John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise XX

(photo by Lindsay Fox at

John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, with two new stories about unhappy martyrs and compassion.


Some People Are Happy as Hell Being Unhappy

I have been out hoboing around some. It may be a safety zone for me, and I may be afraid to move ahead in any other direction. But what it does is give me time to myself and an opportunity to contemplate things.

I have noticed I still do quite a bit of things hoping to please my mother. I know she loves me, but I want whether she loves me or not to not be important at all. I want to love unconditionally and do things out of that love and not out some compulsive need to people-please.

That has been my lifelong pattern with women. Are you not happy with me? I will try harder. Well, that bit the dust in my last semi-long-term relationship, when it became apparent that happiness was not to be had no matter what I did. So, I have been slowly unconditioning myself as a people pleaser.

I had a couple of odd and very similar events happen to me today. When I am out hoboing, in general, I leave longer smokes on top of convenience store ashtrays, because someone may want to smoke it after they are done shopping. Sometimes, like today evidently, I just take whatever is there.

Well, I went into the store tonight to buy a tin of cat food and the checker said I stole her cigarette.

“I stood right here and watched you do it,” she said.

I told her it was not my intention to steal and offered a couple I had with me.

“I only smoke menthols,” she said.

I had the feeling that, even if I had some menthols, she would not take them because they were the wrong brand.


Do you have some unhappy martyrs in your life? Don’t bend over trying to please them, they are happy as hell being unhappy.


Then, at Starbucks, an elderly woman asked me if I was leaving. I said, “No,” but then understood she wanted the seat and table I was at in the crowded shop. So, I gladly (I assume it was gladly—with people pleasing it is hard for me to determine when I am being sincere or not) offered them the table.

Her friend came along and insisted on not taking the seat and implied it would be a sacrifice for them to sit in the comfortable cushy chairs that were available. But that they would make that sacrifice by leaning in closer to talk. Something they would not have had to do at the small round table I was sitting at.

What is the message for me in these similar events? Well, I assume it is loving people is a far different thing than pleasing people. It could be that some people enjoy being unhappy martyrs, and why would you try and please them anyway? It also made me wonder if I was being an unhappy martyr myself. Look at me sacrificing money and material wealth to live as a hobo. Lol.

I do know that taking time to myself is hard for me to do, and I assume there is some guilt in it attached to how I was parented.

But, do you have some unhappy martyrs in your life? Don’t bend over trying to please them, they are happy as hell being unhappy.


The Antidote to Loneliness

I thought I had outgrown my cynicism, but there it was at Walmart wanting to bare its fangs and take out some poor service sector person.

I was in there buying a pre-paid phone plan. I have been carrying a flip phone for quite a while now. The last decent phone I had was an iPhone Christmas gift that was quickly stolen and never seen again. And not that flip phones aren’t decent. I know a ton of people who would feel blessed to have one.

Cynicism develops when you don’t think things work out or ever will work in your favor. Our psyches are rich in small darknesses. It has been my sadistic pleasure to lose, break, or give away every decent material possession I have ever had. I have had a lifelong, don’t-deserve-good-things demon messing with every good thing that comes my way. But I am honestly over that and am ready to embrace the Lord’s abundance.

At least, I think I am. Still, a small part of me thinks the streets would be easier and simpler. Anyhow, my other thought is that nice things tend to create some envy and I hang with a crowd that has next to nothing. But you know what? I have my own envy to deal with and overcome without worrying about everybody else’s. That is what I am telling myself at the moment, I can sort of feel my chin jutting out selfishly saying, “This is mine, motherfucker.” So, we shall see.


There is no better feeling than compassion. It is the antidote to loneliness. … Gratitude ain’t a bad feeling either.


Well, my friend George White got tired of hearing me shout into my flip phone, the speaker never has worked well, and he sent me a new Android device. That is what had me in Walmart.

I had all these things playing out in my psyche when I finally reached the help person at AT&T. Civility, especially online and on the phone with people we don’t know, has taken a back seat. People whose job it is to field customer calls, well, I imagine their contracts says something like, “Are you prepared to take obnoxious shit from strangers all day?” For some reason, while on the phone hoping to relieve my anxiety by being a dick to some woman I would never talk to again, I got in touch with my heart and I felt some compassion open up to her and those in that type of job.

Overall, we—and I include myself—are way too self-involved and simply unaware of what is going on inside of us. So, anyone not like us—the elderly, mentally ill, homeless, veterans, etc.—end up leading lonelier lives than they should. At 54, I have experienced many emotional states, some of them extreme, but there is no better feeling than compassion. It is the antidote to loneliness.

Gratitude ain’t a bad feeling either. I am grateful for my friend George and his compassion for my phone situation. And, you know, just the idea that I am still breathing feels pretty good to.


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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