Forgiveness, With Reckless Abandon

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2018 by michaelcogdill

I was 4 years old the summer night my father took me to the little league baseball game at that old field.

I grew old that night when he left me there, abandoned.

Right behind that old backstop, I stood. Alone. The heat of the day dying in the magic of lights and young fastballs. Grandads shouting attaboy love over their DR Peppers. My dad preferred a beer. He preferred about 7 of them at one time back then.

“Stay right there, now, I’ll be back.”

I remember he shouted it across the street at me from the car. A 4 year old boy knows when his daddy’s drunk. He is no fool. He knows the foolery of a man who had gathered 2 or 3 other foolish drunks into what was to be a father/ son night of baseball wisdom and lore.

“I’ll be back. You stay right there now,” he echoed.

I felt the old Chevy thunder away, up the main street of Weaverville, North Carolina. Into the night. Gone.

A four year old knows, too, when a yonder beer joint holds more allure than the here and now of an only son.

I was a quiet, obedient child, standing left in the ball game crowd behind that backstop. The spell of the game, broken. Shattered, I suppose, under the weight of having to become more man than child.

I didn’t linger long in the abandonment. I abandoned the place. Turned and walked down little Brown Street, calm as the summer dusk under its canopy of trees, turned through a yard, crossed a field, climbed a fence and scuffed my sneakers up to my mom. I found her still working in the yard by the porch light and the moon. And instantly I found how it feels to be held by arms of fitful gratitude. For the first time I felt the pulse of my mother’s fury at the man who helped her put me in this world.

I don’t know what she said to him. I’ll never know what he felt when he and the fellow drunks found me gone from the ballpark. We never spoke of it again.

But I remember being some comfort to my mom, there in the yard. The small town boy knew he had to be her man of that hour. In this, there is nothing noble. Not a thing that is good, for the boy or the man.

From there I grew into the equivalent of a rock upon a shore. The seas of others crashing it, resting upon it, held by the rock, which eroded little over time. A stalwart. The weight, good and strong. This is not the calling of a child. Nor entirely a man. This is the sturdy false ground of the codependent. It took me years to make the rock give way.

But I did. At 17, I turned from the drunken father and walked away. Stopped trying to talk him out of being a drunk and let God alone make a man out of him. Leaving it to them.

My father hit bottom and bounced. He turned into one of the most beautiful men you could know. Graceful and sweet, magnetic and kind and hilarious. So full of love.

Forgiven. Loved. Missed to this day.

But his little boy has to keep walking away from the backstop. He has to keep ceasing to become a false hero. He must keep turning toward home to find refuge, without making himself a savior of everyone along his way.

I remain guilty of making things more than all right for people when they are not. I give care and care too little about taking some. These are hallmarks of adult children of alcoholics. I am devout about not letting them mark my course toward home from here.

Codependency is doing for others what they are more than able to do for themselves. I could not school my dad into being the great man of his calling. He had to do it himself, with help not entirely of this world.

We buried him not very far from that old backstop, just outside that little town, and oh how we cried. I visited his grave a few days ago, and damned if the tears didn’t come down again, years after we grieved his casket into that ground. But they carry salt of his wisdom, a tide of his rejoining to me. A coming home. My dad walks with me now on my road. Proud. And to me he whispers, “Be kind, son, but be no one’s fool. You were wise to get over being a fool for me, and look at how I became. Forgive, but let those you love carry some of the water. Let them take a wave or two, and spare the rock.”

“Oh, and take in a ball game,” he whispers. “Listen for me in the thrum of the crowd. In the wind off a fast ball, you might have thrown. I’m there. And you I will never leave. Never again.”

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The Last Time Cometh, Soon

Posted in Uncategorized on January 25, 2018 by michaelcogdill

Sooner than you expect you will touch what you prize the most for the last time.

Sooner than any of us expects.

A friend not long ago tried to remind me we’re old.  No, I said.  Hardly.  The mountain view from my mother’s townhouse is old.  My great uncle Woody’s cowbell I recently found tucked in a box wears age — more than a hundred years.  It’s whittled and chinked by the swing of a long time.  My great grandmother’s butter mold, the same.  It still carries her fingerprints, I’m sure.  It outlasted her, far quicker than she expected, I’m very sure.

I am not old.  I won’t get the chance, if I live to match my Uncle Julius, who hit 103.  In the great exhale of the expanding universe, each of us amounts to hardly a sigh.  Not long for this mortal world.

So, I look around at all the stuff, masquerading as a harvest.  The watches and the house and the cars, all fun.  All not mine for long.  Every bit of it is chaff to the wheat of what matters.

I touch my mother’s hand and find it warm.  Same with the handshake and embrace of my best friend.  The slap of his hand to my back reminds me not to care about the next thing that catches my eye.  The watch on my arm will belong to someone else someday.  But the brush against those who love me as much as themselves — this reminds me to think less of what’s to come and more of what is.  The beautiful here, the gleaming now, the brand new that is the presence of those who eagerly share themselves.  They are extravagant.  And I must remind myself to be extravagant in how I adore them, right now.

I love a boat.  The trace of her hull under my fingers, the throes of her speed are bliss and peril at once — these are romance beyond the poets to me.  But she’s just a carriage.  Alone time, especially to the writer, is bliss and lonesome curse at once.  We all want to smile at those we adore and take a grin back.  The boat is but passage to such.  A temporary cabriolet to the experience of warm laughs, hands to our backs, the love of someone who could not care less how big the boat.

I will touch all this for the last time sooner than I expect.  Sooner than I want.  So, if I let myself linger in the bliss of now, forgive me.  Just making last what won’t last nearly long enough.  There’s happiness in being devoutly ever young in an old world.  Joy in refusing to cleave to the coming rust and canker of what we’re not meant to hold for very long.   The last time cometh, soon.  This is our calling, yours and mine — not from the future, but from here.  Now.

Please Pass the Enough. Hold the Gravy.

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10, 2018 by michaelcogdill

“The opposite of scarcity isn’t abundance. It’s enough.”

Dr. Brene Brown.

A wallet from the Nixon years, one dollar and 38 cents in change, three key chains cleaving to a single key that fits nothing that will matter the rest of my life.

These I moved recently from my mother’s townhouse. She’s 92, moving in her quiet grace about an assisted living, while I move to trash bags the residue of her last 20 years.

I’m tossing it from a house over which I will shed tears in a few days. I know myself and its memories well enough to predict this.

The house is sold, but the contents of true home will never see transaction. True home is not found in the yellowing important papers long impotent, the old remote controls my father feared might burn the house down, or a set of VHS tapes once hallowed as if they contain interviews with Moses. It’s all junk now to my mother, and the spirit of my father.

They have no use for these and so much else they harvested. That includes the old cedar chest containing my baby records and heirlooms of childhood. It always looked like a prop from the Addams Family. A coffin like wooden Tupperware preserving nothing. A stubbed toe in waiting. Now it just lies there, still in the way, a reminder the contents of a house will make no lasting home for anyone. For all it’s heirloom value, the contents of that old casket do not demand to get seen or read, ever again. Just some froth blown off the top of being alive. Dead, it just hasn’t found its ground.

Gloomy sounding, for certain, isn’t it? My mom would scowl a tad and say, “Let’s talk about something else.” But wait. There is true abundance here.

We must speak of — enough.

My father found this abundance on the days he finally had enough to eat. Such days scarcely came in the Canton, North Carolina of the Great Depression. He and his brothers and sister went hungry as very small children. There was far from enough, not even of soap and warm water. He’d retreat to the YMCA to take the dignity of a bath. He left schooling to work so the family table wore more food. Even scarcely enough beat the hell out of virtually nothing. Barely enough can seem a feast in the mouth of a hungry little boy.

Fast forward. My mom and dad feasted together when they lived in peace. When their marriage held grins and laughs and dreams that did not come with fenders, glassware, or refrigeration the size of a Buick, they had enough. And their enough became life abundant.

Now I’m left in the afterglow. Clearing out what’s left of the house they made so lovely, I live in the simple — nearly moronic — truth that Love will never live in a drawer. No cabinet will hold its touch or its echo. The old cedar chest downstairs smells of musty pages, not lusty fun. Two people in love can freeze some of it in photographs. I dig those. But Faulkner might remind us even the family pictures will finally lay dying in the dark. While pausing to take one, we’re reminded we might have taken instead a kiss or a smiling glance or a tender hand at play in our own. The memory worth far more than a Polaroid of Uncle Julius with a wooden cowboy, or Aunt Willie groping Minnie Mouse.

The Love is enough. More than enough, it turns out. And it’s far too big to fit those 4 crock pots Mama kept. Seems she planned to slow cook for every nicotine addict in North Carolina. And never did.

David Letterman loved a Thanksgiving season joke that simply went, “That ain’t gravy.” Turns out neither is all the stuff we all accumulate as valuable, across years, including Aunt Kitty’s unused burial bloomers and dad’s new tie tack still unworn since its unwrapping, Christmas day, 1969. Yes, this is true even of the true heirlooms someone will have to paper and box and find some new place to stow. Much of it an inelegant sufficiency amounting to way too much.

This task of throw out and box up calls us to let go before we must. Let what looks like the gravy of this life hit the garbage can, not the storage drawers. For in the dewy grass of right now there waits the tender breath of one we love against our neck, the giggle of our child and the hot breath of the dog who won’t live nearly long enough. A loving hand in our own, the glance that says I adore you, the touch or word that say — you are more than enough for me.

In these live our abundance. Our treasure. Our elusive — enough.

The Opera Coat Seizes Power

Posted in Uncategorized on December 6, 2017 by michaelcogdill

If he hadn’t bowed to her, his tuxedo might have. At her door, his fine suit seemed sackcloth. And he a plebe made uncommon by her grace.

In this opera coat, she ruled — the greatest of theatres and the innermost halls of the gentleman’s heart. Black velvet warmed her, heating the hemisphere at once. Her collar a silken snowcap. The liner, her satin militia. Her crimson triumph of brocade. Devastatingly interesting.

Formal, playful, it waved both out to romp under the stars. Fitzgerald surely dreamt of such a night.

Yet, no mere figment. Her coat, a dream come true as Love itself. Real as his hand upon her velvet shoulder. In it, intuition follows her. The night parting before her stride. All the world her stage after all.

Upstage her? Never.

Though once at late supper, even a dining chair, under such rare midnight drape, was mistaken for Hedy Lamar.

Why Am I Not This Way?

Posted in Uncategorized on October 6, 2017 by michaelcogdill

montana2.jpgMy dog will never write a book.

Never win an Oscar.

She could not care less about applause, sequins or iPhone X.

She wants not one moment of credit for the good she does. She’ll not tell you of her hospital or prison ministry. She does not measure herself for a crown.

Her reputation among gossips, the curl of her hair, her inevitable death — these do not trouble her.  Worry over such things would waste time.   She’d rather roll in hay or dream, out loud, splayed on the best rug in the house.

I notice she refuses to get upset over nothing. Almost nothing upsets her.

She has never mocked or gossiped about someone in her life. She’s neither controlling nor judgmental.  She has no hands to hold the makings of a grudge, nor the heart for one.

She’s simply kind. Kind to everyone.

I feed her. I love her. She wants nothing else. Nothing more.

She has never taken a thing that did not belong to her without giving it back. That and more.  She’s a lover, not a pickpocket.

And what does this mean?

I believe it means I should listen to her. Let her become an ideal by which to measure the motives of the humankind in my life.

I believe she teaches me to be human and kind.

Why am I not this way?  Her way?  The way of Montana, my good dog?

Maybe it’s simply impossible because I am a man.  My ears don’t hear as hers can.  My heart is not tuned so well.

But it is a better heart, a nobler and kinder one, because she sleeps beside my bed.  Ever on guard.  Wakening the man of the house when the world comes knocking.  Scratching up a bed in his rickety but holy place within.

Refrain for a Departed Friend

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2017 by michaelcogdill

My friend’s heart stopped beating a few days ago, and refused to begin again.

The news knocked me down into my own.

His death ushered me into that sanctuary within us all.  Down deep, where our true friends find welcome.  Where they make us better than we would be without them.  Down in the only holy place we have.

I sat and wept a while.  Let tears run their healing all over.  And I found a man crying over his lost friend ought to learn something from the tears.  They form a tide washing in a truth about mortality.   He is gone.  His goodness remains.  Death is no match for how we are cared for by the rare true friends who go before us.

Mark Kent came into the world a few months after I did, found himself adopted into a family that believed in him, and more than 40 years later, he adopted me as a brother.  He did not do this because I am a good man who deserves such a friend.  I am not.  He did it out of humility.  Kindness.  The quiet nobility of preferring the music of grace to the clatter of judging me for being a fool sometimes.

I am more noble simply by having been his friend.  It’s thanks to him, not me.

But he leaves me with a task.

I am a carrier now.   Given an instrument tuned by the care of my brother of another mother.  He left me here to echo the music of what it means to be such a friend.  In his death, which makes no sense and leaves a beautiful family to grieve, Mark has taught me that Death is a weakling maker of noise.  A titmouse in a symphony hall.  No match for the music echoed down in chambers of the heart by such a friend.

The stage of this life is empty of the great Mark Kent now.  But all of us elevated by having known him still stand on that stage.  He called us up there.  At the footlights of having been cared for by his way with the world, we must make the refrain of our friend play on.

Peace is Mightier than the Sword. God Knows. Dog Knows.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2017 by michaelcogdill

A dog dislikes fireworks.  The dog will run from a vacuum cleaner.  A dog will go off somewhere to die, preferring the quiet.

For a dog, what even seems like drama holds no allure.

Humankind will forever try to martyr or shame one another to gain some hold, some control, some wildly undeserved primacy.  Not the dog.  But for a collar or a harness or one of those pink tutus Petsmart sells for chihuahuas, the dog lives proudly naked, unaffected, in need of no such crown.  The dog is unashamed, incapable of being shamed into doing something for the wrong reasons.  No one ever guilted a dog into being a friend, or a girlfriend.

The rest of us are not so civilized.

Maybe this lack of guile is why dogs sleep so well, in the middle of the day, beside active railroad tracks.  Dogs, it’s clear, harbor an inner peace elusive to the humans who feed them.  I believe they can feed us at the soul with the following lesson:

Life’s dramatic enough as it is.  Don’t let people manufacture it and air mail it from their tongues into the heart of the child who lives within you.  That child pleads for your protection.  Give it.

We all have one.  That inner child, still wanting to romp and play and break the occasional heirloom.  Ever innocent, even while peeing outdoors.  Unaffected by spaghetti on her chin or dirt under his nails.

So much like the dog.

I believe when someone martyrs you, controls you, manipulates you to gain some advantage out of you, loads you up on guilt or shame to make off with some part of you, it’s the inner child who gets  hurt, and cries foul.  Who often gets carried off kicking and screaming.  That inner child lives in a safe room inside you.  The mystics would say it’s that place where you store the peace heaven gave you before you left for here.  It’s where the real you lives.  That sovereign room came with you into this world.

But it needs a door.  A sturdy one.  With your hand on the knob.

Otherwise, some will barge in and steal what’s there.  Make off with your serenity.  Kidnap that sacred child.

They will try to tell you they need to store their drama where your peace belongs.

It’ll come in boxes labeled with the likes of this:  How about letting me hold a thousand dollars til payday?   We’re family, so I’m moving in with my brother-in-law.  If you don’t love me as I demand, I’ll leave with the babies. You’ll put up with me, knuckles, fury and all.

Those are but a few.

Your inner child ends up sleeping out in the yard, on the dog bed, with the dog, far from your inner safe room.  The dog won’t sleep in there.  The dog knows better than live with the hell somebody decides to raise inside the heart that still belongs to you.

Sound familiar?  Not to the dog, it doesn’t.  But maybe to you, and to me.

You are a guardian.  A protectorate of that inner child you must never fully outgrow.  I don’t know why our fellow humankind will come with tongues like swords, demanding we surrender that child to them.  Telling us we owe it to them to let them in to ransack the place.  But it seems humanly universal.  The wise Vietnamese Buddhist  Thich Nhat Hanh reaches for an antidote when he urges us to be a home for ourselves.  To maintain a state of quiet in a world full of noise.  My Christian faith and that truth live in lockstep.  Only when we’re home to ourselves can we be of any use to the rest of our fellow suffering in this world.

And this, too:  When they come vowing to break down your inner door, it’s up to you to say — no.

The dog shows us how.

The dog will listen for a moment to human drama, where we might listen for an hour, or a day, or a lifetime.  After that moment, deciding it’s just noise, the dog will go off to some place of peace, for a pee or a lick or a roll in the grass — or all three.  Or the dog will simply sleep through it.  The dog knows better than choose the sword over peace.

Dog’s curate what’s relevant really well.

Your inner child wants to go out and play with the dog.  But does the child have a lovely place to come home to, inside of you?  Who else is living there, storing boxes in there, tearing up the sanctuary?

Would the dog want to come into that heart, and lie down?

It’s a beautiful thing, keeping the heart unlocked.  But even the dog knows better than to take down the door.