Forks in the Road

This weekend, my youngest child will walk across the floor of the Leon County Civic Center, climb stairs to a stage and accept a diploma that verifies his matriculation from Lincoln High School. And this day is actually bigger than I ever imagined. My youngest child has had a rather combative relationship with school for most of his Middle and High School years. He is a gifted musician and those gifts were rarely allowed to flourish within the halls of high school education. Far from being unintelligent or lazy, he was basically uninterested and no manner of pleading, cajoling, yelling or prayer seemed to get through his brain that it mattered. It has been a very frustrating six years. But he made it. The particulars are not important, the final G.P.A. is not relevant. The mad scramble of the last few weeks will, hopefully, be a dim memory before too long. What matters is he will graduate on Saturday night.

So here is to my funny, charming, infuriating, talented, sensitive, goofy, independent third child on the weekend of his graduation. Take a deep breath, kid, and prepare to expand. Your world is opening up in front of you and I pray you find your place. Above all else, go with God. I love you...


The Other Jay

Some days I want to stop trying to “do the right thing” and just skate. Some days I want to take the easy route and to hell with the results. Some days I see the weeds popping up in the flower beds and I think it would be best to concrete in the entire yard. Some days, when a recurring, incessant, “how many times have we dealt with this?” problem returns with one of the kids, I want to give that child $5000, a car and wish them well. Some days I sense I’m not sure I can deal with everyone at work in a professional manner and I want to quit, convinced that I can make it on my own. Some days, when “friends and family” suck me dry with inanity and selfish needs, I want to move to the mountains and not contact a soul for a very long time.

But I’ll never follow through with any of those thoughts. Doing the right thing is the right thing to do. Is that a spiritual motivation? Or is that upbringing? Or are those two so intertwined that it is hard to tell them apart? I will continue imagining “the other Jay” but it will stay between my ears. I will play out the scenarios in my head like a Hollywood movie script, one I control and direct, the conclusions both hilarious and satisfying. My history, however, has shown that whenever I follow through on a purely selfish act, it never turns out as I imagined. Satisfaction is limited and the blowback is always one thousand times worse than anticipated (if anticipated at all). Bad, bad, bad. Those memories serve as a governor on future self-centered decisions. “Remember when...?” Yes, I do. And it is never like the movies.

Real life is much more real.


Book Review: Collapse of Distinction by Scott McKain

I have had the privilege and the pain of working for numerous companies of varying size and proficiency. They all had one frustrating thing in common—none reached their promising potential. It was mainly because they (we!) could never differentiate themselves from the similar minded businesses hawking similar wares. After reading Collapse of Distinction, I have a clearer understanding why.

Most business books are long on pontificating and short on practical application. What I found refreshing in this book was the information was easy to digest and the main concept centered around a couple of small businesses in rural Indiana. Their contrasting attempts to overcome personal “David vs. Goliath” moments form the main ideas in the book—how do you stand out and succeed, especially when facing long odds and low capital? The answer makes perfect sense. Since reading the book, I have made a point to observe the businesses I frequent and conduct my own personal field tests. The establishments where the principles laid out by Mr. McKain are being followed (whether they know it or not) are not only busy, they have a better vibe. And that proves that you don’t have to be Starbucks to be successful and cool. Read the book. Then you’ll understand.


Entry One Hundred Twelve: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[This entry is the current story I am working on. This is forty-one of who knows how many will be posted. The last entry is here. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Twenty
Adam wasn’t sure where he was, but he was glad to be off I-75 and on a side road, prowling the bowels of Atlanta. His emotions had slowly been overtaken by the more basic need of hunger. Although he was not sure how he would eat or where, he was positive that he was not going to find food on the interstate so he decided to exit down a ramp and try his luck in a smaller grid. The traffic was no less a problem and maybe more so since there was less room to maneuver around blocked lanes. He resorted to driving on sidewalks and over medians, doing what he had to do to keep moving. After a couple of blocks of that frustrating game, he saw a sign for a Huddle House. “Perfect. Open 24-hours and smoking is allowed.” After another fifteen minutes he finally pulled the Volvo into the parking lot.

As he surmised, the doors were unlocked and he gained entry easily. The smell was funky, bordering on bad, but it was not anything that was going to keep him from exploring and trying to find something to eat. He stood just inside the entrance and lit a cigarette, drawing on it in quick hits to calm his nerves. He was still not comfortable with trespassing and stealing--albeit the definition of both terms had recently been forever altered. It was ingrained in his DNA to respect the property of others and even though he had grown a little more comfortable in Grayson, this was a whole new ball game on a larger playing field. He could not shake the feeling that he should be seeking permission to enter.

Then a thought crawled into the forefront of his brain, a notion that he used as a salve on his wounded, struggling conscience. “If I am the last man standing on the face of the earth, technically, I am in charge of everything. Minimally, I am the caretaker.” He let that sit there, marinating a few seconds before he continued. “And if I want to hold an election, I can call myself King and Supreme Ruler.” Adam nodded his head and smiled as the gravity of this thought bloomed and blossomed in his brain. Then he made a decision. “All in favor of electing Adam Mahoney to the office of King of the Earth, Supreme Ruler of all that he sees, please indicate by saying ‘aye.’’’ Adam waited a beat before respectfully saying, “Aye.” He continued. “All opposed say, ‘neigh.’” Again, he waited a beat allowing all dissenters to voice their choice. He wanted his rule to be remembered as fair and just. There were no dissenters.

“The votes are in and counted and the choice is unanimous: Adam Mahoney is not only the last man standing on the face of the earth, he is now the King and Ruler of this planet. I will do my best to not disappoint. Thank you for your support and may God bless the United States of Adam Mahoney.” With that he flicked his cigarette on to the linoleum floor, squashed the smoldering butt with his shoe and marched into the kitchen of the Huddle House—his Huddle House—to find himself some breakfast.


Do Me A Favor...

Go read this today:


Good stuff by a special lady.


Rest Stop

There is popular thought that implies we always picture ourselves in our twenties, no matter how old we are. It makes sense; the twenties are our prime. But it’s foolish to imagine ourselves consistently at our best, a point that is proven when we see ourselves captured in a candid photograph and the reality of our age is all too clear. We get depressed, thinking, “Is that what I really look like?” (yes). I think the same can be applied in our spiritual lives. I always picture myself as how I want to be, already there. When the reality of who I really am is revealed, either through a blunt comment or a surprising reaction to an event or other person, it too is depressing. “Is that what I really look like?” (yes). But the cliché that “life is a journey” (aren’t clichés usually based on fact?) factors in heavily in this instance. Why can’t I enjoy the trip? I always seem to be looking forward or backward. What I was or what I am going to be. What is wrong with who I am? Could I just relax in that for a few moments before moving on? I realize there will always be tension between how we see ourselves and how we have ended up but is that tension fair? Maybe, just maybe, how we have ended up is exactly how we are supposed to be. At least at this moment, this place in time. Is that acceptable?


Insight In Time

I wish insight (wisdom or whatever word works for you) could be accessed like water from a spigot. On and flowing when needed, otherwise cut off and silent. But, no, it is elusive and generally only comes around when it is ready. It is in charge and it makes the rules. There is no consistency, just seemingly random visits. Sometimes God drops it on me from the words of others—but that means I have to be listening. Other times it arrives after I have committed to step forward and attempt to explain a situation or action. The words come out making sense, as much a surprise to me as to the person I am having a conversation with. Other times (most times?) I feel its absence. Nothing. No clue. Its truancy can feel as real and cold as a clear thought is warm. The most dangerous times are when I think I am wise when I am not. Unfortunately, that reality is usually dealt with during a sickening bout of hind sight, hoping the mess I made is not too large to clean up. I will continue to pray for more “yes” and less “no.” And wait.


Ready or Not?

I witnessed an interesting situation at the airport. A band was setting up, preparing to play in the concourse. Naturally a crowd gathered, there not being a whole lot else to do while waiting. As the band unpacked and set up the sound system, a young man decided to take advantage of the crowd and took his place between the gathering and the oblivious musicians. He was in his early twenties, long brown hair pulled back in a pony tail, full and ragged beard, his flowing pants and shirt refugees from a sixties bargain bin. In his left hand he held two small, red, rubber balls; in his right was one. He was a juggler. He didn’t speak but it was obvious that he was pleased with his fortune at finding a captive audience and he relished the opportunity to entertain and possibly make a few dollars in tips. He steadied himself, held his arms away from his body and slowly began the preliminary rhythm of juggling, preparing to toss the small rubber balls into the air. After a few seconds of priming, he began. He didn’t make it through one cycle with the balls before one ricocheted off his hand and rolled into the crowd. A man picked it up for him and handed it to him, everyone sympathetic and forgiving, sure that nerves may have interfered with his first attempt. He gathered himself, began his practice rhythm and then tossed a ball in the air which promptly bounced off his arm and rolled into the crowd. He chased after it and started the process for a third time with the exact same results. The dude could not juggle. Not even a little bit. He looked the part, he had the audience and he had the desire but there was one factor he could not control: a lack of giftedness. Sometimes, that is something to factor in before making the plunge. Now break up into small groups and discuss.


Entry One Hundred Eleven: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[This entry is the current story I am working on. This is forty of who knows how many will be posted. The last entry is here. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Nineteen

Adam correctly judged that he could get around most of the congestion by riding on the shoulder of the interstate but he couldn’t go very fast stuck on the fringe. When the static gridlock cleared he pulled his car on to the main thoroughfare and was able to move faster. He still had to be cautious because there were still cars and trucks liberally scattered across the three lanes forming an eerie obstacle course, the creepiness not helping Adam’s concentration. He also wasn’t sure when the road would get congested again so he kept his speed to a manageable level just in case.

As each mile passed under his tires, Adam gained confidence. Not huge buckets of it, more like teaspoons full, but it was tangible and it almost made him smile. That was something he had not done too much of since the note. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision, more that there hadn’t been too much to smile about. Survival isn’t normally funny and he had been in strict survival mode. He still was but he was pleasantly surprised how driving seemed to be a mild narcotic, releasing just enough numbness to almost enjoy himself.

As he veered on to the bypass around Macon, he felt something shift inside. Another small release, a loosening of his death grip and it freed him just a little. There were very few cars to dodge, the road mostly clear, so Adam slowly pushed the gas pedal a little closer to the floor and increased his cruising speed. He figured he had close to an hour before the roads got congested again, signaling his approach to the Atlanta city limits, and he may as well get there faster rather than slower.

Nothing he could have done would have prepared him for the amount of immobile traffic that was stacked up on the freeway outside Atlanta. It was impossible to drive through so he reverted to his earlier tactic of driving on the shoulder. It slowed him down considerably but, as was all too obvious to him, it was impossible for him to be late. Time was irrelevant.

Driving on the shoulder may have been slower but it allowed him to keep up a consistent pace. There was an occasional car in his way, pulled to the side of the road because of engine failure or a flat tire, but he was able to maneuver around them all with ease. Gradually, he snaked his way north.

As Adam banked through a sharply curved bend in the road, he stole a glance up and immediately wished he hadn’t. In front of him, filling his view, was Atlanta. Massive, impressive and formidable. And for some reason, without even being fooled for a second, Adam Mahoney knew that it was dead. Void of life regardless of its hulking facade. No one at work, no one at play, no one anywhere. A wave of emotion crashed through him with such force that he had to stop the car and stare. His unblinking gaze belied the strength of paralyzing feelings swirling in his gut. As water began to pool in the corner of his eyes, Adam Mahoney, the last man standing on the face of the earth, felt the magnitude of a complex truth; he was achingly, unshakably lonely.

All words and images ©2009/J. Colle