How Not to be Afraid of the Dark

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2019 by michaelcogdill

Something occurred to me about being a writer, and a shaggy mortal who can worry too much, like the rest of you.

I’ve written a children’s book about losing our way and finding the best of ourselves in tenderness toward the lonesome. I wrote another children’s book about making those we love — and lose — immortal by remembering and loving them well.  No matter what.

I’ve written a grown up novel thrashed with family violence, child death, suicide, wretched fundamentalism and, in the end, the restoration that comes from radical love.

There’s darkness in every one of those books.

And only because there is, can a reader catch the light of them.

They draw life from the dark.  They remind us a resurrection requires a tomb.

And all this  reminds me never to fear writing what makes us human, even the suffering.  Perhaps especially the suffering.  It reminds me the night is no match for the moon. The sun still shows.

I needed to hear this as a foolish boy afraid of vampires and disembodied hands under the bed.  But I’m reminded, too, I have never feared the dark while looking at the heavens.

So I write here to get us all carried away from worry and being afraid.  I write to romance the truth that our fear and suffering are but a tin roof tomb, not built to last. It can feel so sturdy, splintered and hard.

But it will fall.

In my profession, I need reminding often.  I owe the reminder to all of you who consume news each day.   Journalists report on lost children, lost hope, deep dark.  Terrible things happen to humankind each day.  Maybe years of anchoring and reporting news inspired me to write three books with a touch of darkness to each.  Maybe the light in each one comes from reporting on neighbors helping neighbors through tornadoes, mass shootings, mass grief.

Even right here, I choose to see so much suffering eased by the touch of a loving hand.  Such hands are lights all their own.  They make the news as well.

Still afraid of the dark?

No judgment.  I understand.  It’s why I end here with the end.  The final line of my novel, She-Rain.

It is a southern tale full of coffins and cuss, lost loves and laughter at hells on earth.  It is dark  with human suffering, but comes down to Psalm 139.  Proof God comes way down, too, knowing right where we are.

“Even the dark isn’t darkness to Thee. The night is bright as the day.”

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One Mama of an Expectation

Posted in Uncategorized on March 6, 2019 by michaelcogdill

I had been sad about some things when it happened, too much so. A worried man will act like a boy sometimes. But stout love of a woman can grow him back into his shoes again.

My dear mom — Miss Polly as she’s known — held onto me last night with a might I thought long gone. She held me and looked at me, long and well, in her 94th year.

Her eyes sparked up with the notion — you imperfect boy, I love you. You’d better start seeing why again.

We had just talked of my dad’s retrieval from certain living death. She told details of his miracle crawling out. The bottle of Canadian Mist and the despair of old shame would hold him no more. His was a hard climb, straight off the floor. She saw his rolling around in regret and the agony of re-creation. She saw, but did not stop it.My mom had let God have him. I was already long gone. He had done terrible wrongs. Some would say unforgivable cuttings into the quick of marriage and fatherhood and manhood.

But the man soon stood. He took himself off the floor and back to life, recalled there by forces we think we identify, but can’t fully understand.

Before I put my mother to bed tonight, we talked of daddy’s funeral. The town drunk of years before lay before a full church. The miracle had lasted years, harvested a beautiful life out of living death. The troubled boy, the more troubled man, had known unspeakable joy. A woman, a son, a city of friends, all there.

My mother said goodnight reminding me she misses him. She held me as if to thank me for ceasing trying to be his God. She looked at me as if to say — expect miracles in your life yet, boy. Don’t lose your expectations. They’re not really yours after all.

A Nod, A Smile, A lifetime

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6, 2019 by michaelcogdill

My mother glanced above her TV this week at the smiling portrait of her with my father.  She then glanced at me, nodded, smiled, and said everything I need to know about relationships without saying a word.

Relationships are not supposed to hurt.

Breakups, sure.  But marriage — and all things like it — should not. They must not.

My mom and dad endured suffering no lifetime should know.  Alcoholism.  Domestic violence.  The heavy, hanging branches that can grow from roots of childhood poverty and a narrow view of a boundless God.

But Love prevailed.

This is about Love, done well, after all.  A lesson in how to do it before the sun sets on the best of our years.

For all his failings through life, my dad took responsibility for his sobriety, for the suffering he caused.  He made amends.  My mother realizes if she had stopped enabling his suffering — their suffering — sooner, they would have had years more of the adoration for one another they had in the end.

So when my mother nodded, and smiled, she reminded me of the simple truth.

Relationships are designed not to feel bad, but good!  Many a Vegas joke has burst out laughter about the misery of marriage.  In the end, my parents found a way to do the same.  They laughed not at the old suffering.  They found a way to grin and laugh about themselves.  They managed to do it before it was too late.

Daddy would remind mama of how he loved to invite her for a dance — “My dear, may I borrow your frame for this struggle?”

She would giggle.

He would sing strange little songs, full of nothing that should ever make sense.  Lyrics such as “Have you ever seen Sally make water?  She can go for a mile and a quarter.”  I don’t know what that means.

But mama always giggled.  So do I.

Daddy would laugh about his bad feet, recurring hemorrhoids and the thrusting out of his false teeth while driving the lawn mower.  He attacked that mower once, wrestled it down a hill in a hail of white hot language.  Somehow they could laugh about that, too.

They became the most unselfish couple, sweet on and with one another, each wanting to give the other all the care their weathered hands and hearts could hold.  Daddy laughed at himself while learning to love that self.  Mama did the same.

Each became a rain coat for the other in life, no matter what poured down.   As I write this, I remember daddy laughing at a joke about tattered rain coats — “My London Fog’s so old, now it’s just an Asheville Drizzle.”

She would giggle.

I need to be more like them.  I need to live according to the advice given me by their latter years together.  If it hurts, stop doing it, early.  Stopping new hurts can prevent old scars, and give new happiness.  Forgive relentlessly.  No, don’t let the hurt keep happening, but confront it, forgive it.  Let it go.  Cut away the chain and let the hurt run off.  And don’t chase it into the woods, lost for years in there.  Appreciate every little thing.  My dad was grateful for even a glass of water my mother brought him in his emphysema-smothering last years.

He let her know, with that same nod.  The same little grin.  A simple tender word.  A reminder how he loved her.  How very grateful he was for her, to her.

They insisted on such, from one another.  We all should, too.

My mother is far better than I am.  Far more articulate.  She said all I’ve said here without speaking a solitary syllable.  That little nod.  The coquette’s  grin.  And suddenly she was back, a lifetime ago, in love with the boy who eloped with her to Clayton, Georgia, I’m sure with hardly five dollars in his pocket.

And to us all, this says — don’t let it hurt.  That is not Love’s calling.  Change the self, and the relationship will change.

Begin before the sun goes down — on the remainder of a lifetime.

 

 

 

Strong, As a Gentle Man

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2018 by michaelcogdill

Woodfin Parker could turn a cow or a chicken into human life.  Gentleman farmers are magicians that way.  They coax eggs and milk, butter and meat from even the poorest ground.

He needed not a smart phone or a fool’s luck to do it.  Somehow he knew how.  My uncle Woody listened to his forbears, to the uncommon good of common sense and instinct.  His little farm fed the doctors of Asheville, North Carolina.  He sold them food, they healed Appalachia.   It was good.

Together they aimed for survival, and found civilization.

My Uncle Woody waded the trench mud and dodged the mustard gas of World War I.  A relative just found out he served in France alongside Harry Truman.  I sat in the lap of that farmer, who came home from that European butchery and drove deep footings of himself into American gentleness.  Who became a part of what makes America exceptional.

He was a gentleman.  A truly gentle man.  He knew the difference between little boy fights and strong man resolve.

My Uncle Woody was a thinker, and kindly so.  Identity politics did not identify him.  He could disagree with you, and somehow you’d long to feel his catcher’s mit of a hand in yours, and to your back.  A leathery man with a velvet soul and a scythe of a mind, was he.

And what would he think of us today?

I need not carry on here about the keyboard courage of internet trolls.  Who hasn’t felt the sting of their little arrows?  The tips of their words dipped in a poison of something that masquerades at patriotism.

Woodfin Parker would not approve such. He would not cotton to it.  I so long to ask how he would feel about it, already knowing.

In his latter years. he never missed the Sunday Morning political shows, fed over the air in black and white to a man who read daily a newspaper he never expected would agree entirely with him.  I watched, and read, with him.  I listened to him.  His absence of the disagreeable made a more civilized little boy of me.   When called for, his thinking man’s words, and silence, helped make me into a man.

This veteran who fought a merciless war with mules in bloody mud still has something to say.   The family farm grows no food anymore, but his very grave nourishes a truth. Dug into a cleft off a long mountain view in little Weaverville, North Carolina, his resting place is itself a quiet messenger.  Serene as he was.  A place of pause.

Even far from that place and its steely mountain cold, I warm myself on his epitaph written only on my spirit.

There is nothing so strong as a truly gentle woman or man.

Nothing is so civilized.

 

 

 

Stealing From Me to Rob Her

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2018 by michaelcogdill

A caveat to us all.  One to share!

A few weeks ago, a very kind Canadian woman got in touch with me about misuse of my likeness. A scam artist had harvested my pictures, used them on a website portraying himself as an entrepreneur in the oil business. He charmed her, won her heart, then convinced her to invest money with him. He’s very smooth, magnetically convincing, and an utter fraud.

Needless to say, her money is gone. He’s gone. Law enforcement will not touch it. It’s a caveat emptor situation. Authorities would say — beware as you buy in. Beware letting your heart and mind get invested, well before any money changes hands.

In any romantic endeavor, remain enormously, profoundly, uninterruptedly skeptical of letting money change hands.

This thief hid behind me and stole a woman’s money, a portion of her dignity. She is ashamed of what happened, but desires to warn others. This is the first of the warnings.

Assume the worst of those you have not met, yet who act like they’ve known you all their lives. I love you should take a long while. It is never a transaction.

Yes, there’s a name for this. In internet parlance, it’s called catfishing. In the old ways, it’s called stealing, thievery, treachery.

Scoundrels of the old ways have found new ways to relieve people of their money. Don’t be their victim. Don’t believe them. Don’t indulge them. Block them. Run!

More on this to come. And please share this. If you’ve been in conversation with such a person, please share your story here, and with me. These scoundrels love the dark. Let’s throw on some lights!

And let’s begin with these red flags, straight from the lady herself. If you see these, again, RUN!!

1. He is unable to meet you within a reasonable time.
2. Numerous setbacks prevent you from meeting.
3. He has no friends or family who live locally.
4. He travels frequently.
5. He professes he has feelings for you very soon after you connect.
6. His emails and texts frequently are grammatically and/or syntactically incorrect.
7. He makes many promises to you…promises of gifts, trips, a future together, etc.
8. He assures you he is honest and trustworthy.
9. He asks you to communicate by phone and to use a email address not linked to the dating site.
10. There are gaps in communication, sometimes days at a time.
11. He needs to “borrow” money for an emergency and you are the only person who can save him.

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

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.