Category Archives: Writing

Remembering my friend

Darren plays guitar for our band, The Grenadines, at a show in The Colony in 2006.

Darren plays guitar for our band, The Grenadines, at a show in The Colony in 2006.

My co-worker, bandmate and close friend passed away almost a week ago. Today we held his memorial service at a local church, which was filled with his family, friends, fellow educators, and many students – past and present. I was asked by his sweet wife to speak on his behalf and to play the harmonica. I stayed up until nearly 2 a.m. writing and practicing “Amazing Grace.” Though it was strange to play solo without my buddy by my side on his guitar, I asked my friends and family for prayer, and the Lord delivered. These are the words I shared today for my dear friend and for my hurting co-workers, bandmates, and our students.

Before I share some memories and thoughts about my friend Darren Ryan, I want to share something else with you.

Like many people in this room, I experienced a flood of emotions when I got the news. I was sad, angry, confused, distressed, and mostly stunned. It didn’t make any sense that my friend Darren was gone.

Here’s what has encouraged my heart the past few days. I hope it encourages you.

Though I don’t have any answers, and I don’t think God promises us answers, I do believe he promises us peace. I find this promise in scriptures like Philippians 4:7 which talks of a peace that surpasses understanding to those who trust in Him. Jesus talks about this peace in John when he says, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives… Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

The passage that I’ve thought on the most has been in Psalm 107. We are told “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress… For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.”

I believe these promises are for you and me, especially in times like this. Are you troubled? Cry out to the Lord. He’s not bothered by your doubt or shame. He knows, and his response is love and grace and mercy. He’s rich with it. And He’s longing to pour it out. So ask him.

Mr. Ryan prayed hard over me when I was unconscious in a hospital bed in Denton more than two years ago, as did many others. My family told me stories later of his fervor in prayer and how it blessed them in those desperate moments. God heard those prayers. So I don’t think he’d have any problem with me asking you to plead with God for peace in moments like this.

Darren Ryan has been my dear friend for the better part of the last ten years. We were colleagues and bandmates. We bonded over good food, bad puns, and great music. I want to speak briefly to a few groups of folks here who knew Darren.

Darren poses in our old school building on the last day for us to be inside before it was demolished to make way for the new building. He was a student himself in this old building, class of 1983.

Darren poses in our old school building on the last day for us to be inside before it was demolished to make way for the new building. He was a student himself in this old building, class of 1983.

To my bandmates in the Grenadines and anybody who ever came to hear us play, I’m so glad for you and for music. Because that was my entry point to bonding with Darren and getting to see his beautiful spirit and loyal friendship for all it was. Darren had a habit of wearing sunglasses on stage when he played, even indoors. I know it’s because he got a touch of stage fright before our performances. But all that melted away when he started to make those Fender guitars moan and wail, and a smile as wide as these Texas skies would stretch across his face. Occasionally, he’d turn himself over to the music completely – it was usually late in the evening – during a performance of Mustang Sally or Play that Funky Music or Fire by Jimi Hendrix, and he’d go completely off-script on a solo – and we’d follow him. I’d throw a glance back at Eddie on the drums, he’d shrug and smile back. Darren was in a good place, lost to the music.

To my fellow faculty and staff members at LHS, I know well how much love you have for your own, and how much more for someone as beloved as Darren. I know you’ve already gone out of your way to care for and support Pam and his family, just from the way I’ve experienced it as his friend. Here’s what I’ll remember about Darren as a colleague. How much he cared about doing what we do so well. How he always got to school early, was always going the extra mile to prepare for his classes and support his fellow teachers, especially those in his department. And how he did it all with that 100 watt smile and signature sense of humor… I’ll miss bumping into him in the hallways or the faculty workroom where he always called me Dr. Hale, and I always called him Dr. Ryan. It’s impossible to measure how much LHS meant to him.  Which brings me to the last group…

His students… past and present. I knew when I was gathering my thoughts for this moment that you would show up here by the boatload… and I was right. I know this because, like many of his friends, I remember so many times out and about in Lewisville with Darren when we were interrupted by “Mr. Ryan! Mr. Ryan!” So many former students would come out of the woodwork to speak with him, and I swear, hand to God, that Darren would remember the names of practically every one. He’d remember details too… or even the fact that he had their brother or sister in class as well. You loved him. And he loved you too. You must know that. He rooted hard for all of you. He was a role model to me in that sense. I asked my students time and time again to tell me what their hardest class in high school, and almost every time I’d hear AP Psych with Mr. Ryan. Then I’d ask the same students who their favorite high school teacher was, and without hesitation, they’d say Mr. Ryan. You could not have paid him a higher compliment. Truly. I mean that.

From Darren's Twitter. Graduation the Saturday before last.

From Darren’s Twitter. Graduation the Saturday before last.

Darren told me once years ago that he was considering leaving the teaching profession. I asked him what he thought that he might do. He didn’t have a clear answer. And he stayed on the job. The next year he was named campus Teacher of the Year. Have no doubt, that Mr. Ryan could have had any number of careers and been successful. He is one of the most capable, reliable, talented men I’ve ever known. But I believe God made him a teacher. And I see evidence of that in the pews here today. You are Darren Ryan’s legacy. And if he meant something to you, take that to heart and live your lives well. Live passionately and love others extravagantly. That’s what Mr. Ryan would’ve wanted.

Thank you.

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The (Lunch) Kids In The (Band) Hall

They rant. They rave.

They rage at all that isn’t “fair” in their world.

They laugh, they smile, they curse.

They martyr themselves for a shred of recognition … or admiration … or pity.

They reinvent themselves without shame weekly. Sometimes daily. Sometimes hourly.

They are as corrupted as they are innocent – and they are riddled with honest contradiction.

They are glorious. They are grotesque.

Freaks and geeks. Athletes and artists. Angels and demons.

You create the role and cast them in it. And they might play it for a while, but then, like a butterfly from a chrysalis, they break free and surprise you.

They will confirm the worst of stereotypes with their narcissism and selfishness. Then shatter the same with bursts of empathy and altruism that streak across the room like meteors.

And they are growing, morphing, changing, developing … constantly – almost before your eyes.

Snap a picture for your memories. They will not look this way again.

Examine it closely. See if you can find yourself.

What they are now, you were once. What you are now and more, they will become.

But for this frozen moment they sit.

Plugged in, wrapped up in jokes and opinions they may remember years later with laughter or cringing and shaking heads.

They scarf down pizza and fries and leave banana and orange peels on the floor.

Then a bell rings and they all file out.

To finish their time, dreaming of 3:30 like a kid waits for Christmas morning.

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Where’s that draft coming from?

I’ve been trying to write.

Really. TRYING.

But I’ve got post after post that I’ve started and stopped and come back to and labored over and just seem to be going nowhere. A little germ of an idea that seemed good at the time, but just won’t develop and resolve itself.

I’m open to tips from any writers out there. I know I’ve got plenty of you are friends on Facebook, journalists and bloggers alike. Do I give up on those microorganisms? Do I just let them simmer for a while? Do I fight through and just post and fake it til I make it?

My background is journalism. It’s what I studied in high school and college, what I did for a living after college and what I’ve taught for the past 12 years. Hence the lack of an Oxford comma in that sentence.

I read a lot of columns and tried to be a columnist for a while. I marveled at the ability of our paper’s sports columnist who cranked them out almost daily for year after year. They weren’t all gems, but he always met his deadline and did so coherently. And he could really dazzle at times. But I felt the weight of always having something to say, all by my lonesome. The degree of expectation I felt was brutal.

That’s what this feels like. Except for the fact that I don’t have any editors requesting copy and only a handful of folks will ever read this. But I sit and work and write and look at what I have at the end of the day and think, what the hell am I trying to say? Where is this coming from? And where is it going?

It’s got to be more than just an exercise. I teach my students to write for their audience. To write to communicate. But there has to be a message.

I was never much of a columnist. I had my moments here and there but it was never consistent. I’d like to try it again, but I’d like to try something else too.

My favorite pieces to read and to write were never columns. They were what we call in the journalism business, “features.”

My friend Ben hates that word. He says it doesn’t have any meaning for anybody but journalists and certainly not the audience. He writes narrative non-fiction, or even more clearly, stories. And he writes them well.

Here’s how it works. You meet somebody. You have a conversation. You find some things that really compel and fascinate you and you dig into that, in the hopes that someone else will feel the same way about it as you do. And then if you’ve found the story, and it’s really grabbed you, you pour yourself into it. You have to tell it. You have to get it out. Then you move on to the next one.

I love teaching kids to do that. And not all of them can do it. But some of mine do it exceptionally well. But I also love to do it. I was decent at writing those types of stories back in my newspaper days. I’d hope that teaching the practice for the past dozen years would make me at least a little bit better at it now. Actually I reckon that it would improve me a lot.

I want to get back to telling people’s stories. And there’s a specific type of story that I’m interested in telling. It came to me on the drive home after work last night. I’m still bouncing it off some people and trying to work out the details, but I hope it happens. If it does, you’ll find out about it here.

Thanks for reading. Share your wisdom if you’ve got it.

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The night was humid…

The classic 1987 comedy “Throw Momma From the Train” has taught me two things:

1. “YOU’RE NOT OWEN’S FRIEND! OWEN DOESN’T HAVE A FRIEND!”

and

2. “A writer writes… always.”

I’m not sure I can do anything with the first, but the second has stayed with me for quite some time. I used to write for a living. Now I teach writing. When I talk about myself or my hobbies or interests, writing and being a writer consistently come up.

But I don’t write. Not with any consistency. Not with any drive. Not with any passion. At least not until recently.

Is there a word for a writer who doesn’t write? A musician who doesn’t make music? An artist who doesn’t create art? Several come to mind for me. None of them are good.

A beautiful and brilliant writer who I’m blessed to know says that writing is a muscle. If you work it out regularly it will grow strong and toned and will be able to do much more than when you started exercising it. If you neglect it, it will shrink and atrophy. She shrugs when people comment on how much she writes or how quickly she can produce something. She just sees it as the expected result of her exercise.

I think there’s a bit more to it than that, but basically she’s right. And having been stuck in a hospital bed for more nearly two months last year, it’s an analogy that’s painfully familiar and true to me.

So as the days continue to creep toward the new year, I’m left thinking about resolutions (a subject which I plan to write about this weekend). I don’t know if I’ll be making any standard resolutions. But I do want to get muscles moving, both physically and in this sense. Time spent exercising and developing gifts and talents that I believe are given by the Creator can be time spent in worship. I don’t want to feel like a hypocrite when I tell people I write, and even more so I don’t want to squander a talent that God intended me to have.

With that in mind, I’m thinking about reasons why I write and why I don’t.

Why I write:

  • I feel like it’s something I’m meant to do. I see it in my family history, in the places I’ve felt drawn to since I was a child.
  • I enjoy using words, turning phrases, making connections, telling stories, sharing ideas.
  • It’s an outlet for me to share the gospel and for me to work outwardly what God is working inwardly.

Why I don’t:

  • I’m scared. Scared of what people will think. Scared of being a fraud. Scared that I really don’t know what I’m doing (and convinced that everybody else does).
  • I’m lazy. Writing can be hard. It requires commitment. Decisions to be made. The ability to finish. And it requires me to risk. But it also has the potential to reward.
  • I’m busy or I’m just uninspired. Or more likely, I squash inspiration by filling my time with noise and nonsense, distraction and escape.

I look at these two lists and in the first one I see truth; in the second, lies. There’s no good reason to be found in that second list, only evidence for a lack of trust that I want to see changed in my life. So I know which list I’m going to embrace.

I believe that writing is meant to be read, and I always encourage my students to give their writing an audience. Thinking about readers shapes our craft, polishes it, refines it, challenges it and makes those muscles stronger.

If you’re reading this, you are part of that audience. The comments are open for your feedback. I have to approve the first one you post, because I still get some stuff that isn’t caught by the spam filter. But I don’t intend to shy away from comments. If you’re encouraged by this, let me know. If you have advice or even warnings, I’d appreciate that as well.

Thanks for reading and giving me an opportunity to stretch my limbs.

Life, Death, Memories and the Open Road

I wrote this on July 29th while driving with my roommate through New Mexico. We were taking my Hyundai Santa Fe to Santa Fe, crossing an item off my summer bucket list.

The broken white lines and telephone poles zip past.
New Mexico’s landscape rises and falls, grasslands and scrub brush.
The mountains are distant and we’ve not yet hit the desert.
And I think about road trips made my Papaw and Mamaw Hale, in the wide sedans we used to sail like ships across the hill country highways of Central Texas.
Papaw was Truman Preston Hale, a true Texan, a man of deep love and few words.
Tall with vice grips for hands, made strong by decades of hard work, but a mechanical mind every bit as sinewy despite only a few years of formal education.
His weathered but warm face was always crowned with a Western hat, felt in the winter and straw in those brutal Lampasas summers. A Stetson Open Road is what I remember though I don’t know that he had a preferred model.
He always looked forward to seeing us, always made a point to full his pockets with loose change, soft orange candy peanuts, chewing gum and hard butterscotch candies wrapped in cellophane.
He never went far without a coffee can for spitting tobacco juice into, and he always had a pocketknife at the ready.

When we emptied my grandfather's chest of drawers after his death, I took two items. An unopened can of Billy Beer that he had kept as a souvenir from the Carter administration and one of his pocket knives. Along with his shotgun, these are the only possessions of his I own.

When we emptied my grandfather’s chest of drawers after his death, I took two items. An unopened can of Billy Beer that he had kept as a souvenir from the Carter administration and one of his pocket knives. Along with his shotgun, these are the only possessions of his I own.

Those same vice-grip hands were equally at home fishing, shelling pecans from the tree in the yard, fixing cars, hand-mixing the world’s best milkshakes with just a spoon and a tall aluminum glass, or giving a 6-year-old grandkid’s knee a squeeze on a road trip as we zipped through small towns like Hico, Evant and Adamsville.
He took my dad on road trips as a boy. They saw the Grand Canyon and who knows what else, my dad, no doubt sitting like I did – staring at the lazy gliding buzzards in those impossibly vast Southwestern skies. Maybe he gave my dad a wink and a squeeze on the knee or a tousle of his hair – my Papaw’s love language I guess.
We never talked much. But I always knew where I stood with him, nonverbally. Still, I would have loved a day inside his head, or to take a trip like this and see the land through his eyes.
I remember my last few visits with him, in a nursing home in Temple. He was moody from the pain and didn’t want to eat the bland food. A notoriously picky eater with a cast-iron stomach, I can’t count the times I saw him consume meals of just tamales and piping hot black coffee.
I tried to have the conversations there that we didn’t have before. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember and now I teach kids how to write and tell stories, so I place an enormous value on words. But it seemed forced and he was in pain sometimes and seemed confused at others.
And we didn’t need the words anyway. We knew where the other stood, I believe. Right until the end. I would rub his silver hair on top of his head, up where the Stetson Open Road used to sit, and pray silently.
And every now and then as I’d walk by his bed, I’d feel a light tap on my knee, and when I’d turn to see him smiling, I could read every word on his face.
The road stretches on and we’re still an hour or more from Santa Fe. Dramatic clouds fill a towering sky, in every direction, as far as I can see.
My face and t-shirt smell like Old Spice aftershave. I was running low on my more expensive cologne and saw the familiar bottle in the grocery store. If it was good enough for Papaw, it will do the trick for this trip at least.
I’m in the passenger side as my good friend has driving duty and I’m still full from lunch of coffee and green chile stew.
I want to lay back and rest my eyes, so I cover my face with a Texas Rangers ball cap. Can’t help but think an Open Road would do this job better.

Nothing to see here people… for the moment.

Yeah, I’m failing a bit as a productive blogger on this site. I’ve had a lot to think, write and reflect on lately, but I just haven’t done much with it.

However, I am getting more regular (insert your fiber joke) on my photo blog which you can see here. So that’s something, write right?

I do have another sweet little niece on the way, courtesy of my sister-in-law Leslie, so I’m already looking forward to welcoming her via blog, like I did in 2007 and 2010.

But until then, if you’re looking for a regular and rewarding read, direct your attention to writings of this exceptional young woman. You’re welcome.

Gothic Greatness

A gift from my grandmother introduced me to one of my all-time favorite writers.

When I was 12 or 13, my grandmother on my mom’s side, with whom I share a great love of reading and words, gave me a curious little paperback. I can’t remember if it was a birthday or Christmas gift, or perhaps one for Halloween. I had never heard of the author, but I was taken by the full-cover front and back illustrations with these strangely simple but simultaneously wonderful drawings of a pale, lanky boy in a red-hooded sweatshirt encountering a statue of a crusader (on the front) and a wispy apparition floating out a window (on the back).

My interest was also piqued by the title – “The Mummy, The Will, & The Crypt” – which was just perfectly provocative for me at that age. It didn’t take long for me to dive into the adventure of a lonely teenager named Johnny Dixon, and his closest friend, a cantankerous elderly old professor named Roderick Childermass. The story weaved the challenges that come with being awkward, shy and young with mysterious riddles, ghosts, and a gothic castle protected by an undead guardian.

I couldn’t put it down. And when I was finally finished, I had to find more. I went to the library and hit the mother lode. Though some of the plots get confused after a while, the incredible titles still stick in my head: “The House With A Clock In Its Walls,” “The Curse of the Blue Figurine,” “The Eyes of the Killer Robot,” “The Dark Secret of Weatherend,” “The Spell of the Sorcerer’s Tomb.” And almost all of them with those wonderfully weird illustrations.

Today is the anniversary of the death of the man who wrote those stories that fueled my teenage imagination. John Bellairs (1938-1991) wrote a number of gothic mystery novels for young adults featuring characters like Anthony Munday, Lewis Barnavelt, and my favorite, Johnny Dixon. He created numerous adventures filled with mystery and history and the struggles of growing up, fitting in and dealing with loneliness.

Edward Gorey is so wonderfully weird and one of my favorite illustrators.

The wonderfully strange Edward Gorey did the illustrations for 12 of Bellairs original work, as well as several incomplete manuscripts finished by writer Brad Strickland after Bellairs’ death, and several of Strickland’s original works using Bellairs’ characters until Gorey’s death in 2000. Gorey also created his own Edwardian-styled hand-lettered illustrations in works like “The Gashlycrumb Tinies, “The Doubtful Guest,” and the introduction to “Mystery!” on PBS. He even won a Tony Award in 1977 for costume design for a Broadway production of “Dracula.”

Last night, I was talking with my Dad on the phone and the topic turned to books. He said I should write one some day. He’s not the first one to say it.

I’d like to write a book. I’ve thought about writing a book. I’ve started writing several books. But I’ve never finished a book. I’ve just got so many interests and enjoy so many types of writing that it’s difficult to commit to one idea.

But by chance, I noticed it was the anniversary of John Bellairs’ death. And I remembered reading his books and what they meant to me, and I can’t help but feel a bit inspired. And I do have spring break coming up next week. So maybe I’ll set aside some time to write and see if anything gothic adventures come out.

Thanks John and Edward, for the wonderful adventures my imagination got to experience with both of you. R.I.P.

12 for 12: January’s theme – Renewal

Image: arkorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I spent some of my first lucid hours of 2012 at Fellowship Church in Jacksonville, Texas, listening to my brother preach on “Putting First Things First.”

He laid out the text, Matthew 6:33 – “a Biblical resolution for the new year,” and then identified three obstacles that keep us from the goal.

  1. Earthly interests are here and now.
  2. Sin has skewed our view of the world.
  3. It’s easy to be mastered by stuff.

It was a well-chosen message for the new year, but the second point really caught my attention and got my imagination working.

“Our minds have been seriously damaged by sin,” he said. “That’s why they need to be renewed. Believers need to be renewed on a daily basis.”

I’ve always liked the idea of a new year. A fresh start. A chance to reset and begin again. To remember and reaffirm promises and plans of the past. To empty out a vessel and prepare to refill it. I think it’s an ideal time to think about the topic of renewal.

In an attempt to be more intentional about this new year than I have in years past, I’ve decided I’m going to try to approach each month with a theme in mind. Twelve themes for twelve months for Two Thousand and Twelve. I want to take each month’s theme and focus on it – in what I read, the songs I listen to, the conversations I have, the movies I watch, the photos I take, the words I write, the prayers I pray.

And so, in January, I begin with the theme of RENEWAL. I’ve got some potential themes for the coming months as well, including love, friendship, identity, acceptance, perseverance, hope, joy and thankfulness. But I’m always open to suggestions. And I definitely would appreciate suggestions for movies, songs, books, activities that will help me focus on renewal.

That’s the way it works in my happy little fresh new year’s brain of course. You know, the one that hasn’t yet been ground up by a million and one deadlines, projects, time-wastes, sick days, setbacks and the general craziness of life.

So here’s what you can do in all this… pray for me, encourage me, advise me, engage me, even join me. And let’s see what kind of year this can be.

When the idea of authority is shattered…

I enjoy reading, though I don’t read novels nearly as often as I should. I really enjoy a well-turned word and phrase, but even more, I love the authors who can take a really difficult, abstract subject and make it easy to understand. I’m much better with the short and simple. It’s the same for photography. I love complex compositions, but I don’t seem to have an eye for them myself.

A few nights ago, I started the first chapter of All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I’d never read this World War I novel written from the perspective of a group of German soldiers. Other people I’ve spoken to have vague recollections of this book being assigned in the 9th or 10th grade. It would have been completely wasted on me at that age.

I chose to start it a little late in the evening… and fell asleep. I picked it up again the other day and was really impacted by the following passage.

I think Remarque is doing what Roy Peter Clark calls “climbing the ladder of abstraction,” but I could be wrong. The context: the soldiers have just mentioned that someone in their group received mail from their old schoolmaster, Kantorek. He was the one who really pushed them to “do their duty” and enlist to serve in the war. Even Behm, the one student to resist, eventually conceded to Kantorek’s appeal to his masculinity and bravery.

Strange to say, Behm was one of the first to fall. He got hit in the eye during an attack, and we left him lying for dead. We couldn’t bring him with us, because we had to come back helter-skelter. In the afternoon suddenly we heard him call, and saw him crawling about in No Man’s Land. He had only been knocked unconscious. Because he could not see, and was mad with pain, he failed to keep under cover, and so was shot down before anyone could go and fetch him.

Naturally we couldn’t blame Kantorek for this. Where would the world be if one brought every man to book? There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best– in a way that cost them nothing.

And that is why they let us down so badly.

For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress– to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.

While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards– they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.

On one hand, this makes me think of my role as a teacher. It makes me give more consideration to the words I say to my students, the charges I give them. They are listening even when I think they aren’t. I’m always surprised at the things I’ve said that resonate with them years later.

On the other hand, it makes me think of the nature of authority. We all reach that point where we realize that all of our teachers and mentors and guides are just men and women like us, subject to all the natural forces of this world and all the chaos and hurt and pain that a life here can hold. And when we see them as they are, fallible and feeble and flawed – just like us, our hope can be shattered. And that’s where I believe we reach a fork in the road, a point of decision.

One choice is to abandon hope in any kind of authority and fall into a life of self-reliance with trust placed in what you can reason from your own experiences.

The other is to acknowledge that the problem is not with hope itself, but where it’s been placed. To realize that there is “a greater insight and a more humane wisdom” though it’s not found in any human authority. That the only thing worthy of full trust, faith and hope in this world is the being who created it. To realize that even the people who believed and spread the message of the Creator were themselves not to be respected as the authority, but only as rough, imperfect signs to point to Him. Incidentally, it’s also when we do this, that we are able to see other people in a different light, without all the expectations that we had previously shackled them with… we see them as we should see ourselves, as creatures bearing our Creator’s resemblance. At this point, I think we become truly free to love them.

Faith and trust and hope in Christ is the other path, and it’s not an easy one to follow. It’s not even difficult. It’s impossible without divine assistance. But if we trust the words of Jesus in the Bible, then we can find that divine assistance there for the asking.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.       – Luke 11:9-10

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.     – Jeremiah 29:13

For, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”     – Romans 10:13

That’s the way I see it. Two paths you can take when the idea of authority is shattered. Trust in yourself. Or trust in Christ. I’ve tried to choose the latter. Partly because I’ve come to know Him, and partly because I know myself all too well.

I don’t do it perfectly, but that’s not the point. His perfection is demonstrated in my weakness and it’s taken me 33 years to realize what a beautiful thing that is.

All of this is a departure from the plot and theme of the novel, sure, but it’s where my mind was led.

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The best piece of 9/11 writing I’ve ever read

The Falling Man

"The Falling Man" by Richard Drew// Image via Wikipedia

Just wanted to share a quick link since the 9/11 anniversary is tomorrow.

Esquire Magazine selected Tom Junod’s “The Falling Man” as one of the seven greatest stories in the magazine’s history, along with the likes of Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer.

In the essay, Junod talks about the circumstances surrounding this tragic but iconic photo from the WTC atttacks, and also addresses why the image speaks to us, and why it and other images of “the jumpers” were kept hidden from public view in the days following the attacks.

But most interestingly, Junod goes on a search to discover the identity of the Falling Man, while even questioning the decency of the search itself:

Of course, the only way to find out the identity of the Falling Man is to call the families of anyone who might be the Falling Man and ask what they know about their son’s or husband’s or father’s last day on earth. Ask if he went to work wearing an orange shirt.

But should those calls be made? Should those questions be asked? Would they only heap pain upon the already anguished? Would they be regarded as an insult to the memory of the dead, the way the Hernandez family regarded the imputation that Norberto Hernandez was the Falling Man? Or would they be regarded as steps to some act of redemptive witness?

Junod ends his story without a definitive answer. One lead seems stronger than the others, but the author closes by focusing on what is “certain.”

At fifteen seconds after 9:41 a.m., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky — falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared, as if we willed it away. One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame — the Falling Man — became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves. The picture is his cenotaph, and like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and make one simple acknowledgment.

That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.

If you’d like to see more by Tom Junod, I recommend checking out his classic profile of Mr. Rogers.

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