They bring out the best in me. They sharpen my focus. They motivate me to pass the point where I stopped before. I want them to be proud of me and the work I do, but they are the reason for all of it. And if I were to fail as a parent, nothing else I ever accomplish would matter much.
The white dove again lies maimed and bleeding.
Statistics, cold and hard to fathom,
tally the losses of one more day.
Horror and heartbreak between weather and sports.
But I don’t cry anymore
when the newsman tells his tales
of death and destruction.
In some worlds, death can be a blessing.
I don’t cry anymore when I learn
that another child has been slaughtered
because I know my tears would be useless
and tainted with hypocrisy.
I don’t cry because I know
that the murders I hear about
night after night
from the warmth and safety of my living room
are only the final, minor deaths.
Deaths of the flesh.
The true carnage took place long ago
when their young spirits were abandoned
to wither and fade
like unattended gardens in a desolate place
where beauty is buried too deeply to be touched,
where innocence is choked and pounded
until every trace of sweetness is gone, forever;
where the angel of mercy,
helplessly fleeing the bloody scene,
stumbles, shattering her delicate face
on the asphalt, unnoticed,
and the pastel dreams of childhood
swirl and die
in the hot dust
of the ghetto sidewalk.
Welcome to episode 16 of Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, let me tell you how it started . . .
When I was very young, Jesus was walking around in His heavenly area up there when he saw his Dad looking down through the clouds, laughing His head off. Curious, he walked over and asked, “What’s up, Pop?”
“Oh, just pranking that Mark kid again,” He replied.
“Again?” Jesus asked, “Why are You always picking on him?”
“I don’t know. There’s just something about him,” God said. “I mean, look at his face right now.”
Jesus looked down and started to chuckle, then stopped Himself. “Okay, I admit it’s kind of funny, but this is wrong. I mean, You created him. With all due respect, what kind of an example are you setting for the angels? We’re supposed to love and protect humanity, not single one out from all the rest for humiliation.”
God thought for a moment, then looked at Jesus and said, “You’re right. I should stop.” They looked at each other seriously, then said, “Naaaaaaaahhh” and laughed some more.
Jesus suggested that he make a regular show of his pranks on me. They named it Messin’ with Mark.
Remember Rodney Dangerfield’s bit about getting “no respect” from humans? It’s kind of like that, but on a cosmic level.
So, to today’s episode –
Sometimes God goes for simple pranks, like having me stub my big toe on a sprinkler, stepping on a jack or Lego in the middle of the night, etc., but sometimes he gets a little more creative and uses earthly creatures to set me up for another episode.
For instance, I can’t complete a full day of gardening without some insect flying up one of my nostrils with the blinding speed and total commitment of an alien spacecraft speeding into the mothership portal to evade enemy fire. It’s quite disconcerting, especially since I love cavorting with nature BEFORE the sitcom starts.
When the bug enters my apparently very interesting nostril, the freak-out begins, which includes running around the yard and tripping over everything it’s possible to trip over, snorting like a wounded water buffalo, covering one nostril with the index finger and blowing, and sticking the hose directly into said nostril to flush out whatever is up there. Then the realization sets in that I’m knee-deep in another one of God’s sitcoms and all the angels are laughing their heavenly tushes off up there.
One day, after clearing the bug from my proboscis, I said my usual “well played, God” and thought, “Okay, that gets the bug up my nose out of the way. The episode must be over. Now I can enjoy the rest of the day worry-free.” No such luck. It was just one of a steady stream of bugs. Word had apparently gotten out that there was a hidden bug paradise up my beak – some kind of insect Shangri-La – and they were all determined to go there.
Of course, it doesn’t help that we’ve all seen those super-magnified photos of insects and know what hideous alien-like monstrosities they all are.
To know that one of them is clamoring around in my Schnitzpiece is unbearable. I once discovered, while trying to dislodge one from my honker, that I’m quite a gymnast. I did a triple twisting double backflip with no previous training. Ripped my pants from bow to stern in the process, too.
I wonder, do bugs think? Are they flying around, enjoying the sunlight when they see me, fixate on my nose and think, “Hey, I wonder what’s up there?” Are boogers a delicacy in the bug world? Are they looky-loo’s checking out a possible new apartment? Or, as I have suspected all along, is this just God getting bored and messing with us again? The bible says He “moves in mysterious ways.” Maybe that’s just a nice way of saying he has a really warped sense of humor.
Of course, the ears are also a prime target for God’s little winged ambassadors. I got one in there so deep once, I thought I was standing next to a double-propped helicopter.
One also has to wonder what goes through their minds as they enter. Maybe they think they’re conquering the mothership, some kind of bug heroism. Maybe they even yell something triumphant in their bug language.
Then they get in there and find only nose hairs and boogers. Must be kind of a let-down for them.
I suspect the bug in the nose/ear/eye is a favorite rerun up there in heaven, and the angels are probably asking for new episodes so they can see what other gymnastics moves I don’t know I know. But they’re not gonna get me again because I wore this new outfit the last time I was gardening and not one bug got in!
I live in Southern California and it gets toasty in there on 100 degree days but it’s worth it. Ha ha! Take that, God!
Wait a second – I just realized watching me clank around in that suit and sweat my patoot off was probably another episode of Messin’ with Mark. Doh!
That’s what I get for trying to outsmart God. He’s always one step ahead.
When I was in high school, I had a very serious intention to work just enough to save money for a boat, load it with various vegetable seed packets, a few fishing poles, and enough supplies to last a lifetime, find a tropical island and abandon mankind altogether. The idea persisted for years, especially when I was working at jobs I didn’t care for or sitting in traffic breathing carcinogenic fumes. So I wrote this poem to put the idea to rest once and for all. The peace of solitude is delightful only temporarily. The spirit withers and dies without at least one other soul to share our lives with.
I was on my way to work a while back,
just trying to earn a few lousy bucks.
I was running late again, as usual.
Why? Because L.A. traffic sucks!
To make matters worse, I was dog tired
and “dog tired” is the perfect description
because my neighbor’s mutt barked so much,
I couldn’t fall sleep without a prescription.
On weekends, when I might have caught up on sleep,
I was kept awake by all the neighborhood brats
screaming their heads off and bouncing balls.
The little suckers were always driving me bats!
Oh, and let’s not forget the other city sounds
like sirens, garbage trucks and leaf blowers,
chainsaws, car horns, and low-flying planes,
loud neighbors, jackhammers, and lawnmowers!
I would tell you all about my wonderful job
but it was so bad, you just might start crying.
It was the most mind-numbing job imaginable.
If I described it, you’d think I was lying!
Coming home, stuck in traffic, as usual,
my mind would drift to my “happy place”,
an imaginary island where I would go
to escape from the city’s rat race.
There, palm trees swayed in gentle tradewinds.
There was white sand and a turquoise-green sea.
But the greatest thing about my fantasy island
was that there was nobody else there but me!
I would daydream about exploring the tidepools.
My job could be inventing new kinds of fun
like surfing, diving, playing with dolphins,
and laying around under the tropical sun.
I was so lost in my fantasy, I didn’t see
the streetlight changing from yellow to red.
The next thing I knew, I was spinning around
and when I woke up, I thought I was dead.
A nurse was looking down at me, smiling.
She said, “Hello, there! How do you feel?”
The next greeting I got was from Mr. Pain.
Let me tell you, the agony was unreal.
It took me over six months to walk again.
By then, I was more convinced than ever
that the city would be the death of me yet
so I made a plan I thought was real clever.
I would quit my job, clear out my savings,
sell my house and everything else that I own,
then buy a small boat and some fishing poles,
find that island and live my life all alone.
I’d had it with struggling and busting my hump
at a lousy job that held no meaning for me.
Who says I have to contribute to progress?
The stupid hive wouldn’t miss one less bee.
There are hundreds of islands out in the Pacific
and a few that haven’t been found by Marriott yet.
The next thing I knew, I was at the helm of my boat
with only a map but no job, no boss, and no debt!
I sailed for months and searched high and low.
I saw many islands that looked perfectly fine
but on almost every one, I saw human beings,
and I’d had enough of them for one lifetime.
I was starting to become very annoyed and frustrated
when off in the distance, through my brass telescope,
I saw a fertile, green island that looked deserted!
I shouted with joy and my heart swelled with hope.
I anchored my boat and paddled the raft to shore,
then explored the whole island from side to side.
It was a true paradise full of peace and tranquility.
It was so beautiful, I just broke down and cried.
The next few months were harder than I had expected.
I had to build a hut that could withstand all the seasons.
But on nights when the wind would rattle the walls,
I wondered why I left and had to search for the reasons.
Finding food was hard, too. The fish didn’t always bite.
I was so unskilled with a spear, I felt like a putz.
I got so hungry one time, I almost went crazy.
I mean, one can only eat so many damn coconuts!
Still, anything was better than sitting in traffic
doing two miles an hour in a square, metal tomb,
wasting my life at a job I truly detested
and seeing nothing but my own little room.
I felt like a modern-day Robinson Crusoe
living a simple life by my own blue lagoon.
I thought about my neurotic boss back in L.A.
working himself to death; that pathetic buffoon.
At long last, I found the peace and quiet I’d sought
while lying in the sand, surfing, tanning and such.
I enjoyed it for a while, but I gradually realized
that you can even have peace and quiet too much!
The more time passed, the more I fought to remember
all the reasons I had run from the world of man.
I’d spent a year of my life struggling to survive
with nothing to show for it but a hut and a tan.
This caused me great sadness and confusion
because for years, I had dreamed of this place.
Who would have thought that after only a year,
I would be longing to see another human face?
I missed conversations, and even the arguments,
though they had once caused me so much dismay.
I even missed the sounds of the bustling city,
the great din and clamor, and children at play.
I missed reading the newspaper in the morning,
though the pain there drove me out of my mind.
But how could I stop caring about my human family
or pretend that I’m not a part of mankind?
What was more noble? More virtuous and wise?
To hide there and ignore humanity’s plight?
Or to add my voice to the battle against evil?
To get dirty and bloodied in the good fight?
I spent a few months trying to convince myself
that I was just going through a homesick phase
but I started finding it harder to sleep at night
and a terrible loneliness enveloped my days.
Finally, the peace on the island grew much too dark
so I pulled up my anchor and headed for home.
I had learned the first truth God Himself did of man –
That it’s not good for anyone to live all alone.
After six weeks at sea, the harbor approached.
The town was throbbing with life, garish and loud.
I docked my boat, and with a heart full of joy,
blended back into the crazy, wonderful crowd.
Stop by our brand new concept bar!
It’s at the corner of Gone and Far.
In this bar, we make drunks think
of what is served with every drink.
You’ll find no Fuzzy Navels here.
No fancy names for wine or beer.
At their core, they’re all the same.
Just alcohol by every name.
Try the Rage if you’re a little mad,
Or Heartache if you’re feeling sad.
Or if you want to stay free and wild,
Enjoy our new Desert My Child.
If it’s truth you’re after, we deliver,
Like the ever-popular Destroy My Liver.
Why drown it? Embrace your sorrow.
Order the My Head’ll Hurt Tomorrow.
Delusion is all we refuse to sell.
Try the Fry My Last Brain Cell.
Why pretend to be an oak or pillar?
Have the delicious Marriage Killer.
Your perfect drink is on our shelf.
Try the Miserable or the I Hate Myself.
There’s magic in our drinks. You’ll see.
Have a What the Hell is Wrong with Me.
If you love honesty, we’re your venue.
You’ll find your true self on our menu.
There’s the Long Lost Love, of course.
And enough Regret to choke a horse.
You’ll be amazed at all we’ve got.
Like the I Can’t Laugh Without a Shot.
So step right in, don’t be so shy!
But if you are, try the Chance Gone By.
If you’re not a slave to envy, hate or fear
And just like an occasional wine or beer;
If you don’t languish in a neurotic stew,
This is probably not the place for you.
But if you do, our staff stands ready
When your nerves feel a bit unsteady.
We’ve got no cures but at least we try
To serve the truth as we help you die.
~ Mark Rickerby
The glorious torches that illuminated a more innocent time in America keep going out one by one.
RIP King of Comedy. Thanks for all the laughs.
When we can’t solve personal problems, we go after impersonal ones. If people can’t fix the gang problem, drug abuse, drug trafficking, fatherless homes, the high school drop-out rate, street violence, criminality, and a completely shattered moral compass, they’ll just go beat up people and tear down a statue instead. That’s a lot easier, and may also be an outlet for the rage they feel over all those other, bigger, unsolved, chronic problems.
Has a statue of anyone ever stepped down off a podium to mess up anyone’s life? No, we do that all by ourselves.
I’m no fan of the confederacy, of course, and I wish slavery never would have happened in America, but I keep in mind that America is the only country that ever fought a war, in large part, to abolish it at the cost of many lives. I remind myself that a lot of white people died in that war. I also remind myself that slavery existed in most other countries of the world at one time or another, and still does today in quite a few. I remind myself that slavery existed in Africa long before whites ever showed up. It didn’t start with us. But we ended it with a Civil War at the cost of 620,000 lives.
So as I watch people tear down statues, I wonder if they ever stop to think that – instead of trying to erase history – it might be wiser to take that energy and fight to add another little plaque at the feet of those statues that will teach children the Confederacy lost, that slavery lost, that hatred lost. That’s something to be proud of, and unique in world history. It’s true that forgetting history condemns us to repeat it. And destroying statues is what Islamic terrorists do.
If America were a person with a voice, she would be able to say, “Yeah, I had some major problems, but I fixed them. It wasn’t easy, but I’m okay now. Not perfect, but a whole lot better than I was.”
How many of the people currently trying to destroy the evidence of America’s problems of the past can say the same about themselves?
Personally, I’d rather have a visual tool to teach my kids that the good guys won, let them see what a bad guy looks like, and have another reason to be proud of America for all she has overcome. I’d rather stand at the foot of that statue and smile, knowing evil lost.
The irony is that if every person on earth would get their own house in order, all societal problems would cease immediately. But “becoming the change we want to see in the world” is hard so, instead, as an outlet for all the frustration and rage people feel for not being able to change themselves, they just go out and smash something, or someone. Being paid by a political party to cause mayhem and division makes them not only fools, but pawns, too.
We can be better than this. We can be smarter than this. We can fight fascism without becoming fascists. We can embrace our past and learn the hard lessons it taught, or destroy it all and guarantee that future generations will forget and repeat it.
We are so bombarded by meme’s with inspirational quotes on all of our various forms of social media, they become white noise after a while.
Yeah, yeah, “I’m great and wonderful and I can do anything.”
Yeah, yeah, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone-it, people like me.”
As you more intuitive readers may have guessed, I’m afraid I’ve become a bit jaded by it all. Maybe it’s because I did all that. I ordered the Anthony Robbins tapes. I read the books. I said the affirmations. And maybe all that work did the trick because (not to brag or nothin’ but) I spend most days working my patoot off and feeling capable and confident. Maybe I just have the luxury of yeah-yeahing when I hear yet another amped-up, overly enthusiastic person jumping up and down and telling everybody they need to snap out of it because I’m no longer sufficiently down in the dumps.
But sometimes I can get a little negative about being positive. It’s more rare these days but it still happens once in a while. I just decide to let myself wallow in unpleasant feelings, as if I need to give them reign for a while so the me I like better can emerge even stronger again later. Let the wildfire of negativity burn the old, dead, fallen ground cover so sunlight can touch the soil again and allow for new growth. Something like that. Then again, I could be full of doggy doo-doo. I am not immune to the verbal gymnastics people do to protect their comfort zones, no matter how miserable they are there.
Anyway, I was in that yeah-yeah mindset yesterday when a talk show came on TV with another motivational success coach guy. (I wish I could remember his name but I didn’t write it down.) I thought, “Ah, Jeez. Not another one” but I was in the kitchen so I couldn’t change the channel, which is a good thing.
Then he said something that made sense. Something I hadn’t heard before.
He said every day we should do three things upon waking –
The problem is most people who use positive affirmations and prayer don’t do anything else. They expect what they want to land magically in their lap. They don’t do what they know they should because, well, that stuff is hard! And prayer without action is as useless as pennies under a miser’s mattress.
I’m going to stop before I’m accused of trying to be a junior Tony Robbins. I’ll just leave you to it if this sounds good to you. Here’s a good article to get you started on picking the affirmations that best apply to your life and goals. I hope (you make) all your dreams come true. 🙂
Hey Friends. Here are three new Chicken Soup for the Soul books featuring stories of mine. One is in stores (online and off) now and two will be available soon. They are:
The Dog Really Did That? – 101 Stories of Miracles, Mischief and Magical Moments. (In stores now.)
My story in this one is about my dog Charlie, a German Shepard mix we rescued so we could have a “guard dog” but who turned out to be so sweet, he wouldn’t hurt a fly (which is the title of the story.) We’ve learned a lot about tolerance and patience from Charlie, especially after adopting a second dog, a vastly smaller Morkie who spends the better part of most days chewing on some part of Charlie’s anatomy. He could end the torment any time he wants with one snap, but he doesn’t. He loves the little monster. She’s the mob boss and he’s the dopey bodyguard.
My Kind (of) America – Stories About the True Spirit of Our Country. (Available October 3rd.)
My story The American Team is about a Physical Education teacher in 7th grade who took a few minutes to reveal to all us kids, very artfully, how unique America is in the world.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone – Stories about Trying New Things, Overcoming Fears, and Broadening Your World. (Available October 31st)
I feel a sense of providence at being included in this book because I once paraglided over the Swiss alps exactly like the person on the cover is doing. My story More Kindness Than Danger is about how we’re all just a little poisoned by entertainment, which is necessarily rife with conflict between people, and how that skewed reality can make us nervous about venturing out into the world. But once we get out there, even on the extremities, we find mostly what we have inside and what we give to others. Except for rare and extreme circumstances, the world is as open and loving as we allow ourselves to be.
If you’d like a signed copy of any of these books, please message me here. (The Dog Really Did That is sold out. Sorry!)
Here’s a favorite poem of mine that perfectly illustrates the message in my story in Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.
The Right Kind of People
by Edwin Markham
Gone is the city, gone the day,
Yet still the story and the meaning stay:
Once where a prophet in the palm shade basked
A traveler chanced at noon to rest his miles.
“What sort of people may they be,” he asked,
“In this proud city on the plains o’erspread?”
“Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?”
“What sort?” the packman scowled;
“Why, knaves and fools.”
“You’ll find the people here the same,” the wise man said.
Another stranger in the dusk drew near,
And pausing, cried, “What sort of people here
In your bright city where yon towers arise?”
“Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?”
“What sort?” The pilgrim smiled,
“Good, true, and wise.”
“You’ll find the people here the same,” the wise man said.