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.

Why Our Dogs Are Better than We Are

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2016 by michaelcogdill

You can make a good dog a billionaire. She’d rather live poor and in true love with everybody.

Fancy shoes hold no allure for a dog. Unless they remind him of that rawhide you buy for a dollar somewhere.

A dog can’t see the color of your Lamborghini. She couldn’t care less for the nameplate. The bed of a ’69 GMC pickup truck rides just fine.

Such a dog will never lead with his politics. But he abides a policy: sniff the hand of everyone. Snap only at the ones you catch doing real harm.

A dog is not a bigot, unless trained to be.

She knows the meaning of no. She leaps out joy when the answer is yes. If she is a drama queen, it is to make sure you laugh and not cry. She is a kindly monarch. Learns the meaning of the word — enough.

All dogs are poor, and they love the poor. They seem to know we are all poor of time and peace and real union with God. They love when we laugh. Grieve when we cry. They just seem to know God’s in there somewhere. Better than we know ourselves

A good dog will wait for you. Erupt in a party when you arrive. You are never late to the dog.

And when it’s time for a dog to die, the dog seems to know. They long to romp this life, and they know how, but they fear not leaving it. In this, they are wiser than we are. They gently try to tell us life is short. Watch a good dog’s last breath, and you will dread less your own.

A dear friend, a clergyman, once told me he did not want to go to any heaven where his dog was not. I agree most heartily. He’s there now. I believe he’d have taken a most profane umbrage if the gate said, No Pets.

God is not cruel. God gave us dog. Simply spelled the name backwards, and wandered upon the porch of the human heart. Simply asking to be let in.

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How Lyle Lovett Flew My Daddy From His Grave

Posted in Uncategorized on August 16, 2016 by michaelcogdill

For most of his life, my father was not church man. He became a regular and an usher later in life, but before then a pew must have felt like sitting on a live wire. And the town would have felt electrocuted at seeing him on one. He felt unworthy of such a place. He finally learned everybody is. For all the ugliness of his days, running back to the stinking squalor of his boyhood, my dad turned out a beautiful man.

And through all that ugliness, something beautiful found him in a singular old song. No matter the stench of a bender on him, it would clear his air.

Last night, I heard Lyle Lovett sing that song. Lyle helped me to live in it again. It was a resurrection, not a benediction. It reminded me there is no lasting ugliness. That what seems like hell is but a man tripping over the garment of grace before he grabs it and puts it on.

My dad, in his wrestling with God, loved a man named Wesley Grant, Senior. The Reverend Grant pastored a little fire-red church on Choctaw Street in Asheville, North Carolina. To my best knowledge, my daddy never set foot in it. But he saw, and would not miss, the Reverend Grant on Sunday morning TV. A half hour of spirituals. Wesley Grant was a black man on a mostly white medium in the 70s, and now I believe his audience looked like Dr King’s Dream.

At the end of each show, Pastor sang that old spiritual — I’ll Fly Away.

He’d made it the title song of the program. His anthem to souls in mortal flight from earthbound suffering. Pastor Grant let it fly, flapped his arms like a bird, thrust out that song on a spray of gravely baritone, and it surely made my father happy as I would ever see him. I’ll Fly Away became my father’s hope. His rhapsody of assurance. I believe it helped teach him that Love is inescapable, destined to light upon him.

The Reverend Grant and my father sing it together now, I imagine. They have flown from here. Happy in the Mystery. But thank God, Lyle Lovett is still here. Here, but wired into that ageless Mystery. Last night, singing I’ll Fly Away with a heart that would hold a million souls, he wired my father’s spirit in to sit beside me, for just a little while. I could nearly hear him say, “Son, it’s all right. It all belongs, here in your time. It’s gonna be way more than all right.”

Now my father knows this for certain. For he has flown, yet not so terribly far away.

Sweeping the Footprints off Granny’s Moon

Posted in Uncategorized on July 19, 2016 by michaelcogdill

My grandmother lived a far-out wisdom.  Heavenly in her own way.  Educated in the dirt-road classrooms of human nature — the ones that run through a sound mind’s good sense to believe people the first time when they show you who they are.

She was smart and kind, my Granny. She knew how to grow a strawberry patch and knew the folly of harvesting grievances against people who wronged her. Her intellect can still teach plenty to me.

And yet my grandmother didn’t believe a man walked on the moon.

I suppose she feared the thought we’d left our tracks up there. Maybe God, as she imagined Him, might take umbrage at our making a mess where we didn’t belong. My Grandmother did not want to believe we’d done something so audacious. She couldn’t imagine the reasons we even wanted to sling ourselves so far out, expecting to find our way home. So, in my wise grandmother’s mind, we never did.

This is motivated reasoning. Hers, mine, yours.

Motivated reasoning means we want certain things to be true or untrue. We want our truths so much, we will run from evidence to the contrary faster than a Kardashian escaping a Dollar General. Humans have, at our very essence, a fight or flight response. If we hate snakes and see one, we try to kill it, or break a tibia trying to get away from it. The same with matters of the heart, and the mind. Eugene O’Neil in the Iceman Cometh dabbled in the ideals of men. Yes, they were drunks, not wanting their illusions to shatter. Once they shattered in his world of the play, not even the booze worked anymore to make life feel just okay again.

The point is we have to push ourselves. Step or jump from the boat of contented illusion into the seas of how things really are. Only then do we reach shores of our betterment. Only by daring to believe what others could not, or would not, did we, yes, reach the moon.

Google motivated reasoning. Filter your thoughts, beliefs, illusions through this truth of ourselves. It’s not a merit. Motivated reasoning is our weakness. One of our many. My loving, well-meaning grandmother, despite her wisdom, displayed it plenty. She used to interpret the Bible as forbidding heart surgery. She thought God frowned upon that. I suppose to so pragmatic a mind, it just seemed indecent, human hands touching such a tender place. She and I never talked about scapegoating, but I wish we had. That notion that draws from Biblical myth and mis-translation. People not terribly unlike you and me believed, at one time, a goat could carry away the sins of a people into the wilderness. Thankfully, now goats just eat kudzu, give milk and celebrate their females wearing a beard.

My grandmother would be around 105 years old by now. She died before we had an internet, widespread cell phones and people mesmerized by Pokemon. The elastic of her lovely mind might have tried to bend itself away from believing in such a future on the day she died. Her reasoning found motivation in wanting simpler times and ways.

But I wish she had lived to see all this before us now. The images of the Hubble Telescope. The miracles of stem cells and routine heart transplantation. I wish she had lived to see what my father’s belief in me did for my education, my career, my prosperity, thank God. Perhaps if she had, that tender yet iron-worn matriarch might caution us all: Be careful what you want to believe, or don’t. Take it from a lady who’s watched many seasons come and go. Beware of the tricks your own mind will play.

Even as I write this, I like to imagine her voice on the words, “Pass me that moon rock, son. Let me shatter an illusion or three right out of you, too.”

Thanks, Mr. Faulkner, for Coughing Up that Flem

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2016 by michaelcogdill

William Faulkner gave the world a conniving, grifting misguided Southern genius scoundrel, and named him Flem.  Yes, that’s the spelling of the man’s very being.  The name could easily come out Phlegm, or Flim Flam.  Mr. Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for reasons that can save us all some grief.

Faulkner and his Flem gave us all a timeless warning about a humanity we can never fix.  As true today as it was in the fiction of the Snopes home place in Yoknapatawpha County.   You know  you’re big — and onto something — when you invent such a place, and the online dictionaries know how to spell it 54 years after you died.

Flem Snopes represents a low, thieving caste of humanity we must not deny.  I’ve watched the world through a philanthropic lens most of my life.  But time has sharpened that lens.  Ground it down so that I can see a stratum of humankind I don’t like or understand.  I should have known better than wear those dull rose-color glasses.  I have, in some corners of my family, been related to what Mr. Snopes signifies.  Now, rather than deny it or make excuses for it, I simply acknowledge that bloodline, and understand it as follows.

Some people will steal from you.  Rob you on the quiet highways of  your being.  They will take your things, your peace, and your very life, then come for more money, and a sofa, and maybe an area rug for the basement they’re living in now. They seem nearly to come from the womb with a hand out, smashing with their wailing tears and grabbing at everything they can get.  Not even ticks have such long arms.  These people will lie, connive, conspire, sneak, creep, martyr, lie again, paint a brilliant light on their gloom, and convince us all they mean us no harm at all.  After the harm, they will convince us they have not harmed us, nor ever would.  Persuade us that they live as mere victims of a Universe that bore them into disadvantages they simply cannot whip.  Not by work or will or learning — nor by all the praying in the world — can they seem to spray paint over that wicked streak that snaps from their lives like a wet towel against the backside of the rest of us trying to better ourselves from our own failures and frailties.  They expect us to better ourselves and them at once.  In their minds, we owe them.  We owe them our very selves.

This is no commentary on social welfare systems, oh no.  This is a commentary on the very nature of what Mr. Faulkner knew would, like the legitimately poor, always be with us. This is about a low human nature walking upright and malignant with misery and victimhood among us.  This is about what I see now, finally apart from my codependency, as a solution, and a safeguard.

My father’s brother, Alf, was gifted.  He could manage to avoid work, drink, commit highway crimes, shamelessly turn himself parasitic to his brother, my hard-working dad, and yet manage to avoid starvation, long-term jail and absolute family shunning.  That latter part is as troubling as the rest.  I believe had the family repented of him, cast him off as humanly hopeless and impossible, then God might have done the impossible with him.  Who knows?  He’s right now napping in his old and lonesome grave, where he arrived very early from a world of self-inflicted trouble.  Intriguing that a grifter can outsmart the world of humanity, but not his own pancreas, or liver.  The body tends to have the last laugh, and the final nap, never minding that the soul wants to live, and differently.

I have concluded there is but one cure for Flem Snopes.  The Varners and the others of Mr. Faulkner’s fiction were not the truth of what Flem called for.  The cure for that stratum of us is a complete surrender to God.  I have witnessed this.  The addiction counselors and law officers and prosecutors of the world know this well — if the so-called sober among us live the best lives we can, the worst among us have a chance at pulling themselves up by the very garment of Divinity.   Those of us who are not God must stop acting as gods who think they can fix such humanity.  It is not our calling to become victims of the Snopesian crimes of body and heart.  It is, instead, our mandate to live beyond them, hold them accountable, yes, even love them, forgive them, but take ourselves out of reach of their pick pocketing way with life.  Turn the other cheek so that cheek can not be hit.  That, by the way, is the original meaning of that passage.

Mr. Faulkner, thank you for the warning. No, I’ll never fully understand the genesis of it, anymore than you did, I suppose.  Maybe God allows some people to rise and fall from the gutters of Flem to remind us or our own mortality.  We are not to judge, nor are we to fall chin-first, bloodied and exhausted after them into that trench.  Only if we leave them doomed to wallow down there will they learn the true way upward.  Only fallen can they fully rise.

Yes, to all of us this applies.  There’s some Flem Snopes in every woman and man, I suppose.  One, at least, in every family.   Time we saw them fully.  No, we’ll never fully understand them.  But to see them, and know they’re out there, sharing our very DNA, is a major leap toward the solution.  That being step away from the gutter.  Step back. Jump away.  Turn and run.  Only then can we catch glimpse of God running the other way, after that Flem, by any other name.


High Hopes of the Longest Day

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2016 by michaelcogdill

Seventy years ago today, my parents drove to Clayton, Georgia and got married.  Drove roads fit for Matchbox Cars, through gorges the sun seldom finds, into a little town the vast majority of New  York City doesn’t know is there.  That summer solstice, June 21, they were both in the dew of being young and foolish and wonderful.  The longest day of the year must have seemed the most hopeful day of their lives.  

But they had their share of the blues together. Hospitals and too little money and setting out for work way before Dawn drew back the shades.  Had my mom toughened her love, turned from his inner darkness rather than trying to be his entire light, I doubt his sobriety would have taken so long to arrive. Who knows. But speculation isn’t what counts. What counts is what is.

We write and speak forlornly of having the blues.  Yet blue is beautiful — comes in shades of night and day.   So much that’s alive and lovely in between.

On this 70th anniversary of their marriage, I find myself leaning into the shades of my parents’ blues.  The dark blue-mountain clefts of that romance that found it’s “I do” on a long summer day.  Dark at times they were.  Very.   But in the end, they were lovely. Many shadings of light and tender flower. For them, blue is no color of lonesome. It is the paint work of a love fit only for Divine hands.  Where there is darkness upon their canvas — even that formed by their very nearness to one another — they found light.

Zelda Fitzgerald said the following thing, and I find it so fitting a salute to my mom and dad and their long-ago coupling.  This quote talks about seeing and tasting the essence of the other, not just the name or the mind or the tuxedo and gown.  It speaks of seeing and hearing and loving beyond the senses. My mom and dad became no mere names to one another.  They were, in the end, like this:

“I don’t suppose I really know you very well – but I know you smell like the delicious damp grass that grows near old walls, and that your hands are beautiful opening out of your sleeves, and that the back of your head is a mossy sheltered cave when there is trouble in the wind, and that my cheek just fits the depression in your shoulder.  Zelda Fitzgerald

Such a fitting is not found in any settled dust, but the stirring of it.  It is found in the endurance of being young, re-creating ourselves over and over, rattling the dust of ennui off our shoes.  My parents were, I’m only beginning to see, old and hardened by life in my youth — the middle of their lives.  But they found their volcanic surge of  happy late.  Not all do.  It took selflessness, vulnerable hearts, a deep sense of I’m-truly-sorry and a showing of I-can-be-better-than-ever-I-even-hoped.   Their imperfect hands were beautiful from the sleeves of a freedom they created for themselves.  A re-creation they each did for themselves, not the other.  Only then could they tell how well her cheek fit the depression of my dad’s shoulder.  How lovely their clasped hands hung on for dear life, and not for show.

Happy anniversary, to my mom and dad. Thank you for still teaching me to be a man who keeps the boy alive within. Thank you for the many hues of life, blues and all. If mortal love, in all its silks and sackcloth and tatters, comes in many inner colors, my soul wears a shirt in the shades of Eden.  A fine hand me down from both of you.

Godspeed the enduring spirit of George Cogdill. I love and I miss you so much, especially now.  Damn those cigarettes, but bless every moment you cherished of the life they took from you, and me, and from this world.

And God, safeguard the feet of Polly Cogdill, still dancing nearly every day.  One foot always on that Honda accelerator. Ms. Polly, as she’s known, still teaches her son how best to travel as a strong and gentle man.

On this, the year’s longest day in my beloved summertime, I have the highest hopes, born of a mom and dad.  They went to Clayton, Georgia, and got married.  Then, they commenced learning how to fall in love.

Looks Like Love, Smells Like Hell

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2016 by michaelcogdill

Hemingway said, “I drink to make other people more interesting.”

I find the world plenty interesting, and perhaps that’s why I drink like a cartoon character. One gin and tonic and I want to take a nap, or take my top off.  I know addiction only through the eyes of an enabler.  I am one.  I’ve been one since I was a boy.  I don’t know exactly why my father drank so much, but I do know it made him, and life, far too interesting.  Overstimulated.  Chaotic.


An addict will lie to you, knowing it’s a lie, knowing you know it’s a lie, but knowing you’ll believe false hope and, thus, believe the lie.   My father told me often he would quit drinking.  He told me while drunk.  I — sober as a church — believed him for far too long.  I was drunk on the wrong  kind of hope.  I had to quit the stuff.  Sober up on the real thing.

Enablers act like Gods.  We believe we can accomplish what only Higher Power can.  We can love them, cajole them, ease them, comfort them enough that the addicts in our lives will stop being addicts and become fully human again.  We think we can make life so interesting for them they won’t have to drink anymore.  That’s our folly — spending money, time, prayer, more money, more prayer, tears, tears again, pleading, begging, raging.  We do so much heavy lifting trying to make a drunk sober.  And the drunk keeps hoisting a pint — or needle, or pill or whatever elixir leads to death.  It’s not just the drunk’s death.  The enabler somehow dies first.  Stone sober and living out a living death of trying to work a miracle.

Only God works miracles.  We who enable only work that rock back up the hill, bracing to feel it roll over us again.  Sisyphus surely had an addict in the family.

The takeaway here is — stop.  Stop giving money to a drunk.  Stop giving ear to an addict. Cease to become the silo for their harvest of lies.  Stop suppressing your instincts and callusing your feet on their eggshells.  If they yell, “You don’t love me, your never loved me, I’ll never forgive you for this” as you walk away, keep walking.  You are not God.  Nor a superhero.  Trying to save another human being from himself/herself is like trying to walk on water.  Not even Peter lasted long at that.

Ask yourself how many times you tried to surround an addict with love, only to have that love of your life come staggering through the door smelling like hell.

Real love doesn’t stink to high heaven.  Enabling looks like love, and smells like hell.

My friend, Rich Jones, is a recovering addict.  He works now in addiction recovery. That means he learned enabling from the school of hard liquor.  Rich is licensed therapist and MBA, an expert in co-dependency and the specious toxin of trying to fix an addict.  He knows why you shouldn’t try to talk your daughter out of shooting up again.  Why giving your boyfriend money or your car again is anti-love.

Rich admits he doesn’t know why the following approach works, but it does:  Go take care of yourself.  Go, and be a better, healthier you.  Stop begging an addict.  Stop being with one.  Don’t pray the same old prayer with her ever again.  Take care of  you, and things with the addict will work out as they should, according to the natural law of addictive behavior, not the law of you and the world you think you can create.  Not all addicts survive, but in the absence of enabling, they tend to rise.  They tend to roll to their knees and off their sticking bottoms — high or low — and begin to live again.  Life becomes interesting without gin or heroin or Hydrocodone.  My father lived as proof.  This happened to him.  It happened only after I walked away.

And that made me a living example of this:  Life will begin to carry the perfume of real love, not the stench of hell on earth, only when you walk away.

Another dear friend of mine likes to send me the occasional text with the letters YNG/BGI.  Those letters remind me to cease the idolatry of trying to fix someone addicted to something. The letters stand for You’re Not God, But God Is.

Enablers, we carry a sickness of our own, summed up in those simple letters.  It’s the illness of the folly of playing God.  We think we can do what only God can. We believe we can stand against anything.  Tolerate anything.  Love our way through anything.

We are wrong.

Enabling is no pathway to heaven.  It is cliff we tumble down into an ass-busting hell on earth.  Lord, it smells like hell down in there.  But what’s that?  A rope, hanging just within reach.  A rope, able to hold only one.  Grab it.  Climb out.  Climb out of hell, pull up the rope behind you, and dust yourself off at the top.  We don’t want that phony love stench up in here where we belong.

YNG.  BGI.  Peace.