Love. Always. Wins.

All newborn babies are cute little things, right?

No?

Not all newborn babies?

Oh, I see.

Yeah, that wrinkly alien-thing with the one eye open.

Ooh. And that one with what looks like pubic hair on its head.

And that. Clean yourself up, you icky thing.

Okay, so not all newborn babies are the cutest thing known to humankind.

Oh, but look at them.

Aw.

All together in the nursery. Quiet and content. Even that colicky one over there in the corner.

They are precious, aren’t they?
When I was a wee lad living in the poorer parts of middle Tennessee, I was scooped up every Wednesday night by a battered van filled sporadically with churchgoing kids.

What I remember most on those Wednesday night children services was that I was the ‘yellow’ kid.

As the song went: Red, yellow, black, and white. They are precious in our sight.

The preacher would line us ethnically diverse kids up in front of the congregation. My sole job was to stand still between the Native American (The ‘Injun’ as she was so pleasantly called) and my buddy, who just happened to be blackish.

When those lyrics hit the air, the preacher would touch our heads in succession: Red; Yellow; Black; White.

It was a dirty job, but I did it well. With no perspective.

Okay, the mid-70s were a shocking mixture of mundane-meets-offensive. Don’t believe me? Just watch an early episode of ‘All in the Family’ and see how many times you can count the word ‘nigger’.

But years later, here I am trying to put in all into perspective and all I can think about are the babies in that nursery room.

All those babies in that nursery room, cooing, crying, or pooping. They actually have no real agenda. No real political motives.

It’s so trite of a thing to write about. The innocence of children.

But look at that crowd of hatemongers. Those grown-ups. Imagine them in that nursery. Not yet walking. Not yet talking. That’s them. Those grown-ups full of self-validated hatred. They were once in that nursery. Holding their own feet. Their diapers full of shit and piss. Their mouths aching for the nipple, plastic or real. Their eyes open to what the world offers.

We gathered as babies. Surpassing the insurmountable odds of not being born. Only to grow up adding hatred to the world.

Adding sorrow to our nursery.

It’s a contribution that takes away contribution.

If it’s your right to prolong a hatred for another newborn that just happens to share the nursery room with you, know that you were once like that other newborn. Struggling to become alive. Seeking love first. Seeking comfort and safety.

Seeking each other.

 

Love. Always. Win.

 

JLT

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Touch

Look at your hand (hopefully, you have one).

Flex it. Curl your fingers inward and touch your palm with your fingertips. Open it. Spread your fingers and let your hand expand flat in the air in front of you.

Touch forefinger to thumb.

Turn your hand palm down and make a fist. Look at the mess of knuckles bulging from your skin.

Now clasp hands together and squeeze slightly. Let go and just stare at a hand until you feel the perplexity of the limb in front of you.

You are looking at a part of your body. You are looking at an extension of yourself consisting of near-infinite amounts of particles put together and fired by the will of your mind.

You don’t see the bone and sinew underneath the sheath of skin, but know that there is a miracle to your machinery. It’s a reality you take for granted now but once was fascinated by with infant eyes.

The hand exists for you.

Use it to touch others that you love.

Feel their existence.

And know how strange and wonderful this ability is

to touch until you cannot touch anymore.

For one day the use of your touch will be gone forever…

Touch while you can.

JLT

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Sidewalk Magic

He tried to explain the pain of disenchantment to her.

She had her hands cupped over her ears.

Honestly.

The billowing stench of sewage smoke coming from the metal grates protruding unevenly on the sidewalk. The ear-chafing cacophony of traffic honking into her ears. This was not the perfect place to talk.

He was breaking up with her. She knew this. The sex the night before was staged, unlike the other times that left her in a near vertiginous state of euphoria.

“Love is supposed to be magic,” he said. “And we both know there ain’t no such thing as magic.”

Stop that. Biting her lower lip only reminded her how overly plump it was, captured in uneven smiles in pictures.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” she said. Her sandals vibrated. She looked past him to see the scrawny construction worker twenty yards away wrestling with the paint-chipped jackhammer upon crumbled asphalt. Her legs hummed, and she waited curiously for the sensation to rise up to her thighs. Perhaps even higher. What a lovely distraction.

“You don’t understand,” he yelled over the thrum of the jackhammer. Over the prattle of the city. “There’s no such thing as magic. There’s no such thing as us. You. Me. This.” He thumped his chest. “There’s nothing in here but meat, blood and bones. Just like there.” He pointed at the spot below her where her legs joined.

A warm raindrop pelted the raw crown of her scalp. She smiled because it was the only thing that made sense right now.

She said, “I get it.”

He shook his head. “No. You really don’t. You –“

A woman’s hand upraised has many powers. Magical powers. He stood there silent, staring at her smirking face.

She took a deep breath, breathing in the atoms of those long dead, perhaps seeping from the white steam fuming through the metal grates. She looked down at his feet and saw that he stood dead center upon one of the grates. How long of a drop before he’d lay crumpled and broken after a fall? She stomped the metal grate and felt it jar hard against her heels, unyielding. She laughed.

“I know what magic is,” she said. “It’s the only thing making me not want to kill you right now. See that policeman over there?” She pointed through the space to his right.

He turned to see the man garbed in dark blue at the intersection behind him. She stepped in closer and breathed into her ex-lover’s ear.

“I’m going to sleep with him tonight,” she whispered. “I’ve never fired a gun before, but I’m sure I could learn. And I’m sure he could teach me. How’s that for magic?”

She walked past him and headed toward the policeman. The rain pattered between them, the drops warm and sulfuric.

She turned and gave her ex the finger as the magic ritual of breaking up demanded. He licked his lips and then ran toward her. Past her.

Toward the policeman.

 

JLT

Raining Red Amoebas

He’s a loving husband, father of three children, and owns a modest house in a suburban area where his pet dog and cat roam freely. Despite his shortcomings, he remains gainfully employed to support his family.

Upon a well-deserved family outing one night at a local all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, this man was thrown out by the restaurant owner due to the man’s overindulgence of the endless buffet policy, the reason for the ejection eventually subjected to a court hearing. The man was cleared in favor of the court for any wrongdoing, as it was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man clearly did not eat ‘all-you-can-eat.’

One of the jurors, sympathetic toward the family man, was so angered by the blatant injustice caused by the restaurant owner, exclaiming, “That could have been me!”

That’s the crux of protest against injustice. It could have been you, not Homer Simpson, up there on that stand demanding justice.

The circumstances here are farcical and dismissive because – well – it’s a freaking cartoon. I tend to escape to cartoons during times of crisis. Something funny to drown out the media buzz that either boil or mislead human emotion. A day watching cartoons with the kids beats the drumming negativity howling on news channels and flooding through social media.

Focus on the good, not the bad. It’s a likely way to live. Impossible when we feel the outrage after so much pointless bloodshed lately, many of us taking a trembling breath before screaming, “THAT COULD HAVE BEEN ME!”

The problem with empathy is that not everyone feels the same way about tragic injustice. We split into multiple amoebas, each divided portion countering the other with discord.

Some of us scream for action. Jimmy said it best from 8 Mile: “If something needs to happen with this shit, it needs to happen now.” These amoebas think they’re right.

Other amoebas say justice was served and death was warranted. And these amoebas think they’re right as well.

Then there are amoebas like me, those that simply wish it was all a silly cartoon and not reality. Because reality has limitless potential for peace only inches maddeningly close to realization. I’m not talking utopia. Who the hell wants that?

Each of us grew up with different thoughts, experiences, and upbringings. No, the playing field is far from level, and every life is a unique, fleeting raindrop that exists as a watery orb before falling to the ground to dry away. Some of us clash together in mid-air on our way down, joining lovingly into bigger droplets of water, or splattering together into destructive, wet oblivion.

We must remember the color of human rain no matter where it falls from our sky.

Blood red.

Always that.

Right now the rain falling is a torrential storm. It will quiet, eventually. Hopefully.

More importantly, one day the rain will stop for all of us.

 

Love to you all.

JLT

 

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Mojo Bag

He was the gangly Karate Kid back in 1980-something, but Ralph Macchio struck an equally nostalgic chord (pun intended) as Eugene, the wannabe-blues guitar player from Long Island. This was in the movie Crossroads, a flick that burned out those VHS heads from overplay in the Taylor homestead.

Those who’ve seen this oldie (well it’s an oldie where I come from, McFly), will remember Eugene hitchhiking the road with his yellow Telecaster, bland fedora and blazer getup, walking the sun-baked miles next to his mentor Willie, aka: Blind Dog Fulton (beautifully and unsettlingly played by the late Joe Seneca).

The movie was far from perfect, and I still swear all that fast guitar filming was sped up a half-step to sound Paganini fast (no disrespect to Steve Vai, who is awesome), but there was a scene right before the final showdown where the elderly Willie passed on a bag of Mojo to young Eugene. “I’m giving you all the magic I got,” Willie exclaimed. This is the part where a seriousness passes between the two where Eugene, who previously called ‘bullshit’ to all this devil/crossroads folklore, starts to feel that he is about to face down a real monster.

The mojo bag.

I looked it up. There are a lot of variations, but the typical mojo bag is small and can fit in one’s hand. It’s usually velvet-like in texture, with a drawstring to close up the magical contents inside. You can buy one conveniently through your Paypal account or go the YouTube route and DIY. What you put inside the bag is supposed to be magic. For some, that can be animal bones, hair, Xanax, the dung of ancestors, cat vomit, or voodoo-god-knows-what-else.

Years ago, I had a mechanical pencil that I took with me for every test during the hundred years I spent in college. The pencil was nearly falling apart by the time I graduated, held together by scotch tape and crazy glue. It’s now somewhere in a toolbox of forgotten things, but, man, did I need that pencil to cope with test-stress back in the day.

Then for a short time back in the 90s (because they were in style), I carried around a miniature, plastic troll on a key chain. It served no purpose, but I had to make sure it was with me wherever I went. If I left it at home, I was convinced something had shifted in the universe against my favor.

And for a while, index cards ruled my pockets. I had to have one everywhere I went. I didn’t always write useful quips on them like Anne Lamott suggested, but – dammit – the index cards had to be in my pockets or else I felt something was missing in my life.

There’s this three-year-old that lives in my house who swears by his blankie. It’s not just a security blanket that Linus Van Pelt would approve, but it has magic powers. It keeps the monsters away at night, and it adds an invisible shield of comfort and protection everywhere it goes. And if the magic fades, one simply passes the blanket through the washing machine to restore its powers.

Ironclad confidence, peace and security, when found, are forms of magic — especially for children. Maybe it will take a special coin, rock, or doll to help the kids along as they grow up and become adults to continue searching for new magic. Maybe it’s a lie that we tell children that eventually becomes the truth on the chance that we make them believe in themselves, like the bits of confetti we put under their pillows at night to make the next day at kindergarten tolerable.

Maybe the mojo bag is a bag filled with lies inside. And if you don’t believe the lies, the magic won’t work. You can fill it with pencils, trolls, and index cards, but what good will that do if you don’t believe in their power. It surely won’t help you beat the devil at the crossroads.

But maybe the person giving you the mojo bag has the real magic, and maybe that magic does work when it’s passed on to you. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a small bag you can buy at a gift shop in New Orleans. It can be encouraging words, a hug, a moment of quality time, or a feeling of nurturing support. And this all doesn’t have to come just from someone else; it can come from within. That’s the real mojo, right there.

In the meantime, it’s okay if we personify an object and make it house our confidence and self-assurance. Sure, let’s bottle it and sell it to ourselves. After all, it’s never about the object anyway. It’s about releasing what’s already there inside us the whole time.

Magic.

I'm giving you all the magic I got!
I’m giving you all the magic I got!

 

Stop Yelling at Me!

When do you raise your voice with angry words of protest?

I’ve heard voices raised at:

  • Fast food employees
  • Insolent children (at least in my house)
  • The double-parked car (there’s a personal Hell waiting for these people)
  • My dying laptop (sigh)

Take the first from the list. I’ll spare the rest, but I will share this one real account of everyday life.

Dusk settled in and people crammed into a fast food lobby for less-than-stellar sustenance. A previous customer, a tall and wide disgruntled man, loomed over the stainless steel counter, snarling over less-than-stellar customer service as his teenage daughter looked on, embarrassed.

The man pointed a thick finger at one of the employees behind the counter and marked her for missing an item on his order. His voice boomed across the whole length of the counter and all fell silent around him.

“It’s right there in front you!” he yelled, pointing at the missing quarter-pounder on the sandwich chute that belonged in the crumpled sack his cowering daughter held in silence. “It’s the one that’s probably cold as hell by now. Can’t you see it!”

The employee, her voice low, responded with apologies at first, but then her voice rose after he said, “You must be stupid.”

It would take more words and a skilled court stenographer to dictate the heated exchange that followed from that point on between the man and the employee. Upper fast food management came to the rescue, but they saw and conquered nothing. Even the refund was made in vain, appeasing nothing. The man left these parting words: “I’ll never come back here again. And if everyone is smart, you won’t let that bitch touch your food.”

The unhappy customer walked out before anyone could respond, his daughter in tow. As if by theatrical direction, all eyes then fell on his nemesis to see her reaction, but the fast food worker, her face hard as stone, merely shook her head and continued her work, muttering words under her breath that would best be left unheard.

I activated the holographic visual recorder implanted in my right eye to play back the scene. Okay, I don’t have one of those yet, but I did try to recollect what this unhappy guy was like before the debacle ensued. I had been a few customers back in line, and I remember he acted normal as anyone, resigned, grunting the start of his order in a mild tone and had even placed an affectionate hand on his daughter’s shoulder to get her attention while ordering. Who knew a forgotten burger would set the guy off?

People screw up.

I once backed into a stranger’s car early one morning. Happy Monday. The damage resulted in scuffs on car paint, thankfully, but damage nevertheless. Car damage, even the slightest, is more dangerous than forgetting your fries on your value meal, but the exchange between me and the other driver went pleasantly, almost jovial on both parties. Why is that? I can only recount that voices remained at normal levels.

We may never know what triggers bellowing like the unhappy blowhard that sought an audience so he could proclaim someone stupid for forgetting his cheeseburger. Perhaps you agree with him. You raise your voice when injustice has been served to you. To do anything less is a sign you are weak and unworthy of happiness. Then by all means, pursue your form of happiness. Fight. Scream. Yelling can be a craft with its own merit and there are plenty among us that filter life this way to achieve goals (bill collectors unite!).

We’ve all been wronged at some point in our lives, whether intentionally or not. When it happens again, I ask that you take a moment before inhaling your lungs full of air to break loud, sonorous verbal wind toward someone. Could it be handled another way? Is it really a life-and-death matter? Is it really worth verbal abuse? Is there really such thing as giving someone a piece of your mind? Will all this really matter on your deathbed? Is that heart-unfriendly burger or those few lost dollars really worth a coronary or a fisticuff? If so, raise thy voice. Otherwise, save those vocal cords for singing and spare the world one less act of negative energy.

“You can’t get your head around something if you’re yelling.” -Henry Rollins


“Words are wind.” -George R.R. Martin

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The Window of Thankfulness

It’s not the if, but the how and when.

Death ignores if.


It is only the how and when variables that are in Death’s programming language. Some of us, for our own reasons, have written our own code, manually overriding how and when, ending the program of life by our own hands.


For me, it would be nice to have an immortality call function and stick it in the middle of my source code and run it in an infinite do/while loop, but then I think of how wrinkly and dusty I’d look after two hundred billion cycles. So I’ll just leave the how and when variables alone, hopefully letting them running their subroutines for at least another fifty years.


In the final weeks before my father’s passing from cancer, someone gave me a pamphlet. It consisted of only a few pages, no pictures, and it had blue typeset curiously like those old pop quizzes I had in middle school.


The title of the tiny book began with “What to Expect,” although it did not end with When You’re Expecting. Instead, it informed me of what to expect in the last stages of life. Like a checklist, the few pages consisted of brief paragraphs explaining the different stages, starting with the withdrawal from the external world and ending with… well, you know.


A line from that small copy still resonates in that it stated each person’s death is unique. Some or none of the stages listed may apply to you. My dad, however, the practical man that he was, followed all the stages of this little book as if by instruction. He was a strong man. That last month with him was difficult.


The mini-book also described a stage near the end that I disbelieved when I first read it. It said that there would be a moment of clarity before the final stage of death. Lucidity. A burst of energy and communication. How could that be possible when this man in his deathbed hadn’t spoken for several days? Both his mind and body were shutting down.


Yet, it happened. Happy words came out quick. Awareness fully enjoyed. Prayers done with vigor.


Above all of that. He was thankful.


That window of thankfulness, fleeting like a quick rain on dust-dry land, was a prolonged spiritual moment. It is in that window of time where one gets the chance for final goodbyes, reflection, last words, prayers and thanks. This window depends on the how variable, though. Each person’s death, as the little book claimed, is unique. One may go to the next in a quick instant while another may enter it slowly. The window is only built for you if your how variable is coded for this way of dying.


It’s not the same concept as living like you are dying, which has its own merits (and somehow difficult for me to implement, since I’m still scared of heights). The window of thankfulness is more like rising above ocean water one last time to take in one final sweet breath and giving one farewell wave before plunging back in to look desperately for the big treasure (Heaven, Atlantis, forever sleep, whatever your treasure may be).


If I am ever fated to be coded for the window of thankfulness, I hope to be surrounded by my loved ones so happy words can come out quick, awareness can be fully enjoyed, praying can be done with vigor, and thankfulness is abound.


Whether or not the window of thankfulness waits for you, and you have no idea of what it will be like, we do have at least one given day specifically of thanks that is available for us to practice on.

There is always, always, always something to be thankful for. -- Author Unknown
There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.
— Author Unknown