Peace is Mightier than the Sword. God Knows. Dog Knows.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2017 by michaelcogdill

A dog dislikes fireworks.  The dog will run from a vacuum cleaner.  A dog will go off somewhere to die, preferring the quiet.

For a dog, what even seems like drama holds no allure.

Humankind will forever try to martyr or shame one another to gain some hold, some control, some wildly undeserved primacy.  Not the dog.  But for a collar or a harness or one of those pink tutus Petsmart sells for chihuahuas, the dog lives proudly naked, unaffected, in need of no such crown.  The dog is unashamed, incapable of being shamed into doing something for the wrong reasons.  No one ever guilted a dog into being a friend, or a girlfriend.

The rest of us are not so civilized.

Maybe this lack of guile is why dogs sleep so well, in the middle of the day, beside active railroad tracks.  Dogs, it’s clear, harbor an inner peace elusive to the humans who feed them.  I believe they can feed us at the soul with the following lesson:

Life’s dramatic enough as it is.  Don’t let people manufacture it and air mail it from their tongues into the heart of the child who lives within you.  That child pleads for your protection.  Give it.

We all have one.  That inner child, still wanting to romp and play and break the occasional heirloom.  Ever innocent, even while peeing outdoors.  Unaffected by spaghetti on her chin or dirt under his nails.

So much like the dog.

I believe when someone martyrs you, controls you, manipulates you to gain some advantage out of you, loads you up on guilt or shame to make off with some part of you, it’s the inner child who gets  hurt, and cries foul.  Who often gets carried off kicking and screaming.  That inner child lives in a safe room inside you.  The mystics would say it’s that place where you store the peace heaven gave you before you left for here.  It’s where the real you lives.  That sovereign room came with you into this world.

But it needs a door.  A sturdy one.  With your hand on the knob.

Otherwise, some will barge in and steal what’s there.  Make off with your serenity.  Kidnap that sacred child.

They will try to tell you they need to store their drama where your peace belongs.

It’ll come in boxes labeled with the likes of this:  How about letting me hold a thousand dollars til payday?   We’re family, so I’m moving in with my brother-in-law.  If you don’t love me as I demand, I’ll leave with the babies. You’ll put up with me, knuckles, fury and all.

Those are but a few.

Your inner child ends up sleeping out in the yard, on the dog bed, with the dog, far from your inner safe room.  The dog won’t sleep in there.  The dog knows better than live with the hell somebody decides to raise inside the heart that still belongs to you.

Sound familiar?  Not to the dog, it doesn’t.  But maybe to you, and to me.

You are a guardian.  A protectorate of that inner child you must never fully outgrow.  I don’t know why our fellow humankind will come with tongues like swords, demanding we surrender that child to them.  Telling us we owe it to them to let them in to ransack the place.  But it seems humanly universal.  The wise Vietnamese Buddhist  Thich Nhat Hanh reaches for an antidote when he urges us to be a home for ourselves.  To maintain a state of quiet in a world full of noise.  My Christian faith and that truth live in lockstep.  Only when we’re home to ourselves can we be of any use to the rest of our fellow suffering in this world.

And this, too:  When they come vowing to break down your inner door, it’s up to you to say — no.

The dog shows us how.

The dog will listen for a moment to human drama, where we might listen for an hour, or a day, or a lifetime.  After that moment, deciding it’s just noise, the dog will go off to some place of peace, for a pee or a lick or a roll in the grass — or all three.  Or the dog will simply sleep through it.  The dog knows better than choose the sword over peace.

Dog’s curate what’s relevant really well.

Your inner child wants to go out and play with the dog.  But does the child have a lovely place to come home to, inside of you?  Who else is living there, storing boxes in there, tearing up the sanctuary?

Would the dog want to come into that heart, and lie down?

It’s a beautiful thing, keeping the heart unlocked.  But even the dog knows better than to take down the door.




A Wink From the Heavens

Posted in Uncategorized on August 21, 2017 by michaelcogdill

This earth would fit inside the sun about a million times. The moon, so much smaller still. Yet distance will make a tiny rock seem to darken an enormous fire.

Seem is the word to hold onto here.

The ancients thought an eclipse a harbinger of doom. A blink of anger from the gods. The world gasping at its end.  The Greeks thought so.   So did those who used to bang on pots and pans to scare the sun-stealing demons away.  The Vikings thought a great wolf had made off with the sun.

It all seemed so very terrible.

Today what their brilliant ones did not know is now common schooling for a 10 year old.  The sun, the moon and the earth come, rarely, into a perfect alignment.

A time for pause, for thought — sacred and otherwise — as the moon’s shadow crosses the U.S at nearly 1,700 miles per hour.

Maybe this reminds us it’s all sacred, after all.

Science and faith are twins, growing up together. The eclipse proves that so well. A rare sign of common truth and reminder: We are small. Controllers of little. Ephemeral in the great cosmic day.

But more…

It’s an astronomical event with a simple explanation.  A logical wink from eternity. God’s reminder, in my view this rare day, that darkness is ephemeral. It won’t last. It won’t win. And that the light always comes down.

Thomas Merton reminds us that in the Eden story, God comes seeking Adam, not the other way around.  There is no escaping cosmic Love.  We can disown what’s holy, but it will not disown us.  The earth, the moon and the sun will align today and cast a shadow on the ground.  A fleeting fright to those who did not understand.  But even our ignorant forbears learned the sun will find us again, and soon.  A force so strong, we destroy our eyes to look at it.

But how very good it is to us, here in the dark.

The heavens throw us a wink today.  And we will bask in it.  Be ourselves in it. Perhaps make a new friend who is unlike us, and completely like us, in a field — someone wearing the same funny glasses, awing at the same sun.  To be found by it, sustained by it, reminded we are on a cosmic Mind far, far, far from here.  And yet feeling its warmth, so very near.

Things are not always what they seem.  They are usually far more beautiful.

AKA Strong 

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5, 2017 by michaelcogdill

There are few things stronger than a truly gentle man. 

That paraphrases a line I wrote in a post here titled Untwisting Normal, The Power of Divorcing my Father.   It struck a chord I could not hear coming. People quote it back to me from around the world.  So simple,  it eludes even tell writer. 

I never fully understood why so many take comfort in it, until now,  maybe. 

We want peace.  

Even machismo craves it.  Peace is the goal of bravado, perhaps. Get the world around us to drop its weapons trained at our serenity, and we can just be, as we are.  A blowfish is a gentle creature, just trying to make peace.   Puff up so the world backs down. 
A gentle man, who could be otherwise, need not flex muscle to triumph.  Peace is the spine of his strength.  His leadership.  I get the resonance now.  It is a longing.  His peace doesn’t mask power.  It is its creator.  

During World War I, America and her allies proved the strength of this way of being.  A fight against tyranny in the name of peace. The veterans still reveal it to us, especially now that they’re leaving in such numbers each day. Ask a vet of Bastogne or Midway whether he prefers peace or war. Lean into the gentility of those men.  Feel their strength.  Feel the peace.  

Gentle is simply strength by another name. 

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.