Samuel Adam

The world without and the world within.

Then, Everything Changed (Ready for the Rain)

It's a long story. I tell it a lot.

I grew up in Indiana, the Midwest land of bitterly cold, dirty-road-slushy-snow winters and sweaty-steamy summers. Not the little kid growing up kind of growing up though. This was the high school growing up kind. The Glory Days, as The Boss wisely called them, freeze some of us in an era for a lifetime; like Han Solo in carbonite.

Anyway, it was 1980 or so. My buddy, Evan, was a drummer. After school we'd hang out in his upstairs bedroom in his tall house that smelled of spices, old wood, and kerosene heaters and we'd listen intently to his absent older brother's vinyl records – entire discographies of Rush, Genesis, and Yes. That was way before you heard any Top 40 radio-play from those guys. In the early 80s dark winter evenings we listened to the brilliant prog-rock summer glory of the 70s for hours. Then I'd plug in my bass, Evan would sit at his drum kit (the centerpiece of his room) and we'd jam our own tunes trying to conjure the same magic we soaked in.

In the 80s, musical styles were as limited and simple to navigate as high school cliques. We only had nerds, band geeks, jocks, and stoners pretty much like in the movie Breakfast Club. The average Midwest kid only knew of a few musical styles too: Pop, Rock, Heavy Metal, Disco, Punk, and New Wave. MTV was brand new, fresh and raw. I miss the days when the music you listened to defined you, your clique, your fashion, your demeanor. Tribal loyalties run stronger where there are fewer tribes. I was a band geek by category, a prog-rock, new wave kid by style; carbonite for my soul. Read the rest of this entry »

Stella Johnson

Stella Johnson was one of the most influential people in my life.   Anyone with ears to hear and eyes to witness could gather wisdom from her to fill traveling bags for a lifetime’s journey.

Stella was a very elderly lady with a fascinating history you’d try to piece together from clues dropped during her dementia-induced episodes and odd conversation topics.  I was privileged to serve as one of her live-in caregivers toward the end of her life.  I believe she is whole now and probably looking down on me with a smile and laugh here and there.  I hope to see her again and get to know her as she was in her youth; vibrant, intense, and engaging.

Stella lived on a gorgeous property in South Seattle overlooking the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal with a postcard view of Vashon Island under the watchful eye of the Olympic Mountains.  I understand that her husband was high-ranking at the Department of Agriculture in Washington State during the 40s.  He planted a Rhododendron garden on their property.  By 1992 it had flourished into a Rhododendron jungle with plants ranging from as tall as me to heights such as the Dame Nelly Melba – an easy 30 feet or more to the top.  In fact, we would get visits from occasional strangers who were referred to her property from local arboretums.   Stella would snap out of any haze she might have been lost in, dutifully powder her face, don lipstick, and hold a smile for hours while she showed off her estate to people with jaws dropped open.  You have never seen anything like it; I guarantee it.

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California State Flower

little flowers small and orange
speckles and sprinkles
atop winter-rainy-green hills

bright little souls
in modest garb
unassumingly, beggingly, brilliant

under frigid rain, upright,
tiny warm hearts within them
waiting for eyes to drink them

eyes like mine who drink everything beautiful,
everything wonderful and magical
because, once, they were drunk on the

laughing-voice, whisper-stride,
grimace-chide, sideways-reclined-fever-eyed,
finger-lips-shush-smile

of you

Not a Day

Today is not very much of a day
For cumbrous, sombrous, or near relatives
Of like adjectives to modify words for burdens
We all carry enough of

Today is very much of a day
Where splattered cloud blue sky flying birds
Remind you of childhood moments
With whispers felt cool on your face

It is a day to reach across the table for a hand
While a glimmer eye soft light smile
Invites you to feel at home
With flickering warmth felt in your heart

A day to park the car and notice
The small tree turning red leafed
Just like the big tree
And proud

Do You Know Peter?

I played in a friend's band at a Christian music festival in England once.  I learned a few things.  It was held at a horserace track and, after having the hardest time finding our dressing room, we learned that there is no such thing as jockeys' quarters number thirteen.

It was the late nineties.  I was nearing the end of an existential crisis that had put Christianity in my rear view mirror.  A reluctant u-turn set it in my windshield again but I was a long way off and in no hurry to race back to any understanding of reality like the one that had crushed me.  I was taking deep inventory of every mile marker along the way.  Whatever this was had to be different for me, and me for it.  That's another story for another time.  It's enough to say that I mistrusted everyone, especially myself, in everything to do with religion and philosophy.  Most people of faith are loath to admit that beliefs are subject to primal urges for safety, provision, love, and social status.  Those primal urges are as ancient as the ocean tide and swell as powerfully within us.  They are stronger than me, stronger than you.

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People are Basically Bad

They were giants.  They are the unforgettable pillars of our youth who stood like mountains and foothills edging the valleys of our journey and like landmark redwoods lining the trails we shared.  Were we to meet them today we might find them ordinary and only five-foot-so, but they live on as legends in our memories, exaggerated for a lifetime.

Chuck Cheek stood taller than most.  He was my eighth grade history teacher at a Junior High School framed by Indiana cornfields.  I was painfully shy at that age; the nerd with broken, taped glasses… the whole bit.  I tried to fly under the radar as much as possible.  Mr. Cheek scared the living buh-geezus out of me.  He was probably the toughest looking guy I ever met – rugged, serious, and respect-worthy – a veritable Chuck Norris.  Word on the streets (and in the halls) was that he carried a flame-thrower in the Vietnam War.  In all my Jr. High life I never once, not once, heard anyone make fun of his big target of a last name or call him by his first name.  Nobody dared.  Not even in his absence.  As tough and fearsome as the guy was, there was never a doubt that he was a damn good man. Read the rest of this entry »

We Are Not All Sons and Daughters

I heard a seething remark once from a disgusted lady shaking her finger at a TV.  "Just because you can have a kid DOES NOT make you a father.  You're just a sperm donor."  You can picture the scene; some deadbeat, absent dad demanding rights to his children on some reality court TV show.

Life is full of unspoken interpersonal contracts.  It's just one of those life on life's terms deals.  We all have expectations for what the quality of things should be, especially the quality of a parent.  Take friendship for example.  I hazily remember a proverb that goes a little something like, "A man set out to find a friend and found none.  Then he set out to be a friend and had more than he could handle."  If you want a friend you have to be a friend.  Believe it or not, and I'm sure you do, these simple truths escape most people. Read the rest of this entry »

Grace for the Humble (not just the saved)

In the company of drunks – there’s a place I feel very much at home still to this day.  I spent a good portion of my 30’s on stools in dive bars, airport bars, brewpubs… anywhere the empty, the eff-ups, and the out-of-control met for drinks and hollow company.  I would catch glimpses of Jesus weaving his way between us, between our words, between our silences.  This was Jesus, the friend of sinners and drunks – Jesus who made a point to eat and drink in houses like ours with people like us rather than recline with the pious.

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Your Happy

A few years ago I (literally) ran across this little message on a sidewalk; no messenger in sight.  I expected to hear giggles from behind a fence or a tree house.  Nothing.  I've never forgotten this moment.

I remember the thick, late-afternoon autumn air felt like my nose pressed into a warm pillow rich with grass and shriveled, faraway fruit.  I remember the sidewalk near the end of a three-mile loop and having pondered this thin layer of air around this blue-green gem adrift in the galaxy – and those who breath it.  I remember the bittersweet marinade of life I was soaking in.  I remember this moment and this over-sized fortune cookie well and often.

Yes.  My happy.

Rain Awakening

The moment it began, as I remember it.

The rainy night,
the salty aroma of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches,
the child on stomach and elbows
in the living room,
coloring.

And this child,
even with bright crayon in motion,
senses for the first time a dark mystery beneath this all,
that raindrops tumble like tiny ghosts
through roof and ceiling
washing bits of human soul
into dirt, fields, and roots of trees we feel for miles.