Archive for March, 2013

Good man

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

His business was feeding people. I don’t know how he fed so many. I’m not sure anyone knows. He was persuasive, cheerful, and fearless. He talked bankers into giving him money. He talked restaurants into donating food. He talked my neighbors into working early in the morning, for free, to feed the homeless, the hungry – to feed anyone who came.

I knew him because I lived in his town. He found me, like he found everybody, just walking down the street one day. I avoided him, once I knew him, because I knew what he would do. He would start talking about the weather, or childhood, or my wife (he talked my wife into making lunches for the homeless, he talked my son into entertaining them on piano while they ate). He would talk and the good mood would be infectious and pretty soon he’d be asking me to spend some time helping somebody. That’s what he did.

Not everyone wants to feed the homeless. A lot of people with resources think it’s the wrong thing to do. They occupy city councils, police departments, and county governments, and he would talk to them, too. He would make speeches. He would go public. He would downright embarrass them, if he could, into giving him some place to serve his meals. Often enough, he made it work. Many public persons are plain scared of the homeless. To them he pointed out: all of us are considerably less dangerous on a full stomach.

He was a mystery to me. I knew him only by what he did. He might have been a really freaky guy, in some hidden way. He believed aliens abducted people and returned them as changed beings, devoted to serving others. Perhaps he thought he had been abducted, himself. Perhaps he had been. But there he was, everywhere, relaxed, smiling, talkative, just meeting with people on the street. I could never figure out where he found time to accomplish the huge amount he did. He put together a local organization with no purpose but serving the helpless. He called it Divine Spark. He was our public conscience.

Most of us come and go. We matter in the hearts and minds of a few people, then we disappear. Tomas unloaded his free supplies at a reservation in South Dakota, got into his empty van and drove back through a snowstorm in Wyoming; slipped up somehow and died on the highway. I never felt a man’s absence like this before. He allowed us to think our own neglect is okay, really, because somebody else is taking care of it. Tomas is taking care of it. We have plenty of suffering human beings in our town. Who, I wonder, will all of us look to now?

Fear of certainty

Monday, March 18th, 2013

I find I want to be convinced before I act; I want to feel sure of myself. Somewhere in my history of recorded voices there’s  an adult male speaking quite assertively: “be sure you’re right – then go ahead.”

But I’m in open rebellion against his advice. I’ve misplaced my ability to put faith in what I think. I sit late at night, now, staring at the sky, praying: “what instructions have I received? What message has reached me? What, really and truly, can I believe? What, really and truly, should I do?”

God smiles and the night sky echoes back his booming silence.

I have promised – more than once – myself, my future, my wealth, my love. I have believed those promises; sworn by them in my heart. I have broken them all, time and again.

I come from the Christian Church, which is clear in its damnation of self-interest; clear in its promise of salvation through sacrifice. I am reeling on the edge of the precipice, my soul bloody and my strength just about gone – am I not, also, worth sacrificing for?

What it’s really like

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

I confess: that stuff about the weed wrench on the hill – it was fiction; I made it up. I saw an advertisement for this wonderful tool and I thought, ‘this is what it will be like.’ So I wrote it down. Reality is different. There’s very little of this ‘set, clamp, and bend’ stuff. I carry out a pick-ax and the weed wrench (it isn’t even green; it’s orange), and I dig into the hard-scrabble until I expose enough base stalk to get a grip on, then strain and pull from a half-dozen directions to rip a single large plant free. There are a lot of plants out there. At the rate of four or five an hour I’m not going to clear them all this season. There’ll have to be a fall-back plan for the rest. I’m thinking of knocking the tops off the survivors with a power tool just before flowering. That way, I might keep them from seeding, but leave enough stalk to get a grip on next spring.

Some things are true, though. It is exhausting. I raise the ax and that orange chunk of iron until my arms simply won’t anymore. I do pause a lot to review whatever success I’ve had. And it is me on that hill, living. I have friends who ‘work’ on themselves. I don’t like the language of therapy, and I don’t give a fig for self-awareness – but it’s what I’m doing out there: reconstructing, repackaging, resolving. Call it what I will, I can’t get away from it.

I really am crazy. I’m pretty sure of that. It’s inherited, so I’m not fully responsible. I want the world as it is to be – just, well, wrong. Like the whole thing’s a big misunderstanding. I’m willing to drop everything – everything – to clutch at that straw. I would have been an excellent disciple for Jesus Christ. ‘Abandon everything and follow me.’ Off I would go. Until the next pretty girl appeared by the side of the road.

But I’m too well-intentioned and practical (and just plain scared) to plunge in all the way. At the last minute I’d say, ‘well, Jesus, you know, it doesn’t look like anybody else is coming right now, so…’ Jesus would smile that warm, encouraging smile of his, and I would know he loved me, and he would walk off into the distance.

I’ve been admired, of course, as I struggle along. Someone might look over once in a while – notice me in my resigned sadness, affecting my calm understanding – and be impressed for one reason or another. But touch me and there’s a frightening disintegration, then the disappointing recognition I’m just another broken record. I learned how to survive at a distance, and distant is all I’ll likely be. At my best I’m empathetic, kind, and even wise. But I am alone. I seek that out.


Hugo, we hardly knew ye.

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Wow, that’s an understatement. Drive south a couple thousand miles from the US and look back. It’s an armed citadel on a hill, the country where I live. Safe inside, I learned about Hugo the way most of us did, from corporate advertisements billed as ‘news.’ US companies didn’t think too highly of him. US politicians mostly less. Apparently, he was bad for business.

I confess, I’m always a little heartened to hear a man calling a spade a spade; a Bush a Satan. I’m reminded of Bob’s comment on Eminem, whom he’d never heard play, ‘well, he’s doing something right, if he’s got all those people upset.’

Up here in the good country, we’re all happy all the time, so we’re comfortable asking each other, at every encounter, how we are. I buy my lunch from a drive-by window where employees are actually compelled to ask – each and every customer – ‘how are you today?’ Yesterday I sat and thought, ‘there’s shit leaking out of my butt and it stinks and it tickles – what the fuck do you care how I am? Just give me my god-damn food!’

But I said, ‘I’m good.’

How would Hugo have put it?

Love in the absence

Monday, March 4th, 2013

One of these days, my mother will die. At times I thought she died, for me, long ago. I’ve felt the shame of wishing she were dead; wishing I didn’t have to carry that weight any more. Even so, I visited her the other day and told her the sorrows of my heart. She understood everything.

My mother was never ‘there’ for me; not the way the healthy kids’ parents were. She was there for herself, in a world I couldn’t access, and often gone, gone completely. She loved me her way. It didn’t always get through.

I’m a parent now and here’s how I think it’s supposed to work: I embrace and defend and nourish my kids no matter what. I give them someone who wants them despite whatever they’ve done; who welcomes them home no matter where they’ve been. I give them someone who enjoys seeing them, who waits to hear them laugh, who will always miss them even when they’ve finally gone – forever. And by giving them that I make them strong. They have ground to stand on. They get to grow up.

We’re lucky with our kids. They have no where else to go. We can make lots of mistakes. I make my mistakes and my kids are still standing in my kitchen. I say, ‘gosh, I’m sorry.’ I hug them and we get to keep on going together.

I haven’t been so lucky as a man. With no love to stand on, I still think it has to be proven; I kick you a few times to see if you’ll stick around. So the lovers I’ve had are far away now, not even real, anymore, outside memories and hopeful reconstructions. I step across my living room floor and suddenly stagger, under a recollection, as if physically struck by a blow. How could I have done?

My mother believes she’s never been loved. She spent my lifetime telling me I refused hers. I sat with her and we asked each other our questions. It turned out, we still don’t know what love is.