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Things that scare the heck outta me (by Billy Coffey)

In light of the fact that Halloween is just around the corner (and that a certain blogger/author is a little busy right now), I’ve decided to re-run a post Billy Coffey wrote for this blog last year. I certainly enjoyed this peek into Billy’s secret fears just as much this time around. Besides, it’s given me some great Christmas gift ideas. Here’s Billy:

It’s a little ironic that though I tend to be a bit picture kind of guy, it’s hours and days I’m more interested in than months and years. What’s happening down the road doesn’t really concern me. What’s happening now does. This is why I tend to pay much more attention to my watch than my calendar.

This is also why it’s a good thing God made department stores. Otherwise, I would not know what holiday is upon us.

The department stores here say that Halloween will be soon. There are costumes and candy and ghouls and, even, greeting cards. You know you’ve arrived as a holiday when you get your own greeting cards. Halloween is getting big.

And I think it should be big, if for no other reason than it focuses upon one of the great issues of our lives.


In the interest of writing-frees-the-soul, I can confess that I normally do not talk about my fears. I’ll even go so far as to say that I go to certain lengths to maintain the lie that I do not have any. I do have fears. Many, in fact. And I don’t care who you are, how tough you happen to be, or how much faith you have, you’re scared of something, too.

However. The thing about fear is that it’s often a very big shadow of a very little thing. Dragging it out into the light and seeing it for what it is can be a liberating experience, or so I’ve heard. So it’s along those lines that I will blaze the trail for anyone else who might read this and admit those things that send a shiver up my spine and force me to sleep with the light on.


Ghosts? Ghosts don’t bother me. And I laugh at monsters. Vampires run from ME. But zombies freak me out. I think it’s the slow but steady movement. Zombies are patient, and I don’t understand patience. Honestly, the whole taste for human flesh thing doesn’t really bother me as much as the ratty clothes, the pale skin, and that “AAAHHHH” sound they make. Zombies are the worst creatures in the world. I don’t care who you are, if you turn into a zombie and come at me, I’ma killin’ you.


The fear of clowns is shared by so many people that it actually has a clinical name—coulrophobia. Stephen King wrote about Pennywise the Clown in It. John Wayne Gacy, one of the worst serial killers in history, dressed as Pogo the Clown for children’s birthday parties. And who can forget Crazy Joe Davola on Seinfeld? He dressed as a clown, too. And he was crazy.

Ventriloquist Dummies

When I was a kid I dreamed that I got a ventriloquist dummy for Christmas, but instead of using it, it put me on it’s knee, shoved a wooden hand up my back, and took me on tour around the country. He kept me in a small wooden steamer trunk and all he’d give me to survive on was Nilla Wafers. I’ll never forget that dream. And to this day I can’t eat Nilla Wafers. Nuff said.

Along those lines, dolls freak me out, too. I was watching Destination Truth the other night and they visited a place in Mexico called Isla de Las Munecas. Island of the Dolls. Legend states that the spirit of a drowned girl haunts the island and the dolls are there to appease her. Evidently that’s not working, though. Because now the dolls are haunted, too. Wanna see a picture of the lovely surroundings? (photo by esparta courtesy of Flickr)


Ice Cream Trucks

Those of you who have never seen the movie Maximum Overdrive may not truly appreciate how utterly mortifying ice cream trucks are. As much as I believe Stephen King to be a genius, he’s ruined more than one seemingly innocent thing for me. This is one. There’s an ice cream truck that drives around our neighborhood in the summer (blaring Christmas music, by the way), and every time I see it I make a hasty yet dignified retreat back into the house. This, by the way, is not that ice cream truck. I get too shaky to take a picture of it, so I borrowed this shot from the movie off the internet.Yes, I know this one may be a little stupid. No, I don’t care. Ice cream trucks are evil. You’re just gonna have to trust me on that.

So there you go. All my fears laid out for your reflection and mockery. I figure I’m good so long as I never run into a zombie clown whose ventriloquist dummy is driving an ice cream truck sporting a doll as a hood ornament. Chances are that won’t happen.

But I figure most fears are like that, anyway.

To read more from Billy Coffey or to hyperlink pictures of zombies, clowns, ventriloquist dummies, dolls and/or ice cream trucks, visit him at What I Learned Today and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.

In praise of the temporary (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Parenting is all about doing your best to narrow the wide gulf between you and your children, which is much more difficult than it sounds. Often it seems as if your side of the gulf is higher than your children’s, or vice versa. You both speak a different language and have different priorities. Communication, then, can at times be an exercise in frustration and futility. It’s no wonder entire nations can’t get along, what with families struggling to do the same.

Where I get tripped up with my own kids sometimes is the belief that the flow of information can only flow in one direction—me to them. Which makes sense. I’m older and more experienced in the ways of the world. I’ve been where they are. They can’t say the same about me. And as Daddy, it’s my job to pass on to them what little bits of wisdom I can find.

Lately, it’s been the eternal.

As in, keep your minds on what isn’t temporary. Things like good fortune and happiness will sometimes be there and sometimes not, so it’s best to enjoy them while you can but not hang onto them too tightly. It’s a difficult point to get across to my children; their lives are bombarded by the temporary. It’s not just that their worries and fears revolve around things that won’t matter in the end, their attention revolves around them, too.

Better, I’ve told them, to focus on the things that last. That you can depend on being there.

I never bothered to question the wisdom of this, mostly because I didn’t think I had to. It was self-evident. Common sense.

My children seemed to grasp this philosophy well enough, at least in the God sense. It made sense to them that God will always be there, so He’s the one they should count on. Next came family, then came others. Yes! That’s Daddy preachin’.

I thought I was doing a good job until I thought maybe I wasn’t. Because I slowly began to realize that a lot of the things that make my children happiest are the ones that come and go.

Over the past year, I’ve seen their eyes light up as a shooting star fell over their heads.

I’ve seen them giggle and chase fireflies.

Seen them ooh and ahh over fireworks.

I’ve seen them pass precious hours lying in the backyard grass and staring at clouds, trying to decide which is a dog and which is a lollipop. They’ve caught snowflakes on their tongues. Watched deer graze.

None of these things last. A shooting star passes in seconds, and fireflies blink in and out in an instant. Fireworks pop and glow and then die into a black night. Clouds pass. The snow falls and then melts. The deer fill their stomachs and retreat back into the woods.

And yet these are the moments they seem to cherish, just as much as God and family.

I’ve considered asking them why this is so. I haven’t. I think it’s one of those things they would have a hard time explaining to someone like me, who’s still trying to figure some things out.

But I think I know the answer without having to ask. I think this is how they praise God. They appreciate the eternal by embracing the momentary. Those little moments that pass so quickly and may never come our way again aren’t to be shunned, they’re to be held tight.

Maybe this is just another case of my kids being mostly right and me being kind of wrong. The eternal is important, no doubt about it. But maybe the temporary is too, if for no other reason than because it doesn’t last.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Pausing a moment to say thanks…

October 11, 2010 was the official release of Snow Day by Billy Coffey. (Available at a bookstore near you. Buy early, buy often.)

This is Billy’s time in the spotlight, so I won’t take up too much of your time. But I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to some people.

First, to my family—who have graciously allowed me to spend countless hours on the computer that could have been spent with them. For understanding that sometimes you give of your time and talents not for personal gain or recognition, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. You’ve been my own personal cheering section.

To my bloggy pals who have been with me from the early days of Hey Look a Chicken. You believed in and supported Billy’s work because I asked you to. And even though his work never needed my endorsement, just the fact that you believed in him because I did means a lot. Y’all are friggintastic.

To Billy’s readers/friends, and for those of you whose paths I’ve crossed somewhere along the way—thank you all for welcoming this brash, outspoken, sometimes snarky and often ridiculous blogger into your midst. It’s been wonderful getting to know you all.

To Peter Pollock—I could never say thank you enough for all that you’ve done. Billy’s website would never have happened without you. You took the vision in my mind and translated it flawlessly into reality and you continue to provide excellent technical and moral support to my very demanding self. You truly are a prince.

And finally to Billy—
It’s been quite an adventure, no? Thank you for putting your trust in a virtual stranger almost 2 years ago who had no idea what she was doing, but let me figure it out along the way. Thank you for allowing me to read your words before sharing them with the rest of the world, and most of all, thank you for not giving up on your dreams, even when they seemed so far out of reach. The world would be a darker, less hopeful place without your stories.

Of all the lessons you’ve learned during this roller coaster ride—about faith and trust, about honor and friendship, if you take nothing else away from this experience, I hope you’ve learned this one undeniable truth:




#SnowDayBook day!

FINALLY! You ever felt like time has flown and dragged on forever at the same time? That’s sort of the way I’ve felt since I found out Snow Day was going to be published–especially that brief period of time when I had to keep my big, fat mouth shut about it. But I did, so anything’s possible. Billy has written a perfectly eloquent allegory about today. I invite you to hop on over and read it: Message in a Bottle

And then come back here and watch the video, which will make more sense. Or not…but it’s been in my head ever since I read the post…

The wonderful folks at Faith Words have been kind enough to throw Billy an online party to celebrate the official release of Snow Day. Hope to see you there sometime today!

Visit their Facebook page here.
And follow them on Twitter here
Watch for the #SnowDayBook hash tag on Twitter for updates, trivia, giveaways and more surprises.
Updates will also be posted on Billy’s new Facebook page here.

Message in a bottle (performed by The Police)
Just a castaway, an island lost at sea, oh
Another lonely day, with no one here but me, oh
More loneliness than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair, oh

I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah

A year has passed since I wrote my note
But I should have known this right from the start
Only hope can keep me together
Love can mend your life but
Love can break your heart

I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah

Walked out this morning, don’t believe what I saw
Hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone in being alone
Hundred billion castaways, looking for a home

I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah

Sending out at an S.O.S.
Sending out at an S.O.S.
Sending out at an S.O.S.
Sending out at an S.O.S.
Sending out at an S.O.S.
Sending out at an S.O.S…

Roger’s questions (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of

You wouldn’t know by looking at Roger Willis that he’s one of the best Christians the world has ever known. I always thought that was his secret. You know, being meek and lowly in spirit and all. Jesus said blessed are those. And that’s Roger.

He’s not tall—five-foot-seven, five-foot-nine in his boots. A scraggly gray beard juts out almost perpendicular from his chin. Aside from the occasional trim, it’s sat untouched for the last fifty years or so. Just there, jutting out and seeming to defy gravity, as if daring the world to hit the man behind it.

And the world has been happy to oblige. Roger hasn’t had what most would call a good life, and what’s worse is that he’s innocent of making it that way.

Things started off well enough in that true, Southern way. Roger was born to a farmer and a school teacher soon after Hitler called it quits in ’45. His childhood was the perfect blend of innocence and dirty hands, and he was kept free from the realities of the world until two weeks after his tenth birthday. That’s when his father was killed when his tractor rolled on the back forty of their farm.

It was just Roger and his mother then. The two made due well enough. Roger’s mother kept him in school until the ninth grade, at which point she bowed to his wishes to devote himself full time to farming. By then, there wasn’t much choice.

Roger’s mother joined her husband just after his nineteenth birthday. That was a tough time from what I’ve heard, and understandably so. But God was looking out for his favorite Virginia farmer, because right around that time was when Mary Booker walked into his life. Roger remembered her from school way back when, remembered how pretty she was and how nice. The two of them met when Mary began attending the Methodist church where Roger had been born and raised. Their first date was for ice cream down at the Dairy Queen. They were married six months later.

Things turned around for Roger then. The farm was producing everything from corn to cows in abundance, and the Willis family grew to include a son and daughter. I think there are seasons in life much like there are in the world. If I’m right about that, then the next twenty years or so was Roger’s spring, when everything grew and blossomed and the winds were all soft and smelled like new life.

Then came Vietnam. All that kept Roger’s son from volunteering was knowing his father would have to run the farm on his own, but then came the draft notice. His son left Virginia in the summer of ’69. He died in a rice field eight months later. Roger’s spring was over then.

You could say the autumn of his life arrived twenty years later, when his daughter died of what he called “The woman cancer.”

Winter came last year when Mary Booker Willis, Roger’s wife of nearly fifty years, passed on after a stroke. Roger lost the farm soon after. The corn and the cows stopped growing, and he was too old and too tired to start over.

I’ve told you all that just to tell you this: you would not know Roger Willis has suffered such loss. No. Speak to him and you will hear a song in his words and see the brightness in his eyes. Sit near him at church, and you will hear his voice singing above the rest. Listen to him pray, and you will know that Jesus is more than his Lord, He is a friend. Pass him in the store, and you will walk away happier than you were. Roger will make sure of that.

Amazing, isn’t it?

How could he have such faith after such suffering? How could he not simply continue, but thrive?

I asked him the other day at the hardware store, and his answer surprised me.

“I doubted,” he said.

When his father died, Roger doubted. Same with his mother and his son and his daughter. Same with Mary. When he lost his farm, too. He doubted God, doubted His love and even His very existence. He doubted aloud in the darkness of an empty house and an empty bed, calling out to the great Not There. He doubted an answer would come. One always did.

I’m going to remember that. Because I’m often fooled into thinking my faith is made stronger by my answers. It isn’t.

It’s made stronger by my questions.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Four rules (by Billy Coffey)

cal ripken

image courtesy of

I’m usually good for one awful, please-God-kill-me bout of sickness per year, but the last time I actually threw up was Christmas Eve 1995. I am of the opinion that there is no worse feeling in this life than when…that…happens. I’ve heard people say they’re not feeling well and wished they would just go ahead and do it, as if the after would be worth the during. They lie. Throwing up helps no one.

I remember that last time because of the irony involved. Christmas has always been my favorite time of year—of joyful blessing and peace on earth and Hosanna in the Highest—and yet there I was in the bathroom with my head against the porcelain god saying “This can’t be happening this can’tbe happening thiscan’tbehappen—”

And then it did.

Just so you know, it was horrible. Merry Christmas to me.

That was the day I vowed to never throw up again. I didn’t know exactly how much of a say I had in that, but I thought I’d give it a shot. It’s been tough a few times. I’ve had flu and strep and colds and infections and viruses. I’ve had moments of thiscan’tbehappen—. But I am proud to say that as of today, my streak is unbroken.

I’m proud of that. I’m the Cal Ripken of not puking.

Just in case you’re interested, I’ll tell you how such an impressive feat is accomplished. It certainly isn’t something as mundane as a proper diet (my breakfast this morning? Deer jerky, a bowl of Frankenberry, and coffee). No, I’ve kept my streak through more esoteric measures.

Not puking is a mental thing. A mindset. But it’s also following a few commonsense steps when things go from good to uh-oh.

Like step one: pay attention. Be mindful of that little flutter in your gut. Stop what you’re doing and take stock. It may be a fluke, yes. But it may be something more, also. I’m convinced the vast majority of puking happens when people fail to heed the warning signs and only act when it’s too late.

If it isn’t a fluke and it really may be something more, then it’s on to step two: breathe. Nice, deep, even breaths into and then out the nose. Never through the mouth. I cannot emphasize this point enough. The last thing you want to be doing at that moment is opening your mouth.

Once your breathing is under control, you can move to your thoughts. That’s step three. The mind is an amazing creation, and whatever goes on in there affects the rest of you. Start thinking about peaceful things—mountains and flowers people laughing. Don’t think about oceans, though—too wavy. And for the love of all that is holy and good, don’t think about what might happen. That will ruin everything.

If you’re at step three and still feeling like the wave is building and the end is nigh, it’s time for step four: pray. Pray hard. Steps one through three have failed me through the years, but step four never has. God has always been my Pepto-Bismol.

I say all this because I was sick last week. Not please-God-kill-me sick, but more like you’d-better-slow-down sick. And even though things didn’t progress into a downward spiral of almost-yarking, I decided to follow the above guidelines anyway.

And you know what? It worked.

I’m thinking now of expanding those four rules and including them on the days I feel fine, too. No use to waste them when I’m sick.

I’m going to pay attention more. And when things start going from good to uh-oh, I’m going to stop and breathe.

I’m going to keep the good in my thoughts and not dwell on the bad.

And I’m going to pray. More and always.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Labor(ing) Day (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of

I’m working. On Labor Day.

Ironic, isn’t it? That I would be working on a holiday that was instituted to celebrate the working man (and woman), I mean.

I’m sure I’m not the only one schlepping off to work this morning like any other day. We’re toasting the end of summer by sitting in offices or factories or standing outside building houses or putting out fires. Nothing wrong with that. These days, we’re lucky to have a job at all—a fact no doubt driven home by every boss everywhere whenever an employee vents some dissatisfaction.

Work is a part of everyone’s life at some point. I suppose that’s God’s plan. We hear the adage of idle hands being the Devil’s tools and read scriptures like “He who does not work should not eat.” Seems pretty clear—we’re not here to just hang out, we have to be useful.

Holidays are such because they’re meant to focus our minds on something in particular rather than leaving them in their normal, scattered state. Christmas and Easter are all about Jesus (or should be). July 4? Freedom. Thanksgiving is a time to focus on our blessings because there are always some, and Valentine’s Day is all about the people we love.

And Labor Day? Labor Day is all about what we do for a living.

For me, it means a private liberal arts college nestled among the Virginia mountains. I’m the campus mailman. Just me and the three student workers who may or may not bother to show up on a normal day. Working pretty much by yourself has its advantages, no doubt about it. Job security, for one. Not having to spend hours in small talk is also a plus, because I abhor small talk.

But working here also has its drawbacks. The campus post office was once home to three full-time employees instead of only one. To say things get a little hectic around this time of year would be an understatement. So if you’re wondering where the heck I’ve been for the last few weeks, the answer is under piles of Cosmopolitan magazines and packages from twelve hundred mommies.

The truth? I’d rather be doing something else. I took this job because I was going to be laid off from my previous one (which wasn’t all bad, since I got a novel out of it), and I took that one because I was burnt out from the one before. So while I’m walking my five miles a day with a smile haphazardly positioned on my face, I’m really wishing I were up in the mountains somewhere writing.

Chances are that when it comes to occupations, you’d rather be doing something else, too. I read an article a while back that said the best job to have in this country as far as pay, benefits, and perks, is a college professor. Since I’m surrounded by professors every day, I thought I’d test that theory. Over the course of a week I asked twenty of them if they were happy where they were or if they’d rather have a different line of work. To a person, they’d rather be elsewhere. Some wanted to write books, others to travel. Two wanted to be farmers. There was even one who confessed what he really wanted to do was become a bounty hunter.

There’s nothing too strange about that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that what’s rare in this life is to find someone completely happy with what he or she does to pay the bills. We all have our secret dreams and far-flung desires. It’s part of being human, I think. In our deepest selves, we’re always searching and never quite finding our place in this world.

Do you think this is true? I’d like to know, because reading back through that last paragraph left me feeling a bit pessimistic.

Maybe that’s just a symptom of having to work today. Then again, maybe that’s just one of those non-negotiable, hard truths of life.

So let’s celebrate this Labor Day with a little survey. Leave a comment below. Tell me what you do for a living, and then tell me what you’d really rather do for a living.

Let’s put my theory to the test.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Tolerating me (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

The letter was from the American Civil Liberties Union, and the first thing I did was check the address to see if the nice lady who delivers our mail accidentally gave me someone else’s envelope. A letter from the ACLU? To me? Didn’t seem likely. I don’t consider myself to be their type, seeing as how I’m one of those backward country folks who clings to his guns and religion.

As it turned out, the letter was really a survey—ACLU PERSONAL FREEDOM SURVEY, it said—that warned “(my) decision to speak up is more important than ever, as the ACLU takes on a reenergized extremist movement determined to create an America where everyone is forced to live by that group’s narrowly-defined beliefs and values.”

Sounded scary enough, so I did my duty as a concerned citizen. I started filling out my survey. After all, they promised they were “vigorously working to protect” the things I believe in. It was the least I could do.

But then I came to the first question:

I believe that the separation of church and state is crucial to the health of our democracy and that government should stay out of Americans’ personal religious beliefs and practices.

Four choices were given—Do Not Believe, Somewhat Believe, Believe, Strongly Believe. Uh-oh. Really? I marked Do Not Believe. Even though I want my government out of my faith, I also want to know what the people in my government believe. Even if they believe in nothing. Because in the end, what we believe defines what we are.

Question 2: I believe that attempts to limit the rights of people to marry and/or adopt children based upon their sexual orientation not only hurts families but violates the most fundamental precepts of American freedom and must be resisted.

It was about this point when I realized these questions were written in such a way that if I disagreed, I would be made out to be an evil man. I marked Do Not Believe anyway. Because I have a right to think that, correct? That’s the whole point of the ACLU. Correct?

The other questions weren’t any easier—one about how “reproductive choices must be defended” and another about how wrong it is “for extremist advocates of creationism and intelligent design to impose their religious beliefs by interfering with the teaching of evolution in public school science classes.” One about how wrong it is “to use taxpayer dollars to fund abstinence-only education programs that promote a particular religious doctrine.”

I finished them all (Do Not Believe turned out to be my favorite answer) and decided that I would likely never hear from them again since I was pretty much the sort of person they seemed intent on scuffling with. Evidently, I was part of the “reactionary forces that want to create an America where everyone is forced to live by their narrowly-defined beliefs and values.”

(Not true, by the way.)

But if you ask me a question, the odds are pretty good I’m going to give you what I think is the best answer. If we disagree on that, well that’s just fine. I’ll have no problem tolerating you. But you’d damn well better tolerate me, too.

That means not calling me Islamophobic because I don’t think a mosque should be within a two blocks of where the Twin Towers once stood, and not calling me a racist because I disagree with someone who happens to be black.

It means not calling me narrow-minded because I stick to what I believe.

And not calling me reactionary because I’ll stand up for them.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Hit the redneck (by Billy Coffey)

photo of Radivoje Lajic from

photo of Radivoje Lajic from

You could say Radivoje Lajic and I have a few things in common, at least on the surface.

We’re both country boys for one, though what I call country happens to be the mountains of Virginia and what Radivoje calls country happens to be Gornji Lajici, a small village in northern Bosnia. We’re both content to live our own lives and mind our own business. And then there’s the fact that deep down, we both just want to be left alone. We want our lives free of drama and spectacle. We want to quietly go on our way and just keep doing what we’re doing.

Problem is, that doesn’t seem to happen very often with Radivoje. And sometimes it doesn’t happen very often with me, either. Things get in the way. Specific things.

In Radivoje’s case, it’s the aliens who won’t leave him alone.

Since 2007, Radivoje’s small house has been hit six times by meteorites. He has the space rocks to prove it, too. Experts at Belgrade University have confirmed them all as genuine. He even sold one of them to a university in the Netherlands so he could put a new steel girder reinforced roof on his house. He was tired of patching all the holes.

For their part, scientists are still trying to figure out how and why poor Radivoje has been forced to endure this. The odds of anyone getting hit by a single meteorite are about 0.000000136%. The odds of getting hit by six of them? Incalculable.

There is some speculation that either his house or his town sits on some supercharged magnetic field, but nothing has been proven. And even if it was, that wouldn’t explain the fact that all of this seems to happen only during a heavy rain. Never in the sunshine.

A mystery, the scientists say. But not to Radivoje. He knows what’s going on. To him, it’s pretty obvious:

“I have no doubt I am being targeted by aliens. They are playing games with me. I don’t know why they are doing this. When it rains I can’t sleep for worrying about another strike.”

Funny, yes. Funny to me, anyway. I don’t know why this is happening, but to think aliens are floating up in space playing a game of Hit the Serbian seems a bit of a stretch.

But then I thought it over and decided that maybe if Radivoje has his facts wrong, then so do I. Because if you substitute “aliens” for “God” in his quote above, you might just have me.

There are times in my life when I feel like God is targeting me. Lots of times. Many more than six. I suppose in that regard, Radivoje’s gotten off pretty easy.

I’ve been known to believe that God plays games with me. He’ll dangle some blessing right in front of my eyes and then snatch it away the second I reach out for it. He’ll answer little prayers like getting me a good parking spot at the mall but not big ones like not letting my kids get sick. And there are always those infernal lessons He’s intent on teaching me, things like patience and humility and trust, things I’m sure will build me up later but always seem to make me feel torn apart now.

To make matters worse, those lessons always seem to come at the worst possible time. Not when my life is sunny, but when it’s raining on my insides. And the rain always seems to pour harder then, because I’m left worrying what He’s going to do next.

“I have no doubt I am being targeted by aliens. They are playing games with me. I don’t know why they are doing this. When it rains I can’t sleep for worrying about another strike.”

I get that. I get it because there are times when I have no doubt I am being targeted by God. He is playing games with me. I didn’t know why He is doing that. When it rains I can’t sleep for worrying about another strike.

I can’t say there isn’t a little bit of Radivoje Lajic’s thinking in me. I have my moments when I think God’s in heaven playing Hit the Redneck. And chances are good that you’ve felt the same more than once about your own life. As for me, I’m going to work on that.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Staples and the human condition (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

It’s often said people don’t miss what they don’t know, and that is a maxim proven true many times in my life. Like right now.

When I was a kid, back-to-school shopping involved little more than perusing the two aisles of office supplies at the local Roses, where the selection was limited and the quality was debatable. But now there’s Staples. If there had been a Staples when I was in school, I’m sure I would have roamed the aisles of notebooks and pencils with the same sense of wonder and excitement my children are displaying.

Shedding the outdoors for a classroom is now a call to arms. One look at the sheet of necessary supplies in my wife’s hand that came directly from the school officials confirms it. Pencils, notebook paper, backpack, glue, tape, composition book, erasers, and kid-friendly scissors are just a few of the necessary items. I feel like I’m sending my kids off to college rather than second grade and kindergarten.

Although I am at times not so patient a father, on this day and in this store understanding comes easy. My kids are regarding our trip here with the perfect blend of excitement and seriousness. A tiny seed of knowledge is being planted within them that somehow this supply shopping is no errand. In a few years it will sprout and grow into the knowledge that what they are doing is the physical manifestation of a spiritual truth. They will see this a holy rite, and a universal one at that.

Because if my children are anything like me, all this shopping and ogling over school supplies and all this excitement over starting a new year will likely one day be replaced by a determination not to screw things up yet again.

I was never a standout in school. Nowhere near honor-role caliber. Average at best. I suppose I had the smarts to do better and be more, but not the drive or discipline. What people thought of me and how I fit in mattered much more than learning the Pythagorean theorem or how photosynthesis worked. Then, and sometimes now, the things that really shouldn’t matter at all mattered very much.

For me, the best days of the school year were the first few and the last few. The first few because they always held the most promise. The last few because by then I had firmly entrenched myself in my yearly rut of getting by rather than pulling ahead, and just wanted everything over with.

But summer vacation is the Great Eraser, three months of sunshine and play that put enough distance between me and the previous nine months to suggest the next year might be mine to own. Back-to-school shopping would always cement that thought. All those fresh notebooks with empty pages waiting to be filled with knowledge? Pencils sharp and wood-scented, ready to chew on in deep thought? And of course there was the epitome of student organization, the Trapper Keeper. Those were the weapons I would wield in the battle against myself.

And it always worked for the first few weeks, after which those notebooks would be filled with doodles born of boredom and angst, the pencils would be thrown at either a classmate or the ceiling, and my Trapper Keeper would have been torn to shreds and abandoned in the bottom of my locker.

We have good intentions, don’t we? Every notion to make the next day our best, to rise above petty thoughts and empty words and become who we know we can be. And still every night we close our eyes with the nagging thoughts of who we let down and what we couldn’t measure up to.

Just as we can’t be the perfect student, we’ll never be the perfect people. Deep down we all know this. But we also know that just because our feet are stuck in the mud of this world doesn’t mean our hands can’t reach ever higher toward the sky. Just because we cannot fly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand tall.

That’s what I want my children to know as they walk these aisles.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

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