Her Name Was Montana. And She Was Good

Posted in Uncategorized on October 10, 2021 by michaelcogdill

This is an epitaph to a golden retriever. She was better than this man who loved her

Sweet Montana died peacefully at 6:23 tonight, with her great head under my hand.

My heart is so heavy.

The cancer had returned, and so had an infection. She fought so hard, squeezed every ounce of living from her life. She knew she was so dearly loved. She knew it was time.

I am so heartbroken. Heartbroken beyond words. And so grateful.

She came out of nowhere. Her previous owner had died very suddenly of cancer, and I had the chance to rescue her. She rescued me instead, and carried me across these last 6 years with such nobility and courage and grace. Night after night, waiting for me, pure in how she loved — she was so very good.

There’s a vignette in my novel, She-Rain that contains my favorite sentence in the entire book. It speaks here of my heart.

“He wanted her to lie near the clear water”s music until the end of the world.”

Such peace is my longing for her. Mercy I have given her It is so small a gift, given how she has gifted me.

There has been so much death and loss in life of late. I am weary of it. My fortitude — immense since I was a boy — is staggered. But our God who makes such good dogs will see me off the ground.

My love to all of you who have so loved her, and me. I write this through tears as I turn from her one last time. But no, she will walk beside me always. There is no complete absence when there has been the presence of so good a dog.

Montana

Date of birth unknown. October 9, 2021.

Thank you staff of Upstate Veterinary Specialists. Your mercy is sure and strong and true.

Haunted, By Goodness

Posted in Uncategorized on July 30, 2021 by michaelcogdill

I haven’t posted of her in a while.

I am now, for I am haunted by the goodness of my mother.

There’s no believing it’s been almost a year since she died with her hand in mine. She left my hand, but left me something that cannot be held.

Miss Polly lived her modesty, quiet in her goodness. She spoke well of others. Unkindness saddened her. Sweetness elated her. Her smile came as easy as dawn. Her soul knew no moonless night, even on her saddest road. She loved everyone, doted on those who could do nothing for her. She made everybody feel like they had a mother in her. She had one child, me. I shared her with many, many more. She was ahead of her time in the seasons of civil rights, she was right about not telling everything she knew, she would abide no wrongheaded talk.

Speak well. Do well. Her insistence.

My mother was heard to say she was proud of my career, but more proud of who I am. The truth is I need to be a far better man to live up to that. To live up to so deeply good a woman.

This is my haunting, or at least some parts of it. I keep the rest to myself. Pondering my mother’s ways in the heart of manhood made strong by her.

Haunted, By Goodness

Posted in Uncategorized on July 30, 2021 by michaelcogdill

Tantrum In Blue

Posted in Uncategorized on July 28, 2021 by michaelcogdill

There’s artistry to a thunderhead.

So high. Risen so fast. Loud and hot and beyond control.

Tonight we have a lightning fit going on. A tantrum of blue, turned loose at 100 million volts. Summertime having its say.

Lightning flashes around earth about 3 million times every day. Perilous and lovely.

Before we had science at today’s level, imagine what humankind thought of thunder and lightning. Imaginations rampant, and wrong. People no doubt thinking the world about to end, when it’s just the earth having a day. A day like any other.

Normal.

Creation, being itself.

Science helps us understand the world, and our place in it. Kepler, Pascal, Hawking, on and on. But Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge. I believe rather than doomsday, we ought set our imaginations to the music of the beauty in things.

Especially when it’s a thing way bigger, and stouter, than we are. A rhapsody, and a tantrum, in blue.

Unlimited Sky, Unlimited Motherhood

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2, 2021 by michaelcogdill

Ben skipped high school graduation. Not school itself, he’s no fool.  But the ceremony had to go.  Ben had to go. 

He had a date, dressed in yellow.  A lady much older than he. A lady nonetheless. 

On the day of his graduation, Ben Templeton went to a little country airfield.  Instead of walking with the grads, he climbed into a 1946 Piper Cub for a spin around America.  An old tail wheel airplane, clothed in yellow fabric, dressed for a trip way beyond the reach of most 18-year-old boys. A young heart in an old airplane, touching 48 states. A low altitude acquaintance with an America most Americans never see as he has.

He will never be the same. Neither will his mother.

His mom Christine magnifies the whole adventure through her tears. A good mother helps us see the adventure of being a man. Her pride sights our way out of the tempest of boyhood. Her pride lights our way home.

Christine felt a little unsteady as he left.  How she let him go can steady us all.

Reporting the story of Ben’s blast off, his full-throated feel of solo flying just north of childhood, something struck your correspondent here. A mother feels things no man ever will.  She loves and safeguards her son more than her own heart.  She troubles over what might be.  We boys, no matter our age, know this. But we get stimulated by life, pulled away by dangers as our companions.

We are born to leave our mothers. I am reminded they will never leave us. No matter our dream’s altitude, they soar with us, into them. A good mother’s fears never hold us down. She sees to it.

At that country airfield that day, Christine shed tears over her boy, then set him loose to the sky. She let him fly, early in his days. She let go. Off he went, not entirely without her

I had such a mother. She never made fun of the dream that was far too big and high for me. She helped me grow into it. It took courage. Hers first.

I’m reminded mothers have mettle fit for a million men.

When they let go their sons, having pulled us up into gentlemen as only a mother can, they gift us with the good that might become of us. Their courage becomes ours. They teach us that fear is but withered imagination. They imagine the best of us.

We get to choose how well we live up to them.

What might become of us is our imagination and theirs. They are strong. They make us so.

Ben Templeton, a young heart in an old plane, makes this truth new, for us all. Thanks to a mother, who reminds us the words of Emerson, “Men are what their mothers made them.”

The Unbreakable Within

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2021 by michaelcogdill

As I heal from this esophageal trouble that has suddenly digested any lingering ingratitude for feeling well, I chose to re-read one of the greatest ever. The Old Man and the Sea.

Just a moment’s thought here on the end.

Santiago lies exhausted on his bed after a battle that could yank the life from a dozen younger men. His great fish is gone, lost to predators. He went out too far, and came back poorer than when he left.

Or was he?

Lying spent on the newspapers lining the bed of his shack, Santiago’s hands are open, palms upward. Papa Hemingway made sure we see this image in our minds. The battle with the 18 foot marlin and the sharks who claimed it butchered both hands to pulp. But they still are open, facing the heavens.

Open. Empty. Wounded.

But in the very end, the boy who had once fished with him until the old man’s luck ran out, sits beside him. The boy who has wept at Santiago’s loss is steady at that bedside. Making sure his friend has food, dignity.

Santiago is not alone.

A man cannot hold such riches in empty hands. He holds them in his very being. Even in exhaustion fit for a million lifetimes, there is no absolute defeat. Not for Santiago.

In the end, he sleeps, dreaming of lions he has seen gather on a beach. Innocence is never lost. Like true riches, it is steadfast. Like a true and young friend watching over us as we sleep.

The Faithfulness of Doubting

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2021 by michaelcogdill

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”
Descartes

I believe all great thinkers, all believers in matters of anything worthwhile, have doubted.

They have walked by faith, by trust, by instinct. They have doubted and failed and learned. To know a little more, step by doubting step.

And isn’t it best to doubt quietly than to protest to know, squalling?

Mark Twain reminded us, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

Better to be a doubting genius than a certain fool. This is a celebration of that. A celebration of wondrous doubting. Of wading in without seeing the bottom.

My mother did that with my father. She had every reason to doubt. Her doubts, more than justified. But she kept on, seeking a truth about him, seeing even what he could not see.

I doubted him more than she did. She was better than I am. She was stronger than doubt, and wrestled it into something beautiful. Something only the tussle between doubt and faith can achieve.

My mother forgave him great harms because she knew they were not the essence of him. She knew my father better than anyone on earth, yes, even more than his own mother. She believed in the truth of him when many doubted. He doubted his own inner goodness for so long.

What lives within us is greater than eyes can see. She looked upon him with the eyes of a spirit capable of immense love.

Yesterday, I returned to the small town of my raising. There I came full frontal with the knowledge of how forgiving a woman my mother was. How far ahead of her time, how unutterably good she had been.

Immense goodness will fit in the small. I no longer doubt this.

My desperately intoxicated, sometimes violent father came to see the same. My mother helped my dad see something true and divine within himself.

His transformation, miraculous.

His beauty, beyond words. He doubted himself. I had doubted him. But she knew him. My mother, a mover of doubts. I know she had her own, many times. I would hear her whispering them in prayer on her feet when I was a boy. Those doubts were no match for her. For what was within her.

My parents lived out a gentility, a long twilight of kindness, their latter years as a couple. Their remains lie in a fine little mountain cemetery, with big views, velvet ground. And their legacy throbs out a pulse way beyond. Fit for the stars.

A mountain stands just above their graves. The view from there, long and wide, lush in ancient Appalachia, every hue of blue, a beckoning to the sun, a holder of the moon, a setting to the universe. An assurance there is something so vast about it all, near us, within us. So much of this universe we have not seen. So much of us stays invisible to the world unless we show it. Honest showing. There is something miraculous in opening ourselves, showing our innermost constellation.

Had my dad done that sooner with my mom, they would have lived through fewer dark doubts with one another. He needed to show her his shame of a boyhood of starvation and abuse. She could have urged it from him, revealing her own sufferings of her opium addicted father. They doubted one another for too long.

So much time that could have been so good.

But as Decartes and Jesus and the meat grinders of the U.S. Congress remind us, to doubt is human. Inevitable. And I suppose faith is a whispering reminder our doubts are not a destination. They’re like a country store on a long, serpentine road snaking upward into the dark. They beckon us in. Lure us to stop and rest a spell in them. Then, carry on.

It’s mighty easy to get stuck on the small, the ground ahold of our shoes, doubting the higher good that is so near. But a short climb, and we see. Our doubts so welcome, upward, along the way.

To Be, And How Not to Be, a Friend

Posted in Uncategorized on April 14, 2021 by michaelcogdill

The trouble is not in dying for a friend, but in finding a friend worth dying for.
Mark Twain

Perhaps the true scarcity is the BEING of such a friend.

I am blessed with friends. I seek to be for them what they have been for me. I too often fail. My friends are better than I am.

I am bettered BY them.

A true friend is no critic. There will be no nattering, no “you-ought-to” all over the place. A true one hears you. You hear from a true one, out of the blue. A true friend says I love you, and yes, gentlemen, that is true among men. Real men know the way of heart. A true friend knows the way to the phone, or the highway, in the middle of the worst night of your life.

Reading this may call up a thought of how a friend has let you down. That’s not the point here. This is to remind us to BE a friend, not take.

The last two years have been some of the hardest of my life. Witnessing dementia take someone I love ravaged and exhausted my soul. And the darkness of it helped me to SEE.

I got to see, and live, the essence of my friends. They taught me it’s more than, “I’m here for you.” They were THERE. There in the days of hard things to watch. There for what Oprah calls the ugly cry. There at 2:30 am, 120 miles from home and their own bed.

They taught me how to BE. Reminded me.

A true friend does not shame you, dictate to you, threaten you with absence or else. A true friend never reminds you he has other friends, or might have a better one than you someday. A true one talks with you, not down to you, makes you feel stouter than you are, is not entitled to any part of you, will never make a show or a scene or an ass of the self and expect you to be all right with that.

And on his or her worst day, or best, your friend will have taught you how to BE one.

Twain said this, as well.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

My thanks to every friend who has done this for me. I tell them so.

Looking for a true friend? Listen. Listen for humility, kindness, wisdom, in the place of righteousness and indignation. Listen to how people speak of others.

May I listen to myself, and seek to be as good as my dearest of friends have shown themselves to be.

Beating Up Appearances

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1, 2021 by michaelcogdill

People are often better than they appear. They can be more fragile, as well. And yes, sometimes goodness appears only skin deep.

But beating up the appearances of others — and ourselves — makes as much sense as burning someone’s picture trying to change the slacks they wore that day.

This truth reminds us it is folly to demonize another, even those with whom we cannot — and should not — live. Many of you know my father’s story of redemption from alcoholism and shattering inner torment. Seemingly ordinary men of our town saw through his living hell to find a truly divine man. They let him hit bottom — the only place where a man or woman shucks off the rusted armor of bravado that tries to hide shame. Then, they helped him rise into the true manhood I adore and miss to this day.

They didn’t judge him, nor shame him. They didn’t enable him either. They let divine forces get busy with him. Let him marinate in his lonesomeness. He ended up with a marriage and family and extended family fit for Eden.

I’m reminded of this while exploring the fall of one of my literary heroes.

Gertrude Stein said of Ernest Hemingway, “He compensated for his incredibly acute shyness and sensitivity by adopting a shield of brutality.”

She added, “When this happened, he lost touch with his genius.”

I believe Papa Hemingway resented his own sensitivity, and that of Scott Fitzgerald. I believe both men drank to excess because they feared ghosts of the past, critiques of their present, and the simple being of themselves. They had been shamed, judged, suffered loss, and donned a false heroism, the tinfoil armor of trying to be what each thought the whole world of the equally broken desired. Their friendship, such as it was, ended up in ruins.

I wonder if either man died having known the freedom of having a true friend.

Someone who would abandon them only long enough for the bravado to fall away. One who would let them fall, but never laugh because they’d hit the ground.

My dad knew the blessings of good friends who stood near his fall. Men like Mike Whitson, a barber, Wayne Higgins, a banker. Daddy gave back the friendship they gave to him. He rose to meet the love of them. He was glad they didn’t judge and try to fix him. Nor resent him.

Fitzgerald said, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” Mr. Fitzgerald had known some of the tragedies of Papa Hemingway, and his own. Sometimes the truest heroism comes simply in letting a man or woman’s tragedy unfold, without judging or saving. Just being, as true friend, instead of getting caught up in the human doings of finger pointing and daring to know just what someone needs. This just might be the greatest ending anyone can help write to the tragedy of another, and themselves.

It may be the purest form of friendship, and of family.

This may be one of the secrets of human transformation.

Hemingway was very aware of his public image. His gravity and machismo had to lead. But the writing tells us there was the mildly bruised untainted heart of a boy in him. Not entirely bent by poor parenting and want of being accepted. All that “real man” business masked the true genius. True strength lived in him, as it did my father. I hope his last wife Mary and others near him toward the end got to see the genius for who he truly was.

He took his own life in the year of my birth. The great hunter laid down his arms too soon, in such tragedy. But I am grateful to live now in the afterglow of Papa’s prose, and his possibilities. They remind us to judge others and ourselves with immense kindness, not believing all that we can see. To be simply our mortal selves. Not trusting that we are to be critiquing gods of someone else’s universe.

Believing instead there is more to one’s life than meets the eye.

Believing in the reformation of being a true and daring friend, without and within.

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.