Coffin: (n) a long, narrow box in which a corpse is buried or cremated.

Staring down into the face of my older brother, who was quite dead, lying in a coffin, motionless, with eyes closed.

It freaked me out–mainly because I was staring at the bier. That’s another word for coffin. Now I’m just trying to show off. I tend to do so when I’m nervous. And looking at a coffin made me nervous.

Until that moment, I did not realize that I suffer from claustrophobia. Even though I was supposed to be the strong brother to support my nephew, sister-in-law and all the other relatives, I temporarily had to excuse myself and walk away to try to regain my state of mind.

All I could think about was lying in that coffin, scrunched, and having the lid shut down on my face. Every time that vision came to my brain, my heart started to pound and I found it difficult to breathe.

I was embarrassed.

I wanted to make sure no one observed my panic attack, so I found a private room and stepped inside. Unable to locate a light switch, I stood in the dark, finding no comfort whatsoever from my vision of horror.

Even though I am certain there was nobody in the room with me, I sensed a thought floating across the blackened space, landing in my consciousness. It wasn’t exactly verbalized, but it was very comforting.

The notion translated to my irrational thinking was, “Keep in mind, when you go in the coffin, you don’t have to breathe anymore.”

I laughed. It was so true. By the time I was fitted–or unfitted–for this box, I would be without the need for much of anything.

And of course, if it still freaked me out, they could always burn me up.


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Claustrophobia: (n) irrational fear of confined places

Who says it’s irrational??

Obviously, the definition was put together by people who pride themselves on the fact that they can tolerate small spaces.

I’ve always been claustrophobic. It was particularly embarrassing when I was a young man, playing junior high football, and at the end of
the game–a victory–everyone would jump on top of each other, creating a huge pile of sweaty, stinky, adolescents. I occasionally found myself at the bottom of that mountain.

It was embarrassing because even though I was a large fellow, when I looked up into the surroundings, it seemed like I was seventy-five feet deep, stuck in a hole–and couldn’t breathe.

I slashed out with my hands, throwing kids hither, thither and yon. My coach yelled at me for going into a violent fit. I took him to the side and tried to explain that I had a terror of small spaces, making me feel as if I was suffocating.

He looked at me and said, “Get over it. Life is in your face.”

As he walked away, I immediately began to plot how to keep life out of my face. After all, if you’re claustrophobic you need some room to inhale.

And in my opinion, having that room is not a bad idea anyway.



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Astronaut: (n) a person who is trained to travel in a spacecraftdictionary with letter A

I am officially an astroNOT.

There are so many reasons I could not be an astronaut. Matter of fact, if people were gathered in a room discussing their ability to be astronauts, I would have to leave because I would have nothing to contribute. And if I suggested I might be suited in any way for the occupation, laughter would ensue.

Let me list the ways that I am astronaut-less:

1. I actually am larger and weigh more than the space capsule in which I would be inserted.

2. Claustrophobia. It is not a good thing to have when you’re living in an enclosure that fits you like a glove.

3. I don’t like toothpaste for brushing my teeth, let alone for squeezing out food from a tube for dinner.

4. Peeing in my spacesuit. Distasteful.

5. Training. Physical training is not at the top of my list for pleasure. I exercise–on occasion–because I am threatened with death.

6. Having megatons of high explosives directly under my ass exploding, with the hopes of propelling me into space.

7. Weightlessness (although I have to admit, it sounds like an easier way to shed pounds).

8. Walking on the moon just seems weird.

9. Sharing a small space with other people who hate you because you’re taking up their space.

10. Returning to Earth.

So you see, I shall never be an astronaut.

I will not pretend I’m an astronaut, nor shall I bore you any further by writing about my weaknesses in becoming an astronaut.

P.S. Yet, my friend, Janet Clazzy, could be an astronaut. (I actually don’t know whether she could or not, but it’s her birthday today, and this was a really cheap way of mentioning it…)


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dictionary with letter A

Anteroom (n.): an antechamber, usually serving as a waiting room.

Of course, we never call it an anteroom.

But I’ve had my fair share of being in waiting rooms. I think most of us have. Three occasions pop into my mind immediately.

When I was seven years old, my parents found a dentist about ten miles from our town who stubbornly refused to join the modern world of pain-free tooth care, and insisted that all of the chemicals and medicines that were injected into young children to relieve the discomfort of repairing teeth were going to cause a generation of sterile adults.

Of course, he had no basis for the theory, but my parents thought he was a pioneer and a patriot so they decided to use him as our family dentist.

I have two startling memories of this experience.

Number one was sitting in the anteroom, waiting my turn, hearing the moans and groans of other children subjected to the Neanderthal treatment.

Additionally was enduring both the lecture and the pain of having my teeth drilled by a gentleman who was certainly soon to be declared a medical dinosaur.

The second waiting room experience that pops to mind was when I was a mere nineteen-year-old, waiting for the birth of my first son. Having no idea of the process, and being surrounded in the waiting room by veterans of the procedure, I remember fidgeting until I forced myself to need to pee, and therefore being out of the room when the doctor came in to tell me of the birth of my child.

The third and final memory is a rather unpleasant one of being in the Emergency Room of a hospital in Mobile, Alabama, waiting to hear the status of my son who had been hit and run by a car. Being raised in the Midwest, I was filled with optimism, believing that the medical field would be able to put my little Humpty Dumpty back together again.

That night, over and over again, I was given bad news, each time deepening in darkness. Matter of fact I was so inundated with dreary reports that I nearly ran from the room, screaming, to escape the mania.

So when I think about waiting rooms, I realize that they are a perpetual paradox. First you have “waiting”–not the best profile for any human being. And then, you have a room, which normally has four walls, increasing claustrophobia and fear.

I certainly hope there’s no waiting room in heaven.

Don’t you?


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Words from Dic(tionary)

dictionary with letter AAgoraphobia: (n) extreme or irrational fear of crowded spaces or enclosed public places.

I think I have claustrophobia.

I didn’t used to–even though the brief time that I played football, I didn’t particularly care for pileups, where people would be on top of me.

But agoraphobia‘s different. Within the spectrum of being frightened of experiencing a lack of room and oxygen is also a fear of people. Matter of fact, we start it pretty young, don’t we?

  • We tell our children not to talk to strangers.
  • Within the first few years of their lives, we cloister them in an atmosphere with no more than five to seven people, making a trip to the grocery store seem like a perilous journey through the jungle.
  • We coddle our offspring and project our apprehension into them upon entering school–so much so that many of them do not recover from their agonizing trepidation of interacting with people their own age. They can become misfits.

I guess what concerns me is that a little bit of agoraphobia is inhabiting everybody in this country. Statistics tell me that about 34% of the people who walk down the street holding a phone are pretending they have a phone call, so as to not have to interact with others.

Not only is it annoying to text when other people are around, but it may leave you totally debilitated and vacant of the desire to be close.

I admit, it can be frightening to make eye contact with other humans, but the absence of that gesture of openness neither alleviates danger nor promotes congeniality.

There are probably people who suffer from this condition, but I do think we are changing the definition of the word “fellowship” in our society. It is now a keystroke on Facebook, with twenty-four characters expressing how handsome we think some child is or how pretty a new little dress may be. In fact, my oldest son told me that Facebook is the new church of America. He said it with certainty and a bit of resignation.

If it’s a church, I’m curious about where God is, where love is, where hope is and where faith can grow. Because to merely admire someone’s new bowling ball is not to strike up a new friendship.

I know I’ve veered off the subject a bit, and perhaps the condition of “agoraphobia” is a worthy topic for a writer and thinker much brighter than myself.

But I do believe we can avoid becoming frightened of each other by choice. To do so, we will have to come away from our computer screens, our smart phones and actually look into each other’s eyes again … and risk what we see.


Words from Dic(tionary)

dictionary with letter A

Afield: (adv.) to or at a distance: e.g. competitors from as far afield as Hong Kong.

I often think about jobs that would be much more difficult than what presently encompasses my time. I do this to manufacture a sense of gratitude in my fussy being when I find myself complacent, or even complaining, about my circumstances.

It doesn’t take me long to envision particular undertakings which would be quite distasteful to my being. Don’t mistake my meaning. I’m not saying these pursuits are not important, valuable or even admirable–just beyond my ability and willingness.

  • I would not like to dig ditches.

Even though I can see that progress is observed through the action, continually sticking a shovel in the ground to displace dirt to another location would not only exhaust me but also stimulate my claustrophobia as I found myself surrounded by an earthen prison.

  • I don’t think I’d like to work in food service.

When I go into a restaurant or fast food joint, I am so grateful for those who pursue this occupation. Yet remembering orders, scurrying about, fielding complaints and settling for a less-than-satisfying wage would probably turn me into the Grinch who massacred everyone around the Christmas tree.

You can see, I have a number of these, and at the end of my reflection I always have a spring in my step as I renew my journey and vocation. Today I will add another one to the list:

  • I would not want to be the agent for the word “afield.”

I could never muster the conviction to convince folks to be that hoity-toity in their language, nor would I even consider that such an option would be positive.

After all, what’s wrong with saying, “competitors from as far away as Hong Kong …?”

You see what I mean? When you’re trying to impress someone with verbiage that is meant to alienate others, you are stimulating the kind of stupidity that keeps us all at odds. No, I would not want to be the agent to promote the word “afield.”

I would rather dig a ditch.