Category Archives: inspiration

Today at Sunrise

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I was able to take a picture of a pink sky this morning.  Each dawn that comes is a gift.  None of them are guaranteed.  I haven’t gone to the doctor now in almost three years, not because my diabetes is not making me ill, but because I can’t afford to go on a regular program of insulin.  I don’t know how long I can continue to take pictures of the dawn and write about appreciating it.  But it doesn’t matter. I am here now.  And for today I have found treasure.

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You Are Not Alone

Mary Murphy's Children

Losing the pool this summer was a humbling experience.  I had repaired it before and got it working properly again, so I knew in my heart I was capable of salvaging it.  But everyone was against me.  The city was convinced that I was a deadbeat letting it slide and simply lying about it taking a long time because illness and financial reversals were slowing me down.  My family was against me because they no longer had any confidence that I could still do it, and they feared me killing myself in the attempt.  And then Bank of America won their lawsuit and prevented me from paying for the effort, thoroughly punishing me for the mistaken notion that I had any right to get myself out of medical debt even with the help of a lawyer.  And the electrical problems, which I could not correct myself, put the pool restoration out of reach.  I failed to do what I knew in my heart I was capable of.  I failed.  I was the only one who believed I could do it, and I only managed to prove everybody else right.

But Michael Jackson’s somewhat creepy nudie video with the weird Maxfield Parrish parody in it is actually a theme song for what I learned about myself.  I was alone in the pool-restoration struggle.  But I am not alone in life.  I will never be alone, even if somehow I ended up the last person alive on the planet.  Because we are all connected.  We are all a part of one thing.  We are not alone, even when we are.

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I think I learned that best from my Grandmother, Mary A. Beyer.  She was a rock-solid believer in Jesus through the pragmatic Midwestern arm of the Methodist Church.  She also gradually became an isolated, lonely individual, living by herself in Mason City, Iowa.  Grandpa Beyer died in his fifties, when I was about ten.  Great Grandpa Raymond, who lived with them for as long as I can remember, passed away a few years later.  But she was never really alone.  Jesus Christ was a real person to her.  She read her Bible and her weekly copies of the Methodist publication, The Upper Room, constantly.  And she was always a central part of our lives.  Christmases at Grandma Beyer’s place are deeply woven into the fabric of my memory.  The bubble lights on the Christmas tree, the carefully saved and re-used wrapping paper from the 1940’s, the hot cocoa, and Christmas specials on her RCA color TV…  I still draw strength and love from those things, and from her faith, even after almost twenty years pretending Christmas was evil as a Jehovah’s Witness.  Simple truth and faith shared are some of those essential things that bind us together even though they are invisible to the eye.   My Grandma Beyer is still with me even when I am fighting off the pool harpies all by myself because the things she taught me and the love she had for me still live in me, still affect who I am and how I act and what I truly believe in.

I am not alone.

And you aren’t either.  I am here for you.  I value you as human being.  God tells me I should, even though God is probably not real, and I believe Him, even though I am a fool who probably really doesn’t know anything  And it is true even if I do not know you and never met you.  Heck, you may be reading this after I am long dead.  And it is still true.  Because we have shared life on this planet together.  We are both humans.  We both think and feel and read and believe stuff.  And I love you.  Because my Grandma taught me that I should, just as someone, somewhere in your life taught you.

You are not alone.

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The Man in the Mirror

Every now and again we have to stop what we are doing for a moment and examine ourselves.  If we are writers, we tend to do it every fifteen minutes or so.  You have to expose the soul to the light of day for a moment and take a look with eyes wide open, prepared to see the worst… but also open to seeing beauty where you may not have seen it before.

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So what do I see when I look in the mirror?  More darkening age spots, more patches of psoriasis with increasingly red and irritated potential infections.  Drooping eyes that have lost their sparkle and now darken with blue melancholy.  I see a man falling down.  Falling slowly, but falling never-the-less.  It happens to everybody with age.  I can no longer do the job I loved for 31 years.  I am no longer the goofy Reluctant Rabbit with the big pencil in the front of the classroom, telling stories and making learning happen.

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Once I was a big deal to little people.  Once I created magical experiences involving books and great authors, poems and great poets… and I taught little people how to write and master big words.  I mattered like a big frog in a small pond, able to make the biggest splash in that particular pond.  I was the froggiest.  But I haven’t drawn myself as a frog yet.

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Of course, I was never as big as that other Michael.  He made a really big splash in a really big pond.  He was a really big frog.

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He and I have a lot in common.  Not far off in age.  We got married about the same time.  Both had three kids, two boys and a girl.  Both were associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses at one point.  Both of us never really grew up.  He had Peter Pan Syndrome, and I stayed in school my whole working life.

And everybody has a dark side, in counterpoint to their better angels.  I’m not entirely sure what my dark side entails.  Being a grouch?  A diabetic?  A closet nudist?  But I have one.  I trot it out to make fun of it constantly.

But as I was feeling sorry for myself, being forced by the city to remove the pool, becoming a bankrupt poor guy thanks to Bank of America, and generally in such ill health that I feel like I am wearing a lead suit all the time, I stumbled across one of those life-affirming moments.  A former student asked me on Facebook to post a picture of myself so he could see how I was doing.  I posted this picture.

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Yep, the man in the mirror is definitely me.  I got loads of complements and howdys from former students, former colleagues, a former grade school classmate, and my Aunt Wilma.  I heard from people I care about and they reaffirmed that they still care about me, even though some of them I haven’t seen in more years than I am willing to admit.  Sometimes you have to look in the mirror to see what needs to be changed.  Sometimes you just need to see the precious few things that were always good and haven’t changed.  It is a process worth the effort.

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Angel Thinking

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Yes, you are about to read more Mickian nonsense about an agnostical atheist who believes angels are real.  Heck, I not only believe in angels, I am one.

The word itself comes from Biblical Greek where angelos was the word for messenger.  And because the pre-twelfth century translators of the Bible looked at the “el” part and thought of the Hebrew word that meant “God”, they used angel to mean a messenger from God.

Now, I am not being a sacrilegious atheist when I claim to be an angel.  That is mainly because I am not technically an atheist.  I do believe that a spiritual creative essence informs the universe, but I am actually an agnostic because that means I actually don’t know anything   “A” for “not” and “gnostic” for “a know-er of stuff”.   I am a teleological idiot because I actually don’t know anything about anything.  But I do have the ability to look at evidence, weigh it, and reach a logical conclusion about what is most probably true, and I firmly believe in that  only until more evidence comes along.  I believe that particular thinking process is what is known as science (at least until better evidence comes along).  So, scientifically considering the issue, I stupidly believe I am an angel.  I bring possible knowledge from God.

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Grandma Beyer used to have a picture like this in sepia tones on her bedroom wall in Mason City.  I studied that guardian angel picture for hours as a child.

Thinking about stuff hard enough gives you insight, at least if you don’t over-heat your brain with hard thinking and catch your hair on fire.  A lot of stuff has been happening that I have been thinking hard about.  Here are some examples.

  1. Donald Trump is proving to be a really epically bad president.
  2. There are multiple really epically bad hurricanes forming one after another in the Atlantic.
  3. The spell-checker on WordPress hates how I spell epically.
  4. A monster earthquake hit Mexico.
  5. The Bible has this book in it called Revelations that calls for bad weather and earthquakes and a battle called Armageddon that will bring an end to everything.
  6. Kim Jong Un is an epically bad leader in North Korea who has nukes.
  7. It is easy to see where the unavoidable conclusion is headed in angelic “message from God” terms.
  8. Satan was an angel too.

So, as an angel, here is what I believe God is saying;

“As human beings, we all need to learn to love one another more.  Love is the only answer that cures hate.”  – God (No, really, he said this to me!)

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Seriously.  We need to take the weather anomalies as a sign that the time for climate change denial is long over.  We need to work together with all people on the planet to lovingly change those things we do that have caused the crisis.  We need to lovingly make peace with North Korea.  Fighting them will only lead to the Biblical ending of the story coming to pass.   I have an anomalous agnostical faith that there is a lot of truth in the Christian Bible.  (The spell checker doesn’t like “agnostical” either.)  Loving other people besides ourselves and the people who know and love us is the only possible solution to the problems before us.

Of course, I am saying all this angelic crappola tongue-in-cheek because I am, after all, a humorist, and I agnostically don’t know anything at all.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t mean what I say.

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As If It Weren’t Enough…

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THE WISDOM OF THE LITTLE FOOL

A fool can’t really sum up all of life in a sentence.

But a fool tries.

A fool can’t really say something in immortal words.

Because a fool dies.

A fool can’t really do the job of the wise.

But never-the-less, the fool applies.

But a fool can write a really dumb poem,

And let it sit to draw some flies.

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Books That Make You Hurt

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Yes, I read this book.  Yes, it scared the poop out of me.  Yes, it made me cry.  This is a uniquely horrific horror story that is so realistic that you know that it has actually happened in real life somewhere, sometime.  Only the names of the characters would be different.

I have a deep abiding respect for Richard Peck as a writer.  He earned that with his books A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago.  Those books made me laugh so hard it blew chocolate milk out of my nose.  And, yes, I was drinking chocolate milk at the time.  They are so realistic because the people in those stories are real people.  I know those people personally.  Of course, they have different names in real life.

But Are You In the House Alone? is a very different book from those other two masterpieces.  It tears your heart out and eats your liver because it is a first person narrative in the voice of a high school girl being stalked by a sexual predator.  Everything that happens to Gail in the high school, at home, and at the house where she babysits is hyper-real with horror movie levels of attention to detail.  I don’t wish to be a spoiler for this well-written book, but the narrator does not die in the book and it definitely does not have a happy ending.  For anyone who has the amount of empathy I do, and in many ways becomes the narrator-character by reading, reading a book like this can physically hurt.  A teacher like me has lived through horrible things like this happening to students before, it even happened to me as a boy, and it adds the slings and arrows of those things being re-lived as you read.

This is not the only book that has ever done this sort of damage to my heart strings.  I remember the pain from the conclusion of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.  You root for Little Nell and boo Daniel Quilp.  But the bad guy wins.  No happy ending can linger in the harp-strings of your memory-feeling song as long as a tragic outcome does.  I was there with Scout in that ridiculous costume in the dark when Bob Ewell was attacking her brother Jem in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  That story was filled with wise and laughable things, but the stark horror of that climactic moment nearly wiped all the good feelings away, if not for the heroics of ghostly Boo Radley whose timely intervention brings it all back before the novel ends.  It horrifies me to admit it, but I was there, too, in the moment when the boys all turn on Simon on the beach with their sharpened sticks in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.  They mistook him for the monster.  I still haven’t fully recovered from that reading trauma.

The thing about books that hurt to read which makes it essential that I never try to avoid them, is that they can add more depth and resonance to your soul than any light and fluffy piece ever could.  Life is much more like Lord of the Flies than it is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  I am sadder but wiser for having read Are You In the House Alone?  I am recommending it to other readers like me who don’t so much live to read as they read in order to live.  Not because it is easy and good to read, but because it is hard and essential to read.  It will hurt you.  But it will leave you like it leaves its narrator, damaged, but both alive and purely resolved to carry on.

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Why Do You Think That? Part 5

On a sleepy summer Sunday it is only natural to think thoughts about God.  And I have to include Jesus and Christianity in all of that meditation.  After all, as a boy I attended Sunday school on Sunday morning in the Rowan Methodist Church and then would attend the Sunday service with my mother and father, brother, and two sisters.  We would sing songs from the Methodist hymnal.

But here’s the kicker.  Over time I have studied and learned science, how the world really works, and how people really act.  I have noticed that most of the most intelligent writers, scientists, and thinkers are atheists and agnostics.  I have had to make my peace with these things;

  • There is no life after death.
  • Jesus may not have been a real person.
  • If he was real, he had very little in common with the Jesus we worship.
  • Jesus doesn’t need to be real to have value in my life.
  • There is no white-haired old man sitting on a throne in heaven.
  • There is no heaven.
  • If there is no heaven, then there certainly is no hell.
  • We are all connected… even those of us who don’t live on this planet, in this galaxy.

So I guess, that makes me an atheist who believes in the existence of God.  And because of this moronic oxymoron, my thesis now has to be; Even atheists have a need for religion.

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Saint Raphael

Yes, when it comes to religion, I am an idiot.  Just like all the rest of you are.  Mark Twain once said something like, “Religion is the firmly held belief in what you know ain’t so.”  That misquote, of course, is taken entirely on faith from a vague memory of a passage in the short story “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven”

Of course, I am not saying that I find no value in religion.  I was associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses for almost twenty years because that was the religion my wife clings to.  They are a Bible-based religion with a strict literalist interpretation of scripture who are expecting the end of the world, this “wicked system of things” at any moment now and go around knocking on doors and giving away free Bible literature with their own Truth professionally printed to save as many of the unbelievers as possible.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have never really fully accepted what they believe.  But I have freely participated.  Their belief system makes them some of the most loving, self-sacrificing people you could ever meet.  They are non-violent and believe in helping everybody no matter how far they have to bend over backwards to do it.  There are very good things in the Bible about living a moral life that are absolutely true and will make you and your children into better people.  But here’s the most important thing about living that kind of life.  If you are doing it for the promised rewards of eternal life, then you are doing it wrong.  The goodness you do in this life and the love you both give and receive is the only heaven there is.  Hardship taken on as a sacrifice to a loving God gets you nothing but the feeling that you have done the right thing.  But let me assure you, that feeling is a treasure greater than fine gold.  That mental state you create for yourself is the whole point and purpose of religion.

 

I do realize that liars are the people most likely to say, “Believe me…” before telling you something is true, but believe me, I don’t expect you to accept my cold clinical dissection of what religion is in my world view.  I want you to believe whatever you believe is true about Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, or Budda…  or nirvana or existentialism or science.  I accept you and love you for who you are.  The important thing is that we are all connected.  Most religions make us nicer to each other and make us more loving and kind, as long as we are not allowing ourselves to fall victim to the dark side that exists in every religion.  When your religion tells you to hate something, especially when it tells you to do something to punish that something you hate, especially especially if that something you hate is another person of some kind, then that’s where Eve is biting the apple, that’s where all the trouble starts.

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Don’t let atheists tell you they don’t believe in anything.  I hear Neal DeGrasse Tyson talk about being made of star stuff and teach about the connections we have with everything in the universe.  Listen to him yourself on Cosmos talking about the wonders of science and the human quest to know, and tell me if you don’t hear hymns to God in his reverent explanations.  He just knows God in a different form than you do.

So here is my humble conclusion on a sleepy summer Sunday morning when my meditations drift back to a boyhood of telling Jesus jokes in the down-time during Sunday school.  I am an atheist who believes in a loving God.  And even atheists need God in their life.

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