John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise LXIV: Always Second-Guessing

(Photo by John Michael)

John Michael’s latest Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, thinks about second-guessing himself and our need to care for nature. 


I have never had a confident mind. Like many of you, I’m always second-guessing myself, never sure I’m doing what I want to do—never mind what God may want me to do. As I stretch for enlightenment, I restore some inner peace and self-confidence. But I still have many conflicting dreams, a ton of interests, and only so much time.

I was only in a slight hurry tonight to get upriver and take some fall pictures along the Clearwater, which is an improvement over always being in a hurry and how I have rolled almost my entire life. The Nez Perce tribe has been working for years to restore salmon runs and there are currently some coho salmon making their way up Lapwai Creek to spawn. Lapwai Creek is maybe four feet wide at its mouth. I knew it would be a little too dark to see the salmon, and it was, but being out during this wonderful fall and along the river was restorative.

I had a vision of a walking stick as I was waking up the other morning and the thought that came with the picture was, The walking stick you want to write about. I’ve had dreams in the past too, about writing of rivers I walk beside. A friend seemed to confirm that this morning over coffee by asking, “You take all these nature pictures, why don’t you write about it?”


Leaves in Spaulding Park have carpeted the ground and the gold, reds, browns, yellows, and grays were a clear invitation to the child in me, so I took off my shoes and stomped around a little.


I had wanted to go out yesterday when it was warmer and head up Lawyers Canyon for some pictures after Lapwai Creek. I’ve also written about how a vision led me to think about being a priest or pastor-type figure. Yesterday ended up being a type of outreach day, with me driving friends to doctors and work, sharing cigarettes and coffee with people in need of an ear, and even helping a friend with some homework. I found myself, not resenting them, because, trust me, these people are now some very dear friends of mine, but I was maybe resenting a lack of time to pursue other things I enjoy pursuing.

I have resented friends in the past, and my mom as well before she passed, for needing more care than I wanted to provide. I’m not proud of that, but it is the truth, and I’m glad God provides forgiveness and that I have learned to apply that forgiveness to myself. I also often wonder, and wondered with my mom, if I was even up to the task of providing care for anyone.

On my way upriver, I was at a stop sign waiting for traffic to clear and a young woman looked lost standing there on the corner. I couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t crossing the street. She finally snapped back to the present moment and started across the street, saw me smoking, and asked for a cigarette. She was probably in her late teens and looked to have been through some things and still going through some things. But she smiled as I handed her some smokes. She had a pretty face that was more open and kinder than what I was expecting. As she walked off, I had the thought, The most vulnerable among us, and felt a familiar squeeze of compassion in my heart. And that’s how she looked too, vulnerable as hell.

It took about a minute before I tuned in to my sense of smell out by Lapwai Creek; just a lovely combination of dusk, fallen leaves, and soil. As I started walking, I had a brand-new thought, and it was related to compassion and not nature. Well, maybe nature too, as I consider it more now, but the thought was, Master tenderness. To me, tenderness is the best response for people in need of some kindness or compassion, these most vulnerable among us which may include us all. I love the feeling of tenderness, to master it, to always be feeling it, seems like too much blessing to ask for.


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As individuals, most of us have not been destructive to nature—big corporations and industries shoulder much of the blame. However, we, including me, have not done much to stop them. Most of us, including me, have been neglectful of nature, and the rhythms and seasons she places inside of us are unfelt and unrecognized. She, as well, could use a big heap of some human tenderness.

Leaves in Spaulding Park have carpeted the ground and the gold, reds, browns, yellows, and grays were a clear invitation to the child in me, so I took off my shoes and stomped around a little. It’s obvious that the leaves are meant to stay on the ground, returning nutrients to the earth and the trees they had fallen from. Possibly also keeping the surface a little warmer as cold air moves in during winter. But we rake and bag them for some odd reason.

What kind, romantic things haven’t been said about sunsets? But, oh my goodness, the reds and oranges of the sun reflecting, deep grays of clouds at dusk, the smells and sounds, the feminineness of a free-flowing river. Tall cottonwoods and other tress behind me, it was a lovely, long moment of contentment.

Speaking of the most vulnerable, I took a bunch of young pirates to lunch the other day and was just touched by their easy camaraderie and affection for each other. Some of these young people don’t know where they will be laying their heads down from night to night or where their next meal is coming from. Sure, they have their squabbles and dramas like the rest of us. But I know several of them who would die protecting each other. Who among us can say we have that in our lives? I felt both a little envious and honored to know them.


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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