Author: Michael Brown

Varying degrees of difficulty

Imagine a gymnast nails her floor routine. She performs it beautifully and without so much as a single bobble as she sticks her landing. She wears tape on her left ankle because of an injury suffered at the end of the uneven bars, but it holds, fulfilling its purpose.

But her routine is less risky, or in gymnastics terms, has “a lower degree of difficulty.” The audience rewards her with loud and appreciative applause, especially in light of her injury, but many recognize it as a routine that could have been performed as perfectly by any one of several outstanding gymnasts at the meet.… Read the rest

This Thanksgiving, Covid’s “not dead!” yet, but neither am I.

A persistent Covid infection to usher in your 62nd birthday and Thanksgiving is a fine howdy-do, ain’t it?

Fresh off my 6th vaccination, and just when I thought it was safe to “move about the country” unmasked in an airplane, Covid reared its ugly head in me for apparently the first time since the start of the 2020 pandemic.

It is an ill-timed holiday visitor, like a microscopic Cousin Eddie arriving extra early in his dilapidated, rust-pocked, smoke-belching 1973 Ford Condor II RV and backing into my driveway while taking out the mailbox and dumping his septic tank in the process.… Read the rest

A Eulogy for Ethan Patrick Gentry, 3/2/99-10/3/23

Ethan Patrick Gentry was born on March 2nd, 1999, and died on October 3rd, 2023. During his 24-plus years, Ethan packed in more fun, adventure, loving, and learning than many do in 80. He was the perfect illustration of the old saying, “It’s not the years in the life, but the life in the years that matters most.”

Ethan was a son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, and loyal friend to many who are here today. Out there, in the wide, wide world, there are thousands more who knew of him, and they all called out his name.

Ethan was blond, short, and skinny.… Read the rest

Inclusive rehearsal dinner prayer following many funerals

“Great Creator, we offer our gratitude for this moment we are in—and for life itself. Love is all around us tonight. A & Z are its source and center, and our eyes are drawn toward them.

“May Z & A receive courage, comfort, and strength as they pledge their love and commitment to each other. May the rest of us promise to assist and encircle them whenever they need us. Help us to renew our own vows of the heart, whatever they may be.

“By faith, we hold to the hope we are surrounded and supported by ‘a great cloud of witnesses’ who have lived, loved, and died before us.… Read the rest

“Broken hallelujah,” Part 2

Part 2 of my recounting of my sister Melanie Kay Brown Gentry‘s memorial service at the Roanoke (Virginia) Church of Christ on November 12, 2022. Part 1 can be found here.

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“I love the Progressive Insurance commercials where Dr. Rick advises young homeowners on how ‘not to become like their parents.’ I shouldn’t, because I am the parent, but I do.

There is one in particular: a young homeowner, who looks a lot like me, proudly holds up a ‘website’ he’s printed from his computer. Dr. Rick coolly replies, ‘We don’t need to print the internet.’

“Well, thank goodness my sister A.… Read the rest

“Broken hallelujah,” Part 1

The walls of the Roanoke Church of Christ are saturated with so much song and scripture that beads of moisture resembling pearls of great price seem to flow down them like the tears of the many faces who have passed through her threshold seeking shelter and higher ground only to find there no places in this world ultimately watertight or safe. If they could speak, they would tell tales of sinners whose souls were both won and lost, epic pulpit battles over the “least jot and tittle,” deep betrayals and unlikely reconciliations, and people—so many people—dying way too young.

A man remembers four babies sitting in the laps of their mothers in the church nursery in the fall of 1971, one his own daughter.… Read the rest

Blessed be the tie that binds—but please remind me how

I didn’t learn to tie a necktie until I was 18 years old. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t still wearing a clip-on. Likely, I never wore one at all.

As a late 1970s teenage preppy, my standard “school uniform” consisted of Levi’s and colorful button-down oxfords—open collar—topped off with either my varsity letter jacket or my prized herringbone gray Harris Tweed blazer with the black suede elbow patches. A pair of Nike Cortez or Adidas Superstars on one end and a wool flat cap on the other completed my “Harvard, here I come!” ensemble.

A “special occasion” other than Senior Prom or Homecoming first drove me to a mirror to tie my own: my father’s funeral.… Read the rest

I have the means, and I will do what I want

“Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em” can mean “Do what you want, if you have the means.”

In the South, the phrase can have a different meaning, referencing instead the tradition of the winner of what was once the most heated football rivalry game in these parts, The University of Tennessee Volunteers versus the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, smoking a victory cigar on “The Third Saturday of October.”

I say “what was once” because the game had almost lost its relevance, with the Crimson Tide winning 15 straight games under the reign of the one who everyone in the world who is not an Alabama fan considers The Dark Lord Saban.… Read the rest

Eyes on Norah Jones

You probably didn’t hear about in on the news or social media, but Norah Jones got lost Friday night. 

Not Norah Jones the jazzy, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, although that is who this off-course and drifting NJ is named after.

This NJ is a hoary, miniscule canine furball of uncertain provenance who is at least half blind and almost completely deaf. She belongs to Number 2 son and his girlfriend N. who rescued her several years ago and have been re-rescuing her ever since.

They’ve gone to great lengths to keep her as healthy and happy as possible despite her apparent granulomatous meningoencephalomyelitis (GMC), a progressive inflammatory disease which attacks her central nervous system and affects her motor control.… Read the rest

Thinking and grieving at the same time

I almost posted this as a comment on a friend’s Facebook post on the Uvalde, Texas shooting after my wife left a comment on it.

But it turned out too long, and I felt leaving it could be construed as an attempt to hijack the thread, so I decided to post it here. It’s not the final word on mass shootings by any stretch, just matters to think about. My wife and I are the parents of a police officer, and when horrific events occur, we think of him and grieve for both the victims and their families and the first responders, both of us dying in spirit, piece by piece, each time.… Read the rest

How to almost “miss the boat”

miss the boat

INFORMAL: to be too slow to take advantage of an opportunity

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You begin by failing to note today’s “Back on Board” (BoB) time is 3:00 pm, a full two hours earlier than usual. The reason for the change in schedule is the ship’s captain must sail farther that night to reach the next destination, the village of Flåm, which is located deep inside the Sognefjorden, the largest and deepest fjord in Norway, and about 239 nautical miles from your current location in Stavanger.

That is the why the cruise director puts so much emphasis on the altered BoB time in the morning announcement piped into the ship’s hallways, but notably, not into the staterooms themselves.… Read the rest

Three millimeters of spit a day is a small price to pay

The weather on our Rhine cruise has been mostly sunny and pleasant with only a couple days of overcast skies and rain. But there is a cloud that has hovered over our boat during the passage from Basel to Amsterdam and threatened to block the sun even when it has been shining—COVID-19.

To cruise in Europe this spring, especially through the viral gauntlet that is currently Germany, is an exercise of “being present,” of focusing on the magic of the moment while holding at bay the palpable possibility and lingering dread of being marked “Unclean!” and cast off the boat at any second.… Read the rest

Ladenschlussgesetz

On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.

–Codex Justinianus, lib. 3, tit. 12, 3

For the first time on our trip, the weather was less than ideal, with rain and temperatures in the low fifties. Nevertheless, we started out on our short stroll through Speyer, Germany, a small town of about 50,000 inhabitants on the west bank of the river Rhine laced with a network of cobblestone streets and whose visible horizon is dominated by a cathedral which serves as the final resting place of eight Holy Roman Emperors and German kings.… Read the rest

Chasing after the sun

I woke up at 1:50 am CDT today, several hours ahead of schedule. If this had been any other day, I would have been irritated and fumbling through the kitchen cabinet in search of a pill to help me go back to sleep.

But this is not any other day, and I immediately sensed both the advantage and the perfect metaphor. I am a mechanical watch with a hacking function, and an unseen force has lifted my crown and stopped my sweep-second hand in the 12 o’clock position. It turns my head clockwise, and my hour hand jumps forward and syncs with the place where we are going.… Read the rest

“You’re not the Michael Brown we’re looking for.”

(Originally published May 12, 2010; edited and republished September 6, 2020)


As she thumbed through our passports with her practiced fingers and keyed the necessary data into her computer at Miami International Airport, the pleasant, Latina U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer was all smiles, the perfect blend of professionalism and “welcome home, cherished and valued citizen” hospitality.

I was looking directly at her when she came to my name and her face suddenly darkened. She knitted her brow and tapped a few more times on her keyboard, double-checking, perhaps hoping to stem the flow of bad news that was appearing on her screen.Read the rest