Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Tag: mother

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part VII

Author’s note:  If you’ve not read Eliza’s whole story, scroll back to the first entry.  Thanks for reading.

There was something in his eyes that always scared Eliza.  Even when Jeremiah Goddard smiled it never showed in his eyes.  And with those thin lips and hollow cheeks, he looked more like a possum bearing its teeth than someone who was happy.  So she avoided him at almost all costs, retreating to the relative safety of her small room whenever he was around.

When she heard the door slam that evening, Eliza decided it was now or never.  Her mother had been in a particularly ebullient mood that day and with her step-father gone, she would approach her mother one final time.  She padded down the steps toward and toward the kitchen.

“Momma, can I talk to you about something?”  she asked hesitantly.

“What is it, Eliza?”

That was encouraging.  So many times before her mother had simply shooed her away, telling Eliza to finish her homework.  Or to go and read her Bible lesson.  Or to get ready for bed. Girls her age, she was almost eleven, were old enough to take life seriously and not to be foolish, her mother often told her.

“It’s still happening,” Eliza said, her eyes downcast.

“What is, honey?”

“You know.  The voices.  I still hear them.”

Eliza braced herself.  Her mother had warned her that such nonsense would not be tolerated.

“I’m scared.”

Waiting for the onslaught of her mother’s rebuke, Eliza took an imperceptible step back.  But there were no furious admonitions.  No threats of punishment for telling tales.  Instead, Angela Goddard invited her daughter to come into the den and and to sit down beside her on the couch.

Overcoming her dismay, Eliza did exactly that.  She told her mother how and when she had first heard the voices.  And how they had never really stopped.  Eliza had just relented to her mother’s demands not to speak of such things any more.  She told her mother that there were times when she thought the voices were angry.  “Not at me,” she said. “Just angry.”  Other times they seemed like they were maybe in pain.  Eliza said she had pleaded with them to stop, to leave her alone.  But nothing had worked.

Angela Goddard listened patiently and nodded that she understood.  She placed her hand on Eliza’s shoulder and told her that everything would be alright. Eliza took a deep breath and realized her heart was no longer pounding.  Tears of relief filled her eyes.  It was more than Eliza could have ever hoped for.

Her mother told her that there were things in this world that we don’t always understand. She said sometimes our minds play tricks on us—especially when we are young.  She gave her daughter a warm warm embrace.  She told Eliza not to worry.  She said she would tell Jeremiah and that he would know what to do.


Somehow, Liza had managed to keep it together after she and Jason finished talking to Pax.  But from the moment she heard the strange man tell her about what had happened at her father’s funeral, her thoughts had become a cocktail of memories and fear.  Jason had asked Liza what she thought of Pax, but she told him she didn’t really know.  Sure.  It was weird.  Learning all that about her father.  And Pax’s confession was even more bizarre.  But she was just too tired to discuss it very much.  She had begged off with, “Can we just talk about this tomorrow?  It’s been a long day.”

She slammed the door to her apartment behind her, forgetting to lock the door.  She had to find that book.  There had been something in it.  Something about—what was it?  Bardos?  Yeah.  That was it.  Bardos.  The space between life and death and life.  The place Vedic religions believed the soul went between times of reincarnation.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part IV

Author’s note:  Be sure to check the prior blog entries to see Liza’s full story.


“I don’t really remember him,” said Liza.

“Yeah.  Me either.  Not much.  There are things I remember.  His voice.  It was really deep.  Or at least that’s how I remember him.  I remember how he smelled too.  He always wore Aramis aftershave.  He used to let me stand on a chair and let me watch him shave,” Jason said, a touch of sadness in his voice.  “He was a good man, I think.”

“I was only two or three years old, right?”

“You were three when he died.  I was five.  I do remember that night, though. It was terrible.”

Their father had died in a freak accident.  Ben Jackson had been a man’s man—the kind of man others called if something went wrong. When one of the men at the plant was having trouble with the two-ton crane, Ben had gone to offer his assistance.  No one was quite sure how it had happened, but when Ben was inspecting the jammed gearing, the motor suddenly engaged.  The die carried by the crane had struck him in the chest—but just barely.  Whether it was a result of him losing his balance or just being startled, the fall had ended with sound of skull hitting concrete.  Ben had made it to the hospital and through the most of the night.

“Momma wouldn’t talk about it.  But some of his friends told me it was probably for the best.  If he’d survived the fall he would have never been the same.  Momma sure wasn’t.”

Their mother had remained single for a respectable time after their father died.  In her grief, she had turned to the church.  There she met a man named Jeremiah Goddard, whom she married after a brief courtship.  And if their father, Ben, had been loving and kind, their mother’s new husband had been nothing of the sort.  On the day of his marriage to Angela he had made it clear that his word was law—just like God intended—and that children were to be seen and not heard.


Liza didn’t hear the key sliding into the lock.  Nor did she hear the door open.  When the orderly said “time to go” she almost leapt from the bed.

“Jeezus!” she blurted.

She looked at the man dressed in white pants, white shirt, and white work shoes.  He looked like he had been stuffed into a shirt that was two sizes too small.  His shoulders strained at the seams.  His biceps were so large the sleeves were bunched up above them.  The veins in his forearms looked as if they would explode from his skin at any moment.  Later, Liza would begin referring to him as Mr. Clean.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Sorry, my ass,” she said.  “Is your job here to try to scare the hell out of people?”

Liza knew she was overreacting.  It wasn’t the fact the man seemed to creep into her room unnoticed.  It was the sound of his voice that made her heart race faster than it should have.  For a moment, she was sure it was them—the voices.  Worse.  It was that one voice.  And the words he had used.  “Time to go.” Shit.  That had been too much.

“I’m sorry, Miss Jackson.  The doctor is ready for you now.”

The warmth of the doctor’s office stood in stark contrast to the hallways of the clinic.  His desk was piled with manila folders that bulged with papers.  There were two worn leather wing back chairs sitting opposite the desk, one of which the doctor was already sitting in.  Steam rose from porcelain mug on which was emblazoned “#1 Dad.”

After explaining to Liza that he was her friend, that he thought he could help and that he hoped she would trust him, Doctor Venable asked her if she would mind telling him why she thought she was there at the clinic.

“I’m either crazy.  Or possessed.  My mother wants to know which,” she said.

Venable sipping his coffee when Liza answered and he almost spewed a mouthful onto the freshly cleaned carpet.  Somehow, he managed to swallow, but not without some effort.  When he regained his composure, he smiled.  Then he burst into laughter.

“That about sums it up, Liza.  I won’t bullshit you.  I mean that’s why you’re here, so to speak.  So maybe you can tell me what you think.  Are you crazy?  Or are you possessed?

Liza looked at the doctor solemnly.  A smile inched across her mouth.  Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as she had expected.

If it had been a snake

it’s an uneasy thing to be taken by surprise, like this, when the clouds of confusion glide past the lurking sun and the bright light of awareness suddenly shines on my face and I realize the answer had been there all the time;


whenever my mother would help me find something that was lost or misplaced, like a book or my keys, or my wallet, she would say—actually, she still does—“If it had been a snake it would have bitten you,” when the thing was so right there in front of me that I just couldn’t see it;


it’s that same disoriented feeling of fear and excitement when you’re driving on some familiar piece of highway, lost in your thoughts, and you suddenly notice something and ask yourself, “has that always been there?” And for a minute you your heart beats a little faster and you get kind of afraid because you think maybe you’ve missed your turn, or worse, that you’re lost;


but then you realize you’re actually on the right path, and even though it seemed like it was taking longer to get there than you thought it would—than you thought it would—you’ve been on the right road all along;


it’s an uneasy thing—but a really wonderful, peaceful thing—to be taken by surprise like that, when you’ve been looking so hard for the answer and wanting to do the right thing and it has been there right in front of you all of the time and if it had been a snake it would have bitten you.

Of Bubble Wrap and Cage Fighting: An Homage to Mom and Dad

Did you get my message?” she asked.


I had turned off the ringer on my digital leash—phone, I mean—so I hadn’t realized she had called.


“Everything is okay, but…”


We’ve all felt the ache in our stomach and racing of our hearts when the phone rings late at night.  If you’ve raised a child, worried about an ill family member, or have someone you love going through a challenge, you know exactly what I’m talking about.


I’ve had calls like that from my daughter,” I’m okay but, I’ve had a wreck.”


And from my son, “I’m okay but there’s someone pounding on my door.


But when you get that kind of call from your Mother, knowing that she and your Dad live an hour and a half away, well, it kind of makes your mouth go dry.


This time my 83-year-old father had attempted a full gainer off the high dive—no that’s not right—wait.  It was his night at Fight Club.  Nope.  Not that’s not right either.   Ah, it doesn’t matter.  The bottom line is that a quick trip to the ER and about 30 stitches later, he was raring to go again.  Well, maybe not raring.


When he called me from the car, doing his best Indian accent, he told me he was wearing his turban; a gauze bandage wrapped around his head.  I told him I was going to buy him a helmet and some shoulder pads.  He laughed, told me he was pretty banged up, but was gonna live.  But I digress.


When we swapped texts last night, he told me he appreciated me coming down to check on him.  He told me that he loved me and knew how much I care about him and Mom that he would be okay. He told me Mom was taking good care of him.  He told me not to worry.  And I thought how about how much both of them inspire me.


Life takes courage.  It takes determination.  It takes a sense of humor.  And the people I call Mom and Dad are full of all three.  Lord, they raised me.  Just feeding me and keeping me in shoes that fit took all three.  And it has taken them all for both of them as they have dealt with the unexpected challenges and opportunities of life; moving across country, career changes, family stuff, and some bad news from the doctor from time to time.  Plus, there was the whole Jimmy Carter Presidency.  But they keep going.  They keep laughing.  They keep staring into the face of difficult things and smiling.  As my Mother says, “you just do what you gotta do.”


I’m sure they’ve had their moments of fear, those moments in the middle of the night when you wonder how things are going to turn out.  I’m sure they’ve shed some tears I’ll never know about.  And I’m sure they worry about me more than they worry about themselves.  They are indeed made of stern stuff.  I hope I’m made of some of that too.


Now lest I end this little tome a maudlin note, you should know I’ve given up on the notion of a helmet and shoulder pads. I told Dad bubble wrap would be easier and cheaper so the next time he rides his skateboard, he’ll be ready.  And that scar over his left eye is just gonna make him even sexier with the eye patch and the pirate hat he’s getting for Father’s Day.  He’ll probably wear them while he’s running the chain saw I gave him a few years ago.


And Mom, if you’re reading this don’t cry.



Tell Me Your Story



Tell me your story, not just the shiny parts that sparkle in the sunlight;


Tell me about the parts that are in the shadows, the dark parts, the things that made you afraid, when your breath grew shallow, when you were hurt and lost and felt forgotten;


Let me see the messy things that make you want to stay under the covers when you know you have to get up and go to work or to school or to face the day and act like everything is fine when your mind is a boiling pot and your palms are sweatting and you have that deep ache in your belly;


Don’t just tell me the things you put in your Christmas Letter, about how great the kids are doing and how the dog had a good year and about the promotion or the great trip to the beach, don’t just show me the smiling picture of posing perfection when all the children have their hair combed and their clothes are clean and you have on just the right outfit and Photoshop will take care of the rest;




Tell me your story.


The hardest parts.


Tell me how it felt when your mother died or when saw that freckle on your leg start to change and how your mouth went dry and your heart was pounding so hard you thought it would rupture and that you would bleed to death;


Tell me about how it felt when she cut you so deep you would never heal or how he betrayed you even after you had forgiven him so many times before;


I want to know how you felt when your kid got sick and the doctors said they weren’t sure what was wrong and how you tried so hard to be brave and keep it together and how you fought against the terrible thoughts you had and how you went into the bathroom and cried into the towel hoping no one could hear your sobbing;


Tell me the hardest parts.




We are friends, you and me, so please, tell me your story, the hardest parts.

Megan: A Brief Fiction

Megan wept quietly.


The frail old woman lay in the bed, her thin lips pulsing with each breath.  She held the woman’s hand gently and noticed it was almost transparent. She saw the blue-green veins hidden only by the dark brown spots, the jewels of a well-lived life, adorning the woman’s hands

Megan wiped her face and tried to compose herself.


“Mamma,” she whispered.


She thought she saw her mother’s eyes trying to blink open. But it had been several days since she had opened her eyes. Long enough for the last of Megan’s hope to fade into acceptance.


“I need to tell you something, Momma,” she said.  “It’s important.”


Megan sat on the side of the bed looking into her Mother’s vacant face. She didn’t seem to be any pain and Megan was grateful for that small comfort.


“I can’t do this without you, Momma.  I need you to open your eyes.”


“What is it baby girl?” The woman rasped. “Tell me.”


She was awake.  Listening. Talking.


“I–I can’t…my god your awake!”


“Better hurry child.”


Megan’s heart was pounding. Her breathing shallow.


“I’m not sure what to do?  About…you know.”


The woman’s lips seemed to upturn in a knowing smile. She did know.  Megan wouldn’t have to say it.


“Gonna be okay, Megs. Don’t you worry.”


What was it Momma had always said?  “Regret lives in the past. Worry lives in the future. But right now, everything’s alright.”


“I know Momma,” she said.  “But it’s hard.”


“What are you looking at child?”




“What are you looking at?  The trouble? Don’t stare at it. No answers in the trouble. They’re inside you.”


“My brain is a noisy place, Momma. You know that.”


The woman’s breathing grew more labored. He heaving chest fell one final time.


“Momma?” Megan pleaded.


With a great sucking sound the woman drew breath once more.  Yet her eyes did not reopen. In the dim light of evening she left Megan with a final gift. It was a gift she had given so many times before yet one Megan had struggled to open.


“I know, Momma.”


Megan said the first of her last goodbyes. She brushed her Mother’s thin white hair away from her forehead and bent to kiss her cheek. Then she walked downstairs to start making the calls.  The ritual had begun. She had rehearsed her words so many times in the last few weeks.


“I’m afraid I have some difficult news,” she would begin, “Momma’s gone.”


By the time spring arrived, Megan was finding her way in a world that was so different.  She took the balloons to the park on a day when the breeze was steady and the sun was bright. She walked to the top of the hill and heard the hollow boing of the balloons bouncing against one another. Then she released them. As they floated up and away she waited until they were tiny motionless specks hung in a blue sky.


She remembered what her mother had whispered that night. Letting go wasn’t easy. It took practice. But Momma was right. All you have to do is let go. It was a beginning and for now, that was enough.

Personal and Confidential: An Essay

When people learn that I enjoy writing they often look perplexed.


Those who have actually read some of my fiction, poetry or essays will respond with varying degrees of approval.  On occasion they will offer, “that’s nice” or “I enjoyed that.”  There are also times when I get the “don’t quite your day job” look.  (I won’t.)  There are times when someone takes the time to write me and email or even write me a letter to correct my grammar, punctuation or, in the worst cases, vent their irritation or set me straight.  So when I got a letter in the letter in the mail yesterday from an unknown sender, someone in California, I was a little ambivalent about opening it.


The envelope was one of those fancy rough-textured kinds of things with an embossed return address on the flap.  It was hand addressed. It felt good in my hands. The handwriting on its face seemed kind.  Now on the rare occasion I receive such a note they normally come as a surprise.  But in this case, I remembered an email a reply to a blog post I had recently received. Its author had been encouraged by something I had published in Tricycle Magazine more than a year ago.  The woman had taken the time to write me a note of appreciation and had addressed it to a former business address.  She told me it had been returned to her and marked “NOT AT THIS ADDRESS.”  So I gave her my new address with the hope she would try again.  In truth, I didn’t expect someone to go to this much effort.


In the article, I had shared some personal struggles about my spiritual journey.  (I know.  That just sounds weird.  I can smell the patchouli oil and incense too.)  The moment I submitted the article I wondered if I should have been so vulnerable.  I’m still wonder.  But the fact she had taken the time to write a kind and generous, handwritten note, to me, someone she has never met and will probably never will, telling me how she identified with my words and how much she appreciated them, was a rich reward for the risk. The things I shared could have remained personal and confidential, buried within me, hiding in the darkness.  But her willingness to acknowledge we had similar struggles helped me remember we all share the same hopes and dreams and fears, and sometimes, victories.


We just don’t let everyone see the difficult stuff.  (And we probably shouldn’t let everyone see everything.)


When people ask me why I write I tell them it’s because its something I have to do to understand the world a little better. It’s also because my Mother reminded me how much I enjoy it and that I should keep at it.  (Thanks, Mom.) I’ll admit I’d like to be a published author who someday makes his living at the craft.  The likelihood is I won’t.  The rejection letters from publishers are piling up.  But that isn’t really the point.  I just write.  And when someone like the new friend I’ll never know writes me a note that is now have safely stored away, I find that is more than enough. So I’ll keep taking the chance of embarrassing myself with silly tales, bad poetry, and observations about the myself, my family, and the world with the hope it moves others to pay a little more attention to themselves and the people around them.  I’ll keep irritating people, risking their disapproval, making grammatical error and editing poorly, in the hopes it might help someone be a little more vulnerable.  It’s funny how taking risks works. It scares the hooey (Is “hooey” a word?) out of you to do it.  But when someone says, “me too,” well, I’d say it’s worth the risk.


And JM, if by chance you are reading this post, please know this.  I’m so grateful for your encouragement and the time and effort you put into to getting the note to me.


A Son at Midlife

When I was a younger man

So many things I knew;

My father’s wisdom wasted

Like the drying dew;

So confident and full

In my inner glow;

The younger man I was

Who had so much to show;

There was no need for him

To point the proper way;

For the path was mine

To climb each dawning day.

Now at midlife I find

There’s little to regret.

Though I sometimes wonder

How much I made him fret;

I’m certain that I did

Perhaps I caused him pain;

Yet he always loved me

Hoped for me just gain;

Whatever path I chose

He cheered me all along;

Helped me find the lessons

If ever I did wrong;

Listened to troubles

If to confess I dared;

He never failed to show me

Just how much he cared;

My mother there beside him

She did the same its true;

The day will come without them

Whatever will I do?

The gifts they’ve always given

Will never fade too far;

I’ll feel them with me ever

In the bright and wondrous star;

I’ll hear them in the wind

And in the birds of spring;

The smells of fresh cut grass

Will all their wisdom bring;

In smiles and hugs from friends

Who knew them both so well;

We’ll share them in the stories

That we all will tell;

When I was a younger man

So many things I knew;

Their memories and their words

Will ever ring so true.

Saving Grace: A Brief Fiction

The young man stood patiently, waiting for a silver haired man, dressed in a blazer and wool slacks to finish speaking to the Priest. The man’s neatly dressed but frail wife stood beside him. As they turned to leave, the Priest grasped the man on his shoulder, offering a reassuring touch.

“Father, I’m not sure I am in the right place?” said the young man to the stooped old Priest in the ornate gold vestments.

“How can I help you young man?”

“My friend has died and I am looking for the memorial service.”

The cool spring morning seemed a contradiction to the young man’s apparent grief.

“Have I missed it? I am looking for Grace’s memorial. She was my friend.”

“Grace? Grace Thomas?   You’re a friend of Grace’s?”

“Yes sir.”

The Priest called to the man whose shoulder he had just released.

“Steven, this man was a friend of Grace’s”

“Dr. Thomas?”


“My name is David. I was a friend of your daughter. We were in school together.”

“Oh, David. Yes. David, she just spoke of you last week.”

David stepped back, surprised to find he might have been spoken of during Grace’s final days. In the moments that followed, the man, his wife, and the younger man, shared the smiles and pain of memories and loss. The older man explained, that no, the funeral is in a few days.   Not today. The paper had made an error. Grace’s mother smiled at David, grateful for the youn man’s grief and love for her lost child. The younger man explained he was only in town for the weekend and had seen the paper, how he needed to be there to say goodbye.

“Grace was brilliant and kind,” he said.

“She was,” said Steven Thomas. “And I never won an argument with her,” managing a smile.

“Are you going to Mass son? Are you a Catholic?”

“No sir. No sir. I’m not a Catholic.”

“You should go to Mass son. Might just be the Holy Spirit brought you here for just that purpose.”

“Well sir, I suppose that’s possible. But for now He’s told me to go back and finish the work I started with an axe and chainsaw this morning.”

The parted with a warm embrace and knowing smiles, finding comfort in one another’s presence. As the young man returned to his car he found himself wondering how much had to happen to create such a divine appointment. What if he hadn’t been in town, hadn’t packed a dress shirt for some odd reason, what if he hadn’t stopped for coffee on his way to Our Lady of Peace?   What if the obituary had not been wrong? What if the parking space that had opened just as he drove up to the church hadn’t been open? And what if Grace’s parents hadn’t stopped to talk to the Priest? David wondered if there was some Hand in all this that had conducted this orchestra of these.

As he held the axe in his gloved hands, he wondered all those things as his tears turned to sobs, not simply in grief, but in gratitude as well. Again and again he swung the axe, chips flying past like memories of Grace, like life, he thought. He swung the axe until his shoulders ached more than his heart. And he smiled.

Donut Shop: A Short Fiction

“What kind do you want, Peter?”

The little boy tilted up on his toes, peering into the case, his eyes aglow at white-icing topped donuts with colorful sprinkles, purple jelly-filled delights covered with powdery brown sugar and cinnamon. The over-large woman standing behind the counter watched the child surveying the donut-filled trays, crepe tissue in one hand, waxed-bag in the other. It was difficult to tell if she was patient or indifferent.

“Can I have two?”

“Just one. You have to choose,” said the woman standing behind him.

If Peter was disappointed in her verdict his enthusiasm was undiminished. He side stepped down the counter, then returned half way and jabbed a finger on the glass.

“That one!”

He chose a crueler, iced to perfection, leaving a faint oily fingerprint on the glass.

“Anything to drink?” Asked the woman, Millie, according to the embroidered script on her shirt.

“Chocolate milk!” Peter instructed.

“No, Peter. Plain white milk, please,” countered his mother.

The old man sitting in the corner had seen this ritual borne out many times. His station in the shop allowed him just the right angle to watch people come to the counter and make their selections. Watching children was the thing he enjoyed most. Most of them were so enraptured with the prospect of making their selection and the anticipation of the first bite they were oblivious to everything else.

The adults who came into the shop were often impatient, eager to collect several dozen donuts and race on to their daily duties. At night, they were less hurried, looking ragged from the day, perhaps seeking some brief solace in the indulgence of the alchemy of sugar, shortening and flour. Some came frequently. Enough for him to have given them names. There was “Richard,” a buttoned-up banker, he suspected, always in a dark suit and bold tie.   “Alice” often came into the shop late at night. A nurse at some nearby hospital he thought, she wore the same light blue scrubs and white Nike shoes every day. He thought she always looked sad and more than a little tired.

When Peter plopped down at the table not far away from him, the old man watched him closely. His mother had taken out her smart phone and began to tap away at it. With Peter’s first bite, nearly half the donut disappeared, his mouth left covered with an opaque glaze. He chewed fiercely, eager to make room for the next bite.

“Slow down,” said his mother, barely looking up from the device.

“Momma, why didn’t you get a donut?”

“Because Momma’s not hungry.”

“You don’t gotta be hungry to eat a donut, Momma.” The child mumbled through a his bite.

The old man heard the boy’s words and chuckled, softly. Out of the mouths of babes, he thought. People of all shapes and sizes came into the shop most of them probably weren’t really hungry, except for donuts and coffee.

“Wipe your mouth, Peter. No! With a napkin.” The boy had swept his sleeve across his mouth before she could stop him. He took a long draw on the bottle of milk and finished the gulp with an “aaah” of deep satisfaction.

“You want the last bite, Momma?”

“What? No, Peter. No thank you.”

The boy didn’t hesitate. As he had made the offer he was afraid she would accept. He wasn’t going to wait on her to change her mind.

“We have to go.”

The woman reached across the table and wiped the boy’s mouth and fingers with a damp cloth she had retrieved from a plastic bag in her purse. Peter slid off his chair and picked several large crumbs from his shirt, popped them in his mouth. Then he brushed his shirt while trotting to catch his mother who was already at the door. Then they were gone.

The old man sipped at his coffee and gazed across the empty shop at Millie. She nodded a half smile. He nodded back, raising the thick beige porcelain cup to her in acknowledgement. Then he turned and looked out the window, watching the car pull into traffic.

He catalogued the little vignette in his mind, just as he did all such moments. He smiled and wondered if they had seen him, if they were even aware he was there. No matter. He watched just them just the same. Everyone came to the shop. Old. Young. Black. White. Wealthy. Poor. There in the shop they all came for pretty much the same thing. For a moment, he thought, they find it and leave. But they always come back. And he would be there. Waiting. Smiling. Watching.