Category Archives: Cold Blogs

These are the blogs that predate Wordpress. They originated either on Blogspot, Myspace, Facebook, or were written prior to each but never previously published.

Note: Fiction categories will show up here only if they’ve been previously posted elsewhere. For anything older that’s not been previously published, I’ll include the original creation date at the bottom.

What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 4)

So, if today is Saturday, then Hurricane Irma is eminent, and by the time this article airs, it may be knocking at my door. Because I’m writing this ahead of time (on Wednesday evening), I don’t actually know what’s coming, or what’s happening as this goes live. But according to forecasts, the odds of tropical storm force winds coming across Florida within the next few hours is somewhere between very high and certain, and that’s assuming that it’s not already here.

Whatever happens, there’s one thing I can probably guarantee: Based on what it’s done to the Lesser Antilles, and based on what it will probably do to the East Coast, “Irma,” which has replaced 2011’s Hurricane Irene on the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization’s naming list, will be a one-and-done (well, two-and-done if you count “Irma’s” last appearance in 1978). What does that mean? Simple, it means this:

Everyone who’s a big deal who comes to Florida comes here to retire. This includes old people, sports stars, and hurricanes.

When “Irma” gets to Florida, I’m sure she’s coming here to retire.

Unfortunately, that’s not a positive. My 2006 article, “What Blows Around, Comes Around” explains this retirement of hurricanes in detail.

The Politics of Weather

Every year that destructive hurricanes strike land, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization receives a petition for name retirement.  Nations will submit the names of hurricanes that caused extensive damage or loss of life in their lands to the WMO Regional Association, with the hope that those names will be taken out of circulation.  Of the eight names that I mentioned in the last segment, all of them were submitted and approved for retirement, along with one more in 2005, a storm named “Stan.”

Retirement is issued to a storm when it becomes a topic of sorrow for the people affected.  I tend to think of it more as a way to make the storm legendary.  For example, who could forget the three-day old storm that struck Mississippi in 1969 named “Camille”?  She started out as nothing, blew up into a monster overnight, and leveled the Mississippi coast two days later.  She was just another blip on the radar until she made her mark, and then, like a phantom mistress, she was gone in the night.  But she left her mark on American history.  One storm, one name—both never to return again.

What of our recent copycat, “Katrina”?  Like “Camille,” she blew up out of nothing and charged for the northern Gulf Coast, causing untold death and destruction.  Sure, her name had been used before in the last round, in 1999, and once before way back in 1981, but she didn’t do anything but rain on Central America as a 40mph tropical storm in ‘99, or do anything but pass over the Haiti/Dominican Republic border in ‘81.  Now that she’s left her mark in history, would it make sense for her name to be used again?  Why should the memory of New Orleans or her significance in history be bastardized with a weak return in 2011?

I tend to get fascinated over the history of particular named storms.  Some people think I’m crazy for thinking this way, but here’s my logic: as a fiction writer, all characters have an identity.  That identity begins with a name.  Just as each of us began life not as a musician or a construction worker, but as a name, so a character must start his journey as a hero or a villain with a name.  Likewise, a hurricane must start its journey of passivity or aggression with a name.  The heroes, those hurricanes that don’t hit anyone, always return six years later (if they’re low enough on the list).  The villains, however, the ones that haunt our thoughts, are the ones that go down in history.  It becomes a fascination, then, to see which names of the new season become heroes, and which ones become villains.

Those of us who grow up with the uncertain dread of what might happen between June and November of each year get this sick little joy from sharing our name with a hurricane.  Though, I have yet to have my name on the list in any basin around the world (there are eight basins, I believe), I still wonder what a hurricane with my name could do.  Will it be a passive storm, sputtering out in the middle of the ocean where the winds of sheer destroy it?  Or will it be a history maker, a force so bad that it convinces a city to implement new ordinances to protect it from future damage of similar nature?  Will it be a wimpy storm like “Alex” (“Andrew’s” replacement), who tries every six years to make its mark, only to fail by circumstances of weak power and poor direction?  Or will it be a devastating storm like “Ivan” the terrible, who knocked a section of I-10 into a chasm; or “Wilma” the Flintstone, who ripped apart entire networks of telephone poles along Federal Highway between Boynton Beach and Lake Worth, singing the words: “yabba dabba doo,” which isn’t far off from the sound the howling wind makes, all the way to the beach on her first run?

Names are a big part of a hurricane’s existence, so it leaves me to wonder why it has to be up to the targeted nations to make the call about its future.  If it’s about death, destruction, insurance, or confusion (the last being a symptom of what might happen if the World Meteorological Organization were to rename a future storm “Camille” or “Andrew”), then why let the history makers return if the affected nations fail to submit a plea to retire it?

There are two names I think about every time I think about hurricane retirement: “Emily” and “Gordon.”

“Emily” had been making appearances every six years since she was first introduced in 1981.  Like “Frances,” she showed up over and over again, trying to make her mark on someone, but just couldn’t muster up the right ingredients.  In 2005, “Emily” finally performed the tasks necessary to be considered for retirement.  Just as “Frances” finally made her mark in 2004 (after nearly ten attempts since the ‘60s), “Emily” made her mark last season.  She was a Category 5 storm that, like “Wilma,” smacked into the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 storm, stirred up trouble all over Mexico, and went out, finally, in a blaze of glory.  In a year full of hurricane insanity, she was a star.  But of the six hurricanes to wreck the Atlantic Basin, she was the only one slighted for retirement consideration.

“Gordon” was the name to replace “Gilbert,” when “Gilbert caused enough damage to come off the list in 1988.  “Gordon” made his first appearance in 1994 as a minimal hurricane, but one that dumped waves of rain on the mountains of Haiti; one that ultimately killed more than eleven hundred people.  This same storm later moved into South Florida as a tropical storm and tried to kill me when I was on my way to work, when I was getting tailgated by a florescent green car carrier on I-95, when I later hydroplaned off the exit ramp into Palm Beach Gardens and landed in a ditch at the bottom of the bend, where no one, not even the police officer who saw me struggling, offered to help me out.

Both of these storms were prime candidates for retirement in those years, but were overlooked for one reason: politics.

“Emily” was passed over in 2005, allegedly because her damage, though extensive, was minimal compared to what “Wilma” did to that same region three months later.  Even though Florida could’ve used the same excuse to slight “Frances” in favor of “Jeanne,” who hit the same exact area three weeks later, the state chose to bury them both into the history books once and for all, for they both sucked.  Mexico didn’t take that road, however.  The nation chose to favor the latter storm, as if only one could take the honor.

“Gordon” was passed over in 1994, simply because Haiti had bigger problems than hurricanes to deal with that year.  There was a political coup happening that took top priority with its government, which “Gordon,” as bad as it was, could not steal away.  So when it came time for the nations’ vote on their retirement nominees, “Gordon” was not to be seen.  Incidentally, no one in 1994 came off the list, as “Gordon” was the only bad boy of the bunch.  Now, in 2006, “Gordon” had since returned, but so far has yet to impress anyone with his fury.

This brings about my question: why wait for a nation to submit a name?  Shouldn’t there be an in-house panel at the World Meteorological Organization who can retire noteworthy hurricanes without national outcry?  Historically, notable storms have been submitted for retirement, but only by those nations that had nothing else going on that year.  In the case of these two storms, which by all rights and purposes should’ve made the list for their respective years, it would have benefited the Atlantic and the hurricanes’ victims had the WMO just taken the reigns away from the political institutions that were responsible for making the call.  Then, “Emily” could receive her justice, and “Gordon,” the storm that nearly killed me, would never again have to haunt me with another appearance.  Chalk up another victory for politics.

For Reference

For a full history of all tropical storms and hurricanes, including the ones mentioned in this essay, as well as information about naming systems, how hurricanes work, etc., visit the Weather Underground at www.wunderground.com or the National Hurricane Center at www.nhc.noaa.gov for all the resources you could ever need.  The first site stays current, with weather blogs written by experts that outline the potential for a storm, while the latter, though more official, tends to lag in information by a year or more.  They’re great places to visit if you’re in a panic over a storm.  You can also look up hurricanes through Google if you’re feeling really ambitious.

(end of “What Blows Around, Comes Around”)

Back to the present (2017), I hope those of you who are reading this are staying out of harm’s way. For me, I’m probably in the middle of it because I’ve got nowhere better to go. But my house is sturdy. Hopefully. But, if the people of Texas who went through Harvey (another storm likely to retire this year) are of any inspiration, then I can say that no matter how soft or hard this storm might be, we can still get through it if we stick together and don’t complain too much.

That said, if this storm does stay on its current track (as of Wednesday’s predictions, which is all I have at the time of this writing), then I’ll be without power for a few days, and I won’t be quick to answer any comments posted here. But, if you are one of the people in the path of this storm, and if you haven’t been through one like it before, and if you somehow found a way to read this (it’s 2017, so you’re probably on your fully powered smartphone, something we didn’t have in 2005), remember that the aftermath of a hurricane is generally very quiet, and you’ll suddenly find yourself able to think again, which isn’t so bad.

And, if you are in the storm’s path tonight, good luck. Hoping for the best for me, too.

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Cover Image: Pixabay

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What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 3)

With Hurricane Irma moving closer and closer, tensions are undoubtedly rising throughout the southern East Coast. But Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, nor is it a stranger to bad hurricanes, and just as Hurricane Irma is similar to last year’s Hurricane Matthew in path and in hype, it’s no stranger to hurricanes that share basic qualities to other high-profilers that have recently preceded it.

In the third section of my 2006 article “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” I break down the characteristics of Florida’s last major hurricane hit, Hurricane Wilma, and how it relates to other hurricanes of its era. It’s easy to see that we can learn from anything, yet we can’t know everything.

The Familiarity of “Wilma”

On the morning of October 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma, a major storm that chose to use my town as her exit point into the Atlantic, became the eighth hurricane to hit or pass Florida in two seasons.  Ironically, she had something in common with each of the first seven:

Like “Rita,” she passed through a narrow channel of water, before heading for open waters where she would later pick up steam to smash against her targeted coastline; “Rita” picking Texas, while “Wilma” picked us.  She, like “Rita,” also inundated the Keys.

Like “Katrina,” she surprised the world (or at least our section of it) when she suddenly transformed from a nobody to a reckless Category 5 storm, taunting her targets with unknown destruction.  She also shared the history board with “Katrina” in that “Katrina” set the “costliest storm” record at over $80 million dollars, while “Wilma” set the “most intense hurricane” record when she dropped to 882mb, which would’ve made her a nightmare over the Caribbean.  Also, like “Katrina” and “Rita,” she was a 2005 Category 5 storm that had the letter “A” ending her name.

Like “Dennis,” she set a time record for earliest something.  For “Dennis,” he was the earliest Category 4 formation and strike in the Atlantic Basin’s history.  For “Wilma,” she was the earliest formation of the twenty-first storm (which only happened one other time in recorded history).  Her formation also marked the first time that the seasonal naming chart had been exhausted.  This was a thrill to me, because I’ve always wanted to know what happened if a twenty-second storm formed and there were no more names to label it.  Now I know.  “Alpha” came about while “Wilma” blitzed the Yucatan.

Like “Jeanne,” she became the reckless youngest daughter of her family (family being major storms of a season), and proved once and for all that she would not be forgotten.  Also, like “Jeanne” she dilly-dallied in a faraway place before making the turn to strike South Florida, and blazed a trail for the coast, jumping from a Category 2 to a Category 3 at the last possible minute before landfall.  Also, like “Jeanne,” she confirmed to Floridians that hurricanes were nature’s way of harassing us.

Like “Ivan,” she left Floridians lingering with dread as we wondered where the Category 5 storm would go, and what it would do when it got there.  Also, like “Ivan,” she set a personal record, where “Ivan” became the southernmost tropical storm formation in Atlantic history, while “Wilma” became the fastest drop in pressure (she lost 100mb in 24 hours, which is also nearly a world record).

Like “Frances,” she was a massive storm that lumbered about for so long that she pummeled her first target for three days.  Though “Wilma” shot over South Florida in less than five hours, she hammered the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 storm for an entire weekend.  “Frances,” though only a Category 2 at the time, did the same thing to us the year before—on a weekend.

Finally, like “Charley,” she surprised the National Hurricane Center, and the citizens of South Florida, when she significantly increased in speed at a critical time.  While “Charley” leapt from a Category 2 to a Category 4 about two hours before landfall, “Wilma” leapt from a tropical storm to a Category 5 about two days out from the Yucatan.  This made life ominous for South Florida when the National Hurricane Center said she was coming for us next, and that her navigation around the cliffs of the Yucatan would decide whether she hit us with Category 2 strength or Category 5 strength.  Also, like “Charley,” she swung into South Florida from the west coast between Naples and Ft. Myers, before making a beeline straight for my house, previously in Altamonte Springs, this time in Lake Worth.

(Part 4 tomorrow)

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Cover Image: Pixabay

What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 2)

Childhood memories are some of the most precious things we store in our human central processing units, called brains. As we get older and more cynical toward the world, we cherish more the fondness of revisiting that time or place that once kept our joy, like amusement parks on a warm, summer day, or a snowy mountain on a warm, summer day (it could happen in high places), or in the middle of a bakery where our favorite pies are made.

We hold photo albums and souvenirs of the past to keep the memories alive, and doing so seems to maintain most of us with pretty rational thought or action. But, when our memories are suddenly threatened by a force outside of our control, we may find that rationale chucked out the window, and our greatest panic may turn to our greatest sorrow. Such is the case when loss is inevitable.

The following story is a continuation of my 2006 article, “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” about the futile reality of holding on to fickle child memories during a catastrophic weather event.

To Shed a Tear

By eleven years old, I had grown accustomed to using my backyard shed as a training module for the things that a young boy pretends to train for.  The green tin storage chamber, with the broken doors and the eagle emblem nailed to the triangular white headpiece, stood tall as my friends and I used it for a number of faculties, including rain sheltering, target practice (squirt guns opened-fire on the eagle), and the home base for our epic neighborhood Hide and Seek games.  Though it claimed to be a run-of-the-mill tool shed—storing such things as my family’s lawnmower, toolboxes, rakes and shovels—my friends and I knew better.  With a grimy ladder pressed against an exterior wall, we’d occasionally climb to the top of the damaged roof to see how tough our guts were.  As far as I could remember, no one fell.

“Eagle Base,” as it was later christened for its role in our Hide and Seek games, stood tough against a number of elemental hazards, from common rainstorms to a couple incidents of hail.  With two large trees protecting each side and a number of object barriers including flowerpots and ladders lining its base, even the worst events, including the big March storm of 1993 (a monster weather maker that hit the entire east coast at once) couldn’t touch it.

The shed, though, didn’t stand without some opposition.  In 1979, during its early years of existence, it stood upright and fully formed.  Just as it had for the decades to follow, the little tin structure housed its tools with complete vigilance.  When the tools weren’t used, it protected them with closed doors, just as it was designed to do.  But not far into the second half of the year, it faced its first formidable opponent of its life: Hurricane David.  Though the storm was only a Category 1 at the time of its arrival, the reckless winds pounded those doors with iron fists, knocking them into submission.  By the time the storm passed, the doors were bent and pushed off their tracks, never again to close properly.

That incident could’ve disheartened the shed, but no, the youthful structure went on.  As the ‘80s approached and I became steadily more aware of the world (I was only three at the start of the decade), I began to discover its many uses as a “training center.”  From there, it became an important part of my life.

As the years passed, and my childhood transformed into adolescence, “Eagle Base” steadily transformed into a household utility center.  Although I hated yard work at the time, I still found myself scouring the hull for rakes and shovels on those weekends when my parents wanted me to pick up leaves or fallen oranges.  I wasn’t a fan of the structure in those times, because the grimy foundation became a reminder that going in meant having to take another shower later, which meant I was going to feel nasty in the meantime.  But even in my teenage grumbling, the shed stood tall.

Toward my adulthood, it transformed from a mere utility center to a shelter for cats during rainstorms.  Every once in awhile, a new stray would find its way to my front porch, coming from some undisclosed place up the street.  After hanging out for a while, deciding it would adopt us, the cat would then move to the backyard, where it would take up arms on the deck or under the clothesline.  During sunny days, the cats would roam fearlessly around the four corners of the backyard.  During rainy days, however, they’d disappear.  For the pregnant ones looking for a new home, the shed became a place to give birth and to keep the new litter dry.

More years passed, and more abuse befell it—including a tall object puncturing the roof from the inside, and a large hole wearing through the right wall—but it continued to stand, old but proud.  As I reached my twenties, the old “Eagle Base” became a centerpiece for an expanding garden, starting with the Schefflera to its left and a small palm tree to its right.  Though the trees made getting behind the shed difficult (with only a few feet of yard between the wall and the surrounding fences), they did so with aesthetic pleasure, making the wounded structure appear at rest.

In 2002, the Florida Holly along the back fence grew tangled, so much that it became a hazard.  During this summer and the one to follow, I found myself out there sawing away at its tree branches—the ones too high to make my reach comfortable.  The simple tasks of paring the tangled little beasts back, preventing the possibility of disaster striking our yard should another storm ever hit (which had been a rare thing since “Andrew” of 1992), turned into month-long projects.  Those projects, in turn, became annual events.  While all the trees in my yard became victims of the pole saw at one point or another, the dreaded Florida Holly became my bane—the thing that bled sawdust in waves, but never fell under control.  By 2003, we had to cut it down.

We thought we had done the yard a favor.  When the jumbled mess of a tree came down that year, we thought we had spared ourselves from future disaster.  As the last remnants of the Florida Holly went to the sidewalk, we thought we had ensured “Eagle Base’s” life to last for good.

In 2004, our sense of security proved false.

Hurricanes came and went throughout the last twenty-five years, none doing to the shed what “David” did in its early years.  Though the doors piled up in the corner, never again to be used in regular service, we’d return them to their tracks for the brief moments when strong winds were promised, and they would hold long enough to keep the contents inside safe.  Because no storm since 1979 packed a zephyr so fierce, we didn’t think any future storm would challenge it.  Placing the doors back on their tracks for the arrival of yet another storm seemed like a good idea.

Hurricane Frances, the second of four Florida storms that year, threatened to come into South Florida during the first weekend in September.  I had just returned home from my year in Altamonte Springs, having gotten through “Charley” just two weeks earlier, and now I had to stare this new monster in the eye.  The news promised a huge storm, but I just shrugged it off.  I came home, relaxed a couple of days, prepared for the hurricane, and then headed to my grandmother’s with my family to help her through the storm.  I didn’t even bother unpacking my stuff.

With family and two cats in tow, we made it to my grandmother’s condo, where we hung out in front of the TV for several hours, then sat in the dark as the power went out.  We stayed in that little unlit condo for three days.  “Frances” was not only huge; she was slow.

That was Friday.  We returned Monday, after an exhaustive ordeal of winds and heat, to explore the damage left to our home.  As usual, the house came through unscathed.  As usual, it boasted the expected fallen leaves and branches, with the occasional trash.  As usual, it didn’t seem like the storm had been that big of a deal.

Except, something was different than before.  This time, a new story befell our backyard:

As usual, the shed endured the onslaught of those 80mph winds.  For three days those winds blasted, but they weren’t enough for the tired old veteran to submit.  “Frances” kept howling, but the old tin structure kept resisting.  She whipped it with wind gusts reaching close to a hundred, but the creaks of sheet metal endured her wrath; the shed vibrating fiercely, but fighting with everything it had.  It was the fight of its life, but the old coot stood.

Finally, on the third day, “Frances” realized “Eagle Base” was winning the battle, just as it had won against “David” in its youth, and so she was scared.  She came here with a mission, refusing to leave it unfilled.  But sensing her time to win growing short, she knew she had to do something, something underhanded if the tide didn’t turn in her favor.  It was a bloody fight she refused to lose.

The tide didn’t turn, so “Frances” stopped fighting fair and hit “Eagle Base” below the belt.  She snapped a large branch off the Schefflera tree—the tree I didn’t cut—and used it as her weapon.  When we came home Monday, we saw the results of the battle.  It seemed, at last, that “Eagle Base” had met its match.

The branch had fallen on the roof, crushing the structure into a mangled mess.  Under the branch, heaps of tin lay in piles on the old rocky foundation, burying shelves and tools like the lost bodies of a fallen tower.  A cross-shaped foot made of brass, belonging to a rack or a chair, poked out from underneath the triangular white headpiece, spelling out the tragedy of the shed’s last stand.  With a layer of leaves covering it over its still grave, the last visible trace of the old glory of my childhood set nailed securely against the headpiece: the black eagle emblem, the signature of “Eagle Base,” unmoved, but clearly lost of its purpose.

Normally, I try not to weep over the loss of an inanimate object, especially not one that served primarily as a place to store a lawnmower.  But it was hard to hold back the sorrow of that day, a day where my childhood refuge lay fallen.  The last vestige of that old life was gone.

An old childhood friend of mine came over that day, to see how we all panned out.  The power was off, the place was a wreck, and there was nothing really to do but to clean up.  He came over anyway to hang out, and I showed him what had happened.  This childhood friend, a grown man in his mid-twenties, a man who never cries, a man who never lets water drench his back, stood there marveling.  All he could say was, “But that was base.  You can’t destroy base.”

And that day, this grown man who only had half the memories of this little green tin structure that I had, felt sorrow, too.

It was base.  It was “Eagle Base.”  And like all veterans of battle, it had to retire.

Now, in 2006, the old foundation serves as a backyard patio, complete with chairs, table, and pirate wine barrel.  The old eagle emblem that used to loom over the shed’s entrance like a sentry, now sets nailed to the wall next to my front door, where it greets all who choose to enter.  And, like a dead relative who had a colorful past, the old shed lives on in pictures and in memory, where now it can never be forgotten.  So now let us hold a moment of silence for this inanimate wonder that breathed life into my youth, which could only fall by slide of hand.

(Part 3 tomorrow)

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Cover Image: Pixabay

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What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 1)

I had originally scheduled a release for the final bonus chapter of the Marketing Author 001 today, but I decided to push that and all of my other upcoming releases back a week to focus on a more timely event.

About two weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey roared onto the coast of southeast Texas and caused extensive and catastrophic flooding damage to the region. It became a major historical event that will take a long, long time for the people of Houston and surrounding areas to recover from. Today, another storm, Hurricane Irma, is destroying the Lesser Antilles with 185 mph winds, and over the next couple of days will continue west through Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba, and the Bahamas, and by late this weekend, if the predicted track holds true, will makes its unwelcome appearance here in South Florida.

Now, last year in October, South Florida was threatened by another major storm, Hurricane Matthew, but that storm skirted the coast, as the big ones often do, and continued on north of us. The end result was bad for the Carolinas, but pretty tolerable here. I ended up keeping my lights on the whole time.

It’s easy to assume that Hurricane Irma will do something similar, especially when the projected track is already in close alignment with Matthew’s, and when the patterns of moving north ever so slightly, enough to change the potential landfall in fact, continue to persist.

But, as I’ve learned through years of preparing for absentee storms and bracing for the monsters that actually arrive, hurricanes are unpredictable, and expecting one to do exactly as another has done in the past is a mistake, and one that no one can afford to make.

Now, Hurricane Irma is still out there, and its effects on Florida and the rest of the East Coast have not yet been determined. It could come right up the middle of the state in the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger went right up the middle of Buzzsaw, a villain he battles in 1987’s The Running Man. But it could also steer clear of the state entirely, spend some more time in the water, perhaps take a direct visit to Canada, and leave everyone else alone. Only time and history will tell, of course.

With the future of the storm unknown, but the lessons it can teach us still at the forefront, I thought it was time to reintroduce one of my older articles from 2006 about this very topic, told through the lens of The Big Four, the hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004, as a way to bring the legacies of the past into the relevance of the presence, and hopefully to remind those who read this to respect the power of a major hurricane, no matter where it goes or whom it affects.

I’ll be releasing this story in four parts, one each night until Saturday, when the storm prepares to hit. Because everything I’ve got coming up the line is on a schedule, my previously planned articles will still make landfall, whether I lose power or not, but a week later than planned. So, The Marketing Author 001, Part 13 will go live next Wednesday, September 13, and additional articles will follow on the 14th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd. Hopefully I’ll have power again by then. (Hopefully I won’t lose it in the first place.)

(Story begins below the photo of Key West getting slammed by a hurricane.)

key-west-81664_1280

A History of Hurricanes

At the height of the 2004 Hurricane Season, a friend of mine asked if I had a hurricane magnet in my pocket.  I told him I did.  I had carried it around since August of that year, only briefly to pass it off at the start of 2005, just to reclaim it back to my possession near the height of that season.  It was an exciting thing—attracting so many anomalies over the course of fourteen months.  Even now as I write this, I have no guarantee that the phenomenon has run its course.  With some heavy hitting names like “Beryl,” “Florence,” and “Joyce” on the list, the 2006 season about to launch in six weeks will no doubt put the shade of red into Florida’s cheeks for the third year in a row.

Ah, the magic word: Florida, a peninsular state that weather experts all over the Western Hemisphere have whispered about for ages.  The target of more than a hundred spinners in as many years, the trap of tourists who eagerly race for the northern highways come August and September—that’s the magic kingdom we know as Florida.  My place of birth.  The land of my upbringing.  Florida.  Both the weatherman’s fantasy and his nightmare rolled up into one ball of emotion.  The state where insurance is an unpredictable commodity.  My home state.

Anyone who has watched CNN or the Weather Channel since August 2004 will know that Florida was stamped with a bull’s eye.  Those dormant weather makers that have teased us for years finally pounded on our front doors and demanded to rip us apart.  For two straight years.  With no guarantee that the torment has finished.  As I type this, the state is holding its breath.

The funny thing is that life didn’t start with such anxiety in the early days of my memory.  Even though some notorious storm systems made their way through my backyard over the years, none of them heightened my tension the way the 2004 season did.  My first recollection started with “David,” a 1979 storm that kicked the crap out of the Caribbean, but somehow lost its punch when it brushed the South Florida coast.  My father took me to the beach when the wind started churning, to show me the tide and to introduce me to the spectacle.  Where normally that would’ve been a bad idea (storm surges are usually inevitable with hurricanes), the punch was so weak that it didn’t seem like anything more than just another windy and rainy day.  And unless “David” was actually “Danny” (1985)—though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t anywhere close to nine years old yet—this thing reduced my fear of hurricanes to an almost nonexistent level.  Any time the “threat” of a hurricane became eminent, I just shrugged it off, as if it were another “David”—that horribly weak storm that couldn’t blow a leaf off a tree—that storm that unbeknownst to me at the time had killed way more than a thousand people on an island south of me and at one time packed Category 5 winds not even a week before passing over me.  Like most Floridians, I was disillusioned.  At three years old, I was disillusioned.

My eyes didn’t awaken to the true ferocity of a hurricane until thirteen years later—the year that Florida had gotten its dues for the first time in a generation.  In the late eighties, I heard about monsters like “Gilbert” (1988) and “Hugo” (1989) terrorizing the Atlantic and the Caribbean, but I figured they were products of a different world—a world that didn’t mess with Florida.  “Hugo” got my attention when the local news showed footage of his aftermath in Charleston, South Carolina, revealing a level of damage that seemed uncharacteristic of the hurricanes that I knew.  Wreckage remained where homes previously stood, and families sobbed over their hardened losses.  It was a strange sight to see.  The hurricanes in my world didn’t do such things.  The hurricanes in my world sent their gusty breezes, but not much else.  “Hugo” was no doubt a bit freaky.  But he was an anomaly.  Storms like him didn’t strike south of the Carolinas.  Storms like him only struck the Carolinas.

If only that were true.

Three years later, his hopped-up cousin came to town.

“Andrew” (1992) changed my mind about hurricanes forever, sort of.  When I was sixteen years old, I was hanging out with my youth group at the same beach where my father had taken me to see “David” so many years earlier.  We were there on the Saturday before the new school year started, undoubtedly trying to squeeze out the last remnants of our sacred vacation, and I had no idea that something big was brewing in the Atlantic.  The youth pastor’s wife mentioned that a storm was coming, but I didn’t think anything of it.  Storms that came after Florida were like de-clawed cats that came after pine trees.  Nothing about them spelled scariness.  But then, I went home to watch the news and felt my heart pound for the first time.  That little wimpy “Andrew” was packing over 150mph sustained winds.  And he was aiming for South Florida.  The storms that landed before him barely packed 80mph winds.  They weren’t anything to panic over.  But “Hugo” of South Carolina packed close to 140mph winds.  And that thing wrecked a community.  This “Andrew” was out there laughing at “Hugo,” and it was coming right for South Florida?  Laughing at us?  The arrival of a hurricane didn’t seem so comfortable all of a sudden.

Sunday was spent preparing the house for his arrival.  As a sixteen-year-old who didn’t want to be bothered with housework, I felt like I was wasting a perfectly nice day.  I hated the prep work involved with bracing a house for a hurricane, but I put up with it because I didn’t have much of a choice.  If “Andrew” was coming, he wasn’t going to be bringing roses.  I did what I was told.  And then, night fell.  The news was dedicated entirely to “Andrew” for the rest of the evening.  In my prior memories I couldn’t recall the news devoting so much of its airtime to a hurricane.  Undoubtedly, this one was serious.  And I kept myself glued to the television all night.

Even as my parents slept, I stayed in the living room monitoring the progress of this storm.  Not once did the wind speeds die during the course of its coming.  Somehow I expected it to lose its punch as it drew closer, but it kept coming, inching ever closer as the harbinger of doom.  I looked out my back window to see our palm tree whipping around as the winds kicked up to 60mph.  It was enough to bend the frond all the way down to the grass.  And the storm drew closer, holding its course.  All it needed was to shift direction toward the north by one degree and it would be upon me full force.  But it held its course—passing over the Bahamas, passing through the Florida straits, reaching the South Florida coast, hitting the city of Miami full force—brushing me with its 60mph shoulder.

It missed me.  The news showed the streets of metro Miami getting smashed with horribly fierce winds: traffic lights flinging around like rag dolls, streams of water rushing through the avenues at ungodly speeds.  But my palm frond continued to dance outside the back window, as if it knew the chance for fury had subsided.  When the sun came up a couple of hours later and the conditions failed to worsen, my trees, my home, and my neighborhood continued to stand.  The great and powerful “Andrew” kept his fury limited to the south.  The most we lost in the skirmish were a few leaves and the first day of school.  All was back to normal by Tuesday.  But the cameras were still rolling and the southern regions of Miami were on the news.  “Hugo” was reborn.  “Andrew” put the fear in me.

For the next couple of years I watched the news during hurricane season religiously.  For every new storm that surfaced, I had to find out what it was doing and where it was going.  Each week I waited to see if my home was destined for danger, but nothing came.  For two straight years, Florida received nothing in the catastrophe department like it did from “Andrew.”  Only “Gordon” (1994) stood a chance at re-igniting my fears, but that was due to something that happened on the highway.  All in all, Florida’s big hurricane crisis was limited to one isolated storm.  After the busy season of 1995, I became exhausted with hurricane news and decided I didn’t care anymore.  Each season before and after were as big of a bust as they were in the ‘80s.  We spent an entire day preparing for storms that eventually turned into “coastal riders.”  In 1999, the last straw hit me as I sat in my darkened house in Orlando waiting for a new monster to come at me.  “Floyd,” the first storm to put the fear in me since “Andrew,” came up to the Central Florida coastline near Daytona, promising to sweep across the state with an unholy swath of destruction in its Category 3 wake, and changed its mind.  At the last minute, the storm swung northward and rode up the coast into the Carolinas, where it rerouted its destructive intentions into some small towns in the northern state.  I was disappointed.

The thing that I learned from “Andrew” and confirmed in “Floyd” (and in many of the storms before and since) was that hurricanes, as destructive as they had the potential to be, were relentless teases.  The big ones had a habit of taunting me, making it clear that they were coming for my house, bringing the pain with them, but only the little ones ever followed through.  The ones that actually had damage potential put the fear in the local news enough to convince residents like me to board up, to bottle up, and to pack away a garage full of canned soup.  But at the last minute they’d change direction, and all of a sudden my entire Sunday was wasted.  No hurricane.  No danger.  Just a boarded up house and an idiot sitting inside.  By the start of the 2000s, I didn’t give any thought to hurricanes anymore.

My jaded heart against the hoopla continued all the way into the middle of August 2004.  On Wednesday, the night of the 11th, I walked around the aisles of a Blockbuster Video in Altamonte Springs, Florida (a suburb of Orlando), searching for DVDs, when I heard one of the clerks nearby talking about two storms that were churning near the state: “Bonnie” and “Charley.”  I didn’t listen very intently, because I no longer respected hurricanes for the dead-focused behemoths they should’ve been.  I walked home that night (I lived up the street from the store), putting the thought out of my mind.

The next day I walked to the pool to catch up on some reading, where I was surprised to see the deck chairs stacked up and roped off.  I thought the condo association was just cleaning the area, so I walked to the other pool across the parking lot to read there, instead.  But I discovered the same ordeal.  Without a place to sit, I decided to stick my feet into the pool and read by the steps.  And that’s when I noticed the fitness room across from the fence sealed off with the big giant “X” of masking tape.  Now I knew the comments from the night before meant something.

As it turned out, “Charley” was the one that got the clerk’s attention, as it was the one that got the condominium’s attention.  The forecast predicted it to come ashore near Gainesville as a Category 2, but the threat to Orlando was subjective.  Seeing as how the preparation efforts were primarily limited to masking tape coverings, I didn’t think much of it.  I went to sleep that night with my usual expectations.

The next day, however, my mood changed.  “Charley” had already become a Category 2 by the morning of Friday the 13th, but somehow, in the time it took for me to escape the Weather Channel in the early afternoon to go to the grocery store and to return an hour later, the entire forecast shifted.  When I headed back to my apartment, one of the neighbors stopped me and asked if I heard about the updates.  Since I was at Publix for the last hour, my answer was “no.”  Apparently, that wimpy little “Charley,” a former list-mate of “Andrew’s,” had blown up into a strong Category 4.  And it wasn’t heading for Gainesville any longer.  Now the forecast aimed it straight for Tampa Bay—a coastal region surrounded by three large cities.  For the first time in twelve years, I sensed that catastrophic destruction was coming.  Seeing a place on the news that I had just visited three months earlier, called The Pier, intensified my dread.  The last fond memory I had with a close friend, and the place that formed it, was endangered of getting wiped off the map.  My dread sunk in.

But then, “Charley” did something no one expected.  He shifted again.  As conditions in my own town drastically deteriorated, “Charley” took his aim off Tampa and moved into the coast with destructive power through a town called Port Charlotte near Fort Myers.  At Category 4 strength, he ripped through that region with the anger and fierceness of “Hugo,” but he wasn’t finished with them.  He had a mission—a significant point to prove.  After all the times I had been teased by weak storms and course-changing powerhouses, “Charley” initiated a war that would forever change my tune.  He came right for me—dead on.  That night, at 9pm, as my power blew out, the eye of this rampaging storm, which was supposed to strike Tampa Bay, reached I-4 in the Kissimmee region and rode the highway all the way up, past Universal Studios, through downtown Orlando, and right over Altamonte Springs—right over my buried head.  For the first time ever, I sat in a darkened room without windows, waiting for a fierce storm to pass by.

Within an hour, the 90mph winds died down and the eye was on top of me.  All was calm.  I waited for the backside to hit, but there wasn’t much to it.  It was in and out and on its way over Daytona by midnight.  I walked to my car to listen to the news.  Palm trees were decapitated all around the neighborhood.  A pile of fallen debris blocked the driver side of my poor Honda Civic (a car unfortunate enough to sit through four of these monsters).  An oak tree had fallen on top of one of the buildings next to the first pool.  Hurricane reality finally woke me up.  And “Charley” was just the warning shot.  The neighborhood was completely trashed, the city as a whole was littered with damaged signs and fallen trees, and “Charley” was only the beginning of a two-year nightmare.

(Part 2 tomorrow)

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Cover Image: Pixabay

Twenty Years

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

February 13, 2014:

This one is for the ladies, the lonely hearts, the hopefuls. This is for those, like me, who have longed for relational change but couldn’t find it. This is for those who have nevertheless impacted my heart and mind in a positive way, who have, whether inadvertently or intentionally, affected my idea of what makes a woman great. This is for the good women who have called me friend and accepted me for who I am:

The heart is something we all have year round, and something we do our best to share whenever appropriate. On one day each year, we make a big deal about showing it, about nurturing it, about enlarging it, etc. We make plans to create an environment to revel in it and to exchange extravagant gifts to validate it. We can complain that Hallmark started it for its capital gain, but let’s be honest, it never hurts to tell someone who’s special to us that he or she is special, and if we’re so consumed with life that we need a designated day to remind us why we care, and remind us that we should say something about it, well, it sucks, but at least it’s something. The important thing is that we have that one person we need that reminder for. Shows that we’re doing something right in our choices. It might be the only right choices we’re making.

For twenty years I’ve been praying for someone worthy of my heart to come along and do her part to alter my life for the better, and more interesting, and more exciting, and more fulfilling. For twenty years I’ve spent each 15th of February expecting next year to be different, and each following 14th of February wondering why it isn’t. Some have argued that I don’t try hard enough to invite that change. But I know that’s untrue. Maybe I don’t cast my net into the sea and try to catch as many fish as I can, or pick through the pile until I find the first one I like. But I do invite opportunities to get to know people when connections are made. I don’t make it impossible for a good woman to get close if there’s no reason to keep her at a distance. I certainly am not lost on doing my part to invite change. But it takes two people to make a relationship work, and I can’t invite change if I’m the only one who wants to see it happen. The fact is, I have plenty of good lady friends who know and understand me and, as a result, respect me; some are just right themselves, but for whatever reason aren’t looking for more; some, I’m sure, are networked well enough to know somebody, and anyone who knows me well knows the qualities my heart tends to gravitate toward, yet those introductions are rarely made (and the few that are made tend to peg me completely wrong). Sometimes I meet someone worthy of my attention, and I make it my priority to offer my time in getting to know her—the end result generally comes down to her not having the time, or her deciding we’re just friends, or her simply not looking to date. I have given Internet dating a try, much to my chagrin, and, well, let’s just say I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a screwdriver than go through that nightmare again. The things that should’ve helped, haven’t, and the things that I never should’ve bothered with, also haven’t. Twenty years of praying about it, meeting good women, meeting a few that I really liked, and doing my part to move things forward have yet to put me in that position where the 14th of February actually means something. There’s a point when I have to admit that I’ve done everything I can and the rest is between whoever is out there and God. Might be the symptom of praying that I would find one, just one, who would be all the difference to me and more than enough to put other interests out of mind. Maybe if I hadn’t asked for that, my story would’ve played out differently. Whatever the reason, I have most certainly taken my chances. I can’t make someone choose me.

I don’t know when the change will happen. I’ve given it to God a long time ago, even though I remind Him often that I’m still waiting. I get frustrated when I meet and start getting to know someone amazing and come to find out she’s already with someone, or I’m not her type, or we’re not actually out on a date in spite of it sure looking and feeling like one. I get more frustrated when God uses a friend or stranger to drop off a random comment designed to give me hope (like the time when I was sweeping the dining room floor at the restaurant I had worked at, feeling brokenhearted over something relational but stupid, and the random old lady in the corner of the room told me I’d make someone a great husband one day—that was basically like hearing God telling me that, and at that time I needed some kind of encouragement) when the better solution, in my mind, is to give me favor and put the woman I’ve prayed for in my life, now, today, with eyes and a heart ready for me. She’s out there, right? So where is she? What’s the hold up?

Waiting sucks because there is no magic formula for speeding up that first meeting, or making someone that catches my attention “the one,” or being in the right place at the right time or doing the right thing to ensure that conditions are perfect for that meeting to happen and that first impression to be the best impression in the history of time, space, and the Internet. No Christian living book, no self-help book, and no seminar on “the perfect whatever” has the answer because that assumes formulaic thinking, and God has proven throughout history, in the Bible, in history books, and in personal stories I’ve heard from friends and family that He introduces people (I don’t believe in random coincidence) in any way He chooses, that there is no “right” introduction, that there is no “right” path, and that no two couples have the same origin story or chapter-by-chapter development as the next. Basically, two people meet (I believe by God’s sovereign hand), and they decide what to do with that meeting. Most of the time when God introduces two people, they say hello, feel nothing, and move on to the next table. That’s valid. That relationship was never going to happen. Perhaps it could have; perhaps it would’ve been the best relationship they would ever have with another person. But they will never know because the connection wasn’t fast, hot, and intense. They move on, hoping to find the relationship that does burn them hot and bright (and fast). Ignorance is bliss.

But just because this usually happens, doesn’t mean it always happens.

The stories that people have shared with me have often left a mark on my viewpoint. I’ve come to understand that when we do things God’s way, He can arrange things however He wants. Sometimes they know in the first minute that they’ve found “the one” or at least the one they’re gonna actually choose, even if “the one” is just a term we give to validate our dream partner. One couple I know (who might be reading this) knew they had found their respective spouses within four hours of conversation, immediately lost touch with each other due to forgetting to exchange numbers (I think that was the story), were somehow reconnected a week later, and in that second meeting the man asked the woman to marry him, and her response was, “What took you so long?” Their fifth date (over eight months of long distance communication) was their wedding. Twenty years later, they are still together; I assume happily.

Another couple I have great respect for were just friends for well over a year before they realized that they were better off together than not, and made the decision to date (it helped that their relationship was prophesized over; though that is most certainly a rarity, and proof that no formula is “the way”), and spent another year or so in courtship, putting God first, etc., and now they are eighteen years and two kids into their highly successful marriage. They didn’t have to marry. For the first year and a half that they knew each other, they had no intention in dating the other. But they didn’t close it down as an option. Their openness led them to much bigger and better things.

Another couple I know had done things perfectly by the courtship model, going through the various steps and stages as outlined in some of the best relational books around. They looked great together. Fit the formula’s expectations perfectly. They got married; they had taken their steps and stages to the letter. This was the natural order, according to the books. They divorced five years later after spending most of the marriage engaged in battle. They followed the formula.

The successful ones had just embraced God’s wisdom, and trusted Him to keep them strong, and trusted each other to keep each other strong. No set outline required—just the one that their Heavenly Father had put before them with them in mind. They also kept an open heart. They understood that they were inviting imperfect people who look badly in the morning into their own hard lives. They were gonna make it work because God didn’t have to bring them together but chose to anyway.

Every story is worth telling. My favorite ones are those told from the unlikeliest or craziest situations. I look forward to telling mine once I’m allowed to write the first chapter.

I don’t have anyone to share this day designed by Hallmark and adopted into popular culture as the day to say three important words, and exchange shiny gifts, and enjoy all the benefits of having someone who cares in my life right now. And, really, that’s okay. I do want to experience this sentiment that pretty much everyone else gets to experience year after year, and I hope to experience it sooner than later, but I’ve been weaned heavily on patience throughout my life, so this game of patiently waiting and improving myself in the meantime is more of the same. However, being single doesn’t make me unable to express to my lady friends what each of them means to me. You ladies deserve to know that you’re important. Right?

Even though I’m structuring this like a blog, I’m writing much of it with the intention of cross-posting it to Facebook for my actual lady friends to see, and I’m writing this to you, the ladies, because I want you to know that I appreciate the place you either had or still have in my life. I realize that many of you have not gotten to know me well at all, and if we’ve spoken just once, I guess we can chalk this one up to what could have been. But for those who have given me the time to know you well, and those who have allowed me to show that I care, and those who have accepted me in all of my states, at my best and at my worst, and those who allowed me to reciprocate that unconditional acceptance, you have my utmost appreciation. You’ve taught me a lot about what good women are. I’ve tried my best to show you what a good man is. I don’t know if I’ve done my part well, but I can tell you that if I’ve ever cared about you, even a little, or if I’ve gone out of my way to be there for you, or listen to you, or just enjoy your friendship in whatever state it’s in, then you’ve probably done your part to prove your quality to me, and any quality of yours I’ve admired, I’ve probably put on my checklist of traits I hope to find in a wife. That’s all valuable, of course. I hope you can appreciate that. God has certainly used you to impact me for the better.

To those of you who are married, I learn a lot by how you speak of yourselves, your husbands, and your families. You encourage me when you speak highly of those you’re “stuck” with. You scare me when you criticize even the little things, but you remind me that forgiveness is powerful, and love can overlook just about anything. You remind me that marriage is two imperfect people doing the best they can to make this awkward decision they had made at one point actually work. You convince me that it’s not such an insane decision to carry out when you speak of those times that do work. Time and again I hear people regret the decision to marry. Many wish they could go back to being single. I get it. Your freedoms are false. The plans you make, you have to run by your spouse (a lot like a twelve-year-old has to run by his parents). Your friendships with the opposite sex are extremely limited, and most, if not all, fade to just a shadow of what it once was. Seems like a raw deal on the surface. But then you consider the companionship, the intimacy, the partnership, the wellspring of resources, and the fact that if you’re having a heart attack in the middle of the night, someone will know about it and get immediate help, and suddenly marriage sounds like something that everyone should have a right to invest in. Even if it’s all kinds of scary. Seeing some of you going through these ups and downs, these joys and difficulties with your spouses reminds me that, if I can handle a woman at her worst, then I have no reason to be afraid of this. Most women I know, who trust me, will at some point reveal her worst, and I’m usually tolerant of it. I think I’m emotionally ready.

Those of you who are a little older, I get a picture of what a good wife becomes. You display the same tendencies as the newer wives, but do so as veterans. Your previous stresses are no longer stressful. You’ve endured. You’ve figured out your game plan and stuck with it. You’ve become the perfect model for the next generation. You remind me that any woman I choose will go through her rough patches, but eventually she’ll be made better, and even in those darkest moments, she’s worth having close to me. Today may suck, today may really suck, but there’s still hope for healing tomorrow and hope for betterment the day after.

To those of you who are single, I want to say that I appreciate you a lot, too. As of today, not one of you has taken a chance on me, and that’s fine. You decide what you want. Doesn’t mean I can’t learn from you, or you can’t learn from me, and part of making friends, dating future spouses, or just speaking to acquaintances, is to better ourselves, our circumstances, and to understand what other people need and, if possible, help them to meet those needs. I think that’s the nature of real love—giving of ourselves to meet the needs or desires of someone else, whether we feel like it or not, not because we expect a return but because we have the capability and desire to give anyway. To those of you who let me be who I am, thank you. You’re the reason I don’t give up. You remind me that I’m still necessary.

Not everyone who was close to me once is still close to me today. Most, in fact, have faded from my life as the years ticked on. But those who ever were close, I still care about, and still wish the best for. To those of you who have drifted away, I appreciate the person each of you has helped craft me to become. Some of you have done your part to make me stronger. Some have led me to greater tolerance. Some have reminded me of the qualities I desire in a wife. Some have reminded me of the qualities I hope never to encounter again. Some of you have shown me the errors of my ways. Some of you have forgiven me of my stupidities. I’m still thankful for all of that. Time and circumstance may have caused a rift, but you still have your impression on me.

Life is a process, a journey, a mystery, a heartbreak, a hassle, a joy, and a roller coaster. If you and I were ever friends, or if we could’ve been close had we just had a little more time and better circumstances, or if we learned anything valuable from each other, just know that I’m glad that you are or were a part of my life, that you have your special place in my heart, and that on this coming day where we’re supposed to make a big deal, I may be walking alone, spending my evening eating a burger and watching Robocop, but I’ll be happy because I’ve been given a chance to know you. I hope this message is better than candies and flowers. I hope you have the story you’ve always wanted.

Twenty years of prayer, and here I am pretty darn blessed to have such amazing ladies cross my path and show me what I’ve been praying for. Thanks to each of you who are, in fact, amazing.

An Analysis of “What, What”

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

February 5, 2014

Imagine this scenario: I log into Facebook to check the latest news feed. One of my friends has just posted a picture of himself sipping Mai Tais on a South Pacific beach with rock stars on one hand and supermodels on the other. The picture is not Photoshopped. I want to believe it’s real, but I can’t. It’s too much to take in. I don’t know what to say if it’s true. The latest phrase craze for 2014 helps me ask the pointed question: “What, what?” What indeed.

Where did this “what, what” come from? Why am I talking crazy? Forget Facebook photos. Maybe I just saw a bear drinking from a water fountain on a cold, winter day. Maybe my car smells like booze when I don’t drink. In any case where the immediate circumstance drops my guard, I have no choice but to react. I have to react with the quickest phrase I can grab. I let my residual memory take over. The words to leave my lips are unscripted, unplanned. “What, what?” I say. It just seems like the right words for the strange occasion.

What have I just said?

Truthfully, there’s no answer to the question, “What, what?” It’s not even a question. It’s an exclamation, much like the old traditional “What the heck” and its many variants. But we all know that. But do we know why that?

I think it comes down to brain laziness. Think about it. We know the strange circumstance deserves a reaction. But asking “what the heck,” “what the hell,” or “what the f—” demands us to examine the f— for what it is, and maybe the f— is too much trouble to examine. Maybe we want to simplify our reaction, or simply react without the consequence of thinking. We want something more general, hence the birth of the substitute phrase, “What the what.”

Though, to blame the phrase on “something general” is to give it too much credit. I think it’s more accurate to assume that “what the what” is our way of admitting that we don’t want to think about what “what” is. To try to pigeonhole it with “the heck” is to put too much thought into something that will be forgotten in five minutes or less. No, “what the what” is plenty to get our point across. Obviously, what we’re seeing is nuts. It shouldn’t need further explanation or understanding. “What the what” expresses our understanding of “the heck” and “the f—” well enough without forcing us to explore the meaning behind it. It’s like finding Stevia or Splenda on the counter next to the coffeemaker, not reading its package, and calling it sugar. It’s just easier to assume without reading the truth.

But that over-credits the truth. In reality, we have to assume that language has begun to take the lazy way out, thanks to text speak and the already natural economy of English. And thanks to that economic handling of speech (read: lazy), we have since decided we don’t really need “the” to express our horror to “what the what” means, and hence we have simplified our reaction to that bear drinking from the water fountain with “what, what.”

The irony, of course, is that we must pause between the “what” and the “what,” making the sudden urgency of using “the” in our reaction pointless. Are we using “the” because we don’t want to slow down? Or are we omitting “the” because we’re too lazy to speak quickly? It’s a complicated subject, complicated enough to make me say, “What, what?”

My response? What indeed.

Callous

Previously unpublished. Originally written on:

February 2, 2014:

When I was younger, I wrote a few bleeding heart essays about my hopes for the future in the realm of my own bleeding heart. The titles don’t really matter anymore. Many of them were speculative, ideas I had about love, the fulfillment of it, what it is, what it should’ve been, and so on. They were written during an exceptionally depressed period in my life—a time when I was supposed to know what I wanted, made cautious advances into trial and error, attached myself to pointless devotions, and never really knew which side was up. Years later I should know something by now. But I don’t. I know nothing. I’m 37 years old and I know absolute jack.

I used to write these kinds of essays to find some kind of peace, a chance to blow off the steam that pressured my heart into bursting. I had desires I couldn’t quench. Writing about it kinda helped, kinda left me with an insecure hope that maybe something will change now. And the steam would lift a bit, and I’d feel better. But it would always come back. In time, I learned how to ignore it. Pretend I don’t care. Eventually, my pretend became real life. I stopped caring. I stopped believing that the future I had wanted since I was a kid was even mine to have.

I had this belief when I was a teenager that I’d start my family at 21. My parents were 21 when they married. Both sets of grandparents were in their early twenties. My own sister, who is 16 years my junior, is now engaged; she, too, is 21. I thought that was my time. I thought the prayer I had started when I was 17 would come to fruition by then. I even had a glimmer of hope when I had gotten the opportunity to meet a woman who, after just two weeks of casual friendship, would somehow steal my heart away in a way that no one else before her ever could, and I was 21. Then a month into getting to know her, I had finally found out about her boyfriend. Even after many intense nights in prayer over the four years I had begun praying for God to put someone worthwhile in my life, I was stuck with a deep interest I could not act on. But I still had hope that circumstances would eventually change. I still had hope that I’d have a chance to say how I felt, if only I had just ridden out the waiting until the very end. I had waited four and a half years for that relationship to end, and when I finally had the opportunity to say something, I did not get the response I had hoped for. I had lived four and a half years in what we now call “the friend zone.” Back then, I had no idea that was a thing.

Why am I dwelling on a hope that had ended 12 years ago? Why should I care? Those feelings I once had are long gone. The friend that I had hoped I could grow with had since found and married another. That door was never open, but it had since closed so tightly that not even a termite could get through. Why did I, in spite the warning from many friends, hold on to something that was hopeless? Misplaced faith, perhaps? Did I think God would change her heart for me? Since when did He start infringing on His own gift of free will? I had to accept the fact that it was never meant to be, and if I had an opportunity with anyone else during those four and a half years that I was purposely ignoring (which sadly I can think of only two who were of any interest to me, and I’m not even sure they were single—the pattern in those days was if I was interested, they weren’t single), I didn’t take it. I still don’t know if I had made a bad call, or if I had simply made the only call I could. College was a hotbed of dead ends for me. Why am I dwelling on the past? The past is supposed to communicate with our future so that we can make a different, and hopefully better choice. Unfortunately, my past isn’t speaking to my future, because so much other randomly confusing crap had clogged the phone line during the years in between.

It has now been twenty years since I started asking God to provide someone special to take my side and join my life—literally, just one. I’ve never believed in random or shotgun dating. Even when I was 13 and stupid, I was still thinking of my future and the consequences of wasting my heart on someone who didn’t deserve it (aka, anyone I wasn’t going to spend my life with). Yes, I was a shy kid who was afraid to ask someone out. I had two elementary school crushes, both crushes lasting about two years, and neither crush shocking me with an ounce of courage. I was a friend to both, and that was comfortable to me. But expressing my heart—not a chance—too scary. Thanks to my deadly combination of shyness and forward-thinking, I had blown the opportunity to receive my first kiss at the age of 12 when a girl I had never met before or seen since had intercepted me in the front yard of my neighbor’s house, began to flirt, and asked me if I had wanted to kiss her. It was a thrilling question, certainly, but strange considering I was just going next door because I had forgotten my key, and I needed to get the spare from my neighbor, and I really wasn’t expecting to have someone coming onto me just fifty feet from my front door. Yet, there she was, the nameless girl, who I don’t remember being particularly cute, chatting me up, wanting me to take her to the beach, and, well, I don’t remember everything she had asked me or what I had responded to. I just thought, “I gotta get out of here before this girl steals away my first kiss.” So I left. Then I immediately blamed the episode of Full House that addressed the topic of first kisses for stealing away my first kiss. To this day I think allowing whatever was going to happen, if the girl was even serious, would’ve encouraged me more in my teenage years to take those risks that I had never actually taken, and maybe I would’ve had my partner beside me by the age of 21. All speculative, of course. I also think letting the girl take that first kiss away from me would’ve made me too comfortable in my teen years to sample the buffet line and weaken my standards, as many who start dating young seem to do.

I don’t technically regret that missed opportunity. As I said, I have no idea whether the girl was serious or just playing a game with me. Even as a 12-year-old, I didn’t understand teenagers. But, sometimes I do kinda regret it. What had I forfeited by rejecting her? What life had I closed the door to by listening to my fears rather than listening to my curiosity? What about the elementary school crushes? The second crush took place during the early dawn of my adolescence. What if I had spoken up about it before that last day of school (which I missed because I was sick, and the girl who I liked, who, on the second-to-last day of school had asked me if I was coming tomorrow, I never saw again)? Maybe I dodged promiscuity. Maybe I dodged what Lifehouse calls a “sick cycle carousel” of bad choices and callous feelings by avoiding that first kiss as a 12-year-old. I know plenty of people who have taken that curious leap early in life. Many of them have since jumped from relationship to relationship to relationship like rabbits jump from carrot to carrot. I guess they’re content. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? Culture teaches us to experiment. We’re made to satisfy our curiosities until we find something we like. Isn’t that why we’ve got ten thousand religions as opposed to one? Isn’t that why we can commit to our spouses as long as someone better doesn’t come along in time? As a culture, I think we’ve stopped caring about the baggage we carry because we no longer seem interested in guarding against the acquisition of yet another bag.

I don’t know if avoiding that risk was actually smart. Maybe I avoided all kinds of baggage, but maybe I also avoided the path that would lead me to my dreams coming true. I’ve since taken risks that I might’ve been afraid to take when I was younger. My brief stint with online dating sure helped with that. Talking to strangers does not normally fit into my comfort zone, and talking to them with the intention of maybe dating just complicates comfort even more. But online dating forced me to get comfortable with it. Sadly, however, it didn’t change my circumstances. There were very few that genuinely appealed to me. Only one of those few had actually spent time getting to know me, and she lived eleven states away. She decided she wanted to stay single just three months after we had begun talking to each other. Apparently she had never gotten over her ex, who had dumped her ten months earlier, and didn’t think a new relationship would fix it. Whether we were building a relationship or not, she didn’t want to invest any more toward it, for the sake of her spiritual or emotional healing. After waiting years and years for someone to take me seriously (after that summer day when I was twelve), I couldn’t believe my ill luck. I had truly liked her. The only one I had any real interest in, in all of Internet dating. That moment, as far as I know, was my first step onto the pirate ship plank called “the friend zone” with her. And we had met on an Internet dating site! Honestly, I don’t know that skipping that first kiss at 12 years old had actually changed anything.

Why am I dwelling on the past? Why do I care about those moments long out of reach that have no more concern for my life? Those circumstances are over. They can’t hurt me worse. I’ve since healed from each of them. Why do I care? I’m dwelling on the past because time is flying by so quickly, yet so little has changed since those days. I’ve been silently struggling with the crippling fear that soon I’m gonna be too old to enjoy the beginnings of my own family and still live long enough to watch yet a new generation begin. I have to cast that thought out of mind if I’m to prevent it from crippling me. It’s the only way I can handle it. It’s not like I’ve had much power to change it or encourage it. To make a family requires a partner, and that is not something I can just make happen. Pretty much every attempt to invite someone new into my life ends with someone else (or something else) stealing her away. Often, the thief is her own strict unbreakable rules that make no exception for me or the time that she gives to other matters that she makes more important than me. Sometimes it’s just the cold, hard truth that she prefers another man, maybe a bunch of other men, to me, and that man decides the iron is hot, so he strikes. Whatever the case, it leaves me hopeless. That sucks. I care about the moments that are long out of reach because history repeats itself all too often, and that also sucks.

I’ve grown tired of caring about this. I’ve grown tired of wanting it. Truthfully, I haven’t lost anything by rejecting that kiss when I was a kid, or ignoring the potentially good women in college because there was literally one that had my full heart and focus, or taking chances where chances shouldn’t have been taken. I think I’d still be where I am today regardless of those curious risks. Long ago I had prayed that God’s will be done in my life. Long ago I had prayed that God would find me just one to love, to grow with, and to spend my life with. I imagine God has taken those two prayers seriously. But that’s okay. I’ve invited God to help me with my choices. He is, after all, the only one with the ability to see the consequences of my choices completely. Every new friendship with a woman of quality, especially those that begin by “coincidence” (read: God’s bringing us together for a purpose), inspires me with a little more hope toward finding that one. But I don’t say anything. I don’t act. Why? Because I’m afraid of loss. Because the few times I’ve taken that deadly chance, I’ve taken the knob in hand and slammed the door in my own face. I didn’t risk that first kiss that summer of 1988. But I have risked expressing my heart to those I’ve believed in, aware of the pain that would follow if that woman rejected me and consequently decided she was finished getting to know me, and I have since taken that pain that I knew could come, multiple times. Maybe the problem is that I don’t acknowledge life for what it is: a series of choices that have positive and negative effects, where the positive effects are rewards and the negative effects merely expose a bad fit for what it is.

Maybe I shouldn’t be callous about any of it. Maybe I should care. But maybe I should also not be so afraid of making potentially catastrophic chances. Maybe I should also just be who I am, say what I have to say, and stop caring about the hurt that might follow. Maybe life doesn’t just pass us by like a freight train. Maybe life is too short to care about the pain that comes with risk and uncertainty. Maybe, for those women who did mean something to me back in the day, I should’ve just said something early on and gotten it over with. Maybe I would’ve lost them sooner, but the pain would’ve been less than what I actually experienced. Funny how too much caution can sometimes make things worse than they need to be.

Anyway, I know my thoughts on the matter are a bit scattered, but that’s just how relationships make me feel: scatterbrained. I don’t know how anyone can make any sense of them.

The Silver 1978

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

January 31, 2014

Earlier this week my pastor brought up a small but relevant point about the voice of God. In short, he reminded us that we never really hear it. Not the audible voice at least. Not like we did in Moses’ time. If I go to a snowy mountaintop in Alaska right now, expecting to hear God’s mighty voice of instruction for improving my life, I might hear some heavy wind, and some crackling trees, and I’ll probably freeze to death in the long, dark night, but I probably won’t hear the audible voice of God tell me, “Get off this mountain before you freeze to death!” In my spirit, however, I’ll likely hear him warning me plenty well using a wonderful tool he has in his human creation arsenal called “common sense” and another tool called “body temperature.” Of course, if those fail to warn me, maybe the old man in the cabin will. Doesn’t matter—if God tells me to get somewhere warmer, He’ll know how to reach my ears. Whether I listen to Him is another story. However, if I have any sense, then I’ve already heard Him. I won’t need to hear him shouting it at me from Mt. McKinley for His words to be so clear.

Why do we want to hear the voice of God? Well, we want instruction generally. We want resulting peace, prosperity, or whatever makes us better. Many of us are pioneers at heart and know that we can solve our own problems and make our own choices without asking or even acknowledging God’s position on the issue, if we just find the right combination of actions, or perform the right guesswork. We have free will, and if we don’t want to ask God for help, we don’t have to. Maybe we’ll spin the roulette wheel and it’ll land on the number or color we want. Risky, but we’ll do fine if we actually get what we want. Maybe we’ll spin the wheel again. Maybe we’ll land on the wrong color this time. Maybe we can correct our mistake by spinning again. Maybe we can’t. Maybe our failure leaves us humble. Maybe we ask God for help after all. Would we even hear Him speak if we did? How would we know if we’ve heard Him? He doesn’t exactly shout to us from the mountaintop anymore.

Knowing when God speaks is a tricky thing because it often comes suddenly and deeply. We understand that the audible voice of God is something that only a few have heard and haven’t heard since the Old Testament days. Doesn’t mean He’s silent. Doesn’t mean He ignores us when we talk to Him. Just means we have to do better to train our ears.

In 2003, a friend was turning 25, and I had thought of this cool idea to do something creative for her birthday gift. I didn’t want to do anything fancy or crazy—just something neat and somewhat memorable, something I couldn’t buy, and something that couldn’t be duplicated for any other occasion. I decided to write something interesting about turning a quarter of a century and paste an actual quarter from the year of her birth, 1978, to the card. Sweet, cheesy, but memorable. I knew it would be appreciated.

Problem was, I didn’t have a quarter from 1978 on hand, and I had less than a week to pull this off. So, I did what anybody who likes God’s help would do; I prayed that I’d find one before it was too late.

I was no money hoarder. I didn’t have mountains of change to convert, or a stack of bills to break down. What I had was not entirely sufficient. I did have an ATM and a cafeteria at the hospital I worked at, so I had access to quarters. And every time I went to lunch, or bought a cookie, or converted my dollars into change, I’d keep my eyes open for that 1978 quarter. Yet, none appeared, no matter how many times I’d go making change to find one. I asked coworkers to search their pockets and wallets for that elusive year. None turned up what I had wanted. Time was ticking away. My friend’s birthday was closing in. Several days had passed and I was nearly out of time. I began to wonder if God had even heard my prayer.

On Sunday this week, my pastor opened his point about hearing God speak to us by asking, “How many of you know that God has a sense of humor?” Well, back in 2003, when the desire to finish this custom gift had reached the eleventh hour, I’d experienced that answer firsthand.

My job at the hospital was to take inventory of any equipment that belonged to my department and catalogue its location. That meant scanning each volumetric infusion pump, each gastrointestinal suction pump, each feeding pump, and so on that we could find, every morning, and it meant supplying requested machines to needed rooms, and decontaminating used equipment prior to returning them to our storage room, and it meant, essentially, that I had free reign to travel to all four corners of the hospital, including critical care rooms, the emergency room, and any of the hundreds of patient rooms on the hospital’s floor plan.

I had been spending most of my week hunting for that quarter, searching every known quarter-supply outlet I knew, and praying for God to supply me one before time was up, but to no avail. I was getting restless. I was losing heart. Then, partway through my shift, on what I believe was the last day before I’d see my friend and have nothing to offer for her birthday, I was walking into a patient’s room with either a pump or the handheld tracker (doesn’t matter what, and I really don’t remember), basically dismayed and ready to give up, when I accidentally bumped into the patient’s table and suddenly heard the voice of God go clink, clink, clink, clinkclinkclinkclinkclink….

I looked at my feet and saw the patient’s pillar of quarters (yes, he didn’t have just a couple pieces of loose change sitting on his table; he had a tall stack of quarters sitting on the edge—really, who does that, in a hospital room no less?) now lying all over the floor around me, and I just felt God saying, “There you go. Prayer answered.” I just stared at the pile, smirked, and felt not even remotely surprised as I knelt down, grabbed at the first quarter that caught my attention, flipped it over, and saw the year 1978 staring right back at me. When I told the patient I had been looking for this and offered to trade him (as I was picking them up—I didn’t just make a mess and leave!), he told me to just take it. So, when I got home, I pasted it to that index card, wrote my note, and ended up putting a smile on a friend’s face for birthday number 25. (The note itself helped, but I don’t remember what I’d written, so I can’t share that now. Sorry.)

In the past I used to think the voice of God was the same thing as the voice in my head. Sometimes I still think it’s possible that God speaks to us in actual words that can double as our thoughts. Honestly, I’m no expert on the subject. However, my experience with that has been poor and generally misleading. But that day I finally understood not only that God speaks to us on occasion, but I also figured out what He sounds like. It isn’t verbal so much as it’s just a silent but understood language spoken to our spirits. I had spent all week praying to find that quarter. I was beginning to think my prayer wouldn’t get answered. Yet, just as He’s done in times since that day, He answered it in the one way I wouldn’t expect Him to. I thought I’d find my quarter in a cash register or a friend’s wallet. Nope, God decided I was better off finding it in a stack of change on a random patient’s bedside table that I’d eventually accidentally bump into, aka the most ridiculous way possible. Thanks, Lord.

There’s something to be said about that fine moment when peace overcomes a person’s heart. Sometimes it comes in the form of relief: That test we’ve spent all week studying for, dreading, losing sleep over, and suddenly finish, leaving us happy to get it over with. We expect the ending; we expect that luscious moment when there is nothing more we can do but wait. Then we fear the unknown: What if we fail? We won’t get our license. We won’t get our perfect record. Then we get the results and respond. If we pass with flying colors, we celebrate at a fine restaurant. If we fail, we question what went wrong and start thinking of ways we can do better next time, if there is a next time. Peace has its price. Peace has its reward. We have to allow it into our hearts if we want it at all. We have to surrender our pride and admit that we don’t have all the answers, and that sometimes we just have to believe that God has a better way, and a better system for getting us there. That peace is basically what the voice of God tends to sound like to me, not just a basic peace in my heart, but a targeted peace in my spirit. I tend not to trust the voice in my head alone, especially when it tries to convince me that a formula is required to get what I want, or that I even deserve what I want. Not once did the Lord tell me I’d find that quarter. It was only after I had seen the mass of quarters at my feet that I knew He had heard me and wanted to help me. I didn’t have to check the stack to know that 1978 was in there, waiting to be picked up and pasted to a card. Obviously, I had to thank God for that. It was certainly one of His finer answers to my prayers. Ironically, it was also the one that made the most sense to me.

I should also thank my pastor for rekindling that memory this week.

Relational Time Bomb

Previously unfinished and unpublished. Drafting began on:

August 15, 2013:

When I was 18, I had the privilege of going with a couple of friends to see Forrest Gump at the now-and-forever-lost Cross County 8 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Perhaps it was the thrill of knowing the three of us could see Dumb and Dumber the night before it opened, for free, that made the experience memorable. But I disagree. Well, somewhat. What matters is that the experience was memorable, as the pieces I’ve taken from it still resonate with me today.

Forrest Gump, in a word, had changed my life, maybe for the worse. I had no idea it was capable of doing something so traumatic. Yet, therein lies the power of fiction, and, to a lesser degree, cinema. (You notice how cinema rhymes with enema? Yeah, I don’t suppose that’s coincidence.) Here I am watching Forrest run, and living a life that he doesn’t quite appreciate because he’s just living life as it’s given, thinking, “Why is that Jenny so blind or stupid?” yet, I’m enthralled. Forrest’s many adventures through history are enough to challenge anyone’s viewpoint on what they know. The changes to his own life force us to look inward and ask ourselves if we understand what’s happening. That’s actually kinda powerful, especially for something that came out of Hollywood. And this is the effect it had on me then, and it’s the effect that it has on me today. It isn’t just a movie to me; it’s a calling to rethink how I view my own life.

I don’t expect to play Championship Ping-Pong during a high-profile war any time soon, nor do I expect to inform our latest president that I have to pee, and I definitely have no plans to run nonstop from Alabama to the Pacific Coast, to the Atlantic, back to the Pacific, and so on while growing the greatest homeless beard ever. But I do expect to appreciate the little things more. Daily. I expect to look at life through simple eyes in the hope of leaving everything I care about uncorrupted in my mind. It doesn’t matter that my friend (Bubba) could lose his life for a hopeless cause, or my mentor (Lieutenant Dan) could lose his ability to stand from standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the love of my life (Jenny) could forsake my love to pursue cheap relationships and end up dying from it, or my family member (Momma) could simply drift forever into sleep because she’s getting too old or sick to stay awake. What matters is that I make the most of these relationships now, today, because all of them are destined to change or expire. I don’t want to watch them fall apart over circumstances I cannot control.

But they will fall apart. Eventually. The fact is I can’t stop my mom from getting older. The fact is my mentors are not all-powerful and can fall at any moment. The fact is my friends can get sucked into situations that, whether necessary or pointless, could pull them away from me. The fact is the love of my life could ignore my heart for so long that I can never rescue her. I may try to hold onto these relationships for as long as possible, but I can’t. Life is always happening. Life is always trying to kill it. Forrest Gump reminded me of that, even if it did so in a hauntingly beautiful way.

Forrest Gump also changed my thinking about the kind of relationships I wanted, giving me revelations that I still carry with me today, for better or for worse.

In the case of Lieutenant Dan, it made me grateful that I no longer have to watch a mentor spiral down toward the bottom of a rock, as he desperately and hopelessly claws for the top. Redemption is still possible, if he wants it, and that gives me hope. Not everyone I look up to wants to commit to the work necessary to climb out of that hole, unfortunately. My dad, my first mentor, had fallen in his hole and didn’t have the steely nerves to climb out, and he died before he could reach the top again. But I appreciated knowing that some still could. Today, I’m grateful that none of my mentors are spiraling down into dank pits where rocks are fat at the bottom. Redemption is awesome, but not needing it is even better.

In the case of Bubba, it made me want to include my friends into more aspects of my life. I still think it’s awesome that Bubba wants Forrest to help him run a shrimp company, and even more so that he offers him this proposition the day he first meets him on the bus. I don’t necessarily feel compelled to start a business with any of my friends, but it does encourage me to talk to them about any future-seeking path I’m considering. Before Forrest Gump, I was content with hanging out with them and talking about God, girls, school, and whatever else was important to me, but never really thought to include them in my journey through life, growth, and self-improvement. Talking about things really was enough. Thanks to Bubba, I saw a deeper value in what friendships are supposed to be and how they play into my life’s journey.

In the case of Momma, it made me appreciate that I still have a mom. I was able to see more clearly how a mother lays everything on the line to make sure her kids are taken care of. It made me more appreciative of the sacrifices she had to make over the years just to make sure I could survive. It made me more wary of the fact that, just like my days, her days are numbered and that I have to cherish each one as it’s given. It reminded me that I won’t have the luxury of calling out to her forever, so I have to be thankful for every moment that I still can.

In the case of Jenny, well, let’s just say that before Forrest Gump, I was like any other guy, wanting an instant relationship, and happy to find it in anyone who was willing to show an interest in me (that I was interested in, too). After Forrest Gump, I understood the value of building a friendship first, letting love grow from that friendship, and breathing that sigh of relief when the love is finally reciprocated. It also showed me what real love for another human being looks like. Forrest would not leave Jenny’s side, no matter what tricks she pulled, or what excuses she made for not being with him. He loved her and stuck with her until the day she died, and nothing was gonna compromise that. No one can tell me love looks like something else. I realized that that was what I wanted, a love built from friendship, that’s fired through trial, and perfected in time. The night I went home after seeing it in the theater, I asked God to send me a Jenny. Its effect on me was that profound.

All of that from a two-and-a-half-hour movie.

I’m not stupid, even if stupid is as stupid does (see what I did there?). Even if I have these relationships of quality, life has a way for pulling them loose, for taking them away from me. Those days are coming. Any excuse for not investing in a friendship, a love relationship, a partnership, a mentorship, or a family relationship is uncalled for because the opportunity to change our minds is soon to disappear. I’m not the kind of person to let go of people easily, and I’m not the kind of person who forsakes growth if growth is possible. Granted, I will let go if they want me to. And I’ll forfeit growth if they don’t want to put the effort in with me. But I don’t volunteer it. Time and circumstance will do that job for me.

And that’s all I have to say about that. (Stop groaning; you knew it was coming.)

My Thoughts on Connections

This journal was written to clarify my viewpoint on dating to a new friend after she and I had spent an hour discussing the topic. Typically, I write better than I speak, and my verbal arguments tend to come out confused, so I thought this was necessary to write and share with her. After reading this again, I think it’s something worth sharing on WordPress, too. Maybe someone will agree with me, even if I have my doubts. 😉

Originally written on June 28, 2013:

At five o’clock this morning, I had woken up from a deep sleep, troubled in part from the reminder that I had eaten pizza a few hours earlier, but also troubled by the realization that some choices I make just don’t work out. In spite of how sure I am that what I choose is the right thing, or the choice that seems best, sometimes it doesn’t work. And it hurts. It is what it is, I often think. Safe response to the letdown. It’s my scapegoat for avoiding the fact that I don’t understand anything that steps beyond the boundaries of normalcy or logic (by what I think is normal or logical). Ego—psh. Many times I don’t understand why my choices are met with stronger opposition than what I expect going into them. Why should I? I don’t make my choices lightly, yet somehow my choices tend to leave me in neutral. And why is that? Why do I take great care in the decisions I make before I make them? Because I believe in what I stand for? Well, yes. Because I don’t like the idea of compromising who I am to fit some societal paradigm that may or may not have the correct thinking? This assumes, of course, that I have the correct thinking and that millions of others don’t, but that sounds like the definition of pompousness to me, and it’s not fair of me to assume that. Honestly, I don’t think I’m wrong, but for them, they may not be wrong, either. Maybe that’s why we have so many different types of people in the world with varying viewpoints. Maybe that’s why certain people are never destined to connect while others gravitate to their like-minded peers like bees to pollen. It’s a complete tangle of questions, understanding, acceptance, ideas, whatever. It is what it is. But is it? Sometimes what we believe in has opposition just because the world can’t be one-sided.

On the topic of dating, relationships, and other confusing things, I never really have a clue how to broach it in discussions because it falls in the same line of philosophy as multiple religions, politics, meat versus vegetarianism, dogs versus cats, and so on, which is to say that it’s entirely subjective and usually controversial, especially if society has one viewpoint about it and I have another. When asked of my perspective, I trust that my words are well received. However, I can see in many cases where perhaps my explanation lacks some keywords, and it often surprises me that I’m challenged on what I feel is a reasonable, logical, and trustworthy viewpoint.

Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics. So, let’s put that into perspective. Misuse of semantics is the atheist’s best weapon against the Bible. He searches for keywords that has a different meaning in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek and applies it to the modern American meaning, which is generally a corrupt shadow of the original. He isn’t right about it because a misuse of semantics does not change meaning, only the impression of meaning. But he thinks he’s right because it’s all he’s got to defend his argument, and he’s never wrong in his own mind. Doesn’t make him right. He ignores the meaning behind the word. Perhaps that’s why words are important to me: I know that words are so easily taken out of context, or given the wrong meaning. For example: The word love in our society has gone from meaning the combined verses of 1 Corinthians 13 to “My heart thumps for you, therefore I love you.” Maybe for our society, we can accept that as the new definition, but then what do we do with the original one? Nothing in 1 Corinthians 13 has changed relevance. I just think that we as a society don’t want to put forth the effort to maintain the original meaning anymore. We want what’s self-serving, not what’s in others’ best interest. As a product of this generation, I understand it. I’m human, I’m young, and I want what’s self-serving and immediate, too. Loving others is hard. It’s only fun when they love me back. But it’s not right for me to hold back because they’re not willing to reciprocate the action. Jesus never held back from me, and being Christian means to be like Christ. Why should I hold back? Why should I change the meaning of love to apply more to the “What can you do for me today?” attitude when the correct attitude, according to the summarized message of 1 Corinthians 13, is, “How can I show you you’re worth it today?”

To bring these ideas into the context of our discussion:

When I speak of the idea of growing in relationship with a friend, I don’t say that to dismiss the idea of dating, or to suggest that it shouldn’t be an early, or even an immediate part of getting to know someone. Love has to start somewhere, and dating makes that easier. I agree with that. I think where my idea of dating (or simply getting to know someone) is lost in translation with the common thinking—that dating and friendship are mutually exclusive—is that I have an extremely loose interpretation of what dating is. I don’t always know how to explain it, especially in a real-time conversation (this is why I prefer to write my viewpoints down—gives me a chance to organize my thoughts and to present them in a way that makes sense, or in a way that I hope makes sense). And real-time conversations have a knack for making me stop and rethink my viewpoint when the counterpoint is valid, so that makes it even harder to explain. But it doesn’t change the foundation of where I stand or how I view it. And it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t require a traditional dating relationship to get to know someone well enough to make a wise decision about her.

I won’t always have the answer the first day I meet her. But that’s why I talk to her. I may end up with just a friend, and I’m perfectly fine with that. But I don’t want her to think that I have to be just a friend because I choose to get to know her through means alternative to traditional Friday-night dating. I think connections are connections regardless of environment, and while I like the “dating” environment plenty well—there is a mystique about taking someone out to dance, getting her there in a limousine or something cooler than a Honda Civic, and lavishing her with flowers and compliments, for example—I don’t think it should be the only (or even necessarily the first) connection point for deciding whether someone is worth my heart. I typically know if someone’s worth my heart just from spending the time talking to her, even if I’m talking to her in the middle of a crowded bus station. It’s not the ideal environment, but I’m still getting to know her and appreciate her, so what’s the big deal? I don’t think dating is the answer for deciding my mate. I think it makes choosing her more fun, but I don’t think it’s the most important part of the relationship. I think what’s important is that she and I connect, that she and I understand each other, that she and I can work well together (which traditional dating, by the way, rarely explores), that she and I can accept each others’ faults (something else that traditional dating fails to consider early on), and that we can be comfortable with each other. I definitely think attraction separates friends from lovers, but I don’t think eventual lovers should avoid also being friends. Eventually romance will wane. I’m not blind to that reality. What’s left has to be solid. In time, physical attraction will also wane. Age trumps beauty generally, and a successful relationship will outlast that. This is no excuse for me to date or get to know a woman I’m not attracted to, because age is not a factor for me today. Women my age still have their looks, and I’m thankful for that. But, what remains when those looks finally fade? I still have to trust and love the choice I had made in case I live long enough to see her (and myself) reach that point of elderliness.

Obviously, this doesn’t contradict anything we had talked about. Friendship through dating happens, and it has to happen if the relationship moves into a marriage and that marriage is to have a chance at success. However, I think the mistake here, and the mistake in common societal thinking, is in the definition of what dating is, and in some cases, what it’s for. If it’s about taking a woman out to dinner and a movie, and then kissing her goodnight, well, that’s great and all, and I certainly have no problem with that. But, if the difference in deciding between whether she’s just a friend or a potential match becomes limited by just those dates (or lack thereof), and excludes all the other forms of connections—the times serving with her, helping her through a crisis or celebrating her victories (and vice versa), meeting her for coffee after a hard day’s work when you know her friends will be there, too, or sharing a laugh because some kid just sprayed me with a garden hose when I wasn’t paying attention—I think that’s all included in the package deal—then I don’t think we’re making a wise or an informed decision about our mates. I may not always call it dating because I don’t want to pressure her with expectations, or convince her that it’s okay to be anyone but her natural self, but all interactions with her add up in my viewpoint, and I pay attention to each one. I agree that the difference between a friend and a lover is attraction, but that’s the only difference I can agree to. The most effective thing a traditional date provides in the beginning, in my opinion, is an environment that expects romance without knowing who I’m romancing, and as I said, I’m not ready to romance a stranger. That is not who I am, nor do I think I should be required to change that in order to find what I’m looking for. If I can’t get to know her in a natural, healthy, truthful way, then she’s not someone I’m gonna trust with my heart, now or down the road. I may still like her. I may still want to make it work. But it will always feel forced to me. And I will always question what will happen when beauty and romance fades. A friend, I won’t have to question. I already know my answer. I’ll continue to stick beside her because I wouldn’t want any other. I trust her. I love her. It was my choice the moment I recognized who she was—the real her, not the photo-shopped version of her that I got to know in the beginning through all of those lavish, limousine-filled dates, or those dates that had the misfortune of starting with a Honda.

I don’t know if that confirms or clarifies what we had talked about, but that’s essentially my viewpoint. In an organic conversation, it’s inevitable that I won’t get to address certain points, and this is one of those topics that I think it’s important that I’m able to share as much as I can. I’ve had other friends question why I wouldn’t just ask a girl out the moment I meet her. They all think I’m dooming myself for wanting to build a friendship first. I could be wrong, but my impression throughout our conversation last night was that you agree with them. That saddens me in a way, because it reminds me that my viewpoints aren’t shared by the mass of that gender that I want to attract, yet, I know that forsaking a friends-first policy would mean forsaking who I am as a man who trusts and wants to be trusted. It would also mean forsaking my faith in a God who can arrange a relationship however He sees fit, formulas not included, and if He wants to grow a friendship into romance, I think it’s really unfair to all parties involved if one of the members doesn’t want to take the chance because the other is “just a friend.” That’s been the source of my relational frustrations over the years. I’ve had numbers of women tell me I’m a handsome, decent, caring guy, and yet none of them was willing to do anything about that. Those words are empty to me as a result. Why encourage me with something they won’t (not can’t) deliver on? It’s disheartening. I wrestle with God because He knows the women who would not ignore my qualities or usher me into that “friends zone” I hate so much. The fact that He hasn’t introduced me to such a woman makes me wonder if such a woman even exists. It’s no way to live, to know that what I value most about a relationship is the one thing I have to rush or discard completely if I want that relationship to become permanent. I can’t do that. It isn’t fair to me, or to the person I care about. Maybe my ego is wounded. Maybe because I know I’m worth the effort and the time, and even the romance—I’m positive I have a gear that no one has dared to discover and would be pleasantly surprised by had they given it a chance—I am perpetually disappointed by how easy it is for others to shoo the consideration under the rug because I’m just a friend. Yes, I’m a friend, a friend who has a whole lot more to offer than what they allow. And, I get that awkwardness is part of the equation. I just think the awkwardness exists because her heart refuses to see the truth, the beauty, the integrity, and the faith of what stands before her eyes. I think she refuses to see it because she thinks dating has to come first, and it’s strictly for the romance, and that it fits entirely in a stereotypical design of dinners, dancing, and whatever else invites warm feelings to foster. I’d rather not fall for that thinking. I think dating is just a cherry on an already beautiful cake that’s built with trust, hope, care, wisdom, understanding, affection, connection, and love—all the things that the best friendships are made of. Who cares if it happens immediately or in time? It shouldn’t happen before a time when it’s best, or when both people are ready to share the journey with each other and recognize the possibility that maybe they were even made for each other. If I am made by God’s design for the companionship of a friend He puts into my life, and she cannot see it because she believes that friends and lovers are mutually exclusive, then hasn’t one avenue of God’s will been squandered?

My firm opinion is that any friendship can transition to a romance (and a prosperous and faithful one, mind you) if those other ingredients (trust, hope, care, etc.) are present and accepted. Where friendship cannot transition well into romance is if one party is resistant to it (whether it’s a sense of awkwardness or straight-up fear of losing a friend), or if the attraction is missing (and I hope it’s because it was always missing and not because it went missing), or if the friendship isn’t really a friendship. It’s my belief that if a friendship dies because romance was given a chance, then that friendship was destined to die in time anyway. You said yourself that you’ve lost male friends to marriage. That is the inevitable ending to many friendships for you, for me, and for all of us. When men and men, or women and women are friends, there are no romantic boundaries to contend with (unless you have the most awkward friendship imaginable), so you don’t have to worry about losing them to other men or women, ideally. When men and women are friends, then you eventually have to contend with their boyfriends or girlfriends, their husbands or wives, and that can put a strain on the friendship and an end to the growth. It happens all the time, so that outcome is inevitable. For all the work we put into maintaining (and growing) an opposite-sex friendship, we still eventually come to a natural fade when one enters a romance with another person and the hints of jealousy and distrust (from the dating camp) begins to rise. Friendships can still exist in those conditions, but it’s a lot like trying to grow an apple out of season in the heart of a wasteland. It struggles, and probably doesn’t look so great when the season reaches its end. Romance, in my opinion, gives that friendship not only an added kick, but it keeps it in the right season all the time, and if you should marry that person, then only death can take that friendship away. I don’t understand why anyone would reject that.

It’s too much philosophy for early in the morning, and now I wish I was back in bed. But the ideas behind what we discussed really leaves me jaded about our approaches to romance, and I couldn’t really sleep thinking that I would consistently waste away my hopes for a companion, and ultimately a family, because I refuse to give in to an ideal that I don’t believe in. And it’s worse to think that the ideal I don’t believe in is driven entirely by semantics, and that most of the people I care about and would love to have as a permanent part of my life are so limited by it, and that they are so determined to keep my hands tied because they are so limited by it. It sucks, and I hate it.

That’s, of course, the full uncut version of my thoughts on the matter. I think some things you’d agree with. Many, I’m pretty sure, you won’t agree with. And that’s fine. I think what works for you works for you, and what works for me works for me. Granted, it appears to me that dating philosophy is actually a joke wrapped in an onion, considering we’re both still single in spite of our die-hard relational beliefs. In the end, I think knowing whether something is truly working really comes down to whether or not we trust God to provide the right man or woman for us, and whether we have the eyes, ears, nose (in my case), and heart to realize it.

In regard to application:

If God introduces me to a woman and I grow to love her and believe in her over time, for whatever reason I’m inspired to do so, then I will grow to love her and believe in her and not apologize for wanting to be her friend first, because she’s loved and believed in, and that means she’s important, cared for, appreciated, and absolutely beautiful in my eyes. Why should she feel awkward about being loved by someone decent and kind, especially if she and I would never know each other, or even about each other, if God had not been loving and creative enough to put us in the same room with each other in the first place? God puts people together; it’s up to us to decide what to do with it. We don’t always move in wisdom. But sometimes we do. We’re human. We’re stupid. We don’t have it all figured out. God does. Can we trust Him to do what He knows is best for us? Most of us can, but don’t. Sometimes we take days, weeks, months, or years to catch up to the realization of what great things He has put before us. I’ve struggled with that for years. So have you. So have so many of us. It’s a running theme of our own inability to see the truth for what it is. We see only what we’re comfortable with seeing. And that is severely limiting. I don’t give a crap about what makes me feel awkward. I have my lines (I told you about one of them), and I won’t cross those. But to deny an entire body of possibilities because the definition of a hundred-year-old word isn’t perfectly fulfilled seems limiting, and maybe even destructive, to me, and I don’t know why so many people are in favor of following it with such conviction, or that so few reject the limitation it causes. A great woman is a great woman. Friend or lover, she’s a great woman, and if I grow to love her in time (doesn’t usually take me long if she’s that great, but I have had my late discoveries, so it’s not terribly unusual), I don’t want to be denied her love because we didn’t get to know each other through official, notarized, signed and copied dates in the first week. Discovering that she has a sick sense of humor when that neighbor’s kid splashes me in the pants with a garden hose is a good enough addition to the layers and layers of connection I discover in her, to know her for who she really is, and to love her for who she is. That’s far more valuable to me than either of us dressing to impress the other, or putting on that dating face that may or may not be true. For me, traditional dating is nothing more than an additional way to get to know her. I am not limited to it, nor do I think it’s best to limit myself to it, nor do I feel it’s necessary to make dating the jumping off point of a relationship. If anything, it gives her an avenue to hide her true self, and that makes me uncomfortable. So, that’s the value of building a friendship first in my eyes. It isn’t me rejecting the dating lifestyle. It’s me including her into my life in the most natural way available. If I can’t do that, then she’s not worth going after. It hurts my feelings that that ends up applying to pretty much every unattached woman I meet.

Oh, and just because we’re friends, it doesn’t mean she can’t kiss me if she wants. What single man doesn’t want to be kissed by a pretty girl? Just saying. Friendship is a word. Dating is a word. What matters to me is the connection. If it’s there, then she’s got a great chance. She just has to want it, and she has to believe it can work. I’m saying it can work. I don’t give up on anyone I believe in easily, and I’ve already promised God that whomever He does bring my way, I’ll love her unconditionally, and I’ll love her well, and I will never throw her back into the sea. She’ll have to throw herself back out there if that’s what she wants. I think I’m a gracious and romantic enough person to make heading back out there undesirable. And let’s be honest, I’ve waited far too long to discover that great woman to want to throw her back. I thank God for any woman who can see that and trust Him about me. It’s certainly the evidence that He sees my heart and cares about my desire for the best there is.

Here I am still waiting to find out if a nice girl out there will give my love a chance. I’m still waiting. One day I hope the wait pays off. I care too much about making a marriage work in a society filled with broken marriages to waste any valuable resource available to get me and the woman of my dreams to that place of understanding and acceptance. Isn’t that ultimately why we want to grow connections with the opposite sex in the first place? To fulfill the hope that maybe we can make the present and the future work beautifully? Why bother if our goal is simply to have fun and feel good for a season? There will always be plenty of men and women who are readily available for shallow, aimless, purposeless connection. I could go out and date any one of those ladies today if I had wanted to.

Okay, I’m done. Any questions? Just kidding. I think I’ve said plenty. So, there you go. Next time the topic comes up, you’ll have a better understanding of my foundational viewpoint. I know there were so many topics and details thrown around last night that it was difficult to sense any grounding on the matter. I hope this grounds it better.

Enjoy your day.