The 18th of October was the first night it got cold this year. Cold enough to frost. Cold enough to kill the remnants of the basil plants in the pot on my deck. I was at a community meeting around 7:30 at night when Renee sent me a text:

The heater won’t come on.


HVAC problems worry me. They are expensive. They require tools I do not have, tools that are expensive and that I will rarely use otherwise. And it requires specialized knowledge I won’t use elsewhere. So I end up paying someone else to do it, and can’t know if they are doing it right or not, or ripping me off or not.

When I was growing up, Dad was an HVAC technician. He worked for a propane company that sold furnaces, and he spent most of his hours crawling under people’s houses if he was lucky or in their attics if he were not. He always wore a blue work shirt, with the shirt pockets bulging with papers, small screwdrivers, a dial thermometer, and a penlight. The tuft of chest hair poking over the top button, the trucker’s cap on his head. Small me would wrestle with him on the floor, and he would amuse me to no end by making his pupils dilate with his penlight.

Dad eventually went into management, and then in my late teens, left that field to go into Emergency Management professionally. But he kept his tools and his licenses, and so he was the person everyone called when there was a problem with their air or heat. This side hustle bought our Christmas presents most years, paid for trips otherwise out of reach, and I’m pretty sure made my getting my class ring possible my senior year.

Dad and I both could work on cars. We both knew how to build buildings and make furniture. But only Dad could do HVAC work. It was magic.

If your car’s AC was running hot, he would bring his gauges and his tank of coolant the next time he came over. On holidays, his opinion was sought on noises the furnace was making. The last time he was at my house, I sought his advice on moving the condensing unit so we could put add another deck. Once, he troubleshot and fixed my AC in North Carolina over the phone from North Mississippi.


But Dad’s gone now, and so when the heater doesn’t work, you take your chances with somebody a friend recommends, and you hope they are honest and hope they are competent, and you realize, once again, how you are more alone in the world than you had expected to be at your age.

Today is the second anniversary of the last time I heard my daddy’s voice talking to me. The last time I heard him call me “Son.” It was the day he told me how tired he was, the day he told me he needed to hurry up and get better because the EMS folks needed him to do his job so that they could do theirs.

I told him I was worried I would call when he was sleeping.

“Son, these days, it feels like I am always sleeping. I’m tired of being tired.”

Dad died 48 hours later from COVID, contracted in the line of duty. Sometime around 1 PM, two years from the day after tomorrow.

Today, on the two-year anniversary of the last time I heard Dad’s voice, I had an HVAC repairman in my house. He is honest, forthright, and competent. He’s done minor things for me over the last two years and was originally recommended by a friend. I like that he is a one-man operation. I like that when I pay him, that exact money feeds his family and pays for his kid’s school, just like Dad’s customers paid for my high school trips. I like that he doesn’t sugarcoat things.

But the work, while competent, doesn’t seem like magic when he does it. And it’s just another reminder that I am more alone in the world than I thought I would be at this age.

The other side

When I was 10 years old, my 5-year-old brother got appendicitis. His stomach was hurting intensely, and after a period of home remedies, we took him to the doctor, who diagnosed him with a swollen appendix, and he went to the hospital.

It turns out his appendix was swollen, and they did surgery to remove it before it burst. This was the early 80s, and as I recall it, he went into the hospital one afternoon, spent the night in the hospital, had his appendix removed, and then spent another night in the hospital before coming home.

The evening before his surgery, I was talking to Monty, the elderly lady who lived next door to me and who was, in my objective AF opinion, the best cook in the world. She was born in 1910 and had lived through two world wars, the flu pandemic, and a global depression, had raised three children – two whom she had not given birth to – and all as a well-digger’s wife. She had seen some stuff.

When I told her my brother was in the hospital, she asked what had happened. I explained he had appendicitis and that he was having surgery in the morning, but I had seen him at the hospital, and he was doing OK. She began to weep, then cry, and finally wail. Huge alligator tears ran down her weathered cheeks, and her wrinkled hands covered her face.

There was no air conditioning in her house. The windows were wide open, and the box fan hummed in the corner. Otherwise, it was silent, except for her heaving, low wail. I didn’t know what to do, what to say. I didn’t understand – I had read books that mentioned that the appendix was not a necessary organ. I had read that appendix surgery was very low risk. I thought it was sorta cool that he was in the hospital. Honestly, I was sort of jealous.

She got up and left the room. I sat at the chrome and Formica table and watched the dust waft through the sunlight as it came through the window, low in the evening sky. Eventually, she came back, and neither of us spoke of what had just happened. Soon, I was walking home through the pasture that separated our houses and got home in time for supper. I don‘t remember what we ate that night, but I remember Mom was not there – I think she was at the hospital – and it was just Dad and me.

I told Dad what had happened.

“But I don’t understand why she was so upset. Appendicitis is a simple surgery. You don’t even need your appendix. He’s going to be fine.”

Dad explained to me that to us appendicitis was not dangerous. But Monty had buried many people who had died of things that were no longer really dangerous but once had been. Before vaccines, before antibiotics, before ambulances, a lot of people died. And in her head, she was remembering all the people she knew who had died because their appendix had burst.

Earlier this summer, a dear friend of mine got COVID. He was traveling for work, and somewhere along the way, he was exposed and then tested positive. When I heard, I was devastated. He is one of perhaps 3 people I would drop anything and go where they were, anywhere in the world, if I was needed, no questions asked. When I read the text message, I just wept.

He assured me his symptoms were mild. He had all his vaccines and boosters. He was sick, to be sure, but was under a doctor’s care and would be fine in a few days.

I know this intellectually. But in my head, all I could think about was the folks I personally know who died from COVID. The endless stream of names on my timeline of loved ones of friends who had died. The horror of dealing with Dad’s death from COVID.

There was every reason to think he would be fine on the other side of this. But in my head, it was the summer of 2020, and folks were dropping like flies.

I don’t know how long this will last, or if I’m just changed, the way Monty was forever changed because of the pain she had lived through. But I do not like it.

Not one little bit.

Weeping this morning as I walked

I still walk most days. I like to swim, but if the sun is shining and it’s not raining, I prefer to walk, even if I have to leave the house at 5:30 AM to do it when it’s comfortable outside. I’ve written a lot about my walks in these pages, but it is probably the single most important practice in my life right now. Roll out of bed, down a cup of coffee, and then 2.5 miles in 42 minutes. Like clockwork.

Sometimes it takes longer. This morning I stopped to see a neighbor’s kitten and to smell the blooms of a magnolia whose low-hanging limbs were heavy-laden with blooms. I know this cuts into the pure exercise value of the walks, but if I can’t play with kittens and smell flowers, I’m not doing it.

Many days, I will listen to an audiobook or, more rarely, a podcast. But sometimes, I need to be alone with my thoughts, and I leave my headphones at home like I did this morning.

Which is why I was weeping this morning as I walked.

I’ve had a lot going on. I know, I know, we all have a lot going on – it’s not just me. But as Thoreau said, I wouldn’t talk about myself so much if there was anyone else I knew as well.

Like many people, the two-year interjection of the Pandemic into my life caused major disruptions. I have friends who lost businesses, changed careers, lost their homes, lost their families, and others who are now just trying to survive.

I know other people who saw their businesses flourish during the pandemic, who sold their homes at the top of the market and retired, who started new businesses, who developed new interests, who met romantic partners as they navigated the world in new ways. For them, the pandemic was the best thing to ever happen to them.

But I suspect that many of us are like me – I had a little bit of both happen. I lost some people, I watched dreams crumble, and I also made new friends and developed new ways to earn an income. It was a mixed bag.

When I was working with people who were experiencing homelessness, I learned early a rule of thumb for knowing who would make it out and who wouldn’t. The people who made it out, who survived, who worked the system and got rehoused were, by and large, the people who talked about the future.

“When I get my new apartment, I’m gonna…”

“When I get the new job, I want to…”

Like that.

On the other hand, there were the 50-year-old men who made sure I knew they had been the starting quarterback in their senior year of high school, or the former soldier or the person who showed you the pictures he had carried in his wallet for 15 years of a kid that was now grown. These people seldom made it.

From them, I learned to think much more about the future than I do the past. But that doesn’t mean I never think about it. Instead, what happens is that eventually I stop moving long enough and then it hits me like a wave, and emotionally, I have to deal with it.

Which is why I was weeping this morning as I walked.

For the last two years and change, I’ve been moving constantly, like a shark that will drown if he stops. Trying to keep my family safe, trying to make money to pay the bills, trying to figure out ways to be useful, trying to learn how to do new things as the old things I knew how to do had become much less valuable in this new pandemic-scarred world.

Maybe it’s the pond and the relaxation that comes as I sit beside it. Maybe it’s that some gambles I took early in the pandemic look like they will pay off. Or maybe I’m just tired of moving.

In any event, it really hit me this morning that a lot of things are just… gone now. People I love. Things I loved doing. Dreams I had. Hell, my whole speaking career. My personality changed. So did my tolerance for bullshit. Friends died. Others moved away.

And this morning, I just found myself mourning it all.

The Buddha tells us that our unhappiness comes from our attachment to a predetermined outcome. That has always resonated with me. It’s not that I’m unhappy a thing happened – it’s that it’s not what I wanted to happen.

And this morning, I just felt all of it wash over me as I walked, alone in my head.

Which is why I was weeping this morning as I walked.

The Storm

Her name was Betty, and how exactly we were kin is a long story that involves marriages, divorces, widows, and time, but it’s far easier to just tell you she was my cousin’s wife which, while true, downplays her role in my life.

She had always been beautiful – I remember being six or seven and going to the bank where she worked as a loan officer and seeing her at her desk, in the lobby, thinking she must be the most beautiful woman in the world.

Her husband was my cousin but was also 30 years older than I was, and 10 years older than Dad. He was the oldest of his generation and served as sort of the patriarch of our extended family (see, I told you it was complicated). He died 24 years ago, but since then, Betty had stepped into the role. And for the last 15 or so years, she put together a potluck dinner on Easter Sunday.

For most of that time, I lived far away. In 2019, I was on staff at a church, and it was my first Easter there, so I felt like I needed to be there. We left right after but got there just as everyone was leaving. In 2020 they canceled because of COVID. In October of 2020, Dad died.

In 2021, it was back on, and it was fabulous. Renee and I had been locked down for more than a year at that point, our vaccinations were current, and so we made the trip north, our first real trip in ages. We took the Natchez Trace north, spent the night in Tupelo, spent an afternoon in Oxford, and then on to home, turning a three-hour trip into a 24-hour one, but feeling a little bit alive again.

Betty was 79 at that point, and all during the pandemic had been in the most severe of lockdowns because of her health. But now there were vaccines, and she was fully vaccinated, and this was the first time she was in the presence of people who were not carefully screened or her doctors. After a full year of virtual isolation, she was there, grinning like a cat in the cream, so happy to just see people.

She would come up to folks and say, “I’m fully vaccinated. Can I hug you?”. I bet she hugged everyone at least twice. We all had so much hope that the nightmare was over then, in the spring of 2021 after the vaccines came out.

Betty talked to me last year about how it just seemed wrong without Dad there. Dad was always the man with the camera at any gathering. And 2021 was the first year he wasn’t. We all felt his absence.

In August, Betty would suddenly die from an unrelated illness.

So this year was very solemn indeed. A whole generation was gone. And while it was so good to see everyone, it was far from festive.

On the way home after the potluck yesterday, we got caught in a rainstorm. I hate driving in the rain under the best of times, and this was more than 2 hours of brutal rain and thunder and lightning, and being buffeted all around the road. It was exhausting.

Driving back home from being in my hometown is always a time of introspection for me, as I reflect on the ways things turned out, on roads not taken, promises unkept. None of that is easier when you are doing it in a thunderstorm.

We stopped at the rest area to get some relief from the storm, to stretch, and catch our breath. And standing under the pavilion, watching the rain pour around us, we read the text message from a dear friend telling us that her husband – who has been fighting COVID for months – is most likely going into hospice later this week and that, baring a literal miracle, he won’t be recovering.

Well, shit.

I stare at the rain some more before getting back in the car to continue toward home.

So much loss in the last few years. Every time I’m convinced I cannot take more, more happens anyway.

We were some 30 minutes away from home when the sun came out. It was still raining, but it had slowed dramatically, and the sun was shining fiercely and, off to the east, I saw a large double rainbow arching up from the horizon.

I know the old story about how, after destroying the world with a flood, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of that promise was a rainbow. And if I’m honest, I always wondered why a rainbow would be taken seriously as such a sign.

But yesterday – on Easter Sunday, no less, when I had come through that storm and was carrying so much death and despair with me, when I saw those bows in the East I knew that we would get through. That we could keep going. That we had to persist, to carry on, and build a better world.

So I kept driving.

Two Years.

In about two weeks, it will be the anniversary of the last time I did anything that involved other people that didn’t include worrying about COVID. It was a funeral for a friend’s dad, and while we had heard stories of COVID, it felt sort of like SARS did – like a thing that had happened to some people, but that didn’t really affect anyone I actually know. After the funeral, we stood around in the parking lot, no worries about distance or masking, and talked about toilet paper shortages that were already happening, and how ridiculous it all seemed.

It was a simpler, more innocent time.

The Boy was a week away from his last normal week of school, before the spring break that would actually end his school year months ahead of schedule. We had house guests, who stayed with us a week – the last normal week for any of us.

And then a year of pure hell would happen.

The 12 months after March of 2020 were ridiculously hard. I don’t think I realized at the time just how hard. I’m good in a crisis, am able to strip away inessentials and focus on the problem at hand, so I let a lot of things go during that time – things like self-care and routine – and couldn’t do a lot of things that were important to me, like eat with friends and be in the larger world, while scrambling in order to take care of people. I’m pretty sure the combination of having people who depend on me and people who read my writing kept me alive that year.

But it was still a horrible year. This morning, I saw that I had posted this on Facebook a year ago today:

A global pandemic.

Political uncertainty.

Foster children.

Dad’s death.


Trying to scramble to pivot and keep our income afloat in the midst of extreme economic uncertainty.

The death of at least 8 people I personally know from COVID.

The extreme stress of being worried about bringing an almost certainly fatal disease home to my wife who has no immune system.


Spending thousands on car repairs, only to have to scrap it and buy another car after all.

Watching paid speaking and consulting gigs reschedule, then reschedule again, and then cancel.

Losing grants and donations as donors’ and grantors’ priorities shift because of the changing realities.


A winter storm that brought my city to its knees, and left it there.

It’s been a horrible 12 months for my mental health. I know I am not alone with this, but for 12 months I have had legitimate reasons why I am not operating at my best, and I am just tired of it. I want to be back at full strength. I want to feel productive again. I am at about 40% of pre-pandemic capacity, and some days that 40% is a stretch goal.

I told someone the other day that this whole last year has felt like a really bad normal year, but while wearing a weight vest. Everything is harder, more expensive, lasts longer, and is more exhausting than normal.

I don’t have anything inspirational to say here. It’s hard. It just is.

I learned a long time ago that it sometimes helps to say out loud how hard it is, and to say it where others can hear it.

That way, if it’s hard right now for the folks who hear it, then they will at least know they are not alone.

Yeah. That guy was in really bad shape.

I remember how low I felt at this point last year. Spring is always my favorite time of the year, but spring last year felt like an endless winter. Everything was dead, and felt dead, and looked dead.

Over the year that followed, I would personally know another six people who would die from this damn virus, as the nation lost hundreds of thousands more. Delta and Omicron would destroy all the plans we had of a year where we could return to “normal”, despite the literal miracle of the vaccines. Our political situation, while more superficially calm, has gone from “aftermath of insurrection” to “brink of nuclear war”.

And yet.

Over the last year, I would write well more than 100,000 words. I would start a new blog, and a new newsletter that would quickly grow to half the size of a newsletter I have written for seven years. I would develop new sources of income. I would begin a daily practice of both writing and moving, and would learn to pay attention to my diet in a healthy way for the first time in my life. As a result, both my blood pressure and glucose levels would decrease to healthier levels, and I would lose a hair over 50 pounds.

Growing up in the evangelical end of the church, we were taught to expect change to happen instantaneously. The Apostle Paul, on the road to Damascus, had this watershed moment, where he was struck by an overwhelming force, and as a result, had no choice but to change his life’s direction.

It’s never been like that for me. Change for me has always been quiet, slow, and nearly invisible, but striking in retrospect. So I’m grateful for the times that Past Me has admitted it was hard, the times he told the truth about what he was going through, the times he bore witness to the pain and grief, if for no other reason than to leave a signpost so Current Me could look back and mark the truly miraculous ways things have changed for the better.

My depression is more under control these days. I spend about 10% of my time on deliberate practices to keep it managed: I control my diet, prioritize movement, pursue connection, and write like my life depends on it.

It’s two years later. People are still dying. We are on the brink of nuclear war. And the daffodils are blooming in my yard.

What We Leave Behind

I bought some life insurance last week. I’ve been putting it off for ages, ostensibly because I wanted to research my options, but the long list of other things I have procrastinated on speaks to the lie in that scenario. In reality, it just wasn’t much of a priority, but finally, I got there.

In my 20s, I used to sell life insurance, and Past Me would tell Current Me that I am under-insured, but perfection is the enemy of done, and some is always better than none. I bought breathing room until I can get it all figured out.

One reason – the worst reason, actually – for delaying the purchase was my reluctance to think much about death. I mean, that isn’t completely true: I feel like I have been thinking about nothing but death and people dying for the last two years.

Of course, there is the massive casualty toll from COVID 19: Right now we stand at just under a million dead in the US alone. And none of those people exist in isolation: They are all someone’s brother, someone’s father, someone’s aunt, sister, mother. They were our co-workers, our server at our favorite restaurant, the mechanic who worked on our car, the doctor who looked after our children. The ripples from those million deaths are strong and wide-ranging.

But even putting aside deaths from Covid-19, there is just so much death right now, literal and metaphorical. I know people right now reeling from unexpected deaths of loved ones, friends, partners, and parents. I know people dealing with the death of beloved pets, and those who are planning the end of life for their pets. And then there is the death of dreams, relationships, and livelihoods brought on by this pandemic.

So much dying, all around me. Thinking about it has been overwhelming.

I’m not afraid of dying – that’s not it. I mean, I like living, and intend to stick around as long as I can, but I don’t fear death itself, because I don’t think there is anything to fear. I have preached at dozens of funerals in my career, and I can tell you what the various traditions, including mine, believe about what happens after we die, but the reality is, nobody knows. I mean, really knows. In my experience, people who are insistent that they do know either want to sell you something or sell themselves on something they already bought.

The rational part of my brain says that our species existed 300,000 years before I was born, and I have no firsthand knowledge of any of it, so it would be irrational to suppose that I will have first-hand knowledge of it going forward after my death. To be more concise: The rational choice is that my consciousness will be the same place after I die that it was before I was born: Non-existent. That when I die, I just turn off, like a light switch.

But I believe in humanity and community, and for most of those 300,000 years, there has been some belief in most cultures that we persist in some way. Perhaps it is delusional to think that I may be reunited with my loved ones in some way after I am gone, and it is not the most rational belief system by far, but it is a beautiful one, nonetheless.

I tend to be ruthlessly pragmatic when it comes to things like spirituality. Since I do not know what will happen after my death, I don’t spend much time thinking about it, preferring instead to focus on what I can know. I know what happens when I feed hungry people, when I ease someone’s burden, or when I look for who is missing and work to get them found. I know what happens when I do the work in front of me and so I leave speculation about rewards in the afterlife to other people.

But I also know that I will live in the memories of those who love me, and as long as there are stories I am in, as long as my influence is still felt, as long as any change I worked to make happen can exist and be built upon, in some sense, I am never really gone. We all leave legacies behind us, and it is up to us to decide if they are to be worthy ones.

No, any hesitancy I have around death doesn’t involve me at all, but the people I will leave here, who will miss me when I am gone, who will have to find a way to move on, who will have to clean up whatever mess I leave behind, and who will be left to pick up the pieces – because no matter how well I plan, there will be pieces. Every death breaks things, and there is always a mess to be dealt with. And now my death – which is inevitable, if hopefully a long way away – will be slightly less messy than it would have been before.




On March 16th of 2020, I had a lunch meeting scheduled with a colleague.  We had planned to go to Subway and eat, and then go to her office for a more formal meeting with a third person, but she was running late, so I grabbed the sandwiches to go and just brought them to her office.

I often said in the year that followed that what should have been my last meal in a restaurant for more than a year still ended up being take out. I haven’t relaxed in any public indoors space for almost two years now, and 900,000 Americans are dead.

There isn’t much more I can say about that. I mean, there is a lot more I want to say, but my saying it won’t make things easier, or better, or even make me feel better. In fact, it just makes me angry, and I’m trying not to do that these days.

But here we are.

The Buddhists tell us that our suffering comes from our attachment to a preconceived idea of how things ought to be. That tracks for me: I’m not mad I’m having many Zoom meetings every week – I’m mad because I think things ought to be the way they were this time in 2020 – when lunch with a colleague didn’t require D-Day levels of planning, when you could meet someone new and ask them out to lunch without wondering if they were science deniers or anti-vaccine folks. I believe it ought to be that way, and I’m frustrated that it is not.

* * *

One thing I like about swimming is that I can’t do anything else while I’m swimming. I can’t listen to podcasts. I can’t check my email. I can’t listen to an audiobook. All I can do is swim. And think.

I had a Zoom meeting earlier today. One of dozens I have already had six weeks into this year, as we approach the 2-year anniversary of when the world shut down.

The first six weeks or so, back in March of 2020, was a blur. The hunt for toilet paper. Essential workers. Musicians performing from home. Worksheets sent home from school for The Boy, who was living with us at the time. Zoom lunches. Working out grocery delivery, teaching people how to Zoom. Figuring out how to do church.

If I’m honest, I enjoy a good crisis. I obviously don’t like that people are suffering, but in a crisis, priorities become clear, the haze and grey areas burn away, and it’s always clear what needs to be done next. In a not-crisis time, my ADHD muddled brain often has trouble with what should be done next, but a good crisis makes things clear.

Another thing I love about a crisis is that it moves things faster. Priorities become clear for others too, and so instead of having 27 meetings, we can get things done.

But the mundane, the everyday, the slog – that stresses me out. And now we have entered the stage of this thing where we are still in crisis, but it has become routine. Sure, thousands of people die every day from this virus, but here’s a late fee for your phone bill.

I was thinking about all of this today, while swimming up and back, up and back, up and back.

* * *

I think this is just what we do now. This is just how life is. Each day feels like a Sisyphean challenge – dodge the virus, avoid people, try to stay connected, try to keep people you love safe, try to be as normal as possible while being reminded dozens of times a day that there is nothing normal about this at all.

Because normal is just another word for whatever you are used to, and I’ve exerted a lot of energy trying to not get used to this.

Like many of you, a whole lot of my time and energy these days is being spent trying to figure out how to live in this new reality. How to earn a living as a community builder when people are vectors of the virus and your family is immune-compromised.  How to live with a brain that seeks variety when every damn day seems endless and repetitive. And trying to figure out, if this is what life is just like now, how to do it as well as you can, and in such a way as to bring hope to others as well.

I don’t have any answers. I am leaning in, though. I’m upgrading my office equipment – turning makeshift arrangements that have been cobbled together for the last 23 months into permanent features. I’m building new, virtual and distanced communities that didn’t exist before. I’m learning new skills that will be useful in whatever comes next. But mostly, I’m constantly trying to stay connected, to be creative, and to build a life in the midst of it all.

A Crowded Table

Our dining room table will seat 8 comfortably, 10 in a stretch, and we have squeezed 12 in on at least two occasions.  It’s not a pretty table – it’s that honey oak popular in the eighties – but one day, I will build a better one. This table’s primary selling point when we bought it was that it was cheap and big. We scrounged yard sales for extra chairs, to expand the capacity from the six that came with it when we bought it. These chairs sit empty these days.

When we bought the house, it was suggested that we knock out a portion of the wall between the kitchen and dining room to make a more open floor plan – but we are the weirdo’s who don’t like open floor plans. Having a kitchen open to the table means looking at dirty dishes when you are eating supper with people you love. So we have a large dining room, with a large table, between my office and the kitchen, which holds our huge table, empty chairs, and some of our favorite artwork from friends.

We have a guest room, with a queen sized memory foam mattress that has been slept on 3 times in 22 months, a record all-time low.

This house, which we love, was purchased based on some assumptions: That we would entertain regularly, that we would routinely have guests in from out of town, that cooking for other people would be a thing I do regularly, that hospitality was our primary spiritual practice. None of those things are happening, and haven’t been done with any normalcy in almost two years and that shows no sign of changing soon.

This virus, and our national lackluster response to it, has stolen so much from me – hell, from all of us. If I were to make a list of things we used to do often, but no longer do, it would be a lengthy list. But other than eating with people, the thing I think I miss most is the lingering. When I have met folks face to face, it is a rush to be done, to get out of the place, to be done and get back to safety. I miss just being in the part of town where a store was, and deciding to pop in and just see what they had new. Of having a free Saturday morning, so you decide to hit up some antique malls just to see what was out there. It’s been so long since we just “killed time.”

My favorite part of any meal with other folks is the lingering – when the meal is over, the dishes are empty in front of you, and yet the conversation continues, ebbing and flowing. Perhaps there is a cup of coffee in front of you, and occasionally someone will munch on a roll or decide in favor of another piece of pie, but mostly you are just relishing each other’s company, and it all feels so right and comfortable and safe, and no one dares end it by getting up.

I miss that. I miss the joy of cooking things that would make people happy, of getting to share my gifts and the stories behind them with people who sat at my table, in my house, and telling them the stories of why we eat this dish this way, of who painted that picture on the wall, of why that drawing is important to us. I miss hosting a crowded table.

One day, it will be like that again. One day, I will cook stockpots full of food again, one day we will have overnight guests regularly again, one day, we will have crowded tables once more, and for me, when that happens, the world will feel more right, more just, more hopeful than it does right now.

Take care of yourselves, and your families. Get vaccinated if you are not, and get boosted if you can. We need to get to the other side of this – I am so looking forward to regularly hosting a crowded table once more.


I was talking to Renee today about how weird 2021 has been.

Nothing really bad happened to us, personally, this year. But the general anxiety of living through the second year of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people has been exhausting. In some ways, the day to day of this year, where we are in a constant state of expectation and shifting boundaries, has been much harder to navigate than 2020 was, where the boundaries were more clear.

I was elated when, in February, we drove 2 hours in the snow to get Renee her first vaccine shot. I literally wept at the relief. Finally, I thought. This will all be over.

But it wasn’t over. It still, 11 months later, isn’t over.

Early on, I predicted this was going to last for years and years. I hoped I wasn’t right. But I was right.

Like many of you, we spent this year trying to figure out how to live in this new reality. We spent a lot of time at home, although not as much as we did in 2020. We stretched by traveling, albeit travel with lots of precautions. We ate out more, mostly outside or in empty restaurants. We saw three movies in empty theaters. I met people for coffee. It felt, for a minute, almost normal between the variants.

I became more distrustful of people this year. Instead of being potential allies and friends, they became potential disease vectors. Crowds are unsafe places in this new world in which we live, and people who intentionally seek out crowds became unsafe people. Millions of my fellow Americans intentionally chose not to get vaccinated, placing my immune compromised wife at risk. I am as yet unable to forgive them for that.

This year I prioritized my health in a way I never have before. I committed to daily physical activity – 2.5 mile walks or 30 minutes of swimming nearly every day. I began eating consciously, and along the way lost 48 pounds. I have a set bedtime, and fight hard to get at least 7 hours of sleep.

I built a workshop over the summer, where I now spend my evenings making things that make me happy. It is an extravagance, that creative space, but it makes me happy.

In 2020, I wrote 2 blog posts on my personal blog. This summer I built a new website, where I blog daily and since September 1st have published 84 posts and more than 60,000 words.

I leaned in this year to my identity as a writer, as now I make a not-inconsiderable portion of my income from writing related activities, and in addition to this blog I also publish two newsletters each week (this one and this one.)

So, while a lot of good things happened this year, it was all fought for and won reluctantly.

As I have said before – I don’t set goals. But I do intend to lean further into my identity as a writer and Internet publisher in 2022. I intend to lean into my identity as a craftsperson more in 2022 – expect an online shop where I will sell some of my wares, and more writing about craft. I intend to lean more into my identity as an organizer, as I continue my work organizing faith communities here to make a better Mississippi. But mostly, I intend to continue to believe in a better world than the one in which we currently live, and to strive to live as if that world was already a reality, and by so living, bring it a little closer to fruition.

Happy New Year, friends. I wish you every good thing.


The week of emotions

I tend to think in terms of weeks. Days are too short, and months are too long. But weeks are just right.

When I lived in North Carolina, my favorite week was the first week of April, as the dogwoods were in bloom and all of nature seemed to be showing out. In the winter I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s, as no work gets done and it seems a time of reflection on the year that is ending and limitless hope for the year ahead.

This week we are currently in, the week between the 17th and 24th of October, will forever be my emotional week.

Today is Tuesday. A year ago this past Sunday, my dad called me to let me know he had tested positive for COVID. He was unsure how he had gotten it, but he was the Emergency Management Director for his county, and was responsible for getting PPE and emergency supplies to all the first responders, so he no doubt got it at work. He never ran a fever, he never lost taste or smell. All of his symptoms were primarily gastrointestinal and trouble breathing. When he tested positive, they got Mom tested.

A year ago today, my mom’s test results came back that she too was positive for COVID. It’s hard to remember now, a year later, but at that stage of the pandemic, three day turnarounds for test results were pretty standard. When they called to let me know, Dad was a little short of breath but otherwise sounded good. In a typical dad move, he was worried about how the county was managing without his doing his job.

A year ago tomorrow, our foster son was unexpectedly sent back to his family against pretty much everyone’s recommendations. After living with us for 9 months, we had less than an hour to pack all his things and to say goodbye.

I will have more to say about our experience with the foster system later, but the short version is that the system all that happened in was horrible for everyone.  If you were to design a system to traumatize children, break the spirit of people who want to help children, and demoralize social workers, it would look a lot like the foster care system in Mississippi.

A year ago this Thursday, my dad died just after lunchtime. My brother called me and told me while standing in the yard with his children, watching them take Dad out of the house, and while watching Mom see Dad leave the house for the last time, with everyone appropriately distanced because the consequences of this virus were obvious and were going down the driveway in the back of an ambulance that had the lights and siren off.

Later that day Mom’s oxygen levels would drop, and the ambulance would take her to the hospital where she would have been admitted except they had patients on gurneys in the hallways because there were no beds. They had a waiting list to get a gurney in the hallway. Instead they pumped her full of oxygen and fluids and then sent her home.

My brother drove her home at 2AM, with her in the backseat and the windows down and everyone wearing masks. She slept that night, or tried to, in the small house I was raised in and that her and Dad lived in for more than 40 years, in the bed they had shared, knowing that if she survived this virus she faced a lifetime without him.

My Dad and I shared many attributes in common, but what tenacity I have, I get from Mom. Her strength amazes me constantly.

A year ago this Friday, I would get up early and drive three hours to drive to my hometown to see my mom and brothers. We were all distanced and Mom moved slowly to sit on the porch. No one could help her, and there may be more compelling definitions of hell, but watching your mother sit on the porch 15 feet from you mourn the death of her husband and your father and not be able to hug her or even physically touch her is as close as I’ve personally come. Driving back home that night, I wept, off and on, for three hours.

And then, 12 years ago this coming Sunday, I married Renee, which has consistently been one of the best decisions of my life. No rational person would have thought us likely to make it, and we were the opposite of “financially stable”. When we woke up the day of our wedding, there was less than $20 in the bank account. I had this vague “ministry” thing I did that paid me less than a thousand dollars a month and Renee was on disability for her heart condition. For our honeymoon, we stayed in a borrowed condo a friend owned at Carolina Beach.

We are, on the surface, an unlikely pair. But it works out more often than not, largely because we decided it will.

And that is how I got through this week last year, and how I will get through it this year and all the years in front of me: I have decided to. I have lightened my commitments and given myself permission to be absent from things and told friends I may need more support than normal. And, importantly, I’m sharing this with you folks.

A paradox of life is that sharing things that make us joyful increases the joy, while sharing our burdens makes them lighter.

I can’t explain why it works that way, but I’m really glad it does.