Samuel Adam

The world without and the world within.

Miracle Bike

A year or so before my dad passed he asked me, “Hey Sam, do you remember the time when you were a kid and you gave your bike to that guy?” It was always weird to hear him call me Sam because that’s his name too.

I did remember.

___

It was a sunny Saturday in the late seventies. The Oregon summer air was warm. The scent of musky pine and berries wafted through the screen door. My dad called for me to come outside. He was chatting with a man I didn’t know so I pushed through the door shyly and stared at the ground.

My dad pastored a Spanish-speaking church in our town so it was pretty common for folks to come around unannounced. This guy rode his bike all the way across town and across the interstate to our trailer park, so it must have been important.

My Dad said, “Sammy, so-and-so here doesn’t speak English. He wants to know if you’d be willing to trade bikes with him.”

My heart dropped like a sucker punch to the gut because I knew right away how this would end. The guy saw the look on my face and started talking while my dad translated more.

“He says he doesn’t have a car and his bike is the only transportation he has to go to work with so he needs a reliable bike.”

My eighth birthday was just a few months earlier and I got a brand new, sparkle-white ten-speed. I wanted that bike so badly but we couldn’t afford much, so I was sure I’d never get it. It was a birthday miracle bike. It was a sacrifice of love from my parents and I treasured that bike more than anything in the world.

Dad said, “You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. He’s just asking.”

I could hear the tone of my dad’s voice telling me not to do it. The guy, sensing the deal was about to fall apart, started talking right at me in whatever English he could muster up, trying to show me how much I might like his bike. I looked at the dirty white handlebars, scuffed green frame, the shifters for only three speeds.

I said, “Sure, I’ll trade.”

My dad caught my eye directly and told me more slowly, “You don’t have to trade if you don’t want to. Are you sure you want to do this?” He said it more than once so I insisted, “Yes, I’m sure, I’ll trade.”

I pulled my shiny bike out of the shed and rolled it to that guy. I took some comfort in the look on his face. He must have been about as happy as I was on my birthday with a miracle bike in his hands.

He handed his bike to me and I rode away quickly before they could see me cry. The rhythm of the creaking chain, the crooked handlebars, the sluggish gears, the tall pines, the comforting breeze on my wet cheek… I was really sad but it felt right somehow.

Why did I do it? Maybe as a pastor’s kid it was because I figured Jesus wanted me to. More than that, though, I saw a man with so little self-respect that he’d take a brand new bike from a kid just because it was nicer than his. Or maybe he was driven by an inner desperation; the kind you pick up when life hits you too hard too many times in a row. I don’t know. I felt sorry for him. Heck, I felt sorry for his bike. It was the unloved player in the script.

___

“Yeah Dad, I remember that time. What about it?”

He said, “I always remembered that and I always felt bad. I felt like I should have stepped in to stop it but I didn’t.”

“Actually, Dad, I’m glad you didn’t. I’m glad you let me do my thing.”

You see, if I had kept my bike there’d be no story, nothing to tell, and no wound to soften me.

Here’s how it is: Selfish people want your stuff. The nice ones ask, the mean ones steal, and it never feels fair even when you give willingly. But that’s life the best I remember it. It’s one of life’s terms. It took me a lifetime to accept that life doesn’t give a rat’s ass about my terms.

Now, I don’t want to sound all religious here but, whatever your spiritual or non-spiritual bent, you might appreciate a few things Jesus said when taken at face value. He said stuff like, “Hey, if you’re only kind to people who treat you kindly, what’s so special about that? Even really terrible people do that kind of thing. You want to be different? Be kind to people who are mean to you. In fact, more than that, love your enemies. Then you’ll start to resemble God because he’s kind to ungrateful people too.”

That’s a simple paraphrase but you get the gist of it. It makes a lot of sense. If you want to break free from the herd, do something completely and lovingly counter-intuitive. The world is full of sick people and the real trouble is most aren’t sick enough to get help so they’ll just stay sick.

There are certain kinds of wounds that heal the soul. Extending kindness, forgiveness, and mercy to selfish, mean, and hateful people costs you something. Sometimes it wounds you. What you get in return is a soul free from the entrapments common to most humans. Your stuff doesn’t matter as much to you any more. People matter more. At first you’re grateful for what you have then, as time passes, you’re grateful that you have the capacity for so much gratitude. That kind of gratitude heals a person.

I’m glad eight-year-old Sammy did what he did. He gave me a miracle gift: Freedom from the love of shiny things and a love for people and experiences above possessions.

So, thanks Sammy. And thanks Dad. You did it right.

You Love What You Love

meNbear

I used to hate dogs. I thought they were disgusting, poop-eating, smelly, loud-barking, cat-killing, needy, table-begging, annoying, farting, drooling, shin-licking, … evil maladroits capable of hypnotizing the entire human species with a mere tail wag. I could go on and on about what I hated but I suppose it’s better not to dig up old resentments.

About six months ago my sweet girlfriend said she missed her dog a whole bunch and wanted him to come live with us. A sixty-five pound, twelve-year old Lab mix, named Bear, in a two-bedroom apartment, on the third floor. I can’t say I was thrilled with the idea.

I was willing to give up some comfort so she could be happy but before I go making myself sound great, I’ll be honest. I knew that somehow our happiness together depended on how this was going to work out. She’s a good person. She only asked that I give it a shot and nothing more. She’s a real keeper.

A simple try on my part wasn’t going to be enough. I needed to fully accept, not just tolerate Bear. I mean, a life of having to constantly tolerate a dog I don’t like sounds like some kind of karmic punishment. I’d have to actually change and it’d take a minor miracle because I honestly, could not, stand, dogs.

I’ve hacked my life before. I’ve learned how to keep from getting stuck in my ways. I’ve learned that it’s possible to change the most engrained mentalities and behaviors. I learned it from some very kind and patient people.

Let me take a little philosophical detour here. I have come to believe we humans are driven mostly by primal instincts for survival and self-protection. Those are good instincts. They’re so strong, though, that they carry us away sometimes.  We build identities and reputations the same way we build houses to live in. They make us feel safe and give us a patch of land to stand on in the social world. Identities like, say, being “Sam, the dog hater,” can trap a person. They can make a much needed change nearly impossible. I think the secret to keeping a youthful heart is holding your identities loosely, placing very little value in self-importance, and even less value in other people’s approval.

Well, nowadays I love Bear. I call him “my good man.” He’s too old to call “boy.” I even find myself drawn to other people’s dogs. I have a genuine appreciation, even an affection, for dogs. I’ve hacked my life again. It turns out I’m pretty hackable. I have a system for it. It doesn’t always work but when it does it’s magical.

You see, when I knew Bear was on his way, I decided to become willing to love him. I didn’t decide to actually love him, just to be open to it. That smells a lot like a psychological trick, I know, but I promise you it’s not. Unwillingness stems from that primal fear of change and it’s usually the problem. Some people seem to have all kinds of self-control, able to will themselves to change by invoking some Herculean inner strength. Not me. All I have is that I’m willing to try.

When I first saw Bear, shit got real. I realized I wasn’t honestly willing to like him. I did at least want to want to like him. So I guess I was just willing to become willing. Hey, that’s good enough for a start. I’ll take it.

If personal change is anything to me, it is deeply and very personally spiritual. I learned a key element of change from very kind, patient people from all sorts of spiritual persuasions, and atheists too. I asked for help from whom many of my friends call the Universe and others call God which is a wide-ranging name. It doesn’t require any brand loyalty, just blunt honesty and a simple request that, for me, sounded like this: “I want to want to like Bear, and that’s all I got. I need this, not just for me, but for Jess too. Please, I need a little help here.” That’s it. The plainer the better. It’s a humbling act and maybe that’s the main ingredient. It’ll either work or it won’t but you won’t know till you try.

After that I started doing things dog owners should do. I took personal responsibility. I watched The Dog Whisperer with Jess and talked about it with her. I practiced what I learned. Dogs need plenty of exercise so I bought a kick-scooter so Bear could run fast and I could have fun too. A healthy relationship with a dog is built almost entirely on walking together and you leading the pack. That’s just the way it works and there aren’t any shortcuts. It takes real time to walk with Bear so I made it fun for me by getting a Fitbit and setting personal goals.

The key, I learned, was to turn things that felt like a sacrifice into things that were good for me too.

Crazy things started to happen. Bear stopped pulling on the leash. He started listening to me. He’d stick with me around the apartment. He waited at the door for me until I got home from work. I could see that he loved me in his doggy ways. I was getting more exercise, feeling better and more confident, walking with my head a little higher and feeling relaxed. I was changing for the better. I realized then that if there was a purpose to this whole thing, it wasn’t much about me loving Bear, it was about me being a better human.

And that’s the magic, the change you ask for is not the change you usually get. It’s the byproduct of the change you really needed.

Bear still tries to eat poop, he pants a lot, he slobbers on the carpet when he eats his treats, and he farts in his sleep while we watch TV. It just doesn’t matter to me any more. I love the guy. I love his hopefulness. When he wants to go out for a walk he comes up to me with his tail already wagging at the thought of how fun it’s going to be. I absolutely love that dog now. I absolutely love my life more because he’s in it.

Bear also taught me a profound truth. It’s something I’ve heard in different ways before but didn’t own until now:

You love what you love.

In other words, you end up feeling love for what you love on purpose by doing all the things. And when love feels like it’s fading, then love it, love him, love her, on purpose all the more. I can’t think of a single thing I love that didn’t cost me time, effort, and money I didn’t want to spend sometimes. I don’t have any loves that didn’t take some stick-with-it-ness.

And maybe that’s Love’s wisdom, that she requires much of us not because we’re poor in love to give, but rich in self-protection. Love seems pretty jealous of our selfishness. “It’s either me or her – you can’t have both,” she says, and through tough measures, she heals us.

Through willingness, asking for help, and trying, Bear has healed deep parts of me I didn’t know needed healing. He’s my good man.

cool-shirt

You just keep doin’ your thing, man

I leave the office at the end of the workday and start my trek from South Congress to the North side of Austin. It’s a stop and go drive. I don’t mind it much because it gives me time to ponder life. Lately I’ve been pondering a man in a green t-shirt who waves at passersby on my way home.

Green t-shirt guy hangs out for hours after work down by the Home Depot exit where day-workers have been and gone home. I see him there at 5:30 and sometimes at 7:00. He’s a middle-aged, mustached man always wearing a green t-shirt. Sometimes there’s a red bike nearby, other times a red bag, and he’s always waving. He doesn’t wave to the air, he waves right at you.

I don’t know what his deal is. It’s easy to think he’s mentally or emotionally stunted but I know outward appearances usually only tell clichéd stories my brain conjures up. He might just be a really friendly dude who loves green t-shirts. At first it surprised me, then after seeing him nearly every weekday for a month I started waving back.

The real situation doesn’t matter to me much. All I know is it makes me feel something. Something good. Something nice. I’ll miss it when when he’s gone. I don’t know exactly what that feeling is but I’ve had similar feelings at other times.

It’s come from the hand on the soft part of my arm from the girl who loves me or from the reassuring palm on my back from a mentor or someone else I look up to. The human touch has power to transform a mind and heal a heart.

I’ve also felt it watching a kid playing quietly with his toys unaware that anyone was watching. You know the moment – the motor sounds, the dialogue between make-believe strangers, the motion of limb and mind. There is nothing quite as touching as a good-natured child at play, unobserved. To watch is to continually be on the verge of delight at the next thing they do. The anticipation is a soothing ether – warm fuzzies to massage the back of your brain.

Interesting thought, that: To continually be on the verge of delight in someone. I know people like that. They’re just good natured people who think the best of you, always interested and encouraging. There are the other kind, of course, always on the verge of being disappointed by someone – their kid, their lover, or people in general. Poor lot they are.

I guess that’s part of why I’m so surprised by this guy. Middle-aged, mustached men on the side of the road aren’t particularly cute. Not a likely source of warm fuzzies at all, really, but he’s just doing his thing, waving at people for hours, like a child at play, unobserved. I find myself on the verge of being delighted every time I drive down that road. Then I find myself on the verge of being delighted throughout the day, half expecting to see another something like it – anything like it – someone just doing their thing in plain sight, as if unobserved.

Friends who know me well also know about my spiritual journey. Most people have a “God of your own understanding” if you will. I am not terribly or traditionally religious, mind you, but my life’s path has forced me to make up my mind about a few things, including God. In my experience, I have come to understand God as incredibly good-natured. I’ve come to understand that he has a thing for the bluntly honest, the bottom-hitters, and the poor. My heart is full these days and my life is good beyond what I deserve. All I’ve done is work hard and be as honest as I know how. If your version of God seems to be continually on the verge of disappointment with you or everyone around you, maybe you could borrow mine for a while. Mine seems to be on the verge of delight with the next plain old me-thing I might do when I think nobody is watching. I don’t see any reason for him to be different about you or anyone else.

Every day I drive down Woodard and wave back at the man in the green t-shirt I think to myself, what freak’n cool worlds I have – the world within and the world without, as Buechner says. I’m grateful.

To my mustached friend and to you, my friend, I say what Strongbad says to Strongmad in the epic Trogdor episode, “Strongmad? You jus… keep doin’ your thing, man.” Like a child, at play, unobserved.

Forty Eight

I’m forty eight years old today. I feel thirty. I’m blessed more than I deserve.

Friends, I wish for you the same sense of blessing I have in life these days. From my personal experiences I’ve come to believe we have only what we cooperate with God (the Universe, or however you understand him) to get. And we have those things so we may help each other. If you’re down, ask for help. If you’re up, share it, and share how you got it.

Here are forty eight Sam proverbs. Nothing all that original – just things I think about often. These are off the top of my head, in no particular order, unedited. Many are topics I’d like to write more about but may not get around to.

  1. Find love, don’t wait for it. Search it out like you do food and shelter.
  2. Love and admiration changes a good man. It makes him admirable.
  3. Love and adoration changes a good woman. It makes her adorable.
  4. Good men stick to the rules.
  5. Good men don’t always make the rules.
  6. Good men break the rules.
  7. Sin boldly. Obvious sins (or mistakes, if you prefer) are better than the kind that trail behind.
  8. You are capable of more than you know – good and bad.
  9. God gives grace to the humble, not the correct.
  10. Learned, revealed, or otherwise, you only have your own understanding of anything, including God. Be humble.
  11. When nothing changes, nothing changes.
  12. You will face very real risks in life. Don’t be afraid. Living is a risk already.
  13. If “good is the enemy of best” then best is also the enemy of good.
  14. Good is still pretty good. If you sit around waiting for best too long, you’ll end up with neither. Striving for best often misses the art of living.
  15. If you don’t enjoy journeys you probably don’t really like destinations either.
  16. A destination is the excuse for a journey. Remember that next time you imagine heaven or whatever afterlife you hope for.
  17. You’ll rarely regret slowing things down. You’ll often regret rushing.
  18. People are basically bad. People basically want to do good. When you get that both are true, you’re on your way to understanding how people work.
  19. Money does buy you happiness, it just can’t buy you joy. Temporary happiness is valuable. Let it be.
  20. Receiving brings happiness, giving brings joy. Joy is better than happiness.
  21. It’s better to give than to receive but learn to do both.
  22. Learn to be a gracious recipient of gifts, grace, and compliments. Few things endear you to people more than this.
  23. Earn as much as you can. Give as much as you can.
  24. You probably have everything right now that you really want – everything you were willing to risk to get.
  25. Attraction beats promotion every time.
  26. Resentment is literally deadly for some. Get help, if not for you then for those who love you.
  27. Dogs bark to defend houses they didn’t build, don’t own, and are incapable of actually defending. They’re just wired that way.
  28. Too many preachers bark. Leave that for the dogs.
  29. The world within you is larger than the world outside you.
  30. Change the world inside first. Most times that takes lending a helping hand to the world outside.
  31. Happiness makes you cry.
  32. Being correct is its own reward. Being honest takes wisdom, time, and self-discovery.
  33. Being honest with and about yourself is more difficult than being correct. Don’t take the easy way out.
  34. God will take an honest guess or try over a correct answer any day of the week.
  35. God is not just in the soul-saving business, he’s in the ass-saving business too.
  36. Some of us need our ass saved first because, for us, the “born again” mentality can be a soup of denial, escapism, and make-believe.
  37. Willingness to believe is all it takes most days – not because it’s a mental trick but because lack of willingness is usually the problem.
  38. The heart remains a child. Treat it firmly and lovingly – yours and theirs.
  39. You don’t find yourself. You become yourself. Only a few truly become themselves.
  40. People remember how you made them feel. Give confidence and positive points of view.
  41. Writing heals the soul; even more so when you purpose to write from a different, more positive point of view.
  42. Forty two might actually be the answer to life, the universe, and everything – we just don’t know how yet.
  43. A true friend is someone who loves you for no damned good reason.
  44. Most of us have been or will be born again in one way or another when the weight of reality finally crushes the way we have it pictured in our head.
  45. Rebirth is not a sudden enlightenment; it’s a stark beginning from which we start blurry-eyed, weak-legged, disoriented, and ignorant – and free from the life that killed us.
  46. Things take time. Sit back, look around, and enjoy the view in front of you.
  47. If you are a man, become the kind kids rest their heads on, women feel protected by, friends feel backed by, family can depend on, and young men look up to. It’s what you were made for. You don’t have to be perfect or great, just unselfish.
  48. Always have something with your coffee – like cake, pie, or something like that.

Hey Kid, You’re OK

Old photographs are magical – especially paper photos you hold in your hand. I have very old pictures of strangers whose histories have shaped my own. They stand like figurines in grayscale yesteryear, in front of houses, beside cars, holding babies, smiling, or not smiling. Now and then an old photo grips us and we peer intensely. We study faces, expressions, and clothing, straining to listen with our eyes. Every so often we catch them peering back at us through a tiny window in time, maybe wondering as much about us as we do them.

I have a favorite childhood picture. In it, I sit with my shirt buttoned clear to the top, hair combed over ever so neatly, glasses to magnify eyes caught between a smile and “is this how I’m supposed to look?” I wondered what kind of forty-years-later guy might be looking back at me. I felt like I’d met him already. My future self would visit me in dreams to tell me I was going to be ok. He was very cool, easy-going, laughed a lot, and I wanted to be just like him. I still do. I stare at this photo every now and then. It grips me and I can’t explain why.

I always buttoned the top button. Every day. It was a random rule that wedged itself into my little noggin. I hated the top button and always felt choked, but I felt worse without it fastened. I wished I could have parted my hair on the other side but the rule was if you started doing something one way then that was the way it had to be done from now on.

Babies seem to be born with little personality traits right out of the gate. Some are stubborn, others are docile. Some were just born happy and others are born immediately at odds with existence. I was born a rules-guy. I could blame it on birth order, being firstborn, or I could pin it on growing up in the Evangelical 70s. The thing is, I know rules-guys and rules-girls who were neither first nor religious. It’s just in the DNA. We spend our lives recovering from it.

I was a painfully shy kid. Extreme shyness, like tooth pain, is mostly a constant ache but the touch of just about anything excruciates the nerves. I felt different and out of place in the world. I didn’t know it was common to feel that way. Dreams and hopeful ideas of my future self comforted me the most.

Now, as my older self, I wonder what I’d say to that kid. He’s a likable, tenderhearted fella who just needs a little reassurance.

Hey kid, you’re gonna be ok.

You know that country you want to go to? Australia? You’ll go there! And a lot more countries too. That dream you had about playing guitar on a stage with colored lights and everything? That comes true. Well, everything except the bellbottoms. Bummer, I know, but you won’t miss them. I promise.

When you grow up you’ll still be shy but at the same time you won’t be. It’s hard to explain. Just trust me. You’ll have one of the most interesting lives you can imagine and make a thousand friends along the way.

One day soon you’re going to skip that top button and walk outside. You’ll be shocked when nobody notices. One day in school you’re going to put your hair over your ears like the other kids. Nobody notices that either. I know! Crazy, right?

In your teens you’ll feel like you’ll explode if you don’t find yourself. You know – figure out who you really are. That never really goes away. I’ll tell you a secret. Finding yourself starts with discovering who you aren’t, not who you are. Right now you picture who you want to be and it feels impossible because it’s like turning into somebody else, somebody you’re not, and you’d have to fake it. But look, I am you. Everything I am now starts with what’s inside you. There’s just some stuff covering it up, that’s all. Here’s the real kicker. You don’t find yourself. You become yourself. And that just takes time. You can’t rush it any more than you can rush winter.

Some of the stuff you decide you’re not any more, you’ll decide you are again later. You see, sometimes we let go of too much and we don’t see the good parts till they go missing. You’ll come to understand God in your own way. That’s all any of us have anyway – our own understanding of anything. That thought makes other rules-people really uncomfortable but don’t sweat it. God seems to like a totally honest try more than a right answer so just be honest.

I need to tell you this too. Some of your life is gonna hurt pretty bad. A lot of it is stuff you do to yourself but don’t worry. Most of that stuff turns out to be the best stuff in your life. You’ll see.

You’re gonna turn out just fine kiddo. Hang in there.

Try it. Grab a picture of yourself at six and tell that kid how it worked out, and a little advice, out loud. It’s hard not to get choked up. It’s like talking to a lost loved one or maybe like talking to the child we still are. Probably a little of both.

Maybe now isn’t a great time for that kind of thing. You might take a photo for the next forty-years-later you to peer at then try listening through that window in time. There is always hope. That is one of just a few things I know for certain.

I keep a childhood picture in the living room. Now and then I look up and say, “Hey kid, you’re gonna be ok.” Gets me every time.

On the eve of your move

I've moved many times. I've said goodbye a lot, sometimes with tears. I've also said hello a lot and that takes a lot of smiling.

An imaginary, melancholy mistress visits me in these times of transition. She tells me about Then, This and There. Then are the moments and memories that led to This, which is the pregnant pause before the leap to There. She holds my hand during This and tells me stories about Then. She tells my stories in a way that makes them sound like I'd not heard them before. I notice details I had missed: A deep, knowing smile in the eye of a friend I ran into at a coffee shop, a shy brush against the arm from a girl I had a crush on, a word in a conversation that really meant something different than how I understood it… so many details.

Now the wheels are set in motion and there is no stopping. The desire to see a new life chapter play out is greater than the sorrow of goodbye. Or maybe the nomadic fear of getting stuck is greater than just about everything else.

Dear friend, on the eve of your move, remember This. Remember the moment the sun went down and the world hushed. Remember the melancholy mistress who held your hand. Tomorrow when you wake, you will find a compass in it. It will help you There.

Smirk Like a Name

[ A very old poem worth sharing ]

Dashboard rose
Wilting streetlights
Driveway at the top of the hill

For the first time I called him Smirk
Like a name
Because I knew what he was thinking
And I swear I saw headlights grin

Dashboard rose
Suburban hills
Radar in the shadows

I had dinner with a friend
We built a pond on the table
And loved our sushi with beer
Laughing at silly voices we make
And the lady gave her a rose

Dashboard rose
Toll bridge greens and reds
Weaving Valentine's night drivers

I had a beer with a friend
Who agreed with me about things
That mean more to us
Than others who don't know
We left in five minutes
To not be late

Dashboard rose
Strip mall store signed like towers
One car boasting blue headlights

I saw a movie with a friend
One like others see on special days
One like we see just because
We're not that different
After all, we said

Dashboard rose
Rescued from the floor
Parking garage goodnights

I met her at the parking garage
And we nodded up at each other
Like cool people do on TV
And I was glad on Valentine's Day
Not to have a date or to prove
I'm clever or cute

Dashboard rose
Like a rock ballad
From neon 80s in my head

I met her like cool people on TV
She left a rose on the dashboard
For the first time I called him Smirk
Like a name

Deep Waters

I remember a time in my existential journey when I was being drawn back to God, to Christ, compelled in ways that were beyond me. I had divorced myself from the Christendom I had known so severely that there was no going back to the same situation. This time it had to be different for me and me for it. Every step closer to God unsettles types like me. Whether drawn or pushed, we go one step at a time, knock-kneed the whole way.

The push and tug gave way to a dual personality I was blind to for a long time. Around believers I was the antagonist and around those not so inclined to believe, I was the protagonist.

I bought a book called “The Myth of Certainty” at a local Christian bookstore and smiled with glee as the baby powder smelling cashier frowned, “Well, now, THAT’s an interesting title.” Around church people I’d drop language just coarse enough to rough up some feathers. I’d extol the virtues of doubt around people who call it the opposite of faith. I’d confess my deepest, scariest doubts firmly enough to elicit fear for my eternal soul. It was as if, in some sick way, I could rest what faith I had on their heads then argue with it, giving me room to be more a doubter than I really was. Whenever caught in a conversation about God with non-believers I’d suddenly take the stance of a believer. Things didn’t get better for me till I realized I was not being my true self to anyone at all.

“The purpose of a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Proverbs 20:5.

Some of being comfortable in your skin is being ok with knowing you don’t know why you do the things you do. Still, we need help now and then. That proverb used to depress me. If I was only wise and understanding enough to draw out my motivations from the murky depths then I’d be better, I thought. And what about all the people who will never be wise enough to understand themselves? A poor lot we are. Now I see two people in that proverb. It says to me, hey, when you don’t understand what’s going on inside hit up a wise, understanding friend.

“Garbage in, garbage out.” It’s a saying from early computing days. I haven’t studied psychology past the 9th grade but I’ve been around the block enough times to see that humans are inclined to do this crazy thing. We ask for help, for a listening ear, for advice, wisdom, or God just anything because we hurt. We find a sympathetic victim and feed them one side of a story. We suddenly suffer involuntary embellishment syndrome and, occasionally, uncontrollable verbal diarrhea. Sometimes it’s so they will validate our fears and anger, “I just KNEW I was right!” Or our deluded hopes, “I TOTALLY knew I was right.” Sometimes we feed them the half we want to argue with so we can walk away, “Pshh… They are so full of crap and I am so okay.” and carry on in a comfortable neurosis. It’s like talking to a computer, not a person. We feed it garbage to get the garbage we’re looking for. I know. I’ve done this.

I’ve learned a lot about honesty. Honesty is not just candor or bluntness. Anyone can blurt. There is a sweeter flavor of honesty. You see it in the self-aware, awakened person who is suddenly charming for saying not just what they feel but also, “and what that says about me is that I am…” afraid, angry, threatened, or anything else hard to admit.

A wonderful thing happens when you tell an understanding friend the whole story, the bad feelings and some of the good feelings too, the things you hate and maybe a thing or two you actually love, the things you’re afraid might come true and a thing or two that you really hope for. You end up feeling like you’ve talked with a genuine person, someone you appreciate because they are able to help you pull a few gems from the muddy depths. Ironically, it’s because you were the genuine one to start with.

May God increase our capacity to be honest and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

July Roses

Tired roses
Faded against the fence line
Blushing faces happily sunburned
Looking at the house now, or at the ground

I walked by one, I
Held out my hand, and
It dropped a pink petal, from
A long ago bloom

A petal like a soft word
Tender in my palm, whispering
Like the breeze that picked up, and
Set it aflight

I looked at the rose
Voiceless and sleepy
Under icy moonlight

The moon, dropping words about you

Thoughts for a rainy day

I see the world in blues and greys. I don't know how else to describe it. It's beautiful to me that way.

I was taken from the rich, wet Jory soil of Oregon's Willamette Valley. One day, sooner than I'd prefer maybe, my ashes will return to some crumbly stretch of soil but, until then, my red dirt soul unfolds under soft, wet skies.

My grandmother told one joke I remember, a common quip locals would tell: "How do you predict the weather in Oregon? If you can see Mt Hood it's going to rain and if you can't see Mt Hood it's already raining."

If you love rain like I do then you probably understand what I mean by blue and grey. It's as if we see things by the light of the sky rather than the sun; sometimes blue and clear, sometimes grey and sonorous with rainfall. A photographer told me once that the ambient light of the sky when the sun shines sideways at dawn or dusk brings out the nuance and richness in everything. Dawn and dusk to me are moments of beautiful melancholy that shed a richer light on the events of the day, the week, the life.

Most people I know tend to be sun lovers. They're energized by daylight and activity and would be happy enough never to see a rainy day again. They're fun to be around in doses and, at times, I envy their simple eyes. Sun lovers aren't all shallow minds but to tell one that you love rainy days invites an are-you-crazy strong enough to banish weaker hearts to the Island of Misfit Toys.

To be candid, we rain lovers see sunshine lovers as simple, binary people: on-off, good-bad, light-dark, sun-rain, happy-sad. We can't help but feel far more interesting because we're more in touch with things like nuance, metaphor, and the beauty of melancholy.  We are brunettes to your blondes, cat owners to your dog owners… and, I'm starting a fight I don't want to finish so let's move on.

Whichever you are you can admit there is something deeply soothing to the primal animal within each of us about the sound of rain falling. I imagine that in the animal kingdom, predator and prey alike rest reverently during a good rain in recognition of, if not a prayer to, a greater power and an acknowledgment of a deep, common connection. Something about it makes it feel to me as if our whole beings – spirit, mind and flesh – are inseparably woven into the same tapestry with threads that bind us at unfathomable depths.

Rain is not always a metaphor for sadness. Jesus said once that the Father, "makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." In the agrarian culture which first heard it, rain was a blessing. It grew your crops. In other words, God blesses and he blesses. His provision is often nondiscriminatory so don't be surprised when unjust people prosper. You might be upset by the grace God shows to people who hurt and hate you. Expect it. Accept it. Like the melancholy light of dusk, it sheds a richer light on his deep mercy and reveals him as even more trustworthy – more faithful.

Of course, rain is no good without the sun. It takes both to grow forests ancient and mighty in places like Oregon. Too much or too little of anything spoils it, they say. Today though, on a soft, wet Northern California day, I'm enjoying a soothing break from the sun – the relentless mistress of summer who repels rain for months on end.

“May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.” – traditional Gaelic blessing