This is it. The final blog article I will write from as a Nashville resident. It’s Sunday morning, May 18, 2014. In a few hours, my daughter and I will point my bedraggled Yukon northeast and begin the trek to our new life. It is bittersweet in many ways and certainly not what I envisioned for myself or for her.
It ended as it has ended virtually every night for the past six years, with me tucking myself into a foam “bed” in the back of my truck. It began as it has for most of those same six years...with roosters crowing, and the sun just beginning to make itself known over the hills just east of where I parked. The kind of thing you’d enjoy if it happened for seven days while you were vacationing in the country. But not the kind of thing you love if you’re sleeping in a truck, and the first thought in your head when the rooster crows at 4:15 is “Is my daughter okay?”
It will end in a motel room, probably somewhere around Bristol, TN and tomorrow the journey will conclude at our new home.
Home. Just typing the word makes me teary-eyed. Thinking of how I’m going to cook breakfast for my daughter again. How my kitchen is going to smell like my grandmother’s “red gravy” by this time next week. How I won’t be at the mercy of public rest rooms or showers at the gym. How I’m finally going to dislodge this chip from my shoulder and maybe be the happy-go-lucky guy I was before. Before divorce, single-fatherhood, business catastrophe, and extended homelessness ripped it from my heart.
I’m going to be nice again.
This brings me to my main topic.
Thursday evening I had dinner with the very last person in Nashville that anyone who knows me would ever suspect me having dinner with. It’s so shocking as to be scandalous.
I had dinner with Dave Ramsey.
I’ll give you a moment to regain your wits. Have a seat if you need to.
It happened like this...
In September, I started a Twitter account to parody / mock Dave. I won’t give the name here, because I have deactivated it. Why did I do this? Dave asked me the same thing. To be honest I couldn’t remember the exact reason at the moment he asked me. But after a day or two of thinking about it, I remembered. It happened right after someone I had recently met, and was doing a little carpentry job for, someone who once worked for Dave, attacked me viciously for my situation.
During the time I was working on this person’s house, I was also about 5 weeks into what would become a ten-week application process for a mortgage job. It was – seemingly- the perfect job for me at the perfect time. It was a great company with a federal charter, and I had a trove of friends in the real estate business who had been begging me for years to re-enter the mortgage industry. Earlier that summer, I had lost one mortgage job when the company who hired me on a Friday, notified me by the following Thursday, that they were freezing hiring because of Obama care. That hurt me badly. I had permitted myself to hope again and in one weeks time, hope was dashed.
So in August, this new company came calling. By early September, the process was dragging out and I was getting suspicious. After ten weeks, I was informed that they were not going to offer me the job. I was broken. My daughter and I had planned out a move to a nice little apartment in Franklin, a change of high school for her, and her living with me. Once again, I had to tell her that something happened to the promise and our plans were thwarted. I have broken her heart so many times with things like this happening that she came to accept it. She knew it wasn’t my fault or my doing, but it hurt her nonetheless. Right about that time, I posted something on Facebook about how much this hurt and how hopeless I was becoming. That’s where the former Ramsey employee came in...and where my anger toward Dave was born.
This person responded...on Facebook...that I was merely lazy, I didn’t want to work, there were plenty of jobs out there, and then she recounted to me, at length, about her struggles and her difficulties and her life. (Which was difficult, but nowhere near the same as what I was enduring. She was cold, heartless, cutting, rude, and –because she did it right in the open on Facebook- humiliating.
As so often happens with these people, she seasoned her barrage with “Dave-isms,” things Dave is known for saying daily on his show and often in his speaking and writing. I’ve endured this before, this attack of Dave wannabes who think that they need to be gigantic jerks about someone else’s misery.
It’s like this: You remember when we were kids and we all pumped our arms in the batters box because we saw Joe Morgan do it? Few of us even know why he did that. He did it to remind himself to keep his outside arm up during his swing. We all did it because we saw him do it. We imitated him. We pumped our little arms so much we looked like we were doing the “Chicken Dance” at an Italian wedding. We all do this. We find a hero, and emulate them too much and become a bad caricature of them instead of being ourselves. Many of Dave’s followers are bad about this. This happened to me and I’d had enough, I was hurting badly, and I saw it as all stemming from Dave himself.
So that afternoon, after blocking this former friend from all contact on FB, I started the previously mentioned Twitter account.
At first it was innocuous parody. Certainly not without offense, but mostly satirical...like if “Mad Magazine” had a Twitter account. But then two more events occurred and blew the thing out of proportion, and ultimately brought us to dinner last Thursday.
The first thing happened in November. Dave posted a list of twenty things the wealthy do that the poor do not do. He did not author the list, but he reposted it on his blog, which –in the blogosphere- means one of two things. You agree with it wholeheartedly, or you think the author is such a drek-spewing cad, that you repost it in mockery. Dave was the former. He took a beating for it and a day or two after he posted it, someone sent it to me on Twitter. It hurt. It hurt and I told him so on my blog. It hurt because, while I understand the nature of the list, this economy has changed the dynamic for many folks. There are a lot of poor folks these days who are poor because of none of the reasons stated on that list. The list felt personal. The list felt like it was aimed specifically at me.
So I went after him on my blog.
A few weeks later, I made myself listen to his show, which I never do. Not because of any personal distaste, but simply because of the timing of it. I’m usually working when he is on and I typically work in silence because trim and finish carpentry requires a lot of thinking. I think better in silence.
Anyway, I heard Dave talking to a few callers and I noticed that it seemed he had softened. When I first got to town, I couldn’t stand the bombast, and to be honest, rudeness. But I didn’t hear that. I heard a guy who was actually trying to help. He was still tough, and still staunch in his beliefs in his system, but he wasn’t out to “make great radio” with every call.
So, I wrote him a letter. I told him of my situation and gave him my personal story and explained to him why that list hurt me so much. I included two of my books, as it was near Christmas time, and I wished him well, and asked him to merely consider that there were some of us out there who had done it right, and yet God had permitted calamity to befall us anyway. I was one of those folks.
My note went unanswered, (it turns out that someone else opened it and apparently Dave never got it) even though I know that someone from his company began reading my blogs almost immediately after I dropped off the package containing the books and the note, at his office. About a week later, he posted an article on his blog, defending his posting of the list. I (wrongly) assumed he had read my letter and chose to ignore it. I assumed he didn’t care. I assumed he was as uncaring and unChristlike as so many others I had encountered along this dark, desert road.
Remember what Benny Hill said about making assumptions? He was right.
For the next several months, I ratcheted up the meanness a little on the twitter. I also got connected to some others who were doing the same thing, but with much more viciousness than I was. Much more.
There is a lot to that part of the story, but I don’t want to give credence to that stuff so I won’t discuss it further. I will simply say that the ugliness attached itself to me and sadly, I permitted it.
These events all brought us to dinner last Thursday evening. A week ago, I got an email from Dave, telling me he’d been reading my postings on twitter and he knew who I was. He also knew that I wasn’t hiding my real identity. He was obviously bothered, but he asked me to meet him and hear his side of things, and maybe work out the perceived differences between us.
I was instantly suspicious, as any good Italian from Philly, (who grew up watching mob stories in real life on the news each night,) would be. But, despite our differences, Dave Ramsey is my brother in Christ, and I am obligated –if I take the Scriptures literally, and I do- to hear a brother with a grievance. So I agreed.
We met Thursday and he brought along his lovely wife Sharon. (Dave...you outkicked your coverage, my friend. She’s a keeper!) He brought along a copy of one of my books, and we laughed at the similarities in our childhoods. He’d really read it, not just dog-eared a few pages to make it look like he’d read it. He was nice. He was just a guy.
Dang-it...I started to like him.
We talked for a long while. We ate dinner and exchanged stories. He asked me about my life, my daughter, my situation. Then...he broke my heart.
At one point –and I knew it was inevitable...this was the purpose for the meeting- Dave leaned back a little and paused. He looked at me and said, “Did we ever meet?” I knew why he was asking this. “No.” I answered with a mild chuckle. “Then...what did I do to you, that you came after me like that?” was his gentle response.
He could have been an attack dog. In fact, he could have just ignored me, or sent a threatening letter, or started a parody account in response to mine, and ripped me to pieces. But he did the Christ-like thing and talked to me. When he asked me “What did I do to you?” he was humble. He really wanted to know. It wasn’t a rhetorical.
It almost made me cry.
I told him, “You never did anything. But six years of this nightmare and one thing was consistent...most of the most horrible, most cutting and damaging things that were hurled at me in the darkest nights came from the lips of those who most loudly proclaimed their adherence to you and your teachings. You were just the focal point for all the anger they made me feel.” Sharon almost finished my sentence for me. She grasped it right away.
I instantly felt awful. The kind of awful that you don’t soon forgive yourself for. Because after all...Dave Ramsey is a man, like everyone else. Words can hurt. Even if you know they aren’t accurate, or even if they’re outright lies...they hurt. They hurt because if you are any sort of decent human being, you wonder why someone would try to hurt you. You can, of course, take the other tact and simply blow it off. “Hey it’s not true, so what do I care?” That might even be the wisest move sometimes. I’ve had to do that. But Paul charged us to do our best to “If possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18)
Dave Ramsey could have just ignored me, but instead he asked me to dinner and then asked me what was wrong. He found out that the roaring lion simply had a thorn in his paw. Some dogs bark because they are mean, some because they are scared, and some because they simply want to remind themselves they are still a dog. That was me.
There was a lot more. We had a very nice, two-hour chat. Dave and his wife blessed me and my daughter. I won’t go into detail, because I am certain he didn’t do it for accolade or recognition. But he and his wife let us know they really did care. It was authentic.
I apologized to him for holding a grudge. He understood why it was there, but I still felt awful.
I chewed on this for a couple of days because I tend to be very passionate and that can turn into knee-jerk sometimes. I wanted to make sure I got this right. I heard a great quote once that said “The circle of forgiveness should be no bigger than the circle of offense.” In other words, don’t puke a protracted apology all over the place when a simple “I’m sorry," specific to the people offended, will do. I agree. Mark DeMoss, in his brilliant, “The Little Red Book of Wisdom” said the same thing. Keep it simple. Just say you're sorry and ask forgiveness, then let it go. But since the circle of offense was the internet, that’s where I wish to make my apology.
I was wrong. Dave Ramsey was not my enemy but I treated him like he was. He is my brother in Christ and I treated him like he wasn’t. I was wrong. I am sorry. I asked Dave privately to forgive me, (he did, that very night) and I am asking publicly, because my heart tells me this is right.
He handled this the exact right way, and I hope –in turn- I did as well.
Dave Ramsey is a good man. He’s not perfect, nor does he claim to be. But he’s someone’s husband and someone’s dad and he was bought with the same price I was.
I hope my apology did some justice to the Name we both share.