Tag Archives: LA

I am the Devil (and you might be too)

 

We all know this story.

 

Lucifer is hanging out in Heaven, acting as captain of the cherubic hosts. He (male pronoun used here for simplicity) is basically the worship leader in Heaven. With every movement he makes, there is music. And it is beautiful. But Lucifer becomes jealous of God, gathers up a third of the angels and tries to overthrow The Great One.

 

Lucifer and his “army” lose and God casts them to either Earth or Hell (interpretations vary) and now Lucifer is The Devil and the angels are the demons that we know today.

 

This would be considered a literal translation of Satan’s origin story.

 

But what else can we pull from this story? What else is happening that we are not acknowledging? There are pieces in this simple paragraph that the church (as a very general body) tends to ignore.

 

Based upon this telling, if I am a Literalist (to believe the Bible is word for word accurate with no symbology) I am to also believe that there is such a thing as jealousy in Heaven. Correct?

 

If you are a Heaven-Is-A-Perfect-Place-Where-No-Pain-Exists type of person (which most Literalists are, please correct me if I’m wrong), please do not shut off to this. Based upon the telling from the Bible, Heaven is a place where jealousy exists. And not only jealousy, but hierarchy. Lucifer stood above the other angels.

 

And not only jealousy and hierarchy but hatred, violence, rebellion and punishment.

 

In Heaven.

 

This is not what we have been taught.

 

But this is what is written.

 

How do we come to terms with these two contrasting worlds?

 

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

 

There is, without question, a darkness in the world. There is evil in the world. There is selfishness and greed and hatred. You can turn your TV to any news station, fire up social media or peruse the papers at your local grocery store to see it.

 

Darkness is real.

 

But is The Devil?

 

Have we pinned our every shortcoming on this singular being? Is he our universal scapegoat? Is The Devil responsible for tempting us at every occasion? Are demons responsible for tempting us at every occasion? Are there so many creatures of darkness that each of them lingers with each of us, constantly tempting and whispering words into our ears? Is that how we think we exist? And does that sound medieval? Demons whispering in our ears.

 

Do we believe that we are inherently good people and it is only by the temptation of dark forces that we do evil?

 

Or… is that evil inside of us?

 

Is The Devil inside of me?

 

Am I The Devil?

 

Could the snake in the garden that tempted our perfect heroes be nothing more than symbolic of our own wants and desires?

 

What is the first sin we commit as humans? We disobey.

 

“Rory, clean your room.”

 

“No.”

 

Just like Adam and Eve. Or “Adam and Eve”.

 

Does darkness and light, good and bad, God and Satan, exist within me and you and everyone at every moment of every day? Are we each, as individuals, capable of doing what is right or wrong with our free will at any moment?

 

Here’s a personal confession that isn’t really a personal confession at all.

 

I love pornography.

 

Love it.

 

I could watch it all day long. Just sit down with a bowl of popcorn and let it rip. Video after video after video. Non-stop. 24/7. Weekends and holidays.

 

Now, it should be noted that I do NOT do this.

 

I do not watch pornography.

 

But I want to.

 

I choose not to. It is my choice that creates my actions. And it is my actions that define my character. Same for all of us.

 

We are each, as men, addicted to pornography.

 

Our male brains are hardwired, like magnets, to draw us to those images. We are born with that compulsion. Ladies, if your fella is telling you that he doesn’t like pornography, watch out, because you have got a liar on your hands and he is telling you things just to keep you satiated. If a man produces testosterone, he wants naked women. As many as possible. As often as possible.

 

This want is not a threat to the sanctity of your marriage or the commitment of your relationship. This is a burning in his very human nature. And it cannot be shaken.

 

And now you say, “Nah, my husband is not like that.”

 

And then I say, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he does not exist.”

 

If you don’t think that darkness is there, it’s because you are being fooled. There is darkness in each of us. But it is our choice to be swallowed by it or to shine light on it. Light in our thoughts. Light in our actions. Light in our words.

 

Now I’m going to take that popular phrase a step further and say that the greatest trap we, as humans, ever fell into was believing that we were not subject to darkness. That we were somehow above darkness.

 

You are not above darkness. You are not above selfishness. You are not above greed.

 

Nobody is.

 

Liking something. Wanting something. Being drawn to something. And actually indulging in that something are very, very different things.

 

Now, without going off on too much of a tangent, I do want to quickly acknowledge that there are various schools of thoughts on pornography – some people think it’s fine and some people find it repulsive / sinful / harmful. I tend to be of the latter group because, even though the act itself is being committed by two or more consenting individuals, the people experiencing it in the privacy of their home are, at the very least, being brainwashed to believe that sex is a certain way. And I believe this is very damaging to the individual.

 

This is my opinion. You are obviously free to disagree. (High-five for respectful diversity!)

 

That said, I am opposed to brainwashing in all of its various forms – cultural, religious, sexual, analytical, creative, etc. We should not be told what or how to think. If given certain data, the truth should be self-evident.

 

For example, does extended exposure to pornography affect the way in which a man views a woman? Does it alter our opinion of what women should be capable of / interested in? Does it alter our expectations of our wives?

 

If the answer is yes to any of these, then it’s brainwashing.

 

If you were raised in the jungle with one woman as your partner, you would still desire her sexually but your wants and actions would not be formed by things you had witnessed. We choose to be victims of our environments.

 

The devil is not tempting you.

 

You are fighting your culture and your human nature. And it is a difficult uphill battle. But we must admit that we are fighting a battle. And we must admit that we are fighting a battle with ourselves. It isn’t until we know who our enemy is that we can begin to overcome them.

 

We need to adjust our cultural perspective on darkness – what the church likes to call sin or what humanity calls immorality. Being drawn to the darkness is not immoral. We are each drawn to the darkness in our own way. We are each selfish in our own way and, ultimately, doesn’t each sin come down to a form of selfishness? To sum up sin would be to say, “Putting oneself before another.” Murder, envy, lust, greed, lying, stealing, etc. It’s all really different forms of the same thing. But these are natural human traits. Survival at all cost came with us when we arrived in the universe. Batteries included.

 

Being drawn to a thing does not make you a bad person.

 

Making a decision to be a part of that darkness is where things spiral out of control.

 

I don’t believe that’s Satan whispering in our ear. That’s us.

 

That’s our own wants and desires.

 

You’re sitting at a dinner table and you’re stuffed. You’re so full. You’re going to puke. But then dessert shows up and you take just a couple more bites because it looks so delicious.

 

That’s gluttony. Your body is begging you to stop poking food into it and you just keep on truckin’. You think a demon is sitting at The Cheesecake Factory, prodding you on, encouraging you to have one more bite? Does that thought sound silly? It should.

 

That’s you.

 

Those are your decisions.

 

The Devil is not in you.

 

The Devil is you.

 

And you create the darkness in the world. When you choose not to share. When you talk about someone behind his or her back. When you insult someone, whether in his or her presence or not. When you choose to ignore a hungry person. When you pressure your wife / girlfriend to do something they’re not comfortable with. When you steal something, even a tiny thing that nobody will probably ever notice is missing because really, they weren’t using it anyways…

 

That’s you. That’s you creating darkness in the world.

 

Don’t worry about the splinter in your brother’s eye until you’ve removed the timber from your own. That’s a biblical truth that I think anyone, regardless of faith, can apply productively to their lives.

 

Maybe stop worrying about The Devil and start worrying about yourself.

 

Start thinking about each moment. Each day. Each word. Each decision that you have to make. You bring either darkness or light with every action that you make.

 

If The Devil is real, he only exists within the temptations themselves. He does not cause the temptation but is the temptation.

 

Likewise, I don’t think that God causes the kindness. God exists within the kindness. God is the kindness.

 

And we choose to cast light or we choose to cast shadows.

 

Go forward.

 

Cast light.

 

And thanks for coming to church on a Wednesday 🙂

 

***Subscribe for updates. New blog every Wednesday – friends, family, life, death kids and adventure. And on Mondays we’re currently releasing a fiction in 10 parts called The Spiraling Cornucopia of Pale Lavender. Part one linked to the left and the intro is linked here. It’s a tale of evolving consciousness through many different plains of reality. If that sounds weird enough to check out, you should.

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Where Do Babies Come From?

While visiting our in-laws in Montana and patiently awaiting the arrival of our newest tribesmen, Jade and I decided to dip out and take a walk with the kids. Turning the corner on an overcast day, Quinn asked me, no doubt with thoughts of pregnant women on the brain, “How do babies get inside the mommy’s tummy?”

This train of logic makes sense. We show up to Montana, telling the children that Aunt Katie is going to have a baby. We tell the kids that there is a baby in her tummy. Green light, green light, green light. Who the heck put that thing there?

Gotta be honest. I was a little caught off guard with that one. I had certainly thought about what it would be like having that talk with my daughter and I’ve thought about what I’d say but I’d never actually come to any kind of conclusion. I’d never thought I will say THIS. I mean, even if you’re going to shoot totally straight about it, there’s no clean way to say, “A man gets an erection – uh, that’s when his penis gets really hard, and then he sticks it into a woman and rubs it until he ejaculates inside of her – oh, ejaculate is like this creamy puddy stuff. Yeah, it’s pretty gross. So anyway, the man shoots this creamy pudding stuff into the woman’s vagina and then badda-bing, bodda-boom, the baby is there.”

It’s gross, right? You’re cringing. No way am I saying that to my five year old. No way am I playing this one straight.

Not yet, anyway.

I just imagine that I damage them so irreparably that every sexual experience they have for the rest of their lives both begins and ends with spells of shivering and vomiting.

Anyway, I’m like, “You know our garden and how we pick vegetables?” “Yeah,” “And you know how we plant a seed and then a plant grows?” “Yeah,” “A daddy plants a seed in the mommy. And the seed grows into a baby and when the baby is ready, we pick it.”

I say, “Does that make sense?” and she says, “Yes,” and then peddles away on her big wheel. What is happening? I’m having sex talks with my children. I was in high school yesterday. How did I get here?

Well, as it turns out, who the heck put that thing there turned into who the heck put me here which turned into who the heck put us all here?

This is a process of several days, understand. She’d ask a question and it would seem to percolate with her for 24 – 48 hours before she’d come back with the raised ante.

So we’re driving home from Montana and Quinn asks me from the backseat, “Daddy? Where do we come from? I mean, all of us? Did God put us here?”

And this is a role defining moment for me. I was raised in a very traditional Catholic household before leaving the Catholic church and rolling “straight Christian.” My faith has gone through a number of peaks and valleys – or rather, my faith has always been what it is but it is my actions that have seemed to falter. The spirit is strong but the flesh is weak, you know?

And it wasn’t until recently, and probably I could write an entire piece on this, that I’ve begun to seriously question many of the tent pole beliefs of my faith. Was Jesus actually the son of God or was he simply one of the most amazing teachers history has ever seen? Did Jesus resurrect after death? Is God real?

I won’t get into the minutia of it here – perhaps another time – but I’ve found this really divine peace that I’ve never experienced before. I feel free.

My faith was chaining me to the ground. My blind faith only made me blind.

And so I don’t want to tell Quinn that God is real and that she should believe XYZ simply because I’m telling her that it’s true.

And so I let her wonder. So that when she does look for God, it is her own journey and it’s not crafted by me and it’s raw and rich and experiential. Instead of telling her what happens in the movie and how awesome it is, I’m just going to let her go see the movie herself.

I believe that there probably is a God. I believe that it probably isn’t the one that modern Christian culture is having us believe in. I think our perspective of God is disgustingly warped and perverted and I think the Christian faith, overall, is absolutely grotesque masked hatred. While most of the followers walk around preaching peace, they’re sitting on their hands at home, blasting pornography and talking about how important it is to keep men from loving men and how to best keep families that are in desperate need out of our country. Basically standing in direct opposition to Christ’s teachings.

By opposing gay marriage, they are saying, in short, that love should not happen. And by keeping out the Syrian refugees they are saying, in short, that empathy should not happen. They will tell you all day long that they don’t think this but words are wind.

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” That’s James. From the Bible. Calling this brand of religion worthless. 

“And you will know them by their fruits.” That’s Jesus.

Christian church, we all know you by your fruits. And your fruit is rotten and disgusting and it turns the stomach of the world. Your faith is off-putting. It is not attractive. You are not the victim. You are the predator.

Christianity as a whole is very wonderful. The teachings of Jesus can change your life and can change the world. I don’t want what I’m saying to be confused with modern day Christianity, which is – for the most part – just a stiff-necked mannequin. An imposter. A copy of the real thing.

It is a giant, rubber dildo. A phony.

Most (not all) modern day Christians are so consumed with the laws of their faith that they’ve lost the lessons. Modern day Christianity has come full circle and the practitioners are the very Pharisees that crucified Christ.

When the Bible says that you’ll call to God and he’ll say he never knew you, it’s talking about those people. When the Bible says that many are called and few are chosen, it’s talking about those people.

If you believe in the devil, you can rest assured that he’s just kicking back and watching Christians do all his work for him.

And I can’t get behind that way of thinking. And I don’t want to associate myself with any group of people who lead their lives with such fear. I believe in a God that kicks ass in peace. A God that lives inside all of us and in everything. A thing of beauty and love and a thing that we can each connect with in that beauty and love.

And I found this raw experience because I was willing to let go of everything I knew and I would have missed it if I had refused to let go of things that people taught me instead of the things I had experienced for myself. Who God was to me was always who God was to my parents. Does that make sense? My perception of God was crafted by other people.

And I don’t want to craft Quinn’s perspective of who God is. When the Bible says seek and you shall find, I believe this is what it’s talking about. You come look for me. And I’ll be here. I truly believe that. And if you believe that, then cutting your children out into the world shouldn’t be a problem. If you believe that God is great and God is the Ultimate Truth, then if your children seek the Ultimate Truth, they will find your God.

But we’re all afraid they won’t find God. We’re all afraid they’ll find something else. Because when it comes down to it, we have no faith in our faith. And so we nurture our beliefs into them. Better to keep these things in our own hands. Spoon feed them religion.

When I told a number of my Christian friends and family that I was speaking with the door-to-door Mormons and was reading The Book of Mormon, I was told that I should quickly run the other way. When I told a number of my Christian friends and family that I was reading Dianetics, I was told that I should drop it and run the other way.

Never trust an organization, institution or group of individuals, whether that be political, religious or otherwise, that demands you to not seek knowledge elsewhere. When someone suggests that you not look for true knowledge outside of the presented box, they do not have your best interest at heart.
Fear of knowledge is a fear of reality. And a fear of reality leads to a very limited understanding of the world. And a limited understanding of the world leads to a limited understanding of people. And a limited understanding of people leads to fear. Oh, my. That’s certainly cyclical. Look at your people group. Look at your friends. Is it the same people that would tell you to hang tight to your beliefs that would tell you to keep the Syrian refugees out? Is it the same people that would tell you to hang tight to your beliefs that would tell you that gay marriage is an abomination but not be able to tell you why?

Are the people that tend to fear the world the same people that tend to fear knowledge?

When Quinn experiences God, I want her to experience the closest thing she can. And when she looks for God, I want her to look on her own. I want to instill in her a sense of raw wonder of the universe. I love that she’s asking all these questions at five. I love that she’s already seeing the world and going, what is this? What is this? What is that thing? How does this work? She asked me about the sun and planets and outer space the other day and now she’s memorized what most of them look like – she knows that Saturn has rings and Neptune has rings (that go the other way) and Pluto is tiny and Jupiter (which she spells Gupiter) has a big red spot on it and that our planet is blue and she understands that the planets work on a “big loop around the sun.”

I’m like, excuse the French but, what the fuck?

Is this child freaking Carl Sagan reborn?

“Well, Quinn. We came from amoebas.”

Amoebas?” really, truly shocked. “What’s that?”

“It’s like a small thing that’s even smaller than you could ever see. You’d have to have a microscope to see it. It probably traveled here on an asteroid that contained ice when the world was forming.”

“Is it like this small?” and she holds up her fingers pinched almost together.

“Smaller. Way smaller. Like nothing at all.”

And then I try to explain evolution to her but quickly realize that there is just no easy way to explain this to a five year old. You try to talk about things changing and it doesn’t make sense to them and you try to talk about natural selection and it’s just too big an idea because they don’t really understand breeding and passing of traits. Is there not a children’s version of Darwin’s Origin of Species?

So I’m left to try and simply draw connections between monkeys, apes, Neanderthals and modern man. “What animal do humans look like the most, Quinn?”

“Uh… monkeys?”

“That’s right! I’m very impressed that a five year old noticed that.”

 

Crickets.

 

“Over millions and millions of years, monkeys slowly became man.”

“God did not put us here?”

“Well, some people believe that God put us here and some people believe that God put the amoebas here and some people believe…

Are you sure you want to say this? Once it’s out of your mouth, you cannot take it back. Is this a seed you really want to plant? You are about to make a major life decision and this may affect her faith in sweeping ways – in large ripple effects.

“Some people don’t believe in God at all.”

WHAT?!”

She doesn’t ask me if I believe in God.

Sometimes I wonder what I would say if she had…

 

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Bud Light: Heads Up

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It’s been pretty quiet over at JohnnyBeBald for the past couple weeks and I have to apologize.  First, my wife and I were out of the country celebrating her 30th birthday (Insane Adventures of Two White People Who Don’t Speak English in Nicaragua coming soon) and then upon our return I jumped into directing the below Bud Light spot for a commercial competition.

I’d love for you to click the link and check it out.

http://zooppa.com/en-us/ads/16-oz-cool-twist-aluminum-bottle/videos/bud-light-heads-up

In the coming weeks, brace yourself for tales of a mugging I was part of, a gypsy circus we attended and an 80 year old man with a shady past.

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Talking to Strangers: Gary

I’m standing in my kitchen preparing to feed my dog when I suddenly hear an intense, gut-wrenching wail emanate from outside.  The pitch and tone of this noise is so off balance, so absurdly wild that it’s hard to equate it to anything that is “everyday” without bastardizing and perverting it first.  It is whale music if said whale lived on the land and had first consumed a large quantity of oxycontin; sort of a very slow motion ooo-waaaahhh

It is a sound so haunting and unearthly that I assume whatever creature is making it is probably either in the throws of its death rattle or a raging frenzy fueled by pure blood lust.  It is the sound of a cat dying while giving birth.  it is the sound of a real life tree frog so amped up on Monster energy drinks that it’s genuinely trying to sing something by Limp Bizkit.  It is the sound of eternal despair.  Standing at my window, an image from The Princess Bride pops into my mind wherein the main character screams and his friend mentions that it reminds him of The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

This is The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

I set the dog’s food on the counter and approach my side door, peering out, past my driveway and over the tall hedge that separates my family from The Neighbors – the nameless entities that exist within such close proximity to me without actually affecting or intruding upon my bubble of influence.

There in his driveway is The Man, walking by himself, shoulders slouched, head down, feet dragging.  He walks down the concrete path, turns at the sidewalk and heads towards the grocery store; his body shaking and wrenching and racking with sobs.  I am compelled to immediately leave my house and grip him and ask, “What’s wrong?” because he looks to be in so much emotional pain that my heart, as a human, is hurting just watching him… but it feels strange to me and the task feels like a true challenge that I’m not sure I can take on.  I want to call out to him but I don’t know his name.  After seven years of living next to this man and his wife… I don’t know their names.  This fault is a personal short coming of my own and says more about me than it does about them.

I watch him disappear out of sight and then the opportunity is gone…

A physical description of the pair would look something like this…

The guy is tall and slim with uniquely distorted facial features.  He looks to be in his late 50s / early 60s.  Huge eyes behind bigger glasses; long scraggly hair that cascades down his skeletal face but the crown of his head is hopelessly bald; jutting chin with small mouth; thin arms, big hands; long legs that take tiny steps; he’s an odd pairing at every angle and, every time I’ve overheard him speak while sitting outside, I can’t help but imagine Goofy, that famous Disney character, after having smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for the better half of a century.  His voice is bubbly and cartoonish while still maintaining a throaty quality, unexpectantly hitting the highest-highs and lowest-lows seemingly at random.

His wife is short and plump with long black hair and a featureless face.  I have probably glanced at her sideways 300 times and… I’m not even certain that I could pick her out of a line-up.  This, however, is not a short coming of her face.  This is a short coming of myself and my own awareness.

Everywhere the two go, they go together; always and forever the two are a pair.  In all the years that I’ve lived in this house, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen either of them one without the other.  And this is why, on this particular day, I knew something was up.  Something was strange.  Something was wrong.  Something somewhere was not right…

On this day, disappearing from my sight, the man was walking alone.

The next day my sister, her husband, my niece and my wife are all packing into our cars, rushing out of the house; we have hot plans to hit the zoo in about 25 minutes and we’ve got free tickets if we can be there by one o’clock.  A friend of ours is doing us a favor by meeting us there to get us in even though it’s during her children’s nap time and so she’ll have the kids in tow and it’s just, y’know, it’s rude to keep people waiting.  Time is ticking and the kids aren’t listening and they won’t get in their car seats and the sun is beating down on me and dangit I’ve forgotten my phone inside so I run back into the house to grab it.  When I walk out, the first thing I see is my sister and her family sitting inside their car, waiting for me.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  The second thing I see is that my wife has successfully buckled in my children and is now sitting in the driver’s seat, waiting.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.

The whole show – hurry, hurry – is on my – hurry, hurry – back.

The third and final thing I see is my skinny, nameless neighbor standing in his driveway staring at me through the hedge, his eyes peering out between broken shrubbery.  I nod but he doesn’t move.  I step off my porch and say, “Hey,” but he doesn’t respond.  Just those eyes… watching me, staring at me, unblinking, vacant.  I open my gate and begin to walk down my driveway, wondering if this guy is in some kind of drug induced hallucination (because he strikes me as the type who has them once in a while) and I’m trying to debate just how weird this is about to get…

He sidles a few steps to his left to a vantage point wherein I can see him a bit better.  He stares at me and cocks his head and I say, “Hi, there.  How are you doing today?” and he says, in that haunting, helium-high voice, in a tone that suggests he’s done nothing worse than burn the meatloaf, “Well, today I am not doing very well,” fiddles with his hands, looks at his knuckles, looks up at me with direct, piercing eye contact, “You see… my wife died yesterday,” and immediately I am hyper aware of my surroundings.  My sister is watching me.  My brother-in-law is watching me.  My wife is watching me.  This man is watching me.  I do not know his name.  I do not know his wife’s name.  He has been my neighbor for seven years and I do not know their names.  I want to hug this man and give him some comforting words but, first and foremost, I don’t believe there are any words that will help him without simply minimizing his tragedy.  Secondly, there is a hedge separating us.  I pick up a leaf and begin tearing it apart.  I say, “Your… what!?  What happened?” and then immediately wonder if that’s a socially acceptable thing to ask.

How does one respond appropriately?

Why is this man telling me this?  Who am I to him?

And then I realize that, outside of his wife, I am perhaps the closest thing to a human in his life.  I don’t talk to him but when I see him I lift up my hand in recognition.  When we run into each other at the grocery store down the street I nod, I smile.  I say hi.  I do nothing.  I don’t do enough.  But I wonder if I’ve somehow done more than anyone else.  I wonder if most people turn their backs on this guy with his unique features and strange voice and ratty clothes.  I wonder if I, even in my state of absolute minimal contact, am The Guy Next Door for him; a familiar face.

Someone.

My phone in my pocket is on silent but it buzzes.  The Family is wondering what I’m doing; chatting up Mr. Tall Glass of Water when we gotta be hitting the street.  They can’t hear anything.  They don’t know.  They just see Johnny having a quiet conversation with The Neighbor.

I am acutely aware of their waiting and watching.

He gathers himself up and says, “Well… we used to live in Denver.  When we moved to Los Angeles several years back, she developed asthma.  Two days ago she caught a cold.  Night before last it got worse.  I told her that we’d take her into the hospital in the morning if she was still ill.  Yesterday morning we woke up and she was having troubles breathing.  She sat up and I said I’d get her some tea.  When I got back to our bedroom she… she had died.  I tried giving her CPR.  I tried like hell.  I called the paramedics.  This was at 7:45 in the ay-em.  They came and tried to revive her.  They really did try their best.  They took her away and pronounced her dead at Kaiser at 8:16 but… that’s not true.  She was dead at 7:45.  She died here.  In our bed.”

And then he stares at the hedge and picks up a crisp leaf of his own and begins to destroy it, bit by bit.  I don’t say, “Are you alright?” because I’m sure he’s not.  I don’t say, “How are you doing?” because I’m sure he’s not doing well at all.  I don’t say, “Do you need anything?” because I think he just wants to talk to someone and have someone, anyone, listen to him.  I think the words don’t matter as much as the physical presence of a human, leaning in, nodding, making eye contact.  I think he’s a lonely man who was living with a lonely wife and they both took care of stray cats and now…

I look at him and hear his voice and realize that the sound I heard earlier were his true wails of grief; a man sobbing with unexpected loss and inconsolable grief.  It truly was The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

He says, “We always thought I’d die first.  I’ve had Stage 4 cancer for 15 years.  I’m 57.  We talked about what she’d do when I died but we never… we never talked about this… she was only 46.  She was healthy…”

The phone in my pocket buzzes and I’m certain it’s my family again, asking me what gives.  I ignore it and instead say, “I had cancer… I had Stage 4 cancer…” and he says, “You and me… we are both miracles,” and I nod because the idea makes me feel like there is magic living inside of me, as though I somehow cheated death and now everyday is a bonus I wasn’t supposed to receive.

He says, “I don’t want to keep you,” and I say, “Don’t – you’re not…” and, while I am always physically uncomfortable making people wait I just… this is obviously too important to walk away from.  He sees I mean it and I’m not leaving until he’s done talking and so he opens a floodgate and begins drowning me in a very personal history about how he used to be addicted to oxycontin but now he only strictly consumes methadone (which he “pack rats away”).  He tells me horror stories about oxycontin and about his struggle with drug addiction and how he couldn’t let it go.  He calls it a Merry-Go-Round from Hell that I couldn’t get off of

He shrugs, done with his story.  Done talking.  Done, maybe, with everything.  I stick out my hand and say, “I’ve lived next to you for so many years but we’ve never met.”  He grabs my hand tightly, in a firm man-handshake that I would not expect from his physical frame, and says, “I’m Gary,” and I say, “I’m Johnny.  What is your wife’s name?” and then a thought runs through my mind that tells me I should have said, “What was your wife’s name,” but I don’t bother correcting my macabre grammar.

He says, “Veronica,” and I say, “Beautiful.”  I say, “Gary, I don’t know what you’re going through but let me know if there’s anything I can do…” and he says, “There is nothing you can do for me.  I see your kids.  Hug them.  Enjoy every day.  Because it will be taken away…”

And then he turns and walks up the driveway.

Two days later I see him returning yet again from the grocery store (alone) with a bag of cat food while I’m sitting on my front porch.  I raise my hand in the air and shout, “Hi, Gary!” and he stops in his tracks, stares at me for a quick moment before averting his eyes, mumbling something under his breath and disappearing out of my sight.

Another two days pass and, as I’m pulling into my driveway I see a couple of Jehova Witnesses walking up to Gary’s house, towards his front door.  They knock but there is no answer so they turn and try their luck elsewhere.

Another 48 hours have slipped by and still I’ve neither seen nor heard any sign of life from The Tall Man that Lives Over the Hedge.

It’s now been five days since I’ve seen him and I’m beginning to wonder at what point I realistically need to walk over there and knock on his door because, honestly, all I can think about is his large stockpile of methadone.

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