John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise XVI

(Dublin Street Art "You Are Not Alone" photo by William Murphy on Flickr)

John Michael continues his series, reflecting on life and people encountered, with two new stories about the passing of a beloved community member and evolving towards joy.


Rich Young Recently Passed

When I started feeling better on the streets, I started frequenting a little sports bar in Mansfield, Texas. I would down a half-bottle of Mad Dog mixed with 7-Up before going in as a way of saving the little money I had.

I attended a wake last night for Rich Young, whom most of you know recently passed quietly in his sleep. I was entertaining (or shocking or disgusting) some of my friends by showing them how hobos get by in bars. This involved me pulling cigarettes from the ash bin and lighting them right up and drinking any of the dead soldier drinks left around.

I said Rich passed peacefully, but it was unexpected and a shock to his family and this community. I expected a large turnout at the service at the Red Lion, but it was standing room in the hallway only. That says a lot about Rich and a lot about this valley community.

I knew Rich just enough to say hello in Albertsons, but his smile and hello were always warm and sincere. I graduated with his brother Ike and wife Karlene and consider them both friends. I can’t imagine what it was like for the Young family to immigrate to this sea of white faces in the valley, far from family and friends in New Zealand. Although I am sure they were scared, Ike and Rich did not seem to miss a step making friends and integrating. Both were very athletic and very social kids.

I talked to Ike some at the wake. Ike presents himself as stoic and athletic, but like Rich was described at the funeral, he is soft-hearted. I told him I could not imagine how I would react if my brother Sam had passed. I imagine Rich and Ike were competitive growing up like Sam and me and grew closer with time. I certainly love my brother and my competitive streak with him died at some point in college. But I hope I am not taking his presence in my life for granted.

Ike touched me some at the wake by telling me not to worry about my money anxiety, as I struggle to identify as something other than a hobo, and just keep on loving people. That helped me relax some and realize that I too am a part of this community despite what my mind tells me at times.


Tragedy and loss, this life so temporary and often fragile, brings us together, renews old bonds, and softens old grudges and the heart itself.


My memories of Karlene are fond. She was the kind, pretty girl from school who was easy to talk to, had I been brave enough back then to talk to a pretty girl that is. I am never sure what to tell people about grief, I rarely say anything, I just try and stay in the moment with them as they talk. Karlene may be dreading the future some, as memories of Rich and the things she and Rich did together will be literally everywhere.

Karlene told me that her and Rich, who had been partners for over 30 years, had always said they would make it through this life together. She had that expectation and may feel abandoned a little, although that is pure conjecture on my part. I am sure she will need and find some support as the shock and whirlwind die down.

Together for 30 years, how rare is that these days? But this valley does have its share of very solid families. I can’t imagine Rich saw himself as anything special, but he was. To be a consistent and kind presence in a family and in this community over many years, well, it quietly influences lives for the better in many ways.

Rich’s favorite drink was Crown and Coke and I am a whiskey guy myself. A friend of mine bought me one last night down at the Eagles as they were “on special” in honor of Rich. Despite my hobo ways, I do enjoy some of the finer things now and again and that drink made me wonder why I wanted to drink anything else.

I got to catch up with some very dear friends who had an impact on my life for the better as I was growing up here. It is a reminder that I will always have some very good people in my heart and on my side.

Tragedy and loss, this life so temporary and often fragile, brings us together, renews old bonds, and softens old grudges and the heart itself. May we all pick up that kind torch Rich is handing us. God whispering to us, You are not alone and despite appearances you are forever.


My Evolution Towards Joy

As I heal, my thoughts are changing some. Those who have followed me here know my stories of dread, anxiety, and recovery. I was surprised the other day, I had the thought, You made a difference in high school. It made me sort of reassess my past a little.

Notice I said you made a difference and not I made a difference. I like to think my better angels whisper to me now and again to keep my evolution towards joy, or my return to joy, moving in the right direction.

One thought I have been working through as of late is, You froze that night, referring to that dark night all those years ago when I was molested. The sexual part of that incident was difficult to process, but the deeper wound was the domination. Being held down with no escape I could come up with.

As you know, I have a lot of interests and things I enjoy doing. Well, being frozen made me hesitant to fully embrace doing those things. You have the thought, Film school, foundation for homeless people, being published by a magazine, and you just hold off, waiting for I am not sure what.


If you are full of dread and self-hate like I was, it is hard to understand that people truly love and care about you.


I have been to several life gatherings this week, two funerals and a wedding to be exact, in this community I grew up in and care about. These events allow us to deepen our kinship and reestablish friendships from our past. They have done me a world of good.

This morning, I thought domination lasts forever; in a way that meant, of course, it doesn’t, and I could feel some deep emotional weight being lifted. The kindness of this valley that I lost touch with all those years ago has had its effect and I continue to shed skin on my way to a new birth.

A friend of mine said these essays seem to have a theme of me working on my belonging needs. I can say that having you folks read my stories and provide such kind feedback has been instrumental in my healing process.

If you are full of dread and self-hate like I was, it is hard to understand that people truly love and care about you. If you have been through some childhood trauma, like so many of us have, your approach to the world can often be cynical and full of fights, flights, or freezes. If that is the case, know that I love you, and I do not judge anything you have done in your fear and pain, and I want for you all the peace and joy you can handle.


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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