A Humbled Man

Things have been rough this year.

My wife died giving birth to a stillborn child.

I lost my job to a younger man.

The earth shook and things went wild.

Alcohol became my best friend

Keeping me warm on cold winter nights.

Teeth fell out and tongue turned brown

And vagrants challenged me to fights.

One rainy night, down on my luck,

No nickel to my tarnished name,

I stumbled into an empty house

Where I could hide in shame.

I searched through cabinets covered in dust

And looked under every loose board

Hoping to find a morsel to eat,

A blanket, a shirt, anything to add to my hoard.

Upstairs in what was a little boy’s room

A magical things I did find.

Buried beneath a pile of rags,

A book to challenge my mind.

A stubble of candle sat on a shelf

And so I quickly lit it with glee.

By the flickering light I eagerly read.

A realization soon came to me.

The story spoke of a man long ago

Who owned very little but love.

He roamed his world bringing peace,

Goodwill, a message from God above.

I am like He, I began to think,

With nothing to lose nor fear.

Resolved to act I fell asleep

Like a child, both loved and dear.

When the new sun brightened the world

I stumbled, confusedly, into the hall.

For there surrounded in unearthly glow

Hovered the Man to whom I did fall.

“My Lord, forgive this humble man

who long ago fell out out of Your grace.

Today I beg you, I am renewed

And ready to take my place.”

A breeze arose, tore off my rags

And dried the tears from my eyes.

Gentle fingers brushed my cheek

And lifted away my cries.

That was the day when I took control

And rejoined the human race.

From that day forward I was His man

And walked with smiling face.

I now believe that my wife and child

Truly did not die in vain,

For their sacrifice brought me back to God

And to feel His love again.

Talk to Me About God

Let’s not argue about God.

Whether you believe in a He

     or a She,

Buddha, Yahweh, Christ,

or the words of Kahlil Gibran,

or maybe no god at all other

than the inner workings

of your soul,

matters not.

Why waste our time discussing

the merits of one or the other,

when all speak a common

language?

Tranquility, peace, love,

care for humankind,

trust, giving from the heart,

faithfulness

and honesty,

are more important than

whose “god” is holier.

It makes no difference if you are

born again, or

newly discovered,

a long-time believer,

or a thinking-about-it

skeptic,

for we all approach faith

in our own way,

in our own time.

Tell me about your God,

for I truly want to know.

Show me, not with words,

but with actions,

what it means to follow

His/Her way.

I’ll listen, with open mind

and heart,

for who’s to say

which way of believing

is better?

Not me.

Faith: a Personal Definition

One aspect of faith is the belief in the inherent goodness of humanity.  It may be a naïve way of thinking, especially considering these troubled times.  It may be a bit misplaced in terms of focus considering the quantity of murders, robberies, beatings, and home invasions that take place every day.  However, if we cannot believe that the bulk of those traveling through life with us do so with goodness as a driving force, then we cannot live as faith-filled people. 

Back when I was still teaching something occurred at my high school that challenged my faith in humanity.  An article appeared in the school newspaper referring to a group of students as “Tard Kart.”  In itself, the label does not seem offensive.  However, the members of this group described themselves as crazy misfits who were not accepted by the school population at large.  Hence, to them, “Tard” was a derivative of the word retard.  Kart referred to the food carts which were staffed by Special Education students, the connection, to me, was quite obvious.

Believing that it was a simple mistake, I contacted the teacher who oversaw the Journalism students.  The teacher found nothing offensive about the inclusion of the name in the article.  When I asked her what she would do if a group called themselves “Spics” or “Wops.” Would she print that?  Of course not, she said, as those are ethnic slurs.

The teacher herself had been subjected to ethnic slurs over her entire teaching career.  She had been found crying, many times, over the cruelty of students who mimicked her accent and who left insults on the white board in her classroom.  One would think that if anyone would be sensitive to negative stereotypes, it would be she.

Earlier in the same week a student was attacked outside my classroom.  He was a relatively small freshman compared to others in his class. When I heard loud thumps outside my room, I went outside to see what was happening. My student was on the floor curled up in a fetal position, holding his groin area.  Large tears coursed down his cheeks.  He was unable to speak or move for more than thirty minutes. When I found out what has happened, I was horrified that two very large seniors had slammed the smaller boy against the wall and kicked him when he was down.

I believe that it was a prank that got out of control.  Yes, the students involved tended to be aggressive, defiant, and general malcontents.  Yes, they were not on track to graduate in June.  Even so, my faith tells me that this “beating” was not a planned act of violence, but rather an opportunistic reaction.

In my seventy-one years of life, I have not only witnessed, but also been a victim of comparable events.  As an abused child, I grew up in an environment that was not conducive to the development of faith.  It’s hard to believe in a God that allows physical beatings, verbal harassment, and emotional debasement.  I prayed, every day, for salvation.  My prayers went unanswered, or so I thought.

It was not until I went on a trip to the mountains of southern California with a Catholic youth group from my university that I understood faith.  Looking at the towering mountains and walking amid the amazingly tall trees, I realized that there is a God who loves the world so much that He gave us places of solitude and introspection. 

God does not always our wishes for He knows that we need to be forged by our experiences.  We may not want to walk our given path, but we have to believe that the journey somehow leads us to a clearer understanding of who we are meant to be.

When I stood in that forest I knew that I was not the horrible child that my parents saw.  Faith allowed me to witness the goodness inside myself, the goodness inside my parents, and the goodness in those sharing the moment with me.  It sounds like a cliché, but I truly felt a golden glow spreading through my body.  That glow was faith.

Since that day, my faith has been my rock.  It gives me the strength to transcend the travails of daily life.  It opens my eyes to the good intentions of others and allows me to feel generosity of spirit.  When disheartening or disturbing events rise forth, it is through faith that I am able to process what is happening.

I do believe that all humans are capable of living lives ruled by basic tenets of kindness and generosity of spirit.  Even when the news is filled with stories of turbulence, I do not let my belief waver.  That is my belief in the goodness of humanity. That is my faith.

God’s Face

Desolate cliffs stand at the place

Where first I gazed upon God’s face

No shrubs or grass to brighten here

No rabbits, birds or white-tipped deer

Sadness reigned throughout my being

Blocked the sunshine from me seeing

Clouds above, below and within

Blackness covered every inch of skin

Upon the edge I placed my feet

Willingly admitted defeat

Dreamt of freedom’s staccato beat

Thought of God whom I soon would meet

When birds did fly into the scene

I wondered what it all might mean

Did He expect me to believe

Relief would help me not to grieve?

As icing on my private cake

A rainbow appeared that did remake

Lifeless soil into softened down

As comfort for my furrowed frown

With crash of waves upon the shore

I realized that I wanted more

Than living life like troubled boar

Whose blackened heart on shoulders wore

The sun burst forth upon a wave

Strode to my heart; pierced with a stave

Releasing sadness, doubt and fear

Then my savior, God, did appear

Now rabbits, birds and white-tipped deer

Frequently to this place appear

Marvelous cliffs to mark the place

Where first I gazed upon God’s face.

On the Way


   

It’s a long way to the top,

but I’m going to get there.

I’ll fight, scrap, and never stop

until my soul is ‘most bare

Step by step I slowly march

eyes focused, brain sharp, heart pure

even though my mouth may parch

I continue on, straight and sure

My goals are set as I go

Do this, then that, this once more

Never complaining, aglow

toward the heavenly shore

I move, completing my plans

Surely as a mountain goat

Until I hear golden fans,

Only then I get to gloat

For here I stand, smiling me,

Successfully satisfied

My Lord, my God, soon to be

My guide, my shelter; I cried. 

Innocence

Innocence, so sweet and mild,

Proudly stood, and broadly smiled

Thinking of yon water cool

Standing in the narrow pool.

Azure eyes with sparkling gleam

Laughter sparked the languid scene

Boldly stepped with shoulders high

And sighed, but did barely cry

Father stayed close by her side

Beaming with heavenly pride

Leading her toward the Lord

Blessing her with word and sword

Of righteousness born from love

And belief in God above

Prayers he said; held her tight

Down came a heavenly light

Radiant beams all aglow

About her head they did show

For this was her baptism day

Chosen by the Lord, they say.

Innocence, so sweet and mild,

Proudly stood, and broadly smiled

Saving Beat

Deep in my heart a drum strongly beats

An elixir for a troubled soul

Rhythmical thoughts, transported on cleats

Cutting, biting, pointing toward goal.

Rutted, strewn with boulders humongous

Life offers no simplistic, free ride

Discard now those thoughts superfluous

Escape into religion’s strong tide

Believe, believe the whispers demand

Strive toward the heavenly target

Faithfully follow the narrow strand

Requiring just one golden ticket

Open my eyes to glorious sights

Halos as light for the proper path

Discourse with me about faith’s delights

Immerse me in refreshing cool bath

With God as my Savior, blessings fall

Comet showers of hues glorious

Heeding Jesus’ soft spoken call

I harmonize with angels’ chorus

Radiant rays, my soul, surround

Arms extending to God’s holy feet

I beg to let ecstasy abound

As in my heart, continues the beat

Soul Thoughts

As a child

I pondered the existence

of my soul

it’s location,

how it affected

my heart, my brain

my being

how it was like a balloon

awaiting my sins

to fill it up, one by one

black mark after black mark

the sisters never spoke of

forgiveness

erasing the blackness

God’s eternal love

I imagined my evilness

pulling me down

into the undertow of hell

As an adult

I understood that my soul

is linked to my heart

nestled closely like lovers

beating in unison

a romantic rhythm

My soul sings of happiness,

fulfillment

belief in accomplishment

it thrives on goodness

like an addict hooked on chocolate

the sweetness erases errant

thoughts

lines the soul with a

protective coating

I know that we are one,

my soul and me

it cannot exist without me,

nor I without it

together, we succeed

He Smiled

Imagine being able to say that OJ Simpson once smiled at me!  Guess what? It really happened. This is the story of my “brush” with the famous.

When I transferred to the University of Southern California in the fall of 1968, I knew little about college football.  At the time, I was soon to discover, USC was an athletic powerhouse, thanks to a phenomenal bunch of handpicked athletes in a variety of sports. The Trojans dominated in football, men’s and women’s basketball and swimming.  Not only that, but their track and field teams were equally strong due to multisport athletes.

Football begins the season. Banners covered surfaces all across the campus. Rallies were held every day and when the teams weren’t at home, all ears were tuned to the radio. You either followed the sports or you were an outcast. It was that simple.

The athletes, no matter what sport or how great they were, dominated the social life of the campus. Partying to celebrate their successes was a nightly affair since some team played almost every day, whether at home or away. If they weren’t off playing or pratcicing, they strutted their stuff around campus, practically oozing greatness.

I quickly learned the “culture,” of partying. There was a booze-filled affair the night before a game, partying during the game, and another party after the game, all in celebration of a victory won or a record broken. And if you didn’t find what you were looking for at one party, all you had to do was stroll down fraternity row to find another. This was especially important if you didn’t like the booze being served or the music thundering out onto the street.

None of the better-known athletes lived in the Greek houses and few had their own apartments. Instead they had their own dorm which was shielded from the peasants by locked doors and glazed windows.  It was rumored that their meal options weren’t the standard bland food that the rest of us got: instead legend had it that they feasted on huge, juicy steaks, fresh vegetables and a cornucopia of cheeses and desserts.

When they had nothing better to do they swaggered about campus in their lettermen jackets emblazoned with every type of recognition (except for a noticeable lack of academic awards). That’s not to say they weren’t capable, but at that time, achievements on the field or court were what kept them at college, not the grades received or classes taken.

With their rippling muscles, impossibly broad shoulders, and over-confident leers dished out to fawning fans, they stood far above the crowd. And they knew it.

Periodically small groups of “stars” strolled through my dining hall, snickering at the dismal fare splattered on institutional grade plates and trays.  I imagined that they had just dined on mounds of steak cooked to perfection, served with steaming mashed potatoes and crisp fresh greens.

Equality among students did not exist and there was no pretense of leveling the playing field, because the athletes were, literally, the bread and butter of university funding.  The stronger the athletes, the more likely the university would rack up victories, which then correlated to increased donations from alumni.

If I hadn’t been awed by their very presence, I should have despised the athletes for they were the epitome of all that I was not.  My family was low income which qualified me for a rather generous “pity” scholarship from the state of California. Without that gift I would not have been at such a prestigious college as USC.  But, like the vast majority of students, I didn’t hate the arrogant athletes, but rather worshipped the ground they walked on.

One evening, in a rather unusual move for me, I got as dressed up as I could and went downstairs where a dance was being held in the cafeteria.  I am not sure what possessed me to go as I was a horrific dancer.  I was also painfully shy and so operated solo the vast majority of the time, in classes as well as while on campus.

I did have friends, academics like me, but more extreme for their heads dwelt more in the clouds than in reality.  None of them were what I considered marriageable as they were more interested in finding a spouse to complete a given responsibility than having a relationship of equals. But, like any teenager, I yearned to have a boyfriend.  The dance “called” my name, speaking to me of an opportunity to meet, greet and date and so I went.

The dining hall had been transformed, as much as possible, into a disco dance hall.  With lights down low, revolving points of light danced across the walls, creating an eerie spectacle of glowing, gyrating bodies.  It wasn’t Halloween, but the bizarre lighting gave off the same feel.

The music was ear-shattering making it impossible to do more than look at all the beautiful people.  I meandered about the perimeter of the room with a plastic smile glued to my face, hoping that just one person would nod kindly in my direction. Once my circuit was completed with no takers found, I wanted nothing more but to leave this place of loneliness among confusion.

I headed toward the door, but just as I got within sight of the doorjamb, the crowd parted as miraculously as the Red Sea.  In walked none other than OJ Simpson, flanked by two humongous football players.

OJ was an incredibly handsome man with an earthy skin tone that spoke of roots, faithfulness, integrity, and family.  His eyes sparkled and a shy smile gave a sensuous lift to his lips.  I saw no semblance of arrogance, but warmth.

Like the rest of the crowd, I stood transfixed, enjoying simply being in the presence of greatness.  This was OJ’s year, the year he earned the Heisman Trophy, broke a number of records, and was first pick in the professional football draft.  Everyone knew that he was bound for the record halls and that his name would be spoken around the world.

As the trio neared me I was shoved back into the crowd.  I didn’t mind, for I intrinsically knew that these men were well beyond my social reach.  What I didn’t expect or count on was being seen.

As O’s greatness neared me, his eyes glanced in my direction and he smiled.  Not an I-want-to-talk-to-you smile, but one that recognized me as a fellow human being.  Since the contact was short-lived, I realized that there was the possibility that the greeting wasn’t even meant for me.  I acknowledged that OJ was simply flashing his famous smile at everyone, sort of like the priest sprinkling Holy Water over the congregation in a quick pass down the aisle.

Even though I knew that the encounter meant nothing to OJ, I stood a little taller and felt a tad more important than I had before.  It was a moment that I will never forget.

      Radiant Vision

The sun arose and filled my eyes

With heavenly glory personified

 

Tears down my face did solemnly pour

I stood transfixed, and begged for more

 

Golden rays lit up the new morn sky

With brilliant spectacle for the eye

 

With mouth agape I did profoundly stare

And wonder what God’s doing up there

 

To me He gave such wondrous gift

That my poor spirit felt tremendous lift

 

To my knees I should have promptly fallen

But I did not: though I heard Him callin’

 

Frozen in place with feet on the soil

I praised the Lord’s amazing toil

 

For humankind: to free our souls

From worries: to give us lofty goals

 

Reaching deeply into my empty purse

I feared God’s wrath, or maybe worse

 

Instead my heart did nearly burst

With joy: I knew I was not cursed

 

The sun arose and filled my eyes

With heavenly glory personified