Posts Tagged ‘Life’

I haven’t written anything in days. It’s not that I have had no ideas—I have plenty. I either haven’t felt well or have been tired or both. Then there is this little factor called time. I don’t always have time to put words on documents, and sometimes when I do, other things pop up. It is called life, and life often demands our attention and demands we stop our daydreaming and word-scaping. Oh the demands of reality sucketh dry the mind and energy it takes to sit and type. And don’t think sitting and typing is doing nothing. It is exhaustive work, even if it looks like it isn’t.

What I have a desire to do is tell the story my mind conjured up about a poor, ruined baseball, one that had clearly been ran over by a large lawn mower (and certainly not the push kind you walk behind).

The Girl and I sometimes go walking out at the baseball field behind the local middle school. I usually get this request to do so later in the evening, meaning we either can’t go for a walk because it is almost dark out or we can go for a walk, but a brief one. On Friday it conveniently rained and looked as if it would storm, dampening our chances of going for a walk.

A little after six, I knocked on The Girl’s bedroom door, opened it to see her sitting, cross-legged on her bed. I said, ‘Hey, do you want to go walking?’ That’s not entirely accurate. I said, ‘You wanna go walkin’?’

She shrugged and said, ‘Sure.’

‘It’s been raining,’ I said.

‘It’s just water,’ she responded.

Off we went.

Her assessment of it’s just water stayed that way and we ended up not needing the two towels I took with us, you know, just in case, it’s just water turned into it’s just a lot of water.

DSCN2605The baseball park was deserted, except for one black Grand Am sitting near the restrooms at the parking lot. We made our first lap around the track, talking about boys and other things, but mostly boys. It rained on us, but not much. Off in the distance, the clouds gave way to blue skies.

To give you a little ground work, the track we walk on is black and rubbery. I believe it to be one of those tracks made out of recycled tires. I could be wrong. In fact, I am probably wrong. The track itself circles the parking lot and the batting cages before passing through a stretch of trees. It opens up at the back end of the ballpark where the furthest of the five fields resides. It passes the Tee Ball field before entering another smaller stretch of trees, and then circles around the playground, before ending up back where we started. As you can see, it is an endless loop.

As we passed the furthest of the five fields, I looked toward the muddy ground, the grass soaked through. A trough of water ran just on this side of the fence, ending near the Tee Ball field. On the other side of this trough was a baseball. For those who don’t know, when I see an errant baseball on the ground, and there is no one there to claim it as theirs, I pick it up and add it to my collection. On this first time around the field, I left the baseball where it sat.

We made another lap around the track, this time talking about boys and other stuff, but mostly boys. The second time we passed the ball, I said, ‘Hold on a second.’ I hopped the watery trough. Thankfully, my foot did not slide and I didn’t sprawl on the ground, either landing on my butt in the pooled water, or face first in the wet grass. I plucked the ball from its spot on the ground. It was soaked through, as I thought it would be. What I hadn’t expected was to see where the strings had split and where the rawhide had been torn. Clearly, the baseball had been  struck by the sharp blades of a lawnmower.

I hopped back over the water trough. This time, my heel caught the soft part of the ground and almost sank in. I pulled my foot free, leaving behind a slight smudge of mud on the heel. Back on the track, The Girl and I continued our walk, me letting my fingers roll the ruined baseball over and over in my palm, she talking about boys and other things, but mostly boys. Every once in a while I would glance at the ball. Some of the twine had been torn loose when it had been struck by the lawnmower. The rawhide looked like puckered skin after a knife had sliced through it. In a way, I guess a knife had done its handy work on the ball.

We finished our walk and went back to the car. Fortunately for us we got back in when we did. It went from it’s just rain to someone opened the floodgates. I held the ball a little longer, looking at it. ‘Poor dead baseball,’ I said and set it in the cup holder in the center console. The Girl looked at me like I was nuts, but shouldn’t she be used to this by now?

It was a short trip home, one where we talked about boys, among other things, but mostly boys. Once home, I grabbed the ball, hurried to the front door not really trying to dodge rain drops, but not wanting to get soaked either. I unlocked the door and went inside. I looked at the ball one more time before setting it on the entertainment center right next to the DVR.

I sat to read, but my mind kept wondering back to the baseball I had found, to its flayed rawhide, split strings and ruined insides. Poor dead baseball, I told myself again.

As the night went on I kept going back to the ball, thinking of the many ways it had been used before it got shredded by the lawnmower. Then I thought of its horrific ending. He had probably been laying in the grass, minding his own business, maybe even basking in the sun, working on his tan. Or he may have been sleeping. Then he probably heard the heavy rumble of the riding lawnmower (because that is the type they use at the ballpark). The baseball probably tried to roll away, but found he couldn’t, not without the stimulus of someone picking him up and tossing him. I imagine there was a scream as the sunny world he had been laying in was suddenly dark, and then the blade struck him, shooting him out the side. He probably flew through the air at a high rate of speed, before landing near the fence where I found him. And there the ball lay unnoticed by the monster that had dispatched of him mercilessly. How many people passed him by? How many folks just thought he was a ruined baseball and not worthy of their time? How many kids walked by him, maybe even picked him up, thinking they had a ball to play with, just to see his ruin exterior and drop him back to the ground?

Poor dead baseball.

Two days have passed since we brought the tattered thing home. It has sat on the entertainment center, ‘drying out.’ That sounds so creepy, when you consider how my mind conjured up this inanimate object’s death.

Here I sit, typing these words, the baseball off to my right. I paused midway through this piece and grabbed a pencil. Taking the baseball in hand, I did what I felt came naturally. Then I grabbed Cate’s Sharpies and went to town.

I now call this baseball Dead Fred. I may also have a new hobby for my baseball collection. Time will tell.

Thank you all for reading. I hope you have a great day. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind on one another.

A.J.

Have you ever listened to an older person talk? I don’t mean someone older than you by a year or two or even ten? I’m talking about someone in their sixties and seventies and eighties (and if they are lucky, further up in years). I’m talking about people with a life history.

I’ve heard it said when a child gives you something they think highly of you. It’s the same with older people telling you stories. If one sits down and opens up his or her past to you, it is because they want to share that part of their lives with you.

People don’t talk about the past anymore. Well, they do, but not the history of their lives. They talk about the immediate past. What happened an hour ago or a day ago or last week, maybe even a year or so ago. That’s all well and good, but tell me what happened forty years ago, during the height of the seventies or sixty years ago when teenagers went to drive ins and made out.

Tell me a story about your childhood, how you had to walk to school barefoot every day, up hill both ways, with your books slung over your shoulder in a cloth sack you had to hold with both your hands. Tell me how you had to get up in the morning to make breakfast for your siblings or how after school you would come home and do chores and homework before going outside to climb trees, walk on railroad tracks or fish out at a pond on someone’s land. Tell me about the war. Tell me about segregation. Tell me how you met grandma at church or at a work picnic or how she was your high school sweetheart who you went to the prom with. Tell me about your friends you used to hang out with, the trouble y’all got into, the fun y’all had. Tell me about the first time you kissed someone not related to you. Tell me about the greatest moment, day, summer of your life.

Reminisce for a little while.

People don’t do that anymore. And when they do, does anyone listen?

Older people know how to tell stories. They’re never in a hurry. They want you to sit down in a rocking chair next to them on the front porch (possibly with a tea, some water, a lemonade, maybe a coffee or possibly even a beer or some whiskey). Often times you will hear them say something like, ‘Come sit for a spell. I’d like to tell you a story.’ They might even pat the seat where they want you to plant your bottom.

They want you to see the pictures they paint with their words, so they tell their stories deliberately. They meander along, giving you great descriptions, both about the scenes and the people who take part in them. They give you wonderfully vivid details, sometimes laughing or letting out a ‘whoo wee’ when they reach certain parts. Occasionally, they might slap their knee (or even yours). They spare nothing in the telling of their stories.

You won’t get to the end of their stories in a couple of minutes. You have to sit and listen, sometimes for half an hour. Sometimes longer.

One of the things I know about older folks telling their stories: they want someone to talk to. They want an audience, even if it is just one person. That one person means the world to them. Because at their age, few people are listening.

Like I said earlier, older people know how to tell stories. They know how to engage their audience, and it doesn’t matter how small or how large. It’s an art form that is going away. It’s dying with each one of those older folks who leaves us.

My grandfather was great at telling stories. Sometimes those stories lasted minutes. Sometimes significantly longer. The one thing that rang true with them all was my grandfather took his time with them. He meandered. He said, ‘Come sit for a spell. I want to tell you a story.’ He didn’t care if I was in a hurry, because he wasn’t. He also knew how to capture my attention and he knew the best way to tell a story was by making it relatable.

Fast forward to today. Everyone is in a hurry. Everyone wants things on the surface. They don’t want depth. We have the fast food mentality of our way, right away. Come on. Hurry up. I don’t have time for this. Our story telling has gone that way as well. Everyone wants a fast story. They don’t want to sit for a while as an old man tells the story of how his and a long lost lover’s initials ended up on an oak tree near city hall.  I realize not everyone is that way, but it sure does feel like the majority is.

All that brings us to me. A lot of my ‘style’ as it is came from my grandfather. Though the subject matter is nothing like he would tell, the voice, the way I like to take my time to get into a story, the way I try to pull you in and make my words relatable, is definitely all him. I guess you can say I meander. I don’t hurry. I ask you to come, sit with me for a while.

I’m not as good of a story teller as he was. I doubt I ever will be. To be honest, I’m okay with that. Because I am me. I may have been influenced largely by my grandfather, but I am me and my style is my style. I unpack my stories carefully. Is it for everyone? No. If you are one who wants a quick story that hits you hard with action from beginning to end, then my writing just isn’t going to cut it for you. If you want perfect grammar, yeah, I’m probably not the writer you want to read. If you are someone who expects a lot of cussing and sex and gore in your stories, you won’t find that in my words. If you are looking for technically sound writing, you might not find it in my stories. After all, i tend to write my stories like I’m talking to someone face to face … as if I have an audience of one. Those are the types of stories I enjoy reading, so they are the stories I enjoy telling.

I guess that means I write stories like an older man tells them. I’m okay with that. Because older folks know how to tell a good story.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

AJ

P.S.: If you know an older person, especially one that spends a lot of time alone, go sit with them, go listen to them tell their stories. There is history in their words. If there is one thing I know, everyone wants to live on after they are gone. By telling stories to the younger generation, that is what these older folks are doing. Go sit for a while. You won’t regret it. And you just might make someone’s day.

 

 

Through the Lens

Posted: February 27, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ve always felt like I’ve lived my life on the outside looking in. It’s as if I see myself and my actions through a camera lens. There is a crack that runs down the center of that lens. On the left side everything is clear and easy to see and understand. On the right side everything is blurry and odd and I struggle at everything. Very rarely do I see through the crack where everything makes sense.

It sounds crazy. I know.

dscn1629This is the way it has always been for me. It’s as if I am watching myself through that lens, whether on the left side or the right side, and sometimes in the middle. It is through that lens that I bring you this story.

[[The lens zooms in on him, possibly starting with one blue eye and then panning out, showing the blemishes of age on his face and the gray in his dark hair. It would show a kitchen, the light on, and he would be letting the dog out for the morning.]]

He has been awake far longer than he wants. His face is unshaven. He wants coffee. He wants the almost bitter taste of it, sprinkled with a bit of sugar and some cream. He wants the first hot sip and then the last deep warm swallow. He wants the aftertaste that will stay with him for an hour or so, at least until he either drinks another cup or brushes his teeth.

He can’t have coffee—not the real stuff, at least. Decaf is okay (and yes, he knows it has a touch of caffeine in it anyway). Though he wants the coffee, he wants a drive as well. He wants to take to the road and follow the nose of the car to wherever it leads. He doesn’t care where he ends up, as long as he takes the journey. For him, that’s really what it is about, what it is always about: the journey.

It’s unusually warm for February—already in the upper sixties by eight in the morning. A crispness hangs in the air. Dew dampens the ground and has fallen on the car, and covers the windshield. He dons shorts and a T-shirt, socks and sneakers and he is out the door, leaving the family to sleep in on that Saturday morning.

The car is fairly new and comfortable. Behind the wheel reminds him of all those Saturday mornings before he and his better half had child number one and then three and a half years later, child number two. On those mornings he would be up before six and out the door half an hour later. And he drove with no particular place to go, just him, the car and music. Sitting there he recalls how he ended up in Spartanburg one morning and Newberry another and Charleston another. Sometimes the drive was all he wanted, maybe even needed.

And so it is that he pulls from the yard and drives away. At the stop sign he makes a right and shortly after that, he turns the radio on, finds the grunge channel and follows the road.

dscn1683[[The score for this scene and several that would follow with him driving would begin as he makes that right turn. We wouldn’t necessarily see him, but we would hear the music. He likes the grunge from the nineties, so chances are the song that would play would be something from Nirvana or Bush or Alice in Chains or Pearl Jam. Maybe Temple of the Dog would say hello to Heaven or maybe they will go hungry.]]

Song after song plays as mile after mile disappears beneath his tires. Small roads lead to larger ones and larger ones lead to longer ones. Those longer ones lead back to smaller ones, until he is moving along a country road, passing country houses and fields.

The sign catches his eye. At first he just glimpses it. He’s not even sure he saw it after he passed it. He slows, checks the rearview mirror and sees the reverse side of it is the same as the front. A smile forms on his face and he turns the car around. Heading in the opposite direction he slows and reads the sign: WARRIOR BASEBALL. An arrow points in the direction of a street on his right. He turns, follows the road as it winds through a small neighborhood with nice cars in driveways of even nicer homes. The houses thin out. The road ends in the parking lot of a baseball complex. It’s not as new as the neighborhood, but it still stands in what he takes is the heart of the area.

A moment passes as he sits in his car in the middle of the parking lot, the motor purring. The beating of his heart matches the smile on his face. He parks between two faded white lines, flips the music off (currently Pearl Jam is singing Wish List. Eddie Vedder’s voice is cut off as he wishes he were a brake peddle you depended on). He is out of the car and popping the trunk even as the door closes and locks.

At the back of the car, his smile grows wider when he sees his wife’s back pack. If he is right, one of her cameras is in there. He unzips the front pouch and there the camera sits in its own case. He pulls it out and opens the case. He presses a small button and the camera turns on. The lens extends and he unfolds the view finder. The battery has a full charge.

[[If this were a movie, the scene would pan out and away from him. We would hear the trunk close and possibly the sounds of pebbles crunching under his sneakers. Then we would see him walking toward the baseball field, the camera in hand.]]

He approaches the field. Though it is old, it has recently been graded and then smoothed. The grass has been cut. Chalk lines run down the first and third base lines and form the batter’s boxes, the pitcher’s circle and the on deck circles just outside of each dugout. The lines aren’t crisp and clean—the field has been played on.

dscn1707He walks through the dugout gate. A metal bench stretches the length of the dugout. He leans down, sets the camera on one end so the view finder shows the entire bench. He presses a silver button and the camera clicks twice. In the view finder he sees the bench. On it are three little boys, each one wearing a red and white uniform with the team name, Warriors, written in cursive script across the front. One of them is blowing a bubble from the gum in his mouth. The other two are laughing at some unknown joke. It’s probably something to do with passing gas.

As he looks at the image, he thinks, oh yes, passing gas.

[[The scene would go from the image on the camera to the bench in front of him. One would show the ghosts of children’s past, while the other just shows a metal bench.]]

Outside the dugout and on the field, he looks around. Just beyond the infield is a dirty ball. No, it’s not a baseball and not a softball, but one that is in between. It is yellow and dirty and looks as if part of the rawhide has been scorched. He smiles.

[[Again, the film would show his feet, the sneakers crossing the hard packed orange ground. We would see the backs of his legs as he steadily approaches the ball. Then we would see the ball between his feet and his hand pick it up. He brings it to his face, where we see his blue eye again.]]

The ball gets placed by first base. He sets the camera on the ground, presses the button and waits for the click. Then he looks in the view finder. It’s almost perfect. He backs up fifteen or so feet and takes another picture, this one of the first base bag from a standing position. In the view finder, a little boy with blond hair and a gray uniform with no words on the front, but the number 3 on the left side in red. He is bending down to pick up the ball.

He nods, walks over and plucks the ball from the ground. He tosses it into the outfield. Before the ball can fall to the ground, he has the camera up and snaps several shots. In those images, a young child with skin the color of smooth chocolate has his glove up, his eyes on the ball. He thinks the boy calls ‘mine’ before the ball reaches him.

He takes a snapshot of the pitcher’s mound next. The boy standing there is caught in full wind up, his leg kicked up, arm back and ready to throw the ball.

[[In the movie about the man, we see him turn and take pictures and we see the boys of yesteryear in them. They may be just in his head, but they are there, none the less. We would hear music, maybe Centerfield by John Fogerty or even the Eddie Vedder tribute song to the Chicago Cubs for finally winning a World Series.]]

The sun is now overhead, but it is still comfortable outside. He checks his watch. It is after eleven.

dscn1703I should get back, he thinks. He makes his way toward the dugout and stops. He’s still holding the ball in one hand. He turns and cocks his arm back to throw it. He stops, looks at the ball and lets out a laugh. Instead of throwing it, he tosses it in the air, catches it and leaves the field, a hum on his lips.

[[Here we fade to black or maybe we just pan out as he walks away, the camera in one hand, the ball in the other and that hum … that hum is probably a song he likes, maybe Boys of Summer by Don Henley. We see him get in his car, and we hear the car’s engine come to life. Then it pulls out of the spot and he drives away. Like all good films, we would hear the lyrics of the song, the music, he had hummed on his way to his car. Then, the car would be out of sight and the credits would roll. And yes, there would be a fade to black …]]

As I said earlier: I’ve always felt like I’ve lived my life on the outside looking in. It’s as if I see myself and my actions through a camera lens. There is a crack that runs down the center of that lens. On the left side everything is clear and easy to see and understand. On the right side everything is blurry and odd and I struggle at everything. Very rarely do I see through the crack where everything makes sense.

For me, baseball is one of the things in that center. When I find a new field, I see myself, my actions, and my thoughts, not as if I am living them, but as if I am watching them. Sometimes, that is not a bad thing.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Baseball and Life

Posted: February 12, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

I went for a walk by myself this morning. The sky was overcast and there was a breeze blowing in. It was nice enough out that the chill from the breeze didn’t make it too cool to where shorts and a t-shirt. The birds chirped madly and flew about from tree to tree and power line to power line.

A storm was coming. Or so it seemed.

This much is almost certain. When the birds act as they do right then, a storm is coming. My grandfather taught me that one day while standing on his back porch when I was a teenager and he was still around and life had yet to slap me in the face a few times.

Back to this morning. As I always do when I am by myself and want to walk, I drove the two miles to the middle school my daughter went to and my son now attends. Behind it is a baseball park. A walking path circles the park. This is where where I walk.

When I go on these walks I tend to pray for the first half of it. I don’t look at it as prayer though. I look at it as a conversation, though one sided, with God. It’s not a ‘hey I need something’ type of thing, or a ‘hey I screwed up type’ of thing. For me, these mornings are a ‘hey, I just want to talk,’ type of thing. They are good for me, good for my soul.

The second half of these walks is when I think about writing, but mostly, I just think about baseball. Seriously. At the end of these walks and before I go to my car, I walk to the baseball complex. There are four fields in the main section and a fifth field off to the side (this is where the younger kids play tee ball). In the center of the main section is the concessions and bathrooms. There are metal bleachers on each side of each field.

Today I walked to one of the fields and stared through the fencing surrounding it. The grass was freshly cut, the field newly raked. There were perfect chalk lines marking the first and third base lines, the batters boxes and the on deck circles. The pitcher’s mound had been recently formed, with the rubber in the center of it.

12734126_10208347032850778_986475889973690833_nThis is going to sound crazy, but for the first time since I was a kid, I didn’t miss playing the game. What I did miss—do miss—is coaching. I miss watching the lights turn on for a kid once he or she ‘got it’. I miss cheering the kids on or throwing batting practice. I miss those tougher teaching moments that is difficult for the kid, but what they don’t realize is it is difficult for the coaches as well. We want to make them better, teach them the game, but a good coach teaches them not only the game, but to have fun and to carry that over into life.

That brings me to my point today. Baseball is a unifying sport. You may not like the game and that is okay. But for those who do play it and for their families, it is unifying.

One season I was fortunate enough to coach a special needs child. It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever been a part of. Another season, our head coach had heart issues and ended up missing most of the season because of heart surgery. I met kids and parents and grandparents. I saw kids with two parents in the household and kids with just the one. I also met kids whose parents were absent and grandparents had taken them in. Baseball, for these kids, meant a couple of hours away from the reality of no mom and no dad.

Baseball is life. No, I don’t mean that baseball should be lived and breathed like oxygen. I mean baseball is life.

In a typical game there are nine innings with a break between each half inning as the teams switch sides. Batters go into the field and fielders come up to bat. Each team gets three outs an inning to score as many times as they can. There are hits and walks and strikeouts and pop outs and ground outs and long fly ball outs. This is much like life.

Let’s just say each inning is equivalent to ten years of life. That would make the first inning the growing years of childhood. The second inning, the learning who you are years. The third inning would be the years of establishing who you are as an adult. And the next three innings would be the working years. I know, that sounds absurd, but it’s not. Not really. The last three innings are the golden years, and if you are fortunate enough to make it further than the age of ninety then you go into extra innings.

There are times we do things well and get hits. Sometimes we do great things and those amount to doubles and triples. Then we do a couple of things that are fantastic or amazing or awesome or whatever you wish to call it. Those are home runs. There are times we succeed in a venture. Each one of those is a run scored. Sometimes we help someone succeed. Those are runs batted in. And yes, just like in baseball, those folks with the many runs, rbi’s and home runs are generally the stars.

Then there are the outs. Sometimes we strike out. These are the times when we just don’t try all that hard at something. Then you have pop outs and fly outs and ground outs. Those are the efforts we put in, but we still don’t succeed at something. The average batting average in major league baseball is between .260 and .275. That means the average player gets a hit only 26% to 27.5% of the time. That equals one out of every four plate appearances. This means failures are easier to achieve than successes.

Occasionally, we get a walk in life, a gift that we don’t have to earn. Those moments don’t come around all that often, so best to relish them while we can.

Sometimes in baseball, as in life, we get a lucky bounce. Sometimes, that bounce isn’t so lucky after all. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. Hits, outs, walks, runs … it is all life.

Baseball takes effort. You learn how to hit by practicing. You learn how to throw by practicing. Life is the same. You learn how to write by practicing. You learn how to drive by practicing. You learn how to do various things in life by working at it. So many similarities.

In my life I have hit four home runs. Being saved. Marrying my wife and being a father to my two kids. In my life I’ve had quite a few good hits, a couple of walks and a lot of outs. But here is the thing: I’ve worked really hard at life. I’ve lived life and played baseball. I’ve taken my outs in stride with my hits and runs and I will continue to do so as the innings of my life play out. I encourage you to do the same.

As I stood at the baseball field this morning, I listened to the world around me. The wind was blowing and the flag flapped with it. The chord and metal hooks that hold the flag in place clanked against the flag pole. There were crows cawing and other birds chirping and flying about. Somewhere a dog barked. It was a moment to sit in the dugout and reflect on the game of my life so far. Are there things I would like to change? Sure. Are there things I would have liked to succeed at? Absolutely. Would I change anything. No.

Then I walked away, not missing the game I loved, but knowing that I gave both the game and my life to this date all I have. I’m good with that. The bat’s on my shoulder, a glove dangling from it as I leave the dugout and head back into the game. How’s your game coming along? Are you swinging for the fences, or riding the bench? Don’t ride the bench. Get in there and play ball.

As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

I have 1484 ‘friends’ on my Facebook page. Whether I know all 1484 of them personally doesn’t matter. At some point we made a mutual agreement to become acquainted. One of us sought out the other one and said ‘hello.’ The other one responded by accepting that ‘hello’ and becoming friends.

Isn’t that how life happens, how friendships are born?

I find it interesting that we view total strangers as friends. I have never actually met, face to face, with probably 1300 or more of these friends. Still, those perfect strangers are my friends. But what I—and more than likely, you—fail to realize is on the other side of the device (where you are reading this right now) is a person. For me there are 1484 people looking back. Of those 1484 people, probably less than 200 of them actually interact with me. I’m okay with that.

Why?

Well, because they are all people and they have lives and cares and worries. They have dreams and ambitions. Some are sick and in need of prayer or comforting words. Others are fine and life is being very good to them right now. But all of them are people.

A little perspective if you will. On my friends list:

There are rich folks and there are poor folks and there are those in between.

There are folks from every state in the United States.

There are folks from England, Australia, Canada, Germany, Russia and, yes, the Middle East.

There are folks who work as lawyers and nurses and teachers.

There are folks who work as bartenders and taxi drivers and in retail stores.

There are folks who work in factories and in restaurants.

There are folks who work in the business of religion and others who work in the business of politics.

There are cops and firemen.

There are single moms and single dads raising their children the best they can.

There are married couples raising their children the best they can.

There are gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

There are straight folks, too.

There are musicians and voice instructors.

There are successful writers, as well as fledgling ones with dreams of writing for a living.

There are readers who love books.

There are Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Non-Denominationals, Methodists, Nazarenes, Atheists, Agnostics and maybe even a Satanists or two. And yes, there are Muslims, as well.

There are liberals and there are conservatives.

There are folks who like heavy metal music. Others who like rap. Still, others who like classical, and some who like country and some who like bubblegum pop. There are those who like it all.

There are sports fans and there are folks who can’t stand sports.

There are those who love movies and television.

There are those who don’t care much for either.

There are those who love The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and those who have never seen the first episode of one or both shows.

There are those who will only drive a Chevy or a Ford.

There are high school friends on here, too.

There are whites, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans.

Why does any of this matter? Simple: all of them are people. People with hopes and dreams, and people who just want to make it home to their loved ones at the end of the day. They, like you and I, have feelings. They, like you and I, have ambitions. They, like most of us, are saddened by events where people are killed recklessly and needlessly because of hate and fear.

During this week where America celebrated its independence, at least seven people died who should still be alive today. The key word isn’t black or cop. The key word here is ‘people.’ Seven people are dead and millions more are angry and some are even enraged to the point of…hate.

Today I sit at my kitchen table having not only celebrated my nation’s independence, but also my birthday. Seven people will never see another birthday. Their families are forever changed, and many of them are mad, not just at those who killed them, but at other people as well—people who have nothing to do with the events that unfolded this week.

There are those who want revenge and those who want to take away someone else’s freedoms and those who want justice now. There are those who will lump everyone into a category because of a few people’s actions. There are those who will scream and demand change, demand our government do something about this.

Here’s the problem with that: change will never come about until we, the people, change our way of thinking and change our hearts. We, the people, are the only ones that can bring positive change. Not our governments and not our laws. The people. The same folks I have mentioned up above can make a change, but in order to do so, we have to change our hearts, we have to learn how to be compassionate again. We have to learn to love our neighbor. If we can have total strangers on a social media site that we call friends, and some of which we come to cherish and possibly even love, then why can’t we do the same to the people we come in contact with every single day of our lives?

I’m reminded of the song Under Pressure, by Queen and David Bowie. At the end they come to the conclusion that it is love that can make a difference in every person’s life. But love is so old fashioned…

And love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves

The way I see it is, love dares you to look in the mirror, but we don’t want to do that. We want to lay blame somewhere else. We, as a people—not as a nation, as a people—need to step back and look at ourselves, and make a change, starting with ourselves. If we don’t, I fear for myself, my children, my friends, my fellow people. Because, the way I see it is if we don’t make a change in our hearts and our mindset soon, then we will never have true freedom again. We will all be prisoners to fear and rage and hate, and no one will be safe.

This, well, this is how I see it. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Being Kind

Posted: January 30, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

This blog is probably going to be shorter than most. Read on, Faithful Readers.

At the end of her show, Ellen DeGeneres always says, “Be kind to one another.” This is coming from a woman who doesn’t just say to do something, but one who leads by example, by constantly helping people she doesn’t even know. She doesn’t have to do the cool things she does for people. She does them because she truly believes in kindness and loving your neighbor.

I met a person not too long ago who believes the same things, to do right by others, even when those people don’t appreciate your efforts, to be kind to one another, to help where you can and without seeking compensation, rewards, or notoriety. We were discussing this very aspect and she made an interesting statement that puts everything in perspective: I also learned that people not stuff are much more important.

People are important. No, not just your friends and family, but ALL people, including (and not excluding anyone at all) the homeless person on the street, the co-worker you can’t stand, the neighbor who comes in at three in the morning with his radio blaring, the woman with the two screaming children in the restaurant you are trying to eat at, the person on the other side of the counter at McDonald’s, your brothers, your sisters, folks of different color, sex, sexual orientation and religion and political views than yours.

This is not a matter of being kind to one another so others can see you do it. No, this is much deeper. It’s doing something good and not bragging about it, and not seeking recognition.

And here’s the great thing: you don’t have to let the person you are doing something nice for know that you are doing it. Yes, it is like the paying it forward at Starbucks (you know, when someone buys the drinks for the person behind them in the drive thru window). I don’t know of anyone who has ever paid for someone else’s coffee and then waited for that person to get it and said, ‘Hey, look at me, I bought you that drink. Praise me.’

You know that mom in the restaurant with the two bad kids that are getting on your nerves? What if she were a single mom, but not by choice? What if her husband was in the military and deployed overseas? Worse, what if her husband (or boyfriend) passed away? What if she just lost her job or a relative or her house just got repossessed? You see, we don’t know what is going on in people’s lives. We don’t know their circumstances. And you never know when something nice that you do for them could be the one thing that keeps them from teetering on the brink of depression. It may be the point that helps them have a good day. You could be their sun during the storm.

This person I was talking to did something very nice for me, well really two somethings. And she asked me not to make a big deal about it, not to tell folks who did this awesome thing. Sure, I could tell people that someone did something nice for me, but she didn’t want folks to know it was her. I also told her there was no way I could thank her enough for her kindness. Do you know what she said? ‘A thank you is all I need.’

A thank you is all I need…

How often do people say that after doing something for someone? She didn’t want anyone to know she had done this kind thing and she only wanted a thank you. Let’s go back to her statement: I also learned that people not stuff are much more important. She didn’t just say people are important, she showed it and she wanted nothing in return.

People, this is something we need to learn. Be nice, be kind and don’t expect something in return. How awesome would our world be if more people would adopt that mindset?

And there is one more thing: when you do something nice, the person who benefits the most isn’t the recipient of your kind deed. It is the person doing the kind deed. Yes, that’s right. When you do something nice for someone, it gives you a boost, just as much as it gives the other person one.

Like this person, and like Ellen always says, be kind to one another.

Real Life (Revisiting the Past)

Posted: June 22, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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One of the good and bad things about being a writer is we often have an avenue to share things about our lives that some folks don’t.  Some of these things are great.  Others, not so much.  This was originally written on March 2, 2010.  Recent events bring this back to the forefront of my mind, and it is as true today as it was when I originally wrote it.  This appeared on my original blog, The Odd Ramblings of A.J. Brown.

***

I want to talk about real life for a minute, not this game we call writing, this world of make believe that many of us writers live in. I want to talk about real life. Can you bear with me for a few minutes and let me ramble about something that’s on my mind?

In his collection, Just After Sunset, Stephen King writes in the story, Rest Stop, these words (and I hope this is not copyright infringement since I am not selling this to a publication or making any money off of it.  I’m just making a point.):

“Had he thought there was no place for the Dog out in the big empty of the American heartland? That was narrow thinking wasn’t it? Because, under the right circumstances, anyone could end up anywhere, doing anything.”

This brings me to reality. I read that Friday evening, after leaving the courthouse where a married couple in their sixties was in a hearing to adopt one of their children’s children. Let me see if I can paint a picture for you.

The courtroom was small, with the viewing gallery just as you enter the wooden double doors. The gallery itself was made up of long benches, much like church pews but not as comfortable. The plaintiff’s and defendant’s tables sat up front, near the judge’s chair, or throne, as I like to call it. To the left was a table where the Guardian Ad Litem sat, a nice young woman, blond hair, cut short, dressed in one of those nice dress suits that women wear to such gatherings. The court reporter was an elderly woman, who moved a little faster than a turtle, but not much. To her, this was probably a mundane, everyday process, a ho-hum experience, if you will.

At the plaintiff’s table sat the grandparents of the children in question, he with the silver hair and worried eyes, she with the dyed brown hair with hints of gray peeking through. She wore nice slacks and a top, maybe a church outfit at one time, which she may not wear again because of the association with the event at hand. An attorney—an older gentleman, who I later found out is blind—sat to their immediate right. Behind those three were three other folks, a woman, who was the attorney’s wife and eternal right hand woman, and two other folks, younger, maybe even a couple. I have no idea the relationship between attorney and the couple but I’m gathering they were part of the same practice.

The defendants’ seats were empty. The parents weren’t there. There was no attorney. There was nobody at all in those seats. If there were ever a chance for tumbleweeds to roll by, this was it.

In the viewing gallery behind the six folks at the plaintiff’s table, sat a slew of folks, maybe twelve, maybe fifteen. Maybe less. I was smack dab in the middle of these folks of mostly older church goers, a family of God there to support and bear witness for the grandparents if need be.

The judge, a gray-haired gentleman with glasses hanging off the bridge of his nose, sat in his chair (remember, I like to call it his throne). He shuffled some papers and then began with the proceedings, going through the same old same old for him.  But every word he said was critical to the plaintiffs, to their case for adoption of their three grandchildren. His voice was easily a southern drawl, laced in monotone dryness. He seemed like he was in no hurry, and for all involved, I’m not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I guess it just depends on how you are looking at it. Me, I like to look at things with my eyes open. To the plaintiffs every word probably echoed in their ears, every ticking second probably like hours.

At one point the judge stated, maybe not so clearly at first, that the parents had signed away their parental rights to the children.

Stop there for a second.

As a person with two kids of my own, this struck me. Hard. My stomach sank. But me and my writer’s mind could picture the couple, the mom and dad of three children, sitting there, a shark of an attorney by their side, maybe a slick talker with a way with words and an ace up his sleeve. Ah, but again, that was just my writer’s imagination working.

At any rate, the parents had signed away their rights. Why? Does it matter, really? Maybe they didn’t want the kids any longer. Maybe they owed a ton of money in child support and would have been in a world of trouble if they didn’t. Maybe, one or both of the parents realized that the best thing for these three kids, all ten years of age and younger, would be to let someone have them that could take care of them, provide for them, love them. Maybe the father cared about his kids just enough to say, ‘this is what is best for them,’ and maybe he convinced the mother of the same thing and maybe . . . I’m hoping that last part is true. Even if it isn’t, it is my hope that it is.

With my stomach suddenly hanging around my thighs (if this were a story, my stomach would have been hanging around something else in the general vicinity), the judge continued on, asking if the plaintiffs were there. They each acknowledged and he acknowledged their attendance, for the record, I guess.

Then he asked if the mother of the three children were there. He looked up, said ‘No,’ and proceeded to ask the same of the father. Again, he looked up, said, ‘No.” This time, my heart jumped into my throat, my stomach joining it in trying to occupy a place it didn’t belong. I bit my bottom lip and stared, not at the judge or the plaintiffs, but at the empty seats where Mom and Dad Defendant should have been, the parents of these three children. I admit now, this saddened me.

Maybe it was just me, but the judge seemed, I don’t know, disgusted, maybe. Maybe that’s not even the right word. Maybe, he felt disappointed. I know I did. Maybe, and this could be more true than I think it is, maybe the judge was a little disheartened by the lack of the parents being there to defend their actions, to fight for their children. But, then again, they had signed their parental rights away. So, why would they be there? Possibly, to be held accountable for their actions.

Onward.

I listened as the grandmother was called to answer questions on her behalf. The grandfather was next. The Guardian Ad Litem followed, standing from her seat, her words rehearsed, as if she had done this a thousand times. I venture to think she has.

I’m paraphrasing here, but I think you’ll get the gist of her statements:

“Your honor, I visited the home (I can’t recall the date at the moment, but that doesn’t matter for this) of Mr. and Mrs. Goodparent and what I found was a spacious home where each child had their own beds, plenty of child appropriate toys and child appropriate clothing. The house was clean and, most importantly, your Honor, I saw three happy children. In my opinion, it is in the best interest for these three children to be awarded custody to Mr. and Mrs. Goodparent.”

With that, she sat down, folded her hands one on top of the other.

The judge looked over several more pieces of paper. He spoke some words I didn’t catch, but the ones I did were simple and to the point. “I find it is in the best interest for this adoption to be granted.” He addressed the grandparents, his eyes noticeably softer than they had been for all of the ten minutes it took to hear the case and he said, “Now, go home and do what you’ve been doing and take care of those grandbabies.”

Court was adjourned, but everyone sat still, quiet, possibly not even sure of what had just happened. Was it finally over for them? Were the children, after several years of living with the grandparents, finally a permanent fixture of their home? Yes and yes.

Outside the courtroom, hugs were given, a tear or two shed, out of relief and sadness all the same.

The grandparents went on their way, going to do what the judge told them to do and go take care of them grandbabies. In their early sixties, the time of their life where it should be he and she and the open road to travel, dreams that were put on hold for years while they raised their own children realized, yet once again, they were parents to young children.

It was a bittersweet verdict. I sat at my desk that night, a long day having passed, my children in bed, my feet propped up by the keyboard, the thoughts of the day rumbling, bumbling, stumbling through my head. I had just finished up King’s story, Rest Stop, and that passage ran through my head over and over and over again.

“…under the right circumstances, anyone could end up anywhere, doing anything.”

My mind also kept coming back to the absentee parents at the courthouse. A quick note here and why this is so personal. I grew up with the father of the three children. He was a bright kid, intelligence beyond intelligence. Girls loved him. He rarely cracked a textbook, simply because he absorbed everything. He was the king of BS also. Someone whose charm could make you believe the most outlandish lie, even if you absolutely knew he wasn’t telling you the truth. He should have amounted to just a little more than what he did. I guess, knowing someone for so long, you never see this type of thing coming. And, if you do, you pretend it’s not real or you pretend that things will get better, though, deep down inside, you know they never will.

What can you do? Well, you can pray if you have faith in God. If you don’t, then you harbor those angered feelings until it becomes resentment and then hate and loathing. Not exactly good for you, if you know what I mean. Or, you just let it go.  Chalk it up to life getting the best of someone and move on. That’s just a little tougher to do.

If this were a work of fiction we would be nearing what some would consider to be a happy ending. I’ve left out a lot of this—it’s not necessary to dwell on the entirety of this story. Only the plight of the children matters and the resolution to the plot was the adoption by the grandparents. Thus, the story book ending would be the celebration in the courthouse, or maybe the kids running up to the grandparents, jumping in their arms, smiles on their youthful faces. Someone go ahead and stamp The End on the back page for me and close the book.  Leave a review, if you don’t mind.

However, this is no book, but real life. And in real life, there isn’t always a happy ending to the story. No, in real life, there are still struggles and pain and the all too real prospect of time slipping by; slipping through the fingers. The reality of this is simple: In ten, maybe fifteen years when the parents of these three kids are alone, they will want their children to come and see them. Come see your Ma, why don’t yah? Come and pay a visit to your old man, please. Do you know what I believe will happen? Do you even want to know? Probably not, but I’m going to tell you anyway. After all, I’m the one telling this story, aren’t I?

Harry Chapin once sang about Cats and Cradles and Silver Spoons in a song some years ago about a man too busy to spend time with his son. It’s about how the child came into the world and lived his life while the father was away. Each part of the song, one many of you no doubt have heard, is about how the boy grows up while the father is busy tending to his own affairs. In the end, the boy is a man with his own family and he has no time to visit the father who was never around when the boy was a child.

When you comin’ home dad? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, son You know we’ll have a good time then –Harry Chapin Cats and the Cradle.

Yeah, that’s what’s going to happen. When you think about real life, that is exactly what’s going to happen. This has stayed with me since that day, sitting in the courtroom, a witness for the plaintiffs, if needed. My heart sinks, even to this minute, knowing that on down the line—because in real life, there is always an on down the line—the parents are going to be alone, sad and wishing their children wanted to spend time with them, something they weren’t willing to do for their children.

They say reality is often stranger than fiction. Reality is often times quite a bit sadder than fiction also. And, here we have come to the end of my story, which is not really a story at all, but real life, a reality check, if you will. But I don’t want to end this on a downer. I truly don’t, so I’ll end it with another tidbit from another song.

The Beatles sang some years ago about the sun coming, little darling. I tend to think, to hope that part of those lyrics can hold true to even this story of great sadness.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it’s all right

 Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter

Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it’s all right

 Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it’s all right

 Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it’s all right

 It’s all right.

 

Everybody has their own path. Every path has many forks in the road. If you take the one to the left it takes you to a different place than if you take the one to the right. One path is going to be tougher than the other. That’s truth. Pure and simple.

Let me give you a little example.

Years ago when Cate and I were still dating we took a trip to the mountains with my family. On that trip I proposed to her. At that point she could have said no, but she said yes. Here’s where our paths forever changed. We were young and in love and I knew I was going to marry her after our first date a year or so earlier. But that’s not the point. Cate could have said no, and things would have drastically changed between us. Honestly, I don’t think we would be together—her saying no probably would have been a major deal breaker.

But she said yes, and on that day our lives went from being on our own separate paths to, a year later, us joining in marriage and creating a path together.

There is another one to this story. While Cate and I were on this trip we went hiking in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. There were three different paths we could have taken: the easy, the intermediate or the hard. Cate had never really done much hiking so we opted for easy. At one point we came to a fork in the path. If we went one way we continued on the easy path. If we went another direction we went on the intermediate path.

We thought we had taken the easy path. No. No, we didn’t. Though we didn’t take the hardest one, we still took one much more difficult than the easy. You see, we had a choice on which path to take: the easy or the not so easy. We took the wrong path and it led us to a harder, much longer hike. By the time we reached the end, I was pulling Cate up steep hills and using tree limbs to pull myself along as well. We were exhausted, but we had conquered the path and made it to the end. We had taken the wrong path, but somehow managed to navigate it, even though it was tougher than the one we meant to take.

Do you get what I’m saying? Life is all about the paths we choose. I’ve always said each decision we make takes us on a different path. If we choose to do drugs that decision takes us on a different, much more difficult path than if we choose not to. Are you married? Great. If you cheat on your spouse, that path just became rocky, at best. If you take this job as oppose to that one your life will forever be changed. Which college you go to changes your path. Everything you do in life, every decision you make takes you on a different path.

As a story teller it is my job to tell a story that has paths throughout it. If a character makes a decision it could alter the direction his/her life goes in.

Paths. That is a Common Thread we can all relate to. Everyone takes them, whether they know it or not. Every decision is a new path.

Let’s talk Cory’s Way and paths.

(If you have not read Cory’s Way, the next few paragraphs contain possible spoilers, all of which are related to the first chapter of the book.)

If Cory’s father doesn’t leave his mother, then Cory doesn’t end up in Century Falls and Gina doesn’t end up working insane hours at a restaurant to try to make ends meet. If the bullies don’t chase him, then he doesn’t run under the overpass and meet Mr. Washington, who, in turn, decides to help Cory get rid of those bullies.

All of these things (decisions) changed the paths for all of the characters involved. How, you ask? Let’s take a closer look at them.

For whatever reason, Cory’s father made a decision to leave the family, which forces Gina to move them away, creating a new, somewhat unpleasant path for Gina and Cory. And, incidentally, the father’s decision also changes his own life (something we don’t see in Cory’s Way). This one decision made by Cory’s father changed the lives of everyone involved in the story, which are quite a few paths. It set the stage for the story itself.

Gina’s absence because she works so much sends Cory on a completely different path than if she were around more. Sure, it’s the only real move she can make to ensure they have food and a roof over their heads, but with his father already gone, he probably could have used having Mom around more often.

We talked about bullying in the first Common Threads post. Well, let’s talk about it again. The Burnette brothers play a huge role in Cory’s Way. We are introduced to them in the third sentence of the first chapter. They make a decision early on (like Dad leaving, we don’t actually see this decision—we just know it by the way the first few paragraphs unfold) that they don’t like Cory and making his life miserable becomes a goal of theirs. That decision changes the entire trajectory and lives of every main character of the story right off the bat.

Cory had a bunch of decisions (paths) he could have made during this opening paragraph. Run from the bullies or fight them? Take the short way beneath the overpass or the long way around it? Toss his book bag or hang onto it? Give up halfway home and let them beat the crap out of him or keep running? Try to fight back. Hide beneath the overpass or keep on trucking? Can you see how any of those decisions could have changed the course of Cory’s life, and by the same token, every major character in the book?

Mr. Washington really only made one significant decision: leave the overpass and run off the Burnette brothers or give Cory away and let them know where he was or force Cory to continue running away. His decision was one of the most important path changers in the entire book. Without it, there is no Cory’s Way.

I’m not going to go beyond the first chapter here, but every single chapter has a path changing decision, just like every single day we, as real people and not make believe ones, make decisions that alter our lives and the trajectory our lives are on.

If you haven’t read Cory’s Way, well I’m going to encourage you to do so. Here’s the thing: I’ve said since day one that everyone will be able to relate to something in this novel. When I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE. I relate to it on many levels, but the one way I truly connect to it is that the story of Cory Maddox was the first such story I wrote in this conversational style. It was the story where I truly found my voice. It’s the story that deepened my love of story telling. It was the story that changed the path of my writing. It’s THE story.

As a writer it is my job to give you something to enjoy, to relate to, to connect to, a common thread that links you to the story. One common thread are paths and the ones we choose in life. Every decision is a fork in the road. Choose one thing and go one way. Choose the other option(s) and go in a different direction(s) all together. Either way, the path is yours to take. Which way will you go?

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

And Your Mother Was There

Posted: February 27, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

My mom and I don’t always see things on the same level. We don’t always agree or see things eye to eye. We argue and sometimes those arguments get heated. Sometimes things are just bad. There’s no other way to explain it. We’re both opinionated and bull headed. We both speak our minds, which is not always good, especially when we are in disagreement on something.

If there’s one thing we agree on, it’s my dad. We both love him and the thought of something bad happening to him terrifies us both. So, when he went in for quadruple heart surgery we both had a shared interest: his health. There was no arguing or bickering or petty disagreements. There was a silent bond that wasn’t spoken. Yet, there was a story told, one I didn’t know of, though my mom swears she told it to me before.

This story, which I will tell you about in a moment made my mom’s eyes tear up. It was a result of Dad coming out of surgery and going into recovery. We would be allowed to see him about an hour after the surgery. Mom asked if I wanted to see him. Of course I did, but not with tubes in his mouth and all sorts of lines going in and out of him. I have seen these things before and it’s not something I haven’t been able to handle in the past. But this is my dad and I chose not to see him that way. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have been able to keep the tears out of my eyes, even knowing he was going to be okay.

And this led to the story.

If you can, picture this: We sat in a large open room. Chairs were set up in a square in each corner where at least ten to twelve people could sit as a family or a group. We sat in the far corner, furthest from the entrance, but also in full view of that entrance. The woman(my mom)—not young, but not old either—had sat in the same spot for most of the time waiting for someone to tell us Dad was out of surgery. Across from her sat her second and third born children. That would be me and my baby brother, the one affectionately known as Mutt. Some of you will get that reference. Others of you won’t.

I had voiced my decision to not see Dad with all the wires, tubes and i.v.’s hooked up to him. I wasn’t sure what Mom would think about this or even what she might say. What she said surprised me a little.

‘I understand,’ Mom said. ‘It was like when you were in the hospital with all those wires hooked up to you.’

I gave her an odd look, I guess. She clarified her statement.

‘When you were a kid.’

The light came on. Long story short: When I was a kid I was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night. Some things transpired and I died.

Let’s stop here for a moment.

If I died, how can I be typing this? Yeah, I would ask that question, too. The answer? They revived me.

Now, stick with me for a minute as I try to recall Mom’s words, though I probably won’t get them a hundred percent right.

She said:

‘I prayed and prayed that God would let my baby live. And I felt like the prayers were getting pushed down, getting pushed back. I kept praying, God, let my baby live. And it kept getting pushed down. I knew what God wanted me to say, that His will be done, but I couldn’t do it.’

At this point there were tears in Mom’s eyes. I said nothing. What could I say? I never recalled hearing the story, so, to me, it was very new and very raw and very real with emotion.

She continued:

‘Finally, I prayed and I said, ‘Lord, I know what you want me to say, but this is as close as I can get to it, if it’s Your will, let my baby live.’

To steal from the movie Grease. I got chills, they’re multiplying.

‘Almost immediately after praying that, I got the peace that passes understanding and I knew you would be okay. I knew my baby was alive.

Two days later you woke up and you said…I was here on your right and your grandmother was on your left and you said, ‘I just visited the most beautiful place.’ And you turned to Momma (my grandmother) and said, ‘And your mother was there.’

‘You were in Heaven and you saw her there.’

My great grandmother died when I was two. I don’t remember her, though according to Mom, she loved me and hugged and snuggled with me and I let her do it and was content to be loved and hugged and snuggled.

Out of body experience? Mom believes so. I have no reason to disagree.

If you know anything about me, you know I write dark stories and that I’ve always been fascinated by the darkness of the human soul. Mom said she’s always thought that my interest in these things is related to that event. She may just be right.

And, if you know anything about me at all, then you know I have faith in God, in Jesus, and you also know I’ve always been a little different in my approach on a lot of things in life. I am my own person and I like it that way. Do I believe I paid Heaven a little visit and that I saw my great grandmother? You bet.

Do I believe in the power of prayer? Yup.

My mom wiped her eyes and gave me a smile. She understood why I felt the way I did. Why? Because she had seen me in a similar position when I was a little kid. She had seen me unconscious with wires and i.v’s hooked up to my body. It couldn’t have been easy for her.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it now: nothing makes you appreciate life more than death.

I lived through death years ago. I was prayed through it. Today, my dad is alive and he was prayed through it. I know many out there don’t believe in God and Jesus, but I do. My family does.

One more thing. I’ve thought on this story a lot tonight and I’ll probably think on it a lot going forward. It’s a story I am happy I heard. It explains a lot.

I got chills, they’re multiplying…

I don’t know how things will be going forward. But I know that moment will always be special, real and raw with emotion. And I understand a few things about myself that I never did before. It’s interesting how one story can make you see things differently.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this blog are solely mine. They are just that, opinions. They are how I feel and what I think. If you can’t handle someone having an opinion that may differ from yours, then please, stop reading now.

Possible indecipherable rant to follow:

‘There’s something wrong with the world today.
I don’t know what it is.
There’s something wrong with our eyes.’

Every time I hear the song, Livin’ On the Edge, I often wonder if Aerosmith was being prophetic or just crooning about the way things were at the time, not foreseeing how much worse it could get.

What is wrong with us? What is wrong with our nation? Our world? What is wrong with us, as individuals?

On April 30, 2014, a 17 year-old boy was arrested inside a storage facility. Supposedly, he told the police if he had a gun at the time, he would have killed the first responder. He was going to kill his family. He was going to set a fire in the woods nearby to create a divergence so he could set off bombs at the local middle and high schools. His goal was to kill as many people as he could before a SWAT team could take him out. He wanted the SWAT team to kill him.

Two weeks earlier, a kid in Pennsylvania goes on a stabbing spree in school, stabbing twenty people, mostly teenagers, before he is tackled by the assistant principal.

On April 2, 2014 a gunman begins shooting at Fort Hood military base. Four people, including the gunman, died. Supposedly, he was angry because he wasn’t granted leave. Now he has permanent leave. And so does three other soldiers.

Remember Sandy Hook?

Do I need to give any more examples?

‘We’re seein’ things in a different way
And God knows it ain’t his
It sure ain’t no surprise.’

Seriously, what is going on?

There’s an owner of a basketball team spewing hateful, racist remarks, and for the longest time, the NBA did nothing about this, though the Justice Department did on two separate occasions.

We have football players beating their girlfriends and getting slaps on the wrists, as if domestic abuse is okay. And then those girls stay with the abuser. I don’t get that. I don’t get that at all.

There are people using the ‘N’ word–and you know what word I’m talking about–but taking two letters off and adding an A on the end. So that makes it okay? What? It’s a horrible word no matter how it is said.

We have religious leaders claiming intolerance instead of love, patience and acceptance. Hey, folks, I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but the Bible explicitly says, do not judge one another. (Matthew 7:1)

In this day, we still have racism and bigotry and people bashing on others because of their sexual preferences.

Really?

There’s somethin’ wrong with the world today
The light bulb’s getting’ dim.
There’s meltdown in the sky.

I’m going to say something that may not go over very well with a lot of folks. We have soldiers fighting terrorism in other countries, yet we can’t seem to get pass the hypocrisy of our own. Hey, terrorists are not our biggest concern. With what we—Americans, folks, Americans—are doing to each other, the terrorists can just sit back and let us kill each other, because that’s what we’re doing.

What happened to us? Where is the unity we all felt after 9/11?

We’re a selfish people. We want our money. We want our possessions. We want our notoriety, and by George, we’re going to get it, no matter what the cost. If someone has it, we’re going to make it ours.

Yes, I’m generalizing here. There are a lot of good people out there. There are a lot of people willing to help others. But there are a lot more of those people who seem to have lost the moral compass. There are so few Dale’s out there. (Yes, that was a Walking Dead reference for those who didn’t catch that.)

If you can judge a wise man
By the color of his skin
Then mister you’re a better man than I.

Here’s what I think:

People no longer respect other people, their property or their lives. We don’t respect living any longer.

‘Oh no he didn’t. I’m going to shoot him up, and his family, too.’

If we respected the living, if we respected life, then there would be less of these shootings and less violent crimes and less hate-mongering, and there would be more talking and more reasoning.

Yeah, I know, it’s a pipe dream. Why can’t we all get along and all that.

I remember when people used to get in fights at school and by the end of the next day they were friends again. We would get our aggressions out, sling a few fists, bloody a nose or two and take our punishment when we were finished—like men, even when we were just eleven and twelve. Then the next day we would sit at the same table at lunch and swap food as if nothing ever happened.

What happened to that?

What happened to Mom and Dad disciplining a kid and the kid learning from it?

What happened to closing your mouth and treating the elderly like they were royalty? We used to never cuss in front of our elders. Now no one really cares.

Respect.

Entitlement.

People want everything handed to them. Kids expect to receive their iphones and ipads and ipods and televisions and video games and nice clothing. They don’t want to work for it. There are a lot of adults out there acting like kids, living off others and not earning their keep.

Everything I own, I earned. I’ve had very little given to me in life. I paid for the two cars in my driveway. I’m paying for the house I live in, even if it is small and in need of a lot of work. This computer I’m typing at right now? Yup, paid for with hard work. I don’t have a lot of new things, and I don’t buy a lot of new things. Things I need are paid for. Things I want, well, I wait on getting those—they’re wants, after all and not something I really need.

‘Something’s right with the world today
And everybody knows it’s wrong.
But we can tell ’em no or we could let it go
But I’d rather be a hanging on.’

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just throwing up at the mouth.

We are truly living on the edge of self-destruction here. We don’t love like we used to. We don’t care like we used to. We don’t respect like we used to. We’re not giving like we used to be.

I love my country. But I don’t love the things happening here. I don’t love the angst we’ve developed, the self-entitlement, the selfishness. I don’t like that I can’t let my kids walk down the street without fear that something could happen to them. I’m terrified every time I drop them off at school in the morning.

What’s wrong with us these days? I don’t know, and honestly, I’m not sure how to fix it.

We’re livin’ on the edge, and I’m afraid we can’t keep ourselves from falling…

Stay safe and love and live and be courteous to one another. Someone has to do it. I don’t know if I even made sense tonight. Probably not. I just had to get this out of my mind, out of my heart, so I can get back to writing and living.

Until we meet again, my friends…