bonar crump

bonar crump
husband - father - reader - runner - picker - grinner - lover - sinner

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ricky

I was on trash duty wandering the parking lot carrying a 50 gallon black trash bag and picking up litter off the ground. Trash duty is cool because it gives you the opportunity to wander about casually watching everyone. Generally speaking, homeless folks get pretty suspicious when someone is watching them. My guess is that they’re more comfortable with being ignored than being watched.

I was watching because I needed to offer to take trash when folks were finished with their plate and utensils. It might seem irresponsible to most of us, but when you’re constantly hauling everything you own in a backpack, cart, or box the last thing you want to do is carry around trash you don’t need. Hence, a lot of our homeless folks simply drop their trash to the ground and keep moving.

It’s all about movement. When you live on the streets, constant daytime movement is the key to staying out of trouble. Sit stationery and people begin to notice you. Then they begin to suspiciously resent your presence. And, eventually, they complain that you’re a public nuisance. No one wants to see the homeless. Hence, when being watched homeless folks get twitchy.

It was Easter Sunday and I was downtown with my family at the ANC (Austin New Church) cookout. It was my first year to attend. My wife was working the food line doling out chips to go with the burgers. My daughter was standing at the prep table squirting ketchup on people’s hamburger buns as they came by. For whatever strange reason, this felt like EXACTLY how my family should be spending Easter together. We’re weird like that.

One of my closest friends, Brandon Hatmaker (Vice President of our MC), was lead pastor of ANC.  He was wandering around chatting with people in line that day. Another friend, Tray Pruet (Treasurer of our MC), was working his way in and out of the crowd keeping an eye on the large “machine” that is an ANC Cookout. Dozens of our wives and kids are mixed into the crowd serving, laughing, chatting, and humbly offering a bit of friendliness to a bunch of folks lined up in the parking lot across from the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

I learned that food we serve at the cookouts isn’t all that important. Food is not hard to come by for the homeless in Austin. This cookout is about providing an opportunity for us to embrace our humanity. These are people deserving of dignity and care just like the rest of us. They are deserving because they are us and we are them.

At the core, we’re all in this together. If we intend to do more than PRETEND our social structure doesn’t need repair, we have to realize that US versus THEM doesn’t work. It’s got to be WE. That’s what I’ve learned the cookouts are about. It’s about understanding how to look at people diversely different and say, “You are not the enemy. WE are in this together.”



So, I was on trash duty.

I’d been cruising the parking lot for over an hour when I looked up to see a homeless guy standing about 50 yards away. I recognize this guy. Without hesitation, I began to walk directly at this person stepping around a few people in the process. As I come to within 10 yards, the guy notices me coming his way with a purpose. He’s reading my body language and uncertain of my intent. I see the guy shift his stance and set his pivot foot as I’m within 5 yards, so I stopped. I looked the guy straight in the eye and said, “Ricky, it’s me, Bonar.” He blinks twice and looks at me really hard before saying, “Bonar Lee Crump, what the hell are you doing here?”

Ricky is my first cousin on my dad’s side of the family. My earliest memories of Ricky were being pulled behind his dad’s boat on inner tubes and later honing our waterskiing skills together. My later memories of Ricky were of visitations in state juvenile facilities. Later still, years would go by without seeing him at family reunions. He seemed to spend all of his time in jail. Ricky never fit in. I don’t think anyone ever knew what to do with him. I don’t think anyone ever knew how to coach him, parent him, mentor him, or live with him. I refuse to pretend to understand the boy that he was—the man that he became—or the man that was standing in front of me that day. To offer some form of explanation of his life would do nothing more than strip the man of his dignity and suggest that he’d failed somehow. I’ve been treated that way at times in my life, and I try not to author any such prejudice on others if at all possible.  In truth, we’d all failed HIM as much as anything.

Once he recognized me, I stuck out my hand. When we shook, I pulled him in for a half shake/hug. I was genuinely excited to see Rick. The last time I’d laid eyes on him he was in a wheelchair. I seem to recall that he’d been living under a bridge in Waxahachie when he was attacked by someone with a tire iron. Ricky earned two broken ankles from that encounter.

I drew back from the hug and said, “you made it out of that damn wheel chair, and I see you’ve got your pivot foot back.” He smirked and admitted he was about to square up and strike at me before he realized who I was.

I hung out with Ricky the rest of the afternoon. We talked a little about family. I tentatively asked where he was staying and if he needed any family members’ phone numbers. He asked about my family. I took him over for an introduction to my wife and daughter. Then I asked Brandon to take a photo of me and Rick. I’ll never forget the look on Brandon’s face when I introduced him to my cousin, Ricky Belk. We had big smiles and parted ways with a hug. I made sure he had my business card and cel number before leaving, but I knew he’d never call.

One year later, at the ANC Cookout I ran into Ricky again. Ever since then, I look for him whenever we go downtown. I’m always hoping to see him so that I can relay his whereabouts and general sense of well-being to other family members scattered across the state.

Ricky fits my limited understanding of what “chronically homeless” means. The dangers that come with living on the streets are more familiar to him than the “normalcy” most of us embrace. I would guess that he considers the folks he “camps” with as closer family than those of us that share his same DNA. Of course, I don’t know any of this for sure because when I see Ricky all we do is swap info about family and talk about where we’ve been fishing lately.

Ricky is a part of me. I am a part of Ricky. I do not pity him. He doesn’t covet my life. We are two men from different walks of life that can sit on the same curb and share a burger together. It really doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. Sometimes I can tell he’s high. Sometimes I can smell the alcohol on his breath. Sometimes I can tell by his body language that he’s answering one of my questions with uncertainty and telling me what he thinks I want to hear. Sometimes I hand him whatever cash I have on me not knowing what he’ll spend it on. When I get to see Ricky we always smile, hug, talk, and walk over to my girls so that he can say hello and give them a hug.



I couldn’t wait to tell everyone we’d stumbled upon one another. I hope people feel that way about me sometimes. I hope that other people feel that way about Ricky from time to time. I hope that we can all stop occasionally and have a burger with someone that’s different. I hope that we can appreciate the diversity of our lives and experiences and GET the fact that sharing the burger might be all that’s necessary. You don’t have to justify who you are, and I don’t have to justify who I am. I think that’s the kind of thing that breaks down our US versus THEM dilemma.


But what do I know? I’m just the guy that picks up trash…

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Life Brothers

“Keep it simple. Love your brothers. That’s what makes a club work. Just love your brothers.”
~ Marshall Mitchell, Bandidos, Nomad Chapter, President

Believe me when I tell you that being a member of an MC is not easy. No matter how well you’ve vetted potential new members you will always wind up with a mixture of personalities that don’t see eye to eye. Bylaws, rules, protocol, and hierarchy are important, but eventually you wind up with a group of grown-ass people around the table arguing about direction, procedure, and function.

It’s supposed to be hard. Struggle is what makes it valuable. Anyone that thinks a group of men joining together to ride motorcycles and drink beer constitutes an MC doesn’t understand group dynamics. That kind of overgeneralization reeks of disinformation and a perspective of someone that’s never had to work with a committee, operate on a team, or spend time with other human beings for more than a couple hours at a time.

Your club is as diverse as your biological family. The idea is NOT to develop ideological clones. The point of the whole exercise is to teach one another how to love, honor, and respect this weird family they’ve been adopted into. (I can hear the cynics scoffing now, “yeah, right. All they want to do is rape, kill, and strike fear into the hearts of law-abiding citizens.”)

Although there are some within the MC Community that have nothing else going for them than their club, the vast majority of us do, in fact, have far more to lose than we have to gain by wearing a patch. Intellectually honest critical thinking should reveal that when you have smart, talented, sophisticated, law-abiding citizens wearing a patch who are more vested in defending this lifestyle than cowering to the cynical mindset of the misinformed, then there has to be something of importance to all of this MC business. There has to be something more than good times and foolishness to justify the love these folks have for one another. It’s more about suffering through the tough times with one another that makes the struggle worthwhile.



When I lived in Tulsa, OK, a friend of mine talked me into running a 5K with him. I’d run a couple of 5K’s before, and I knew I could do it. Besides, I didn’t want to let this particular friend down. The fact that he was running any distance at all seemed like a miracle to me, and I felt like I’d be a dick if I declined the invite.

For all the years that I’d known Ed “Snowman” Snow, he’d weighed somewhere between 340 and 350 lbs. On a 5’10” frame, that ain’t good. I can remember seeing Ed take the fried skin off a Popeye’s chicken breast, roll it into a ball, and drag it through thick queso dip before shoving it down his gullet. Many a time over the years had I, and the rest of my college buddies, watched Ed eat while muttering  the oft repeated mantra, “Man eats like that…he gonna die!”

As it turned out, six months leading up to the 5K invite I hadn’t seen Ed. Rumor had it that he’d been trying to get healthier and lose some weight. When I first laid eyes on him after having heard this rumor several times I was stunned. I couldn’t believe that the Snowman could actually look like a “normal” human being instead of a crowd-sized beach ball. Ed had lost somewhere around 110 lbs. (of the eventual 190 he’d lose) when he asked me to run that race with him. How could I say no?

Also, Ed is a hard guy to say “no” to. He’s a career prosecutor and a Federal one at that. Ed knows how to change your mind and make you believe that it was all your idea in the first place. He’s like a fucking motivational ninja. If you don’t want to ever run a full marathon as long as you live…stay away from Ed Snow. I swear on a stack of Bibles that the Snowman can turn anyone into a lifelong exercising machine whether they want it or not. Then he’ll drink you under the table at the post-race event and talk you into a “recuperative run” the next morning followed by a brunch of Guinness and pasta. The man is insatiable, infuriating, diabolically egocentric, and oftentimes a complete dick. And I love him very much. But he’s a prick…know that.

That “one phone call” I made from the Waco jail after finally being placed under arrest started something like this:

Me: “Honey, I’m okay but I only have 5 minutes to talk. Do you have a pen and paper?”

Wife: “Yes. I love you very much. I’ve got you on speaker. Go.”

Me: “First thing, call Ed Snow…”

Wife: (Interrupts) “I’ve been talking to him and he’s on speaker right now on another phone. Jeremiah (blood brother) is right here with me.”



In April of 2005, my wife gave birth to our daughter. Then my wife died on the table. Then the doctors were able to revive her. Then my hero-for-the-rest-of-my-life, Dr. Yen My Tran, performed an emergency hysterectomy and saved Margaret’s life. Every day, for the next 7 days we remained in the hospital, Dr. Tran would come to check on us in the morning. The first three visits I would follow her out into the hall after her examination and she’d cry because she knew how close we’d come to losing Margaret. It was that close. It was “seeing a Dr. cry three days after she’s saved a life” close.

During the time when Margaret’s life was hanging in the balance, I got kicked out of the delivery room. I didn’t argue because I knew that I didn’t belong in there at that moment. I knew she was dying and I was only going to be in the way. But kissing her on the forehead knowing that it might be the last time we spoke to one another broke me. By god, I did it while telling her everything was fine and that I was going to the nursery to make sure Sidney was all cleaned up and ready to come hang out with her Mommy, but my heart was fully broken.

I’ve got a friend who is a Pediatric Cardiologist. We first met at Oklahoma Baptist University when we were finishing up our undergraduate work. Matt Kimberling has been best of friends with Ed Snow for decades. And like Ed, Matthew is insatiable, infuriating, diabolically egocentric, and oftentimes a complete dick. And I love him very much. But he’s a prick…know that.

As I was banished from the delivery room that day, I thought of only one person to call, Matt. I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach him by phone in the middle of the day on a Monday, so I called his wife, Mary (a very talented NICU nurse). The phone call started something like this:

Me: “Mary, I need Matt.”

Mary: “Okay. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

Me: “Margaret is dying. I need Matt.”

Mary: “He’s in clinic today, but I’ll make sure they pull him out. He’s coming. Hold tight. He’s coming!”
  
Matt arrived in the waiting room still wearing his white coat and carrying credentials that would get us any information we needed. Matt did not leave my side until late that evening after Margaret was safely recuperating under the watchful eye of a post-op nurse for the night. He was able to go in and speak to her while I waited in the hall. He made me leave the hospital with him to get some food and a couple beers. He showed up the next morning with double shot espressos from the doctor’s lounge. Matt saw us through the whole thing without hesitation.



In college, I met David Breedlove. He would eventually be the best man at my wedding. Breedlove got me into more trouble, questionable situations, and ill-conceived shenanigans than SHOULD be possible for one man in a single lifetime. He went about it as if it were his job.

This is a guy that had never had a drink of alcohol until his wedding night. I shit you not. But this was also a guy that would drive his Jeep up the steps of the OBU Chapel and smoke the tires on the way up just for shits and giggles. Some would say he was brazenly recalcitrant. I say he was just fearless. Put the two of us together and you had a recipe for wanton hooliganism. And we skipped a lot of classes to go fishing and hunting and anything else we could think of to divert us from classroom attendance. However, Dave pulled off his undergraduate in 4 years. I crammed 4 years of schooling into 6 years. I think Dave won on that account.

Dave was friends with Matt Kimberling and Ed Snow before me. And like Ed and Matt, Dave is insatiable, infuriating, diabolically egocentric, and oftentimes a complete dick. And I love him very much. But he’s a prick…know that.

Dave Breedlove, Terry Walters, Tim Kimberling, Matthew Kimberling, and Ed Snow were my “club” before I had a “club.” All we needed were motorcycles and cuts and we’d have had our own MC.  We’ve all done work on one another’s houses, babysat one another’s kids, decorated Easter eggs with all of our families together, cooked together, drank together, lived together, and loved together.

The fact that I’ve always had friends that were loveable egotistical pricks (said with the utmost respect) gives you an indication of who I am and what is important to me. I want to belong. I want to contribute. I want to spend hot days in Tim’s backyard mixing concrete for fence posts. I want to help Terry haul and scatter mulch to prep his backyard for our group’s weekly weekend grillouts. I want to spend night after night helping Dave tear apart his kitchen and put it all back together before his wife and kids come back from time away with family. I want to run my first half-marathon with Ed because he’s somehow tricked me, once again, into believing that I can run a further distance than we did last time (damn you, Snow). I want to re-engineer Matt’s upstairs HVAC in a 130 degree attic so that it’ll work like it was meant to.

I wanted to serve these guys because I love them and their families and they love me and mine.

“Keep it simple. Love your brothers. That’s what makes a club work. Just love your brothers.”



I’ve been practicing at this “love your brothers” thing for a very long time and I’m not sure that I’m very good at it yet. It’s hard. It is a constant humbling, pride-swallowing, work-your-ass-off-for-free, pain-in-the-ass hike up a steep slope. It’s especially hard when you’re on a team with so many egotistical pricks. But I love every bit of it.

The husband, father, family member, and friend that I am is owed to this CLUB of men and their families I grew up with and to the CLUB of men and their families I am currently growing old with. I don’t deserve a single one of them. They are all smarter, more motivated, and more talented than I’ll ever be. Every one of them is an asshat and I love them very dearly. My loyalty knows no bounds when it comes to these men and women.

When they bleed, my family and I bleed. We are better together even though every one of us fuss and argue, have differing worldviews, and generally can’t agree on anything other than we are invested in one another’s longevity, success, health, and well-being. Other than that, we’re all a bunch of stubborn, brash, potty-mouthed brutes – and that’s just the wives.

“Keep it simple. Love your brothers. That’s what makes a club work. Just love your brothers.”


This is by far the best advice I’ve heard in a long time. Wisdom is like that. It cuts through the bullshit and brings us back to center. Hearing that advice from a 34-year veteran Bandido while sitting across from one another on steel bunks wearing matching orange outfits makes it that much better. And it makes for one hell of a story. That’s kind of the point to this kind of life, too – it’s about living a great story.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Prejudice

I would like to confess a burning prejudice of mine. It is the type of thing that I developed on my own. It is not a hand-me-down opinion. It is not a well-researched belief. It is not something I’ve spent a great deal of time understanding as I’ve formulated this uncompromising conviction. I make no apologies for this prejudice and I do not intend to discuss the matter further in an attempt to breach the divide between those that would have me understand their contrasting stance on the matter. My heels are dug in, and I accept the fact that even if I’m wrong about this opinion in the “big picture” sense, I stand firmly on my conviction of the matter.

“Hi, my name is Bonar Crump and I despise the Rebel flag.”

Other than the swastika no icon gives me more pause or prompts a greater revulsion than the Rebel flag. I haven’t always felt this way about the flag. I was a huge Dukes of Hazzard fan in the early eighties. I’m pretty sure I had the lunch box and everything. Back then if I saw a rebel flag I would only think “Daisy Duke.” It didn’t even make me think of the car. It took me to a whole different place of visualizing Catherine Bach in a pair of abbreviated jean shorts and a tied off shirt revealing her sexy midriff. What can I say? I was a 14 year old boy in 1982. But I digress…

I grew up on the "wrong side of the tracks." In the different towns that we lived growing up, I was usually the only white kid within a 3 block radius. Honestly, at certain points of my life I was ashamed of being white. Not in a sense that I was ashamed of the atrocities propagated on slaves by my forbearers. I simply mean that I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be like my best friends who were all Hispanic. They had both their parents. I did not. They ate dinner around the table every evening. I did not. They spoke a cool second language. I did not. To be blunt about the matter, I was raised so “white trash” by a habitually drug addicted mother that most of those Hispanic families in our neighborhoods felt sorry for me. They fed me when no food was available at home. My friends’ moms gave me hand-me-down clothes to wear. They cut my hair for me if I was hanging around their houses on a Saturday when all the kids were getting their monthly barbering done. I was the de facto charity case no matter where I lived.

So much of my youth was spent learning what daily family life looked like from brown skinned surrogate families that when we moved into a fully white neighborhood in SW Oklahoma for the first time I spent every day riding my bike 2.5 miles round trip to the other side of town to hang out with kids I was more comfortable with. And when I say “other side of town” I literally mean that all white folk lived on the East side of the tracks and all people of color lived on the West side of the tracks. I am not making this up. This was a small rural town in Oklahoma that boasted “the first legal hanging after statehood” and proudly displays the "hangin'est rope in Oklahoma" in their tiny local museum. That rope was reported to have been used in 30 legal hangings until the electric chair came into use in 1915. The inference is that there were other hangings not quite so “legal” that took place there. Whether with that particular rope or not is a matter of debate.

I got a good lesson in being shunned by families of my brown-skinned school friends because in a small rural farming town like this one everyone wanted to know what the skinny white boy was doing on “their” side of town. Some folks wouldn’t allow me into their yard for fear that if I got hurt on their property they’d get in a heap of trouble. When you’re in 7th grade none of this makes any sense. When you’re 12 and a grownup picks you out of a group of 10 and hollers at you to get out of their yard, you run like hell. And when you’ve run like hell a few dozen times you start to get the picture that you, the white boy, are not welcome on “their” side of the tracks. It’s an unsophisticated resolution to a sophisticated social problem. Mixing of races in many Southern towns in the late 70s/early 80s was intolerable because social norms and cultural biases take generations to dissolve. But, again, I was twelve and I just thought that I never seemed to belong.

Then came a time when I began to notice that my Hispanic friends and their families REALLY did not like my black friends and their families. My experience growing up was that browns and blacks were far more openly prejudice towards one another than any of the whites that I knew. I think I was always aware of the social tension, but it never made any sense to me. I was always considered a smart kid, but it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I developed the kind of social savvy necessary to articulate the racial incongruities and injustices I’d experienced during my youth in towns all over Texas and Oklahoma. I had grown up socially, racially, and socioeconomically ambivalent. I just wanted other kids to play with. I didn’t give two shits about what color they were. I just wanted to be part of a group.

I said all that to say this: I’m about as racially divergent in my values and beliefs as a man can get growing up in the state of Texas. That being said, I will not tolerate any racially prejudicial sayings, jokes, innuendoes, or provocations. I may not verbally confront the individual spewing such intolerable poison from their pie-hole, but I certainly will not smile politely or offer any physical sign of something less than disgust. I loathe racial epithets regardless of context or subjective intention. To put it plainly, I’d rather lose a friendship or shun a family member than tolerate that person’s devaluing of another.

To me, the Rebel Flag represents racial discrimination. It is an icon that I’ve come to recognize as a middle finger to the liberation of slaves and desegregation of public schools. It imbues to me a sense of hatred, malice, and racial superiority that I find entirely repulsive. However, I do, in fact, recognize that it’s not my place to project my disgust for this symbol onto others. I understand that there are many other people that I respect highly who will argue a meaning of this flag much more benign than what I’ve chosen to believe. Their belief that this flag has nothing at all to do with racial discrimination is insulting and disingenuous to me. However, I do recognize that I am not the final say on the matter. I don’t get to write the final definition of what it means to the world to wear a shirt, fly a banner, or proudly display a tattoo of this flag. It is repugnant to ME. All that means is that I won’t display the thing. It does NOT mean that I have to indict every person I come into contact with that is a Rebel flag apologist.

If you want to paint a Rebel flag on the door of your car, have at it. It would never occur to me that you SHOULDN’T have the right to paint whatever the fuck you want on YOUR car. And I’d be offended if I heard someone debasing your freedom to choose such a decoration. You have a right to that flag. None of us have a right to DEVALUE YOU.  As a matter of fact, I’ll guarantee to give you every benefit of the doubt and keep any opinions I have on the matter to myself. It’s a respect thing. I respect your beliefs whether I agree with them or not. In return, I ask that you respect my beliefs as well.

If you want to hang a Rebel flag in your restaurant I will respect you’re right to do so, but I probably won’t be spending my money in your establishment. It’s your right to fly those colors. Likewise, it’s my right to withhold my business because of what those colors represent to me. However, I’m not going to protest outside your establishment. I’m not going to petition for the removal of your flag. I’m just going to keep my opinions on the matter to myself and spend my money elsewhere.


I realize that empirically speaking a Rebel flag is nothing more than a piece of cloth with three colors on it in a specific set of patterns and shapes. That’s really all it is…nothing more and nothing less. Its representative meaning, however, is extremely subjective. It’s not like a red light at an intersection. We have to all agree that when the light turns red it means for us to STOP. Without that kind of universal understanding a lot of people get hurt. The flag thing is different because it’s entirely subjective by its very nature. We don’t all have to have one very specific universal understanding of what that rectangular piece of cloth represents. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Prejudice

“Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts." 
~ E. B. White 


Analysis 

May28, 2015 (Writings from Inside Jack Harwell Detention Center, Cell # J-136):

It is compliance and conformity that they want. Diversity breeds annoyance and fear in the minds of
the assimilated. It’s much easier to judge the group as a whole based on the singular actions of
individual members than to allow for the anomalous deviant behavior of a few without impugning the entire set.

There was a time in our world’s history that Jews were gathered up into railcars for transport to
death camps. The Jewish beliefs and heritage were deemed to be abhorrent to those in power at the
time. At best, Jews were removed from their families and homes to live in prisons akin to a feedlot. At worst, their fate ended inside giant ovens designed for systematic genocide.

Dare we consider the comparison of Jewish murder during the Holocaust, Japanese internment 
camps in the U.S., and the mass slaughter of freemen at the Alamo by Mexican soldiers to the plight of the American biker? 

It has to be more about respecting one another’s contrasting beliefs and lifestyles than forcing
compliance and conformity. It has to be about extending grace and dignity if trust is to form the
cornerstones of better relationships led by diplomacy and integrity. We cannot dictate or demand a
complete solidarity of belief and action in a constitutional society which loves to speak loftily of the
freedom to choose and the right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. We must, instead, “secure the blessings of liberty” through the non-militaristic promotion of peaceful diversity. It is hard work.

Let the Muslim bow toward Mecca. Let the Jew worship at synagogue. Let the Christian celebrate
resurrection. And let the American biker pray to the wind and sun without fear of imprisonment or
seizure because of a lifestyle and worldview that colors outside the lines of normality.

Where there is criminal behavior we must insist on individual accountability. However, to indict an
entire lifestyle, belief system, or community based on the actions of a few is tantamount to a Stalinist
State.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Empathy and Anxiety

My anxiety levels are through the roof. I’m experiencing empathy overload. Life isn’t always as straight-forward as we’d like it to be for those of us carrying heavy burdens for people dealing with adversity, hardship, or injustice. Empathic tolerance is a thing. It’s a thing that allows open-hearted folks to endure the chaos they rub up against. Empathic tolerance requires healthy levels of empathic resistance in order to avoid overload and subsequent empathic collapse.

Tears help. There’s something about tears that are restorative. Crying is a “giving over” to the overload and allowing excess hurt, anger, grief, and despair to spill out.

I was recently interviewed about discipleship relevant to membership in a Motorcycle Club community. I told a story about a guy falling in a hole. The guy falls into a deep hole and can’t climb out. A doctor comes by and our guy asks for help. The doctor writes a prescription on a piece of paper and throws it into the hole as he moves on. A priest comes by later and writes a prayer on a piece of paper which he throws down into the hole and moves on. Still later, a friend wanders by. Our guy hollers up to him. “Joe, I’m down in this hole. Can you get me out?” Joe jumps down into the hole with him. Our guy states with amazement, “are you stupid? Now we’re both stuck down here!” Joe confidently answers, “I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.” As soon as I uttered these last words, I developed a knot in my throat the size of a bowling ball, dropped my eyes to my boots, and began to fight back tears.

I wasn’t embarrassed by this show of emotion. As a matter of fact, I was a little disappointed that the editors of the interview cut it out. Although, I fully understand why they did.

Getting choked up wasn’t all about sorrow. Some of it was about gratefulness. Some of it was about feeling helpless. Some of it was about sensing my own undeservingness. Much of it was about my lack of empathetic resistance.



Every time I engage another charitable effort I’m exposed to new levels of need. At what point does one succumb to the urge to “Van Gogh” by chopping off one’s own ear? If not the ear, then what? Maybe abusing alcohol is the severed ear. Maybe it’s marital strife. What if the ear loss manifests itself as combative behavior to those who dismiss our empathic priorities. I’m sure that we all “Van Gogh” to the beat of a million different drummers.

I have the sense that unchecked levels of empathic overload resulting in a backup of emotional stress often trigger the pressure release valves of destructive behavior. Most of us will seek emotional, physical, or intellectual sedation rather than engage an excessive emotional buildup of stress. We’ll do anything within our power to hold off the full experience of an undesirable emotional event.

I believe that the vast majority of “bad people” are those caught up in cycles of life resembling a deep hole with steep walls. They are deep in the hole and may have stopped asking folks up top for help. They’ve been in the hole so long that they’re either unaware of anything other than the hole or they’ve lost hope in every getting out.

We have to jump down into the hole. Oftentimes, we have to put ourselves in jeopardy in order to be benefactors. Our empathy should compel us to engage, embrace, and partner with folks living down deep. Compassion is our voice of empathy declaring that “bad” people are mostly misunderstood. The disadvantaged aren’t “bad.” The unhealthy aren’t “bad.” The misguided aren’t “bad.” The uneducated aren’t “bad.” There is no THEM. There is only US.

There is US in the hole. There is US not in the hole. That’s it.



My spontaneous loss of emotional control during the interview was both a remembrance and a foreshadowing. I was remembering all those that have jumped in the hole and led me out. I was thinking about all of those that I needed to help out of their holes. I was experiencing an overwhelming sense of humility. And within that same nanosecond, I recognized the faces of loved ones that I could only offer notes of encouragement thrown down into their hole.

And then it was gone. The moment that forced me to stare straight down lifted. It was like it had a four breath max and then passed through me. I looked up to see the cameraman fighting back tears. Likewise, the interviewer was struggling to maintain composure. It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t even about me or my empathy overload. Something had released in all of us.

After unhooking my mic and taking down the tripod, we all awkwardly laughed and shook it off. I didn’t know what holes they were dealing with. They didn’t know the depth of my past or present holes. What we knew collectively was that honest vulnerability (whether intentional or spontaneous) triggers something undeniably transformative.

I recognize that creating connections safe enough to share vulnerability gets us part of the way out of our holes. I’m thinking that there’s hope in the safety followed by a trust in the vulnerability which set the stage for transformative moments. This has to be the way out. This has to be how we cry out to someone up top for help.

OR—we can barricade ourselves behind a wall of indifference. We can convince ourselves that isolation and aversion will keep us safe. We can think of vulnerability as weakness and empathy as subjugation. We can drive a flag deep into the soil and claim whatever hole we’re in as sovereign domain. The problem with this approach is that it’s not transformative. It offers no movement past or through the struggles we experience.

If I declare my location as fixed then it’s imperative that I’m RIGHT. And if I’m RIGHT then alternative locations are WRONG. Now I’ve got an US, a THEM, an immutable creed, and I no longer have to wrestle with challenges to my beliefs. A fixed position requires defense. Defense begs for walls. Walls prevent access. Walls provide a false sense of security. Walls abhor cooperation.

No. I will endure the insufferable anxiety and discomfort of empathy. I’ll embrace the uncertainty of emotional movement and transformation. I’ll embrace motion and discussion and compassion and cooperation. For the sake of nothing more than understanding, I’ll risk being wrong more than I’ll strive to be right. Enlightenment demands a posture of acceptance instead of resistance.

My anxiety levels are through the roof. But this, too, shall pass. On the other side is learning, understanding, and a grateful path of escape for us all. Because whatever we Iearn during this season we’ll pass on to others we come across. As best as we’re able, we’ll help. We’ll offer to partner and grasp at transformative life void of walls or defensive postures. If it takes some tears, so be it. It will certainly involve struggle and breathing through the moments that overwhelm.


AND—it’ll be far better than the alternative.