Welcome to An Examined Life. Occassionally I delude myself into thinking that I understand some part of my life (or life in general) and I thought it might be a hoot to share those thoughts with whomever happens to stumble across this. I hope you find something enjoyable here. If I'm really lucky, I'll make you stop and think for a moment.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Welcome to my morning, welcome to my day
Oh yes, I’m the one responsible
I made it just this way.

- from Farewell Andromeda
- by John Denver

If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

Yellow is the color of lemons, bananas, and gold. You decide how you will color your life.

Over the last few months more and more of these inspirational sayings have shown up on my Facebook timeline. I don’t think anyone is posting them with me in mind; my friends are just posting things that move them and I get to see them. When I see them, I find myself thinking, “That’s not really true.” The John Denver song is one that I used sing when I was deliriously happy (or what passed for deliriously happy in me). I haven’t been able to sing it since March 2012.

I’ve also been seeing those “Gratitude Challenges” on Facebook and desperately hoping that no one will challenge me.

See, I used to think that how you thought about the things that happened was what really mattered. Parents divorced? No problem, it’s not about me, it’s about them and at least the fighting is over. Stepfather’s an alcoholic? Again, not about me and he at least taught me to do my work well. Screwed something up at work? Learning experience. So, I get where those sayings (and Denver’s song) were coming from. But I just can’t make a positive of Jonathan’s loss. My mind rebels at the thought of even trying. I didn’t make this day, I would not have made it just this way. If I had made this day, Jonathan would still be alive. He’d be healthy and happy. He’d be in grad school, his career off to an amazing start and he’d have an amazing friend who only had eyes for him…

But I didn’t make this day and gratitude is complicated. Everything is shadowed by the hole in my heart where Jonathan was. Intellectually I know that I have a pretty good life. I’ve got a relatively secure job that I really enjoy, a nice home, and a lot of good friends. I have one really good friend, who somehow always seems to know when I need to hear a friendly voice. Benjamin is doing really well in college and he seems happy and healthy. I have enough resources to feel secure and to be able to engage in my hobby. There’s a lot to be grateful for, and I guess that, in some ways, I am. It’s just that some of the positive emotion that’s part of gratitude – the joy or happiness or pleasure – has been sucked out by that hole.

I can’t seem to fix that. I don’t know if it’s fixable. I didn’t make this day. And, folks, sometimes a lemon is just a lemon.

Friday, May 16, 2014


My experiences ... had burned away big pieces of my soul. At the time, it had nearly destroyed me, and I had thought I might never recover. I still thought that.

Perhaps I had become a jar in the shape of [myself], a jar that held some of the pieces of the man I had once been, but not all. Never all. If that was my new truth - and I had begun to suspect that it was - then what I had to hope for was to find and hold on to the best pieces...

- from Blade Reforged
- by Kelly McCullough

I read these words a short time ago and they resonated deep inside me. Several times lately, when examining my life, the word “shattered” has come to mind. My emotions, my personality, my ability to concentrate and to get things done were all shattered. So, I sit down to practice my guitar and within minutes my mind is elsewhere. I sit down to read and within minutes my mind is elsewhere. I start work on my research paper and within minutes…
Well, you get the picture.

In the past I rarely walked away from a challenge, yet that seems to be all that I’m doing these days. I saw myself as a “fix it” guy; when I was in my early 20’s K-mart handed me a non-functional department and I made it work. Over and over, that seemed to be what happened. I made broken things work. Before March 1, 2012, I felt like I was making a difference, that I had contributed in a positive way to the life around me, in my work and at home. Well, the universe slapped me in the face with something I can’t fix. Jonathan lost everything that might have been. Benjamin lost his brother. I lost my son. There’s simply nothing I can do, no way to make it better.
And so I’m looking back and wondering what I’ve ever actually accomplished. The fact is that the K-mart departments I took over would have still existed. You simply don’t run a K-mart store without a Health and Beauty Aids or a Toy department. Would Shepherd’s Honors Program or Psychology Department have ceased to exist? I doubt it. Even the biggest thing that I supposedly did – chair the General Studies Committee during the reform of that program – would that have not happened without me? In reality, there was any number of people who could have guided that process. I suspect that some of them could have even made it a smoother process and less of a “squeaker” victory. Even so, I might have been able to deal with all that, but I once told a group of new faculty to make sure to make time for family, because when they were old and retired, it wasn’t going to be Shepherd sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch with them. But look at me. The two women I married, both of whom I loved dearly, decided I wasn’t worth living with.

Now, I’m not looking for anyone to electronically pat me on the head and say, “There, there, it will be all right.” And I’m not expecting an It’s a Wonderful Life moment. Angels don’t have time for the likes of me (except one – you know who you are). Part of this is just venting and there’s no one here to vent to.
Part of it is just fear. In looking at the pieces in the jar, trying to find the good ones to keep, I really can’t find any.