FEEL YOUR EYES

By John Thomas Tuft

To be perfectly honest, I get most of my theology from Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, and my philosophical worldview from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. (Which more than likely explains the chosen title, above.)  And for music, I listen to everything from Crosby, Stills and Nash, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, Tim McGraw, Cat Stevens, CCR (if you have to ask…), Dierks Bentley, Kruger Brothers, Goo Goo Dolls, Sting, U2, to R.E.M., Michael Franti, Cardi B, Five for Fighting (ask a Pittsburgh Penguins fan) and the soundtrack from the first Transformers movie with Green Day, the Fray, Hoobastank, and all points in between. As I write this I’m drinking a tall glass of Coke over a lot of ice and fantasizing about the ice cream calling to me from the freezer at 11:46am on Friday the 13th.  To my right are unpacked boxes of well, papers I think, and my email is filled with offers to show me the magic way to sell tons and tons of copies of my novel, THE HEALER. Along with miraculous software programs to practically “write the next one for you!” Um, thanks but no thanks.

I just watched, for the fourth time, the documentary about Fred Rogers and I’ll admit it, I cry every time.  Every time.  The release of the Tom Hanks movie this Thanksgiving is on my ‘must see’ list.  I truly believe that every one of us is in some form a wounded warrior. And that we can use that to become angels of mercy. And that we all have within us an active account of divinity that only grows larger the more we draw it down.  Last evening it was my privilege to sit around a table at a local book club. I’m sure that none of the six women there was aware of how much they were revealing of themselves to anyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see. I’m not sure that they could feel my ‘writer’s’ eyes on them, but I was deeply amazed.  The bits and pieces of their own lives they revealed as they talked about the book (no, not mine) made me wonder if they were aware that each of them is a gifted diarist, writing a moving memoir, a captivating novel in all the details of what to them are their everyday lives. They are amazing human beings. All eyes on them should be kind ones.

Recently the first reviews of my book started to arrive in my inbox.  So far, I’m the “worthy successor to Frederick Buechner” and “like Dan Brown, Tuft sets a fantastical tale in real places with real people.” High praise indeed. Not to mention, “Tuft raises provocative questions about the history of religion and the ebb and flow of human spirituality,” whatever that means. I’m not complaining, believe you me, as my mother would say. Hey, HBO and Netflix are looking at THE HEALER as a possible series.  Who knows.  Sounds like it could be fun.  Seriously, I’m not being nonchalant or playing Harry Humble (ask my brothers and sisters about that one).  Recently a public relations firm called.  “Mr. Tuft,” (that’s at least better than Rev. Tuft—don’t get me started!) “Mr. Tuft, your ‘Words are magic…’ go to over a million readers nowadays. Let us make you famous.”  Sigh.  In a word, “No. I’m just saying thank you.”  Then the kicker. “We want to portray you as America’s Minister.” Oh, God help me. Make it stop! But of course, they don’t.  “You could go on television and radio and tell what people talk about to their minister.” Uh, I don’t think so.  “That would be better than being the face of America’s opioid problem.  Don’t you want to make a lot of money?”

And I think back to two days ago.  I’m having lunch back with my friends.  The ones who watched and waited with me, to throw in a biblical reference.  The ones parked in facilities by their families, by society, as their minds and bodies wear down and fade away.  I’ve walked in their shoes.  They were patient with me as I slowly regained my sensibilities, my personality, my self-respect, my calling to tell stories.  The veteran with a wheelchair and electric cart parked in the hallway who takes stunning photographs. The retired nurse who spent her life taking care of others–her husband with Alzheimer’s, obnoxiously needy mother in law, and countless others–only to be felled by a stroke and the relentless march of heart failure and is now a dear, dear friend.  The retired clerk a refugee from assisted living with no family left, no friends, not enough money to stay there much longer and then what?  And my ever so beloved Ginny, 91, who no longer remembers my name yet greets me with such a smile and look of delight, whose every bone I can feel as we wrap each other in a hug.  I feel your eyes, my dear friends.  I feel your eyes.

I’m sobbing as I write these words.  What strange, fierce grace has brought me to this place?  The public relations people are waiting.  Summoning my best preacher’s diction, my most Jesus-like sentiments, I respond.  “Lots of money?  Hell, no. Oh… hell… no.  If that’s what this is about, find somebody else.”

So, my beloved reader, the Coke is drained, and the ice cream beckons. I invite you to say it with me: Words are magic, and writers are wizards.