Archive for July, 2012

Become An Arrow, Not a Target

Posted in Uncategorized on July 18, 2012 by michaelcogdill

The 911 call tore at my soul.

The voices lacerate with anguish, desperation.  They cut into my male heart.  As I write this, the echo of their outcry nearly makes me ashamed to belong to the gender that keeps raising its hand against women and children.

I watch these words going down, having just heard a recording of a 911 call that sprang from domestic violence that took lives — one a child — and caused lasting trauma.  Having covered the story as a journalist and having survived well-hidden household violence as a child, I am immutable on the message I hope you share from this piece of outrage.

This reminder comes full-throated, with masculine passion.  I offer it with all hope that saying what I shout out below will save a childhood heart from dread and at least one life from being taken in the fractured sanctuary of a home whose sanctity is broken by violence.

If you’re in a relationship that even hints at abuse, go! Run! Flee it, without even a glance back!

Seek the help of a shelter or other organization that helps shepherd people out of domestic violence.  They’re out there, and they work.  Take the solace of them and the people who run them.  Those people are heroes who will beautifully alter the course of your life!

Let no one talk you into “hanging in there.” Allow no sentimentality or guilt or someone’s self-righteous optics of your failure or sinfulness lure you back. Give, instead, yourself a re-birth.  Show the courage and faith to squeeze yourself anew into the world, toward a relationship that gives you rest in acceptance, the comfort of a nurturing love, a spirit of “I’ve-got-your-back.”

People who criticize you, judge you, control and surveil you, people who raise a hand or word of violence against you are enabled in this destructive behavior if you stay and remain a target. Be no one’s target. Be, instead, a sovereign, faithful legacy in motion. An arrow, born into upward flight.  Fulfill the highest order of humanity to land upon the world as a weapon of love, serving it and your legacy well.  Be this projectile of grace and goodness and peace,  not the punching bag of a damaged soul.

I define Eros love as two people passionately longing for one another as they lovingly long for the best for one another.  Overly simple?  I don’t believe so.  Life’s complicated enough.  Let’s not complicate love.  Let’s not use it as a dynamic that helps one take fury out on another.  Let us never enable or prop up the idea that we’re born to fix one another and call that love.  Fixing is not love.  It’s surely not faith — or faithfulness — either. Please, do NOT stay and try to fix it — or him or her — if you’re living in fear. Don’t allow yourself or your children to become the targets of fury or tyranny or control.

To do so is to live in the constant threat of becoming content of a 911 call, dialed when it’s much too late.

 

How to Know You’ve Lived Outrageously Well

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2012 by michaelcogdill

The thick dark that comes with dying has a way of throwing light on how well we’re living.  

 

I write this the day after eulogizing an out-size treasure of a friend, the Reverend Bob Lawrence.  He’d lived out an authentic joy of a life, full of cuss and beauty, able to orate the inescapable love of God while reminding the world around him that he’s a man, cutting a path through this untended weed-patch life with the same passions and fits we all have. 

 

He could loudly sing World War Two songs about jock itch and bicycle sprockets in indelicate places.  He reveled in stories of accidentally eating the dingle berry of his precious dog, thinking it a brownie crumb on the floor.  And yet through some of the bleakest times in my life – times of loss and crunching grief – he put his ministerial hands on me in a way that, even this moment, reminds me that God sits on the veranda of my soul, waiting, glad when I come take the cooling rest of absolute and inescapable love.

 

From the eulogist’s pulpit, looking out at the overflow sanctuary of the urban church where Bob served as a senior minister for years, I was reminded of how well our deaths measure what we’ve been, how well we’ve mattered, how welcome people have felt on the front porches of our being.

 

The congregation ran warm with tears, yet we cooled ourselves in laughter.  In this sanctified place, we partied together, celebrated the truth of a real man and the reality of his mattering to us, across years, through the marrying and burying and re-marrying and adopting new flock into his fold.  We who number among his friends heal ourselves by holding against the broken places of our hearts a thought of some wild, untamed thing he said, some hysterical sexual metaphor or simple outburst born of his Army days aboard a B-17.  He could bust the most hilarious ad lib about the most mundane thing in life, and, in the next breath, remind the most God-hostile soul alive that we’re all adored, just as we are, beyond the stars.

 

Camus said the only way to deal with an un-free world is to become so free your very existence is an act of rebellion.   Yesterday people rebelled against a sweltering day, put on ties and heeled shoes, and they packed a church to send off a friend they adored.  They sheltered his widow, Dani, in hugs, loved on his vast family and became a gathering that cast around the feel of a wider family, loosely knitted, but together, harvested by a fine life of 88 years.   They rebelled in the freedom of laughing out loud at this man’s funeral, and it was like the best family reunion under any sun.

 

Family grows way beyond DNA.  It becomes the unique harvest of friends from our days, the gathering of people drawn to how we make them feel, how we care for them.  Such friends magnetize to our spirits, called there by the welcome we thrum out into the world.  True friends tend to grow into our lives depending on what we sow. They liberate us from lonesomeness, forgive us, taking our forgiving, share in us and we in them, not always in constant contact, but there. 

The imprint we’ve left on people tends to measure itself in how big a room they’ll need for the ceremony of burying us.

 My dear friend’s sanctuary room was big, and at standing room only.  He was unstoppably authentic, hilarious and kind.  Hell raisers and heaven seekers adored him.  Scholars embraced him, a wonderful chick dug him – and still digs him as she grieves him.  Strangers felt strangely welcome around him.  To know him for a moment was to feel like you’d known him since kindergarten.  He was a whiskered, fatherly fun-fit of a man, wildly imperfect, graceful and grace filled.  He was a friend.  He reminds us how life, well lived, ought to feel.

 

So, this begs answers from me.  Do I welcome people with my humanity?  Or am I a living No Trespassing sign, sending off a vibe that reads, stay the hell off my lawn?

 

When there’s a grieving party gathering for me, how large will the crowd grow?  How will I have made my funeral’s crowd feel with my life?  Will they celebrate the way of my living, or the simple fact of my demise?

 

I can’t overstate it — at Bob’s funeral, all-out tear-yanking laughter – the pant-wetting kind – filled the sanctuary to its highest beams.  Tears of longing for his goodness and joy joined the flow.  To be missed, longed for, treasured in thoughts of many hearts that cross lines of race and gender and the codes of religion and politics, these are measures of a good life. 

These call us fully to live, magnanimously, for others, not merely for ourselves.  Such a life and funeral as surrounded Bob Lawrence reminds us to have so much crazy fun people blush with desire to live as we do, after all.

 

So, may our funerals be far away from us now.  And may our living between now and then make for ceremony that rings out with joy.  May a big crowd remember us in rib-splitting laughs, and in tales deep with how well we’ve mattered to people we hardly even know. 

 

To break a big roomful of hearts with word of our deaths is inevitable — and so very good — when we’ve been riotously good for the world. 

 

  


 

Death of a Bawdy Holy Man

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2012 by michaelcogdill

I write this on a hot 4th of July afternoon.  Somewhere, not far off, women wonderfully wear swimsuits fit for dental floss, boats churn good water and children are romping footprints onto some warm, wide shore. People are having times so good it’ll nearly hurt one day to remember them.

And I am mourning the loss of a dear and beautiful man.

This is no mourning in the grim, ashen, casket-cold way. This man’s death, this holiday morning, reminds me of the radical fall-back joy of being fully alive.  His dying is a calling — a chiming cue — to celebrate the full pants-down fun of drawing breath. Because of how he lived, his dying has already helped me let fly lung-shattering laughs at memories so outrageous they’d redden the face of Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson.

The Reverend Bob Lawrence looked the way many of us imagine God:  A mane of white hair draped to his neck, the salt-and-pepper beard not quite a veil upon the lively smile, and a set of burning planets for eyes, looking as if they’ve just collided with something so unutterably lovely it would blind the rest of this human race.

With Alabama-born thunder, Bob could hold forth the Christian gospels with humor and scholarly poetics that seemed to reach and realign the stars.  Bob aggressively shed the clumsy, off-putting pretensions of religion. He’d rather remind us we are boundlessly loved by a God who is so much greater than we imagine.  Inescapably loved. Love was Bob’s high church.  He preached it, steeped people in it, rolled in it as if love were some healing mud bound to make us forever young.

And he’s the same preacher who once sang a World War II song about jock itch to my mother-in-law at a packed PF Changs restaurant at Christmastime.  He’s the man who came within a nano-syllable of saying “rats ass” in the middle of a beautiful sermon to a large congregation, then joked about it being the fault of the microphone because it kept wilting on him.  “The !#% thing had erectile dysfunction.  I got all distracted.”

Bob Lawrence surely proved God knows us and loves us anyway, and that God invented and adores the music of the human laugh.

With a break torn into my heart, and yet a borrowing of that smile, I announce here, out loud, the sudden death of this man – Bob Lawrence: World War II gunner among the heroes of the B-17s, orator extraordinaire, and one of the most deeply human, wise, outrageously salacious tongues on earth. Bob could out preach a million clerics and out cuss the crew of an aircraft carrier. He was a beautiful treasure. He is a thriving presence within me and all who love him.

Leave it to Bob to make like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They all died on the 4th of July. Bob served these United States with boundless valor in war. He served the human race by making his life into a rare spread of peace.

To all the readers of She-Rain — Bob inspired Rev. Lew, in all his wild bluster and radical love.  Like Rev. Lew, Bob lived way out ahead of his time — especially on civil rights and human grace.  Bob stirred your writer here to open the book’s funeral sermon with, “Are there any whores in this congregation today?”  I heard Bob preach such a sermon – in all its celebration of grace for working girls and the rest of us who fail, constantly, the goodness of God – and he did it in a language anyone can grasp.

I just came from Bob’s home. His widow, Dani, is cracked open at the soul with heartbreak, yet she cannot say his name without a smile. That was his way — wiring the shocking joy of the Divine straight into this wilderness mortal life we’re more than surviving together down here. Even in death, he is joy.  In absence, he is our great presence.

I looked around his sitting room before I left their home just now.  It was just as he left it before collapsing suddenly and peacefully dead this morning: A flask of whiskey-and-honey “cough medicine” on a table, a wall of scholarly reading and good jazz, a large sign at the fireplace reading, “Choose Joy.”

The walls hang with his paintings — scenes with water and hot weather that make you want to wear your shortest britches and throw away all shoes. Clouseau, their beloved and deceased bichon frise — that’s a small and willful dog — looks curiously from a painting upon the welcoming quiet of the world Bob and Dani shared. Standing there, I felt a near electric overflow of gratitude.  I have known the man of such a house, such an overflow life.  He has marked me, left his imprint upon me.  His dying has reminded me how to get after life with my hair full of its good wind.

To look further around that home is to find a garden that hangs with color and life. The walls thrum with joy, and on one of them I found the quote I leave you with below. Bob was a sailor, on so many levels, and a Christian who embraced what Ghandi meant when he said, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”  This man never seemed to forget his brokenness, our brokenness, the depth of our human failing and our mortal beauty, and the fact that God loves and forgives and celebrates us nonetheless.  Bob wired us into such a heaven.  He fed us with its peace and grace, and the table of his theology was always set in such a way that we could eat there like we mean it, never troubled with what lands in our laps.  Never unwelcome because our pants and our hearts came there unclean.

Bob, cheers to you and what those words below mean! In the heavens, may sea and wind carry you to shores so lovely words won’t do for them. We’ll all be along, soon enough, the warm wind of grace to our backs.

“There is more to sailing than ropes and winches, cleats and bulging sails. There are faraway places and the ever-changing light, and the silence, and a great peace at the bottom of your soul. Ferenc Mate’

In loving memory of the Reverend Bob Lawrence, my great friend — a gentle man of hilarity and grace and the deep goodness of being truly human. You helped grant me a great peace at the bottom of my soul. You always will.

I cite it at the end of She-Rain, and so conclude with it here, from Psalm 139 –

“Even the dark is not darkness to Thee.  The night is bright as the day.”

Family, as the Heavens Intended

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2, 2012 by michaelcogdill

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There is no sweeter joy, no greater honor, no higher sense of being fully graced with goodness in this life than to put your arms around a true and dear childhood friend.  On Saturday, I had such a chance, in more abundance than I’ll ever deserve.

This shot was taken Saturday, June 30, 2012, at the Hillside Street Community Center — a place where these two great men and I spent so much of our boyhoods in Weaverville, North Carolina.  Ours was a full-throated, wide-open, all-throttles-down festival of growing up in small-town America in the 60’s and 70’s.  We pushed bicycles and skateboards to edges of steep-hill death.  We rolled together through rites of passage — winning and losing girls and innocence.  We celebrated the wonder — the miracle — of living with our teenage hearts beating in union with one another.

As I loved these great men when we were kids, I love them — revere them — even more sacredly now.  Howard, a research scientist, and Hilton, the entrepreneur, stand as giants.  They are gentlemen — truly gentle men — who helped yank a man out of this small-town boy.  I owe them for so much outrageous fun, yes.  But my debt to them reaches high into that sphere where a man comes to know that his family doesn’t stop with the womb and so much DNA.  Family is a harvest we make beyond the day of our birth.  Saturday, with these men, was one mighty fine family re-union.

In our well-spent youth, we saw the likes of the Doobie Brothers, Commodores, Roberta Flack, Rick James and the Mary Jane Girls … on and on, so much crazy fun, some of which our parents actually know about!!  Together, we lived, on the streets of little Weaverville, in one another’s homes.  We live in separate cities now, and with overflow lives, but we continue to live, fully, in one another’s soul.  For this, I am so very glad.

Hilton, Howard, thank you for waving me in to that fundraiser and celebration for our little sister, Dottie!!  We had such a blast, uplifting and supporting her on Saturday.  As we love her, I love the two of YOU!  Cheers to raising a glass very soon, again!