angPhoto by M2 Photography

  • It’s 12:52 a.m. on a Thursday morning. It’s raining. And I can hear a drunk singing some Eric Clapton song karaoke at the bar on my block. For some reason, all I can think about is that I love my wife, and how much her and I love the rain. I have always been pretty good with words, but always fall short when trying to describe my love for her. Now another lush is singing “hit me with your best shot” by Pat Benatar. Dear God.
  • A brick building sits directly across the street from our apartment; this building is very old. Almost every time I look at it, I spot this one brick. It stands out because it’s a few shades lighter than the other bricks around it. It has been set there, for at least a century, surrounded by mortar and thousands of other bricks. I imagine for a moment that if this one brick were removed, the entire structure would collapse into its own footprint, poof.
  • I hate clichés. To be honest, engaging in small talk generally annoys me. Saying things that everyone says every day just gets under my skin. People ask the normal questions, “How’s married life?” or “What kind of job can you get with that degree?” and they sound like robots. There is an unmistakable and wry redundancy in their tone, almost as if they are mocking me. Sometimes I just want to scream, or do something bizarre like strip naked and run away with my hands waving in the air, like a monkey. Would that get my message across? Maybe I think I am better than people, or above normal conversation. Or maybe the whole thing just bores me.
  • When I write a card to my wife and am tempted to scribble “I am so glad I married you” or “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you”, or quote some cheesy love song, I cringe. Then, I usually end up writing it anyway. Isn’t there a better way? Aren’t I creative enough to be honest, and original at the same time?
  • I feel for my wife, what I feel when I hear the rain start to fall: joy. It happens to be her middle name, Andrea Joy. It is a deep joy that I feel, sturdy, one with grip, with power. It’s a joy that changes me. Whether I am happy, or just having a normal day, or even if I have totally shut down after a horrible night at work, rain brings me back. The rain wakes me, sobers me up; it centers me.
  • I pray to God that my love for my wife will be like that little brick in the building. A century of humble support in one puny cube of fired clay. Maybe only one in a million glance and notice it, but the fidelity, the dependability, is present every minute, noticed or not. The brick just shows up; it’s there. And every minute of every day and night, it does its job rain or shine; just a brick, in a building, a century old.

© Jeff Caldwell



  • I put my beanie on this morning and the smell of the earth, of leaves, trees, smoke and fire completely took over my life, just for a moment. It made me happy sad. I have just come home from a camping trip, which for me means an intense and complex experience filled with a deep fear, and an even deeper love. I love sleeping outdoors, but I have developed a clinical fear of being attacked by a bear, after I had an encounter with one a few years back. This chicken-egg relationship between an immense fear of death and overwhelming love for life follows me like a shadow, ever since. My doctor thinks I have general anxiety disorder. I’m dubious.
  • Almost every day I look at the clock at exactly 12:34. It happens so often; it’s almost starting to bother me. It could just be an unthinkably improbable coincidence; it could mean something deeper. The mystical side of me leans towards the latter. Maybe it means I am blessed, or maybe, I’m cursed: blessed with an abundant dose of respect for life, or cursed with an unflinching fear of losing it. And just like that, this possibility hits me with a cold fist; this storm of deep mixed emotion could forever circle above my heart with a bitter constancy.
  • There is a nature trail near my house. On it there is a section that runs straight with an obnoxious amount of wild brush and bodies of water on both sides, like an aisle decorated for a beautiful bride. If you are there at just the right time in the morning, the sun shoots through one side of the leaves like a line drive, unleashing light, with every leaf becoming a little lampshade. For just this one second, this trail looks like it could be the gates of heaven; humble, small, and bewitching in the simplest way.
  • A homeless man sleeps under a pavilion at the beginning of my morning path. I can never truly see him because he’s always wrapped up so tight in his dusty cotton cocoon. Under layers of clothes, a hat, and a huge blanket he just lays there perfectly still and snug. This morning I brought him some coffee and pumpkin bread, not at all out of a sense of societal duty or compassion, just because. I approached and said, “Excuse me”. After a quick rustle, he poked only the circumference of his face out of the tiers of fabric and said nothing, just looked at me like he had just woke up. “I brought you some coffee and bread if you’re hungry” I said. For some odd reason, what happened next blew me away. He said “Oh, thank you” in the most shockingly cheery and pedestrian way, as if we had been friends for decades, and I was helping him out with a project around his home.
  • I wondered as I walked away, “what if this man was an angel?” Maybe he came to this earth only to see such a wayward humanity that has wandered so far from love, and he just couldn’t take it. So now he just sleeps on this bench and waits for God to call him back home. Maybe he is sitting on that bench, drinking the coffee and thinking that I am the angel. What if we are all called to treat each other as prospective angels, helping each other get by in this hopeless world that is so dark, cruel.
  • On the walk this morning, I also saw an eagle. She would only poke her tiny head out, as if to say a very slight and cautious “good morning”. Her nest looked big enough for a human child to live comfortably, like something out of Neverland. I also saw a string of spider web so thick and strong it was suspending a small branch in mid air; this branch looked as if it was floating on its own, free from gravity, free from physics. In these moments, nature spoke to me; actually, she screamed. She spoke like God speaks, not audibly, but so profoundly clear and in a way you could never forget. The message sunk to the bottom of me, like a smell in a house one hundred years old. And today, the message was, “live”.

© Jeff Caldwell

All On A Bike Ride To Work


  • Sometimes I feel like I see life in pictures and songs. Almost as if the image is more real or significant than the person snapping the shot or the moment in which it all happens. I walk, gaze, stare… and a song appears; it floats around my thoughts, sometimes plaguing my mind for days, covering every minute like a blanket.
  • My grandfather is dying. What a terrifying, somewhat alleviating realization; he’s suffering. The man who taught me to ice skate, build a fire, grill a burger, sail a boat, will never meet my children. I break. Anyway, I saw a man walking home from the drug store today. He looked worn, like old leather. He oozed an established loneliness all over his face. He looked like someone who will die alone, every bridge burned. Every person who would think about attending his funeral would think again; maybe the type of person the song “Eleanor Rigby” was about. At least my grandfather is loved and well accompanied.
  • In a perfect world, my friends wouldn’t betray me, I wouldn’t get jumped or have my bike stolen, I wouldn’t have to half-begrudgingly ride my bike to work; I would fly, anywhere, anytime. In a perfect world my grandfather would live forever. And I could eat his world-famous hot cakes every morning for breakfast at his house on the lake and laugh as he covers his plate with his hands, making fun of me for always wanting more of his flapjacks.
  • All these thoughts, all on a bike ride to work. For some reason, this ride is different than any other. It’s slower, with intention, purpose. Like restfully peddling this cycle could be the last thing I do. Like I was the one dying. I don’t believe we should live like we are dying. It would be irresponsible, selfish, chaotic. Maybe we should live in full recognition that others are dying and we can honor them by being present, being so profoundly aware of every precious, horrifyingly real moment of our time here. Maybe I just love my gramps.
  • At work, later on, I scribble a prophetic and troubling prayer on one of the papers I take peoples’ orders at work. I pray that my grandfather’s death signifies a deeper ending. An end to a long family history of addiction. The abuses are of all scale, shape, form and the list is lengthy, and varied: food, illicit drugs, sex, cigarettes, alcohol, prescribed medication. Even certain kinds of less-acknowledged relational addictions like an anxious obsession with the opinions others may have of you or a paranoid need for a dating situation. Addictions that are slowly and painfully killing the rest of my family. I pray his death allots us the grace and power to let go of unfinished business, oppressive regrets. The power to stop, and the grace to never do it again; Power to give up our guns, and the grace to surrender.

©  Jeff Caldwell

A Prayer on Humility

J&A Portraits 163

“For one look at self, we ought to taken ten looks at Christ” – Adolph Saphir

“It is the horror of one’s sins that turns him to Christ” – Dorothy Day



Humility with deep roots,

That assumes you could always learn from another person or group

A humility to admit “I have a problem” and “I need help”

A humility that shifts the spotlight away from others,

To shine into his own dark heart

A humility that doesn’t begrudgingly wish others would also be more humble

A humility that is infused with compassion

Even for those who are the most challenging for you to love

A humility that can transform a cold glare into a warm gaze, in just a moment

A humility void of blame-shifting, finger-pointing,

One that resists anonymous whispers behind proud hands

A humility that helps one know his limits

A humility that truly comes to terms with the possibility

That the other person may be right, and I may be wrong

Humility that accepts rejection,

And forgives when the person doesn’t  ask for forgiveness

Or when they don’t even know they have hurt you

Humility that is scarce as the rarest of stones,

And has the power and constancy of a river

A humility that is not afraid to weep

A humility that is quick to repent,

Slow to insist

A humility that’s contagious

That bows down, folds, breaks you,

But only in love and always for another

A humility that truly listens

That studies the other persons words, tone, body language, like a text book

Yearning inside, only to understand

Humility that apologizes

Humility that blesses someone

But never for acknowledgment or enrichment,

A humility that is secretly awesome



I am a troubled man

A man of pride,

Intoxicated on self

In desperate need of a humility like this.

God help me

© Jeff Caldwell


Understanding Underdog

The Underdog Lady is an interpretive dancer from New Jersey and mostly performs in local parades and public events. She is most famous for her unfortunate appearance on one of Howard Stern’s “talent shows.” This is one of my first college essays ever. Written in 2008, I was fascinated with the Underdog Lady and felt like she deserved an essay. Check out the trailer for her movie above.

Understanding Underdog

Americans use words all day. We talk constantly and have an opinion on everything. But it seems when we meet the Underdog Lady, we can’t really say much of anything. We can only stare in disbelief, and then look around the room smiling and try to understand what everyone else thinks they want to say. This is because one cannot say, through honest reasoning, there is a single word known that could accurately describe what you see and hear. We have finally run out of words. If the world would try to understand, examine an obvious society vs. underdog lady, and then ask “why,” we may be speechless, but will never be the same with God or humans. But what is “the same?”
She was born in Camden, NJ and developed her passion for stage as early as six. From the beginning she appears to display the most bizarre cross between a gay man screaming to get out and, a woman who talks like a Sunday school teacher bent on crack cocaine. Her face, more so during the time she introduced us to underdog, clearly depicts the impossibility of distinguishing the difference between a man and a woman. She could live a normal life, but for some reason that we will never know, she must be a superstar. She takes form of several characters but is most famous for her blurry impersonation of the cartoon character “underdog.” She was invited to appear on “The Howard Stern Show” as a contestant displaying a talent soon after resurrecting underdog, hoping to clear up the cartoon’s reputation. This is where she met infamy who would remain her most loyal companion. Through blogs, dances, and guest appearances anywhere and everywhere, her child-like innocence brings you into the closest parts of her heart.
Initially, underdog lady does turn people off in some unexplainable way. She is not a junkie, has never proved to be any bit violent, and goes tremendously out of her way to help and entertain people like you and I in our area. It’s not that we are offended; it is simply that underdog lady is not like us, and deep down she scares us. Many of us walk through malls and streets with a barefoot mentality forcing ourselves to ignore the society that negatively affects our hearts and minds. Our aspirations are as paper-thin as the life size posters that kill our dreams. Maybe this scares the underdog lady. Anyway, the realness inside the underdog lady suggests that it is everyone else that’s alive that is is simply prosthetic. She speaks because she feels, not to impress or be understood. The underdog lady takes us to a far away land and in this land we don’t need to be accepted or liked, for we just need to shine. The passion inside of the underdog lady has carried her to nationwide exposure. Although her heart may be centered, the ridicule she has adopted from society is in the “opposite corner of the ring” to the brute heckle that Jesus Christ experienced. If you choose to not immediately label her a crack baby, and understand that she is not a schizophrenic illusion to the entire world, you’re forced to question everything you know about people and life.
People want to understand things they see and hear. They want history and future to meet romantically and explain today’s world. And the fact that underdog lady is alive and well in the world today denies our desire for omniscience. A reader can try to unpack the mysteries of underdog lady and attempt to answer “why?” The amount of her words directed towards being a “winner” or a “loser” sends up a flag immediately but again, you have not one word, even for the flag. There seems to be a battle within her between a gloomy version of the American dream and an ideal of personal success and accomplishment. Inside of her head she dwells in a separate mindset where there only exssists celebrities, and nobodies who are entertained by the celebrities. You either live a life that pursues meaning or, you “fade out and die in the mediocrity” as she says. Again, she has to be a celebrity, and the depth to this truth hides deep in an endless closet somewhere.
Only the most creative brains in the world can escape the need to understand this woman after only a few minutes of watching. You are simply amazed. Those who believe in any sort of supernatural and unseen realm surrounding us must admit that she is more likely to be closer connected to any world that is outside of ours. Religious ones who have been exposed to her must wonder if she is indeed a glitch in “God’s” (or whatever you call him)’s creative history. On the other hand, her life could remain as just some book you picked up off of the shelf at a store because it caught your eye. But if you don’t put it down and walk away, and you dare to read, your life will change forever. A lesson from the underdog lady can be learned. We must rise, and we must shine.

© Jeff Caldwell