Martin, Everett, and Me

caroline-langston-imageI am writing this essay on the fortieth anniversary of my father’s death, so my immediate thought about Martin Luther King, Jr. this morning is of those four precious small children left fatherless on April 4, 1968.

There are two things I’m thinking about fathers: The nimbus of their influence continues to fall across your life, no matter how early they’re taken from you. Whether it’s shimmering or shadowy depends upon them.

When those fathers are departed, you have to go in search elsewhere for substitutes to replace them. There’s an ancient tradition of spiritual/intellectual fatherhood: Socrates taught Plato, and Plato taught Aristotle, goes the saying.

And this is where I have to jump in to say this: There was not much said about Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was growing up in Mississippi in the 1970s and 80s. It’s hard to explain this to people outside the South, but this was true even among folks who were racial moderates, like my parents, who supported public school desegregation but were otherwise limited by their time and place.

Of course, whole volumes of history regarding the Civil Rights movement were just not mentioned among white people when I was growing up—even when they took place in near walking distance from where we lived. All I recall was my mother’s mention that a country church was “where the Freedom Riders” stopped for the night, and that my oldest sister—already, things were changing—had asked to be driven out to see them arrive. [Read more…]

The Day My Daughter Found Herself

track-by-dean-hochman-on-flickrI want you to watch me run.

My daughter Becca sent me that text last Friday morning, just a couple hours into her first “24-Hour Challenge.” For weeks she’d been anticipating the annual event at her middle school, during which students run ten miles in half-mile installments around the track, breaking to sleep (or at least pretend to) in tents overnight before finishing in the morning. A major community event, the fields come alive with loud music, tents decked out with posters and lights, colorful signed shirts, and best friends walking arm in arm as they warm-up every forty minutes to run.

Mom. She texted me again. Are you coming soon?

I’d just come off of two sleepless nights, once again beset by conflict created by my own lack of interpersonal discernment. Questions wrestled in my gut: How do I help people mend their destructive lives without destroying my own? Is it possible to love wholly and purely without risking pain? I started to think I’m not cut out for fellowship. Maybe I need to stay away from everyone, I thought, except for my own family. [Read more…]

The Smell of Black Mold

Natural Cut Fries with Sea Salt Close

By John Bryant

I write in order that the ornery old bastard and toothless schizophrenic might be more welcome in my life. The man who calls three times a day to give voice to his shattered mind.

I met him at Advanced Autoparts. I’d bought a brake light, put the new one in, was about to step into my truck. Then I heard a kind of rustling sound just loud enough to make me wonder if someone was talking to me.

I turned and saw him, this old man fifty yards off in a busted wheelchair he’d tell me later he’d won in a fight, talking slowly and softly to me as if I was inches from his soft beard.

He pulled himself with tiny feet, unable to push with the hands he kept in his lap because, he said, his fingers were warped from gout and fights. [Read more…]

Unfriending, Impractical Jokes, and Other Foibles

facebook unsplach CC Zero pic by William Iven_editIf I were to graph my mental health over the past five years, the line might resemble a stegosaurus spine with several points and plunges, that, thanks be to God, climb overall to a place of greater acceptance and peace.

But damn, do those jagged edges hurt.

Over the past couple of months, hormones, summer sleeplessness, and the stress of starting a new business have joined forces to throw a deranged dance party in my brain. I’ve felt more vulnerable than usual, especially surrounding the perceptions of others—my go-to place of desolation.

In sum: Does this person like me? If not, why not? And what can I do to fix it?

Suppose someone unfriends me on Facebook. The adrenaline of anxiety kicks in as I quickly review my statuses and develop theories. In one case, I convinced myself that someone deleted me for posting pictures of a local parade. Although I reveled in my town’s annual event, a highlight of the summer, I wondered if my friend thought I was mocking it. [Read more…]

My HIV Test

By Paul Luikart

CutHere’s something I never told my parents: some years ago I got an HIV test.

I was working and living at a Catholic Worker house in Phoenix, a place I wound up after college. I had a freshly conferred bachelor’s degree in creative writing (not exactly bait for corporate recruiters) and a swirling head full of idealism.

Imagine: I assumed I could save the world. I thought the world could, in fact, be saved, or even that the world had some notion of its need for salvation in the first place.

Among other things, the Catholic Worker had a soup kitchen, and on Saturday nights I was the staff person in charge of making sure the goulash got cooked and served, the local parish volunteers had jobs to do, and that general peace and order were maintained among the guests.

“Guests” was acceptable terminology for the homeless men, women, and kids who shuffled in for dinner, out of the dusty alleys, wearing their tribulations as ripped up jeans and sunburns so bad they’d sometimes turn black. [Read more…]