The Difficulty of Opening One’s Hands

hand
[Word count: 489. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

My mother grew up poor. Because she knew the extremes of sometimes having nothing, she learned how to save, preserve, extend, prolong, conserve. She’s the last to throw something away because “you never know when you might have a need.”

In her cabinet, I found an old Sony CD player whose door would not close. I offered to throw it away for her. “Oh no, honey, don’t throw that away. I wanna give it to the Goodwill. Maybe somebody can fix it and use it.”

I groused. “Ma, this thing is done. It has no more value. It’s a CD player that won’t play CDs. No one wants to work to fix it. You can buy a new one for $50 or less. Why do you hold on to these things? They’re just taking up space and making more clutter for you to look at. This don’t make no sense. Forget it. I’m throwing it away.” All of this I told her—in my head—as I put the CD player back where she told me to.

I used to be quite a packrat. But when I got older and started making enough money to lean back and smile a bit, I didn’t stockpile so religiously. My confidence was such that if I needed something, I could get it whenever I wanted it. Continue reading

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Dreams and False Alarms

[Word count: 630. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

Joni Mitchell's Hejira album featuring "Amelia"

“Maybe I’ve never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes.”

A friend once told me, “Mark, you’re emotionally unavailable.” I resented both the remark and its laser accuracy. I would meet a girl who piqued my interest, but it would die out like doused fireworks. I started to believe I was emotionally defective, and incapable of falling in love. It seemed to closely mirror my difficulty walking in faith.

“The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets through to you.”

And then something awesome happened. A girl flew in from nowhere and descended over me with her soft skin the color of strong coffee. Smiled like she brushed her teeth with sunshine. Moved like a ray of light, electric, blinding, jittery, and larger than life. I couldn’t take her all in, but I didn’t want to miss a thing. I don’t fall in love readily, but this girl got to me faster than I was ready to get got.

“And looking down on everything
I crashed into [her] arms…

Continue reading

Gifts Robin Gave Me, Part 1

[Word count: 654. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

Robin Hill and I in 2003

“When you’re little, you adopt survival mechanisms. But then they last too long. They last beyond their usable time and they become impediments to growth.” —Jane Fonda

I used to be horrible at taking compliments. Too often they’d be a bait-and-switch for devastating insults. So I became a ninja at self-deprecation. If I tore myself down sufficiently, no one else could take anything from me. It made me feel safer. I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to stop… for decades.

At age 50, my friend Robin Hill was fighting brain cancer. I was fighting a kind of disease too. Mine was that I’d want people to like me. And then they would. I just wouldn’t believe them. Both maladies kill very slowly. Ultimately Robin didn’t survive hers, but she left something to make sure I survived mine. Continue reading

Going Back To My Ex

Taylor-Swift-We-Are-Never-Ever-Getting-Back-Together

[Word count: 785. Approximate read time: 4 minutes]

Whenever you come in contact with someone you were once intimately close to but now are virtual strangers, interesting reactions happen. You remember the good things and the bad things. One usually rises to the surface. Sometimes both swirl together unpredictably like iridescent colors on an oil slick.

When a goal has both positive and negative aspects that make it simultaneously appealing and unappealing, it’s called an approach-avoidance conflict. I am traditionally bad at these. Exes almost always bring them up. Continue reading

On Father’s Day: “I Had a King Once”

[Word count: 467. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Me, being held by my grandfather Ralph, standing next to my grandmother Bette.Before, he was just the belt wielder. Barber. Things-around-the-house fixer. Wood chopper. La-Z-Boy occupier. Pipe smoker. Grandmother’s nagging post. I wasn’t fond of him. As a disciplinarian, I came to see him as stern. And mean. So I kept my dealings with him limited. Nine-year-olds prefer grandmothers anyway. They’re softer. Permissive. Willing to bend rules for precocious children. Better at banana pudding from scratch. I was certain I chose well.

Then, certain reversals of fortune cause ten-year-olds to grow rapidly. Age substantially. Wizen prematurely. Grieve deeply.

Rules of the game would need to change. No more hiding in the billows of her dress. I couldn’t pit queen against king. Now, it was just the king and I. Two of us on a somewhat bare board. In a much-too-quiet house. Taken aback. Having to stare at each other in the eyes. Perhaps for the first time.

The king, though prized, is probably the most vulnerable in the game. Only moving about slowly, one space at a time. Not a problem with a queen present. She can fly around accomplishing multiple tasks at one time. Enforcing order while retreating selectively. Defending territory while deferring demurely. A queen makes every piece stronger. Losing one early puts the fate of the whole game at a disadvantage. Faced with the challenge, some kings concede. Mine reworked his strategy. Continue reading

Worship, Unconscious

[Word count: 596. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
DISCLAIMER: I wrote this August 8, 2012, but decided to sit on it until now. In light of my friend Robin’s recent illness and passing, it carries extra significance.

Imagine someone you love—a mother, father, sibling, cousin, or close friend—unconscious and unresponsive. You don’t know what caused it and you don’t know how long it’s going to last. But the doctors say, “Keep talking to them, they can hear you. They may also respond to touch.What would you do? How often would you visit? How long would you stay?

If it was someone I loved, I would become protective. I would be watching to make sure nurses and orderlies treated them right, kept them clean and comfortable. If it was my sister, I would sing our favorite songs to her. I would have DVDs of Good Times and The Jeffersons playing around the clock like she does most days.

If it was my mother, I would recite encouraging and empowering scriptures to her; she might respond to that. If it was my papa, I would massage his feet and make sure his toenails didn’t grow too long and uncomfortable. If it was me, I would want someone to touch me; hold my hand or stroke my forehead. For the love of God, make sure my lips aren’t chapped. I hate that.

And if it was your God, what would you do? Continue reading

In Memory of Robin Hill

[Word count: 813. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Robin HillI met Robin No-Middle-Name Hill in 2002 through a mutual friend. She was something to behold: tall, svelte, and stately. A confident beauty. Her modelesque walk was a fluid dance of elongated, undulating curves. She kept a proud yet understated sensuality. Her brown skin, bright eyes, wide smile, and trademark honey-and-sunlight braids gave her a striking resemblance to my mother. She was warm, funny, snappy, flirty, and wise. I liked her instantly. I called her My Robin Bobbin. She called me Maaaahk.

She and I were among the nucleus of 12 who co-founded a church together. She was 40 then. Nothing about her indicated that she had recently recovered from two strokes. I was astounded. Her friends had already walked through the fire with her. I wanted to be that kind of friend. I promised myself that if anything ever happened to Robin, I would be by her side. I never told her this.

Continue reading

By Your Side: A Devotional

[Word count: 879. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

Sade’s “By Your Side” is my ideal love song.

Even while writing God and the Silent Treatment, I remembered its lyrics are one answer to the forlorn, abandoned questions posed in Jars of Clay’s “Silence.” Often when romance is exaggerated in love songs, it becomes something men and women are incapable of giving. However, the faithful love described in “By Your Side” is very godlike. It doesn’t take a great leap to relate it to scripture.

Sade sidles a dancing elderly couple: "You think I'd leave your side, baby? You know me better than that."

“You think I’d leave your side, baby? You know me better than that.”

Doubting God may be engrained in my analytical nature. I almost always need God to mock my unbelief and cite our history. “Do you really think I’d abandon you? C’mon. You may be unsure about many things, but you know that you at least know that.”

I’m like one of those kids who goes into histrionics whenever a parent leaves their sight. Mom or dad has to come back and calm the kid down: “Have I ever left you? Don’t I always come back? Don’t you know how much I love you?”

Continue reading

Germophobia

[Word count: 840. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

I dated the sweetest girl in my 20s. Perhaps if I was sweeter to her, we might have stayed together. But I was working at home one day when she decided to surprise me and stop by. As per usual, my dual living-and-working space was a mess. I was caught off guard by her presence, but glad to see her. She walks in visibly excited to see me at my desk, despite my work-disheveled state. I am no knight-in-shining armor today. What is she so happy about?

If you asked me, I’d say the girl’s in love. She would have to be. Only someone with that kind of madness would do what she was about to. I was in the middle of a number of thought processes at the time. And although multitasking beyond a certain point for me is like being drawn and quartered, I had to pull my focus in, snap into action, and protect her.

She walked in and sat down in the middle of my bed, rested her soft purse by her left thigh, and began to lean slowly to her right like a sexy, caramel-skinned Tower of Pisa. As it dawned on me what her intention was, a miniature explosion of panic detonated in my head. Continue reading

Nothing Can Come Between Us

[Word count: 814. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

We’re still together. But sitting at opposite ends of the couch though. Not saying much to each other as we go in, out, and about the house. Sharing the same bed, but not touching. Going to church together, but not making eye contact. The honeymoon phase is over. Being together doesn’t give us the tingles anymore.

It’s been some time since we were on the same page. We’ve each made independent decisions that met with disagreement from the other. Some days I wonder exactly who I married. I’m not as attracted as I was at the start. I roll my eyes a lot now. I sigh hard and breathe out troubled subtext until our living space smells of it. One might say our relationship is strained.

When the dissonance between us gets so loud that I can’t stand to be in the same room, I wonder where we went wrong. People said we would always be together. We started off so strong. Couples have said they wanted to be like us. Yet now there’ve been several months though—I don’t know how far back to start counting—when I have not been the happiest in this relationship. It’s not looking so great right now.

But I remember our song:

“In the middle of the madness
When the time is running out and you’re left alone
All I want is you to know that
It’s strong still
Can’t pull us apart
Nothing can come
Between us
Nothing can pull us apart… can come between us.”

I don’t know when it officially became our song, but whenever I hear Sade’s “Nothing Can Come Between Us,” I think of Jesus and I. I envision us as a newlywed couple having a first dance in front of so many witnesses. They have sworn to hold us to our vows. He’s the groom; I’m his bride. The contract says “until death do us part,” but even then… Continue reading