The Advantage of Disadvantage, Early

Posted in Uncategorized on May 18, 2017 by michaelcogdill

The doctor said the child won’t run.  Foot problems.  This child will need special shoes.  Even with them, this child won’t ever quite run.

A mom and dad heard that about their only child.  They didn’t quite believe it.  No, they took it as no absolute fact.  Instead, they took the child to another doctor, who said – throw out the special shoes.  Get this child some sneakers, and watch.

They did, then caught their first sight of advantage.  The child ran the child’s way.  Learned it the way the child knew how, deep down.

Their child more than learned to run.  The child learned to be extraordinary.  A star student.  Star tennis athlete.  College prodigy.  ROTC, then U.S. Army.  Then Army helicopters.    Combat helicopters.  The rank of Captain.  Unit commander.

The child walked, then ran, then soared.  And it all begs the questions – did early disadvantage help cause this child’s greatness?   Did the child become a hero because life came hard, early?

In his latest book of thought leadership, Malcolm Gladwell dives into ironies of strength and weakness. Borrowing from the title rings out the irony – David beat Goliath.  David was not weak where he appeared.  He was strong.  Stouter than the giant before him.

Likewise, the child about whom a doctor said, this child will not run.

Consider, in the end here, this child’s legacy.  Her name — Kimberly Hampton.  Brilliant student.  Outstanding athlete.  Rank of Captain in the 17th Cavalry, U.S. Army.

Captain Kimberly Hampton died flying an army chopper over Falujiah, Iraq, 13 years ago.  Shot down, plunging those who loved her into lasting heartbreak.  And yet far beyond her final breath, the legacy of her overcoming lives.  Death proved no match for so strong a young woman.   In the memories of her parents, in the annals of a book, on memorials and in the invisible inspiration the very thought of her sets off in someone who hears what she became, she thrives on.

A fallen American soldier learned to run, on her own, in the shoes of a child.  Under her tiny feet, the words “she won’t” turned to the clay of “I will.”   Captain Hampton is not gone.  She remains.  Still laying footprints across this human race, far beyond her grave.

Grieving The Living

Posted in Uncategorized on February 21, 2017 by michaelcogdill

I knew the perfume of dying nearly before I knew I was alive.

My mother made sure of it.

Into the funeral homes she dragged me way before I had outgrown GI Joe.  I owned a single clip-on tie when I caught first whiffs of cigarette smoke boiling around the quietly aged men huddled at the mortuary doors.  Past the cobalt blue carnations, into rooms bathed in organ music that made me not want to go to heaven, we went tiptoeing in reverence.  The caskets held frills I feared to touch.  Colors I never wanted to see again.  The deaths of my childhood smelled of unfiltered Camels and toilet water and flowers we would never give someone who was alive.  To a boy, it was as unreal as the Munsters.  A macabre little show where no one ever really dies.

Death is real to me now.  It has been for a long while.  But as never before, it whispered its silence to me this morning.  My 91 year old mom woke feeling unwell.  A weakness in her eyes staggered into mine.  She ached all over, so I ached for her and with her.  As I made her something to eat in the other room, the reality of all that funereal boyhood became the real silence of manhood.  My mother was alive and not so well, but still with me in the other room.  She was there.  She is here, among us.  Not gone.  But the thought of her absence came up into me as stout as odor of carnations.  The stench of boyhood grieving.

For a moment, I grieved the living.  It came dressed in the black of inevitable death, but this grief stepped squarely into my way in shoes of bright red.  Of a shade that said her blood is still in motion.  Her life a glow undimmed.  Age is no match for life, but it does keep Dying on a string, dangling toward an open-ended date.  Today, I grieved my mother’s date with Death, and found myself unspeakably glad she is alive.  More glad than ever in my life.

To grieve the living is a gratitude for life in those we love. I learned that today.   It is not morbid to glance at Death and look away.  Make a short eye contact, then run off grateful somewhere.  The organ music will wait.  Toilet water will stand still in odd little bottles.  Funeral home phones will pause to toll for those we adore.  Not yet.  We are not done loving them.  Their carnations have not yet bloomed.  And we are so very, very glad.

Ode to a Cub Fan From a Dodger Man

Posted in Uncategorized on November 3, 2016 by michaelcogdill

A holy cow has swift-kicked a cursed goat. A rain fell upon a mighty old drought. Little bears turned to young conquerers.

The spirit of a Harry man is prince of bleacher bums no more. For through the canyons of their Chi Town — so long lonesome in October — has blown a wind of winners.

Champions it shouts.

Suffering will descend not upon the browning ivy of baseball’s old lakeside garden. No, not this year. And somehow every fan, no matter what color of Sox or shade of blue in the blood, will give the cub a winter’s corner of the heart. There to curl into hibernation for next year. At last, next year is this year. A curse chased from the American heartland.

And that Harry man in heaven raises a glass. No pestilence does it hold. No emptiness. No, the cow has given some holy elixir. Harry’s Holy Cow, she is dry no more.

Who Said That? Mystery, In Two Words.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2016 by michaelcogdill

Dovie Ella Crowe was as sober as a cemetery and as sane as Gandhi.  She could shake laughter out of a funeral procession.  Restore calm to a wailing toddler and peace to a broken-hearted teenage boy.

I know this because I was the toddler and the boy.  Dovie Ella Crowe was my grandmother.  The only woman I have known who told me she once heard a voice spoken by a man who was not there.

I believed her.  I still do.

My Granny married Ernest Keyes because he was beautiful.  Sober, he could set loose a loveliness into the air around him.  A sweet and tender feel about life for which there are no words.  Je ne sais quoi the French would say.  Charisma in English.  Long before Dos Equis gave the world its most interesting man, Ernest Keyes became the thrall of my Granny. A smart and handsome charmer who became hopelessly thirsty for opium.

My grandfather, Ernest Keyes, lived and died as an opium addict.  Because of this, my Granny heard a voice she could not explain.  I still can’t.

He had come into their home in a standoffish hollow of North Carolina,”as full of the stuff as I had ever seen him,” my Granny told me.  I was a boy when she told me of his addiction to paregoric.  My granddaddy had been in his grave many years when she told me of the night he died.

“He tore up my supper table, got up and went and flopped down on the bed,” she said.  “I gathered myself up and went on to work.  When I pulled the door to, I said out loud to myself, ‘How much longer am I gonna have to put up with this.’  And over my shoulder, clear as the stars, somebody spoke the words, ‘Not long'”

“Not long.”

And it wasn’t long.

My Granny went on, walked to the road, got on a bus, went and got her hair fixed in Marshal, worked her second shift in the cotton mill where he worked, too, and then came home.  The hollow, dark as a well bottom.  The nearest soul, miles away.  The door creaked into that dark, I am sure.

But for the first time in a long time, the little house held nothing to fear.

“I got a lamp on.  Went back to the bed to check on him,” She told me.  “The flies were already there.  They had got to him before I did.  I believe he was dead before his face hit the pillow.

You may think my Granny a poor grandparent for telling that to a child. I do not.  She knew I would have to live in the same world in which her beautiful love had turned ugly and wrong.  She figured start me early in the truth of what can take possession of a lovely man.  She told me of this to make a man out of me early.  She wanted me to believe in the miracle of a voice she could not explain.

I can’t explain it now.

I will not deign call it the voice of God, though it might well have been that, or some minion of a Divinity we can never fully grasp or explain this side of the dirt that will one day hold the least meaningful part of us.  My grandfather went into a hole in the Grandview cemetery well before his time.  He chose opium over his daughter and son, his wife (my mom), his only blood grandson.  I am that grandson, left to tell the story of his waste, and the voice that told a brokenhearted lady her suffering would soon end.

I tell of it here because the voice resonates now — to you and to me and to everyone who suffers abuses or despairing of any brand.  How much longer must you endure sufferings inflicted by another, or yourself?  How long should you?

Not long.

I believe that metaphysical mystery that spoke into my Granny’s ear had been gnawing long at her soul.  Go.  Get away.  She had already sent my mother away, to be raised by an aunt in peace.  An act of love.  At last perhaps, my Granny had spoken an authentic, surrendered, naked prayer.  “How much longer?”  She asked for no miracle except an answer.  She asked out loud, meaning to get an answer, and she got one.  The answer had been there all along, like the mythic brain of the Tin Man and the courageous heart of the Lion.  “Not long” had been the will of her loving indwelling spirit of God all along.  She, for some reason, became the rare mortal to have a supernatural experience with the truth that there is no God who wants you suffering for long.

I believe my Granny heard that voice.  It was no synapse run amok.  No insane ease given a dis-eased mind.  Simply a desperate lady in a desperate time, somehow able to hear.  Her voice came on the night that saw the end of a broken good man’s life.  It was harbinger of a new beginning.   A new peace for people he loved.

I will leave it for you to decide the source of the voice.  The meaning you find in those words, “Not long.”  What they have to say to you and me in our times, you can ponder and decide.

And if they are to bring you peace, here and now, I pray they won’t take long.

Why Our Dogs Are Better than We Are

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2016 by michaelcogdill

You can make a good dog a billionaire. She’d rather live poor and in true love with everybody.

Fancy shoes hold no allure for a dog. Unless they remind him of that rawhide you buy for a dollar somewhere.

A dog can’t see the color of your Lamborghini. She couldn’t care less for the nameplate. The bed of a ’69 GMC pickup truck rides just fine.

Such a dog will never lead with his politics. But he abides a policy: sniff the hand of everyone. Snap only at the ones you catch doing real harm.

A dog is not a bigot, unless trained to be.

She knows the meaning of no. She leaps out joy when the answer is yes. If she is a drama queen, it is to make sure you laugh and not cry. She is a kindly monarch. Learns the meaning of the word — enough.

All dogs are poor, and they love the poor. They seem to know we are all poor of time and peace and real union with God. They love when we laugh. Grieve when we cry. They just seem to know God’s in there somewhere. Better than we know ourselves

A good dog will wait for you. Erupt in a party when you arrive. You are never late to the dog.

And when it’s time for a dog to die, the dog seems to know. They long to romp this life, and they know how, but they fear not leaving it. In this, they are wiser than we are. They gently try to tell us life is short. Watch a good dog’s last breath, and you will dread less your own.

A dear friend, a clergyman, once told me he did not want to go to any heaven where his dog was not. I agree most heartily. He’s there now. I believe he’d have taken a most profane umbrage if the gate said, No Pets.

God is not cruel. God gave us dog. Simply spelled the name backwards, and wandered upon the porch of the human heart. Simply asking to be let in.

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How Lyle Lovett Flew My Daddy From His Grave

Posted in Uncategorized on August 16, 2016 by michaelcogdill

For most of his life, my father was not church man. He became a regular and an usher later in life, but before then a pew must have felt like sitting on a live wire. And the town would have felt electrocuted at seeing him on one. He felt unworthy of such a place. He finally learned everybody is. For all the ugliness of his days, running back to the stinking squalor of his boyhood, my dad turned out a beautiful man.

And through all that ugliness, something beautiful found him in a singular old song. No matter the stench of a bender on him, it would clear his air.

Last night, I heard Lyle Lovett sing that song. Lyle helped me to live in it again. It was a resurrection, not a benediction. It reminded me there is no lasting ugliness. That what seems like hell is but a man tripping over the garment of grace before he grabs it and puts it on.

My dad, in his wrestling with God, loved a man named Wesley Grant, Senior. The Reverend Grant pastored a little fire-red church on Choctaw Street in Asheville, North Carolina. To my best knowledge, my daddy never set foot in it. But he saw, and would not miss, the Reverend Grant on Sunday morning TV. A half hour of spirituals. Wesley Grant was a black man on a mostly white medium in the 70s, and now I believe his audience looked like Dr King’s Dream.

At the end of each show, Pastor sang that old spiritual — I’ll Fly Away.

He’d made it the title song of the program. His anthem to souls in mortal flight from earthbound suffering. Pastor Grant let it fly, flapped his arms like a bird, thrust out that song on a spray of gravely baritone, and it surely made my father happy as I would ever see him. I’ll Fly Away became my father’s hope. His rhapsody of assurance. I believe it helped teach him that Love is inescapable, destined to light upon him.

The Reverend Grant and my father sing it together now, I imagine. They have flown from here. Happy in the Mystery. But thank God, Lyle Lovett is still here. Here, but wired into that ageless Mystery. Last night, singing I’ll Fly Away with a heart that would hold a million souls, he wired my father’s spirit in to sit beside me, for just a little while. I could nearly hear him say, “Son, it’s all right. It all belongs, here in your time. It’s gonna be way more than all right.”

Now my father knows this for certain. For he has flown, yet not so terribly far away.

Sweeping the Footprints off Granny’s Moon

Posted in Uncategorized on July 19, 2016 by michaelcogdill

My grandmother lived a far-out wisdom.  Heavenly in her own way.  Educated in the dirt-road classrooms of human nature — the ones that run through a sound mind’s good sense to believe people the first time when they show you who they are.

She was smart and kind, my Granny. She knew how to grow a strawberry patch and knew the folly of harvesting grievances against people who wronged her. Her intellect can still teach plenty to me.

And yet my grandmother didn’t believe a man walked on the moon.

I suppose she feared the thought we’d left our tracks up there. Maybe God, as she imagined Him, might take umbrage at our making a mess where we didn’t belong. My Grandmother did not want to believe we’d done something so audacious. She couldn’t imagine the reasons we even wanted to sling ourselves so far out, expecting to find our way home. So, in my wise grandmother’s mind, we never did.

This is motivated reasoning. Hers, mine, yours.

Motivated reasoning means we want certain things to be true or untrue. We want our truths so much, we will run from evidence to the contrary faster than a Kardashian escaping a Dollar General. Humans have, at our very essence, a fight or flight response. If we hate snakes and see one, we try to kill it, or break a tibia trying to get away from it. The same with matters of the heart, and the mind. Eugene O’Neil in the Iceman Cometh dabbled in the ideals of men. Yes, they were drunks, not wanting their illusions to shatter. Once they shattered in his world of the play, not even the booze worked anymore to make life feel just okay again.

The point is we have to push ourselves. Step or jump from the boat of contented illusion into the seas of how things really are. Only then do we reach shores of our betterment. Only by daring to believe what others could not, or would not, did we, yes, reach the moon.

Google motivated reasoning. Filter your thoughts, beliefs, illusions through this truth of ourselves. It’s not a merit. Motivated reasoning is our weakness. One of our many. My loving, well-meaning grandmother, despite her wisdom, displayed it plenty. She used to interpret the Bible as forbidding heart surgery. She thought God frowned upon that. I suppose to so pragmatic a mind, it just seemed indecent, human hands touching such a tender place. She and I never talked about scapegoating, but I wish we had. That notion that draws from Biblical myth and mis-translation. People not terribly unlike you and me believed, at one time, a goat could carry away the sins of a people into the wilderness. Thankfully, now goats just eat kudzu, give milk and celebrate their females wearing a beard.

My grandmother would be around 105 years old by now. She died before we had an internet, widespread cell phones and people mesmerized by Pokemon. The elastic of her lovely mind might have tried to bend itself away from believing in such a future on the day she died. Her reasoning found motivation in wanting simpler times and ways.

But I wish she had lived to see all this before us now. The images of the Hubble Telescope. The miracles of stem cells and routine heart transplantation. I wish she had lived to see what my father’s belief in me did for my education, my career, my prosperity, thank God. Perhaps if she had, that tender yet iron-worn matriarch might caution us all: Be careful what you want to believe, or don’t. Take it from a lady who’s watched many seasons come and go. Beware of the tricks your own mind will play.

Even as I write this, I like to imagine her voice on the words, “Pass me that moon rock, son. Let me shatter an illusion or three right out of you, too.”