Archive for February, 2021

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.