The General

My brother and I shared a room growing up, and our closet held a few random pieces of military uniforms inherited from family members who had served in the armed forces. The most popular was the Air Force dress uniform hat. My brother wore it, mostly, because he was the oldest boy in the neighbourhood, so he was the general. The general was never short of orders for his loyal troops. He graciously helped us advance from lowly privates through rank after gratifying rank by having us climb walls, run obstacle courses, and complete drills. We obeyed enthusiastically, and proudly wore the rank pins we bought for ourselves from the Army surplus store. We dug trenches. We built hidden fortresses in the forest. We spent our days outside rearranging red clay and fallen trees, scraping our knees and conquering our fears, all for the general. We never questioned his authority. We never thought to ask him why he never had to earn his own rank. The sun was shining, morale was high, and there was always another challenge to work towards.

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The Serious Business Of Laughing At Myself

“We need to talk,” she said, and as thick as my teenage skull was, I knew that phrase meant trouble. On the way home from work I stopped at her house so that she could break up with me. When she was done, I scraped together what little dignity I had left, held my head up, and walked away (controlling the urge to run). As my car came into view I began to realise that my hopes for a quick getaway were not going to materialise. While my girlfriend had been breaking my heart, my car had been simultaneously experiencing a similar, if more literal, fate. My now-ex-girlfriend’s mother had reversed into it, and now the driver’s side door resembled my insides. It wouldn’t open. And the car was parked beside a wall, so the door on the other side couldn’t open either. I ended up having to squeeze my broken spirit ignominiously through an open window. So much for a dignified exit.

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On Losing Consciousness In Public

There was a period of years in my life when I randomly lost consciousness. The first time it happened I had just had an eye test, and I woke up on the floor with my head spinning and several blurry women in matching purple uniforms leaning over me. That was strange. Then there was the time my face went straight into my lunch, and the time I just fell over standing in the doorway of the kitchen. There was also the time I gave blood, and once again woke up with the staff leaning over me. Last, but certainly not least, there was the time my wife and I went to a traditional Irish music show. At the end of the evening they called people up from the audience to sing, and they called us, and we tried to say no but somehow we ended up on the stage anyway. We sang, and I was just starting to think we were pulling it off pretty well when I felt the blood leaving my brain. I knew that feeling like an old enemy by then, so I bent over double to encourage that blood to go back where it should have been while still trying to sing and act natural about the whole thing. I do not recommend this as a way to act natural. Thankfully, my wife caught me when I went down. When I woke up I saw sympathetic eyes glancing away from me. I guess most people don’t have a category for how to react to the guy who just collapsed publicly on stage in front of them. Fair enough.

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He Speaks To Everyone The Same Way

Last Sunday was Father’s Day, and one of the things that stands out to me as I think about my own father is how he has always spoken to everyone the same way. My mother used to point this out to me as a child every now and then, which helped me realise from an early age that, 1) this is important, and 2) it is not something everyone does. As I’ve grown older, my conviction of the truth of these two points has only grown stronger. 

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“Well, THAT was magic!”

When my second son was three, he didn’t walk—he marched. Everywhere. His stride may have been short, but it was full of confidence. I vividly remember the day he marched ahead of us into the grocery store, but had to pause as the automatic doors slid open. He watched them closely, then announced as a matter of fact: “Well, THAT was magic!” Then he marched through.

Was it magic? Not really. I know, and you know, and he knows now that he’s older, that automatic doors don’t operate on fairy dust. There is a mechanical, electrical explanation, and it all adds up and it all makes sense. Yes. But isn’t it amazing? The doors open themselves! It may not be magic in a technical sense, but isn’t there something magical about it?

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Every Corner Is Crowded

Last week, I stood in front of a barn in the woods in Alabama that no animals have ever lived in, but I lived in it. I was a child then, and my family lived there while our house was being built on the same property and that worked out pretty well for us. I hadn’t seen it for several years, but it still looks like a barn. At least, that’s all you would see. When I look at it, I see more. I see so much that my mind can hardly keep up. I could stand there all day and look around at the barn and the house and the trees and I could watch the river of scenes pass by for hours and hours because this is my place, this is where my life took root and grew up with the pecan trees that my father and grandfather planted. When I go back there now, I feel like I have to walk slowly because the place is so crowded with memories. The sweet and bitter and happy and sad and embarrassing are all jumbled up together—every step, every sight, every sound and smell is full of them.

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Capturing A Moment

The warm sunlight is filtering through the trees, there’s music in the air, and amid the bustle of the servers and the clink of the cutlery there’s a constant hum of lively conversation. I’m not there. I don’t even know where it is, but when I look at the painting of this scene that hangs over our mantle, I can hear it all. I can feel it all, and I love it. I love how the painting reminds me of moments like this one in real life, when I’ve been in seats like these with friends and family around me. I’m glad the artist captured this moment (wherever it was) and held on to it for me with his brush. I’m glad I found the print to hang in my house, to remind me of my own moments like these.

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The Places I Used To Pray

There’s a spot on a lonely quay beside a river where I used to go sometimes to pray. It’s in the middle of a town, but it’s quiet there because it’s not on the way to anything and there are prettier spots nearby if you’re going for a walk. I revisited that spot recently, a little older now than when I used to pray there. I feel the time that has flowed passed, like the water in the river, always flowing since before the Vikings founded the town in the first place. 

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The Ends and the Means

When we bought our first house, we bought it as-is. We knew that included the broken glass in the back door. We just counted that as part of the price. But someone we knew gave us different advice: she said we should wait a little while, then claim the window as damage on our new home insurance. 

Clearly, her plan had advantages. It had taken everything we had to get in the place. It was a miracle that we had been able to cover the bare concrete foundation with cheep flooring. To say the money would have helped is an understatement. And anyway, insurance companies are rich, right? They could hardly need it as much as we did.

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Being The Bad Guy

At our house, I’ve always been the bad guy. To be more precise, I’ve been a lot of bad guys. Sometimes it is just part of me, like when my hands became the Flying Tickle Spiders. Other times I’ve needed extra props, like the brown blanket for the times when the Muddy Hole Troll tried to trap my children in his muddy pit in a terrible plot to keep them filthy. In lightsaber fights, Sith Seth has always been the one threatening destruction and calling good little Jedis to join the dark side. Then there have been attacks from the electric Volt-ure who zapped children (disclaimer: no real electricity was involved) and the Alien Chef who has tried to make them into sandwiches between the beanbags. Our house has been a dangerous place. 

The thing is, all my terrible plots have ended in failure. I guess I’m not really that great at being an evil mastermind. Somehow, the children have always found a way to defeat me. Which is fine. Actually, I’m happy. I want the bad guys to lose, too. Yes, our house can be a dangerous place, but it is only silly danger, and my children can fight my evil plots with complete confidence of eventual victory. We just have fun together, and I hope they remember that. But I hope they remember more—I hope they hold on to that feeling of confidence, of knowing they will win eventually. They are growing up now, growing beyond the games and closer to the reality of the world, and here’s the thing: the world is a dangerous place.

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