Entries from October 2008 ↓

First Week Without A Column


October 16, 2008 – Loss.

I’m an expert at loss, not crying in my beer, but I’ve lost two marriages, been fired from four jobs, gone broke in business three times, been foreclosed on, been in love with women who had other ideas, it’s a resume of blown chances, missed steps, and awful, awful pain.

The loss of daily contact with my sons in 1991, moving to Charleston in 2003 and crying in the Taco Bell parking lot in Goose Creek because my six-year-old son was on the phone with me crying because I was crying because he was crying, all that feels like loss.

Okay, maybe it is crying in my beer.

And after 34 years of writing a column for about eight or ten different newspapers (Almost all of which turned me down from time to time,) I am riding around in my car with copies of Rutherford Weekly that don’t carry my column.  I took two years off to peddle oil mats and host a TV show, but besides those two years, I have written that column since I was 18 years old.

I feel the life sucked out of me.  My legs feel heavy.  I feel like I am free falling.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is that Gabriele is in my life and treating me as sweetly as I can imagine, better than I have imagined.  A woman of incredible grounding and grace, she has taken a job at a foster home and will be giving love, grace, and structure to boys who have lost a lot more in their short lives than I have lost in my long life.  And I get lots of grace and love from her, too.  She finds me likable, funny, nice to hug.  So far so good.

Obama is ahead in the polls.  Linda Ketner is running a very credible race in Charleston.  Please go to her website, Lindaketner.com.  Every $250 we raise, gives us another TV commercial against Henry Brown and the politics of pollution and war.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll think of something to do with the next 34 years.  The new book should be out soon.  Check out the excerpts on the right hand side of this blog under “Falling In Love With Everything.”

Say a prayer.  Light a candle.  Life is good.  Everything is beautiful, as Papa Jobe always says when he bets on an inside straight and loses. 

Could Roger Milliken Have Equaled Gurley Phillips?

I used to think I would feel guilty if I were rich, then I figured out I am richer than 98 percent of the people of the world, so I might as well start acting like a rich person with honor.  Rich people get a bum rap.  We are accused, in the minds of people who see themselves as poor, of living our lives as though they don’t matter.  We are seen as uncaring because poor people are hungry, dying, taking fire in wars, living in shabby houses, and losing hope.  Yet many of us rich folks are not uncaring.  We give away our money to poor people directly when asked, and we give even more money to groups who work to improve the lives of poor people.  Some rich people do not do that, and they are the ones who make the rest of us look bad.  But many rich people are generous, see their generosity, not as self-promoting showmanship, but as a spiritual practice to create a partnership with poor people and the spiritual forces in life that will eventually usher in the reign of peace and prosperity for all.

Gurley Phillips died in April, and in the process of preparing for his funeral, his son Gary wrote and talked about his generosity.  Gary had attended a meeting of people who were talking about philanthropy, and he told them his daddy was a philanthropist.  His daddy spent more than 50 years working for slave wages in a textile mill.  He used the sweat of his brow to take home subsistence pay and make Roger Milliken a billionaire.  There is something out of kilter about that, but Milliken’s wealth did not stop Phillips from becoming a philanthropist, and it did not stop him for raising generous children, and from all appearances raising generous grandchildren.

One tool in Gurley’s treasure chest of generosity was his garden.  He worked a tiny piece of land to the point that ample armloads, paper sack loads of fresh produce poured forth into the canning jars and freezers of not just his home, but the homes of his neighbors.  Imagine that model applied on a global scale.  Defenders of Milliken might be tempted to remind me of his generosity, the millions he has given to schools, hospitals and nonprofit organizations all over the place.  But if he had given in the same percentages as Gurley Phillips and encouraged his super rich friends to do the same, it is staggering to imagine the differences that could have been made.

Clearly the solution to greed and the ravages of poverty does not lie with the super rich alone.  In fact, it is probably best seen in the lives of the poor themselves.  Because poor people believe they have nothing, they tend to share everything.  Of course they are exceptions, but the poor people I have known through my newspaper, church, and nonprofit work are people who share rides, childcare, food, and yes money.  There is a natural force, almost like the weather or the changing of the seasons, that rewards generosity by creating a world in which generous people care for enough other people that eventually we will all be well.

Having said all that, I have to close with a hilarious quote I found from W.H. Auden. “We are here on earth to do good to others.  What the others are for, I’m not sure.”