Posted in Beauty, Health

The Aftermath

25 years ago today, a jury acquitted Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno, and Timothy Wind on charges of assault and use of excessive force in the now infamous caught on tape beating of Rodney King. In some ways not much has changed in 25 years. Now the footage is captured on iPhones instead of camcorders. But police brutality, especially against people of color, is still rampant in the United States. Victims of police brutality are still scrutinized and blamed. Rodney King certainly wasn’t an innocent man. Amadou Diallo was! But in either case – or any of the plethora of like cases we have been inundated with over the past quarter of a century – the narrative is always similar. It always becomes a story about how much the victim did or did not deserve the severity of force rather than primarily about those who abuse the power of a badge and a gun.

These are things I have been thinking about, at least since the fall of 1992. Ice Cube released his third solo album, The Predator. From beginning to end it was a scathing indictment of police brutality and race relations in America. And from “We Had to Tear This Mothafucka Up” to “Who Got the Camera?” it was a completely different commentary than what I got from the Evening news with Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and drastically different than what I heard from my parents. I am not being hyperbolic or speaking flippantly when I say that listening to that album with my headphones on was a large part of why I ended up going to seminary. I just no longer see the church pulpit as my avenue for trying to be an agent of change in a sick and heartbroken society.

What I haven’thought a lot about is the aftermath of a highly publicized event on a city and all of its inhabitants. From the violence that erupted in L.A. to the mostly peaceful demonstrators and vigils in Ferguson, there is some level of violence, lots of civil unrest, negative impact on local businesses, whether from looting or the enforcement of curfews. Already tense relationships between law enforcement and disenfranchised communities are heightened. And in this state of affairs the media descends on a city and saturates the entire country with coverage of their story… until the next big headline. I say none of this to minimize the importance of the people being heard. It is more of a judgement about our poor listening skills, about how we only talk about ugly truths when the worst things happen, we turn people and whole cities into talking points until there is another headline about a President’s tweet, or the unrest in Syria or a viral video of a bluegrass band covering AC/DC diverts our attention.

I am thinking a lot today about what the aftermath must be like for the communities affected. I am thinking about it largely for two reasons. Yesterday I listened to a heartbreaking report on NPR on how L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley and sports and business mogul, Peter Ueberroth’s attempts to Rebuild L.A. were in large part a failure. And in many ways the city is still reeling from the aftermath of the verdict and the subsequent civil unrest.

I am also thinking about it because one year ago today in a much less publicized case I was a “defendant” for the first time in my life. The plaintiff was my ex-wife. We stood in front of a judge. There were no lawyers. He didn’t even bang a gavel. He simply pronounced us divorced. We had already been separated for 6 months. We had been growing apart for years, creating a void that was almost unbearable for all, including our two children. People find all sorts of ways to cope with the dysfunction of an unhappy home. I was distant and drank too much. I threw myself headlong first into the search for ministry placement. Then after a heartbreaking two year search and a very short lived time as an underpaid “resident pastor” I threw myself into being an online, Christian “social justice warrior.” My family suffered, I suffered, my art suffered. But divorce, while many things, is not a cure for dysfunction or broken hearts. The civil unrest of divorce creates a vortex of new pain and an aftermath that requires a lot of rebuilding.

I am working my ass off to rebuild. I am working to resurrect a bridge of communication that was completely dismantled between my ex-wife and myself, so that we can successfully co-parent two children whose dreams of a happy home and a white picket fence, with both parents together were shattered. I am working on reestablishing a relationship with the two most important people in my life, my 9 year old daughter with trust issues and clinical anxiety and my wide-eyed, usually optimistic but heartbroken 7 year old son. Some days the effort seems futile and fruitless when my daughter calls me the night before a “daddy’s weekend” and says she is not coming to my house anymore and hangs up on me. There are lots of fits, temper tantrums and some trying to play mom and dad against each other. But there is also a lot of precious time spent playing baseball in the yard, letting my son get unlimited turns at bat to kick my ass and letting my daughter make up her own 15 strikes before your out rule. There is ice cream and hugs and snuggles. And I cannot let myself forget things when they break my heart or during the void I feel, the 10 out of every 14 days that they are not here with me.

The aftermath is hard. Somethings take a lifetime and constant effort to rebuild. Time certainly does not heal all wounds. But love – love and tireless effort – can bandage those wounds and hold us tight as we walk through the flames and sift through the ashes and strain towards compassion, growth and new ways of navigating life and finding joy.

Posted in Poetry

Attune

The three I love most
Snores, tussles, breathing carries
Listen in the day!

———-
National Poetry Month, 2017. Day 11. 9th Poem. A Haiku.

Posted in Poetry

Etched

Fifteen years ago, she woke up and wore white
All was ready: the pastor, the cake, the dress
The girl who never wanted to have children
Would say “I do” to an overgrown boy. Love!
Sometimes it blinds us to the worst in others
Gone bad, held captive, we forget how to smile

Etched on my memory: her red hair, her smile
My tux black, my vest silver, my shirt starched white
I stood with her, and with him, before others
A night spent chasing every other dress
With Bacardi, and falling deeply in love
With anyone! Such is the way of children

I got drunk; he got high, we were all children
I brought the music to make the people smile
He asked me to pray, and I did so with love
I think I spilled yellow beer on my starched white
I never knew how to act when “properly” dressed
Or in any attire in room full of others

She wasn’t my first crush, so many others!
Before, after, such is the way of children
It used to be any pretty face with a dress
Or many a chiseled face, with a handsome smile
I always mistook exposure of pearly whites
Or crooked yellows for an open heart, or love

A year, and three weddings later, I found love
I cried that day, more than all of the others
Yes, even more than the veiled woman in white
We had a plan, we made a life, we had children
Thirteen years, I watched the fading of her smile
We inflicted wounds no god or shrink could dress

Slow change of heart, a sudden change of address
An old friend with the most familial of love
Picked me up, made me remember how to smile
But was I what she had known in the other?
Another boy, surrounding himself with children?
Or worse, like an old sweater, washed with the whites?

Break the familiar! She was not like the others
Love scattered, like adults throw candy at children
Etched on my heart: her red hair, her smile, her black dress

————
Another one for National poetry month. This is a sestina. Sestinas are one of my absolute favorite forms of poetry. This is the third one I have ever written.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 29

I am exhausted. And I am sitting down to tackle two pieces of daily writing with an hour left in the day. Tomorrow we have an 8 am doctor’s appointment for my son. Then I have to be to work at 9:30. The kids are spending the day with Amanda. Then tomorrow night dinner, a little play time, then back to their maternal grandparents early Wednesday morning before I am off to work again. I imagine myself, roughly in this same place again tomorrow night. Though, hopefully an hour earlier.

Tonight we played the kids’ favorite game “hide the stuffed animals.” It’s just like it sounds.  When it was my son’s turn to hide things, he lost his own Pikachu (the replacement we just got him because he lost one at school on the playground). He started to freak out. Showers were delayed. We overturned couch cushions, looked in every drawer, the shower, refrigerator and oven (these are all places our plush little friends have went to hide before).

You don’t have to be the most intuitive reader to sense the cliché coming right about now. I found Pikachu when we all gave up looking, in a place we had already looked 10 times. He was behind my son’s box of Hot Wheels cars and tracks. Technically we had only looked frantically inside of the box, digging through piles of tracks and mirco-sized hot-rods, El Caminos and fire trucks.

Such is the way of life. People often find this true with possessions, with contentment, with finding the right job, with finding true love and on and on. We give up, we let go and then poof: we find what we were looking for in all of the wrong places. Such was certainly the case in my life when a only a month after my ex-wife and I split up, I asked Amanda on a date. I have known her since 1996. She is one of a very few people I have had a sustaining friendship with, throughout my whole adult life. I can count them on one hand. I thought about asking her out once in 1996. But a mutual friend at the time beat me to it an before I knew it, I was in their wedding. She came to my wedding.

Then things fell apart for us both around the same time. We started hanging out more to commiserate about our common experiences of heartbreak and failed marriages. Then the unthinkable happened. She took me to See “Inside Out.” She took me because she knew how much it meant to me on so many levels. I had seen it just a few months earlier on opening weekend. It was the last movie I ever saw with my children and there mother, the four of us together. I was crying – like snot running down my nose crying – throughout. This was not the first date! That was yet to come. This was a friend who decisively does not love all things Disney-Pixar the same way I do, going to see an animated film with me on a Saturday night, at the cheap theater, right before it hit Blu-ray and digital release. We could have waited a couple days and rented it. But she took me just because she deeply cared about me. People don’t just do that kind of shit. They really don’t. It is a lucky person who can count more than one friend that is so willing to forgo their own interests on a Saturday night to watch you blubber during a children’s film. It’s the same kind of person that a year or so later, gives up their Saturdays off in exchange for Tuesday to pick up your kids from school, so you can continue to have one night with them each week. She’s a keeper for sure!

But there is a danger when we take these amazing, life changing kind of experiences, moralize them and couple them up with a phrase from Jesus or Buddha: “He who loses his life will find it” or “He who envies others does not find peace of mind.”

Sometime you don’t find Pikachu. Sometimes you can give up, let go, be as relaxed as possible about the job interview and still not receive the call back. Sometimes you can give up on looking for love, friendship, happiness and still find yourself lonely and depressed. There is a danger in making moral lessons out of our good fortune. Because it is just that. I don’t use the word blessing often anymore because of a lifetime of negative connotation. But I am hard-pressed to find a better word to explain the way I feel about the second chance at life and love and fatherhood, all with this amazing partner I have by my side. I no longer want to tout my good fortune/luck/blessings to others like ‘If you’d only _________ everything would be okay.’ I lived that way most of my life and still found myself in what seemed like a bottomless pit.

I am thankful we found Pikachu. I am thankful Amanda and I found each other. But I never want to stop looking. Not for another Pikachu. Not for another partner. But for all of the many ways I can be a better father, better partner, better friend, a better human being.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 28

Because I love poetry, or because I am a masochist or simply because I am absurd, I am seriously contemplating taking up a second and overlapping, 30 day writing challenge for April, which is poetry month! 30 days. 30 different poetic forms. Not sure yet if I want to just do this in a private writer’s group where less people will notice if I miss a day, or take it here to the blog as well.

This could be very good for me. I have a problem with the substance of my poetry that I want to tackle. Too much of my poetry exemplifies a broader problem in my life. It is a problem that affects my mental and emotional health as well as my relationship to others. I have a much easier time expressing disappointment, disillusionment, depression, sadness and anger than I do expressing comfort, contentedness, contentment, happiness and joy.

Throughout my life I have rarely written about those I love in poetic form. The most noted exception has long been, if they have hurt me or I have hurt them in some way, then they show up in a poem. The other exception has been if I am expressing love in the form of anxiety. These poems have mostly been romantic in nature. From adolescence through my former life as a husband, the substance of my romantic poetry has largely been, ‘I love you, please don’t leave me.’ Or, ‘I love you! Thank you for saving me.’ In high school I wrote a poem for a girl who had just broken up with me about how I was just watching the clock waiting to die. The first poem I wrote for my ex-wife was – in retrospect – as ugly as it was beautiful. The setting was a surreal nightmare in which my whole life I had been prisoner of “black on bone grey devil” and a “dragon.” In the poem, she “woke me from my slumber” and “cut the head off the dragon.”

That is a lot for one person to bear. Too much! I am sorry in so many ways and to so many people that it took me so long to realize that I am responsible for my happiness: my mental, emotional, and physical salvation.

If I take up this additional writing challenge, I want at least 1/3 of the poems to be about love: love for someone or something or love for life. The one I wrote today wasn’t. Alas, I’ll write another day.

Maybe I am truly a glutton for punishment. This Lenten writing series has already ripped me open, raw, and found me writing at my most vulnerable and exposed. Now I am contemplating a 30 day challenge with two rules and adding an additional rule of my own. It sounds like I’ve talked myself into it!

I have been trying to write a poem about my sister since I was about 15. I have started it at least 100 times. I have a book she gave me for Christmas when I was about 13, Charles M. Sheldon’s In His Steps (the book that coined the phrase “What would Jesus do?). Tucked away in the middle of the book is a letter that my sister wrote to anyone who would read it: “Hi my name is Brenda. Not every day is good for me. Sometimes my parents fight. Sometimes my dad leaves.” I snatched it up. I have longed to answer her letter in a poetic form, find some way to say, ‘Here is the happy life I would give you. I love you. Don’t give up.’

I am changed. And I am changing. It is wonderful and wonderfully frightening. A few months ago I wrote a love poem for Amanda called “Hearts in Calloused Hands.” It wasn’t about hurting me. It wasn’t a plea for her to save me. It was all about how love, real love requires of us to hold our own fragile, broken hearts in our own calloused hands and be able to say “I love you!” Before we can really reach into another’s chest-cage and hold their heart high, giving thanks, giving praise for the joy they bring, we must first do the same with our own fragile hearts.

In the days to come, you can expect two post each day until Lent is over. To be sure, some of them will be dealing with my depression and my fight for mental and emotional health. But hopefully some of them will be silly, funny, irreverent, short (*gasp!*) and some of them will be about love! Challenge accepted!