Archive for August, 2013

Confessions Of A Proudly Broken Man

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2013 by michaelcogdill

A man who weeps for his dog, he is a man with a shattered heart. In him beats a heart far better because she tracked her lovely way through.

August 26, at 2:15, I lay on the floor of a bereavement room and said sodden goodbyes to Maggie, a golden retriever just slightly small for the breed. A beautiful nonconformist with a sun-size soul. It was merciful for her, this goodbye. Easy and tender for her. Excruciating for me. Yet that’s part of the deal I made with her when I drove through the Georgia fog to adopt her spirit into mine. To bring her bounding through the doors of our life.

For all the hope Maggie gave us — ever brave and kind — science finally had its say that morning. The ultrasound images spoke out loud what Mag’s recent times had whispered into our rattled hearts. Her body was laced with cancer. Of the hopeless kind that pulls a young, vital, happy girl into the swamps of sickness and courageous suffering. It came on hard and fast, out of a chill dark we scarcely had time to know we were living in until the light left her eyes. Her head trusted my arm as she left this wilderness life.

My arm held strong. My soul did not.

I am proud to say I am broken by all this. Shattered. Withered into little shards of grief. Each a jagged little shrapnel piece of what used to be. I am yanked off the shores of my manhood, washed away on the tears of a wounded little boy. And, yes, I am proud. Proud of this. I am glad to say she so affected, loved, and changed me. I’m a stronger man because I have wept this day like choirs of women and children. It’s a downpour of love. A waterfall. I so loved her. I love her still. It will not stop.

But please don’t think me weakened. That sick young girl has taught me otherwise. From her I learned anew this truth: There is no stronger man than one who has so loved and lost and wept for so good a dog. Been shouldered through life and death by the dog who seems wired into the heart of God. There is no stouter man than one who cries aloud for so great a soul in so small a vessel.

Maggie swims this outflow of my grief. As I write this without her here, the hollows of my heart flood with a lonesomeness. One like no other. My hand longs for her. I crave to hear her drawing the breath of our house, asleep only steps from my sleeping. Waking me at 4 am with her dreaming — the rem-sleep fun of her slumber land. Yes, gone from this place, she is. Gone, and I will weep a very long while for her. Trying to drown the bottomless hurt of her absence.

But as I do, she is present.

She is!

Maggie, like our great Savannah (her cousin we lost to cancer years ago), is a present tense. Alive and more than well within me. After I put her down, I drove home through the prisms of grief, and I walked to the field where Mags and I shared many a ball game, romp and tender chat. I found the place way too still, quiet, and yet there she was. Death no match for the fact she had been there. A field made sacred by a God-made good dog.

Once such a dog has been where you are, she remains. She is.

Please pray for us, wherever you are, no matter your faith. This was harder than putting down Savannah. And that was torment, losing her to merciful death. Maggie was just a few quick days from her 5th birthday. Only 5. Just a girl. A chip of a lass. I feel like a highway patrolman knocked on my door at 3:30 in the morning with that news that throws jarring hot rocks through a parent’s heart. For the much-too-soon day of my girl’s ending, I was not ready. Not braced. I thought I had ten more years with her. Right now I ache out loud here for another ten minutes.

Yet I am a man fresh from a stout dose of heaven. Maggie looked at me in her last moments of this life, and what came up in her eyes said all is not just well, it’s way more than well. Thank you, my daddy, for helping me. For loving me as you have, so much in so little time. I am to be well, and I’ll stream through the breaks in your heart, just after I’m gone, and long after. That’s what the look said. Her quiet eloquence. If you’ve witnessed such a look, you know.

In that look, God reminds me that perhaps dogs live so short a time because they just need less of it. Life takes them less time to fulfill what love and grace and fun really are, and what life is for.

But reader, do pray for me and pray for Jill, my wife, who heroically removed the toys, the beds, the empty places that helped me come back to a house that would break my heart less. It was so beautiful an act of love. One Jill has twice done now. I love her for this, and for being the kind of woman who can harbor the love of a girl so good as Mags. Pray for us, for we are deeply broken, down in that place where the love of good dogs is made, and stored, and lives on.

And as you pray, resolve to live, big. Run from all that’s regretful and coarse. Haul your wagging tail away from anything that is not love. Golden retrievers do. In this, they are better than we are. In this, Maggie made, and makes, me a better man.

Amid all this hurt, a dear friend far away reminded me to rest in my humanness. Weep into the sackcloth of her absence. I am no fit company for anyone in the hours just after that goodbye, and that’s as life is. Yet I am so thankful for the love that rains out of a world of people who understand the love of such a dog. I stand under its balm, even now. Lonesome as a desert. Sawed to my quick with a hurt I didn’t know a man was able to feel. Yet God abides with me. So many of you have spent your breath speaking and writing love to Jill and me. In this, God own tonic is made. We are healed. And this makes us family. Mags belongs to all of us. Our matriarch.

Yet now, I must speak another kind of farewell. I’ve wound my way through these serpentine thoughts to the one I have dreaded to lay before you. Hating the finality of it, yet knowing it is essential to the epitaph. So hard to utter, but I must say it here, as I whispered it to my girl at 2:15 on that August afternoon:

Goodnight sweet Margaret River. Aka Maggie. Aka Mags. Your short night of sickness is over. Rush to the gold dawn. Run for the day that lasts. Full of fun and boundless love, run. Rush to God. You strong, fearless, princess of a tomboy girl, who ran miles at my feet through this life. Run, girl! You good, good girl! Run for our eternal life!

I’ll be along, soon enough. Both of us, when it’s our time. And there, we’ll all run again.

Thrive on, in sweet mercy and peace, Mags.
So Good. So Loved. So Brief Was Your Blooming

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet, we celebrate God, whose ways are truth.

I dedicate this essay to the people of Cleveland Park East Animal Hospital and Upstate Veterinary Specialists, whose love and compassion healed us, even in the face of incurable disease. They managed Maggie’s suffering with majestic compassion and mercy. They know our illness of grief so terribly well. They have treated it, and us, with hands of a great love and dignity. To all who care so for animals and those who adore them, great tides of love to you.


Where You From? Who’s Your Momma? Wait. I’m Not Through Underestimatin’ You

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2013 by michaelcogdill

To measure a person’s worth on the sticks of where she comes from, the wealth of her pockets or the races of her lineage, is to risk being a naked fool.

Dolly Parton comes from hard American dirt poverty, of the kind that still goos up the face of an underweight child somewhere. They are the children about whom too many self-styled patricians turn a nasty phrase, under their breath, let’s hope. Dreadful names get applied to such as Dolly was. The soup beans and cornbread girls, for whom chariots and ruby slippers are never in waiting. Or, so it seems, to some folks.

But Dolly proves never is long time. It’s a perilous little word, never. It tends to make fools of the reckless and proud. Mostly when they bind it to the phrase, “never going to amount to anything.”

A country girl’s ginormous dream can beat the hell out of that never. Ass whoop it on the hard ground from where she launched. That place she’ll always call home.

Dolly’s washed the dirt of it from her feet. But she’s unafraid to dirty them again. Never too proud to wash the feet of the poor she has been. She can make herself right at home in Midtown Manhattan and Eastern Tennessee. And to do this defines grace. Manners. Elegance that needs no wrist-dangled martini glass as a foil. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as it’s about the drink and not how we look wearing it.

Look at the likes of Dolly, Oprah, Ted Turner. Richard Branson, Billy Graham, Nelson Mandela. Each a soul underestimated. Each a human comet, with a long tail of light. They arc far above their critics, yet somehow never fear to fall gently, like stars, upon them. They don’t fear the fall, for they know the ground awfully well. They came from it. And they know how to rise again.

My own father was living proof. I dedicate this to him — a man who worked his way out of filth and into the shoes of a truly gentle man. One who knew of the footprints Ms. Parton left. He never had a Cogdillwood named after him. But he knew her trail to get there.

So, let’s revisit the title of this little essay. If we catch ourselves doing what it says, saying any of it to demean another soul, or our own, then we’re far too pompous for the less-than-silken britches from which we have come. Those hardscrabble hand me downs we ought to wear with grace and honor. Each of us has cause for oft-reminded humility. Each is best measured by how we treat those who started life among the plowshares, not the silo tops.

And turns out, how highly we manage to estimate them is a good, long yardstick lain against our own worth as leaders. It estimates how worthy we are to change the lovely mess of a world we share, hurling through the darkness and light.

So cheers never to underestimating anyone, including ourselves. Overestimate instead. Venture grandly. And never believe any !@$%^& who dares say you won’t, you can’t, kids from your neighborhood ought never try.

God Fishes From The Bank

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2013 by michaelcogdill

I doubt it’s an accident how well a cricket fits the mouth of a crappie and the palm of a hand. My hands have touched neither from the deck of a big boat. And I am glad.

At a dockside restaurant a few weeks ago, stewing in a balmy late afternoon, I caught myself looking a long while at a yacht. A big one, young and lithe, with an upturned prow, as Mr. Fitzgerald would note. And it struck me a boat is a poor measure of a man or woman’s heart. Sexy and lovely, yes they are. I lust after them. People jiggle their backsides and tinkle their glasses aboard them. Happy and aglow for a time. Borrowing from the original film, Arthur, a yacht doesn’t suck.

But on a pond bank, with no yacht-deck lovelies to check on my derriere, no champagne or waiters sweating their worsted wool to carry it for me, I am happy. More than happy, I am content. Thoughtful of what is good and thoughtless of what gets bothersome when a man’s boat is bigger than what his peace requires.

No, now, I am not so Thoreau that I don’t dig a cool boat. I dig them with my inner man-child, in that barefoot way that swamps the blues and tans me to my heart.

But on a freshwater lake bank a day or so ago, I wrestled a livid largemouth bass in on a spinning reel, honored him with admiration, un-hooked him, and sent him worshipfully back to his congregation. He belongs to the high church of the American farm pond. And so do I.

The pond is rimmed with trees old as my Granny would be. That means they shelter off the worst of the world’s heat, letting only the warm, soft summer light fall on a man who, with a rod and reel in his hands, is a boy again in that place. It’s organic, but tolerant of what’s not. Accepting of my artificiality. My sidewinder plastic worms and Rooster Tails please me the way Matchbox Cars and GI Joe once did. They require something of my imagination in my play time, and I’m glad. But if a cricket — a real one — were to hop handily into my palm on that pond bank, I’d fish with him. I’d hook him, baptize him, and soon lure out a crappie or a bass or an oversize bream, and I would feel not one twinge of Orvis-inspired inferiority. This is soup beans sport that soothes even the caviar set. The kind of fishing that’ll never require a thing from the Ralph Lauren collection. I know of no yacht able to navigate to this shore. Ralph can’t quite get here from there. No set of goat leather chaps and a shirt with piping and 31 pockets can show the way.

On that pond bank, it struck me that men, somewhere, were hauling through airports, lugging bags weighted at 83 pounds of the finest fly gear, spin tackle, waders, leaders, wading socks, felt-bottom shoes, and pocket knives that cost as much as a little girl’s entire pond bank tackle box. They own watches worth more than some storm-worthy boats. And I had just caught three fish that outweigh the the carryon luggage they’re hoisting on fishing trips to places with names like Jackson Hole and Kennebunkport. Places that roaming gnome might go.

Pond banks are holy, faithful places. Good walking-distance restoration of the mind. No plane ticket required. No restaurant checks in the three digits for two. Perhaps a pond bank is God’s own yacht. Even with my share of fancy, overpriced man toys, I know this in my heart. I know a mortal heaven when I get its mud on my feet. There’s divinity in a fat angry bluegill, caught and released by a young girl’s hands, but not her heart. A hallowedness lives on that shore. And I, an enduring boy, am more alive there than on so many of the big boats that have seen the bottoms of my overpriced fun shoes.

Mr. Thoreau made a home at Walden perhaps to light each of us a way to our own pond. A mud hole to a yacht, sure. But when the eyes and hearts of grown men and women walk as children on its water, the storms of their souls turn sweet with calm.

And there, the crickets need no flutes to raise a toast, after all.