John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise LXI: No Matter What

(Photo by Andre Ouellet on Unsplash)

John Michael’s latest Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, shares about attending a rodeo, and thoughts about 9/11 and America. 


I had an all-American day yesterday, if a piece of apple pie would have materialized out of the sky in front of me while I was eating my hamburger, I would not have blinked an eye. I went early to the rodeo parade this year, as I showed up late last year and missed all the folks riding horses.

The parade got started later than I thought it would. I asked someone about it and they explained that they moved it back to reflect the time the first plane hit the tower in New York City. When the lady told me that, I felt some tears surprisingly rise up in my throat, and it’s been twenty years.

Downtown was packed for the parade, and it was very fun for me. First responders, cowboys and cowgirls, and Native Americans on beautiful horses, politicians wanting your vote, and marching bands. Everyone was tossing out candy and kids were enjoying themselves darting out to pick it up.

I was living in my car when the planes struck; fat and paranoid, unable to have a two-word conversation with another soul. I had been demoted to a part-time reporter at work which wasn’t enough income to keep me housed. They kept me working far longer than they should have, given my mental state.


I was in a sad little laundromat in the Florida Keys that rarely had anyone in it but me. When I saw the footage of the twin towers, I remember it threw my mind into shock …


I was in a sad little laundromat in the Florida Keys that rarely had anyone in it but me. When I saw the footage of the twin towers, I remember it threw my mind into shock, as I’m sure it did everyone else too. However, I was so deep in my own anxiety, none of the emotions hit me like they should have. I remember crying later when I heard Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You” on the radio and I realized what he was singing about.

9/11 cuts across political and cultural lines, its collective grief is in us all. We may argue about how it happened and who was responsible, as I tend to find myself doing, but we all feel its impact 20 years later.

I went to the rodeo itself later that night. The Lewiston Roundup is old and prestigious enough to attract first-class cowboys nationwide, and they did not disappoint. Although, they may have to retire some steers. They had been at it enough that quite a few of them were able to make the bull doggers look silly by stopping on a dime just as the cowboys were coming off their horses. The fellas found dirt in their hands and mouths, and the steer just trotted around the arena, happy for the payback. But there was some excellent roping, riding, and bucking happening the entire night.

I have to admit, I felt sorry for the animals. I had wandered around the pens before the rodeo and they seemed well fed and cared for overall, but they travel all over the country like the cowboys do and I imagine they crave the home pasture now and again. I was touched to see a couple of kind women scratching on the backs of some big, bad bulls. One bull even moved closer to the fence so she could get at some more spots. Like, all those bulls really wanted was some affection, just like we all do.


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On a personal note, I love horses so much and have wanted to be a cowboy all my life. I even went by the name “Cowboy” in a brief stint I had as a radio DJ. But I became a caretaker for the most part, instead. Although, that could change at any time. As I heal more deeply, I feel a deep call to adventure.

I remember being in a half-ass 4H Rodeo as a kid. I was a little disappointed (but also a little relieved) when my dad pulled me out of the steer riding competition after he saw that I was way smaller than the other boys. But I did do some goat milking. Some kid made fun of me for being on a borrowed horse, and for being in tennis shoes and not boots. I used the shame and rage of it to turn in a pretty fair time. Hopefully, I’ll have the blessings and courage to own some horses someday. Chickens and goats, as well.

There was a ceremony in remembrance of 9/11 to mark the start of the rodeo, including a three-plane flyover. We said the “Pledge of Allegiance,” and the announcer actually said a prayer and mentioned Christ. At an earlier point in my life, I would have been rolling my eyes, but instead, I was in tears. I looked at the people around me in the packed bleachers and everyone appeared to be feeling the same thing I was.

No matter who you are fighting with at the moment, and no matter what you are fighting about, your fears, joys, triumphs, and sorrows belong to us all and make us who we are in this great collective we call the United States of America. Land of the free. I love you, folks, God bless you.


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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