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Archive for the ‘Danger’ Category

“Dear God.  I am really angry with You!”

Just saying those words out loud made me hold my breath.  Would I bring down the fabled wrath for having said that?  But it was true – it was the most honest statement I’d ever made to God since I’d started trying to pray.  I was really angry – for a lot of reasons.  But I had been somehow conditioned that you don’t talk honestly to those you have a problem with – so the same should logically apply to God.

I knew something was really wrong in my life.  I had been plagued by problems for years, problems I couldn’t pin down as to origin.  I had even tried to talk about that as a prayer, many years before.  When I was about 21, there was a Sunday evening service at the church I attended, and at one point in the service, they would dim the lights, and people were invited to come down to the altar rail, kneel and pray.  One time my prayer had gone something like “Dear God, I don’t know if You’re really up there, and if You’re really listening, but if You are, I know there’s something terribly wrong with my life.  I seem to hurt deep down inside, and I don’t know where it’s coming from.  Please help me God.”  I didn’t seem to get an answer at the time, and for a long time afterward.

But it was just after Christmas in 1987, and my Dad had just died, at a time when the problems I had been struggling with had escalated.  It felt like my whole world was spinning out of control.  I was 37 years old, and my anger at God had already started to surface.  In anger I had torn up and shredded a lot of Bible study notes, frustrated at the seeming lack of answers in all that study I had done.  Then I got the phone call – come home; Dad is dying.  I had returned to my parents house, had been there when my Dad died, delivered the eulogy at his funeral.  It had been a hugely emotional time, and I was still reeling from it.

Now, a month later, the anger was back, and boiling.  I was willing to risk all sorts of possible bad things to be honest with what I was feeling, and just say – flat out – how angry I was at God, and at the situation.  Having stated my anger, and not been struck down by a bolt of lightning, I sat down and started writing what I was angry about.

I had recently started narrowing down where all the issues were coming from.  I had remembered several ugly incidents with my Dad when I was a teenager.  First my Dad had shamed poetry that I had written for a school literary magazine, told me it was worthless and I’d never amount to anything.  It was a horrible experience, and it felt like a light went out in my soul when my writing was taken away from me by being told it was worthless.   The next thing I had remembered was arguing with my Dad over being able to wear my hair like the Beatles.  He was a former Marine, and refused to allow it.  Then late at night he came into my room and beat me up, telling me not to talk back to him.  I had a feeling there may have been more – the evidence pointed that way – but I didn’t know how to root out whatever still might be underneath.

Then there was the horrible hurt I was feeling over my Dad dying.  Our relationship had been strained for a number of years, but recently we had found a new supportiveness and peace between us.  And then he died.  It wasn’t fair!

So it came back to “Dear God, I am angry with you!”  I knew I couldn’t keep carrying that anger, so I took a risky step.  I set up a meeting with a minister at my church, to admit before a man of God about my anger.  Wow – now that felt risky!  But it also felt necessary.  I had watched as my Dad denied his anger and refused to deal with it for many years.  He had suffered numerous health problems, and had died in his late 50s.  I had been watching his behavior and expecting his early death for several years, and knew – somehow I just knew – that if I didn’t deal with my own anger, I would end up going down the same path.

I met with the minister the next day.  I shared with him what I had written, and the things I was angry about.  I held my breath, expecting some dread penance for irreverence.  Instead, the minister confirmed that many people felt things like I was feeling, and had experienced deep anger at God.  It just wasn’t supported at church to talk about that, so everyone put on what I called the “happy Christian game face” and didn’t talk about things like anger at God. He said I had opened the lines of communication with God in a whole new way, and God would honor that honesty.  He told me it took great courage for me to share what I did, and that it would only help my healing process. Then the minister said something very interesting – he said not to be surprised if other things continued to be revealed to me.  He was right!

Several weeks later, I found the deep source of the issues that had plagued me.  A very deep and violent incident with my Dad when I was seventeen, while he was drunk.  I kept getting clues that something had happened, followed them, and was led to have this incident revealed.  It was a horrible event to remember, and I knew it would take a long time to fully work through the effects.  But – there was also a tremendous sense of relief.  I now knew why my world had been so skewed, and in the big picture, things made a whole lot more sense.

So saying I was angry at God, being honest in that way, had led to a huge healing process.  Not eternal punishment, chastisement or condemnation.  I still had some of those teachings stuck in my soul, and it took a while to release those old beliefs and realize that God really did want the best for me.

Then the question.  Did God hear my plea down at the altar rail when I was 21?  Were things revealed to me at a time and in a way that I could handle knowing the truth?  It sure seemed like it!  I know I couldn’t have handled knowing about the violence when I was 21.  It came out as gently as it could given how horrific the abuse had been.

“Dear God.  Thank You for revealing this incident with my Dad at a time when I could handle it.  Thank You for being so loving toward me.”

Quite a different prayer than the earlier one.  But they felt connected – the angry prayer led to the thankful prayer.  I do believe that.

Photo Credit:

“Speak Truth Banner” Donnaphoto @flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Right Reserved.

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I had a remarkable radio interview tonight with Kate Loving Shenk.  We explored my healing journey, and my upcoming book Healing The Writer.  Listen at the end, when Kate gives me a direction that had been sitting there in front of me, but I hadn’t seen it yet.  Helping other people with creative blocks, based on my experience. The picture is me at age 19 – and I’m reclaiming that creative soul!

Here’s a link to the radio show:

My Healing Journey

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“What Is It About That Particular Park?” An author feels compelled to visit a park he hasn’t been to in 45 years. He senses something critical to his past is hidden there.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo credit:

“Park at Night” go ask alice… @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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“They’ll Call You Crazy – And Lock You Up!” An author, frustrated by a seemingly unbreakable writer’s block, tries an unconventional writing exercise. He discovers an unexpected origin to the block.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo credit:

“Big Chain” Shaycam @flickr.com. Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

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“Scared To Put It In The Mail.” An author is ready to send his manuscript information to publishers, but hesitates. He uncovers a terrible resistance — a paralyzing fear — and he’s not sure why.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo credit:

“Attack of the Lunesta Moth (cropped)”; original by Maxintosh @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Wait – what’s this about dying?  Am I going to die?  Who said anything about that?  That sounds really scary!

—–

Who would say this prayer to a six year old child?

I’ve struggled with a sleep disorder since I was very young.  I’m working on the issues around sleeping and safety late at night involving some abuse by my grandmother.  But this prayer every night sure didn’t help things.

I remember when I was 8 years old, going to see the movie “The Blob” with Steve McQueen, and for months after, looking under the bed to make sure there weren’t monsters or blobs under there.

I would get into a panic when I couldn’t go to sleep, and go ask my Mom if I could stay home from school if I couldn’t sleep.  She would generally agree, and then I’d fall asleep and be disappointed when I felt rested enough to go to school the next day.

But I just ran across a reference to this prayer in my journal.  I seem to remember it was said to me every night – it may have been something my grandparents said to my parents, and my parents just passed along without thinking about it too much.  It was intended to be an innocent prayer, I guess, of assurance that God would take care of us.  But the “If I should die” part seems like a totally insane thing to say to a small child.

I guess it still bothers me, because upon reading about this prayer, I immediately sat down to write this blog post.

 

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Written October 17, 1988

I was out in the back yard shooting baskets with some of the boys from the neighborhood.  It was a crisp, sunny fall afternoon, sweatshirt weather, and I was feeling great about life.  I had finally gotten the knack of the jump shot, and was really proud of myself.

The back door open, my Dad called out, “Son, come here a minute.”

I walked over to him, breathing hard from the exertion.

“Get your jacket, we’re going down to the Y.”

“The Y? How come?”

“I’ve signed you up for boxing lessons,” he said, in that tone like when it was time for me to get a haircut; no more talk, this is just the way it is, just do it!”

So I said nothing and went along, puzzled.  I was 11, in the 5th grade, but I hadn’t been in trouble or getting in fights or anything.  But boxing was important to my Dad, I knew that.  A ritual at our house was to watch the Gillette Friday Night at the Fights.  Dad had boxed in the Marine Corps while he was stationed in Hawaii.  But I had never particularly gotten off to the idea of getting hit; volunteering for it seemed especially bizarre.

So I started taking boxing lessons at the local YMCA.  Twice a week, after school, my Dad would drive me down and hang around watching me for an hour, while I went through a rudimentary boxing workout – sparring, heavy bag, and a little, very little, coaching.  It only confirmed that I didn’t like being hit, so one day in the car, I asked him about it.

“Dad,” I asked, “why am I doing this boxing stuff, you know, taking these lessons and all?”

He looked awkward and embarrassed, the way he did when talking about anything more personal than the World Series.  “Son, knowing how to defend yourself is something a man needs to know.  I thought it was time you learned it, and that this was the best way to do it.”  He patted me clumsily on the shoulder.

I sensed that fighting was the proving ground – the entrance test to manhood.  But from what I saw of the kids at school who fought a lot, if you won, the good feeling lasted a minute, if you lost, the defeat burned deep.  It looked like a neverending test.

After about two months of lessons I found out that Dad had entered me in Fight Night – an amateur fight card held one Friday night a month at the YMCA.  I knew there was no way in hell I wanted to do that.  When he told me, my mouth fell open, my eyes widened, and I started to say something.  I looked at him and saw the determined set of his jaw and the knitted brow – his “because I say so” look.  So I said nothing.

————–

Friday afternoon.  The afternoon of Fight Night.  My mouth was so dry I couldn’t swallow – somehow it had just become real that I was going to go through with it.  Dad brought home my equipment – bright red trunks, baggy on my skinny frame, a red silk T-shirt, mouthpiece, and a jock strap.  It was my first experience of a jock strap, and it increased my dread – if you needed to protect yourself “down there,” the whole business took on a deadly air.

I don’t even remember driving to the Y.  The first thing I remember was sitting in the locker room – mingled smells of sweat, analgesic, and an aura of fear.  I could hardly look at the other boys sitting around on benches, each of us in similar gear.  The shiny new red boxing gloves I wore looked huge and ominous as I stared down at them.

I could hear the murmur of the crowd outside, periodic bells, clapping and cheering.  My Dad was not around, but I knew he was out there, in the crowd, watching.  I had never been to Fight Night; I had no idea what to expect.

It came my turn; I felt numb.  I walked out of the locker room.  The gym was darkened, except for the bright band of yellow, musty light shining down from the ceiling on to the ring.  The ring was fenced with ropes, elevated, separated from the crowd.

I walked mechanically down the long darkened aisle, the crowd a looming yet physical presence on either side of me.  I climbed up the steps, ducked through the ropes and into the ring.  My opponent stood shaking his arms in the blue corner, but I could not meet his eyes.

I felt exposed, vulnerable.  I could see no one outside the circle of light, but heard the rumble, could feel the people, most of all could sense my Father, expectant.

We were to fight 3 two minute rounds.  The referee called us to the center of the ring, and we stood, two young boys, one in red, one in blue, facing each other – and the test.  We touched gloves and went back to our corners.

The bell rang and I moved slowly toward him.  He lunged at me and began hitting me in the face and stomach.  I stood numbly and took it, hardly throwing punches, forgetting all I’d learned, too scared to move, hating the pain, feeling the hurt.  It felt interminable, yet suddenly a bell rang and I was on a stool in the corner.  I wiped my nose on my glove and horrified, saw a dark smear of blood.

The bell rang and it started again.  I began crying; I just wanted it to stop.  Suddenly the hitting stopped and I became dimly aware that I was standing alone under the bright lights, crying.  The referee was holding up the other boy’s arm.  He had won.  I was a loser twice over, for losing the fight, and for crying.  I had failed the test.

I cried and cried, I could not stop.  Someone wiped my nose on a white towel and it came away red.  I staggered back out of the ring and started the endless walk back down the darkened aisle, my head hanging, sniffing and sobbing.  My Dad was not around – part of me was glad; part of my soul silently cried out for him.  I wanted to run, to hide; to hide from my Dad, to hide from my shame.

 

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(Written September 20, 1988)

We were in a house trailer just outside the Lindreth trading post, in northwest New Mexico. There were six of us on the hunt that year: My Dad and I; Morris – Dad’s best friend, and his son Brad; Don – who owned the trailer and was to be our guide, and his son Chris.

I had watched my Dad leave to go hunting each fall since I could remember, had seen the freezer filled with venison after he returned. Hunting was the time when the men gathered together. Brad and I were 12, and this was our first time to go along, even though we weren’t to carry guns.

Now as I lay in the lower bunk late at night – Brad was in the upper, the noise level from the dining room was rising. Our bedroom door was open, and light filtered down the hall, hazy with smoke. I heard cards shuffling, chairs scraping, ice tinkling in glasses, the long monotone of the joke then the raucous laughter at the bawdy punch line.

I was wide awake, thrashing around, had a knot in my stomach and a strong sensation something was not right. I hadn’t known this partying was part of hunting and was not sure I wanted to be here. But I worshipped the tall man who was in there drinking and needed desperately to be a man in his eyes. He was my hero. I couldn’t talk about the tension and my misgivings – you just didn’t do that – but this felt strange.

On top of it all, earlier that day I had seen my first dead man. He was lying in the back of an ambulance outside the general store but the sheet didn’t cover his head; Chris and I stared in horrified curiosity, saw his vacant stare, the dark line of dried blood across his forehead and running down between his empty eyes. We stood gawking until a man came up and shooed us away. We lingered and heard talk that he had been coming back from hunting, driving too fast in his pickup. He topped a rise on the gravel roads and ran head on into another pickup. He was killed instantly.

I got out of bed, went out into the smoky pall of the dining room, and told Dad my stomach was upset. He looked at me with eyes slightly blurry, told me to go outside if I had to be sick, and went back to the cards. That felt odd. I wanted to say more, but couldn’t. I went out into the bitter cold night, a startling blackness. I voided my stomach of the steak and all the apple cider from dinner, but the tension remained.

I shivered. It didn’t make sense. Those men were in no condition to be safe and tomorrow they would all have loaded rifles. The whole thing felt insane. I wanted to go home. I went inside, down the hall; I glanced at Chris asleep in the top bunk; I wondered what he thought of all this. I got back in bed and finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.

9 A.M. I thought deer came out at dawn. Why were we sleeping so late? I got up and began dressing, pulling my blue jeans over my long johns, lacing the boots. I went to the front of the trailer. The men moved stiffly, slowly, gingerly. They looked like hell. I knew why. Last night seemed like a bad dream but the heavy smell of smoke said it wasn’t and there were the empty bottles and cards scattered on the breakfast table.

Grouchily the men downed gallons of coffee and made preparations, checking rifles and knives, speaking little; no one fixed any breakfast. I didn’t want to do what we were about to do – but I had no choice. God help us.

We loaded into the pickup, the three men in the cab with their rifles. Chris, Brad and I climbed into the bed of the truck and huddled against the cab, out of the biting wind. We were road hunting – driving along dirt roads through the hills, scanning the sagebrush and scattered woods. It was a grey, cloudy, bitter cold day, with a forecast of snow. Chris, who was 17, mature and worldly to Brad and me, began cursing the cold and the fathers in a low monotone. I was shocked by his language, but as I grew colder I mentally began to cheer him on. It felt like we had been in the back of the truck forever, I was freezing, didn’t they know how cold it was, didn’t they care?

From the front of the pickup there was laughter as the fathers scouted the hills, with the heater on high, safe and warm. I looked through the rear window and saw them passing a bottle. I turned back around and curled up in a ball, my stomach churned.

The stopped for a few minutes, got out, let us get in the cab to warm up. Then things happened so fast they blurred. Morris, who had the sharpest eyes, spotted two bucks up on a ridge, raised his rifle and fired. A hit, one buck staggered and limped into a draw. Don yelled that we couldn’t let the buck get across that fence down the road – it was Indian reservation, illegal to hunt there, and we had to head him off.

Dad started running down the road with Morris right behind him, guns held in front of them, chest high. Brad and I got out of the truck and stood uncertainly. I was terrified – be careful with the guns! Suddenly I had a vivid mental image of Morris tripping, falling, shooting my Dad in the back. It was a crystal clear picture; it felt real.

I stood frozen, shivering, nauseous. This was too much. I wanted to go home. Please, just let me go home.

The buck rose from the brush. Morris fired, the buck fell and everyone was yelling and talking excitedly.

I felt a sinking sensation as I began to realize that we’d have to do this whole thing over again next fall. It was ritual.

But that was then. These days I don’t go hunting at all.

I’ve seen enough killing.

 

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I’m working right now on my next book.  It’s about a series of incidents which happened with my grandmother when I was 8 years old.  She asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I said “I want to be a famous writer!”  I said it with clarity and conviction, because I had just always known I wanted to be a writer.

Grandma said, “Oh no, you don’t want to do that.”  When I asked her why, she said “If you’re a famous writer, they’ll call you crazy and lock you up.”  It was such a shocking statement, and the way she reinforced the message so hideous, I pushed away the memory for over 40 years.  I continued to write, in spite of that old, hidden message, and had two books almost published but walked away and didn’t release them! I felt like I had writer’s block – not knowing how specific it was.  It led me to write this poem:

The desire to express,
I was taught to repress,
Has caused me a block,
I wish to unlock.

I pick up the pen,
Start writing again,
I feel the flow,
And then I stop.

(By the way, I intend to now publish both of those earlier books)

Also – I have changed the name of this book to Healing The Writer, which I think better reflects the healing journey of the memoir.

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