I have all these memories, I don’t know what for
I have them and I can’t help it

~ Sun Kil Moon, “Like the River”

George: That’s not your grandfather.
Paul: It is, you know.
George: But I’ve seen your grandfather. He lives in your house.
Paul: Oh, that’s my other grandfather, but he’s my grandfather, as well.
John: How do you reckon that one out?
Paul: Well, everyone’s entitled to two, aren’t they?”

~ The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night”

My friends will sometimes talk about their grandfathers as if they are gods. They’ll share stories of love and fun and good times. And I am always jealous.

I can barely remember either of my grandfathers. They both died when I was young and they both were sick for most of my life. I had Grandpa Ball (my mother’s father), simply called Grandpa, and Grandpa Edwards (my father’s father), always known as Gramps in our household. Whenever I hear stories told of these two men, I always feel a pride in the fact that I am related to them by blood. But I can barely remember them. And this breaks my heart.

As I’ve said, both men were sick for most of my life. I don’t think I ever saw Grandpa walk. The only time I ever saw Gramps walk was when he would walk from his chair to the kitchen every night to pour himself a bowl of cereal.

I remember my Gramps chair. I remember thinking it was a sin for anyone other than him to be sitting in it. I sat in it after he died, and immediately got up. I vaguely remember sitting on his lap when I was young, the smell of medicine and the touch of calloused hands.

I remember when I first heard Gramps life story. It was the life sung by the likes of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. It was the life of a working class hero. I remember hearing stories of a strong faith in God. I remember a quiet old man with a raspy voice. I remember a man who loved his family. The nativity story on Christmas morning. Grocery shopping on a hot summer’s day.

I remember the day Gramps died. And that’s the most vivid memory of all. Leaving school early. Arriving too late. Leaning on my father’s chest. Lifeless body on the bed. The bed I used to sleep in. Children crying in the backyard. Emotionless. Confused.

I cried at his funeral. All I have left are stories and vague memories.

Memories of Grandpa are even fewer. I don’t remember a time when he wasn’t sick. I remember a stupid knock knock joke I would tell him, and he would laugh every time. “Knock knock. Who’s there? Tommy. Tommy who? Tommy ache.” And he would laugh and laugh. I know that he loved me. I know I loved him. I remember my grandparents’ home up north in Roscommon. It was like a second home to me. He was sick every time we went.

I cried at his funeral. All I have left are stupid jokes and sickness.

I never said goodbye to either of them. I can barely even remember their voices.

It’s 4:30 in the morning right now and I am crying. I couldn’t sleep because the memory of these two men wouldn’t leave my mind. I barely knew them, yet I love them more than anybody that ever lived.

Sometimes I wonder why God would choose to taunt me with friends who tell me stories of their loving grandfathers. Sometimes I think God is the cruelest person in existence.

But then memories of these men come and haunt me. And I know that, though they are gone, they have made me a better person just by being there. And I know God wants me to celebrate what I had… what I have.

Maybe someday I’ll have children. I will tell them the memories I have of my grandfathers. I will tell my children they come from the two greatest men who ever lived.

Maybe someday I’ll have grandchildren and I will be a grandfather myself. And maybe my grandchildren will look up to me as a great man. Maybe someday they will want to be like me. That would be the greatest honor. And that is all I want.

Favorite music of ’09, and the DECADE

Hooray for decades! Hooray for music! Hooray for lists!

Three lists, in fact: favorite albums of the decade, favorite albums of the year, and favorite songs of the year.

Here we go!

10 favorite albums of the decade

1. Arcade Fire – Funeral

2. Wilco – A Ghost Is Born

3. Radiohead – Kid A

4. Sufjan Stevens – Michigan

5. Bob Dylan – Love And Theft

6. Beck – Sea Change

7. David Crowder*Band – A Collision

8. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha

9. Jars Of Clay – Good Monsters

10. U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind

10 favorite albums of the year (2009)

1. The Avett Brothers – I And Love And You

2. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)

3. St. Vincent – Actor

4. Elvis Perkins In Dearland – Self-titled

5. Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing

6. Passion Pit – Manners

7. U2 – No Line On The Horizon

8. Sufjan Stevens – The BQE

9. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

10. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Favorite songs of the year (2009) (in alphabetical order, by artist)

Alela Diane – Lady Divine

Andrew Bird – Souverian

Animal Collective – Bluish

The Avett Brothers – Laundry Room

Bob Dylan – I Feel A Change Comin’ On

David Crowder*Band – God Almighty, None Compares

The Dead Weather – Bone House

Derek Webb – American Flag Umbrella

Elvis Perkins In Dearland – Chains, Chains, Chains

Fiction Family – Look For Me Baby

Jars Of Clay – Scenic Route

Joe Henry – Death To The Storm

Joshua James – Pitchfork

Major Lazer – Anything Goes

Manchester Orchestra – The River

Passion Pit – Sleepyhead

St. Vincent – Laughing With A Mouth Of Blood

Sufjan Stevens – Movement I: In The Countenance Of Kings

Switchfoot – Always

U2 – Cedars Of Lebanon

Wilco – Bull Black Nova

These songs are all on iTunes, so have fun!

Dostoevsky on Capital Punishment

The following dialogue takes place in Book 1, Chapter 2 of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot between Prince Myshkin (the titular character) and a servant of the Epanchin family. Keep in mind that Dostoevsky himself was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted only moments before his execution. The excerpt is lengthy, but worth it. Prince Myshkin starts:

“Yes. I saw it [an execution] in France, at Lyons. Dr. Schneider took me with him.”

“Do they hang them?”

“No, in France they always cut off their heads.”

“Do they scream?”

“How could they? It’s done in an instant. They make the man lie down and then a great knife is brought down by a heavy, powerful machine, called the guillotine. . . . The head falls off before one has time to wink. The preparations are horrible. When they read the sentence, get the man ready, bind him, lead him to the scaffold – that’s what’s awful! Crowds assemble, even women, though they don’t like women to look on. . . .”

“It’s not a thing for them!”

“Of course not, of course not! Such a horrible thing! . . . The criminal was an intelligent, middle-aged man, strong and courageous, called Legros. But I assure you, though you may not believe me, when he mounted the scaffold he was weeping and was as white as paper. Isn’t it incredible? Isn’t it awful? Who cries for fear? I’d no idea that a grown man, not a child, a man who never cried, a man of forty-five, could cry for fear! What must be passing in the soul at such a moment; to what anguish it must be brought! It’s an outrage on the soul, that’s what it is! It is written ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ so because he has killed, are we to kill him? No, that’s impossible. It’s a month since I saw that, but I seem to see it before my eyes still. I’ve dreamt of it half a dozen times.”

Myshkin was quite moved as he spoke, a faint color came into his pale face, though his voice was still gentle. The footman followed him with sympathetic interest, so that he seemed sorry for him to stop. He, too, was perhaps a man of imagination and strainings after thought.

“It’s a good thing at least that there is not much pain,” he observed, “when the head falls off.”

“Do you know,” Myshkin answered warmly, “you’ve just made that observation and every one says the same, and the guillotine was invented with that object. But the idea occured to me at the time that perhaps it made it worse. That will seem to you an absurd and wild idea, but if one has some imagination, one may suppose even that. Think! if there were torture, for instance, there would be suffering and wounds, bodily agony, and so all that would distract the mind from spiritual suffering, so that one would only be tortured by wounds till one died. But the chief and worst pain may not be in the bodily suffering but in one’s knowing for certain that in an hour, and then in ten minutes, and then in half a minute, and then now, at the very moment, the soul will leave the body and that one will cease to be a man and that that’s bound to happen; the worst part of it is that it’s CERTAIN. When you lay your head down under the knife and hear the knife slide over your head, that quarter of a second is the most terrible of all. You know this is not only my fancy, many people have said the same. I believe that so thoroughly that I’ll tell you what I think. To kill for murder is a punishment incomparably worse than the crime itself. Murder by legal sentence is immeasurably more terrible than murder by brigands. Anyone murdered by brigands, whose throat is cut at night in a wood, or something of that sort, must surely hope to escape till the very last minute. There have been instances when a man has still hoped for escape, running or begging for mercy after his throat was cut. But in the other case all that last hope, which makes dying ten times as easy, is taken away FOR CERTAIN. There is the sentence, and the whole awful torture lies in the fact that there is certainly no escape, and there is no torture in the world more terrible. You may lead a soldier out and set him facing the cannon in battle and fire at him and he’ll still hope; but read a sentence of certain death over the same soldier, and he will go out of his mind or burst into tears. Who can tell whether human nature is able to bear this without madness? Why this hideous, useless, unnecessary outrage? Perhaps there is some man who has been sentenced to death, been exposed to this torture and has been told ‘you can go, you are pardoned.’ Perhaps such a man could tell us. It was of this torture and of this agony that Christ spoke, too. No, you can’t treat a man like that!”


A Primer for the So-Called Righteous / Hope and Change

Ruth was a prostitute who worked the dirty streets every night to make ends meet at home. She saw the billboards proclaiming the true happiness found in Jesus. “Jesus Loves YOU.” “Jesus Saves.” But the hostility she found waiting for her in that auditorium was enough to make her want to burst.

Peter was a gambler who blew it and lost everything he owned. He had heard the stories of the man who had died to take the punishment (or something) of his sin (was that the word?). He could feel the eyes like daggers focused on him past every church he walked by, and he couldn’t believe in that kind of love.

Timothy was an alcoholic who killed his girlfriend (in their shared apartment, nonetheless) in a drunken rage. Sentenced to a life of solitude and repetition, he wanted something to believe in to save him from himself. The shouts and condemnation he found waiting for him outside of the courtroom discouraged him from finding such a savior.

Sometimes it suffocates me: The need to stone the liberal, burn the liar, torture the adulterer. There is no plank in my eye. There is nothing wrong with me. I am God’s most perfect creation.

Sometimes the injustice is so strong I want to lie down and not wake up. I can’t find the cure. Where’s the cure? I believe that God is love. I believe that God is gospel. If I look on Ruth, Peter, and Timothy with disgust and disdain, then so is my relationship with God. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”

I can’t find the cure.

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All things of grace and beauty travel down the same road to solitude. Some may find it, some don’t. A bluebird whistles in the summer breeze. A flower is handed to me by a beautiful girl. Is there grace? A man sings by himself on the road to somewhere or nowhere. It doesn’t matter which. It’s all the same to him.

Tell me a story of beauty

A story of love and rhyme

Grab hold my hand and show me

How to love in good time

A paradox. A matrix. An axiom. These are not found under heaven’s gaze. There are not found in God’s eye. Things are not good on the west side of town. Things are not good in my heart. Open your eyes. Drop the bomb. LOVE is just a four letter word. It does nothing on its own. Act. Breathe. Care. You know what to do. Question: If the heart is empty, what of your mind? Empty is never full. Why are we full of empty? Broken word, mind, heart, feet, sleep, hate, love, soul. Tears on the inside. Tears on the outside. Broken bottles, scratched soles. Play the music. Enlighten your mind. May you find what you seek, sir.

“God has eyes to see?”

“Yes, sir.”

Sad man shot. Hopeless home broken. Is there grace? Solitude can only be achieved by action. Actions beyond your measurements. Beauty is achieved through creation. Deepest mystery. Hopeless history. Languages swarm through minds of darkness and light the rays of sunlight through the window to grace upon your cheek. The never of good will never be while the never evil we’ll someday see. Speak to me in a language only God knows. Whisper in my ear like a long lost lover to his always future bride. Open your ears. A thing of beauty in my eyes. Hold me close! An ugliness penetrates everything around me. Soon you will see. Something will come. Someone. So travel down this trail. Find yourself in the river. Lose yourself in the light. We’re almost there. Don’t leave yet. You will love. You will see. Hope.

“God has heart to love?”

“Yes, son.”


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