Where — how are we failing these sons?

we learned a couple of days ago that a young man (mid 20’s) who went to school with my two sons recently took his own life.  I know of two other cases here in our little town of young men about the same age choosing the same sad end. beyond that, I know of maybe half a dozen others who are dealing with depression, substance abuse, the whole spectrum.  how are we failing this generation of young men? they are all of an age, mid 20’s (is that it?) all have parents of considerable accomplishment (is that it?) all are extremely bright but emotionally immature (is that it?) I have no idea.


I do know that we send our children terrible messages about what it means to be a man, to be successful. we do this by not challenging or counterbalancing the cultural messages of “not enough”, not “good enough.” When will we learn that we measure ourselves not by which challenges we meet (miles run, money earned,) but by how we meet our challenges.

in a more quaint time, we called this character.






where do we find the courage to breathe

into spring when our own fearful heart remains frozen

in winter? exuberance intrudes everywhere


every tree forcing its leaves, every leaf

holding a crystal drop in its palm. where

do we find the courage to listen


to the liquid song of these birds, the world

rising into flowers whether we like it or not? yet we do

imagine we’ve learned some things along the way—


that our plans almost never work out

and that this is often for the best; that despite all

of our struggles we are all dying


always, even as the profusion proceeds

around us; that we can’t protect those we love

from the inexorable weather of this world.


that even when joined at the heart

we can only hear the thunder of our own

personal fate — so few of us can hear anything


above the sound of our own wind,

can see through the thick fog of our own consequences.

we shout our warnings to the children


from this vantage point of years,

but we are not heard, cannot be heard, our thin voices

doomed in the swirling clouds of time


consumed by the utter indifference

of this gathering storm, by these winds, the rushing

of this water, by these leaves, dying


and falling away.




© J.A. Fink  2013



how can we not love her?

as the first clouds of the coming storm

ride up and over the mountains, catching

and casting the gold of the late day sun,

while in the valleys arrayed to the east

deep cloud-shadows slide up and over

and around, caressing the long curves

of her hills, then fall away, smoothly

like the silk of her dress might slide

from the skin of a lover’s shoulder.

how can we not love her?

this earth. how can we not want

to lay ourselves across the soft rise

of her hills, want to lose ourselves

in the gathering shadows of her valleys,

imbed ourselves in the moist warmth

of her hollows? how can we not surrender

to the cries of her thunder, to the white

heat of her lightning, how

can we not abandon ourselves completely

to the dark and passionate embrace

of her terrible gathering storms?

© Old Bones, New Snow/  J.A. Fink   2013


Going All-In: Part III (the Two Pernicious Voices)

A while ago I talked about the thousand small decisions that make up the guts of any commitment– after the rush of initial enthusiasm, the essential drudgery of sustained action (carrying water, chopping wood.) Today I want to speak to two old friends of mine that come up once you’re committed – I call them the “Two Pernicious Voices.”

Both of these are perfectly natural “protector” voices that may serve us well in other contexts. But as often happens, they can grow to be toxic, which can be particularly difficult to see because they’re also ventriloquists, speaking to us in our own voices.

The first of these Pernicious Voices I call the “voice of no.” It always seems to be that there are far more reasons not to do something to than to do it. I’m busy, I’m tired, I hurt, or my own personal favorite, I’ll do it right after I take care of …

I once heard the adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes (yikes, what a name!) give an interview. He’d just finished running seven marathons in seven days on, I believe, seven different continents. The interviewer asked him how he kept going, and he answered that “the little voice that says ‘stop’ must be ignored.”

How about the little voice that says don’t even start?  And what a persistent little bugger he is, always reminding me that my life would be so much simpler, so much easier if I just skipped this bit. And smaller, and less interesting, and basically of less us to anyone.

But like I said, this little rodent speaks in MY voice, and he’s very much “on my side.”  So I’ve developed a small test. Which choice (in the quasi-Shakespearean “to do or not to do”) will make my world larger? If I can go with that, regardless of the nagging sound of chewing coming from behind the walls in my head, it’ll probably turn out well.

ImageThe second Pernicious Voice is “the voice of perfectionism.”  Ah, my old friend, “not good enough” sneaks out from behind the baseboard.  Like his little brother, the “voice of no” this little guy takes a perfectly useful trait (for the voice of no– look before you leap; for perfectionism– the aspiration to do one’s best) and basically sharpens the handle of the knife.  But perfectionism isn’t really about aspiration- it’s about fear; it’s about trying to get someplace other than the messiness of here, someplace where everything will be perfect and safe. Why even start- you’ll never be (fill in the blank). And if you do start, this Voice will suck all of the joy out of the process because it mutates life from a process into an imaginary and ultimately unattainable goal, it turns play into inevitable defeat.

The “voice of no” and the “voice of perfectionism”—the two Pernicious Voices — these are the voices of staying safe. They’re also the voices of boredom, of why bother. They gnaw rather than bite, but left unattended, they can undermine an otherwise good foundation. We can say no, we can yearn to be “perfect.” Or we can say yes, over and over again, to soaking ourselves in this blessed mess we call a human life, and like it or not, we’re each “all in” on that one from our very first uncertain breath.