Thanks, Mr. Faulkner, for Coughing Up that Flem

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2016 by michaelcogdill

William Faulkner gave the world a conniving, grifting misguided Southern genius scoundrel, and named him Flem.  Yes, that’s the spelling of the man’s very being.  The name could easily come out Phlegm, or Flim Flam.  Mr. Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for reasons that can save us all some grief.

Faulkner and his Flem gave us all a timeless warning about a humanity we can never fix.  As true today as it was in the fiction of the Snopes home place in Yoknapatawpha County.   You know  you’re big — and onto something — when you invent such a place, and the online dictionaries know how to spell it 54 years after you died.

Flem Snopes represents a low, thieving caste of humanity we must not deny.  I’ve watched the world through a philanthropic lens most of my life.  But time has sharpened that lens.  Ground it down so that I can see a stratum of humankind I don’t like or understand.  I should have known better than wear those dull rose-color glasses.  I have, in some corners of my family, been related to what Mr. Snopes signifies.  Now, rather than deny it or make excuses for it, I simply acknowledge that bloodline, and understand it as follows.

Some people will steal from you.  Rob you on the quiet highways of  your being.  They will take your things, your peace, and your very life, then come for more money, and a sofa, and maybe an area rug for the basement they’re living in now. They seem nearly to come from the womb with a hand out, smashing with their wailing tears and grabbing at everything they can get.  Not even ticks have such long arms.  These people will lie, connive, conspire, sneak, creep, martyr, lie again, paint a brilliant light on their gloom, and convince us all they mean us no harm at all.  After the harm, they will convince us they have not harmed us, nor ever would.  Persuade us that they live as mere victims of a Universe that bore them into disadvantages they simply cannot whip.  Not by work or will or learning — nor by all the praying in the world — can they seem to spray paint over that wicked streak that snaps from their lives like a wet towel against the backside of the rest of us trying to better ourselves from our own failures and frailties.  They expect us to better ourselves and them at once.  In their minds, we owe them.  We owe them our very selves.

This is no commentary on social welfare systems, oh no.  This is a commentary on the very nature of what Mr. Faulkner knew would, like the legitimately poor, always be with us. This is about a low human nature walking upright and malignant with misery and victimhood among us.  This is about what I see now, finally apart from my codependency, as a solution, and a safeguard.

My father’s brother, Alf, was gifted.  He could manage to avoid work, drink, commit highway crimes, shamelessly turn himself parasitic to his brother, my hard-working dad, and yet manage to avoid starvation, long-term jail and absolute family shunning.  That latter part is as troubling as the rest.  I believe had the family repented of him, cast him off as humanly hopeless and impossible, then God might have done the impossible with him.  Who knows?  He’s right now napping in his old and lonesome grave, where he arrived very early from a world of self-inflicted trouble.  Intriguing that a grifter can outsmart the world of humanity, but not his own pancreas, or liver.  The body tends to have the last laugh, and the final nap, never minding that the soul wants to live, and differently.

I have concluded there is but one cure for Flem Snopes.  The Varners and the others of Mr. Faulkner’s fiction were not the truth of what Flem called for.  The cure for that stratum of us is a complete surrender to God.  I have witnessed this.  The addiction counselors and law officers and prosecutors of the world know this well — if the so-called sober among us live the best lives we can, the worst among us have a chance at pulling themselves up by the very garment of Divinity.   Those of us who are not God must stop acting as gods who think they can fix such humanity.  It is not our calling to become victims of the Snopesian crimes of body and heart.  It is, instead, our mandate to live beyond them, hold them accountable, yes, even love them, forgive them, but take ourselves out of reach of their pick pocketing way with life.  Turn the other cheek so that cheek can not be hit.  That, by the way, is the original meaning of that passage.

Mr. Faulkner, thank you for the warning. No, I’ll never fully understand the genesis of it, anymore than you did, I suppose.  Maybe God allows some people to rise and fall from the gutters of Flem to remind us or our own mortality.  We are not to judge, nor are we to fall chin-first, bloodied and exhausted after them into that trench.  Only if we leave them doomed to wallow down there will they learn the true way upward.  Only fallen can they fully rise.

Yes, to all of us this applies.  There’s some Flem Snopes in every woman and man, I suppose.  One, at least, in every family.   Time we saw them fully.  No, we’ll never fully understand them.  But to see them, and know they’re out there, sharing our very DNA, is a major leap toward the solution.  That being step away from the gutter.  Step back. Jump away.  Turn and run.  Only then can we catch glimpse of God running the other way, after that Flem, by any other name.


High Hopes of the Longest Day

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2016 by michaelcogdill

Seventy years ago today, my parents drove to Clayton, Georgia and got married.  Drove roads fit for Matchbox Cars, through gorges the sun seldom finds, into a little town the vast majority of New  York City doesn’t know is there.  That summer solstice, June 21, they were both in the dew of being young and foolish and wonderful.  The longest day of the year must have seemed the most hopeful day of their lives.  

But they had their share of the blues together. Hospitals and too little money and setting out for work way before Dawn drew back the shades.  Had my mom toughened her love, turned from his inner darkness rather than trying to be his entire light, I doubt his sobriety would have taken so long to arrive. Who knows. But speculation isn’t what counts. What counts is what is.

We write and speak forlornly of having the blues.  Yet blue is beautiful — comes in shades of night and day.   So much that’s alive and lovely in between.

On this 70th anniversary of their marriage, I find myself leaning into the shades of my parents’ blues.  The dark blue-mountain clefts of that romance that found it’s “I do” on a long summer day.  Dark at times they were.  Very.   But in the end, they were lovely. Many shadings of light and tender flower. For them, blue is no color of lonesome. It is the paint work of a love fit only for Divine hands.  Where there is darkness upon their canvas — even that formed by their very nearness to one another — they found light.

Zelda Fitzgerald said the following thing, and I find it so fitting a salute to my mom and dad and their long-ago coupling.  This quote talks about seeing and tasting the essence of the other, not just the name or the mind or the tuxedo and gown.  It speaks of seeing and hearing and loving beyond the senses. My mom and dad became no mere names to one another.  They were, in the end, like this:

“I don’t suppose I really know you very well – but I know you smell like the delicious damp grass that grows near old walls, and that your hands are beautiful opening out of your sleeves, and that the back of your head is a mossy sheltered cave when there is trouble in the wind, and that my cheek just fits the depression in your shoulder.  Zelda Fitzgerald

Such a fitting is not found in any settled dust, but the stirring of it.  It is found in the endurance of being young, re-creating ourselves over and over, rattling the dust of ennui off our shoes.  My parents were, I’m only beginning to see, old and hardened by life in my youth — the middle of their lives.  But they found their volcanic surge of  happy late.  Not all do.  It took selflessness, vulnerable hearts, a deep sense of I’m-truly-sorry and a showing of I-can-be-better-than-ever-I-even-hoped.   Their imperfect hands were beautiful from the sleeves of a freedom they created for themselves.  A re-creation they each did for themselves, not the other.  Only then could they tell how well her cheek fit the depression of my dad’s shoulder.  How lovely their clasped hands hung on for dear life, and not for show.

Happy anniversary, to my mom and dad. Thank you for still teaching me to be a man who keeps the boy alive within. Thank you for the many hues of life, blues and all. If mortal love, in all its silks and sackcloth and tatters, comes in many inner colors, my soul wears a shirt in the shades of Eden.  A fine hand me down from both of you.

Godspeed the enduring spirit of George Cogdill. I love and I miss you so much, especially now.  Damn those cigarettes, but bless every moment you cherished of the life they took from you, and me, and from this world.

And God, safeguard the feet of Polly Cogdill, still dancing nearly every day.  One foot always on that Honda accelerator. Ms. Polly, as she’s known, still teaches her son how best to travel as a strong and gentle man.

On this, the year’s longest day in my beloved summertime, I have the highest hopes, born of a mom and dad.  They went to Clayton, Georgia, and got married.  Then, they commenced learning how to fall in love.

Looks Like Love, Smells Like Hell

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2016 by michaelcogdill

Hemingway said, “I drink to make other people more interesting.”

I find the world plenty interesting, and perhaps that’s why I drink like a cartoon character. One gin and tonic and I want to take a nap, or take my top off.  I know addiction only through the eyes of an enabler.  I am one.  I’ve been one since I was a boy.  I don’t know exactly why my father drank so much, but I do know it made him, and life, far too interesting.  Overstimulated.  Chaotic.


An addict will lie to you, knowing it’s a lie, knowing you know it’s a lie, but knowing you’ll believe false hope and, thus, believe the lie.   My father told me often he would quit drinking.  He told me while drunk.  I — sober as a church — believed him for far too long.  I was drunk on the wrong  kind of hope.  I had to quit the stuff.  Sober up on the real thing.

Enablers act like Gods.  We believe we can accomplish what only Higher Power can.  We can love them, cajole them, ease them, comfort them enough that the addicts in our lives will stop being addicts and become fully human again.  We think we can make life so interesting for them they won’t have to drink anymore.  That’s our folly — spending money, time, prayer, more money, more prayer, tears, tears again, pleading, begging, raging.  We do so much heavy lifting trying to make a drunk sober.  And the drunk keeps hoisting a pint — or needle, or pill or whatever elixir leads to death.  It’s not just the drunk’s death.  The enabler somehow dies first.  Stone sober and living out a living death of trying to work a miracle.

Only God works miracles.  We who enable only work that rock back up the hill, bracing to feel it roll over us again.  Sisyphus surely had an addict in the family.

The takeaway here is — stop.  Stop giving money to a drunk.  Stop giving ear to an addict. Cease to become the silo for their harvest of lies.  Stop suppressing your instincts and callusing your feet on their eggshells.  If they yell, “You don’t love me, your never loved me, I’ll never forgive you for this” as you walk away, keep walking.  You are not God.  Nor a superhero.  Trying to save another human being from himself/herself is like trying to walk on water.  Not even Peter lasted long at that.

Ask yourself how many times you tried to surround an addict with love, only to have that love of your life come staggering through the door smelling like hell.

Real love doesn’t stink to high heaven.  Enabling looks like love, and smells like hell.

My friend, Rich Jones, is a recovering addict.  He works now in addiction recovery. That means he learned enabling from the school of hard liquor.  Rich is licensed therapist and MBA, an expert in co-dependency and the specious toxin of trying to fix an addict.  He knows why you shouldn’t try to talk your daughter out of shooting up again.  Why giving your boyfriend money or your car again is anti-love.

Rich admits he doesn’t know why the following approach works, but it does:  Go take care of yourself.  Go, and be a better, healthier you.  Stop begging an addict.  Stop being with one.  Don’t pray the same old prayer with her ever again.  Take care of  you, and things with the addict will work out as they should, according to the natural law of addictive behavior, not the law of you and the world you think you can create.  Not all addicts survive, but in the absence of enabling, they tend to rise.  They tend to roll to their knees and off their sticking bottoms — high or low — and begin to live again.  Life becomes interesting without gin or heroin or Hydrocodone.  My father lived as proof.  This happened to him.  It happened only after I walked away.

And that made me a living example of this:  Life will begin to carry the perfume of real love, not the stench of hell on earth, only when you walk away.

Another dear friend of mine likes to send me the occasional text with the letters YNG/BGI.  Those letters remind me to cease the idolatry of trying to fix someone addicted to something. The letters stand for You’re Not God, But God Is.

Enablers, we carry a sickness of our own, summed up in those simple letters.  It’s the illness of the folly of playing God.  We think we can do what only God can. We believe we can stand against anything.  Tolerate anything.  Love our way through anything.

We are wrong.

Enabling is no pathway to heaven.  It is cliff we tumble down into an ass-busting hell on earth.  Lord, it smells like hell down in there.  But what’s that?  A rope, hanging just within reach.  A rope, able to hold only one.  Grab it.  Climb out.  Climb out of hell, pull up the rope behind you, and dust yourself off at the top.  We don’t want that phony love stench up in here where we belong.

YNG.  BGI.  Peace.



A Grandaddy of a Death

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by michaelcogdill


Ernest Keyes lies in what’s left of a plywood coffin. They buried him without flourishes or even a vault, only a piece of tin lain across the flimsy box top. I suppose they did that because they had no money to do more. Or maybe their patience had just run dry.

Ernest Keyes was my grandfather. Paregoric took him early, my mother just a dewy teenage girl.  To ease some rock-hard hurt, self-doubt, or maybe just to feel heavenly in his private hell for a while, my granddaddy turned to opium.  All over the mountains of Western North Carolina in the early 20th Century, opiates ran on stout legs, legal and easy to get.   Opium turned my mother’s father into an addict, then turned on him, hard. He let opium cheat him out of living even before he died. He cheated me out of knowing the man people loved.

I was a small boy when my Granny told me how he died. He had come home “full of that stuff” again, worse than ever. Dressed in sobriety, she said he was kind and beautiful. That opiate made him a devil of hell on earth. She told of him nearly turned the supper table over staggering back to the bed, where he flopped, face-down. She left the house, pulling the door to latch and muttering out loud to herself, “How much longer do I have to put up with this?”

Over her right shoulder came a clear, tender male voice. “Not long,” it said. She turned her head. No one there.  The hollow where they lived near Marshal, North Carolina, lonesome as ever.

By the time she came from work, the house stood dark as a well. She got a light on, made way back to the bed. “The flies had gotten to him,” my Granny told me. “I believe he was dead before is face hit that pillow.”

That day my Granny had a metaphysical experience with a real-world ending of a man.

Drowning in that addiction, he had ended himself well before he flopped down and died.

My granddaddy, as my mother saw it in her childhood, would pump his veins full of paregoric and any other opiate he could get, any way he could take it. She told of seeing an old glass medicine dropper whose tip he shattered off to make a poor-man’s syringe. At the spring behind the house, blood would tumble down his arm and off his finger. The track marks must have looked more like the work of gun shot than needle tip.

A trip to a sanitarium in Kentucky didn’t save him. All the loving and praying and enabling of his wife and two children didn’t either. But my mother remembers seeing her daddy sitting in the sanctuary of the little Baptist Church up the road from the house. Alone in there. I have to believe he came into that church a beggar. A traveler off his way, praying down mercy. Perhaps God found that early death the only true mercy the man could have. The only gift fitting his occasion.

My granddaddy proves it can get too late for an addict, far sooner than the addict thinks. And that a man or woman can die of addiction well before lying down.

I share all this to remind us all the opiate crisis of today amounts to a spray of gasoline on an old mortal fire. Opiates are nothing new under the sun. Heroin is old and new again. It’s new companion, Fentanyl, just a reincarnation of feel-good death serum.

Thursday night on Chronicle, Chasing the High, WYFF4 will train a 21st Century lens on living death as old as my granddaddy’s. Opiates, and the chorus of lesser drugs around them, are piling up young bodies and shattering families and human hearts. The folly of enabling will make an appearance. Human love of an addict too often only ushers Death through the door. And the way opiates take form now, Death can show up well before Addiction gets its shoes on. One pill of heroin and Fentanyl can kill with equal force of a gun.  No addiction required.

You’ll see, and feel, the effect. Please don’t turn from it. Lean into it. Watch this work with the children in your life. Rest on no comforts about Christian schools and good boys and girls. They get no immunity from this. Death can slip through such doors on quiet little shoes. It has. It will again.

My granddaddy let opium swindle me out of feeling his hand to my back. I came into the world far after he died and never knew him. I wanted to, I still do, for I have heard of his beauty. The big gems of his tears he cried as he carried my mother back to the farm where an aunt and uncle were raising her. She refused to live at home.  She was a child afraid of the father who loved her.  But somehow he loved that opiate more. Needed it more. Not long after, Death became the only companion who could stand him.

My granddaddy died humbly. Quietly. His mortal being now only a strip of dirt and lingering bone under a cheap hunk of granite in a little mountain cemetery. But if one soul hears of this and turns on heroin, turns to life instead of living death, then the death of Ernest Keyes is one Grandaddy of a departing. It will matter. The prayers he prayed alone somehow answered, after all.

Chronicle, Thursday night, 7:00, only on WYFF4

Throne? What Throne? Down here!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26, 2016 by michaelcogdill

A devotion from Richard Rohr reminds us God is not who we tend to think God is. No imperious man on a throne. No tyrant in a robe, rewarding the self righteous for how right they deem themselves in their right fighting.

No, it’s more complicated than that. And more simple.

Ever wonder why the people living in the afterglow of a great fall can seem so spiritual? So comforting? There’s no small evidence it’s because they met our ageless, gender-free Maker in their humble brokenness. When they fell, God didn’t fall with them. God was there on the concrete tarmac of their dark landing. Waiting. Humble. As if to say, I knew you’d get here. Now, let’s go home.

It takes a big God to live in every human frailty. We have screw-up down to a science, and think of how many across the ages.

Here’s a frailty of just sitting, doing nothing. In America, we take clean water for granted. In other parts of the world, clean water might as well flow from the very temple of a God who seems to have forgotten that corner of creation. But alas, we are all remembered. And in the poorest of the poor, on the hard ground of their world, those of us rich who seek God will find God. Perhaps then we might hear God say, I knew you’d come, carrying water. Welcome home.

An Ugly Dog, The Perfect Gift, and a Perfect Day

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2015 by michaelcogdill

John Wooden said there’s no perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.

Most of us do this without knowing. We do it with tax money, charity giving — both best done without grousing. A scowl over a gift renders the gift a mute. Runs joy off with a meat cleaver.

But how many of you thought instantly of money at seeing Wooden’s idea? Easy, isn’t it, to assume the word repay must come with a wallet attached?

In my father’s lifetime, I saw often what a conversation could do. My dad could talk about anything with anyone, often in a language anyone could grasp. Yes, that means what you think it means. He could make his presence a gift. A Divine one. I miss it even now.

Ever make someone laugh without intending? Ever see the laughing Buddha? Think Jesus didn’t laugh? Think God has no sense of humor? Look at a donkey. Watch an otter pick a fight. I need merely see my dad get mad at a lawn mower, again, in my mind’s eye.

What brings another human being comfort, a moment’s joy, an unexpected cackle — these don’t get repaid. Or do they? The receiver need not pay it back. The payoff comes by some ethereal way. No need to believe in magic to feel magic.

My parents once parented the ugliest dog in canine history. A chihuahua crossed with a pekingese, a mating surely blessed in hell. A neighbor said she looked like a Dr. Suess medical experiment. She was ugly, malodorous and loud. She carried the halitosis of a lion and the charm of a badger. But she was loved. And even she could love in a way no human could repay. She made my father howl. My mother deemed her adorable. Blessed woman of the Lord. In their home she did for them what all their love could never quite repay. When she died, we all grieved. I was married and long gone by then. I still grieve her. I do.

We needn’t be beautiful to matter. To perfect someone’s day. We needn’t. even smell just right. We need merely be. Human beings, not human doings.

Our being a gift, no one can repay.

Be a Horse, Not a Horse’s …. Well, You Know

Posted in Uncategorized on November 21, 2015 by michaelcogdill

A horse will not resent you for naming him Jubel. You can name a horse Cathead Biscuit and call him Horse’s Ass for short with narry a problem. The horse is unaffected. He’s a creature who lives by feel, not by label. He’s not self-conscious.

He knows you love him by what’s in your eyes. The touch of your fingertips. The sound of you more than the words of you. The miracle of your caring presence matters more than the horse’s very own name to the horse. He has a stellar ability to let go of all else that doesn’t matter. Thats just a name.

What people call us — the ugly and the lovely — doesn’t make us that thing they say we are. But simply to be present with someone, mindful even across time zones, this makes us intimate and well with one another. This warms our inner hearth.

Find the labels people give you worrisome? Tending to believe all the praise? We’re all tempted. Let’s give in — instead — to letting go. Release the worry of what people say.

Then, eye up that fence. You know the one. The fence that hems you into relationships that wound. Those that hinge on labels instead of love. Jump that fence. Don’t wait for someone to cut a gate.