Essays

  • Over Furthest Hills- On The Road From Jerusalem To Jericho

    Over Furthest Hills- On The Road From Jerusalem To Jericho

    Just over the furthest hill from where we live there are billions of folks doing what we are doing and waking up and living and working and slowly making sense of life as they know it. Happens to everyone, even those we can't see from where we stand. And more pointedly, up in the desert mountains overlooking the Dead Sea and Jericho there is small tribe of Bedouins, descendent from three brothers. I've yet to meet those elders, nor the women and other children and while im hopeful that i will someday be invited back to their homes for a meal, so far i have only been given access to their labors. The cousins Ali, Salam, Achmed, Munsa and Mohammad herd from 8 in the morning until 5 o clock, spread out on lunaresque timeless hillsides that have convinced me i only know a little about life on earth. Their eyes have to be sharp for the kind of work they do and every time i come, they see me and call to me from their perches long before i see them.

    An interesting new development this trip was that the guys have a radio now, complete with an sd card slot. I think they got it in Jericho. They were banging some badass Arabic music and even locked arms and did a dance for me before the radio ran out of juice. It seems inevitable that technology will travel to all corners of the globe and while i'd never introduce it where it didn't already exist, it's something that is happening and i don't have enough wisdom to feel strongly about it either way. I thought of it quite a bit on the way home though. Also, i met one of the younger brothers, Mohammad, who i assume just became old enough to start going out with the big boys from time to time. Much like Roots' illustration of Kunta's coming of age and proudly receiving his first herd of goats, it vividly recalled to me my once being Mohammad and what it felt like to be a small boy with daydreams of growing up and doing grown folk things. For now though, his legs don't quite keep up and his brother patiently carried him whenever the herd was on the move. He spent much of the day clinging to him and hiding his face in Salam's shirt, from both the sun and the stranger. Not real sure if he'd ever seen a white man and he was pretty weirded out by me and my nonsensical language up until the end when i gave him a sand dollar from Florida. Organic currency for the win and giving is universally better understood than speaking. And still though...

    To sit with someone and not have language at your disposal as a means to connect is both frustrating and revealing. We do pretty good at making a fire together and having tea, which apparently remains a popular summertime drink for the homies. Each time i see these guys though we hit a plateau and it feels like a Buddhist exercise in mindfulness of the other. Eye contact, gesturing and ultimately surrendering to silence when we realize that gestures and images drawn in the sand won't impart what we are thinking. Before i left this time i think i succeeded in drawing and pantomiming the promise that next time i come i will bring a translator so we could exchange information, which is way harder to communicate to someone than you would think. They got the message though. And while i imagine the coming of that day and am compiling questions for them, i can't help but think there is something pure about this present state of unknowns. Beyond form and worldly detail, don't i in fact already know who these young men are, simply just because they are and because i am? Im pretty sure that's what i think. But if the specifics of who we are hardly matter, why am i more excited about seeing these fellas again than most others? What is it that makes one human or group of humans more valuable to the observer than another? While human, is this physical world partiality like seeing through a mirror dimly before we one day come face to face and know fully? It's something i think about now and will continue to until the sun rises and falls a few hundred times, and i again make my way down the pass to hear calls and taps on rocks echoing announcing the presence of a stranger. A kafir. A visitor. And a brother. I've been all of these things.

  • Where The Wind Goes

    Where The Wind Goes

    "My name's Dylan."
    "They call me Killer."
    I went to shake his hand and he screamed. I held it for a minute and realizing it was busted up and swollen, i stroked in a gentle yet strange way amongst men and said, 
    "Dang look at your hand bro, you shoulda let him make it."
    "Sometimes you can't."
    "Yeah but sometimes you should."
    "But sometimes i don't."

    This is part of the conversation i had with Bryan Bradley a week before he was arrested and charged with murder. We talked a little more and he made a deal out of the side of his Lincoln Towncar. The wind and rain and clouds and darkness were all moving in from the east. 

    When i was little i used to hold my hand out the window of my Papa's red pickup truck and try and catch the wind. Probably coming back from the farm and just passing time and staring off somewhere and thinking, you know. I always thought maybe i would pull my hand back in and have a little whirlwind cupped right there in front of me. Woulda fit perfectly in a round fish bowl. It never worked though. It just went on the way it was going, taking things off with it when it could. Off to wherever the wind goes.

    The winds that command the courses of our lives through this sad and beautiful world can't be stopped or contained either once they get to blowing. Most times, leastways.

  • Standing With Standing Rock

    Standing With Standing Rock

    The sunrise that followed our recent election found me on a North Dakota hilltop, searching for a phone signal and, upon finding one, trying to make sense of the consensus reached by so many of our fellow Americans.

    In a moment when I was questioning this country — and the sanity and goodwill of the people who comprise it — it felt fitting that I should be doing so on a Native American Reservation in Standing Rock.

    Someone once said a country gets the leader they deserve. I’m not entirely sure if I believe that. But on November 9, I stared out over an encampment of 2,000-plus people who had gathered to address the most recent in a string of broken agreements that the United States government has defaulted on with the original inhabitants of this land. Given this history, if one is willing to look beyond a public school history book, perhaps Trump is our karmic debt — or at least of a symptom of it.

    As I struggled to make sense of it all, an Elder here expressed to me that, while some of us may have some adjusting to do in this age of regress, he and his people were accustomed to it, having been on margins ever since the white man first came.

    It was this Conquered History, and the threads that linger to this present day, that I came to Oceti Sakowin Camp to learn more about.

    For many of us, the Thanksgiving season recalls the headdresses and Quakers’ hats that we fashioned in grade school, enacting a sanitized story that didn’t quite capture the ethnic cleansing that quickly destroyed the Wampanoag and spread west. Since my re-education, I’ve found that very few people, Native or Non, are well-versed in Native American History. Even fewer are familiar with Lakota-specific history: the Fort Laramie Treaties; the Dawes Act; the 38 Lakota hanged in what was the largest public execution in US History (ordered by Lincoln just 4 days after signing the Emancipation Proclamation); the Gold Rush-inspired theft of the promised and sacred Black Hills; and the century-later Supreme Court-sanctioned reparations for this crime — reparations that were never accepted by the Lakota because The Black Hills Are Not For Sale.

    I know that’s a lot at once. But as Lee Plenty Wolf, an elder from Pine Ridge told me in an interview, reckoning with this history and and it’s implications on present day would require “a person who really wanted to learn.” It might be more useful to some to outline the particulars of this fight. And yet I find myself less concerned with carts and horses, and more attuned to the roads they travel and how they were laid.

    So I went to learn about those roads and to gather stories that would allow others to do so.

    Our present exposure to the Lakota and Friend’s resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline is generally steered by the influences that big oil and corporations have upon our media and those who consume it, and Leftist information sources that nobly seek to defend the marginalized but typically only find sympathy among their readership, who need little conversion.

    I had this grand idea that I would go gather People’s voices — the most powerful force humanity has known — and somehow find a centrist platform that could amplify them to the unaware. From teepee to tent to yurt I walked, collecting an amalgamation of perspectives, grievances and central convictions.

    The camp itself is a marvel of grassroots human cooperation. It’s clean and extremely organized in spite of the convergence of so many modalities of living. Each day begins around the Sacred Fire, which burns continuously and is a living remnant of a fire that has been burning since the camp’s founding. Wood is shipped in, split from sun up to sun down, spread throughout the camp and lit to keep off the cold of winter that has now arrived. Solar panels and the occasional windmill are the camp’s sole power sources. And the exchange of money is strangely absent in Oceti Sakowin. The women of the camp lead a water ceremony each morning, offering it to any who will extend their left hand to be filled. Following this circular offering, they lead a procession to the river, singing, praying and inviting all who will join in to do so. The protestors — or Water Protectors — are fed and energized by a ceaseless team of food sorters and preparers in pantries and kitchens spread throughout the camp. My favorite was Winona’s, where a 100-gallon cauldron is permanently fixed over a fire, filled with bison, cabbage, potatoes and spices, and stirred with an actual shovel.

    Another aspect of camp life that has found little to no media coverage is the security team — a band of men bearing walkie talkies, often dressed in black and making sure that all residents are living respectfully according to tribal customs. All actions against the DAPL and its allies in the Morton County Sheriff’s Office must first approved by elders and must second remain prayerful and peaceful.

    Also assisting in this collective well-being are multi-approach health clinics, a school for children, daily training for non-violent direct action, legal tents aiding those arrested and the continual arrival of new residents. These cars, buses and airstreams carry folks from Denmark, New Zealand and Japan, to name a few distant beginnings, and the camp now claims representatives from over 200 Native American tribes on top of that. Regardless of one’s ideas of politics and spirituality, there is a dynamic of relationship, commonality and community here that I have found in few other pockets of Western society.

    Indeed, the camp is a small city on its own. And, of course, it is not devoid of those who are here just to give their lives an added sense of meaning. As with any protest or movement I’ve covered, there will always be among the throngs those not properly grounded in the facts that support their anger. There are also, as expected, plenty of social misfits who find that causes like this give them a place to sustain their rootless life under the pretext of purpose. Many outlets and schools of thought couple these folks with the clashes that Water Protectors have had with authorities, and tell you that these parts, if they actually show any wrongdoing of the DAPL resistors, represent the whole.

    As a society, we seem to ask that others regard the finer points of our perspectives, but we quickly latch onto the lesser points from those whom differing ideology pits us against. And yet no one person or peoples are merely one single thing. Our traits, motives and actions are varied. So many of my more liberal-thinking friends poked holes in the Tea Party, citing the uneducated lots that brandish antiquated weapons and ideas on courthouse lawns, all while missing some of the finer points of that movement itself. The same can be said of the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements. It seems we have come to mistake the form for the essence, the faults of the loudest and most visible for the actual virtue of the collective. That’s why human stories and voices are in this age the most powerful tool for progress and reconciliation that we possess. Until I had heard the voices of the Water Protectors, I couldn’t say that I fully understood this movement. More important, I couldn’t properly decide where my moral compass would ask me to stand in regards to it.

    I wonder what the world would be like if we all dropped the certitude and looked and listened a bit more?

    For now, though, I see that we Westerners are mostly divided. We are Black, Blue, Blue, Red, Quakers, Wampanoag and the many indifferent in between. Our Lakota brothers and sisters are calling us to rediscover unity through our shared human need for water. Over and over, they remind me that we are not just standing for their water but for our collective waters, as all rivers eventually reach the sea. This planet surely has limitations, and those who use it most say we need to return to a position of stewardship, instead of acting as its primary beneficiaries.

    While such words are often associated with sage-burners and tree-huggers, it is of note that the people of Bismarck, who are 91 percent white, also opted not to allow the pipeline run across their watershed for fear of contamination. Their wishes were followed — a telling fact, certainly. 

    Perhaps our country’s karmic debt will be lessened when we in power, or even at base level, cast our concern to the historically marginalized and underserved, and publicly say that their voices and stories are important to us. Those who acknowledge the past transgressions towards the Natives when resources and profit were to be had likely can’t ignore the present parallels. Because we are at that fork yet again, this moment has become, in at least some small way, a chance to atone, to do our small part to repair something that was broken long ago and too often has remained so.

    This is why I came to Standing Rock, to do what I could and to listen to voices.

    I experienced this successfully with the Protectors of Standing Rock. And yet I realized too that it would only be fair that I at least try do so with those on the other side of the issue, too. Unfortunately, razor wire, tear gas and militarized police have an ability to discourage even the most willful. So, instead, I put in a few phone calls. But the only words I heard when I listened to this side were “no comment.”

    And so I stand With Standing Rock. Because, whether we on the whole acknowledge it, they are standing with and for us.

  • Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau

    Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau

    I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau yesterday. I thought that maybe i would realize or feel something that would lead me somewhere closer to understanding all of this. For now though, i hardly even remember most of the day. It seems like somewhere i went briefly a few years ago and without photographs it would be one gray and red and hazy snow slog memory, much like a cold dream. I know i choked on my throat for a few moments when i went into the gas chamber but after that i shut down everywhere and all i felt was a numbing need to be quiet, reverent and have my feet walk my body through and see this place i have for so long read and heard about. Most places that are this feared and hated became so because of a preconceived notion developed prior to experiencing it. Here though, it feels like more than that. I think any human being could walk onto that land and feel something deep-down-dark all around, even if they didn't realize that they were standing on the largest mass grave in the world.

    The last few hours i remember a little better. It goes on forever- all barracks and ruins, guard towers and barbed wire, destroyed gas chambers and somehow these beautiful birch trees that saw it all and are still standing. Even now as spring approaches and the ice and snow thaw to reveal the muddy field that has always been there, the wind whips across and doesn't seem to care at all. I felt a momentary yet tremendous amount of guilt for being so affected by the cold weather that i found it hard to be present for the experience. It was just relentless. I couldn't make myself ignore my toes and hands aching and losing feeling and this was merely a few hours for me. Time spent wearing decent clothing, enjoying fair health and possessing the ability to walk inside to find warmth or better yet to leave at any moment the same way i came in. It still wrecked me and told me again that i will never know what it did to people that stayed longer than a few controlled hours. What can be said about this place is mostly for them, what few remain. Not a visitor like me with a plane ticket back home in my wallet.

    About me though, i know that my measure of faith and understanding of life is changing. It was shifting somewhere before i found myself at these gates and now it's accelerated because of them. I still believe in what i believe in, i am just seeing it take on new shapes in the face of the stories i hear, the eyes i look into and the secondhand history these days find me taking in. I can no longer for a moment think that the redemption and mercy i have been shown is universal and is a standard that can be expected or prayed for. This stain on human history defies logic or explanation and im adding it to the list of things i don't expect an exact answer for in this lifetime. Even without those answers though, time seems to have a way of sorting things out.

    Today i interviewed a survivor who lived through Auschwitz and Dr. Mengele's medical experiments. And she has found a way to go on. So, even as my questions multiply, i can still believe in that.

  • Up Above It w/ Andrew Dell Coley

    Up Above It w/ Andrew Dell Coley

    I finished off my teenage years in Houston messing around on the brick paved streets of 4th ward in a whirlwind of blue bull, swisher sweets, black tar and glances behind me that never saw what was coming. It was a strange and sad and yet somehow beautiful time in my life. I had a couple old school partners that took me under their wing in the neighborhood but my best friend was Dell. We did it all together. His mama and my mama were friends and bless their hearts, were trying their damndest to straighten out two boys that had already turned crooked. We had a goodness within us but had to get real good and lost before it could be found and we quickly recognized our likeness in the other. We rode every day of the week.

    One time we took a real good beating together over on Gilette and Robin Street. Wrong place to be for sure and the crowd that dealt it was full of fellas with names like Fat Daddy and Black Sam. I had blood in my eye for three weeks and Dell's lip swole up much like a cartoon. Somehow it's a real good memory though. Another time we were climbing on the roof of an old abandoned school by Fat Mama's house and D fell through halway but he caught himself and i pulled him the rest of the way out. We both seem to remember that one. And when i think of it all, it feels like there was always something to escape from or to run to. Feels like it was always humid and hungry and the empty lots in the ward were always overgrown green and soaking through to your socks. I can't remember it ever even being winter back then. But of course it must of been at some point. 

    Last time i saw Dell was maybe 2002 and his mom in the final stages of cancer. I had just got home after being gone down south for a few years and was already doing my best to give away the half a chance i had. We met up somewhere downtown and i remember we could have taken the bus to go see his mom one more time but instead i decided to skid around in the ward and found a bottle or two over in old chinatown. It's a regret i've pardoned myself for but one that still makes my chest hurt once in a while. I didn't know how to do too much else back then though.

    When Dell rolled into Dallas two weeks ago i knew where his heart was soon as i heard his voice. Wasn't sure where his head was at but told him to come on through anyway. We linked up, hopped in the car for a drive and after about 15 minutes of feeling each other out we were the same again but better, you know? He might be still on the run in some ways but sure enough he's still here. And when we're here there's a chance. 

    He stayed on for a couple days and shared some meals, joined in for the girl's bedtime prayers and even gave the yard a once over while i was lost in kickstarter land. When we were up on the roof at dusk one evening he told me that some years back he took his Mother's ashes up to a mountain top in Tennessee to finally set her free. Climbed up as high as he could, talked to her for a while and gave her back to the earth and the wind. Later that night he said that was one of the reasons he was headed to Colorado next. To be up above it again. Somewhere he could beat the summer, breathe clean and see all around him for a long ways. All of us have some place like that we'd like to get to. And i keep hoping and believing and doubting and believing again that im walking towards that place, inside and out. About like the rest of you.

    We said another goodbye early the next morning and promised to send each other some good news from time to time. Driving off, i watched him get small as we really are in my rearview mirror and in my chest and throat i felt the loss that IS being alive and having to exist apart from some of the things you love. A few days later though he texted from the mountains and said he was about a mile high. His facebook last night showed some snowy peak in the distance and i think it said, "gonna make it to the top."

  • Bulletproof Glass In Father Abraham's Tomb

    Bulletproof Glass In Father Abraham's Tomb

    For Father's Day, let's consider this. This is the tomb of Abraham, the father of all 3 monotheistic religions- Judaism, Islam and Christianity. All three religions have strong narratives about him and his children playing parts in the formation of their story. The phrase, "Abrahamic religion", is taken by some to mean that all these religions came from one spiritual source. And the word DIVISION itself, so common when we are talking about the Holy Land and attached religions, really does imply that there once was a SINGULAR point of origin.

    So i think about my children and i imagine for one moment if both of them went on to start their own families who started their own families and so on, until one day they were not only estranged but at war with each other. Children against children. It feels so personal and wrong and avoidable in that sort of 'close to home' context. I see so many examples of unity in the world and i seek to be one of them but nevertheless, we are so divided. So divided that in the tomb of Abraham, one side of which is Jewish and the other side Muslim, in that tomb there is a wall of bullet proof glass, put there to keep people from taking shots at one another from the adjacent windows. All because Abraham's kids can't get along.

    This photograph could be so much fuel for the naysayer and being a cynic is pretty easy position to hold in today's world. For me though and hopefully many of us it's a reminder to give all others a kind regard, no matter how different their traditions are from ours. Any beliefs that separate us from the rest of the class aren't higher beliefs at all. They are delusional human twists we put upon the deal somewhere along the way and they aren't doing any of us any good.

    The astronauts all come back from space wondering why we've bought the lie that we are separate from each other. I came back from this trip more convinced than ever that it's our fatal flaw. Couldn't we all learn to see that and act accordingly? It could be a Christian visit to a Synagogue or a Jew and Muslim having dinner together. And of course some of you are already doing this so im talking to the ones that aren't. It's just hard not to take this earnestly. I have spent the last 6 months immersed in Holocaust studies and stories, seeing The Holy City divided with guns and metal detectors, seeing Palestinians who cant see their families in neighboring towns and watching Americans verbally slaughter each other on social media over gun laws and different ways to skin cats. Beyond the nationalities and titles its really just the same fundamental and self centered human problem of Us and Them.

    I'm celebrating Father's Day today by being free from that and loving all you other kids out there. I don't belong to any of the above religions but find gifts and beauty in all of them and figure Abraham would want us to get along, whoever he was. So celebrate with me.
    With us.
    Really.
    You could be part of the problem if you don't.

  • Remembering Shawn Miller and The Great Conversation

    Remembering Shawn Miller and The Great Conversation

    When i was 10 or so I and moved away from my hometown and didn't know anyone, Uncle Shawn was the one man welcoming committee. He was an adolescent adult and we were adolescent kids and it worked out alright for all of us. We’d go down to Baker Park that summer and play baseball and when I made the perfect ice cream cone catch that time he wouldn’t quit talking about it for a while after. All I ever wanted was for somebody to see me do something like that. Walking home the first day at a new school 10 paces behind and ahead of the other kids he and Dean drove past in his emerald El Camino and said “hey little boy, want some candy?” Everyone on the sidewalk stopped to look and i remember thinking I oughtta be embarrassed but I was too happy to see them, to have my people show up, that I couldn’t even begin to care. I just jumped in them car. In those days he had all of this magic gear on top of his dresser, top hats, interlocking rings, a wand and these cylinders that could hold probably 100 handkerchiefs. Magic is a way to change reality, at least the perception of reality. I’ve always wanted to believe in magic and i always wanted to find a way to alter reality's inconvenience. Like when my 6th grade girlfriend called and left a message with mom that she wanted to break up with me. Everyone quietly laughed from the next room where ice cubes were clinking in glasses and albums and voices were competing to be heard, but Uncle Shawn still came into my room and put his hand on my shoulder. I had all of these photographs of far away peoples and places that i was gonna run to one day. I stuck them on my wall up with borders of neon green string between each tack. One was a photograph of the leaves turning in Upstate New York. I sat there in Texas that day that Felicia Flowers broke up with me and stared at it while he had his hand on my shoulder. It was a perfect moment but i didn't know it at the time. A few years later I took some real good LSD and he picked up on my altered state and stood on the table and pretended to be an owl, eyes like flying saucers, hands curled in his arm pit like the beginnings of wings. David and I used to talk about that but he’s been gone at least 10 years now. Anyway, that night Shawn ended up drinking too much and threw up chicken noodle soup everywhere which looks just like you think it would. I found him laying in Dean’s bathroom the next morning, the red heat lamp perfecting the smell. This season saw our descents begin simultaneously and most of our tribe had a hard decade or two ahead.

    When I had went as far down as fate would allow me to I started climbing again and saw him across the way trying to do the same thing. It’s hard to really know other people until you’ve suffered. But we knew each other and helped each other up and along. Before I picked up the camera I would build things with my hands and he and I would build things together sometimes. We generally showed up late and left early but we did some work im real proud of, if that even matters. The jobs were just ruses set forth by the divine so we could talk on the way to and from anyway. Man we had some great conversations. That’s why I don’t care much about the things we build in this world, not unless we can talk on the way and during. Otherwise they’re just straw dogs, parade floats, decorated and glorified for a day but tomorrow discarded and forgotten. So much of this will be forgotten. And what are the things you’ll never forget? For me it’s drinking milk and smoking camel non filters in his apartment a few years ago and talking about the day he woke up in the finest rehab in McKinney after a suicide attempt. How he woke up and looked out the window and all of a sudden couldn’t believe “how nice it looked outside.” How he felt like a kid again and thought maybe he might be able to live this life a little more. It was like a wand had transformed the world or his ability to see it. Something had changed. When I left I poured the last bit of my milk in the sink and told him it didn’t even matter how much better things got for us. That if we could always have visits like these and have each other, life would remain livable. It remained so for while. And then the great sadness returned and he treated it the way he knew how, numbing it and feeding it all at once. Unless fate intervenes, this is the way these things go. This law doesn’t change and can’t be wished away. Not for guys like us.

    In the dream i had 3 weeks before he died, he and I ripped a piece of plywood off a window to his old house and crawled in under the cover of darkness. Once inside we found it lying in state just as it was 18 years ago, changed only by cobwebs and dust and cinematic lighting and a hindsighted lost sense of home, of happiness, of what he was supposed to be but could no longer be. There were a few empty bottles of gin and full ash trays and candle remnants turned on their side. There was some poster on the wall that wasn’t there before and as I stared at it i became aware that I was dreaming. I knew I was supposed to get the hit but couldn’t what it was trying to tell me. So we walked from room to room. He would disappear and I would walk alone and he would reappear and we would walk together. It was bleak and desolate and it took everything I had in the dream to keep a straight face and not just grab his hands and tell him how sorry I was for all that he had lost and suffered. I wanted to tell him that few people wake up one day and say I want to lose and suffer, we just stumble into it and the lacerations we receive in this stumbling that the dust and cobwebs of our regrets get inside and infect make it damn near impossible to stumble back out sometimes. I wanted to tell him I could see his pain and that it was okay. That it wasn’t his fault even if some of it was his fault. But I didn’t because I knew if I gave name to that hole inside of him that had been widening since he walked out of the house that his mother died in and that his hope was lost in, that it might send him over some edge that he was already half way over. So I didn’t tell him these things in the dream. And i didn’t tell him when he came over to borrow some shoes for a job interview a few days later. But I saw it all and always had. I had just hoped there would be more. And now there is more but it’s the wrong kind of more and I don’t know what to do with it. Except write my way through and keep living.

    So I do. I went and touched his tree and took him a cigarette and stood under it and looked up into those green and red curtains that hung above his final act. They’re now following his lead and giving in to the fall. And i keep going there with him in my mind. Lying in his bed that last night a few hours after we talked, at some point quietly accepting defeat. And come morning he’s walking 5 blocks to make his final stand. I keep trying to see his face on that walk. Maybe he was outwardly calm. The feeling I feel in my chest when I walk with him though, that within he must have felt 100 fold, keeps jutting out in every direction like cats tied up inside a bag and trying to escape. And im walking just behind him to the beautiful sycamore tree. He is done fucking around and he’s done waiting for a break. I can see him get a chair out of a big trash pick-up pile and I can see him tie a rope around a limb. It’s summer in Texas and there will never be another fall if he jumps. And he turns his hat around backwards and he jumps. Jumps out of loneliness and into a forever that we can’t see from here. I can see the last place he stood though. And i have to go there with him because if I don’t, he is all alone. And i can’t let him do it alone. It’s some strange way of reclaiming a power I never had and that he never had either. I can’t agree with his leaving us to feel things he wouldn’t but I think about this inability to control damn near anything in this life. On that last day he finally found a way to take control. Some part of me just can’t be angry with him for deciding how it was gonna be. I know he had no other immediate device to stop his sickness. And time and God’s grace wasn’t doing the trick.

    It would appear from outside that I am grieving someone who was difficult to know and love. And while that’s true of Shawn and of everyone, I am grieving someone who I loved more than most, who I knew more than most, and who brought his complete authentic self, struggle and being into our union. He wore no masks and had no illusions about his suffering and where it could take him. Few of us are so lucky to exist in this state. Few of us have lost enough to find out who we are when the winning subsides. I wrote most of this a while back in Tehuacana and figured id eventually find a right way to end it. This morning i got to thinking that maybe that would be like saying there is a wrong way. A wrong way to end something. I dont know if I believe that anymore. I just believe in what i've seen and i try not to have one sided arguments with fate's myriad of odysseys that all end, each telling their own story as if it were the whole truth. They get told whether we listen or not and i think none of them can be true unless they all are. So Shawn’s visible ending was true and it was real, whether I welcomed its kiss or not. And my present is true and real and there’s one less person to share it with. I mean damn man, he used to call me every day and now he doesn’t. The memory of his face, photographs aside, is already taking on a gauzy memory, as everything that’s passed eventually does for me. The words and the looks in his eyes that told me everything though, that were a constant in my life until 3 months ago, those remain crystallized. They tell me to continue the great conversation with everyone that I meet. They tell me that whoever we are given to share it with, the great conversation never dies.

  • Betrothed On The Fourth Of July

    Betrothed On The Fourth Of July

    I usually don't work on holidays but when my friend Bilal asked me to bring my camera to his nikah on July 4th, I couldn't say no. Getting engaged on Independence Day is somewhat of a contradiction in terms, but that's beside the point. Anyway, the imam opened the ceremony with a joke and here it is to the best of my memory.

    'A boy asked his mother where human beings came from. His mother said, "Allah created Adam from clay, Eve from Adam's rib and they had children, who became adults and had more children, and so on." The boy then went to his father, asked him the same question and he told him, "We were once primates and then we slowly evolved to become like we are now." The boy ran back to his mother and said, "Abbi said that humans come from monkeys!" His mother replied, "Your father was just talking about his side of the family."'

    Based on nothing more than appearance, i had initially taken the imam as a stiff, conservative type but he got off a good one, turned out to be alright and from there he hit on communication as being key to any relationship surviving. These similar and recurrent messages and deliveries really affirm my belief in the universality of the human experience. I only wish more folks shared in the richness of diversity and pluralism and subsequently lived free from fear and separatism. For those who don't or won't, here's the next best thing, a glimpse into the lovely engagement ceremony of Bilal and Maria- two beautiful people pursuing love and surrounded by people who have their back. I'd call that the American Dream, but I've heard that folks are partial to the good life pretty much anywhere you go.

  • The Voice Of The Unheard- Ferguson, Missouri

    The Voice Of The Unheard- Ferguson, Missouri

    Through a series of failed convictions and missed marks my life has taught me that im gonna be wrong some of the time. More importantly, I frequently search for a truth that keeps me comfortable and that represents the way i want to see the world. I realize that now and if im wrong in my thoughts and feelings about this case, may God and my fellow men and women forgive me for my judgement and contempt. Humility is indispensable in situations like this. Mercy is as well. But beyond my opinions, here's what i know.

    I know that an 18 year old kid got shot at 12 times by a police officer who's battle scar to attest to a "life threatening" situation and 10 reported punches by a 6'5 290 pound person was a mild bruise on his face.

    I know that if im ever suspected of killing a black man and race is SAID to be a contributing factor, i damn sure hope i don't have a jury of 9 blacks and 3 whites deciding my fate.

    I know that i've never seen a prosecutor so eager to exonerate a potential defendant.

    And i know that so very many people sadly don't find anything even slightly off with the above situation.

    What i also know is that my nephew can wear a hoodie or walk around in Richardson with a BB gun and not have to worry about getting killed by a cop. And even if he did something wrong, he would likely be called a troubled kid and not a thug.

    I know we've never had to have 'the talk" with our kids about the importance of keeping your hands visible at all times when in the presence of police.

    And i know that that's the privilege of being white and somewhat middle class in America. It's not something I have to apologize for but I'm at least aware that not everyone has my circumstances.

    The most important thing i know though is that i have a duty to listen to other human beings when they say they are suffering and that's it unskillful and possibly arrogant for me to minimize their grievances. A woman taught me that. To listen for the truth in someone's feelings and not to dismiss them just because mine are different.

    And that's how i know that beyond Mike Brown, there is an epidemic of police brutality in lower economic and black communities that continues to go unchecked. I've listened and heard.

    And that's what i know. Didn't wanna write anything at all but don't want any confusion about where i stand.

    Focus on the looters if you want. Most of us can agree that isn't part of the solution. But to only use our voices to denounce that would be shortsighted.

    My focus will be the voices i've heard that are rising up to pay homage to all of those who suffer at the hands of the powerful. I've heard those songs before. They always come before a change. You may not need change right now. But some folks do.

  • The Christ In Christmas

    The Christ In Christmas

    While the religious, spiritual and social implications of Christ' birth are often lost amid political repurposing and consumerist traditions we've perhaps grown too comfortable with, there are still those among us making an effort to observe Christmas' passage in the most reverent sense. This year I got to join some friends while they did so and it went like this. 

    On Christmas night I drove out to Ola to gather with the Jordan family at Grandparents Bill and Deborah's house. After a perfect, humble meal of soup and cornbread we bundled up and headed across the way to an old open shed barn at the Broken-O-Ranch. By candle and lantern light, the family read the nativity story, sang hymns, offered prayers and most importantly, felt the cold and experienced the darkness and poverty that was present on that night long ago. The manger was strewn with golden straw and the table was set for one's imagination to draw parallels and visualize that first holy night. Deborah, the architect of this annual tradition, closed us out, asking us to remember that Jesus of Nazareth, one of the most powerful and influential figures this world has known, began life and often lived in such barren, lowly places. Of special note to me were the littlest one's simple but solemn prayer of gratitude for the creation of this world and the two older girls voices innocently breaking through what was otherwise a silent night. This family, especially these children, will forever be rich in memories.

    Beyond redemption and salvation, I always felt like the idea of God being willing to come as man was also a way of showing solidarity with humanity. It was as if God said, 'I too, will suffer as you do. To create a connection between us, I will walk in your shoes.' When I see a family returning that gesture by gathering in a candlelit barn on a winter night, it feels like I am witnessing the sort of reciprocity necessary for any genuine union. In following his steps they are, in effect, saying it back to Him, completing the two way exchange of earnest relationship. 

    Thankful to the Jordan family for allowing me to sit in on this sincere and affecting expression of faith. While the old song says that all are precious in His sight, folks who live and believe with intention such as theirs are especially precious in mine.