My family is rich with the world’s beauty. Among my loved ones, you’ll find that Native America, Europe (East and West), Asia, Africa, Central and South America are all well represented. And I LOVE that.
That’s why I was taken aback when Lin-Manuel Miranda called me out for my racism. He didn’t realize it (he wouldn’t know me from any other subway stranger), but that’s exactly what he did.
The worst part? He was right.
Are you exhausted from worrying about someone? Weighed down from constantly carrying them in your heart?
Okay, friends. Huddle up.
David is dead.
If I could write that with more poetic flair, I would, but it would be no less piercing to his mother.
His obituary celebrates a theatrical whirling dervish who “loved all he met, cheered on the underdog,” and brightened the world with “an incredible smile, an infectious laugh,” and “the best bear hugs of anyone.”
On the scorecard, however, David is just another tally mark in the Overdose column. We say that addiction killed him, but that’s not true. The drugs, like most addictions, were just self-medication for deeper wounds. They always are. I heard someone say that we live in a world at war, and nobody gets out of here unscathed.
Anyway, David is dead. As Dickens proclaims, that must be acknowledged should anything wonderful come of this tale.
(Heads up, friends. Though I’ve tried to be delicate, there’s some adult stuff in this one. Like most of my work, it’s a true story, just a bit more literary in nature. Tread lightly. Sacred territory here. Thanks for the nudge, Marie.)
From my second floor office window I see her waving to the ice cream truck as it rounds the corner. It slows and pulls to the curb. With an excited hop she breaks into a sprint, off to collect her special treat.
Like a comet’s tail, her flaming red hair trails behind, flowing in the wind. Wide eyes. Mouth agape. Both betray a child’s joyous heart. Alabaster skin covered in a constellation of freckles. Tube socks worn from summertime adventures are bunched around her ankles, revealing bruised shins and scabby knees. Telltale trophies of kickball, hopscotch, and double-dutch jump rope.
A buddy and I once had a regrettably awesome idea: “Let’s have the most unforgettable Fourth of July fireworks display EVER!”
We pooled our resources and headed across the river to smuggle boxes of explosives back into West Virginia. Rockets. Missiles. Screamers. Repeaters. Roman Candles. Dozens of exploding mortars (those are the big, professional ones, kids).
As family and friends filled our yard, we anxiously awaited the cover of darkness so we could light up the night sky. It was going to be … glorious!
Unfortunately, communication along the front line suffered a setback, resulting in a “slight weapons malfunction.” To cut to the chase, a random spark ignited some misplaced mortars and … well, to be honest, all hell broke loose.
That didn’t go as planned (photo from Caddyshack)
Within 60 seconds, nearly $500 worth of fireworks came roaring to life and attacked in all directions. The rockets’ red glare. The bombs burst in the air … and on my house … and next to screaming people running for cover. At one point I saw my wife’s cousin, just home from Iraq and still in uniform, running through the yard, tossing children over his shoulder and extracting them from the battlefield. People were diving in the pool as my wife screamed, “Get under the water! Stay down!”
You know that final scene from Caddyshack when Carl blows up the entire golf course? That was child’s play compared to our epic disaster.
Open your contact lists on your phone and computer. Count the entries. Next add your social media friends and followers. Now, estimate how many people you brush up against on any given day (in both the physical and media realms).
Let’s pretend you actually arrived at a final sum (we’ll call it “Z”).
Head out to your local hardware store. Ask the kid behind the counter to make “Z” copies of your house key. Finally, send one to every person included in “Z”. (Make sure you have extra copies to hand out to random folks throughout the week.)
We wouldn’t give many of our family members that much open access to our homes, not to mention the countless others we encounter. But this is exactly what we do—day in and day out—with our hearts.
Little wonder we feel plundered at the end of most days. Life has a way of breaking-and-entering on its own. We don’t help ourselves by handing out keys like Pez dispensers.
I want to share a painting that hangs on the wall where I do most of my work. When I look up from my desk, this is what I see:
Study the picture for a few minutes. (Okay, give it ten seconds. I know—you’re busy. We all are.)
Now tell me, what happened here? What’s the story?
Whatever yarn you spin will reveal nothing about the painting, but it will suggest a lot about your life, your place in the world, and the impact you’ll have on others.
Friends, is yours a story of destruction and despair, or one of beauty and adventure?
More importantly, how thankful are you for the story you’re living? Continue reading
(This piece was shared by CBS News, among other various news and social media outlets.)
Well, the post-election protests have finally made their way to my hometown of Huntington, WV.
We’re always behind the times, but what took so long?
For you out-of-towners, I know that you’ve heard of our little neck of the woods. Just yesterday we observed the bitter anniversary of the Marshall University plane crash—everyone seems to know about that. We recently made national headlines by having nearly thirty drug overdoses in a single four-hour period. The whole Kim Davis / gay marriage saga played out about an hour from here (sorry, Kentucky, that’s your headline, but we’re close enough that we had to suffer through it). It also became national news yesterday when two Clay, WV officials (also about an hour from here) were goofy enough to show themselves on social media, one calling our current First Lady an “Ape in heels” and the other applauding the sentiment.
To the outside world, I bet we don’t look like the mecca of hope. In fact, we get so used to reading our own press that it’s sometimes hard for us to imagine that a ray of light could shine out of our backyard.
However, the first protest has begun. Continue reading
*Author’s note: I almost didn’t post this today as I feared it might not be appropriate on Veterans’ Day. However, after attending our town’s parade and ceremony this morning, hearing the bands play our patriotic songs, seeing representatives from every military branch, and paying our respects to the courageous men and women who have served our country with dignity and honor, I realized it was more than appropriate. Thanks to the sacrifices of these men and women, we live in the greatest country in the world, where we continue to be free to disagree and wrestle our way through some hard discussions.
God Bless America!
About a quarter-century ago, I was preparing my first student teaching lesson for a West Virginia history class. I remember it well.
Often theatrical, I was rehearsing quotes from John Brown, the crazy-eyed, self-proclaimed instrument-of-God abolitionist whose band of ruffians stormed the armory at Harpers Ferry. Though really not that big of a deal in and of itself, the raid was a spark that helped ignite the powder keg of division that became the American Civil War.
“I am now quite certain,” I quoted Brown in my best gruff, indignant, mountain man voice, “that the crimes of this evil land will never be purged away … [lengthy pause for dramatic effect] … but … with … BLOOOOOOD!” I poured that final word all over the students who were half-amused, half-terrified. Continue reading
(***Disclaimer: This is a previously unpublished journal entry that I’ve tweaked after a recent discussion with a friend. I told her I’d throw it out there.)
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been struggling. Emotionally. Psychologically. Spiritually. I know it’s not true, but—wow!—I feel alone in this place. Regrettably, not enough of us are willing to drop our fig leaves and confess that we’re human, that we hurt, and that things are often far from ‘fine’.
I’ve been praying, but right now that’s like stumbling through a mist-shrouded forest. Within the complex mess of salvaged parts in my soul, I’ve found myself at once yearning for two opposites: the longing to escape for a while and set out alone, and a desperate aching for human connection, compassion, and soul-support. Unfortunately, obligations and busyness have kept me from the former; and the latter? To whom shall I turn? Everyone I know is either mired in their own battles right now or conspicuously MIA. Continue reading