For Tim

a long time ago tim

“Have you been writing?”

“What have you written?”

“Why haven’t you been writing?”

He hounded me. Every time we talked or texted, he hounded me. He valued my words and wanted more of them. I had a few well worn excuses, but he always pushed me to come back to the keyboard.

“Find your words,” he said.

Now he’s gone, and I have no choice. I owe it to him. These words are for him, about him, to him.

Tim wasn’t perfect. He was full of flaws and I stopped falling for his bullshit long ago. But he was special, really special.

Other people who love him, whom I’ve never met, describe him the same way I knew him:

Smart. Quick witted. Funny. Loving. Kind.

Radiant light, bursting forth from an imperfect vessel.

He made me feel like I didn’t have to be a whole, complete person to be smart and creative and valued.

Of course I’m stealing their words; I couldn’t write them any better.

He was the kind of person who makes you better, even when he struggled himself. He always knew how to draw out the important parts and he didn’t care if he pissed you off doing it. In fact, that’s the thing I think he liked most, because getting a reaction usually led to the getting better part. It made me see my flaws or my excuses or whatever, and that made me face them. And he always, always stretched me, though I’d never admit to him that I sometimes struggled to keep up.

Once I asked him for advice in overcoming my writer’s block. This was our text conversation (the real deal, not paraphrased):

Me: How did you find the wherewithal to return to the keyboard?

TJT: Just pound out something shitty and return to it with your critical eye.

Me: Words fail me.

TJT: Sure, blame it on the words.

Me: And I them.

TJT: Now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe you need to be told to shut up by someone or something. Then those words would be itching for a fight.

Me: Perhaps, but not likely.

TJT: Shut up.

Sure, he said. Blame it on the words.

He was right. It has never been the words; it has always been me.

Others have written long, loving tributes to this man who left the world before we were ready. Mine is less long, though no less loving.

Tim, you were as wonderful as you were difficult. We saw each other’s flaws and loved each other anyway. Sometimes you even flaunted yours to me, and I knew because of it that you trusted me. Our connection was deep and real, though miles and time separated us. You made me laugh. You made me mad. You made me think. You made me better.

Sometimes I don’t know how to explain you to people who don’t know you, but I guess I don’t have to. All that really matters is that you were my friend.

Rest in peace. You deserve to finally find it.

Love Over Gold
You walk out on the high wire
You’re a dancer on thin ice
You pay no heed to the danger
And less to advice
Your footsteps are forbidden
But with knowledge of your sin
You throw your love to all the strangers
And caution to the wind
And you go dancing through doorways
Just to see what you will find
Leaving nothing to interfere
With the crazy balance of your mind
And when you finally reappear
At the place where you came in
You’ve thrown your love to all the strangers
And caution to the wind
It takes love over gold and mind over matter
To do what you do that you must
When the things that you hold can fall and be shattered
Or run through your fingers like dust
Written by Mark Knopfler, performed by Dire Straits

War of the wor(l)ds

Whoa, Nellie. This morning I received the following text message from a local news outlet:

97.3 WMEE: BREAKING NEWS: All Southwest Allen County Schools are on lock down due to shooting in the area. Stay tuned 4 more details on this story as they break.

As a parent with kids in two different SACS buildings, my mind started racing immediately. My first thought was that the odds of my kids being specifically involved were fairly slim, but mom hormones took over as my brain churned through possible scenarios. It took about 36 seconds for me to go into oh-no-what-happened-I-need-more-information-are-my-kids-safe mode.

Unfortunately, other than that singular, sensational text message, I heard nothing further. No follow-up text, no further details as promised. Nothing to quell my fear nor push me into rescue action. Nada.

Fortunately, I was able to learn a few details from a trusted acquaintance on–of all places–Facebook. It turns out that the seeming crisis occurred some distance away from the locations of my kids, near one of the other schools in the district. And actually, the crisis had nothing to do with the school itself; it just happened to have occurred in the adjacent neighborhood. The lockdown was purely precautionary until the police pronounced the situation all clear. *breathe easier*

Still, I never would have known that from the news outlet. Although it promised details to follow, the only subsequent text message I received was this:

97.3 WMEE: The lock down for Southwest Allen County Schools has been lifted. Suspect still at large. Stay tuned to WMEE for more details as this story unfolds.

Well, that didn’t tell me anything. If I hadn’t investigated on my own, I would still be wondering what happened and whether my kids were affected. I would almost prefer NOT to have received the original message given the lack of context or explanation. Without providing more information, the original text message was actually too much information.

This situation offers a fantastic illustration of the far-reaching power of words. They can incite, calm, inform, soothe, panic, entertain, comfort, anger, tease, bore, or mock. Whether a sentence is well- or poorly-constructed can change its very meaning. What words someone chooses to share or withhold can change behavior. Even delivery matters. If you don’t believe me, think about the panic and outrage incited by Orson Welles’s radio delivery of

Words have power. Choose them wisely and make them count.

P.S. My kids are fine, as are the kids at all the schools.