In Helping Others, I Help Myself—so Why Don’t I Feel Better?


Forty-two Miles to Nowhere.

I watch him walking west all day with more baggage than anyone who is used to walking ever carries.

East. West. East. West.

Each time I pass him, he has made it only a little farther and my day is made longer as I begin to share his torment.

A mile, then a stop to rest. Then another mile. Another rest.

He is determined. Not waiting around for help like those who spend the day with illegible signs proclaiming blessings of gods and spiteful humor.

He’s helping himself. That makes me want to help.

Finally, my day ends. I oil my bike and fill the tires. I check the rack and make sure I have the bags handy. I wish I had my strong backpack with me. It is in storage now, collecting dust and letting the memory of miles fade.

I stop for food and water and gas and I head down the road.

Ten miles even. In the eleven hours I spent watching his snail pace and his exertion, painfully recalling my own journey, he has made it 10 miles.

My intended gift is useless. He is too old for the bike. I scold myself for being relieved that I can keep it.

He makes only a small effort to rise as I come to a stop, reserving his energy should he need it to fight or flee. His life shows in his face. His clothes—someone else’s—do not fit.

“Where you heading?”

The question escapes before I can stop it. His destination was decided years ago by some mistake or the coding in his genes or the vicious humor of an absent deity. He has been on the path so long that any answer holds as much meaning as the reason for the journey.

“Montana,” he says. The next state.

“I’ll take you to Beach.” The last town in North Dakota. It is 42 miles. Nowhere.

I make room in the van, load his bags which include a half-filled sack of empty cans—travelling money.-

Once in the van, I offer him the food and he eats in silence. His slow consumption fills me with gratitude for what is so easy to take for granted, and a distaste for my own fortune, slim as it is.

We arrive in Beach. I give him the cash I got from the ATM, wishing it was more and knowing it could never be enough, and in our longest conversation I wish him good luck. “Thanks, I need it,” he says.

Don’t we all.

I get in the van and turn it back toward home.

It moves easier. Seems lighter. As if saying, “Yes, he is your brother. He is heavy.”

I tell my son what I have done, hoping to feel good about it. He says, “Well you did a good thing dad.” I feel no better.

I try to convince myself I do these things because they are the right thing to do, but maybe I just do them to make up for other things I have done. Or as an offering to those vicious deities so I don’t have to face the same fate.

I don’t know.

I help because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s more than that.

In helping others, I help myself. I make my own life better. I remind myself that I am not alone. Not ever. That I am part of a large family. And, in helping, I hope that those I aid know these things too.

None of that really makes me feel better as I recall the look on his face—the quiet desperation, the resignation—but it does bring a sense of purpose and balance.

In some ways, that makes it worse. It makes it about me.

I have a lot to learn yet.

I stop at the lake on the way back home and let Brown Dog play in the water. He is young again, the eternal pup. He splashes and jumps and runs and he takes my thoughts and tumbles them in the grass with his wet fur.

Then he lays his wet body next to me and insists on licking and nuzzling me, and I am grateful for his simple, clear message, “You are loved.”


Author: J.M. Greff
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

As published in Elephant Journal

Zen for Breakfast


Morning declares itself with a triumphant blinding glare
That fills my room and declares
“Rise, fool!”
“I wait for no one!”
I struggle briefly to untangle myself from the cacoon of blankets
That threaten to submerge me
Then with three deep breaths
Lift myself
And stumble upwards
Being careful to not fall
And loosely remake what will later today
Envelop me with solace

Blurred eyes are washed with cold water drawn from an icy depth
To reveal a man I hardly recognize
The years
Though kind, or kindly at least
Disguise the man that lives within this vessel of flesh and blood and bone
But can not hide
A pause with closed eyes then open
The Looker sees
The Light revealed
Is younger now than yesterday
Tomorrow younger still
Though the form that holds it moves faithlessly ever forward

The kettles scream, silenced long ago to a whimper
Announces the progression of space and time
A clock of sorts
That tracks the morning
That becomes the rich black syrup that warms and awakens
And prepares me for the day
I sit and wonder
Elate and somber
What infinite wisdom could make me so
The timeless Light that lives within
The suit of flesh that ever changes
And the coffee that fuels those thought
Consumed by both
Reminds me
They are One


as published in Elephant Journal

I Will love You Like the Storm

You say that you love the rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains.
You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines.
You say that you love the wind, but you close your windows when wind blows.
This is why I am afraid; you say that you love me too.
~ Qyazzirah Syeikh Ariffin, I am Afraid


If you have never stood in the pouring rain commanding lightning, thrilled by the electric charge that makes the hairs on your arm stand up, joyously welcoming the mix of ether and ozone that shortens your breath and quickens your pulse—you cannot say you have ever loved a storm.

If you have never stood bare, arms out in grateful reception of the sun’s life-giving and life-taking energy until your skin burned and your sight dimmed and you became the raging fury and heat of a star—you cannot say you have ever loved the sun.

If you have never stood on the highest point you could find, exposed to the howling wind that threatened to carry you as it screamed its furious emotions in a voice so loud it deafens and numbs as it tears through your very soul—you cannot say you have ever loved the wind.

If you have never stood in complete and total awe and wonder of the one who receives and returns your affection and attention,
and yes,
your worship,
with heart and soul open and inviting,
ready to face the storm,
willing to burn,
able to withstand the wind
with unfettered courage and faith and joy and gratitude,
or have never
been fierce enough
to be
as gentle
as a warm rain
on a cool,
windless day,
then you cannot say you have ever truly loved at all.

I will do all of this and more.
So much more.
My love is the blazing sun,
the howling wind,
the freezing blizzard,
the devouring sands,
the falling mountains,
the raging sea,
the gentle breeze,
the cool pond,
the warm rain,
the spring day,

My love is the storm.
Do not be afraid.



Author: J.M. Greff 
Image: Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron

As published on Elephant Journal

I am


I am stillness


Like sand that drops against a dead wind
I leave no trace of direction

I am a leaf that falls without interruption
Water that flows without a single ripple
A snowflake that sinks silently without twisting and dancing
I am the darkness
A silent and solid void
Without end

I am the light
In the absence of matter
Without beginning

I am as sensless
and formless
as time

I Am

Satisfaction in an empty soul


Tomorrow I will be the mistake
Happy not to have been made
And it will change nothing

Is this my lot?
Is this your great plan for me?
The eternal mistake?
The passing phase?
Passed over?


If this is who I am
Who I am meant to be
Then take from me Faith and Hope
Fill my heart with Apathy
Remove from me Desire

Or let me rejoice in Anguish
Find peace in Chaos
And satisfaction in an empty soul

You’re one of us


Nod in agreement
Pat on the back
You’ve made it
One of us
Youre in
Passed the bar
Have a drink
Or three or four
Cry into your pillow
Bills unpaid
Debt accumulation
Endless payments
On status cars
And too much house
Beat on the wall
All night fights
With spouse and children
And Self
You’ve made it
Youre one of us



Raven born to a sparrows nest

An uninvited Judas guest
Pain full

Icy folds seek the warmth of flesh
And shelter from this dream gone wrong

More than he is
And something less
Neither damned
Nor is he blessed

He simply does not belong

He raises just one filthy fist
The other holds tight to what’s not his
And stands ready once to make his flight
Then falters


And falls


Image by S. Mash