A More Deliberate Speed

For a moment, I stopped and stared at the article. A physicist at NASA had shown how a warp drive might be possible in the real world. Using a mass equal to a Geo Metro, a spacecraft could reach the nearest stars in weeks – not decades, not years, but weeks.

Star Trek made reality. Incredible.

I checked the clock. Yeah, just about time.

“C’mon, Miss, let’s go brush your teeth.”

After a token protest, Missy’s small hands take my arm and we travel together. Step. Step. Step. Each pace deliberate, the footing carefully chosen.

It’s not the speed of light. It’s probably not even the speed of Judith Light, the TV actress. But it’s our speed. And it gets us there just fine.

This is what it’s like, living at the speed of Missy.

For those who came in late, Missy is my wife’s developmentally-disabled aunt, whom we look after. She’s my age physically, but quite a bit younger in mind and spirit. She likes red purses, loud music, frequent bowling and bedtime stories.

And because of some physical problems, she moves … well, carefully.

I won’t say clumsily. She can be very quiet and sneaky when she wants to be, to the point where we sometimes call her the family ninja. But she takes things at a slow pace, usually with one hand touching a wall, or a piece of furniture, or a nearby person for balance.

It takes a little getting used to.

After all, when you travel with Missy, you move at her tempo. That means shutting down a lifetime of instincts and conditioning. We live in a world that tells us speed is essential and faster is better; that if you haven’t started now, you’re already late. That even the stars are reachable, if we just move fast enough.

And at the holidays? Please! This is the time of year when our folklore includes an elf who can make individual deliveries to six continents in one night. Looking at the stores and parking lots, I’d say we’re doing our best to match him.

That’s not an option with Missy on your arm. Step by step, you relearn the world.

You learn to take in your surroundings. Look for obstacles. Consider routes before pursuing them.

You take the weather more seriously. Did we put on the sunscreen, grab the umbrella, bring the coats? Pay attention, because you’ll be out in it for a while.

You see faces, not just passing lumps of humanity. Especially with Missy on your arm. Her social circle is wider than mine; some days, it seems that half of Longmont knows Missy and has stopped to say “Hi.”

And you do the same. No hurry. No rush.

No need.

When I used to live in Kansas, I once noticed how different it felt to walk to work instead of driving; how I was actually seeing the neighborhoods instead of just passing through. It’s a smilar feeling now, in an even deeper downshift. You can’t avoid being part of the world instead of being apart from it, can’t help paying attention.

Especially to the wonderful person walking with you.

Missy would run if she could. I know that. But for now, she walks. And I walk with her. And together, we make pretty good traveling companions.

We may not reach the stars. But I sure feel good about our orbit.


Beyond the Black

Beware! The end of Civilization As We Know It is upon us!

No, not the winding-down of the Mayan calendar. I’m pretty sure the last few images on it translate to “Don’t be caught short in the new epoch! Buy your next Long Count calendar now!”

I don’t mean the sunset of the Hostess Twinkie either. One way or another, Twinkies will live on long after any of us, possibly as attic insulation.

And as for any particular election results, please. A day in which the United States survives political gridlock and uncertain leadership is also known as Wednesday.

No, I’m referring to the (drumroll please) SHOPPING INVASION OF THANKSGIVING!

You’ve surely heard about it. How those Black Friday sales kept creeeeping ever closer to the family sanctum of Thanksgiving only to spill over into that blessed time at last. How it’s an offense to humanity, to dignity, to blue-collar American workers and their values. Oh, we got trouble, my friends, right here, I say, trouble, right here in River City …


All right. I’ve exorcised Professor Hill. But his spirit does seem alive and well at times. And well it might. After all, American consumers are being marched into those stores at gunpoint. It hardly bears thinking …


Well, then the store owners. Each and every one of them compelled by alien mind control to open up for business …

You’re kidding?

All, right, but we do have to think about the workers. I’m sure many of them would rather be spending the holiday with their families than grinding out another day on the job, uncompensated, unrewarded…

Although, wait a minute. I’ve worked on Thanksgiving before. So have others I know, usually as part of a skeleton crew to free up as many workers as possible. And as I remember, the paycheck didn’t stop. Sometimes there was even a bonus for working a holiday — not win-the-lottery levels, but a little bit of extra help toward Christmas. Our families usually understood.

I guess it comes down to this. How resilient do we believe the spirit of thankfulness, brotherhood and family really is?

I happen to believe it’s a little tougher than many of us think.

I’m not saying I think it’s a great decision on the part of the American commercial sphere. I like creating a quiet space. I like having a time set apart. I think most of us do.

But if we have to compel or shame everyone into observing it — well, how much credit are we giving it really?

True thankfulness is a choice, on the part of those who give and those who receive. Is it such a fragile choice that we have to take away all the others lest someone be tempted?

Compelled peace is an oxymoron. Or it should be.

I hope the “invasion” doesn’t last. But if it does, Thanksgiving will survive. It may survive on a Friday or Saturday in some homes (heck, it already does), but so long as people want to keep it, it will stay.

So rather than rail and moan, let’s continue to keep it. Let’s be grateful for those who do. And let’s keep that spirit of gratitude alive through the holidays and the time beyond.

Many thanks, everyone.

Home Schooling

I knew that having our 2-year-old niece Riley stay with us for a while would be an experience. I didn’t realize it would be an education.

I can already hear my parents laughing in the background.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s hardly a stranger to us. Because of my sister-in-law’s work schedule, we’ve usually looked after the amazing Riley-bug at least once a week since she arrived in the world. My wife Heather has known Riley since her very first seconds in the hospital room and is officially the co-mom, dryer of tears and maker of waffles.

But there’s something about age 2 – and about extended exposure to age 2 – that almost feels like I’m back in class again. And I don’t just mean learning the art of fresh diapers, which Riley herself solemnly handed me one day.

No, it’s a full-bore curriculum, with credit hours offered in the following topics:

English, principally focused on the literary oeuvre of “Caillou,” the world’s baldest Canadian 4-year-old. Seminars shall be held multiple times daily.

Art, concentrating on large-scale abstract expressionism. Projects shall be completed in the medium of Legos, spread in wide patterns across a living room carpet.

Dancing, scheduled whenever a bare foot comes in contact with the large-scale abstract art project.

Modern Cinema, where viewing shall be centered on the complete television run of “Caillou,” the world’s baldest Canadian 4-year-old. Seminars shall be held multiple times daily and may overlap other sessions.

Political Science, in which participants shall explore the delicate art of debate, compromise and appeasement, beginning with the proposition: “Caillou has to go night-night for now; why don’t we do something else?”

Music Appreciation, which shall have three core subject areas: Introductory Percussion, Contemporary Approaches to Old MacDonald (“Ya, Ya, Yo!”), and Contemporary Youth Opera; The “No” Chorus.

Logic, more familiarly known as “Where did your Duckie go this time? Let’s see if we can find him!”

Time Management, in which three adults shall attend to the needs of a 2-year-old, two canines, way too many birds, and the developmentally-disabled adult who actually lives in the house. This only sounds easy.

Physics, in which a toddler will be observed navigating stairs (sometimes on her feet, sometimes on her behind). Participants shall observe the balancing point – including any adjustments made by the canines – and be ready to restore equilibrium.

Physical Education. Need you ask?

Like any worthwhile field of education, it has its stressful moments. Especially since life doesn’t stop going on to accommodate classes. (“Honey, remember that basement where we moved everything to make room? The one that used to be un-flooded?”)

But if the attention and weariness are magnified, so is the joy. That’s true of any subject worth learning, too, and none more than toddler-ology. For every scream-signaled nap time, there’s a smile, or a giggle, or a hug around the knees that makes it more than worthwhile.

And the best part is, none of us – Auntie, Uncle, or Mom – has to worry about boys for a good long time yet.

Well, except for Mr. Caillou. And really, he’s much too old for her.

I won’t tell the teacher if you won’t.

A Love Without Words

I wish Duchess could tell me what’s wrong.

It’s not the first time. Duchess the Wonder Dog is our 9-year-old rescue pup, after all. Many’s the time we’ve wanted to know who made her so cautious around strangers or so anxious when she’s alone – and then to have a nice conversation with that person, aided by a Louisville Slugger and a guy named Guido.

But lately, there’s been a new turn.

It’s just been in the last few months. Every so often, around 3 or 4 a.m., Duchess will get nervous, even by Wonder Dog standards. Like a child wracked by nightmares, she’ll become super-clingy, needing to be as close as possible. At first, my wife and I grabbed the towels, thinking she was about to throw up – nocturnal stomach upsets are not unknown to us – but this wasn’t nausea.

If anything, it seemed a bit like panic.

We’re still not sure what’s happening. A new phase of the anxiety attacks? A pre-seizure aura of some kind? (Heather and I have both had dogs with epilepsy.) It could be a nightmare, a flashback, a sound in the night of a still-unfamiliar house.

It could even be just that she’s getting older. Some nights, that worries me most of all.

If only we could be sure.

Some of you have been here, I know. Maybe it’s inevitable, whether you’re dealing with a small child who doesn’t have their words yet, or a dear animal who’ll never have them at all. You tune your heart like a radio receiver, sensitive to every vibration and clue, trying to understand, to know, to feel what’s happening.

Many times that creates something beautiful. A love comes that doesn’t need words. Every look of the eyes has a meaning, every moment has a bond so solid it could almost take physical form.

But there’s the other side, too. When you crank the channel open so far, you magnify the worry as well as the wonder. The same bond that ties you together tells you something’s wrong, but so often not what or why.

Exposed hearts can dance – but they can also break.

Maybe it’s a good thing. It keeps us vigilant even as it makes us vulnerable, alert to the needs of those who depend on us most. It keeps us thinking instead of assuming, aware instead of complacent.

I just wish it didn’t hurt so much sometimes.

And that, too, is love. To give your heart knowing that sometimes it will be wrenched. To believe that it’s worth it.

No. Not to believe. To know.

That much I have, anyway. I know that Heather and I have brought healing to Duchess even as she’s brought joy to us. The rest we’ll figure out. Patience and a good veterinarian can help unravel a lot, after all.

But for now, if she needs a good cuddle at 4 a.m., we’ll be there. We always will. It’s a small thing to ask.

No words necessary.

None at all.