When It Comes to Love, We’re Beginners

MV5BMjAyNDcxNTk3NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjk4MDU2NA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_By Jeffrey Overstreet

During a lecture last March [2011], I spoke fondly of a friend whom I had recently lost to cancer. Halfway through the anecdote, I suddenly recognized his wife, the mother of his two young children, in the audience, listening in rapt attention. She was far from home, a surprise visitor. I almost choked. And I suddenly began weighing my words with much greater care. Had I represented her husband well?

Loss makes artists out of all of us. We become storytellers, portrait painters, recreating the departed.

During grief’s early days, we break heavy silences to recall the scenes we want to remember. For strangers, we’ll sketch an outline, fill in some details. We simplify, generalize, organize.

We consider questions that will never be answered, dreams never realized. And we might carefully acknowledge their rougher edges, the ways they tested our patience—but we’ll wince if anyone blurts out words of criticism or judgment.

It’s a challenge, to keep someone’s memory alive with honesty and honor. It’s a responsibility, a delicate art. [Read more...]

A Requiem for Rejects

6496543295_1191ee1010_zBy Chad Thomas Johnston

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
—Isaiah 53:3

Six or seven years ago, a coworker of mine played a drunken game of chicken with a semi-truck on his bike at ten o’clock at night. His funeral doubled as a memorial service and an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

My coworker, whom I will refer to as Flip, was an adjunct member of the faculty in the same university department that employed me as a lecturer. Flip was in his early forties, wore horrible Hawaiian-print shirts, and spoke with the glibness of a used car salesman. [Read more...]

His Murderer and His Keeper

326044514_cedf60b870_mSome days I can’t remember: Am I Abel or Cain?

Blackberry soda in the afternoon sun. I talk with a friend who recounts her anger and, before she meets with those who aroused it, it’s softening. Blue heart of flame, her eyes purify the avenue, its commerce, its air. I am alive. I must be Cain.

Once, I was a shepherd. Now I am reduced to this: a symbol. My brother discovered his black heart when he heard me in the field, singing, offering the best of my flock. God loves my poetry. In response, my brother stoned me. Because back then no one knew when the soul leaves the body, he pummeled me beyond necessity. Even to this hour he continues, pelting me with rubble, rockets—whatever’s at hand. An innocent man, dead. I must be Abel. [Read more...]

The Beautiful Attitudes

By Dyana Herron

2956313375_8e911e6a09_mI clearly remember the last day of being nine. I stood in front of my house on the porch, its cement stained from summer, when my brother and I felt through the thick fur of our chow chows for fat ticks that we plucked, shook off, then smashed with rocks.

On the last day of being nine, I stood on the stained cement crying. I was upset because although the next day was my birthday and would bring all the extravagances of a birthday, I would be turning ten.

As in, going from a one-digit age number to a two-digit age number. And I realized I wasn’t likely to reach the three-digits. [Read more...]

Charlie Hebdo and the Inner Soul of Humor

16246547072_48798fd8a5_m (1)My friend Justin Smith recently wrote a piece for Harper’s Magazine. Justin is a brilliant guy, a philosopher and historian of ideas who also happens to write well and think clearly. Those things do not come together all that often. He’s been teaching for the last couple of years in Paris, at Université Paris Diderot-Paris VII.

This put him at Ground Zero, more or less, on January seventh of this year when the Kouachi brothers entered the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo and opened fire. [Read more...]


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