The Day I Should Have Kept My Mouth Shut

I was in the passenger seat, and my friend was behind the wheel. At least, I wanted him to be my friend, if I could manage it. He was new on my dorm at university, and I was keen to be on good terms if at all possible. The trip was long enough for good conversations, but they weren’t happening the way I expected. My best questions were being answered with a few short words, and my most interesting conversational topics were slipping away like so many wet bars of soap. The trip had hardly begun and I was already struggling for something to say. Silence grew in the space between words. Suddenly, an inspiration: I saw a funeral home. 

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Sometimes The Best Way To Support Me Is To Thwart Me

Growing up, I was part of a Boy Scout Troop that met in an old converted house. I have a lot of good memories associated with that building, some of which stand out so vividly that I can almost smell the musty walls again—like the time the Scoutmaster told me that I had failed my Board of Review and would not be progressing to the next rank. Meanwhile, my friends passed. I can still taste the embarrassment of that moment, but today I count it as a good memory, along with all the victories and laughter of those years. The fact is, I earned that failure. I went in overconfident and underprepared, fully expecting to be the best of the bunch by just showing up. When they asked me about the things I was supposed to know, I didn’t. So I really did fail, and they let me. They could have bailed me out and given me the rank anyway to spare my feelings, but I’m glad they didn’t.

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A Real Acrobat

When “The Greatest Showman” came out in 2017, our daughter was five years old and especially impressed by a song that was sung with perfectly choreographed aerial acrobatics. When that same song came on during the credits after the film, her hands shot up, ready to dance, so there was no choice, really. I picked her up high, spun her around, and realised suddenly that the two of us had just twirled our way into a moment that would haunt me with happiness forever after. 

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The Fisherman’s Advice

Evidently I don’t have a strong stomach, because the last time I went fishing at sea I got sick. I know fishing trips are famous for being exaggerated, but I’ll be honest with you: there was no storm. It was a normal day, with normal waves, and we didn’t even go far out to sea. Still, as the boat continually shifted, my insides rebelled against me in slow motion. It was getting harder and harder to focus on my fishing line or the conversation going on around me. I felt bad. All I wanted was for the floor to stop moving—was that so much to ask? Thankfully, I was with an experienced fisherman who gave me helpful advice: “Look at the shore,” he said, “it will give you a reference point, and help you be able to roll with the waves.” I could tell he knew what he was talking about, because he had no trouble at all moving confidently around the constantly rocking boat.

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The Dog Knew Better

I grew up beside a mountain in Alabama, with a dog. If you want a happy childhood, that’s a good start. Sometimes the dog and I would go up the mountain, just us, with no particular destination in mind. There was always something interesting up there—little run-off streams and rock outcroppings, sunlight through leaves and the awareness of being among innumerable living things. We stayed together, but not too close. The dog and I were interested in different things, probably because I couldn’t smell as well as she could. Still, we stayed within sight, and if I decided to explore in a different direction all I had to say was “Cinnamon, I’m going this way” and she would change course without complaining. I guess there were smells to discover anywhere we went.

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Yes

You wouldn’t notice it, if you walked by. It’s just a tree, next to an old house on a university campus. There’s a nice view from the hill, so you’d look at that, not a random tree. But I go there for the tree. To me, that tree, with the ground under it, is sacred.

Twice, I sat at a table under this tree. Twice, I set the table up and decorated it and prepared it for a surprise and a question. Twice, I worked up my courage to ask a question at the table under the tree, and both times I heard the same answer, the answer that changed my life:

Yes!

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Kicking In Doors Is Harder Than It Looks In The Movies

The door was stuck.

My two sons (3 and 1 at the time) had locked themselves inside the bathroom, and the stakes were high: the younger one had an ongoing problem where he would hold his breath and pass out if he got too upset. He got upset a lot, but one of us had always been there to bring him back around. What would happen if he passed out inside the locked bathroom..?

“Don’t worry, boys, we’re right here”

I used my happy voice, and tried to explain to the older one how to put the key in the door and turn it. It didn’t work. A few more tries, knowing that there was only one other option. 

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“Daddy, Can You Turn Off The Rain?”

My son was just a few years old, and he’d probably seen more rainy days than sunny ones in his short life. That’s what happens when you grow up in Ireland. I found him looking at his wet toys through the glass doors:

“Daddy, can you turn off the rain?”

It wasn’t a question, as much as a request. He wasn’t asking about whether I was capable of such a thing. He fully believed that I was. He just wanted to know if I would.

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What I Saw On The Edge Of The Room

The new kid was there, effortlessly working the room. He told a joke and everyone laughed, and I laughed. He was nice, and I had no reason not to like him except that everyone liked him and they wouldn’t like me. I had been there years, but when I told a joke they pretended they couldn’t hear. I told it louder and their faces scrunched. I stopped talking and they pretended I didn’t exist. I decided I would take up less space on the edge of the room, with my eyes down. But there was a problem: The edges were already crowded with eyes looking down, trying not to exist too loudly. At first I was annoyed. Then I saw them.

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The Joke I Should Have Laughed At

Saying that I knew it all along was a lie, and they knew it. Saying that I was just playing along didn’t stop their eyes from laughing at me. I would have laughed, too, if I were them. I should have laughed, too, with them. I don’t know where my neighbour got the iron pyrite, all I know is the story they told me about finding it in the woods and do you think there’s more and will we all be rich? I’d never seen gold ore before, but it certainly looked the part. I was old enough to know the stories about children finding treasure, and young enough to forget that I was a fool. 

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