A good man died today.
A good one died the day before.
A good one died the week before then.
Yet, despite the frequency, we look at the world and see the pain of death is as real as ever before, despite the heartbreak, despite the sudden and unbreakable fang that hunts us all we look and see no change. We see the world before us, unchanged. And how? How can it be unchanged when we’ve lost so many good people? People who have changed us, hungered with us, sorrowed beside us? How can we look at ourselves in the mirror when we know the world hasn’t changed, but we forever will be?
Permanent change brings upon us permanent fixtures. To mold ourselves into the stone and bear the weight of the family left over, to bear the pain of ceaseless heartbreak we bring down hell upon ourselves because it is so much better than the hell outside our safe walls.
Earlier, I spoke with my lovely wife in-depth about the world I see beyond my home. We spoke at length about the way I see the world, that no matter the occasion, I see things in tightly packed boxes. The status of my parents’ marriage rests tightly confined within the bounds built within my mind. So much so that once, my father got a fake tattoo and they convinced me it was real and I was genuinely shaken by the occurrence. I’d lived so long with my dad inside a box that I knew something larger was at play. I knew how he felt about tattoos and that fact couldn’t separate itself from the world I had built for myself.
Similarly, I built a box in which I’d place my own marriage, once I’d arrived I promised myself I was going to do whatever it took to be a wise, kind, and forgiving man. I would do everything I could to provide for and support the woman I’d marry. I still have that box, and I still stand inside of it and wonder how anyone could struggle with such a simple task.
I live inside a castle of cardboard boxes that I’ve stacked inside my mind. Each of them is filled with the contents of lives well lived. Each of them rigid against the sands of time and I wonder, when will my boxes be burned away? When will the rules I’ve set apart for myself no longer drag me into them with cruel hooks and vile chains?
These boxes inside of me are symbols of the purpose I adamantly believe the world should follow and be indebted to. My reality weaving lines from wall to wall inside of my heart so that I can in some ways, be free. In other ways, I can be imprisoned. We spoke at length about the deep fear that haunts me between the walls of this cardboard city. A specter that whispers to me that I am no more free than the next man, imprisoned by the way I see the world. When things don’t make sense to me, they don’t make sense to me. When a marriage is not like my own marriage, it bothers me. When a job is not like the one I held from 2012-2016, it bothers me. What I have built for myself has been indeed rigid and nonconforming to the world. So when a good man dies I have but two options.
To file it away, somewhere deep within the library to never be seen again, or to open it up and stare at the life that was not boxed in and was not planned and was not like mine, at all.
I’ve been hesitating writing about this particular topic for some days because I am not as wise as I used to be. I have a responsibility now that I have self-assigned and monitored carefully. So carefully, that I fear I will not accomplish what I once could have accomplished. The boxes from ten years ago seemed so much bigger in my mind, and so much more carefully designed. Yet, my life demands order from me and it demands results. It demands paid bills and a happy wife. It demands that I care for my pets and write my books. It demands that I reach out to my family and friends. It demands that I keep a clean house and a stable job. It demands things that anymore, I so carefully consider that I often fail to accomplish it all and it leads me to wonder if I was meant to accomplish any of it in the first place.
My imaginary city of boxes has held me tight and allowed me the freedom to live and express my heart within a vacuum, giving me the freedom to pretend that I would live in those boxes for all of eternity. I didn’t need to understand this world of wonder with more than hollow amusement of the gears that shift beneath us. My marriage would be as I had built it in my imagination. My friendships would remain as I’ve created them and stored them away. My career would be effortless because I planned it to be so.
I created a machine of my own design, specifically meant for me that would not budge for the world or anyone else inside of it without considering that I too must change and adapt, and grow.
I write all of this, to reach this conclusion.
A good man died a month ago, and I wondered selfishly inside of my castle if I could leave a legacy as he did…
And my boxes started to crumble around me.
I’ve regularly remarked that I’ve seen much of death, so much so that I nearly know it personally, and yet, every time he comes to collect another person I love, or loved, my familiarity with him is not a powerful enough shield. I’ve bragged for years that death no longer changes me. That death is death and that when someone is gone, they are simply gone. Inside that little box, I remember everyone who died, and I spent the appropriate time mourning over their death be they family, close friends, or strangers I barely knew. Then, they too went back into the box and I left that part of the city for a time until death returned with another soul for me to stow away.
So when I reach up and open the top of that dusty container hidden deep inside of me, I remember it all, I remember their faces and their joys, their love and the lives they led. I remember how they had an impact on me however small it might have been and I so selfishly compare myself to them. Will I make an impact on another in the same way? Have I changed others in the way that they changed others? Was I a good enough man to warrant such an outpouring of love?
Something tells me that if I am too busy inside of my labyrinth, that I will likewise be too busy to attend my own funeral to know what I did while I was alive.
I only knew him for a brief time, and yet, the impact he had was vast. I saw it in men and women I love to this day. I saw it in the words of friends I hadn’t spoken to since I was thirty pounds lighter and still able to sleep less than six hours a day. I saw it in the faces of the people I used to love, and still do love. I saw it in passing memories as he accomplished things I was too afraid to accomplish. I saw it as he loved, and began a family, and became a father. When I took the news of his passing with me, I brought him to the box of souls inside of my mind and dumped the whole thing out so that they could spill onto the floor and flood the city inside of me so that I could have something that didn’t live inside of boxes, for once in my life, I broke my own rule.
I didn’t fear death, I didn’t worry myself over it before I met my wife. Before her, I was happy to be reckless and foolish. She was the gatekeeper who came to protect me deep inside of my shell. She is a guardian of my hopes and dreams and those things shook when the spirits of the people I kept safely locked away began to flood the streets, and a change came across me.
To live as though I am distinct, and separate from the rest of the world, will land me in a very different box with the same purpose. When the next hour chimes and I pass away, I will find myself in a box, not unlike those that I’ve built inside of me. My life and memories, and all of the things that I held close will be locked away and become ghosts of themselves.
I’ve compared myself so frequently to the dead, wondering what I might leave behind, that it has turned fearlessness into ignorance. It has turned the experience of wonder into the estimation of worth and it has poisoned many hearts, not only my own. Our challenges and competitions are nothing in the grand scheme of things. Is it worth it to compare ourselves to another when the sand of our own hourglass is running short so quickly? Is it wise to wonder where they go when they are gone, and if they aren’t set to return will we stand in their shadow and let the world change around us forever? Or will we stand up on the sand and do the best we can in lieu of their absence?
Perhaps it is just the spirits talking to me, perhaps it was because, in life, I compared myself to this man in small ways. Perhaps it was because he was an old friend. Perhaps it was because, despite my boasting, I do fear death.
I fear it a great deal.
“…and tomorrow has unpredictabilities as colorful as the smiles that took off that day. May that Sunday morning resonate past trophies and trinkets and the ongoing pursuit of more, to sober us. But the humbling truth, my life, and your life is just a vapor. And if what you see is all you see, then you do not see all there is to be seen.
Quickly, we leave.”
-Kirk Franklin, Sunday Morning (Lecrae: Restoration)
My heart goes out to an old friend who lost her husband last month to COVID, I hope you’ll join me in praying for them through this immensely difficult time.
Thank you for stopping by and sharing your time with me. If you’d like to see more, or if you want to reach out you can find me through my social media links below! I’d love to hear from you.
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I’ll see you soon,
bring a sword.
Lifeis+ Returns March First
We are a little under the halfway point thru February, and I have a small announcement. My yearly content release program Lifeis+ will be returning on March 1st. I’ll have more information coming out as I publish the content release schedule and whatnot over the next couple of weeks. I’ve got some writing coming out in March that will be setting the tone for the remainder of the year, as well as a number of new short fiction pieces! I’m excited. You should be too.