An Open Letter To My 16 Year Old Self

Posted in Uncategorized on July 5, 2018 by michaelcogdill

This year brought us a great book, Dear Me, A Letter to My 16 Year Old Self — one of the least resistible titles I’ve ever seen.  The letters carry enthralling wisdom and some names you’ll recognize.  They’re funny, aching, addictive in their comfort. In an uncommonly beautiful way they cry out about the common realities we all share in being human.  They remind us we all walk much the same wilderness at that age, young and uncertain, and they’re bound to pull you back into the hollows of your 16 year old heart.  They have a way of causing the best of that young heart to beat within you again.

So, of course, I couldn’t resist.

Here’s my own letter to my 16 year old self, waving in all readers.  Feel free to tell me if your world and mine, at 16, shared some of the same emotional linens.

Dear Michael,

Stop. 

 Stop worrying about the elephant haunting every room of your house.  The drinking your father does is his problem to fix, not yours.  Stop trying to talk him out of it.  Let him live with it.  If he chooses, he’ll die with it.  He is not your problem to solve.  Just move apart from him.  Forgive him, and don’t underestimate him.  He doesn’t have to live this way.  He won’t, always.

 Those girls are beautiful.  Have fun, but don’t settle up yet.  Love will look and feel different on you in a few years.  Be a gentleman.  A truly gentle man.   Take in the joys of a 16 year old heart.  You’ll have one for way too short a time.  You’ll long to have its full thumping madness back inside you someday.

 People are underestimating you.  They’re trying to get you to underestimate yourself.  Don’t bend to their will.  Refuse to live down to them.  Celebrate the great teachers in your life.  Don’t let the bad ones get you down.  They can’t see what you’ll become.  You’ll shock devil dust off their hides.

 Nothing is more embarrassing than ignorance.  Do your school work.  Yeah, the dull high school work, do it!!  Your college A’s will come easier if you do.  Do some foolery prevention.

 Speaking of that, assume you know little about the world.  With those who claim to know everything about life, God and living, politely disagree, then move away, keeping your mouth as closed as you can.  Quietly embrace Divine mystery.  It’s the road trip of your faith.  Take it with the top down.  Along its road, do things for people who need you to help them.  Love people. Listen to them.  Hear them. The face of young faith looks best with the wind of love in it.  You’re not dumb.  You can understand that!

 But don’t fail to recognize pure old meanness.  The people who haze and bully you, forgive them, but move apart from them.  Go from them, now, knowing their malice won’t matter for long.  It’ll disappear into your grown-up days.  Don’t get beaten down into believing what they say about you, or do to you. 

 Boy, and you are one, run headlong into teenage joy.  You drive too fast, play too hard, think and feel too little.  But that’s what 16 year old American boys do.  Be careful, but not to excess.

 Finally — well, almost — adore your friends out loud.  Love them with a loudness that rattles the windows.  Tell them out loud you love them, with your chin up, looking them in the eye.  Love them and your mighty well-meaning family.  Celebrate and adore your mentors.  Some of them won’t live as long as you want, or need.  Hug them, for what feels too long, while they’re here.  They are God’s men and women for your day.  They are doorways to your success.

Gratitude looks good on everybody, kid.  When you’re tempted to worry, as teenage boys do, throw that lying worry out of yourself.  Try to fill your stout heart with gratitude instead.  Worry, truly, is a waste of your imagination. 

Go.  Live.  With both throttled down, live!  Live like you mean it. Have fun like they’re about to stop making it.

God loves you, boy.  Try to join God in that endeavor,

m

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Our Greatest Regret, and How Not to Have it.

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2, 2018 by michaelcogdill
Some Cornell psychologists identified the biggest regret people have in life.
It’s not the one who got away, or who didn’t.
It’s not the un-bought Cadillac
The biggest regret has nothing to do with an un-acquired Rolex, un-worn while not hang gliding off a volcano wearing a loin cloth somewhere a million miles from Kansas.
No.
The biggest regret goes to the heart of who we ought to be.
The ought-self, unfulfilled.
The writers found most people most regret not becoming the person they knew they could be, but did not. We tend to regret not fulfilling responsibilities. Knowing what’s good, but not fully doing it.
Goals and aspirations — the stuff of honors on walls and numbers on banks accounts — pale against the unfulfilled value of simply being good.
The psychologists tend to conclude we will all most regret not being as good as we possibly can.
Alexis de Tocqueville is said to have pronounced America great because America is good (There is considerable doubt about whether he actually said or wrote it, but let’s agree with the wisdom, French statesman or not). According to these researchers, we desire such greatness, and regret when we fall short of it. We know it when we see it, recognize it enough to aspire to it, and dislike when we don’t stretch to reach it.
I ought to be many things I am not. I ought to be a better friend, a warmer stranger, a more grateful son. I ought to give more credit, take more responsibility. I ought to love more in the face of the absence of love.
I ought to be more love and less man.
I regret not being thus.
But breath still comes. A bit more good is still possible. So maybe hearing of this regret of not being the ought-self is simple possibility turned inside out. Either way we wear it, we are all the better for it.  Prettier or more handsome within.  Less regretful, after all.

The Egg Who Would Not Be Princess

Posted in Uncategorized on May 23, 2018 by michaelcogdill

 

Don’t pray over a poached egg expecting it to become a princess.

It never will.

God is no such magician.

Let the egg fall. Let it break. Leave it to the hands of Providence to clean up that mess, and make something of it. And right on time the princess will emerge, neither of you having to walk on the shells.

Or, if it’s a prince you want, the same truth applies.  No wading through the breakage of a hell’s kitchen.

Some may think this harsh, gesturing to a human being as the fruit of a hen.  I mean no disrespect.  Rather than an absence of love, there is a fullness of it in what I say.  It takes love to let go.  Only the truest love will release someone to absolute Love.

We all endure heartbreak.  I know of no one who escapes it.  Hemingway pointed us to a hope in the inevitable shattering.  He said, “We’re all broken, that’s how the light gets in.”

And so I wonder, if we shadow someone, hover, pray and try for change, do we block the light?

I need to heed these words of my own speaking here.  I am guilty of trying to pray a lie into a truth, of trying to help an embryo become an adult.  I have tried for magic when what’s called for is a miracle.  I have prayed with a tight grip rather than an open hand.

Miracles don’t come from my hands.  But I have seen one come from my letting go.  He was my father, whom I so dearly love.  He still is.

In this season of my life, he would say — let the egg go.  Give Providence room.

 

Sex Goddess Wisdom, Road Kill, and What We Ought to Believe.

Posted in Uncategorized on May 21, 2018 by michaelcogdill

Maya Angelou is not the goddess to which the title refers.  But she did say when people show us who they are, we ought to believe them the first time.

How wise.

How strong this current of her wisdom, pulling us to believe what we see.

Not the talk of promise.

Imagine a man promising to become extraordinary if his partner would make extraordinary and sacrificial changes to her own life.  To realize this promise, she needs only to disbelieve what she has seen and heard and suffered.  Discard the old breakage of promise, pretend the hurts of old never happened, and make a commitment.  Voila!!  The man of so much broken promise guarantees his promise will get fulfilled.   His potential, realized.  If she believes him again, his promise won’t shatter.

The glass won’t scatter under her feet, again.

And with this promise comes a dirty little implication: If she doesn’t believe his promise, he won’t realize his great potential, and that will be all her fault.  Alas, if she only believes in him, what a swan the crow will become.  If she doesn’t believe, and act upon it, again, he’ll remain a crow, pecking at the same old road kill.  How dare she not believe, and leave him there, baking on the side of the road he has chosen?

And how many of us know someone who has believed such promise, over and over again? Down, down, and further down into the road kill of promise they go.  Believing the same promise, expecting a different banquet. A different road.

A student earns a degree one class period, one all-nighter, one original paper at a time.  A man earns a love of his life by being love to her, one act of love at a time, not by the promising of it.  Marriage vows ought to resemble courtroom protocol.  A good lawyer never asks a question whose answer she does not already know.  Two people ought not marry one another without each having already made good on the vows — way before they, the flowers and a lovely gown find the altar.

Mae West surely agreed, for she said, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”  I believe Dr. Angelou would salute the sex goddess on this one.  I sure salute them both.

Sure, much potential lives secreted in people who show little promise.  But what they show counts, one current act at a time.  What they say, not so much.  Especially so when the road they travel lies littered with a shattering of words, and little more.  Believe the wise professor.  Believe the goddess, too.

Believe the change people make, as they make it, not the words of what might be.  Believe what you see, here and now.  It speaks so well — in true promise — of what will be, there, and then.  Down the road.

Romance, Forbidden Wheels, And The Call of the Road.

Posted in Uncategorized on May 2, 2018 by michaelcogdill

I asked for the mini-bike very early.  Then I begged.  Finally, at around age ten, I prayed.

I never owned the mini-bike.  God said no to my prayer.   Answered my mother’s instead.

I’m sure she prayed I would grow tried, give up and move on from little boy motorcycles.  Perhaps she prayed for early puberty.  Maybe the scent of a girl would supplant a boy’s yearning for gas fumes, exhaust smoke and rubber laid hot on a forbidden road.

I hit puberty right on time, without a solitary war story of reckless early manhood on a 10–horsepower two-wheeled dream cycle.

You can tell I still want it.

To this day I long for gnats in my eyes, rash upon knees, and the inevitable broken arm.   Or worse.

Sure, my mother feared for my life.  She protected me from my pulse-thumping dream.  I scraped by — literally — on bicycles, skateboards and a ginned-up Radio Flyer wagon torn to scrap on the hills of Western North Carolina.   These called out the only daredevil Evil this Kenevil would know.

That’s wonderful, and just a little unfortunate.

I am grateful for the motherly protection, the unstoppable love of her.  But she   safeguarded me, too, from the romance of gyping the Reaper.   She might love me even a little bit more had she held her breath and let me throw a leg over that little cycle.  Had she let me risk my neck on a minibike, I might have come home more fully alive.

And so what has this to do with romance, grown-up hearts and what de la Barca would call the madness of being in love?

Only this.

Someone once told me — “We have to protect our relationship.”  It sounded true, so I took it to heart.  But now I know protecting a relationship is a bit like forbidding the minibike.  Or riding a motorcycle with a helmet on the handlebars.  It’s not likely to make it to anyone’s head if I lay the whole thing down.  It protects the thought of my head, not the life inside.  Sometimes a boy, or girl, just needs to ride to know how to share the love of the road with the love of a life.  They each balance to make the thing go.

Each must get fully on.

Somehow thinking of that minibike caused something to dawn on me.  We’re not to protect just our relationships with those we love.  We’re to protect one another.  Only then does the relationship grow road worthy and sound.  Safeguard the loved, and the love will thrive.  Set your loved ones free, dare risk it, and feel what’s true roll the whole business into the deepest union.

Thich Nhat Hanh said we ought to love others so those we love feel free.  When we do, do we not best take the road together?    Ride side by side?

The absence of my minibike is the presence of a lesson, most true.  Give the love of your life the throttle, the thrill of that black-top ribbon before her, and the tail wind to risk being exactly who she is.  Protect her only from regret of not knowing the freedom of the road.  Only then will you know the thrill of catching up to her, and her to you, over and again.  Only this will call the two of you to the good, long horizon.

Relationships don’t come with a helmet, nor thrive on fear of what might be.  They don’t happen by standing on the roadside, waiting to get picked up, again and again.  They thrive on motion of the mutual yet independent heart, a muscle that works in tandem, by the way.  One that can get broken like a little boy’s arm on a minibike.  But thus is part of the venture of being fully alive.

Alas, I won’t ever have my forbidden little bike, and I would look an extraordinary fool on it now.  But the lesson of its absence makes me wiser.  When each takes good and steady care of the other, not denying or depleting the other, the very journey together becomes such a fine destination.  One with the other — daring to ride.  On a thrilling way, yet already home.

 

Let’s take the Tricycle Son. You Drive.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2018 by michaelcogdill

My mother said of me, “The good Lord knew just what I needed when He sent me you.”

What a lovely motherly thought.

And what a naive, childhood-shattering, stupendously improper thing for a parent to believe, or to say.

It is immensely well meaning, but utterly wrong. My own mother knows this now. We have made beautiful peace. I adore her, so please don’t deem me a cad of a son. I am, instead, a real one, writing this as a legacy – for himself, and for his family, and for yours.

Seeing a child as a filler of human need amounts to believing Harry Potter’s a real boy. It’s like buying into the myth of children as angels on brooms, fluttering from the abyss, born to save us.

They are not.

The very idea is a viper — specious as a cotton mouth in a silk suit. That means it looks lovely on the outside, with fanged venom just underneath.

If my mother had spoken those words out loud to a counselor, the counselor would have winced as if snake bitten. I’ve lived that. I quoted her on that sweetly venomous little lie to more than one counselor. They all flinched. You would have thought I’d shoved the viper up their pant leg.

They flinched because they’ve seen the results. The child gets bitten. The venom carries into adulthood.

Hear me on this. Hear me not as a writer or television correspondent or Emmy winner. Hear me as the child who was deemed a savior by a well-meaning but broken-hearted mother. Her asking me as a child to talk my father out of drinking amounted to having me ride my tricycle in interstate traffic, with her on my back.

My mother thought I could cure her broken marriage. I couldn’t. She thought I could erase her childhood scars from an addicted father. I could not. She lived convinced I was just what her lonely, co-dependent marriage needed.

My tricycle was not built to carry us both at highway speed. Nor my dad.

My father could not be fixed by the love of a child. He had been broken by poverty and shamed as a boy. He didn’t need human fixing. He ultimately needed surrendering to God when the drinking got bad. Before that, he needed to be loved, to the essence of his own inner child, who lived secretly frightened and hungry within the man. He and my mother needed to love one another at their essence, with that true intimacy that says – I know you, honey, I know it all, and you are safe and well and loved with me, as long as I am with you. We are more than enough for one another. So much more than enough.

They didn’t do this. They relied on me instead. I was trying to play with Matchbox cars, but they needed a marriage mechanic.

The grown son of that beautiful woman – and ultimately beautiful man – knows better now. She wants me to say this. So I will.

Married people MUST wed themselves only to one another, not their children. If they bear children, they are to raise them in an updraft of sustaining responsibility, overwhelming love and stout discipline. Love tender as thistledown and tough as sidewalk weeds at times. But the parents must be exactly as I said – more than ENOUGH for one another, without the children. This is how children learn how a proper marriage looks and feels and sounds. When they see mom and dad dance in the kitchen because it’s Tuesday night, kids learn to respect that innermost love, that private adoration. They learn how to be part of the family and independent beings at once. Mom and dad are individuals on a couple’s journey. And the child says within, “I am not the pilot of their journey. I’m learning how to fly. I will fly on my own one day, and so, so well. I am learning well from grownups doing it well.”

That is love, carried out and taught. That is faithfulness, to one another. That is no Sasquatchian myth about kids as superheroes, born to pull you from the swamp.

But let’s skewer the myth another way, right here. If your minister says your child is a gift from God, don’t believe it. Pass by that idea faster than you’d blow the feathers off a chicken truck. A child is a high calling, not the answer to mortal yearning. A child is a source and receiver of love, a beauty to whom to rise. A child is not a gift given to serve some need you have. The authentic LOVE of the child is the gift, not the chance to get the kid to do heavy emotional lifting. A child does not exist to fulfill an ideal. Children are not to complete an illusion in a parent’s mind.

To see them so is to damage the child. Trust me, the damage will last. I’ve had to shed it.

Before you vilify me as a man without understanding, let me remind the reader I am such a child who has learned better. I am a man who guides and parents children in his life.

Remember, too, I am doing so as the boy who became my mother’s solace against an alcoholic and abusive father. She didn’t intend me harm, but she did it. She didn’t seek to hurt me, but she did.

So all this distills to a warning: To repeat the mistakes of my boyhood is to see some of the following results in adulthood.

Co-dependency. It’s like bed bugs, come to stay a lifetime. That child on which you overly depend will seek people to save, lifelong. Your little boy or girl will grow into an adult believing the following myths: “You’re not enough, you must earn love, no one ought to love you just for you, you must be perfect or you fail, you must do everything everyone demands – no matter how wrong it seems. Even if they can do it for themselves, you must do it, or you’re a wreck.

Pedal that tricycle harder, mom and dad need to get somewhere, and look out for that truck, kid!”

Such children grow into adults who spend enormous energy simply feeling worthy of being loved – of every kind. The eternal child within them will keep holding you up, carrying you, serving as your “gift” instead of your child. The gift will keep propping up the ideals you have. Instead of being sovereign men and women, they go around trying to be gods to just about everybody. They’re not gods, no matter how much they seemed so when they became your solace. They are not made to fix you or your life partner or your marriage.

Children are not made by God to fill adult-size holes in grown men and women.

Today I heard a fine and short description of where all this leads. It is the finest definition of co-dependency I’ll ever know: The slow depletion of the self.

No even decent parent wishes this for a child. No worthy parent wants their children depleted in any way. We want our children built up, not run down. We should want our adult relationships founded on primal and secure intimacy, not the fragile hearts and minds of our kids.

I write this as the only son of a mom and dad who would celebrate every word. They erred, I suffered, but we are among the fortunate. The wheels didn’t come off the tricycle in our lives. I sought help, vulnerably, and received it. I still do.

That makes me an evangelist of authentic love. It heals me to do so. Prevention is part of my cure.

It makes me the son my mother truly needs: A man who knows real intimacy from co-dependency. Who knows how to forgive and love and carry on.

Waving tricycles off the interstates, wherever he can.

Lose the Pedestal. Hit the Ground.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 21, 2018 by michaelcogdill

We don’t climb into deeper love with Divine love. We fall there. Only in the plowed ground of our admitted failings do we grow upward, more alive, less apt to fall so hard next time, and the next.

We fall into true love with one another the same. Not in high-minded poetics, but in humble words and acts that speak of all we are not, after all. Only when people fall for our true humility, into the rich ground of our humanity, our honesty, will they know they’re in the company of the truly human.

Someone they can believe.

A being capable of authentic, peace-granting love. Someone safe and fit to love.

Pray for those who accuse you of being worse somehow than they. Poor dizzy souls, they accuse from a pedestal, way up where there is no water, no ground of grace. It’s a sad, lonesome place up there. Tiresome the climb. A human spirit withers on a pedestal it knows it doesn’t deserve.

But down low, where we fall, we bloom. And true love, likewise.