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 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,


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.
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.