To the sinner, I got your back. I’m on your side.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It isn’t in the bible.

The bible does talk a lot about love. It says that you will know that people are Christians by their love one for another. That everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. It commands us to love… love one another. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy. Love those who persecute you. It is a tall order.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Patient, kind, not envious or boastful or proud… I’m going to put up with a lot. I’m going to be giving and forgiving. I am not looking to get some thing. I’m not in this for me. I don’t care what you did. Your “sin” is irrelevant. I forgive you. Empathy… I feel for you. Love is that human connection. A deep human connection. One that says, hey, I am with you. I got your back. And it is going to cost you. No greater love, the book says, is there than laying down your life for someone…

You can’t love someone if you aren’t for him. You don’t love them if you don’t have his back. You can’t love if you aren’t willing to risk it, to pay whatever cost it may exact from you. It has to be more than pity. It has to be more than a religious agenda to make converts or earn eternal brownie points. You have to be willing to take someone… even an enemy or persecutor, and find a connection. To be on that person’s side.

So the next time someone is out there loving the sinner and hating the sin… if that someone is you, ask yourself if you have this sinner’s back. Are you with them? Are you for them? Or are they just some mark, some piece in an agenda to get something for yourself. Love is a tall order. 

Maybe we are asking the wrong question.

When my son took his life, I asked, “Why?” Everyone asked why.
And I think about that question, because there really is no reason that would suffice…
That would make it make sense. That would make the pain go away.
And we always want to know… how to interpret it. How to wrap it up. How to make it all neat and tidy…
We see it whenever there is a celebrity suicide.
For a moment we discuss it like it is a serious topic, that we should do something about.
For a moment we grieve and pay tribute
And construct some sort of neat narrative
That will turn that person’s entire life into some kind of cautionary tale
About drugs or fame or mental illness
And how sad it all is.
And the press asks why and pretends to have an answer…
Maybe given by an expert. But I think about the question.
And somewhere they are burying a girl that is gone too young
And the mother will ask the priest why.
And the girl that was bullied or the boy molested or the kid that is outside every group…
But the news will cover that one that was on Facebook.
And there is that article about the kid that was eight.
And at the edge of that reservation, the spring melt reveals yet another cluster
Quietly covered by a hand full of bureaus… each asking why so many young indigenous kids end their lives.
And they talk about 21 vets that kill themselves every day.
And talk about PTSD. And mental health. And veteran’s services.
We ask why. 21 times a day. And some people will give you some very good answers.
Because why matters.
And I think about the question.
We ask the same kind of things about mass shooters,
The kind that just snapped. And we want to know why…
Or about that celebrity overdose… or the child of celebrity.
And all of them or any of them
Could be the modern equivalent of that after school movie.
A morality play.
A little red riding hood warning to stay on the path.
And we have to tell each other why it happened.
We have to tell ourselves why it happened. Give an answer.
It becomes a song that is sad
Or a poem no one reads
It is the cautionary tale
It has a beginning and middle and end.
It has a lesson, like a fable.
That is supposed to keep us from killing ourselves
By accidental overdose
By intentional act
By not staying on the path
And talking to wolves.
Somewhere in some garage is cleaning up the blood
Using gloves and bleach
And somewhere a father is walking in a cold damp night…
Counting his steps and watching his breath dissipate.
And somewhere a child grows up wondering if his path
Will follow his father’s at some age…
A life of addiction punctuated by a loud bang.
All wrapped up with a tidy bow.
Not because we ask why, but because we answer…
And we accept the answer.
And I think about the question.
And maybe we are asking the wrong question.

Sadness and the smell of markers

I am driving and hit by that wave of sadness and it is neither unusual or unexpected
Home is up the mountain. The sun is setting. And the music on the radio reminds me of my son. Ethan… there is so much I miss about you.
Grief is such a selfish thing. It is about me and my feelings and what I lost. It isn’t about who I lost… but what I miss, what relates to me and my pain.
I am lost in thoughts and I take the mountain curves under a beautiful vermillion sunset… briefly thinking about the Scottish broom blooming along the highway
And the places where it has been hacked up and carted away.
I know this about Ethan… that in a specific way, he “got” me like no one else.
And I could riff on some idea, and he wouldn’t make a face or walk off
He could laugh or join me… and add comments and color…
And it let me walk down these paths in our discourse
of wild imagination. Or journeys into the absurd and strange and trivial… I found someone to come with me on the journey
And it didn’t make me feel stupid or lost. To play with words or concepts or ideas.
And find in those, new places..
But now I do walk those paths alone.
And I share with no one… at least not at length.
Lest they remind me that I am repeating myself
Or offer that half smirk that says that and more.
Or simply ignore it as another random comment and go on with something else.
I drive home feeling sorry for myself
Singing to “Black Hole Sun” not knowing the significance of the day
Thinking about the box of watercolor markers
With the fruity smells and trying to remember what smell went with what color.

The problems with education…

I am told, by people who haven’t ever taught in a classroom quite a lot about what is right or wrong for education. How kids are pampered.
I am lectured by people who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since they were a high schooler and Reagan was president all about common core and discipline, and the specific correct pedagogy and methodology and curriculum that should be implemented immediately.
I hear about how ADHD can be solved with hitting. Or how the kids are coddled and how everyone gets some kind of trophy. And all the drugs are bad.
I am told about greedy teacher unions and out of control kids that can’t read
And how all this could be solved if we just hit them hard and often with wooden paddles.
The kind with holes.
I am shown videos of either Russian or Israeli kids quickly and accurately field stripping assault rifles and told how our kids should do that.
I am shown John Wayne tossing a child into a pond, because that is how swimming should be taught. (Because drowning really isn’t a thing.)
All this and I look at my kids.
They aren’t taking the AP Calculus test this week with thousands of their peers.
Or looking forward to new experiences at a far away college
Or even guessing at who will be in their classes at state college
Or wondering how community college will be different.
I look at them and don’t think they need to be hit more.
That violence in their lives needs to be turned up more.
Or that they need more proficiency in battlefield weapons.
There are no trophies. Or paddles with holes.
There is no John Wayne.
Just school and my classroom
And me telling someone to put away his cell phone.
And that bored stare, that says, “how am I ever going to use this?”
I look at him and think about the fact
That ignorance is never an advantage.
And I hope he will do well
And ten years from now.

There isn’t any reason

I can find no reason why compassion should replace the suck it up and deal with it mentality necessary for success and survival in this modern world.
There is a reason why the person talking is full of shit and a reason why you shouldn’t listen to him.
I can find no reason for the size of the avocado pit.
There isn’t a good reason to spend a lot of time in a job you hate, unless you are
supporting a family and there is no other immediate choice. In which case, you should be actively pursuing employment closer to your passion.
There is no reason to believe the health claims on nutritional supplements or anything you see in an advertisement.
If some people knew the truth they couldn’t tell you. And if they are telling you, then it isn’t the truth.
It is Toshiro Mifune acting mad in black and white. Is it obvious that he is lying? Or that perhaps in his madness, it is the only truth…

There is no good reason why nickels are larger than dimes.
Compassion and sympathy and empathy.
Like avocado pits and nickels and dimes.
And even though punctuation and spelling have rules.
There are exceptions. There is no reason for this.
Or charges on your phone bill that you pay without question.
Or prayers and bible verses said loudly over a bullhorn
Or memes that give specious quotes from long dead men.
And I guess you can transpose the french horn part to alto sax,
But there probably was a reason why it was given to a French horn in the first place.
And if you prefer a metal mouthpiece to a black resin one… there is that.
There is a difference between Bone Black and Mars Black
And between different grades of blue cheese
And there may be a reason why that Rothko sold for $82 million
Or why the keys are too small for my fingers.
And then there is death and loss and grieving and why your loved one is gone.
I can give you a reason, thinking that it will help.
But it is bullshit and you and I know that.
Maybe there is a reason.
But if you don’t know it, I certainly don’t and neither do the people who claim to.
There is a reason for dust and for mosquitos and for bread mold and death.
There is a reason for entropy and thermodynamics
And if you must know perhaps there is a reason for everything
But if I am telling you what those reasons are
take it as evidence that I don’t know what I am talking about.
You can tie me down and maybe I will laugh
As the medium spins to tell the dead man’s tale.
But you don’t believe that either.
There is no reason to.

The blank canvas in the corner…

There is this pressure behind my eyes.
And I don’t have a manicured lawn, or tweed jackets with elbow patches…
And so many things. I don’t have them, but I think of them.
And then there are bits I am collecting… bits
Of wrought iron fences and sheets of plywood sheeting
For the shed in the driveway. It has no walls.
All outside getting wet in this unseasonably cold storm
There is a perfectly round hole in the oil pan of the jeep
where the bolt from one of the rods blew through it with some velocity.
So I think about all the oil that came out of that hole as the car ground to a halt.
Among the broken down automobiles and bits and pieces of old projects in the driveway… there is this absurdity… and I am trying to sort this out.
The lights go out twice. But they are back on now.

But I think about wax dripping down the side of a bottle and oil…
And multiplying every larger two and three digit numbers in my head
Suddenly, that is gone. And I can’t possibly remember anyone’s names.
I think about rendering something… anything
Shape and texture and shadows and reflections
On something that is wet or rough or rusty
And specific shades and what they look like next to each other.

But it is like that. Sort of random.
So I try to organize things into a way that makes sense.
And so I paint them
Mostly of animals.
And I didn’t actually light the candles today, because the black outs didn’t last that long…
But I did read a bit from a history book I got
A section about the Irish girls that died when textile mill collapsed and caught fire
In 1860. 88 died. But several dozen were injured.
And then a chapter in a book on acrylic painting.
But I mostly skimmed that.


The snow has given way to daffodils and dandelions and they are stocking fish in our little lake.
The morning is brighter and days are longer
And tonight I drove up in the fog looking for the fading tail lights of the truck somewhere in front of me.
And I walk and I walk
Thinking about what is missing.
You. You are missing.
And I don’t know really how to put that anywhere
Or frame it so it works for me.
I don’t know how to slow that conversation I have going on in my head
And quiet the fear and anxiety
Or talk to myself about loss and grief
And if somehow I come off as angry
Or distant
Or distracted
It is because my life is missing something
And someone said something that I missed because I was talking to myself inside.
It is Spring and another year has passed
Another season is here
And it makes what is missing so unavoidably obvious
That I can’t stop thinking
And so I walk around trying to resolve something
Because I feel empty
Because spring feels wrong.
Because I can walk until something feels like it means something.
Because I can talk myself into behaving normally.
Just because.
Trying to come to some point in that inner dialogue
where it is closed and I can move on.
And on top of that inner dialogue
I am driving and posting on Facebook and talking on the phone
And having a conversation with my wife.
I am working and talking about World War II
But the inner dialogue never stops
It doesn’t even slow down
And even when I am doing something easy
It is multi tasking.
And I am missing, you…

Grief isn’t being sad all the time.
Sometimes it is looking and feeling out of place
And apologizing because, you know… I didn’t hear that
Because that dialogue was going on
Grief is sometimes wanting to walk a bit more
And not wanting to go to work until it is all sorted out.
Or sitting with this cat… because he seems to understand.
Or be still beyond my fear, snow has given way to daffodils and dandelions.
And beyond my grief, life goes on.
And I am not lost in the tears
Or smeared with some self doubt.
I am just trying to sort it out
And put some pieces in place
And be okay missing my son
And be okay feeling empty.