How Never to Walk Alone

Posted in Uncategorized on September 16, 2020 by michaelcogdill

I knew it was coming. I didn’t know it would come now, so near the death of my mom, or like this.

Montana, the golden retriever who shares her life with me, has osteosarcoma. That’s a bone cancer in her leg, diagnosed just today. She’s about 10. It’s common in goldens. She is anything but common.

I took Montana in 5 years ago, just after my divorce. Her owner had died very suddenly, of cancer. I was just crawling back to life.

We needed each other. I didn’t fully understand how much.

She has lain at the door to my garage foyer each night after the news, waiting. So happy at the sound of an opening door. She has brought devotion and serenity to my house, my coworkers, and others who love me. Even those who just pretended to love. My mistakes and heartbreaks and late night walks have had a big and sturdy steady – her. She has listened and stood strong without interruption.

How can a lady who can’t read manage to write herself with such eloquence into a man’s life? I don’t know how. But Montana’s my third golden, and each one did it the same way only differently. There are no words fit to say how. They speak by being more than doing. We can all learn from them.

Montana stayed at my mom’s bedside to the very end. She comforted my mother, the caregivers, me and everyone who helped us. She never grumbled about a late night or being rousted too early. Her tail wagged when human tongues failed us. She never failed, never waivered, never gave up when giving up seemed a good idea.

I will not give up on her.

There is a good drug — and holistic therapy — that should take the pain out of that front leg for a while. Her eyes are bright, her appetite ravenous, and her spirit high as a deer can jump trying to escape her. Gone are those long trail walks. The limp just won’t allow. But otherwise, her life still allows the give and take of joy. That’s the reason for a dog’s being. It should be ours.

She will tell me when it’s time. I’ve been here before. A dog need not know the word mercy to convey it. She will ask me for it, and I will give it to her. I will want to be selfish and withhold it to keep her with me. She will remind me I have to be a better man than that.

Those who don’t understand this, who think it’s just a dog, have lost their way. I can only trust God to send the right dog to find them. To rescue them from the ledges of such thought, before they fall. They will suffer human loss one day and stagger, not knowing how to cope. A dog will teach plenty about death and life and mercy. I am living proof, from way back.

My mom’s death just those few days ago seems to have left me with one elderly lady to care for in my home. But, no. Montana is somehow caring for me, at my feet now in the room where mom died. She sees the grown man she adores weeping out proof that the only way to escape grief is to walk straight through it.

She reassures me I will not walk it alone, now or later. She somehow knows she’s unforgettable. I know she is immortal in how my memory will ensconce her in love, all my days. Miss Polly would agree there is something downright holy about that, and about her.

Farewell, For Now

Posted in Uncategorized on September 16, 2020 by michaelcogdill

Writing is a preservation. Done right, it will encase our most valuable feelings, moments, ideas

I share this piece here from the wee hours of my mother’s death a few scattered days ago. Having just felt her let go of her life, literally in my hands, it was, at the time, simply her boy grieving out loud. Now it feels like the proper epitaph. It is done with love and honor out of a broken heart mending in the memory of a lady so rare. Condolences have come by the hundreds of thousands. Thank you all. Thank God she is part of the makings of me.

Sadness mingles well with rejoicing.

It is proven this night.

My mother, Miss Polly, took her last breath at five minutes to one this morning. It came with abundant peace. Extravagant mercy, felt in my very hands.

October 13, 1925.

September 6, 2020

I held her hand, stroked her head, felt her depart her body as faithfully as she had worn it. Her final breaths akin to the swinging sling in David’s hand. When she drew her last, the rock let loose and hit the Goliath of dementia right between the eyes. It fell. Her dementia is dead now. She is blissfully, eternally alive.

I took a moment in the sun the afternoon before Death came. Sitting in a beach chair outside her window on my lawn a cloud, like a feather, formed above us. A harbinger of her flight, perhaps? Talisman? A comfort, most sure.

I’m writing this alongside dear friends and a caring hospice nurse in the middle of the night. Mom lies in her peace at the center of us. The stress of latter life is gone. A smile had found its way to her. Her nature.

When the hearse arrives, we will carry her out to it together. She will leave my home hoisted as a queen might be. But she is the gentle daughter of gentlemen farmers. A North Carolina mountain girl, gone home. Her humble majesty in our hands.

And I am left awash in honor, and gratitude. Covered in thank you!! Our thanks to all of you. Caregivers, hospice professionals, chaplains. The people who fed us, uplifted us, witnessed the Oprah Winfrey ugly cry of my man-tears bound to come again.

Thank you everyone who has loved and been loved by her. Goodnight, Mama. Godspeed, Miss Polly. Your race is done. I’ll be along one day, soon enough. And I will make good on my promise to take care of your only son. I will keep trying to live up to you

Elopement, 2.0

Posted in Uncategorized on September 3, 2020 by michaelcogdill

In these closing hours of my mother’s life, a look back, and ahead. I write this at her bedside.

On June 21st, more than 70 years ago, they eloped.

My parents ran from the mountains of North Carolina down into the hollows of Clayton, Georgia, and got married. Just kids, with plenty to run from.

My parents had already endured childhoods shattered by addiction and poverty and the suffering of some of those who raised them. Their joy bar was set very low. Their suffering had been high as the hills that seemed their prison at times.

But they climbed out, together. Theirs would be a future with echos of the past. Alcoholism nearly claimed their marriage and my father’s life. His transformation into a beautiful and gentle man was hard won. A miracle. Every one of us had suffered. But a Divine wisdom came from it.

I miss my dad terribly. He was gentle, beautiful, wise and hilarious. I am already missing my mom, who adored him as much as he did her. Sitting here beside her bed, in her final time on earth, I extend some of their wisdom. We can all benefit.

As a child, you did not deserve to suffer the poor choices of the adults around you. Their destruction is not your fault, not your doing. Leave it be.

But there’s more.

My mother would say take inventory of what was done to you, get yourself some help — real help — offloading it. No one is obligated to carry the sins and wreckage of YOUR history. The people around you should not suffer cuts and hernias carrying what you went through.

“Lay it down” as my dad would say. There’s no shame, asking for help. But there’s destruction in refusing. My parents lived this. I learned it from them.

And here’s some of what else they learned.

There’s no solution found in the bottom of a bottle. It gives no shelter. Running for sanctuary into whiskey is like digging the foundation of your future in a cemetery. The only result, an early grave, into which life will go before a body does.

A drunk’s family suffers more than the drunk. Stop the suffering. Help is like soap and water in this culture. There’s little excuse for stinking.

Love way on down, from your marrow, your essence, from your depth.

Love your partner more than your pride. Do love and say it, in equal measures.

I remember my mother making my dad an egg sandwich in the middle of the night when he would get home from a shift. I remember how they would talk to one another in the kitchen. Soft as the white bread with one another.

They showed me what such love looks like, how it acts, what it says. I learned children are born to love but let go. Husbands and wives are made to keep, to cleave to and cherish. To dance in the kitchen after midnight, no thought of the coming day.

As Ekhart Tolle says, the present is all we have. My dad would say the same.

In his closing days, all he wanted was another day present with my mom, and with me. But mostly with her. She was his jewel, the light in his grin, the thunder in his laugh. He loved her fiercely, for who she is.

I imagine how he’s waiting for her now. His eternity soon hers.

Don’t marry in pursuit of happiness, they both would say. Marry with it. My father and mother made this mistake. They had to find their way out of it, and ultimately to one another. I have learned this well from them.

I weep now as I let go of my father’s bride. Her groom stands in his holy place, full of the grace of God, poverty and harm no where near. Their suffering on earth merely their refining for what is to come. I know, I know, Matthew wrote they neither marry nor are given in marriage in resurrection. I walk by faith, not literalism. I believe, as Matthew also said, they will be angels together, finally made whole. Theirs a happiness we can scarcely understand this side of the grave.

In the high summertime, 70 years ago, their season together came easy. Life would grow hard and cold, but theirs is a story of no mere earthbound survival. It is a prevailing. Unlike Narcissus, they fell into love with one another, not their own reflection. They doted and flirted and made for themselves a reality much more than any romantic dream. I am just an outgrowth of their union. A boy, still learning from them. Just the tail of the comet that was Polly and George. The pair of them one great light in the dark.

May God receive my mother into His hand, and the company of my earthly dad. They elope soon again, out of this world. On earth, they adored each other and believed in me. May seeing how they were together make another dream or two of mine come true.

The Antidote to Big Trouble

Posted in Uncategorized on March 4, 2020 by michaelcogdill

Just saw a brilliant truth in such simple terms.

“Empathy is the antidote to narcissism.”

Those who can feel what others feel, especially in hard times, strengthen those around them. Think of someone who checked on you when you were ill, or simply embraced your grieving. This is the living out of faith. The doing of Love.

The absence of this, though, is something doing us all harm, perhaps now more than ever.  In conversations around major social troubles like cyber bullying, domestic violence and crime, we hear about a lack of self esteem.  A widespread and sinister problem, for sure.  But perhaps it’s a problem that, when turned inside out, becomes the current epidemic of narcissism.

Scientists are grappling with questions:  Do narcissists actually feel they’re grandly special and superior?  Or does their behavior mask feelings of inferiority, insecurity?

Are they eagles in their own minds or roosters just pretending?

No matter, narcissism is more common than ever, and often so well disguised.

This article clarifies the difference between narcissism and healthy self esteem.

https://bigthink.com/design-for-good/your-culture-affects-how-narcissistic-you-are?fbclid=IwAR05UwR5lQnBJHulxI46oGR0KkFHBy5XANX3yn7YP6tlZPDrdAAvoSBQFcw

Notice in there a distinction I hope will echo way beyond this page.

 

Self-esteem, defined as global evaluation of the self, is related to narcissism. However, recent data provide evidence that narcissism differs from self-esteem in various domains. Narcissism and high self-esteem both include positive self-evaluations, but the entitlement, exploitation, sense of superiority, and negative evaluation of others that are associated with narcissism are not necessarily observed in individuals with high self-esteem.

Entitlement.  Exploitation.  Sense of superiority.  Negative evaluation of others.

These are acts of weakness.  They carry no esteem.  We don’t like being around such.  But look at a message board, a social media site, and see how long it takes to find someone doing such as these.  It is rampant.  It is saddening.

But as the saying here goes, the antidote to narcissism is empathy.  We kill narcissism by silence and a kindness unreachable by its venom.  We best fight it not by battle, but by giving ourselves and others peace.

Many of you know I’m a devout advocate for domestic peace, seeking to end the suffering of intimate partner violence.  So much domestic abuse finds its warning signs in acts you can read about here.  I started to describe it as postmodern Narcissism — something new.  But no.  It’s not new at all.  It’s as old as what drives such stories as the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, Antony and Cleopatra.

 But it’s seeing a new expression — one as easy to find as big braggart, a veiled insult or some other little dig that stirs big trouble.

All of which, and whom, we all must beware.

In Praise of Not Getting Caught Up

Posted in Uncategorized on January 8, 2020 by michaelcogdill

John Wooden said, “You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

In my business, I’ve been accused of everything from riding a high horse to jockeying a teleprompter to speak cogent English. I’ve been praised at the Emmys and thrashed as fit for the bottom of the cement pond.

But what counts is being of some use. Being able to reach and help the high and the low from a fine center of humility.

In my years as a wayward teen, my mother would counsel me to take some personal inventory. Of the spiritual kind. Back then, it made sense, but I acted as if it didn’t. I knew she wanted me to leave the place better than I found it. That went to my closet, and my very soul, and everybody who came near to my breathing in and out.

She knew I was a man in the making, not quite there yet. Now, she lovingly reminds me I will never fully arrive. That no matter what I learn — from her, my dad, my extended family — I’ll remain an evolution, deep in the dirt, growing, trying to sprout some usefulness into the life of someone else in this wilderness life. She’s proud of me nonetheless.

And it is a wilderness, this life we share. Imperfect and wild with peril. My faith reminds me of this, as it reminds me that Love — even amid amid wickedness and brokenness — truly never fails. It is a Love not found up high on the moon, where no one can breathe, nor in the cold depths of a critic’s well. Love tends to call us to the center of things. To the fertile ground of neither high nor low.

Praise? Criticism? Neither matters as we, among the broken, somehow better the broken among us.

True OR False?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 4, 2019 by michaelcogdill

Wilson? Wilson, Are You Enough?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 5, 2019 by michaelcogdill

I got to thinking about that long, lonesome solitude of the film Castaway.  The isolation.  The hopelessness.  The sure death of Narcissism.

The character played by Tom Hanks survives 4 years with a washed-up volleyball as his only friend.  The face of it literally drawn in his own blood.  Wilson.  Named after the brand.

He talked to Wilson, often.  Season through season, he spoke as if a volleyball can hear.  He eventually grieves Wilson, hard.

Wilson, on the other hand, lay silent, as volleyballs will, even those drawn in blood.

Wilson never paid him a compliment.

Wilson never encouraged with a word.

Wilson had no Facebook account.  No Instagram.

Wilson could not emote with an emoji that  made the marooned man feel even a tiny bit better about himself, or his fate.

Chuck Noland, the character Tom Hanks plays, eventually turns gaunt, grows a fire-hazard beard, lives on speared fish and without a solitary morsel of spoken or written human validation.  A world away from what we see voraciously sought today.  Noland does live with a picture of his girlfriend —  the love of his life  — and the remembrance of her voice.  Her affection.  Her caring and devotion, all in his memory.

And a volleyball.

Not one person in those four years tells him he’s handsome or hot or smart.  Brilliant or strong or “THE  MAN.”

He more than survives without what psychoanalysts would call Narcissistic fuel, or even normal affection from a loved one.  He has himself — and I believe the divinity within us  all — as sole company.  That, and the echo of the lady in the picture.

The lack of more did not destroy him.

We are born to live in community.  We are wired for engagement, intimacy with others we love.  But the lust for a sense of our own importance, a yen for constant attention has become so strong, so rampant and common, the experts largely no longer deem Narcissistic Personality Disorder to be an actual  disorder.

And this begs something of us all.

How much affection is enough?  How much validation do we need, verses want?

And the bigger question — is getting enough from the close love of our life really enough?  It should be.  It must be.  Given.  Received.

Everyone digs likes, hearts, thumbs-up emojis.  But to ponder living without them, marooned into years of life with only ourselves and a personified rubber ball, is to test the very integrity of our humble selves.  It’ll measure the depth of our inner well- being.

I believe it might measure whether we have the character to love and be loved by one.  One who loves us for us.  Period.

Wilson, you were conversant enough for Noland for years on that island.  You had to be.  He didn’t go crazy and start organizing sand crabs into a baseball league.   He simply dwelt in silence, apart from his own voice, outer  and inner.

And the memory of hers.

He lived in the echo of the woman he loved, and who loved him.   Even absent hope of seeing her again, she was — enough.

For 4 years, in fiction, he did this.

In our reality, how well can we?

 

My “Joe” — By Several Other Names

Posted in Uncategorized on October 10, 2019 by michaelcogdill

A children’s  book about death feels a bit like a birthday party in the proctologist’s office.

But I wrote such a thing.  I didn’t need to dig it out of my heart.  It just rose up.

Where Did Joe Go is far less about death and way more about immortality.  Joe the horse dies, sure.  There, I said it.  Everything and everyone will someday.

But that’s far from the point.

By “The End” Joe lives in the hearts of all who loved him.   Death is no match for love. When we’re remembered and loved, we never go fully away.  In spacious hearts that make room for us, we live, always.

And that  means every one of us has a “Joe.”  More than one.  These are some of mine.  There are many more.

My father, George Cogdill, who so loved my mother and me, so loved a good hemorrhoid joke, and who was so kind.

Daddy, you are my Joe.  In my heart you live, on a riding lawn mower, with your dentures flung out, just for grins.  Your steel hand to my back.  Your velvet wisdom still my peace.

My grandmother, Dovie Ella Keyes, who so loved us all, who would laugh at — and with — my daddy, and who could take up an ax and hold her own with any man at a wood pile.

Granny, you are my Joe.  In my soul you thrive, hoeing your postage stamp of a strawberry patch, and giggling beside the ocean when it knocked me down and rolled me the first time.  I was four, strangling.  I can laugh about it now.  Your gentle womanhood keeps re-creating me as a man.

Savannah and Maggie, you are Joes, the pair of you, golden retrievers.  I need say nothing of why you set off love.  You were goldens, on the best of days, and the worst, there you were, happy, devoutly making me so.  You both died unafraid of dying.  You taught me how to live — full to overflow in the present moment.  You still teach me the present is precious, and our great promise.

Where Did Joe Go?  Where all our beloveds go.  Into the rooms and onto the lawns of hearts where love is a living heirloom.  No mere thing, passed down.  Instead, a pulsing memory, a laugh, so much of life strung together and aglow.  Party lights in the dusk of our best days, gone by, yet here.

They are always here, our Joes.  And all of us always children, somehow.

A favorite picture book, written within us.

Our beloveds.   Our story.   Ever alive.

Where Did Joe Go, an heirloom-quality children’s book written by 29-time Emmy winner, Michael Cogdill.  Illustrated by legendary modern artist — and former child prodigy — George Pocheptsov.  Debut — a matter of the heart, Valentine’s Day, 2020 

 

 

A Man of a Kind

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2019 by michaelcogdill

My father bent the rules of manhood, upward, from the dark. In the dark.

A little boy ought not be a stranger to enough to eat. Food and affection were rare to his boyhood.

And this made him grateful.

A man ought not get branded by the hot tongues of men with empty hearts. His coworkers made fun of his special shoes. The shoes did little to ease the hurt of his surgery-damaged feet. Full grown bullies hurt, to the quick, the little boy in him.

And this taught him to forgive.

Daddy became a drunk for reasons he would never fully say. I’m glad he took some those to his grave. More so that he took a gracious, humble and loving sobriety into that casket, too.

For this made him understand that a man’s hurts might help him recognize another man hurting.

Even in silence, I believe he said to many a wounded stranger, “Hey, me, too. It’s no eternity, that hurt. Don’t feed it, and it’ll die.”

My father was an art of a kind. Chiaroscuro is the fancy, impossible term for contrast of light and dark in a painting. Nah, that word’s not for him. Not such a real man in his real life. For my dad, the word is grace. Daring grace. The hammer and hot crowbar kind. The leverage that bends a man upward.

He was the scrolled iron work of a poor boy scalded by awful shame, tempered in the fire of his own courage not to wallow in shame. It takes a strong hand to work iron. My daddy surrendered to his inner Hand. It shaped the man, most honorable and true.

It bent him into his beauty.

Daddy loved to work. He loved my mother. He loved me.

He taught me my dark days held only the setting for light.

That man of a kind, all too rare, sleeps in his mountain grave tonight. But no. He’ll live tomorrow in me, in my every step. A prince of the Depression echoing in my every breath — “You belong. Look around. You thankful? Get off your haunches and out the door.”

“Be a man. You know the kind.”

To Feel, or Not to Feel? That is Not the Question

Posted in Uncategorized on September 9, 2019 by michaelcogdill

Someone I know and respect wants me to live more like the tin man.

He thinks I’ll be better off not just wearing an armor but being one. No heart? No worries. A heart is just chambers that hold old baggage, right?

He teaches people to shed their baggage — and all its old underwear of old feelings, and make a habit of not copping a feel of those feelings ever again. They just get in our way, he would say. They bind us up and tie us down on that mythic yellow brick road to riches and happiness, and fulfillment.

Detatch. Disconnect. Your life will soar!

On the one hand, I agree with him. A heart run rampant will run us way down into a mess. Taking things personally, getting our feelings hurt all over the place, is misery. Harvesting grievances and staying mired in old hurts is a fresh hell.

On the other hand, the tin man of Oz longed for the Eden of a heart. He wanted the paradise of feeling love and all that comes with it. When the mighty Oz proved himself just a little myth, the tin man discovered he’d had a heart all along, he just hadn’t set it loose to run.

Beginning to use his heart for what it’s for became his own happy ending.  AND a fresh start.

We don’t get to choose whether to feel or not. The question is — will we admit that to ourselves so we can feel, and do, well?

Will we discover the heart’s enormous power to forgive and let go the dark for us?

To my friend, I present those questions with an urging: shed the armor, and engage the whole heart. This is about what some current wise and intelligent people call vulnerability. A fairly big word. Strong as steel. One urging us not to live in the tin-can denial of our past, or how it feels. A word urging us to feel the happiness and liberty and meaning we can feel right now.

I’m going to mix in a metaphor here for a minute. That very admission shows I know better. But you’ll see why. You might just feel the reason. Good reason.

Emotions — and the events that cause them — can be a kitchen fire in your heart. Somebody set your heart’s stove on fire with shame or anger or dreadful abuse. Some moral crime against your heart is flared way on up.

You’re on fire, but almost nobody knows.

What is a boy or girl to do with a heart all lit up with kitchen fires of feelings that burn — and hurt — like hell?

I’ll tell you what. Lean into the fire. Admit it’s there. Your heart’s aflame, and not in a good way. Instead of the good kinda hot, that old shame, that disgrace lit by someone else who did or said that terrible thing that is not your fault is burning your heart to ashes. It is not heartwarming. It’s a FIRE.

Deal with it. Put it out!! Dare feel the heat and sling waters of forgiving who set it.

The fire will die and the heart will live.

Anger, hurt, sadness — they all simmer in the kitchen of everybody’s heart. Sometimes a heart needs help to get the fire out. I see it in the traumas I report in my career.

There is no shame in calling for HELP!

I’ll tell you what won’t help. Going out to sit on the front porch, in a suit of armor, pretending the kitchen’s not on fire.

A psychotherapist I know and respect calls that a no-brainier denial, and a dangerous kind. The kind that can burn down the whole house, heart and all.

I do not recommend this means of burning emotional baggage. Or its dirty underwear of old things that hurt.

A wise soul said the only way out of grief is through it. There is no going around grief or shame or humiliation or sadness or any of the tinderboxes that threaten to reduce us ashes of denial.

But when go fully through what feels bad — confessing that its there, sharing its heat with those who care for us (and I dare say love us) — something nearly miraculous happens. We begin to feel what is good. Happiness, joy — these come in. When the bad gets dealt with — the fire put out and the ashes let go — something good gets on that stove. The heart just gets warm. We — and others — can live in there. And live well.

When William Faulkner picked up the Nobel Prize, he vowed humankind will not just endure, humankind will prevail. This from the brilliant American writer who said all his work was about the human heart in conflict with itself.

Such a human heart is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? To feel the good with the bad, and let the good prevail?

Or to borrow from the Apostle Paul in that famous First Corinthians (you need not be a Christian to get this one) — “Love never fails.” It is patient. It is kind. It is what a heart is for.

My friend of the tin-man ways is a good man, well-meaning, seeking the ease and betterment of others. He is a man able to feel, deeply. I am witness. I believe he would feel better about things if he would just drop the armor I refuse to wear.

He’s got to be chaffing in that thing.