Gethsemane Companions

12233212894_02c549532e_zBy Dyana Herron

Over the past couple of months, facing two family crises that impact the whole relational web of my tribe down in Tennessee, I’ve learned something about myself: I’m not very good at fessing up to my own needs.

Instead I am attentive—sometimes over-attentive—to the needs of others.

Instead of saying, “I need help,” I ask, “How can I help you?”

Instead of saying, “I need someone to talk to,” I ask, “Is there anything you want to talk about?”

Instead of saying, “I don’t want to be alone,” I say, “I am here for you.”

I say these things to my relatives, my husband, and my closest friends—those who know me best and love me most.

This may sound like a virtue, but it isn’t. It’s cowardice. [Read more...]

Downturned Face, Upturned Eyes

16031088392_2eed4d7889_zThere is no writing more precious and self-indulgent than the essay about the difficulty of writing, so I will not write an essay about that. The truth is that writing is easy if you have a little talent. A little talent affords some writers a fine living, in fact. The only real pain comes not from the act of writing, but from a voice hovering in your ear, which may be your conscience or your mother but most likely is the devil, whispering: They’re not going to like it.

What does the devil get for his trouble? A cheapening of words. Another breezy, bullshitty essay, or another snarky, hopeless one: It makes little difference; the devil edits them all.

(See how he’s angling for your sympathy, with his poor-tortured-truthful-soul-in-a-sea-of-mendacity shtick?) [Read more...]

The Boy Who Lived Large

3295985119_346ac2aed1_zFriday we took the kids and hit the road for Aiken, South Carolina. We were going down to attend a memorial service for my sister’s stepson Tyler. Tyler was sixteen years old.

The service was nice. The pastor had lost a six-year-old daughter to asthma, and was particularly tuned in to the family’s pain.

My nephew Jesse wrote a letter to Tyler, which one of his friends stood and read for him. He wrote to Tyler, “You were so warm, so happy, so loving, and as wonderful as those words are they still don’t seem to do you justice.” He wrote, “Tyler, you were the embodiment of unconditional love…”

The pastor spoke of everyone’s memories of Tyler. He loved to sing, and he had a specific song he attached to each significant person in his life, singing it when he saw that person.

His favorites: Kiss’s “Rock and Roll All Night”; The Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight,” which he changed to party tonight; “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” which he sometimes changed to I’ve got the whole world in my hands. [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...]

Prayers in the River

9186219783_2c482b06e7_mI stand hip-deep in a river, casting into the eddies. I am not the kind of man who routinely stands hip-deep in anything, but the kids are still asleep, and I need to pray somewhere—God knows—so here I stand. The water is frigid and it soothes my feet, sore from stumbling over stones to rescue my lure. All I’ve caught in this damned river are rocks.

I’m here mostly to pray and because I want to fish in peace. Lord Jesus Christ—cast—son of God—lock—have mercy on me—reel, reel, reel—a sinner. In his last scene in The Godfather II, Fredo tells Michael Corleone’s son his fish-catching secret is to say a “Hail Mary” when he casts. Maybe that works for Catholics; this Orthodox Jesus Prayer is getting me nothing. [Read more...]


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