THAT A SHAME?
That’s what Fats said long ago. “Ain’t that a shame?
That’s what he said. And it is. How we try so sometimes,
and still things become difficult, life seems so hard and
then gets even harder, and our efforts just don’t pay off.
Ain’t that a shame?
I saw him when I entered the
little joint. A young cowboy seated all by his lonesome at
the end of the bar – probably no more than thirty. My first
thought was, “Atlas ain’t got nothing on this boy.”
Like that mythological figure of old, he too, had the
weight of the entire world on his shoulders. Both of which
were slumped, and made him look drawn up in a small ball,
him with his head in his hands. “That fellow is
carrying a load,” I thought to myself. “How you doin’?”
I asked him.
“How do I look like I’m doing?” he said without looking
Since I couldn’t think of anything to say – “Not too
good,” didn’t seem like the right response – so I just
sat there. He took a couple of sips from his beer, and then
he said, “I sold my soul to the devil, man. If you can get
it out of hock, I’ll give you half-interest in it.” Still
he hadn’t looked in my direction.
“Well, I guess I could listen,” I said. “Maybe that
“Nobody can help me, man.” And there was silence for a
“I drive fifty miles a day each way,” he said in a low
voice. Then it came pouring out.
“I drive a hundred miles a day. I fight the beast four
hours of my life every day. Up at five, two hours of
frustrating, life-crushing dead air time. Then I sit in a
cubicle for eight more, all the while looking forward to two
more hours of fightin’ semi’s all the way home.” He
paused. “ ‘Course I have to you know. I do it all for
them. They’re my whole life. They’re everything to me.”
“And who might “they” be?” I asked him.
“The reasons, man,” he said in a loud voice.
“The reasons I do it all - my wife and my son. I do it all
for them.” And then, finally turning to me with a good deal
of anger in his voice, he said, “Ain’t that what a man’s
supposed to do?”
I knew he meant duty. I knew he meant
responsibility. I said, “Well, I guess it is, but it seems
like it’s making you sick.” Wrong thing to say.
He shot up from the stool, kicking the big seat back,
and snapped, “You got some ideas, hot shot? You gonna’ tell
me a better way, mister?”
“No,” I said. “I didn’t mean that.”
“I gotta’ pay the bills, man!” he growled. “I gotta’
get some money together right now. My son, he’ll be going
to college someday. My old man never helped me. I ain’t
doing that to my kid. More than anything in the world, I
will be a good husband, and a good father. So what if
it eats my gut out? Man’s gotta’ do what a man’s gotta’ do,
right partner?” he smiled at me with no humor whatsoever,
and then began to make his way to the door, with a bit of a
shaky weave here and there.
“Hey, you okay?” I asked him.
“Yeah, man,” he said in that same low voice. “I’m just
great.” And he was gone. I sat there for the longest time
thinking about him. ‘Cause long ago…I was him.
Like him, I spent so many of my
days trapped in a cold, impersonal prison – spelled
“corporate America” - and not a single one of the “guards”
ever cared whether I lived or died. And just like the young
cowboy…it made me sick. Not for one moment did I consider
every stone and every brick of that lifeless cell I lived in
was created by my own hands. I put every stone in place,
locked the door from the inside, and hid the key in a place
I would never think to look…inside me.
At first glance, we might feel
sympathetic to this young fellow’s plight. It may seem that
he – through no fault of his own – is trapped by duty
and obligation to his family. But a bit of investigation
reveals a deeper story. First, it’s very unlikely that his
wife – who loves him – really wants him to be miserable and
drink himself to death at an early age.
Secondly, while it sounds very noble that he’s doing all
this for his son’s “college education,” turns out his son is
three years old! Even if he does work all his adult
life to help his son, what if the son turns out to be an
irresponsible doper? Or perhaps the kid may be so
brilliant, he won’t need any financial assistance to attend
college because his brains will afford him a free ride on
What should he do? Leave his loved ones? Of course
not. But the real truth is…he’s not as powerless as he
thinks! He could go talk to someone. Men hate to do
that of course. Men think that’s a sign of weakness. Maybe
it is, but isn’t living your life in misery even weaker? He
could go talk to someone who might tell him, “It ain’t
them. It’s you!” That would really make him mad, now
wouldn’t it? They say the truth will set you free. They
rarely mention that at first… it will also make you really
I asked on old preacher once, “Why are they doing this
“They are not,” he said. “You are!” Really
made me mad.
Bronc really made me mad once. For some time, I had
been telling him about Shine’s problems. At last he
turned and looked me right in the running lights, and said,
“It’s not the horse. It’s you! It’s never the
horse. It’s always us!” Really made me mad.
Problem was…Bronc and the old preacher were right.
I sensed the young man was
angry with me because I couldn’t tell him the “answer.” No
one can tell us that. But there are some things taught to
me by others much farther down the path that do help…
First step is to define what you want! You
can’t hit a target you can’t see. Write down what you would
do for free. Risk some time in your life trying to figure
out what you want, then how to get someone to pay you for
doing that. Impossible? People do it every day. Some
people step off into the void with only a prayer to cross
the chasm – and they make it to the other side.
Secondly, work on people skills! That’s the big
secret. ‘Nuff said.
Learn what failure is! By far, the best teacher we
can have. Don’t be afraid of it. Open your arms and
Have faith! This guy is not nearly as stupid as
he thinks he is. He’s young and bright, and the real truth
is he can do any number of things. But he ain’t never gonna’
do them sittin’ in that cubicle.
It’s like my man, “Fats” said…
“Ain’t that a
You’re the one to blame.”
-- Fats Domino
Ed. Note – Michael Johnson’s Healing Shine – A
Spiritual Assignment was named “Best Audio Book” of the
2007 Hollywood Book Festival, and “First Runner-Up” at the
2007 New York Book Festival. Read more of the author’s
seven-year spiritual journey with the great – but severely
troubled - roping horse called Shine at
Michael's latest release,
Reflections Of A Cowboy, is currently available in audio
book form. The two volume set consists of articles, essays
and excerpts from radio performances about good people and
good horses in the life of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately
8 hours in length. Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form
is scheduled for release in the summer of 2005. Order from