But For the Grace of God

My memory of that afternoon awakens thoughts of a sunny fall day.  Back in time a dozen years it was one of those in-between days of not cold yet, but not warm either.  Balanced between extremes that Saturday was one of those cool fall days I love most.

Gone are the details of where my then-wife and I were driving to, but clear is the mental image of the ramp she was exiting on.  It was one of those long, circular highway exits that causes you go twenty-five miles an hour around three-quarters of a circle to get to the other side of the road.  Once there I looked down on that side of the in-town freeway to see an old car with a much older man outside taking to someone sitting on the passenger side.

After getting my wife to pull over over safely on the side of the ramp, I got out and yelled down to the stranded man “are you OK?”  A slow Oklahoma country drawl came from the old man’s mouth “No sir, we ain’t”.   He looked harmless enough and had some difficulty walking, so I felt safe headed down the bank of the ramp to get close enough to talk to him.  On my way down I saw he was at least seventy-five or so and his passenger was a woman near his age who I assumed was his wife, which he later confirmed.

As I stopped about six feet away from him, the old man said “once upon a time I was rich, but not no more.  That’s been gone for a long time.  It’s OK, but it’s hard when I come up short sometimes like now”.  I asked what was going on and he answered “we’re trying to get to some family down in Tahlequah.  The gas gauge don’t work and I thought we had enough to get there.  I was wrong and we ain’t got no money.”

About that time I saw the head of a baby close to a year old pop up from the lap of the woman in the car.  The old man said “that’s my great grand baby!  My wife and I been takin’ care of her ‘cause her momma and daddy ain’t no good.  It’s hard on us, but church helps us some and we get by.  I try not to complain ‘cause it’s what the good Lord sent us.  When I hold that little baby I just know God’ll provide for us somehow”.

I asked about credit cards and found they didn’t have any.  I knew what had to be done. Remembering a farm supply store a few miles away across from a mini-mart I told him we’d be back be back in fifteen or twenty minutes with some gas.  At that moment the first smile I’d seen on the old guy’s face lit up.  The smile was missing half the teeth it once had but was warm and genuine.  His relief was obvious.  As I walked back to our car above I heard his “thank you mister” followed by the old woman chiming in right after with “God bless you sir”.

A half hour later we were back with a near full red plastic five gallon gas can.  My wife stayed in the car after we pulled up behind them on the shoulder of the road.  Not much spilled as I poured the gas into the tank of the old car without a funnel.  When done the old guy began trying to start his car.  It took a while and several false starts with the engine spitting and sputtering until it roared to life.  The motor was not running well, but seemed like it could get them to where they needed to go.

After buying the gas can and gas, I still had twenty-five dollars and some change left.  I kept a five and tried to give the remaining twenty to the old man sitting behind wheel of his old car.  He said “No sir, I ain’t gonna take your money.  You already been real too kind to us.  I’m much obliged God sent you.”  I insisted saying he didn’t have enough gas to finish his trip.  He continued to resist and shake his head side to side to say “no”.

Walking around to the passenger side of the car I made eye contact with the old lady and asked her if it would be OK if I gave her the money for the baby.  She looked at her husband and then at me… and repeated looking back and forth between us several times.  She never said a word, but ever so slightly he nodded his head “yes” to her.  I handed the money through the window and as she took it she held back tears and repeated the same four words I had heard her say earlier; “God bless you sir”.  Soon the car steered onto the highway and faded into the distance.

To this day I don’t know why I believed the old man.  He could have been a con artist, but if so he was damn good at it.  Even now I feel certain he was legit.  Real pain and fear are hard to make up.  The exact look in his face when he first looked into my eyes and began to speak saying “I used to be rich….” clearly showed the old man’s anguish.

Even thought my now ex-wife was nervous enough to not get out of her truck, she was proud of what I did that day.  There will always be gladness within that we got to help someone in need, but to an even greater degree I am grateful for the gift I got that day.   Many times I have remembered the old man’s words “I used to be rich…” and how they touched me.  Thinking about those words and the situation I found him is a reminder that nothing on this Earth is permanent.  Tough times harder than we can even imagine are never far away from happening. The possessions I own, the money I have, the good health I enjoy: everything could all be gone in a blink!  I am grateful my memory of the encounter with the old couple is so vibrant yet today.  Each time I recall it my mind whispers softly to my soul, “There but for the grace of God, go I”.

Courage is as often the outcome of despair as of hope;
in the one case we have nothing to lose,
in the other, everything to gain.
Diane de Pointiers

First posted here 5 years ago on December 6, 2011

Cannot Love Without Giving

unbalanced-scales The Rule of Obligation or Rule of Reciprocity says when others do something for us, we should feel a need to return the favor. By ‘evening the score’, so to speak, one is relieved of the ‘obligation’ created by a good deed done for them. In a general sense, one good turn really does deserve another.

Only in childhood is it normal to receive more than is given. With maturity we should become able to maintain more balanced giving/receiving relationships.As an adult to expect another to do for us without reciprocal good turns in some approximately balanced measure is somewhere between impolite, selfish and down right stealing of another’s time, effort and resources.

It does not matter if we ask for help or not. If another person does an uninvited favor for us and we accept it, there is still indebtedness for the receiver. Allowing another to do too much for us while we do too little will lead to an imbalanced relationship and in time, animosity.

When the give and take equilibrium becomes off kilter by one doing much and the other doing much less, both people are in essence controlling the other. One by what they allow to be given to them, the other by what that persons gives. The Rule of Obligation and Reciprocity is then broken and equal discomfort is caused for both parties (or at least should be).

It’s common for me to do too much for those I love and at times become frustrated because my considerations are not returned. Intellectually I know it is often just me “playing to my own needs” of being taken care of. Regardless I end up feeling under loved and in most cases am better off doing less which lowers my expectations. I’m working on that.

I am grateful today for a reminder that I still wrestle with feelings of giving, then feeling bad when the act is not reciprocated or at least acknowledged. The primary responsibility for my feelings belong to one person: ME! It is all my “stuff” to work on. Smiling. I am thankful for the nudge.

You can give without loving,
but you cannot love without giving.
Amy Wilson-Carmichael


Memories of a Dear Friend

From “A Wish” by Victorian poet William Winter
Think of me as your friend, I pray,
And call me by a tender name:
I will not care what others say,
If only you remain the same?
I will not care how dark the night,
I will not care how wild the storm:
Your love will fill my heart with light,
And shield me close and keep me warm.


You’ve been gone almost four years and I still miss you “Banger” .
The following blog was originally posted on August 20, 2011

This morning I woke up thinking of a dear friend of 30 years who passed away last year about this time. Ultimately not taking care of himself combined with bad habits and the unmanaged stress of a challenging life did him in. If he cared about someone he would do just about anything for them. Like the photo above suggests, he was great fun to be around.

His nickname, “Banger”, began in reference to his first car which was a “beater” and did not fire on all cylinders consistently. Hearing the car nearby back firing, his friends would say “here comes the banger” which over time became adapted to be his nick name.

I met Bill at a radio station where he came to work as an Account Executive. He was good at selling, even selling himself. A funny story about getting the job was the listing on his resume of spending a year and a half on the road as a wholesale ceramics sales person. That is a true statement, but lacks the detail to show that job was for a ceramic company that made bongs he peddled wholesale to head shops in the Midwest. What makes this even more ironic is Bill never used a bong or anything of the sort in his whole life!

Within less than a year of meeting ”Banger” I was at his bachelor party. He and his future wife had been living together and now that she was expecting he deemed it time to get married. That was the night he introduced me to something called “purple Jesus”. I remember clearly him showing me a good-sized new plastic trashcan about a third filled with red liquid with sliced fruit floating in it. I asked why the name “purple Jesus” and Bill said, “drink enough of this and you’ll go see Jesus”. After a half a glass of the stuff put me into orbit, I stopped short of going forward to test his prediction. What was it? A concoction of red Hawaiian punch and grain alcohol with sliced oranges and limes floating in it.

Bill would never say exactly, but I have always wondered in what measure was love his motivation to marry as compared to a sense of doing what he thought was right. I do know he had a high sense of honor and he loved both his children. By the time he had two sons a few years into elementary school he was divorced. He never remarried.

The heart wrenching part of Bill’s life was when his youngest son was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. The boy was six or seven years old when the doctors made the determination. Clearly I recall over time watching the disease progress. One scene vivid in memory was when Bill came to visit one afternoon and both his boys were playing with my son. All three had gone up stairs which the son with MD negotiated with some difficulty going up, but to get down my friend had to carry him. Soon the boy was in a wheel chair.

Within a year or so Bill was the parent the boys lived with full-time. He took good care of them as best he knew how and was especially devoted to the younger one bound to a wheel chair whose disease progressed slowly but steadily. The young man was smart and always quick to smile. He had a bunch of friends, of which one or two were there just about always when I dropped by. He shook hands with two presidents and was a “poster child” for MD twice. What he told his Father consistently was when things got to where he could not breathe unless hooked to a machine; he wanted Bill to let him go. That time came when the younger son was around 20 and in the hospital only able to breathe with mechanical aid. He told his Dad it was time and within two days the young man was gone.

Bill had always been a drinker and as his boy’s illness grew worse, Bill’s intake grew. He was not someone who got sloshed in public and got into trouble. Instead he did it quietly mostly in the evening, often after the boys were asleep. ”Banger” smoked and did not watch his weight and became heavier and heavier as the years passed. By the time he accepted his health was in trouble it was too late except to buy a little time. Quitting smoking and drinking did extend his life a while, but living with 10% liver function did not present a lot of hope. Bill was on a transplant list, but was never healthy enough for the surgery.

For over a decade my friend and I lived hundreds of miles apart, but stayed in close touch mostly with frequent phone calls and I visited him about once a year. He drove out to see me twice. The last year of his life hospital visits were frequent, but he always came through . Some of us close to him swear it was on pure stubbornness!

Bill passed away on a Tuesday and late the week before my mobile phone rang and answering I heard a soft and weary voice say “how you doing boy?” I told him I was doing well and he replied “I just needed to hear your voice Brother”. I asked how he was doing. His said he was struggling and that even getting up to get to the bathroom was a major chore. Bill did not give me a chance to say much more. He said he was very tired and had to go. Then again he told me he called to just hear my voice. Some of his very last words to me were “I love you Brother” to which I replied “I love you too “Banger”. Then with a couple of “talk to you later’s” the less than 60 second call was over. I know now what Bill did, but probably didn’t consciously know himself; he called to tell me goodbye. My gratitude that he did exceeds my ability to express it.

He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need:
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If you wake, he cannot sleep;
Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part.
Richard Barnfield

Those Who Are Friends


Twenty-three days and I will officially be retired. Friends say “you’re too young”, but I’m hanging it up while healthy with a lot of years left to enjoy being the full owner of each day.

The company I am leaving has provided me with meaningful employment for close to a decade. There have been lots of good times and some not so wonderful ones, but the overall experience will always be positively remembered; cherished actually. Not sure I will miss the work a great deal, but I will miss some of the people a lot.

The last two days were spent in Milwaukee doing some consulting work for one of the company properties and visiting my counterpart here. We became friends quickly eight years ago. Our count tonight was we have hung out together at 32 company meetings. Knowing each other well as we do I am confident contact will be maintained, but I will miss seeing him every three months.

As many American men, we have talked in the past about being good friends but never expressed emotions much deeper, but we long known our bond was that of “brothers”. Tonight after a wonderful dinner and great conversation, Bill took me back to my hotel. As he was pulling in he said.” Now here is how this is going to work. When we stop I’m going to get out of the car shake hands with you, hug you and tell you I love you. Nothing else. Okay?” And we did just that. We were two late-middle-aged men noticeably holding back tears, not saying goodbye, but uncertain when we’d see each other again. I waved as he pulled away. He waved back and was gone.

I love you Bill. You are a talented professional, a dear man and a perfect gentleman. I will miss you and am so very grateful that a thoughtful, caring and gentle soul as you came into my life. I’ll see you again before too long.

Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes.
A farewell is necessary
before you can meet again.
And meeting again,
after moments or lifetime,
is certain for those who are friends.
Richard Bach

Soldier’s Prayer

My intent it not to honor war or the politics that often fester their eruption.  My purpose here is not to talk of what to do about foreign tyrants or those that carry out evil against their countrymen.  This is not a monologue of what is right and wrong and what should have or should not have been done.  What I put here today, one day after Veteran’s Day is my tribute to the men and women who willingly have gone into the darkness of battle and conflict in the name of country, family and countrymen.      

A Soldier’s Prayer By Joanna Fuchs
Lord, wrap your arms around me
In this hostile, brutal place;
Let me draw peace and comfort
From your restful, sweet embrace.

Help me do my duty
To uphold what is right;
Give me strength and courage
Each day and every night.

Lord, hear this soldier’s prayer
To You in heaven above;
Protect me with your power,
And sustain me with your love.

Often I have thought it was good fortune not to have been drafted to serve in the war of my youth: Vietnam.  My friends and family who went came back mostly whole, but for so many that was not true.  Well aware I am of how the men and women who were called to go there never received the credit, honor or respect due them.  I was against that war, but never against those who served.  Any time I see a Vet wearing something that indicates he/she served in ‘Nam I always thank them for their service.  To a person each and every one has been grateful.  Every single one!  Far too little appreciation has been given to those people.

Taken from “Welcome Home and I Love You!” by Eileen Breedlove  
When you pass by a Vet
that made it home,
or hear of a brother
that is lost in Nam.

Open your hearts
and show them respect.
They gave of themselves
and they did their best.

Taken from “In Your Honor” by Anonymous
Unselfishly, you left your fathers and your mothers.
You left behind your sisters and your brothers.
Leaving your beloved children and wives,
You put on hold, your dreams, your lives.

On foreign soil, you found yourself planted
To fight for those whose freedom you granted.

Without your sacrifice, their cause would be lost
But you carried onward, no matter the cost.

When it was over, you all came back home
Some were left with memories to face alone.

Those who survived were forever scarred
Emotionally, physically, permanently marred.

With a hand upon my heart, I feel
The pride and respect; my reverence is revealed.
Every day, I give my utmost admiration
To those who fought to defend our nation.

For all U.S. personnel who served in Vietnam or were deployed before or after to fight, protect or advise in places like Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, Iraq, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Serbia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and all the other locales known and the ones we likely will never know:  THANK YOU.  You have my deep respect and gratitude.

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.  
José Narosky

First Posted on November 12, 2011 

Casting Shadows


It’s difficult not to be critical when I see someone misbehaving, treating others badly or acting like they are the only one that matters. It has become my practice to try to replace being condemning with a thought like, “you don’t know what this person has gone through to get to here or how hard their life is. Just say a silent quick prayer for them and move on”.

To judge others is to bring judgement to myself. The more I am critical about people the more I train myself to be hard on me! My discovery with intentionally trying not to judge others is I have become less critical of me. It has become apparent that the same disapproving part of me used to condemn others is the same part that can be hyper-critical about myself. That way of seeing was in fact polishing a mirror I used to judge myself.

If we knew the cards and crosses
Crowding ’round our neighbor’s way,
If we knew his little losses,
Sorely grievous day by day,
Would we then so often chide him
For his lack of thrift and gain?
Casting on his life a shadow
Leaves on his heart a stain?

If we knew the silent story
Quivering through some hearts of pain,
Would our human hearts dare doom them
Back to haunts of guilt again?
Life has many a tangled crossing,
Joy has man a change to woe;
And the cheeks tear-washed are whitest,
As the blessed angels know.

Let us reach into our hearts,
For the key to others’ lives,
And with love to erring nature,
Cherish good that still survives;
So that when our disrobed spirits
Soar to realms of light again,
We may say, dear Father, judge us
As we judged our fellow-men.

I am far from perfect and find myself judging and casting shadows on others more often than I wish. But I am grateful more often than not I catch myself. I redirect my thinking realizing that every time I condemn someone else, I am in fact setting me up judge myself.

Judgement prevent us from seeing
the good that lies beyond appearances.
Wayne Dyer

Love Is Always the Answer


Today… an older gentleman walked in.

Carla asks if he has any questions, to which he responds:

“I have all the answers.”

So I ask him what the meaning of life is.

He says, “Love.”

He continues:

“All faiths have one goal.
To establish YOU in love.
Today, tomorrow and forever.
An establishment of love forever into eternity.
You will be loved forever and ever and ever.

All faiths pursue the same ideal.

The trouble is, you don’t get there too well sometimes.
Love is a difficult thing to maintain.”

Yes, love is difficult— but anything worthwhile is.
Yes, you will be loved forever and ever and ever.
Yes, love is the answer. 

Have faith. Love is always the answer. Sufey Chen

Thank you, Sufey.  I follow your blog and keep track of you on Facebook. Your radiant happiness and joy for life amazes me. I am grateful for the days when reading what you shared has taken an ordinary day and made it better.

To be yourself in a world
that is constantly trying
to make you something else
is the greatest accomplishment.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Love More


There is a desire within each of us,
in the deep center of ourselves
that we call our heart.
We were born with it,
it is never completely satisfied,
and it never dies.
We are often unaware of it,
but it is always awake.

It is the Human desire for Love.
Every person in this Earth yearns to love,
to be loved, to know love.
Our true identity, our reason for being
is to be found in this desire.

Love is the “why” of life,
why we are functioning at all.
I am convinced
it is the fundamental energy
of the human spirit.
the fuel on which we run,
the wellspring of our vitality.

And grace,
which is the flowing,
creative activity, of love itself,
is what makes all goodness possible.

Love should come first,
it should be the beginning of,
and the reason for everything.
From “Living In”
By Gerald G. May

All that matters on this earth ultimately is people and love. Everything else exists to support and make possible those two things. The utter simplicity of that thinking escapes me most of the time, but with each reminder a little more of the knowing remains behind. I am grateful for each little smidgen of that wisdom!

If you love and get hurt, love more.
If you love more and hurt more,
love even more.
If you love even more
and get hurt even more,
love some more until it hurts no more…

Because a Friend Asked


This morning a person I attend a ‘Codependents Anonymous” group with asked me a question that inferred that codependence was never a good thing. Her questioning made me step back and think a little before I responded. What came were a few thoughts that reminded me mutual codependency can be very healthy, and often is.

It’s true the word “codependent” has been batted around and over-used to the point it has a mostly negative connotation. This is especially notable in relationships where at least one member is in recovery. However, that is not what the word really means in its full context.

When added to a word “co” means “together, jointly, mutually, to the same extent or degree”. “Dependent” means “the state or quality of being influenced another, relying on another”. Put the two together and you get something like “mutually relying on each other at about same extent or degree”.

The last of that stated meaning is the most important part. The relationship should be roughly “equal” and not one-sided. Otherwise a person gives more that he or she gets back resulting in an unbalanced and unhealthy relationship.

Codependence is not always a negative thing. It becomes so when the relationship with a person, place or thing controls the giver to the point of damaging their life. A loving relationship with a true friend is a good example of a positive codependent relationship. A good marriage, boss/worker relationship, mother/child relationship and so on are examples of relationships that can be balanced and healthy. It’s when they get one-sided that dysfunction rears its ugly head. Taken from http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/signs-of-a-codependent-relationship

Looping back and tying this all together my intent was to take some of the negative light off the word “codependent”. For every example of how negative a one-sided codependent relationship is there is likely a reverse example of a healthy relationship based on mutual codependency.

The importance of writing down these few paragraphs is to remind myself that being codependent with another person is not necessarily a bad thing. It is what each of us do in the relationship that determines if it is healthy or not. I am grateful for the insight that came simply because a friend asked a question. Thank you K.!

It is probably not love
that makes the world go around,
but rather those mutually supportive alliances
through which partners recognize their dependence
on each other for the achievement of shared and private goals.
Fred Allen

image credit: shutterstock.com

A Portion of Gladness


Friends are the family you choose.
Jess C. Scott

The older I get, the more valuable old friendships become. A few new friends along the way are always hoped for and welcomed, but it is the ones of decades endurance that mean the most. For the weekend my friend Sam drove hundreds of miles to hang out with me. We are different in so many ways, but exactly alike in others; the perfect combination for an enduring friendship.

“A Friend’s Greeting”
by Edgar Guest

I’d like to be the sort of friend
that you have been to me;
I’d like to be the help that you’ve been
always glad to be;
I’d like to mean as much to you
each minute of the day
As you have meant, old friend of mine,
to me along the way.

I’d like to do the big things
and the splendid things for you,
To brush the gray out of your skies
and leave them only blue;
I’d like to say the kindly things
that I so oft have heard,
And feel that I could rouse your soul
the way that mine you’ve stirred.

I’d like to give back the joy
that you have given me,
Yet that were wishing you a need
I hope will never be;
I’d like to make you feel
as rich as I, who travel on
Undaunted in the darkest hours
with you to lean upon.

I’m wishing at this… time
that I could but repay
A portion of the gladness
that you’ve strewn along the way;
And could I have one wish this year,
this only would it be:
I’d like to be the sort of friend
that you have been to me.

Years have taught me how to love better and more openly, whether it is my son, a romantic interest or a dear old friend. I am grateful for the handful of friendships I hold most dear, but none more than my visiting friend. I am grateful for every year I’ve known him and every minute we have shared and yet will share. Thank you for being my friend Sam!

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.
Albert Camus