Waiting for the Dawn

Missy let out a whoop from the window seat. Another bad guy DOWN!

“Wow!” Heather called out from the laundry room, laughing as the echoing cheer reached her. It might have reached Berthoud, now that I think about it. Right along with the flash from Missy’s smile.

No surprise. She’d been waiting for this reading night.

For the past few months, Missy and I have been traveling the ways of Harry Potter. Together, we’ve followed the world’s favorite boy wizard as he learns, grows and readies himself to face a powerful destiny.

But as one character sardonically notes, it’s not exactly a nice, easy job. He’s mocked. Mistrusted. Even tortured. He watches friends and mentors be destroyed, one by one. By the time the seventh book comes around, Harry’s on the run with his best friends, with no idea how to achieve his world-saving quest and only the vaguest idea of what that quest really is.

He’s down. Flat. Doomed. As hopeless as the Rockies’ World Series chances.

And then … ah, but you know how this part works.

J.R.R. Tolkien knew what to call it: “Eucatastrophe.” It’s a big word with a big idea. With a catastrophe, things are going well when suddenly disaster strikes. A eucatastrophe is the opposite: evil is winning, darkness has fallen, things have gotten so bad they just couldn’t get worse … and suddenly, the first beam of light breaks the clouds.

It’s the Stone Table cracking.

It’s Washington crossing the Delaware.

It’s despair turned to hope, desperation turned to triumph, suffering turned to whoops of joy.

And it’s not limited to books and movies.

Curiously, we finished Harry Potter the day before my 14th wedding anniversary with Heather. And if you think Hogwarts is an adventure and an education, it’s got nothing on marriage.

For a long time, Heather and I used to joke “When does the ‘For Better’ part start?” Not that it’s been a bad marriage – on the contrary, it’s been amazing – but for the longest time, it felt like we were part of “Exodus: The Sequel,” receiving all the plagues left over from Pharaoh.

Her Crohn’s disease flared up.

Her medicine allergies mounted.

That wonderful autoimmune condition known as ankylosing spondylitis showed up.

My epilepsy returned, for the first time in six or seven years.

Add in all the other worries of a young American couple – money-related, work-related, family-related – and it began to feel like we had Mount Meeker on our back.

I think most couples reach that point. Maybe from different paths, but it’s a well-worn crossroads.

But it does lead somewhere.

For us, it led to Duchess the Wonder Dog. To a move back to Colorado. To a medicine that tamed the worst of Heather’s symptoms (most of the time) and finally to life with Missy, with all its joys, challenges and wonders.

We had held on through the dark, long enough to reach the day.

There may be other darknesses. This world seems to specialize in them at times. Bullets in a movie theater. Fire in a forest. Skies that stay stubbornly dry, or that bear planes bent on a mission of devastation.

In times like that – times like this – all we can do is hold to each other, look for the light to return, and do everything we can to make it happen.

We stand together as friends. As neighbors. As family. As spouses. Not always daring to hope, but not really ready to quit, either.

We stand. And in that stand can come an incredible story.

Just ask Missy.

And then hold on to your earmuffs.

Precious Memory

I sometimes joke that I’m paid to be a 24-hour expert. Learn a topic, sum it up, then move on to the next one.

This time, I’m not getting paid. And I’m hoping to hold on to this subject for a lot longer than a day.

Right, Grandma Elsie?

My grandma, for those of you who don’t know, is officially amazing. She’s been through wartime Britain and the Blitz. She started her life over in America when she was just two years younger than I am now. She even survived living with us when my sisters and I were little, full of the energy and innocently impudent questions of childhood. (“Grandma, do you remember the Revolution?”)

But I’d never heard all the stories. And the ones I knew, I wanted a better grip on. Memory can be like an old screen door in the wind sometimes; if you don’t reinforce it quickly, it can be gone before you know it.

It was Mom who had the idea. How about an interview?

“It would be nice for Ivy, Gil, and any other future great-grandkids to know a little about her life,” Mom wrote me in an email, referring to my niece and nephew. “I have some vague ideas – but it would be good to have it straight from her.”


I’ve heard a lot of stories over the years. I’ve chatted with a veteran of World War I, with an artist who works in cardboard, with teenage investigative reporters.

None of them were this much fun.

There’s nothing like rediscovering your own family. There’s always one more thing to learn, one more subject that brings a smile to both of you, or a sigh, or even a blink of recognition.

I knew that Grandma’s dad had served in Egypt in World War I. I didn’t know he’d been a voracious reader (like most of this family, to be honest) whose favorite novel was Adam Bede.

I had vaguely remembered that she’d worked in an airplane factory during World War II. I hadn’t known that she and one other lady had been the first two women on the fitting room floor. “The guys worked so hard to moderate their language,” she laughed.

I had known, in an academic way, about the evacuations at the start of the Blitz – but not that her family had been one of the ones to take off, with hastily packed bags and a canary named Bill.

Every piece led to another – childhood friends, old school subjects, jobs and fears long since gone. It was like discovering a patchwork quilt, one square at a time.

No, it was like meeting a friend all over again – a friend I’ve known as long as I’ve been alive.

And it made me wonder. How much do I really remember? How much would I be able to pass on someday?

Plenty of people remind you to capture the memories of others before they’re gone. We’ve all seen projects involving World War II veterans and Depression survivors and many others. It’s a good idea and a vital one.

But we sometimes forget that we’re a link in the chain, too – and a curiously ephemeral one, with so much of our past and present living a virtual existence. Pieces of us live here, there, everywhere in silicon and electricity, but how often do we think to consolidate it all for someone else?

How often do we even do that for ourselves?

Isn’t now a good time to start?

It’s worth thinking about. And as I pull together the “Grandma notes” – and add to them, count on it – I may just begin to jot down some Scott chronicles as well, a piece at a time.

After all, someday Ivy’s and Gil’s kids may want to become an expert on me.

And I hope they’ll want to know it for more than 24 hours.


Speaking Ill

I’ve used this space many times to take a breath and reflect.

This time, it’s just good to be able to breathe.

That’s right. For the whole week surrounding the Fourth, Casa Rochat was officially the House O’ Plague. At times, it felt like a twisted version of Old MacDonald, as we went about with a hack-hack here and a bleah-bleah there … well, you get the idea.

We never did work out if it was the world’s worst cold or a mild to moderate flu. I’ve decided that the main difference, so long as you never wind up in the hospital, is sympathy. You can get this:


Hypothetical co-worker: “So what do you have?”

Self: “I’ve got a really bad cold.”

HCW: “Ah, you wimp, tough it out!”


Or you can get this:


HCW: “So what do you have?”

Self: “We think it’s a really persistent influenza.”

HCW: “Ack! Flu! Get away from me!”


Meanwhile, when you’re dealing with a burning throat, heat flashes, muscle aches, coughs, sneezes and enough dripping mucus to provide sound effects for a dozen Scooby Doo episodes, the last thing you care about is taxonomy.

Still, a week’s worth of enforced rest does make you appreciate the fundamentals.

You learn to appreciate your wife. Especially when she’s violated Spousal Rule No. 17 and gotten sick at the same time as you, to the same degree.

You learn to appreciate sleep, in much the same way that a broke investor appreciates gold. You may not be able to get any, but boy, do you understand its value.

You learn how to use quiet time again. Long books. Mindless stretches on the Net. Periodic bouts with cough drops and throat spray. Anything that distracts you from feeling like an extra in Monty Python’s “Bring out your dead!” scene.

Most of all, perhaps, you appreciate the need to let go and just let things happen.

These days, we’re all about control. Take charge of your life, grab hold of your world, make the existence you want to have. And that’s not a bad thing. Heck, as an epileptic, I can really get into that – being out of control for me isn’t just scary, it’s downright painful.

But we fool ourselves. We make ourselves think we can control everything. And sometimes we do a good job at crafting the illusion.

Right until the next wildfire.

Or the next family illness.

Or the next anything, good or bad, that upsets our plans, blinks our eyes and forces us to say “Where the heck did THAT come from?”

Like supercolds or nagging flu, they don’t last forever. But they can’t be ignored, either. All you can do is make the best of it and ride it out, doing what you can with what you’re given.

Even if all you’re given is some books, some Kleenex and a bottle of Chloraseptic.

Still, everything has its upside. As a wise man once didn’t say: “What doesn’t kill me makes me too bleary to focus on TV political ads.”

You might say my attention flu.

Brought Fourth in Silence

I’ve never known a quieter Fourth.

No shells bursting in the sky. No firecrackers raising the hackles of our dog. Just a night where the occasional rattle and bang and boom was occasional indeed, brief ripples in a sea of silence.

And yet the stillness rang louder than any skyrocket.

It’s no surprise, of course. This is a summer where many people have seen enough fire in the sky already. With Colorado burning down day after day from wildfires, fireworks had become about as politically popular as renaming Mile High in honor of Al Davis. Maybe less so.

Shhh. This is a No Sparking zone.

Some disagreed, of course. Some always do. And I can understand. Fireworks have been an expected part of the day since John Adams. I have memories of watching the bursts from bat-inhabited golf courses, or tree-obstructed bedroom windows, or even from our own rooftop, the shingles made slippery by a protective hosing down against bottle rockets. (Mind that last step!)

So yeah, it’s a great part of the day.

But it’s only part of it.

Absurdly, my brain began to go back to Christmas, to a Grinch who decided stealing all the presents could steal the holiday with it. Anyone with young children in the house (or our Missy) can recite the results by heart:


He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!


It’s still true. Douse every sparkler, shush every “1812” cannon. The day is still there, the freedom still as real. The symbol isn’t the thing.

And the symbol this year may be more potent than anyone expected.

What’s the day about, really? Not beer and explosives, fun though the combination may be. It’s about a people taking charge of its own future, about men and women and communities doing what they must to secure the day, however little they might like it.

It’s about a general who constantly wanted to come to grips with the British – yet knew his country’s only chance was if he kept his army alive.

It’s about those who risked “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor”in grasping at a dream where failure meant the noose.

It’s about those who could leave family and home, or hold it together while others left, deferring what they wanted in favor of what was needed.

The Fourth of July has never been for wimps. Living the legacy means making tough choices.

And when we make those choices together, for the protection of us all, that’s a brighter light than any skyrocket could create.

There’ll be a day when the fireworks return, a day when smoke and flame can be replaced by “Ooh” and “Aah.” Maybe it’ll be twice as good, with two years of Independence Day budgets saved up. Maybe it’ll be the same show as before, with this year’s spending donated to this year’s fires, a drop in the bucket but a welcome drop all the same.

Whatever comes, the Fourth will come with it. And someday it’ll come with all the bells and whistles and Roman candles anyone could want.

Until then, we wait. Not out of fear. But out of care, out of duty, out of watchfulness for our friends and neighbors.

And even on a silent night, those can be heard loud and clear.