The Power of Forgiveness

I went to Atlanta Unity church the Sunday before last expecting to hear a woman named Edwene Gaines talk about prosperity. But I was three days early; she wasn’t speaking until Wednesday night.

However, the four-piece band played Van Morrison’s "Into the Mystic" and an even better rendition of U2’s "Mysterious Ways," and I got a message I couldn’t leave behind with the church bulletin.

"None of us was parented the way we wanted to be all the time," said the minister, John Strickland, and yet the quality of our life is affected by our ability — or, very often, our inability — to forgive those against whom we have a grudge.

My father to mind. I’ve done a lot of work around our relationship, and I figured it was pretty clean. But he jumped so readily to mind, that I had to re-consider, and I was doing just that that afternoon when the phone rang.

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Dog People

We pulled off the pavement into a gravel driveway and descended into a wooded lot 12 miles from Brevard, North Carolina. The sky was overcast, the air was thick and an enormous black German shepherd with orange and white markings lay at the far end of the driveway.

He rose as we coasted to a stop near a stone house with a green metal roof and padded over to the car. Rearing up on his hind legs, he rested two giant paws on the door and peered solemnly into the car. Satisfied, he dropped to the ground and walked away.

I was among the dog people.

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Uncle Otto and Nicola the Greek

At an art opening last weekend, friends and I were studying the bio of one of the artists, Otto Neumann, a 20th century German expressionist, whose father was a famous professor and friend to famous intellectuals. Otto himself studied with noted artists, and married a pianist and weaver named Hilde Rothschild who. according to the bio,  "became a major force in his artistic and personal life."

Well, yes, marriage does tend to influence one’s personal life, and marriage to a Rothschild would surely have an impact on your art, because you wouldn’t have to sell any of it to pay the bills.

So when Otto finished a painting, he would stick it the attic and move on. And when he was tempted to destroy his early work, Hilde would dissuade him, which is a good thing.  Thirty years after his death, Uncle Otto, as he was known in the family, is just now being discovered, and some of his work, to my untutored eyes, is quite good. In fact, if I’d had a spare twelve or fifteen grand, I’d have taken a couple home with me.

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The Kindness of Golfers

Last Sunday, I played golf with my friend Dave and his 21-year-old son, Kevin. It was Father’s day, and Dave is one of the best fathers I know.

It was a pleasure to watch him patiently instruct Kevin, praising him for the good shots, encouraging him when they were errant. And on the drive back, to listen to Dave reminisce about vacations he’d taken with Kevin and his older brother, Ryan, while Kevin shrugged and nodded agreeably.

Dave has done everything with his sons from lifting weights and tennis to rock-climbing and camping. My wish, as I listened, was that I might some day share my own love of golf, that oddly civilized form of masochism and hope, as Dave has with his sons.

This is just my second year at the game, and I was somewhat prepared for jokes such as, "Why do they call it ‘golf’? Because all the other four-letter words are taken." What I was not prepared for was the kindness and affectionate regard with which good golfers readily offer alms to the halt, the lame and the ugly.

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It was somewhere between the Blacksburg/Earl exit in South Carolina and King’s Mountain, North Carolina, that I heard it the first time.

I was on my way to Charlotte to see my daughter, grandson and son-in-law. It was Saturday afternoon, sunny and bright, and I’d finally broken free of the traffic that had clotted I-85 since the Atlanta suburbs. The radio was on, and I heard to "Hey, 19" and the Hendrix version of "All Along the Watchtower" (the only version, in my opinion) as I used worked the SEEK button right to left.

Then it landed on a song I didn’t know:

When I am down, and oh my soul, so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until You come and sit awhile with me.

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Anger Management

It is 11 p.m. You’re exhausted and you have to get up at 4. You lie down on the bed, close your eyes and begin the languorous descent into sleep. A few minutes later, your significant other comes into the room and falls heavily onto the bed next to you.

Just a few days before, the two of you had fixed the bed – or so you thought – by tightening the bolts at each end. You did the foot, she did the head. And now, as the frame and headboard separate and the mattress and box springs slam to the floor, you discover that she didn’t really tighten those bolts after all.

You are up in a flash, raging at her for not tightening the bolts properly, raging that you are tired and need sleep and don’t have time to fix the bed, raging that nevertheless you have to fix the bed, goddammit, because she didn’t tighten the goddamn bolts.

In fact, you are not just ranting, you are throwing the mattress around and shouting and letting the rage escalate to the point where without even trying you detonate a small and decidedly non-tactical nuclear device at the epicenter of your relationship.

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Dropping the Armor

My friend W plays in a bare-bones tennis league called T2 where pairings and arrangements are handled by email, and matches take place on weekday evenings at venues of the participants’ choosing. This is in contrast to ALTA, a venerable Atlanta institution where competition is complemented by a social component that involves food, drink and post-match bonhomie.

Last week, W and his partner had a match that was so important to them that they went out the night before and practiced. But they still lost, 6-3, 6-4, and at the men’s group meeting two days later he was still stewing about it.

"They were in their 30s," he said, disgusted. "They were all over the court, and the ball came back with heat on it."

W is a powerful guy with a flat belly who lifts weights, hikes and plays golf as well as tennis. He used to think he was pretty agile, he said, but at 60 he had to admit that he can’t quite do the things he used to do. And despite his grin, you knew it bugged him.

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Passion in a dark room

My men’s group gathered at a house on Lake Hartwell for golf, boating, eating and levity last weekend, while I was two hours south in Atlanta with a commitment to keep. 

I had an appointment Saturday morning as co-producer and on-camera host of a taping session with Dr. Jagdish Sheth, professor marketing and strategy at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. It was the ninth in a series of archival tapes to record the thoughts, ideas, insights and observations of one of the most fertile minds in the world of business.

Dr. Sheth has written or co-written dozens of books, been on the boards of Fortune 500 companies and advises the governments of China and India as they re-tool their industries and become powerful players in the global economy.

He is on the road so much it’s a wonder he has time to teach, not to mention maintain a business called In-Core and a newly minted India, China and America Institute. He also endows a speaker series at Emory which recently brought director Mira Nair to the campus.

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The ‘Da Vinci’ conundrum

A Catholic friend forwarded an email to me the other day. In what had the makings of a pre-emptive strike, a priest at her church was going to discuss "The Da Vinci Code," Dan Brown’s hugely successful book which is due to re-appear May 19 as a motion picture.

The intent, clearly, was to fortify the church and its congregation against an epidemic of doubt and distrust which could exceed that generated by the book.

The Catholic Church has a special interest in the matter because the book pivots on an alleged conspiracy by the church to conceal certain facts about Jesus Christ. Among them, that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute but of royal Jewish blood, that she was pregnant with Jesus’ daughter when he was crucified, and that the Merovingian dynasty in France were their descendants.

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Getting out of the ditch

Thursday night in a basement room at Atlanta Unity Church: Nine men sitting in a rectilinear U formed by couches and chairs, some with their feet on the long, scarred coffee table in the center.

We have, left to right, a graphic artist for a federal agency, a retired engineer, the retired head of IT for a Fortune 500 company, a realtor, a small businessman, a retired small businessman, a physician’s assistant, a contractor and myself.

As often happens at these gatherings – they’ve been taking place once a week for eight years – a topic has presented itself during the check-ins that follow the opening meditation.

P is self-employed, and has not one or two, but four different jobs. Changing hats all the times is getting difficult, he says, "And I’m wondering what’s the point. Today was a beautiful day, and I didn’t take the time to stop and enjoy it."

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