John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise VIII

John Michael continues his series, reflecting on life and people encountered, with three new stories about being calm and listening, loving yourself, and expressing emotions.


On Being Calm and Listening

I am developing a calm presence, something I noticed as a kid that, within my family, only my grandad possessed. He was successful as a logging superintendent for Potlatch. At one point in his life he had what they were calling a nervous breakdown back then. That was long before I came along as his grandson. I must say, it has taken me several nervous breakdowns to get this calm.

I loved traveling up Clearwater to spend time with him and my grandma in Orofino. He would take me on walks, play with us on the floor, and always had some Fruit Stripe gum. In the bank, he would lift me onto the counter so I could see what was going on, which delighted me.

I wrote recently about being a lying liar and how that developed around a story from my childhood. I was surprised at how much emotion was hanging out in my heart around that incident, mostly grief and fear. But after writing it down, many emotions have passed out of me allowing for more peace to move in.

Tonight, I feel less hesitant about telling the truth about my past, even though I have been writing about it for quite some time, it always came out with some anxiety.

I am aware most people don’t share much of their internal lives and I think I understand why. I went unheard after I was molested and that shut me down some, although not completely. Unfortunately, at that time, my grandfather had passed so there was no calm presence around to help soothe my wound, but I did the best I could within the chaos of my family.

Puberty came later than most for me and that created some anxiety that I awkwardly tried sharing with my mom. Her presence was calm in everyday life, but when others were experiencing anxiety, like me with my slow entry into puberty, well, her anxiety would rise to meet mine.

That is my idea of what a calm presence is: when others are experiencing anxiety or tensions are high, they can keep their cool, so to speak. At any rate, after that puberty discussion, I think I just tried to deal with my problems myself without having the courage to share them with anyone. This led to a pretty deep depression and a hospitalization at age 25.


Here is the problem in our culture: not enough calm presences and not enough people who know how to listen.


Here is the problem in our culture: not enough calm presences and not enough people who know how to listen. Let’s say you have some trouble with relationships and you try and talk to someone about it. They are stressed in their own relationships and so what you say triggers their anxiety and they either shut down or change the subject. Or they listen for a second, think they understand the subject, and start spewing out the advice, which is a sad, sorry habit of mine.

These days, I yack my ass off all the time about what is going on in my brain. I always tear up a little when I feel someone has heard me and has no judgment and no solution for me. They just acknowledge where I am on the road of life. What a blessing it is to be heard.

I used to feel very alone because I thought no one in my family or my life were willing to share much of anything real, only what they thought about the weather. I understand their hesitation better now. I mean, if you have never really been calmly heard and acknowledged, why would you say anything?

I have talked about myself enough and felt enough of the pain from the past so that if you got something to say I am ready to calmly listen and reflect back what you have to say.


“You Have to Love Yourself as Deeply as You Want Others to Love You”

I picked up a homeless friend at the bus depot the other night. She is an affectionate person and was grateful to see me as she wasn’t sure I would be there.

“John loves me,” she said.

One thing I have noticed about homeless people, and I became this way myself, they are very resourceful and usually find a place to land and get done the things they need to get done.

She had texted nine other people telling them she would be there at a certain time and was feeling sorry for herself that I was the only one that showed up. She wants to know she is loved, you see. She has made some strides and realizes she has burned some bridges that she is hoping she can reconstruct.

When people in our lives don’t show up, literally or figuratively, it has a way of reinforcing our worst thoughts about ourselves. I came up with a metaphysics I posted while talking to her about not feeling loved by other people in her life:

“You have to love yourself as deeply as you want others to love you,” I told her.


If you can convey to others that they are loved—by showing up, by being kind, and by being affectionate—that goes a long way to salve some unloved spots many of us, and especially the homeless, carry.


But also, if you can convey to others that they are loved—by showing up, by being kind, and by being affectionate—that goes a long way to salve some unloved spots many of us, and especially the homeless, carry.

Along with the affection she possesses, she is tough and cagey, reads people well, and makes wise decisions about when to fight and when to flee. She grew up not so well and has a pretty good case of PTSD. She also has a drug habit she is trying to kick. That is why she was out of town, trying to get into a treatment center that would not let her in until the following week.

I bought her and I some McDonald’s, let her use my phone, and drove her around looking for someone who might take her in for the evening. I could see her anxiety and trepidation about calling people and knocking on doors, the anxiety of asking and the anxiety of being turned down. Then the elation and relief when someone finally let her in.

If you want to understand homeless people, you have to understand PTSD and severe trauma, both sexual and physical. Yet many people scratch their heads and can’t understand why they are not working to better themselves.

What I believe they need is a safe place to rest, one without a lot of rules and demands. Many homeless people prefer the streets over shelters simply because of the rules of those places make it impossible. She got kicked out of a Spokane shelter for arguing with another woman who had turned her in because she was eating crackers in her bedroom.

Like I said, it does not matter whether you help the homeless in any way, they know how to take care of themselves. But they love and respond to kindness better than any group of people I know. Usually, any small gift or small amount of time is greatly appreciated.


Some Grief Which I Did Not Resist

I am all over the place emotionally tonight. I mean, good things are happening in my heart and I feel steady at the wheel, yet these emotions and ideas about myself from childhood are dangerously on the surface.

I am still caught between being a hobo and saying goodbye to money and wanting prosperity. If I am honest, I am leaning more towards prosperity. I have many creative ideas as a writer, designer, inventor, and so forth.

I was over at Starbucks this afternoon and rooted around in the garbage for some coffee, which I often do. A newish manager saw me and told me it was against their policy and asked me not to do it anymore. Normally, I would have argued or left, but I just sat with my feelings for a while. And I guess the look on her face was what created the feelings. It may have scared her some and changed her opinion of me.

It was strange because walking in I just felt my charming, caretaker role wearing thin. I realized just how afraid I am to let women see my true emotions and I am afraid of emotional involvement with them.

A couple of days ago, I was out for a walk and was saying some prayers for my immediate family, and this grief welled up and I thought we failed as a family. That failure happened when I was six or so, so you think I might have recognized it by now. And “failure” might be too strong, but we certainly did fail in the traditional sense.

I was certainly neglectful of myself when I was on the streets, and still am in many ways, although I am taking better care of myself overall. When I got home this evening, I noticed some pretty good hair mats on Tote’s feet, it is a wonder he is walking at all, and I just felt sad. We all enjoy animals but we all project a lot of our emotions and ideas about ourselves onto our animals. Totes felt the fool force of my neglect.

When something like that happens, I sit down and confess my sins so to speak and then address and feel whatever emotions come up. So, I sat there and I said, “I have been neglecting Totes,” that morphed into “I let Totes down,” which morphed into “I let my dad down,” then into “I let my family down.” Then I was hit by some grief which I did not resist and finally let a few scraggly tears came rolling down my cheeks.

As a kid, and I imagine most of us were this way, I saw myself as the hero type and maybe the golden child of the family. Go on, make us all proud, Son. Lol. However, I am sort of a hero to myself these days in that I know myself well, love myself deeply, and love others with all my heart. “Ooh-oo, child, things are gonna get easier.

The idea is to intimate with everyone—in other words, not to mask what I am feeling and thinking from others.


John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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