Archive for January, 2013

Les Miserables Too Tough for Dirty Harry?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18, 2013 by michaelcogdill

William Faulkner said most of his work dealt with the human heart in conflict with itself. Victor Hugo dealt with the heart beaten, chained, trampled, stalked, debased, lascerated. Then he got to the conflicted parts.

As in great literature, so it is with this human race.

The human heart is one fine, complicated, beautiful mess of a world all its own. It breaks easily, heals stronger than it was, craves and repels love, fools the hell out of us, and defies all poets who’ve tried to harvest its every field. It is a fool’s errand, walking this life with such a heart. It’s also the very best thing about being alive.

A heart is a land that ages only as its owner allows. Anger burns holes in it. Scorches its ground. Malice swamps it in a cold-water hell. But a radical love cuts into it, lets a warming overtake the place. It keeps a human soul growing, young and well, with the dew on it, and the June sun always rising.

Les Miserables confirms all this, with a sweep so great, you think it impossible that such a tale sprang from just one imagination. The latest life of Mr. Hugo’s great novel on screen exposes his unruly, revolutionary, grace-filled heart anew. He clearly grasped that every soul is destined harbor rocks and snakes and human devils, and that outrageous love is a heart’s only worthy blade to plow them out. Only such love can turn our ground and grow us into something fit and worthy to carry on.

I dig the Dirty Harry movies, but for raw survival, fire-tempered strength, and the will to live, Hugo is an original macho man. Dirty Harry, sure, whipped his scoundrels by the shorthairs on the streets. Most of them died mercifully fast. But Hugo — he drilled his people into the streets. They live a long-suffered hell under thoroughfare’s of the slums, way beneath the blood of fisticuffs running out doorways of the upper crust, even the higher poor. Dirty Harry might turn Kardashian if you chained him to Hugo’s Miserables.

Hugo dared to break strong men and women with a rod of human indifference, scatter their pulp in sewers of inhumanity, then remake them. He loved to plow them out of the lowest swamps. To read him is to live reminded even the most hopeless harbor hope, and are fit vessels of grace. In Hugo’s world, any of us can ride upward, pulled out of the cold dark on the stout blade of that cosmic love.

“Feeling lucky, punk?” Harry asked. Hugo might answer, “Keep your luck, Harry. I’m not afraid to live without it.”

None of us need be.


Adding Some Golden To The Fifty Shades of Gray

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10, 2013 by michaelcogdill

Anyone who knows me knows January in the Northern Hemisphere is not my heaven’s gate. The gray, damp cold pulls me toward hibernation. A run, the gym, a body of water — my usual happy zones — they all hold a tad less allure.

But a golden retriever changes the weather of the heart.

Mags romping a field near some old woods in the afternoon cold — the sight of it warms my eyes, runs spring up into my wintry dark. I more than watch. I throw. That girl would chase a ball through a sub-zero swamp. She’ll run at my knee for 4 hardly winded miles. The pulsing fog of her breath, her sheer immunity to winter remind me January begins our ascent. It calls us to begin climbing out, toward the first balmy run-sweat of spring. To Mags, January is God’s morning playground. The high church of thanksgiving for what’s to come.

Maggie abides none of her dad’s January doldrums. She lives, instead, an endless summer within herself. At full stride, wild as a gold star fallen to bounce the ground, she creates a good, clear spiritual weather for herself, and for me. It is more than good.

A golden matters, especially when this life turns chill. They matter as therapy dogs for the people of Newtown, CT. They carry healing through the halls of hospitals, hospices, vet centers, day by warming day. Mags and the spirit of our Savannah — her late cousin — stoke the June in your writer here, even through these 50-plus shades of mid-winter gray. They make me a far better soul.

Perhaps it’s no accident that all light of the sun, even deep in winter, is golden.

Such a dog will take you as you are, especially on a dark and colorless day, when you’re lowdown and giving hell to a world giving it right back. People strain at being so good as a golden retriever, and we ought look to them as a quiet model for a human life. Oscar Wilde captured the truth of it when he reminded us “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” Mags is a sweet dream of a sinner, but with a heart warmer than the human kind.

She seems to know the gloom of now will not make the leap into days to come.

People will add to your gloom. They’ll wag a cold, scolding, moralizing finger at you, thinking it a wand of their own sainthood. They have no right. And when those of us who count as human creatures do this, we have no fun, no real joy. Mags seems to know better than to live our way. Rather than a finger, she wags her backside — in a way that transcends how words can say, “I dig you, and you needn’t try to earn it.”

Every soul wears its stains and tears. Maggie teaches me to let mine show, for they are forgivable after all. One look at her and I remember the house training failures, the bathroom door she chewed, the time she swiped a whole loaf of bread from a neighbor’s child just because she could get it in that mouth. I remember these for a nanosecond. Then, I forget. I forget because she forgets to judge me. It is a divine forgetting — one that reminds me we’re at our best when we’re downright extravagant with love. When we wag our own backsides, rather than our tongues.

So in these swamps of winter, may the ragged garments of our souls become the handles by which others raise themselves to limp along with us. May we hold to the brokenness of one another, warming our tattered selves, knowing we’re loved beyond the stars! Maggie, Savannah, thank you for this wisdom. You have helped to teach it to me.

Just across the threshold of a new year, a toast: To our pasts, to our futures, and to the January in all of us. For all it’s chill and early dark, I am wakened and moved by the stride of a truly good dog. So often, she is a far better man than I am. She makes me a better man all the time.

Well, Maybe He’ll Grow Into It….

Posted in Uncategorized on January 2, 2013 by michaelcogdill

When Harry Truman ascended to the Presidency, amid one of the most threatening and dark times in global history, he declared himself “too small for this job.”

That declaration, for all its noble humility, would prove right and wrong at once. When he said it, he just hadn’t grown fully into his relationships. Truman was man enough to admit he needed help to meet the high calling of the man he would become. The people he knew, would know, the enemies he would befriend, had yet to grow him.

So it is with all of us, in the calling we all hear.

Truman was, it’s true, a small man from a tiny piece of Missouri. Yet he would prove himself a giant among leaders.

Early in his Presidency, Europe was literally starving in the rubble of WW-II — people in Hungary literally reduced to eating acorns to survive. Somebody had to do something.

Truman did. He anointed one of his most bitter rivals to get it done.

He and Herbert Hoover agreed on virtually nothing. The wiring of their minds and hearts and backgrounds was crossed and hot. It sparked with antipathy for one another. If it were socially acceptable, the two men could have turned a 5 minute political chat into the dust and gore of a raving fist fight.

But they did not. Instead, they buried their hatchets square in the forehead of global despair.

Hoover had already helped keep many from starvation after WW-I. Truman knew this. He dared asked his enemy to do the same again, even though he did not adore him. Not yet.

These two men proved a world literally gets saved by humility, and the leadership of flawed men who decide to transcend their flaws and allow what feels like a senseless form of love to rule their hearts. Instead of hating on each other, they loved on many. They loved, and led, through one another.

It was right. And it worked. Millions were saved from the indignity of openly starving to death.

I write this just to think out loud on how relationships matter. Our friends, and all who love us, sustain us. They cover our ground, keep the frost of heartbreak and lonesomeness off us. We grow under their warmth and light, and they under ours.

This grows more radically true when a sworn enemy turns to friend.

The men and women who built our republic are flawed souls. Yet the fabric in which they’ve enwrapped the world — slubs, tears and all — spreads a warm and healing weave. They acquited themselves as giants after all, in large measure because they refused to stand alone. They prove the power of even a singular courageous friend to restore the blush of life to a man or woman who seems, and feels, too weak and small for what’s at hand.

Just the thought of them reminds us that the WW-II generation — wet with the dew of youth not so long ago, really — thrived through times far more ominous than our own. Their generation refused to lose heart. Even from their graves, they manage to shout this out to you and me.

We are not born for despair and victimhood. We are, instead, born to light the dark of another soul whose times are far worse than our own. Living up to this inspired de Tocqueville to call America great because America is good. He was right when he said it. Even from his grave, all these years hence, he still is.

In the coming year, amid all the despair-speak and the hell raised through the cables on our TV’s, through all the right fighting that grabs at us us day and night, may we remind ourselves that we are called to become a one-man/woman solution. We’re wired for leadership, original thought and radical love, even when our wires cross with someone we enjoy despising.

To feel too small to change the world is natural. To admit it and ask for help is heroic. Lyndon Johnson did it after the Kennedy assassination. Truman did it to call a dying Europe to life. Truth is, if we drill into their history, we’re bound to find this is a hallmark of the American Presidency. Around the world the pinnacles of leadership can become the most lonesome of places. The great dare not stand on them alone.

Which tells us plenty about ourselves. Ours is a life made for addition, not subtraction. May we add friends who look like enemies and make them feel like family. May people walk away from just a chance meeting with us saying, “I am made better by him. She improved me. This very moment, I am changed for the far greater.”

In this we write our history. We sustain ourselves by this extended family we harvest. Living this way, history will be kind to us.

We will have grown ourselves deep into this hard, good, beautifully wild humanity. Especially when the times get hard, we’ll prove nothing fits a soul with quite so much elan as the unstoppable love of a friend.