with the same tragic force. It’s the scourge of people who feel trapped. Lashed to some despair. Rather than say NO to some darkness, they quietly wither under the absence of light. A resolute NO is the door they refuse to open. Reeling in the dank of helplessness seems safer than living in the light. They refuse to rise up and LIVE it. They won’t throw open a word as liberating as it is small.

In human cultures, there’s likely no more tragic example of learned helplessness — and the unused power of NO — than domestic abuse. Intimate partner violence.

In such corners of human brokenness, where secrets and victims go huddle and hide, NO is a tonic. An antidote to the sickness of enduring victimhood.

We’re called not merely to say NO. We’re called to thrive in it, way out loud.

Now, before we run deeper into that intimate partner violence, look at the word. One syllable. Hardly that. Yet it lies too little used by nearly all of us. Demeaned as impolite. Indicted as a threat to our relationships, when, in fact, it is often the only word that can heal a relationship of dysfunction. Alas, though, NO stays shut out of our minds. Locked off our tongues. We don’t dare, when daring is called for.

And, so, we remain captives to the moldy old ways of doing and enduring the same things, expecting different results. Madness, isn’t it? Einstein thought so. And he really adored saying NO to giving up. He lived it.

So did Martin Luther King Junior. He said NO. He lived it. He lived out a NO to oppression and a NO to violence, and he changed the world.

Nelson Mandela did likewise. He lived his own NO to South African Apartheid. He dared his way through a crunching captivity, yet liberated — and was liberated — by the resolute living of NO.

Because courageous men lived the simple word, countless people live in a great light.

Mother Teresa knew it, too. She witnessed searing poverty and said NO. She lived intolerant of people living and dying with indignity. Her NO matters to this moment, long after the breath went out of her.

Such legacies of NO are immortal.

NO, lived with daring compassion, is a beautiful INTOLERANCE. Perhaps the only great intolerance known to humankind.

It calls to us all, with a period at the end.

And, yet, there it stands, unspoken. NO is that deeply human inner door unlocked, yet unopened, holding back the light craved by broken human relationships around the world. Around the corner. Perhaps in the next room.

In 1965, a woman tried to wake her husband off the sofa of their modest house in Arden, North Carolina. He was drunk. It took hardly a second for him to spring from his intoxicant sleep and pin her to the floor. He beat her unmercifully. Beat her until blood flew about the room and into the face of their three year old son, who cried the wordless cry a child will cry for help. Such a cry is often a child’s most articulate NO! So often unheeded.

This stalwart, wounded mother answered. She lifted the husband off herself, crawled to the child, scooped him and ran to a bedroom. Nurtured and calmed him, wiped her blood from his face. She restored calm to his pulse and her own and gave the illusion of order.

And, she stayed.

For the next decade and a half, she stayed with a man who was episodically violent. A man whose alcoholism only worsened.

But she stayed. Learned helplessness tragically afflicted a strong, bright, regal woman.

Fearing what others might say, and for a slew of other destructive reasons, she refused to say, and mean, NO. Locked in what looked like a spiral she couldn’t control, she wouldn’t live up to the NO that was at hand. She would not reach for what NO demanded of her. She felt helpless. Anxious. Depressed. She was, at times, an emotionally dead woman, living in a threat of mortal death too much of the time.

NO was her calling. NO was her doorway, rattling to get thrown open, right off the hinges. NO was her portal of freedom. Her revolution, in waiting.

And I finally threw it open. I became the revolutionary.

I am her son. I am the child scooped screaming off the floor of that violent act of 1965, cradled in her care and locked in the madness of a NO left unsaid. Unlived.

In 1979, I finally said it. And lived it. NO! NO MORE. I was inspired, beautifully, by my mom to say NO MORE.

I divorced myself from my father. He was drunk, near death, a low-bottom drunk, as the recovery movement might say, and I left him. Went to live with an aunt. Departed our house vowing never to return. NO was my parting. NO, I said, to watching him die. NO to trying to sustain myself in a home of violence and living death.

NO was my mantra out the literal door of the only home I had known. I am living proof we can UNLEARN HELPLESSNESS.

And this became my father’s doorway to a healing accountability. When I said NO, in my own revolution of SELF CARE, he hit bottom, finally, and he bounced. Bounced off a low bottom and recovered. And, yes, he was at Death’s door when he did.

Somebody had to say it. NO became my family’s revolution. NO stopped enabling my father to die and, instead, enabled my father to choose a beautiful life of sobriety for decades to come. It changed the world. NO was a YES to fully living. That singular NO has brought me here, as I am today.

And there is far broader evidence of its power. A resolute NO to religious oppression and imperial sanctimony founded these United States. It’s the enduring affirmation of our liberty. A gust of breath blowing open the gates to freedom.

Such a seemingly impolite little word, this NO. Fear will nearly cause you to deem it incompatible with love. And yet, NO. The word NO and authentic love dig one another. They’re made for each other.

So, perhaps in the end, this is a wedding toast. Cheers to NO. A toast to the perfect union of healthy, liberating love and that simple word that holds it true.

If you are living in domestic violence, get SAFELY away. Do it now.

And no matter the oppression of your heart, your place, your times, answer it. Help yourself to the benevolent wind of your own breath.


Confessions Of A Proudly Broken Man

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2013 by michaelcogdill

A man who weeps for his dog, he is a man with a shattered heart. In him beats a heart far better because she tracked her lovely way through.

August 26, at 2:15, I lay on the floor of a bereavement room and said sodden goodbyes to Maggie, a golden retriever just slightly small for the breed. A beautiful nonconformist with a sun-size soul. It was merciful for her, this goodbye. Easy and tender for her. Excruciating for me. Yet that’s part of the deal I made with her when I drove through the Georgia fog to adopt her spirit into mine. To bring her bounding through the doors of our life.

For all the hope Maggie gave us — ever brave and kind — science finally had its say that morning. The ultrasound images spoke out loud what Mag’s recent times had whispered into our rattled hearts. Her body was laced with cancer. Of the hopeless kind that pulls a young, vital, happy girl into the swamps of sickness and courageous suffering. It came on hard and fast, out of a chill dark we scarcely had time to know we were living in until the light left her eyes. Her head trusted my arm as she left this wilderness life.

My arm held strong. My soul did not.

I am proud to say I am broken by all this. Shattered. Withered into little shards of grief. Each a jagged little shrapnel piece of what used to be. I am yanked off the shores of my manhood, washed away on the tears of a wounded little boy. And, yes, I am proud. Proud of this. I am glad to say she so affected, loved, and changed me. I’m a stronger man because I have wept this day like choirs of women and children. It’s a downpour of love. A waterfall. I so loved her. I love her still. It will not stop.

But please don’t think me weakened. That sick young girl has taught me otherwise. From her I learned anew this truth: There is no stronger man than one who has so loved and lost and wept for so good a dog. Been shouldered through life and death by the dog who seems wired into the heart of God. There is no stouter man than one who cries aloud for so great a soul in so small a vessel.

Maggie swims this outflow of my grief. As I write this without her here, the hollows of my heart flood with a lonesomeness. One like no other. My hand longs for her. I crave to hear her drawing the breath of our house, asleep only steps from my sleeping. Waking me at 4 am with her dreaming — the rem-sleep fun of her slumber land. Yes, gone from this place, she is. Gone, and I will weep a very long while for her. Trying to drown the bottomless hurt of her absence.

But as I do, she is present.

She is!

Maggie, like our great Savannah (her cousin we lost to cancer years ago), is a present tense. Alive and more than well within me. After I put her down, I drove home through the prisms of grief, and I walked to the field where Mags and I shared many a ball game, romp and tender chat. I found the place way too still, quiet, and yet there she was. Death no match for the fact she had been there. A field made sacred by a God-made good dog.

Once such a dog has been where you are, she remains. She is.

Please pray for us, wherever you are, no matter your faith. This was harder than putting down Savannah. And that was torment, losing her to merciful death. Maggie was just a few quick days from her 5th birthday. Only 5. Just a girl. A chip of a lass. I feel like a highway patrolman knocked on my door at 3:30 in the morning with that news that throws jarring hot rocks through a parent’s heart. For the much-too-soon day of my girl’s ending, I was not ready. Not braced. I thought I had ten more years with her. Right now I ache out loud here for another ten minutes.

Yet I am a man fresh from a stout dose of heaven. Maggie looked at me in her last moments of this life, and what came up in her eyes said all is not just well, it’s way more than well. Thank you, my daddy, for helping me. For loving me as you have, so much in so little time. I am to be well, and I’ll stream through the breaks in your heart, just after I’m gone, and long after. That’s what the look said. Her quiet eloquence. If you’ve witnessed such a look, you know.

In that look, God reminds me that perhaps dogs live so short a time because they just need less of it. Life takes them less time to fulfill what love and grace and fun really are, and what life is for.

But reader, do pray for me and pray for Jill, my wife, who heroically removed the toys, the beds, the empty places that helped me come back to a house that would break my heart less. It was so beautiful an act of love. One Jill has twice done now. I love her for this, and for being the kind of woman who can harbor the love of a girl so good as Mags. Pray for us, for we are deeply broken, down in that place where the love of good dogs is made, and stored, and lives on.

And as you pray, resolve to live, big. Run from all that’s regretful and coarse. Haul your wagging tail away from anything that is not love. Golden retrievers do. In this, they are better than we are. In this, Maggie made, and makes, me a better man.

Amid all this hurt, a dear friend far away reminded me to rest in my humanness. Weep into the sackcloth of her absence. I am no fit company for anyone in the hours just after that goodbye, and that’s as life is. Yet I am so thankful for the love that rains out of a world of people who understand the love of such a dog. I stand under its balm, even now. Lonesome as a desert. Sawed to my quick with a hurt I didn’t know a man was able to feel. Yet God abides with me. So many of you have spent your breath speaking and writing love to Jill and me. In this, God own tonic is made. We are healed. And this makes us family. Mags belongs to all of us. Our matriarch.

Yet now, I must speak another kind of farewell. I’ve wound my way through these serpentine thoughts to the one I have dreaded to lay before you. Hating the finality of it, yet knowing it is essential to the epitaph. So hard to utter, but I must say it here, as I whispered it to my girl at 2:15 on that August afternoon:

Goodnight sweet Margaret River. Aka Maggie. Aka Mags. Your short night of sickness is over. Rush to the gold dawn. Run for the day that lasts. Full of fun and boundless love, run. Rush to God. You strong, fearless, princess of a tomboy girl, who ran miles at my feet through this life. Run, girl! You good, good girl! Run for our eternal life!

I’ll be along, soon enough. Both of us, when it’s our time. And there, we’ll all run again.

Thrive on, in sweet mercy and peace, Mags.
So Good. So Loved. So Brief Was Your Blooming

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet, we celebrate God, whose ways are truth.

I dedicate this essay to the people of Cleveland Park East Animal Hospital and Upstate Veterinary Specialists, whose love and compassion healed us, even in the face of incurable disease. They managed Maggie’s suffering with majestic compassion and mercy. They know our illness of grief so terribly well. They have treated it, and us, with hands of a great love and dignity. To all who care so for animals and those who adore them, great tides of love to you.

Where You From? Who’s Your Momma? Wait. I’m Not Through Underestimatin’ You

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2013 by michaelcogdill

To measure a person’s worth on the sticks of where she comes from, the wealth of her pockets or the races of her lineage, is to risk being a naked fool.

Dolly Parton comes from hard American dirt poverty, of the kind that still goos up the face of an underweight child somewhere. They are the children about whom too many self-styled patricians turn a nasty phrase, under their breath, let’s hope. Dreadful names get applied to such as Dolly was. The soup beans and cornbread girls, for whom chariots and ruby slippers are never in waiting. Or, so it seems, to some folks.

But Dolly proves never is long time. It’s a perilous little word, never. It tends to make fools of the reckless and proud. Mostly when they bind it to the phrase, “never going to amount to anything.”

A country girl’s ginormous dream can beat the hell out of that never. Ass whoop it on the hard ground from where she launched. That place she’ll always call home.

Dolly’s washed the dirt of it from her feet. But she’s unafraid to dirty them again. Never too proud to wash the feet of the poor she has been. She can make herself right at home in Midtown Manhattan and Eastern Tennessee. And to do this defines grace. Manners. Elegance that needs no wrist-dangled martini glass as a foil. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as it’s about the drink and not how we look wearing it.

Look at the likes of Dolly, Oprah, Ted Turner. Richard Branson, Billy Graham, Nelson Mandela. Each a soul underestimated. Each a human comet, with a long tail of light. They arc far above their critics, yet somehow never fear to fall gently, like stars, upon them. They don’t fear the fall, for they know the ground awfully well. They came from it. And they know how to rise again.

My own father was living proof. I dedicate this to him — a man who worked his way out of filth and into the shoes of a truly gentle man. One who knew of the footprints Ms. Parton left. He never had a Cogdillwood named after him. But he knew her trail to get there.

So, let’s revisit the title of this little essay. If we catch ourselves doing what it says, saying any of it to demean another soul, or our own, then we’re far too pompous for the less-than-silken britches from which we have come. Those hardscrabble hand me downs we ought to wear with grace and honor. Each of us has cause for oft-reminded humility. Each is best measured by how we treat those who started life among the plowshares, not the silo tops.

And turns out, how highly we manage to estimate them is a good, long yardstick lain against our own worth as leaders. It estimates how worthy we are to change the lovely mess of a world we share, hurling through the darkness and light.

So cheers never to underestimating anyone, including ourselves. Overestimate instead. Venture grandly. And never believe any !@$%^& who dares say you won’t, you can’t, kids from your neighborhood ought never try.

God Fishes From The Bank

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2013 by michaelcogdill

I doubt it’s an accident how well a cricket fits the mouth of a crappie and the palm of a hand. My hands have touched neither from the deck of a big boat. And I am glad.

At a dockside restaurant a few weeks ago, stewing in a balmy late afternoon, I caught myself looking a long while at a yacht. A big one, young and lithe, with an upturned prow, as Mr. Fitzgerald would note. And it struck me a boat is a poor measure of a man or woman’s heart. Sexy and lovely, yes they are. I lust after them. People jiggle their backsides and tinkle their glasses aboard them. Happy and aglow for a time. Borrowing from the original film, Arthur, a yacht doesn’t suck.

But on a pond bank, with no yacht-deck lovelies to check on my derriere, no champagne or waiters sweating their worsted wool to carry it for me, I am happy. More than happy, I am content. Thoughtful of what is good and thoughtless of what gets bothersome when a man’s boat is bigger than what his peace requires.

No, now, I am not so Thoreau that I don’t dig a cool boat. I dig them with my inner man-child, in that barefoot way that swamps the blues and tans me to my heart.

But on a freshwater lake bank a day or so ago, I wrestled a livid largemouth bass in on a spinning reel, honored him with admiration, un-hooked him, and sent him worshipfully back to his congregation. He belongs to the high church of the American farm pond. And so do I.

The pond is rimmed with trees old as my Granny would be. That means they shelter off the worst of the world’s heat, letting only the warm, soft summer light fall on a man who, with a rod and reel in his hands, is a boy again in that place. It’s organic, but tolerant of what’s not. Accepting of my artificiality. My sidewinder plastic worms and Rooster Tails please me the way Matchbox Cars and GI Joe once did. They require something of my imagination in my play time, and I’m glad. But if a cricket — a real one — were to hop handily into my palm on that pond bank, I’d fish with him. I’d hook him, baptize him, and soon lure out a crappie or a bass or an oversize bream, and I would feel not one twinge of Orvis-inspired inferiority. This is soup beans sport that soothes even the caviar set. The kind of fishing that’ll never require a thing from the Ralph Lauren collection. I know of no yacht able to navigate to this shore. Ralph can’t quite get here from there. No set of goat leather chaps and a shirt with piping and 31 pockets can show the way.

On that pond bank, it struck me that men, somewhere, were hauling through airports, lugging bags weighted at 83 pounds of the finest fly gear, spin tackle, waders, leaders, wading socks, felt-bottom shoes, and pocket knives that cost as much as a little girl’s entire pond bank tackle box. They own watches worth more than some storm-worthy boats. And I had just caught three fish that outweigh the the carryon luggage they’re hoisting on fishing trips to places with names like Jackson Hole and Kennebunkport. Places that roaming gnome might go.

Pond banks are holy, faithful places. Good walking-distance restoration of the mind. No plane ticket required. No restaurant checks in the three digits for two. Perhaps a pond bank is God’s own yacht. Even with my share of fancy, overpriced man toys, I know this in my heart. I know a mortal heaven when I get its mud on my feet. There’s divinity in a fat angry bluegill, caught and released by a young girl’s hands, but not her heart. A hallowedness lives on that shore. And I, an enduring boy, am more alive there than on so many of the big boats that have seen the bottoms of my overpriced fun shoes.

Mr. Thoreau made a home at Walden perhaps to light each of us a way to our own pond. A mud hole to a yacht, sure. But when the eyes and hearts of grown men and women walk as children on its water, the storms of their souls turn sweet with calm.

And there, the crickets need no flutes to raise a toast, after all.


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