John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise X

John Michael continues his series, reflecting on life and people encountered, with three new stories about the heart, giving and receiving affection, and pondering what’s next.



Prettying Up the Sunset

A sliver of a new moon was hanging low in the Western sky prettying up the sunset out across the river. I had been inside most of the day resting and hoping this rash that developed along my rib cage would dissipate. I got a little antsy being cooped up, so I walked down to AandB to buy a soda and see if I could find someone to bullshit with.

I wrote this fall about coming out of my fight or flight and feeling safe in my own skin again. But now that I am feeling safe, every emotion I buried in childhood is screaming out to be heard.

As I was heading to the store, I had the thought, I can’t feel anything in my heart, it just felt kind of numb. I actually teared up a little at the store talking to a kind friend. So, I decided to walk some more and sort things out a little. I wandered over to my childhood home on the other side of the college. I hesitated a moment and then sat on the porch for a minute. Old memories were flooding back of that scared, but often happy, kid who patrolled the area with the neighborhood toughs.


You look deeply enough and long enough at any situation it becomes hard to find someone to blame.


I have mentioned hiding my heart from women, but I don’t think it was my heart, rather it was the tears in my heart. I assumed my mom had enough of her own I guess without having to deal with mine. A lot of rage has been pushing up in me keeping that small kid safe. I always assumed the rage was covering the shamed child. But this go around it seems to be about protecting the sad child. No shame in tears I suppose even though I may tell myself that at times.

During my walk, this wind started picking up that excited me some. It felt like a cleanse in a way. Those old ghosts and demons who have been living on the fear and grief in my heart are being blown out of the galaxy by my helping angels I guess.

I have blamed my family some for a rough childhood that included being molested. I also blamed myself and punished myself for that happening and, of course, I blamed my attacker. But hell, you look deeply enough and long enough at any situation it becomes hard to find someone to blame. My heart is a little sad at the moment but tender as well. You know how I know? Because I can feel it.


Hold Hands, Touch Cheeks, Give Hugs

I am working on letting go of a sex wound that had me hating myself and my sexuality for much of my life. I am aware this is not a poetic lead sentence. I had some very stress-filled hours and days and came down with shingles. Why the self-hate and aggression emerged this winter I cannot say, but it feels good to have moved through the major part of it.

There is no doubt that illness is related to emotions and stress. At some of my more trying moments, I could feel the shingles rash starting to emerge in different parts of my body, only to retract again as I breathed through my fears.

I came out of the incident in need of, and looking for, some mothering. I think I scared an acquaintance of mine when I asked her to hold me. But seek and you will find, and I did find friends who were willing and able to nurture me. But I, like many of you, am for the most part starved for affection.

In Matthew 23, Jesus spends quite a bit of time casting woe onto the Pharisees. At the end of this, he says, “How often I wanted to gather your (Jerusalem) children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not allow it.”

A lot of Christians like the fiery Jesus casting the sinners out of the temple. But Jesus was as tender and loving a nurturer, so to speak, as the above passage tells us. Imagine his dismay when he wanted to bring these gifts to all of Isreal and the higher-ups were so concerned with their own power and prestige that they would find a way to kill such a loving man.


Why is it that those who are without status are also the most open to kindness and nurturing?


Why is it that those who are without status are also the most open to kindness and nurturing? It was true in Christ’s time and appears true to me now. I never feel more loved and accepted than when I am having dinner or lunch with the local homeless and low-income population. They also allow me to nurture them without freaking out as well. I hold hands, touch cheeks, and give hugs there and they all soak it up just like I do.

Looking back on my sexuality after being molested, I still find it hard to say good things about myself. I was obsessed, neurotic, and probably addicted. Now that love is freeing things up again, I am surprised about how repressed and frozen that section of my body was. It was like a part of me was hovering over my sexuality, judging and condemning and punishing me any time my body responded sexually.

I was a good athlete as a kid and young man, and recently some poetry is returning to my movements. I came up with a pretty good line when describing my body over the past twenty years. I am a deadly combination of fat and lanky, chicks eat that stuff up. I have never set and kept a goal in my life, but the plan is to lose forty pounds by the end of summer.


What I Do and Do Not Do

Sifting through some emotional ashes. I woke up calm today, surprised by the absence of angst and anger. The heart, its many influences for my gain and detriment, finding its missions and passions. That kindness I say I have been pursuing but often doubting, I can find, feels like a real possibility.

As I search through my past, past lives, past hopes and dreams, finding the real for me here and now. I feel like I need more people to talk to who can listen and reflect back to me what I am trying to understand in myself.

I have dreamed of Mother Teresa on and off as an adult. Recently, I checked out a book of hers from the library after having a dream that she had something to say to me. She writes simply and beautifully about caring for the least among us.

I love her tremendous faith in Christ at a time when I think of possibly embracing the Catholicism of my youth or leaving all things behind to embrace my authentic, God-connected self.

I thought, during my morning cigarette, that Mother Teresa had helped form some of my thinking, or possibly even formed “me” as a kid. I have no conscious memory of that, but it may have been buried under the guilt and shame I felt being a Christian as a kid. I was so anxious about friendships that any true feeling I had often got repressed as I tried to fit in with others.

My recent dreams have also been about Nashville and songwriting, theater and street theater, possibly with hobos and lovers of hobos. Just yesterday I woke up hearing my voice saying I should start writing books and movie reviews. As I pull out of my mid-life crisis—well, I hope I am pulling out—the idea of being a husband and father also holds a great deal of appeal, or perhaps just some sentimentality.

I am also very torn about living in physical poverty as Teresa did. Just consuming and using whatever I find in the garbage cans, dumpsters, and ash bins, or allowing some real physical abundance and living like a king.

As my patience grows and my anxiety dwindles, even minor decisions that used to scare me into non-activity seem easier to manage. So, I sit happy as my heart sifts for its purpose—and its purpose may simply be that happiness, regardless of what I do and do not do.


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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