Archive for August, 2019

A Proper Life in an Ugly Little Word

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2019 by michaelcogdill

I don’t like the word participant.

Look at it.  All those t’s and i’s, spiked up.  It even looks like a bed of nails.  And when I say it out loud, I sound like one of those cartoon teachers — the ones with a voice and a hair bun tight as a Kardashian dress line.

But here, I must use it.  There’s no other word that works quite so well to say this:

In your life, become a participant, not just an occupant.

The woman who taught me how is long gone to her grave.  But her hand stays warm to my back.  So does the occasional verbal back of her hand, a tad further south.

When I was more interested in skateboards and snotty nosed girls than Proust or Oscar Wilde, Julia Fitchett-Cooke pulled me across a neighbor’s lawn and into her kitchen.  She pulled me into her mind and and into her lonesomeness, too, and we both turned less lonesome.

Julie never had kids, so I became one of the few she treated as offspring.  She lived determined that we would spring high.  She would not settle for kitchen waifs staring at their navels or shoe tops, mumbling and shuffling, stupefied through the world.  We who were blessed with her as a second mother got mothered like underage U.S.  Marines.   I’ll never quite forget the day she pushed Black’s Law Dictionary across that  kitchen counter.  “Read it,” she demanded.  She meant it.  I did it.

Thanks to Julie, I participated.  I learned to dare do more than occupy space and waste God-given precious time.  Julie knew hers would be short.  Diabetes and heart disease loomed.   She kept the throttle down.

Her achievements read a bit like the resume of Martha Gellhorn.   Julie became the first woman to race the Chimney Rock Hill Climb.  Her MG roared up that mountain. Smoked the nattering men who denied her in dust and glory.  She finished Stetson Law School in less than 3 years, having gotten in without an undergrad degree.  I’m convinced Julie could talk eloquent sense into a tombstone and convince a canoe it could become Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  She convinced more than one small town boy to become far more than a small minded child masquerading as a man.  I am one of them.  A grateful one.  I owe her.

Just yesterday, someone said something to me, urgently, that echoed straight from the mothering heart of that powerful  woman.  It was a mother lode of wisdom in words I will refrain from here.  They’re profane and pure at once, and I will heed them, as if they were channeled from the beyond.

They loosely translate as follows.

Don’t just occupy your life.  Do it.  Participate.  Get off that bed of nails that is a life of earnest little cautions and run that dream to the outer edges.  Work.  Learn.  Prepare.  Do all this.  But do it now — step at a time, in the now, and the now to come.  Over and over.

“Be a participant,” Julie would say.   “And find me a better word for it.  One poetical and fun.  Make me laugh, and make me proud.”

Yes, ma’am.  Right away, ma’am.  With a mischief grin.  My salute.

Now, where’s that dictionary?