Tag Archives: pop

A Fisher of Men

Robert Mitchell — November 21, 1934 ~ July 8, 2008

Today is the 11th anniversary of my father’s passing. Pop was a pretty incredible person.  No, he was not a great businessman, scientist, inventor, writer, statesman or orator.  He wasn’t remarkably successful by any conventional measurement.

What made him incredible was that he spent the last decade or so of his life walking with Christ despite serious trials.  The more money the world took from him, the less materialistic he became.  As his health got worse, he only became more patient and at peace.  The more loved ones who were taken away, the more he loved those who remained.  The more the world conspired to try and make him bitter, the more he smiled.

And the closer death came the less he feared.

Pop’s pocket Bible — a special edition with instructions for bringing people to faith (a reference to Matthew 4:19 “And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

As a young man Pop considered entering the clergy but decided against it.  His reason was the same he gave for not taking promotions at work and for not pursuing a career in law enforcement after his service in the Military Police.  He didn’t want to be the kind of person who told other people what to do or how to behave.  And he didn’t want to give anybody the impression that he thought he was better than anybody else.

The irony is that his humility made him the ideal clerical candidate, yet I’m the one I’m in seminary.  And my humility is far from legendary.  When I was a young man, my mom always said that my lack of humility would be my downfall if I didn’t overcome it. 

And so, on this anniversary of Pop’s passing, I sit and appreciate Mom’s warning and Pop’s example.  I admire my father’s humility and strength and try to emulate them as best I can.

And I pray that someday I will be a good fisher of men.

Pinking Shears and Fishers of Men

Pop passed away back in 2008 and Mom followed him in 2016.  But the home in which I was raised — the home my parents bought for nine thousand dollars in 1962, back when nine thousand dollars was a lot of money — is still in the family.

Although the house has been rented out for almost ten years now,  Mom and Pop have yet to be driven out.   They are in that house, in every crack, nook and cranny.  A house that old, inhabited for so long by a family, cannot be emptied of its essence in a mere decade.

Their belongings still come to the surface in that house, emerging like clay tablets from the sands of Mesopotamia.  Things are drawn out from the backs of closets.  They shake free, fall out, bubble up.  Slivers of paper, notes, ballpoint pens.  Old keys.

The other night I was over there getting ready for the next tenant and I found a tiny box in the attic.  It contained a letter and a Bible.  The letter is dated November 19, 1957 and was sent from my grandmother to my father to wish him a happy birthday while he was in basic training at Fort Gordon, GA.  The Bible is The Testament for Fishers of Men. and the inscription says it was given to him my Aunt Jane in 1954.

Tucked inside the Bible was a newspaper clipping my mother gave him.  How do I know Mom gave it to him?  Because it was cut out with pinking shears, and because it’s a love poem.  My mother was many things.  First, she was the woman who loved my father most.  Second, she was an accomplished seamstress who definitely owned a pair of pinking shears.  I know this because I still have her shears stowed away in an old sewing box.

Here’s the poem, a love message from Mom to Pop from long ago.

This Much I Promise

This much I promise you my sweet
By all the stars above
There is no other soul on earth
To whom I give my love
I cannot promise I will be
The picture of perfection
Or that you will not know a day
Of sorrow or dejection
I cannot sear that you will use
A gold or silver spoon
I cannot pledge a kingdom or
The surface of the moon
For I am only human as
A being God created
And I can only undertake
The things He contemplated
But I can promise  you this much
Whatever else I do
I love you, and as long as life
I will be true to you.

Today’s WOD and a Special Meditation


Sandbag Workout: AMRAYC in 15 mins of 10 each w/ #20 sandbag – Front Lunges, Walking Push-ups  (one hand on bag, alternating), Squat Presses, Back Crunches (no bag), Crunches (bag on chest), Get-ups  (bag on shoulder).

Ancestor Meditation: Assume your chosen posture, close your eyes, and regulate your breathing. When you’ve settled in, recall a relative who’s passed on. Select a specific memory of him or her, a wholly positive one, and step into the scene. Honor your ancestor and his or her memory by reliving the moment you selected, re-experiencing it with as much detail as possible.  Spend at least 10 mins on this work. 

I used a memory involving my father. Today is the 7th anniversary of his passing.  Rest in peace Pop.


My ancestor shrine

The Prettiest Damned Thing You Ever Saw


A tiny sweat bee on a Chicory flower in my backyard. Ain’t that something?

“Everything always works out for the best,” he said.

I can’t remember what I asked him about, but I’m sure I was seeking advice about something I considered an immanent catastrophe or a disaster in the making.  My father was being his usual easygoing self, relaxed, taking joy in simple things, each moment an opportunity to be real and solid.  The coffee in his cup, his threadbare undershirt and his favorite chair were his tea, saffron robes, and temple.  He was a Presbyterian on census forms and dog tags, and that’s what he’d say if you asked him to state his religion.  But in reality, and what he honestly didn’t realize, was that he was a down-home Taoist, a cornbread Confucius, a Buddha in boxer shorts.

“Maybe not in your lifetime, maybe not the way you want it to, but eventually everything always works out for the best.  How could it not?”

I looked back at him as if he was nuts.  Teenagers always look at parents as if they’re nuts.  But then people usually look at visionaries as if they’re nuts until said visionary is proven right.  And now, looking back, I see that the old man was once again on target.  I can’t even remember what had been worrying me so badly that day.  Whatever it was, it was inconsequential, and it worked itself out for the best on my timeline.  Win a few, lose a few.

I see now that we are all doing the best we can with what we’ve got, from the invisible bacteria on my keyboard to the fish in the sea, from the squirrels in my backyard to the teeming billions aboard floating island Earth, from one end of the cosmos to the other.  Things eat other things, things make friends with other things, things mate with other things and create new things.  Stars are born, shine, grow old, and die.  We’re all making the best decisions we can, working the biggest puzzle you can imagine despite the fact that we can’t seem to put our hands on the stupid box.  Once in a while we fit a couple of pieces together and it feels good.  Other times life’s a jumbled mess.

Only an idiot blames the puzzle when nothing seems to fit.

My old man was right.  The secret is trusting that all the pieces are there and that, in the fullness of time, they’ll fit together into the prettiest damned thing you ever saw.

Flying Kites

Looking over my son's shoulder at a kite in flight

Looking over my son’s shoulder at a kite in flight

My memory is a little fuzzy, but I must have been eight or nine years old at the time.  My Dad was a fan of kites, and he got me excited about my first flight.  We talked about it, planned for it, and I got excited.  But when he brought home a box kite, I remember throwing a fit and saying I wanted a “real” kite, the diamond-shaped kind.  I ruined that experience for him by being a little brat.  And as ridiculous as it may sound, though I’m a grown up now with kids and grand-kids, I still feel guilty about being a little turd that day over 40 years ago.

That old kite got rolled up and put away, and there it stayed until my childhood home had to be emptied for rental.  That was three years ago.  Pop had passed, Mom was moving to the old folk’s home, and everything had to go.   Clearing out the junk from in the back of a closet, I found it standing there and I couldn’t throw it away.  Along with it I found several other kites that my father had purchased with the hope of flying them with his kids, grand-kids, and great-grand-kids.  I put them all aside and waited for for the right time.

wpid-IMG_20140326_150737.jpgYesterday I got them all out.  Although the old box kite turned out to be too old and damaged to be flown, the other kites were in fine shape.  They say I’m a wordsmith, but there just aren’t any words to express how much fun it was to spend an hour or so flying kites with my son and grandsons, to stand in the sun and pass down the simple joy of watching a kite soar into the sky at the end of a piece of string.

wpid-IMG_20140326_154048.jpgIn an hour or so they are leaving for Japan for an extended stay of several years.  These are the kinds of memories that keep you going when times are tough, that keep people connected across the miles, the kind of experiences that, no matter how hard the winds of the day-to-day may blow, keep you tethered to what’s really important in life.


Toss Out a Few Nuts

Tree Sketch 96

Don’t know why I picked this sketch to go along with this post. I guess it just seemed to match the mood.

In his retirement my Pop started throwing peanuts to the squirrels.  He’d stand at the back door and throw them way, way out there, back by the tree line.

Every week or so he’d put them a little less far out, maybe a foot.  Before too long he was putting peanuts directly on the back stoop.  He would sit there in his favorite chair and watch them eat, with nothing between them but the screen door.  It didn’t matter how hot or how cold it was outside — he would prop open the old wood door, put the peanuts down, and watch them eat through the patched wire screen.

Eventually the day came when he could open the screen door just a crack, hold out a big fat peanut, and a squirrel would come and take it right out of his hand.  I never tried the trick myself, but I remember the lesson.

Everywhere he went he talked to people.  He talked to the cashier and the bag boy at the market, to the waitress at the restaurant, to the neighborhood kids, anybody with whom he crossed paths.  When he died there was standing room only at the service.  Even his dialysis nurse showed up.  The two of them used to play lotto numbers together.

In the end, it was the same skill.  He drew people in, throwing out the nuts a little closer each time until they ate out of his hand.

Seems to me we could all stand to toss out a few more nuts.  The nuts aren’t the only things that end up coming out of their shells.

From Highland Park to Barton Heights

Mo Karn

Mo Karn

My father used to tell stories of his exploits in Highland Park back in the 30s and 40s.  He had lived there when streetcars could get you around fast and cheap, when milkmen brought cold milk to your door, when you could call down to the market and, for a nickel, you could get a kid to happily deliver your groceries.

In those days he had been known as the Handsomest Man in Highland Park.  I had doubted that story until, at a hot summer afternoon cookout, an old fellow had looked across his barbecue at Pop and said, “Hey, I think I remember you – aren’t you the Handsomest Man in Highland Park?”

Pop’s three years gone now, and I think that old guy from the cookout passed not long after.  I don’t suppose there are many folks left, if any, who could tell you who the handsomest man in Highland Park was.  Maybe there’s somebody there now who has inherited the title, but I wouldn’t know.  I don’t get to Highland Park much.

Friday was the closest I’ve been in awhile.  I was in Barton Heights, 2005 Barton Avenue to be exact, which is a quarter mile south of Highland Park.  Close enough to make me think.  Close enough to see ghosts.

Across the street from 2005 Barton Avenue, the home of the Wingnut Collective, are two abandoned buildings.  My friend and I park on the street, walk up the porch steps, and knock on the door.

Mo answers.  She’s a pretty young girl with green hair, glasses, tattoos, and piercings.  Her smile is infectious.

“We’re here for the movie,” I say.

“C’mon in.”

Past a dozen locks and three pitbulls into a foyer.  There’s a table with some photocopied ‘zines.  From one of them stares a policeman; the caption reads, “Be on the lookout: Armed gangs are patrolling our streets.”  Instructions and calendars of various kinds are  posted on the wall.  What to do if there’s a bust.  Why there are no drugs or alcohol allowed on the premises.  The open hours for the free lending library.  Information regarding the totally free market at Monroe Park.  The meeting times if you want to help cook for Richmond Food Not Bombs.  Stuff like that.

My friend and I mill around and start to meet people.  People who, whether it is their first visit or their hundredth, sit on sofas and talk like friends.  Nobody seems to notice that I’m twice as old as everyone else.  There is no air conditioning, but the high ceilings make it okay.  This house was built by people who knew how to live without it.  I have a flashback of drinking iced tea in my aunt’s white-doily parlor on Roseneath Road, perfectly comfortable on an July day, thirty-five years ago.  I’m so flustered I draw a blank in the middle of a sentence and, to dissipate the awkwardness, Mo excuses herself to get the movie ready.  I blush.

We watch the movie on the lawn, projected onto a twelve foot square piece of canvas.  It’s about how more species have gone extinct in the last 65 years than went extinct in the previous 65 million years.  About how Civilization is based on consumption and violence.  How one in forty Americans is in prison.  About how the police are the enforcement arm of a culture ruled by corporations, and you can’t change the world by hitting the Like button on Facebook.  Stuff like that.

People walk or peddle by not paying much attention to the movie.  A police airplane circles.

I wonder how much of this is my fault, what I could have done differently in my life, what I can do now.  I wonder if this is what Pop saw in Highland Park’s future, in America’s future, in the World’s future.  I wonder what he would want me to do, if he’d want me to take a stand for the poor, for the environment, and for freedom, or if he’d want me to hide in suburbia and pretend that the world isn’t burning.

We talk for awhile and then go our own ways.  After a subdued ride I drop my friend at his apartment.  At home I cannot think straight.  I smoke a few cigarettes, drink some wine, go to bed.  I look up at the ceiling and talk to Pop for awhile.

I think I’m going to be seeing Mo again soon.

Remembering Pop, two years gone

Robert Mitchell -- November 21, 1934 ~ July 8, 2008

They say you’re not a man until your father dies.  I reckon that’s a true statement and a natural part of growing up and growing old.  

Still, it sure would be nice to be a boy again from time to time, and to spend a day or two hanging out with Pop.

Sleep well old man.  We love you.


MITCHELL, Robert E., 73, of Sandston, passed away Tuesday, July 8, 2008 at his residence.

He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Betty; son, Robert E. Mitchell Jr.; four grandchildren, Robert, Tiffany, Amber and Morgan; a great-grandson, Kota; and brother, Forrest J. Mitchell III.

Robert was a U.S. Army veteran. He guarded nuclear weapons at Sandia Base, N.M. He was a retired engraver for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He enjoyed playing with his grandchildren, cabinetmaking and wine making.

The family will receive friends 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 10 at Nelsen Funeral Home, 4650 S. Laburnum Ave., Richmond, where funeral services will be held 2 p.m. Friday with Rev. Harry Bowman officiating. Entombment Washington Memorial Park, Sandston.