Saturday, November 29, 2008


Today marks the first time I've included an original poem on this site. I chose this one since it is in keeping with the theme of the blog, as other posts seldom touch on the subject of lameness, I thought the verse here, and the introductory remarks following a good fit. See what you think.

Susie is an elderly woman who was a member of a poetry group I was invested in November 2006. She is a visual artist and a published poet. Her voice is distinctly refined and articulate-a southern drawl to die for. Something else makes Susie’s voice unique: she has Parkinson's disease. Her speech is slightly affected, but it’s her hands that shake like leaves.

Susie's manifest courage in group one night birthed the poem that follows, entitled Blue. Our instructor Victoria, gave us an in-class assignment. She asked us to take out a piece of paper and writing instrument. She said, clear off everything else from the table but the paper and the pen. Now, take the writing instrument in your non-dominant hand. My heart pinched and fell. As much as I looked forward to these assignments, I felt defeated in that minute like never before. Had it been an assignment we were to take home, I would have had the perfect cover and could have simply said I did not feel like participating (which, I suppose, I still could have said) but there and then, in that moment, I was challenged in a new way; in the presence of the others I was compelled to decide whether to get up and excuse myself or whether to give it a wobbly go.

Now, draw a picture with that non-dominant hand- yes, go ahead, you can do it. I watched Susie, the woman afflicted by this dreadful debilitating disease, awkwardly clasp her pen in her fist and strike the white paper with erratic blue lines.

After you've finished your drawing, I want you take your drawing home and collaborate with the drawing to write a poem. I was still stunned. But it was witnessing Susie persevere and the words collaborate with the drawing that spurred me to try it.

I patterned my steps toward clasping the pen as Susie had. I fixed the pen in my surprised left fist and began to draw the outline of a head and body. A first. Something I'd not ever given myself permission to try, I did because I watched Susie do what I did not think possible.

Two things struck me about Susie and prompted this short verse One: she can use neither of her hands the way in which she was once accustomed. And two: her husband died in early 2006. The loss nearly devastated her and she decided to grapple with grief by writing more and by coming to poetry group. Her courage lifted me. Her passion for writing, inspired me then and does to this day.


Shaking lines bleed blue
on fiber bleached, then sold,
so her words have a home-
yes, a home, and a place
to leap for joy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I thought of Elijah tonight-the prophet who wished to die. Fear not not dear readers, I am not wishing for death (mine or anyone else's). I built a fire because my poor privileged feet were cold and would not be consoled or warmed throughout the day. As I settled by the fire, I intentionally picked to be quiet; I did not turn on music, I did not put my laptop on the place for which it is named. I simply sat. As the fire grew in strength after considerable stoking, my feet thawed. Then something curious happened. It was not my sense of touch or sight that next stirred. The sound of flames captured my attention; I closed my eyes and tried to think of what they mimic. (It was the fire itself, not the popping sound of burning wood.) In my mind's eye, and heart's ear, I could sense the flapping of wings, yes, wings. A quiet fire made sound as a flock of mute geese...
Mine and Elijah's God was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire (I Kings 19).
Instead, it was the still small voice that arrested the prophet and me. How many times have I talked over the voice of God with a yes, but or a not now, there's much to be done. Thankful that he bid me to sit and wait by the fire this night.
Good night's rest and only God's peace,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Untitled gratitude

The holiday season is literally around the corner; the time of year we juggle schedules begins-all over again. I run out of steam often, but at the holiday season, raging guilt and self-contempt escalate. The very time of year in which I could take inventory of blessings is shawdowed by penumbra of winter; I stare into a cluttered room and stifle weeping. I. me. my.

It is this for which I give thanks: Thank you God, for my ineptitude, my inability to make life work. Let thanks be to him who made me desperate-who created me to long for him, without whose intervention I would have no hope. I need a savior-all the time.

All praise and honor to him: who made provision for my weaknesses, who, in his wisdom, grace and mercy, appointed his only son to step into time, put on flesh for his own glory and for our sakes; whose wrath was satisfied by the same one and only son who took our place. The gospel's everlasting resonance is that after all this- the giving up of heaven, the putting on flesh, the sinless life before the Father, the grueling death on a tree, the only son conquered the scourge of death by his resurrection, bodily, from a sealed tomb. Our God did for us what we could never, ever do for ourselves. My cup runs over indeed.

Soli Deo gloria.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Yesterday's post about my colleague in the Criminal Court Clerk's Office prompted some memories of my time there. I could write for days about the events that unfolded on the third floor of the courthouse from January 1985 through June 1997.

One of my supervisors was a man by the name of Joe Sbuttoni, or Joe "S- button-eye" as he used to say for those who had difficulty spelling his name. Joe was what one of my uncles would call a 'character'. Truly he was. A character that might appear in a Tolkein adventure, or a Chesterton story. He was white-headed; his hair curled in waves over his collar.
It was common for him to wear a beat up cardigan sweater, in the sagging pockets of which he carried fresh garlic-fresh garlic with a purpose outside the kitchen; on the shelf in his office he kept a mortar and pestle like an anciet pharmacist. He would mix the fresh garlic, with fresh onion and olive oil, until it was paste thick, and insert a plug of it between cheek and gum.

It'll keep the evil spirits away, I tell you! he'd say with conviction.
I never get sick, I have yet to have a fever in forty five years, and I never have a cold, he'd say repeatedly.
I grimaced. Joe, the reason you do not get sick, is that no soul around here can get close enough to you to give you their germs- your aroma precedes you. I argued.
Get back to work he would mutter, waving his hand at me.

Often when I was debating something with Joe, I'd go to his cluttered office. One day, I noticed a sign perched on his desk like one on which names are inscribed. The sign read: "THINK".
Where'd you get that? I inquired, pointing to the sign.
College, I got it from my philosophy professor.
Hmmm, I mused, chagrined I'd not seen Joe as the college type. In that afternoon, and many that would follow, we conversed about determinism, naturalism, existentialism, Descartes, Kant, Kierkegaard, Locke, and on and on.

In addition to his garlic, onion, and olive oil olfactory surprise, he smoked inexpensive cigars. I use "inexpensive" purposely, because to say the cigars were cheap would cheapen Joe, and Joe is priceless. He spoke in Italian on the phone with his infirmed mother, and flailed his hands as he spoke, sometimes cursing, but never at her. He was first generation Italian American. Both his parents were born near Bologna Italy. Joe and his brother were born and raised here, in Nashville, and helped in their parent's family business, a restaurant off the square, called, none other than "Sbuttoni's".

Every now and again, I would make a mistake on a document. Undone, Joe would grab his head with both hands, tucking the butt of a three day old cigar in his teeth, and holler: "THINK! THINK!". Though I knew Joe was for me, his words burned. He would restore calm by winking at me from across the room or conferring with me in a kinder voice.

Joe pushed me hard to excel in law school. I wish I could say our conversations on thought were the tipping point that put me at the head of my class, but I was not an academic stand out. - I struggled. I struggled, but am persuaded his shouts to THINK, THINK and our debates of philosophy, assisted me in ways only eternity may reveal-I've already had inklings, like enjoyment of writing down thoughts, here, on this blog, for instance.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thank you, Eddie Joe

I always think of Eddie Joe Williams on November 11. He and I worked together in the Criminal Court Clerk's office for a time. I was a restless college graduate, looking toward my uncertain future, and he was an elderly retired blue-collar soul who lived in the past. He would often remark kids like you think you know everything, and every other conversation stopper you can conjure. He was an off-putting compulsive smoker who worked hard at being a crank toward the public we served. Eddie Joe and I both "worked the counter",which amounted to waiting on customers, making copies of warrants and other documents to which the public had access. I made up my mind one day to pursue him in conversation about things in which he was interested. We talked about the American Legion Post of which he was a proud member, his son, from whom he was estranged, and what he perceived as his right to smoke, which was one of his all time favorite topics. He never asked me much about what interested me, though when I enrolled in law school a few years later, his words of encouragement given resonate to this day: you need to get out of this place-you will be a good lawyer.

Eddie Joe's reluctance to talk about World War II intrigued me. Other colleagues in the office cautioned me about pushing him to talk, so I gave him a wide berth-I respected his privacy and did not pursue the topic of war. One day something ruffled his feathers, I think it was in the early 1990's during the first Gulf War. We were in some downtime at the counter. No customers loomed, and there had recently been enacted an ordinance prohibiting smoking in the courthouse. The way I figure it, Eddie Joe was experiencing a little more change than he bargained for. He was angry he could no longer puff at will on the Salems he smoked like a fiend, and maybe he was fearful his grandson, whom he never saw, was going off to war. At any rate, he started to tell me the story of his life, and this is the reason I always remember him on November 11.

In the course of little over an hour I heard a condensed version of hell he lived for four years. His best buddy was shot in the neck in a forest in Germany and died in his arms. Two of his other buddies were annihilated right in front him on the same day before he could catch his breath. He gestured about the agony of war, his fingertips a jaundiced yellow-stained from decades of smoking. His lower lip quivered as he continued with more gruesome tales of death and destruction; he cursed and took a break for a cigarette. When he returned, he confessed he started drinking to excess in 1945, after returning home and could not abide life without the hope of his favorite pours of bourbon and water at the Legion. Yet, every day he proudly donned an American flag lapel pen on his suit coat, the same pin was fastened there on this day, the day he bore his soul. He told me he would fight all over again for his country. I believed him, and I'm in great debt to men and women like him in all generations whose willingness to put themselves in harm's way to preserve collective freedom cost them dearly- countless paid the ultimate price. Thank you Eddie Joe and company.

Armistice Day

There might be a parade in the cold November air where you live. Old soldiers in old uniforms that are too snug, fabric frayed and perhaps retain the vestige of battle: dried blood never washed out, a tear from shrapnel, a stain of gunpowder. These realities of old wars seem less important in the age of information, and a culture so invested in Paris Hilton's night life and whether Amy Winehouse is going back to treatment.

Thankfully, not all of you think so. Neither do I. Let me be clear: War is hell. I am no "let's throw down the gauntlet and go after any one of our enemies at all costs American" war hawk. But American I am by birth, and it is my privilege to have been born under the flag of the United States of America. Therefore, when the threat to this country's welfare is grave, and when it is critical to preserve her liberty, it is a must that soldiers bear arms, and defend this 200+ year old gal. I'm not essaying here on the virtue of this current war. But I will not sit silently as veterans of any war are ignored 364 days a year. My admonition in this post is that we remember the forgotten, cherish freedom before it is too late, and thank God for his common grace in sustaining our liberty.


Change what and by what means? Both of the presidential candidates in this most historic election focused on the word 'change'. President Elect Obama used the single word to confer a hope we have yet to see realized. The truth of the matter is, save for his being voted into office, not much has changed-yet. Perhaps I'm a tired cranky cynic, but I see little change coming that will affect this nation for good. The good I do see is what has been realized already: a man of color, a man whose heritage is different from my own has risen to a place of leadership not seen in my lifetime-that, in itself, is good.

When I ponder change and change for the better, I think of laws enacted for the good of many. One such example is the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In a nutshell, it is broad federal legislation that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. Wikipedia gives a general description of what is covered, here. Its passage would not have been possible without the prior Civil Rights Act of 1964. And, following the same line of thinking, neither would the Civil Rights Act have been possible without the Emancipation Proclamation or the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There is a pattern, and a good one. Laws enacted that seek to do the right thing, are necessary. It's vital for us to consider then, what change is good, or right change?

I submit to you, passage of legislation does not effect change in itself. Not the type of change that has an impact for good. Let's revisit the ADA again. Joni Eareckson-Tada is a quadriplegic woman whose life was unalterably changed when, as an adolescent, she was paralyzed due to a diving 'accident'. Recently, she was interviewed by CNN's Larry King on his program, Larry King Live. King, obviously moved by Eareckson-Tada's committment to her faith and the helping of others like her who suffer physically, asked her about her involvement with the passage of the ADA.

KING: We're back with Joni Eareckson Tada, who was appointed by then President Reagan to the 15-member council instrumental in the design of the American with Disabilities Act.You were there it was -- the day it was signed, right?

EARECKSON TADA: Oh, it was a wonderful day. I was on the White House lawn and watched President Bush sign the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. It was a grand day for disabled people.And I'll never forget, our executive director at that time, Paul Hearne -- a man with brittle bone disease who was in a wheelchair -- he welcomed us all back to the hotel for a brief reception.And I'll never forget what he said. This bill had just become law, and he had helped champion it. And he[ HEARNE ]said,

"You know, this law will mean that we'll have more mechanical lifts on buses. It'll mean that there'll be more open doors of opportunity for people to be employed. It'll mean that there'll be better access in restaurants and public accommodations."And then he paused for a moment, looking at his drink and kind of fingering the lip of it, and he said, "But that's not going to change the heart of the bus driver. It's not going to change the heart of the employer or the maitre'd of the restaurant." And then, he lifted his drink and said, "Here's to changed hearts."

And when he said that, it struck me that state proclamations and declarations and even something like the Americans with Disabilities Act is not necessarily going to jerk people's attitudes here in America right side up.

KING: But at least you can get on a bus and at least there's a ramp.

EARECKSON TADA: At least there is a ramp. Now, sometimes the bus driver has been known to pass you by.

Now, that's the best illustration I can come up with to posit that the enactment of laws do not good men make. As we embark on four years under leadership of a man enamored by the prospect of change, I urge you to remember Paul Hearne's words. Change is coming....