Entries from June 2008 ↓

You’d Better Hold Onto Me

He put his tiny thin hand in mine, and said, “You’d better hold onto me.”
My brilliant storyteller cousin, Pat Hunt, wrote her column this week about her daddy fixing to die and her son fixing to get married. Emotionally, it feels like a cross fire.
Throw in divorce, hard times, career confusion, and staying up a tad late at night, and the whole thing starts to feel like a hair trigger.
Forty years of long stretches of peace in the streets makes us feel like we won’t ever again burn our own cities, break the glass out of the grocery stores where we have been feeding our families.
Sure hope not, but you never know.
Papa and I had been on an errand two days after he’d taken a fall. He ended up with four bandages and bent glasses, but it scared him enough he walked with a cane for a few days, until he lost his cane.
We were on Main Street, Rutherfordton, across from the courthouse where both our birth certificates are recorded, where a half a dozen or so ancestors have their death certificates recorded. Rutherford County is a tight circle. Maybe I should never have left. Maybe I never will again.
Papa had taken it slow two days after the fall. Maybe Adam and Eve did, too. Maybe the ground outside Eden had some rough places and they were both a little sore from being exiled, a little unsteady on their feet.
Maybe one of them put a tiny hand in the hand of the other and said, “You’d better hold onto me.”
It’s tough, Sugar Bears. Say a little prayer. Light a candle.

Yes, I confess to being desperate for love

June 19-21, 2008 – Home for a quick lunch.  I do not want to write this.  I do not want to write this.  I do not want to write this.

         A couple of people, who know me very well, have asked me lately whether I am desperate for love.  To be asked such a question is a little like having the dentist ask you how often you brush your teeth.

         There is the implication that there might be a problem.

         Okay, then, I am desperate for love.

         I would say that not all of my behavior betrays this desperation.  I am not constantly soliciting attention, compliments, attention, a little more attention, appreciation for my jokes, glances, smiles, laughter, engaging companionship from people, especially one certain woman whose attention I thrive on.  I think “constantly soliciting” would be entirely an overstatement.  After all, I have to sleep.

         But not every waking moment is consumed with my desperation to receive love.

         Sometimes I actually give love.  I give love to my son, Luke, my other children, when I am in touch with them, the dogs at Luke’s house, my ex-mother in law at Luke’s house, my coworkers (although I do hope they love me back,) my father whose roof I sleep under (during those hours when I am not desperately soliciting love,) June Phillips, who is my dear, dear friend from Green Creek, NC, recently widowed, and willing for me to be of some help with her challenges.

         Despite some evidence to the contrary, I am not a completely narcissistic, ego maniac.  Unselfish acts occasionally flow from my swim along the channels of my life.  Sometimes I am just a nice guy with no hope of gaining anything in return.

         But, yes, I will confess I am desperate for love.  And I would argue it is slightly more healthy than a desperation for Cocaine, maybe not a whole lot more healthy, but slightly.

         I heard a 12-year-old girl read an essay June 18 on WFEA, the public radio station in Charlotte.  She talked about her years of receiving verbal abuse, and how they made her desperate for love.  Although I will gladly minimize any of my childhood traumas, I suspect they contributed to my desperation for love.  My mother would argue that I was simply born desperate for love.  She tells of my being an outrageous flirt at age two.  She wrote a note to a baby sitter that went something like this, “He will adore you.  You will be the most beautiful girl he has ever seen, and he will love you passionately.  But don’t worry about it.  He will do the same for the next girl who comes along.”

         That was at age two.

         So, yes, of course, goes without saying I suppose, guilty as charged and all that.  But I have learned a thing or two, perhaps only head knowledge, but still knowledge, valuable, maybe even precious knowledge.

         It is better to give than receive.  Every gift is poisoned if it is laced with the expectation of a gift in return.  What deadlier words lie in the nomenclature of relationships than, “Here, I’ve done this for you, now what will you do for me?” or “Here’s your present, now what did you get me?”

         I poisoned two marriages with that kind of thinking. 

         Maybe there has been some progress in the past few days.  A bird sat on the screen at the back door staring at me as I went out to get the paper.  It felt like a spirit guide, as in the native tradition.  You have a bird come and sit and stare at you, you had better pay attention.  So what was there to see, to hear, to attend?  The message felt like the words of my dear friend, Kim Taylor, who told me so many years ago, “It’s all an inside job.”  Inside?  Could it be the love I am seeking is already there within my own heart, my own soul, my own being connected in some mystical way to all the beings of the universe? 

         Elton John sang “Tiny Dancer,” on the radio, a song that always has a mystical charge for me, because it was the song on the radio the night Becky Lockheart (how’s that for a name?) told me I was not in love with her.  The lyrics that feel the closest to what is going on, (because I am acknowledging I’m desperate for love) were, “Now she’s in me.” 

         Okay, if she is in me, perhaps I can turn inward to her, the universal her, the infinite her, the tiny dancer, and let her love me.  That takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the baby sitters in my life.

Barack Obama’s Night

My dad, who cast his first ballot for Franklin Roosevelt, said, “Today is a big day in this country.”  At 85, he gets a little confused, but he has not been confused about Barack Obama.  He said for months, “The country’s going to have its first black president.”  And one of its smartest and most attractive and most visionary and best organized and most inspiring to young people and on and on, that’s who this man is.


About 12 hours after Allen Jobe had blessed the day, standing in the same arena where three months from now John McCain will accept his party’s nomination, speaking to far more people than McCain will speak to, generating far more excitement, and setting our country on a course not unlike the course Roosevelt set in 1932.  At a time of deep national division and crisis, Obama is exactly what the country needs, an organizer.  God bless us, yes, it is wonderful that he heals racial wounds, even as our racist brethren will punch for new ones.  Yes, he is a wordsmith like few before him, a wonderful story teller and a great packager of ideas.  But almost stealth, just below the radar, is what made The New Deal, the federalist revolution of 1932 and the progress that followed.  Obama knows how to organize.


I have read that Roosevelt’s White House staff included cigar chomping pols who could pick up the phone and call a hundred people around the country and, in a day’s time, know how to move farm policy, manufacturing policy, God forbid, war policy based on the grassroots organization that used to be the Democratic Party in this country, and may be again.


A friend asked me the other day, “How will he govern?”  He’ll bring together factions and make them look at each other across conference tables.  He’ll send out for lunch and take off his suit coat, and write stuff on the white board until somebody says, “Look, we can make this work.”  He’ll spend hours begging people to check him, check each other, give, take, win, lose, but put together programs, policies, and dreams that cut corporate power, decentralize energy and food and housing, and put a creative spirit to work to solve problems, not protect institutional longevity.  He is a fierce fighter who never takes himself too seriously. One CNN commentator called the Clintons, “raging narcissists.”  Obama may be a student of how to hide that much ego, and therefore we’re being charmed.  But his self-effacement always feels genuine.  He will govern, in part, by convincing the weak and the strong that the country needs their help.


Allen Jobe would like that formula.  In 54 years of watching him raise money, get out the vote for favorite candidates, support projects, and make things happen, I know that one of his key openers is, “I need your help.”  Obama will ask and he will receive.


Not so humble prediction: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia are all in play.  If we do our jobs, the Democrats will carry all seven.  McCain can only lose one or two and hope for an electoral win.


Another not-so-humble prediction.  Obama will serve two terms, and might walk in Jimmy Carter’s footsteps as a peace and political action ex-president.  I see him dying in a hospital room as an old, old man with his great grandchildren around him.  Visualize that.




A Love Note To Linda Ketner

I’m preaching every Sunday this summer, which is good because I need the money, but it cuts into the time I am spending on your campaign.  I try to do something every day.
You need to understand that everything I do I for you thrills me.  Being part of your campaign is one of the favorite things I have ever done, and I have done a lot of good stuff.  Several friends have asked me, “Why are you doing this?  Do you really think your little bit of help is going to matter?”  I tell them I do it not to win (which we are going to do,) or to avoid losing (which we are NOT going to do,) but rather to feed my own soul. Maybe politics is so gone, so screwy, so much a bag of knotted spaghetti noodles that it is utterly beyond redemption, but I don’t think so.  When I listened to Joe Biden talk about civil rights and how the laws were crafted in the Senate, when I watch video of ML King, which I did tonight, when I think about the things you have already accomplished for poor people, gay people, black people, and common sense, I know the system can work.  I know it matters who is in Washington.  It just has to.
Two million Iraqi refugees and 600,000 civilian dead weigh on me like a ton of lead.  I can hardly breathe sometimes when I think about that disaster, and I know fixing it is not going to be simple or politically easy. But when I think that you’ll be voting on those decisions instead of a Bush clone, I just feel like crying through a mixture of grief and joy.
It’s been a good day. I hope so for you.  Guess who loves you so much.
She’s at LindaKetner.com.  You can go find her there.