One in a Gillion

One In a Gillion


Inspiration hit as soon as Gil saw the old flood photographs. Caught in the moment, he hurried to the piano and struck up his latest composition:

Going on a flood trip,

We grabbed a surfboard,

Surfed all the buildings …

Not bad for 7 years old, right?

It’s been a while since Mister Gil visited this space. That’s because it’s been a while since Mister Gil visited Colorado. My young nephew is a denizen of Washington State these days, which makes random drop-bys about as common as a Seattle Mariners World Series win. But recently, lightning struck – his parents were back in town for a reunion, which meant Gil would be staying the night with us.

Which meant, in turn, that I would be discovering Gil’s many, many talents.

Such as improvisational piano.

And kitchen dancing. (“Uptown Funk” remains a favorite.)

And ciphers of many sorts.

And spur-of-the-moment jokes and puns. (Well, he is my nephew.)

And card games. (I’ve grown rather fond of “Garbage.”)

And … well, anything else he puts his mind to, really. It doesn’t matter if he’s done it before. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even matter if he’s heard of it before. If it can be managed by an 7-year-old’s hands, feet, or imagination, Gil will give it a try.

I’d call it a fearlessness, except Gil doesn’t know there’s anything to be brave about. It’s just all stuff to try. In that, he’s wiser than a lot of adults, including his uncle.

Down in the kitchen, I have recipes that I want to learn to make one day.

In our guest room is a guitar that I keep meaning to get back to.

Of course, there are the beginner’s drawing tools in my desk drawer. Not to mention the novel that I really will get going on one of these days – promise.

It’s easy to plead time, or exhaustion, or any of a dozen other reasons. Sometimes they’re even legitimate. But for many of us, I think the gap between a Mister Gil and grown-ups like Uncle Scott comes down to two simpler things – habit and focus.

Habit is the behavioral version of Newton’s First Law: we tend to keep doing what we’re used to doing. At 7, Gil is used to doing … well, everything. But the rest of us have comfortable skills, useful routines, boundaries. Talents at rest tend to remain at rest.

And that, in turn, is largely a product of focus.

Have you ever asked a very young child what they want to be when they grow up? Odds are you’ve heard something like “I want to be a firefighter … and a doctor … and a princess … and a tree.” And somewhere along the line, we encourage them to pick something, to find what they’re good at, to concentrate on that so their skill will grow and expand.

By itself, that’s not a bad thing. Every skill needs concentration and discipline if it’s to develop, and no one has time to master absolutely everything. But too often, a corollary comes with it. If a skill doesn’t come easy, or if it’s one we’ve not tried, we learn to draw sharp borders.

“Oh, I can’t do that.”

“I’m no good at that.”

“That’s not my thing.”

No one has to like everything, of course. But like a child in front of an unfamiliar dinner, we’re often too unsure of what we’re seeing to risk a new taste.

It’s OK to try.

It’s OK to learn something you won’t master.

It’s OK to dabble, to play, even to discover you’re not good at something … and that you enjoy it anyway.

That, too, is a joy.

By the time this sees print, Gil will be back in Washington. But I think he’s left a little bit of that fearless discovery behind. All I know is, I’m going to have to dust off that guitar pretty soon.

After all, “Flood Surfing” won’t play itself.


Every marriage fits in one of three stages, all defined by your friends. There’s “Awww.” Followed by “Hey, that’s great!” And finally, there’s “Wow.”

Heather and I are now firmly in the “Wow” category.

We reach 20 years on Wednesday. Yes, really. We still haven’t hit the guideline given to us by Grandma Elsie (“After you reach 30 years, the rest is easy”), but other than that, we’ve racked up our share of milestones. Four homes, three cities, two states. We’ve survived ice storms, heat waves, chronic illness, and the delight of moving a piano into a second-floor apartment. We’ve had the amazing joy of seeing our disabled ward Missy come into our lives – or us into hers – and the heart-rending pain of seeing our cousin Melanie leave us too soon.

I’ve shared a lot of that life in these columns. By now, I’ve probably poured out enough words to reach to the moon and back.

Fitting comparison, perhaps.


OK, I’m a space nerd. Heather, too. But I swear, we did not deliberately put our wedding day right after “Apollo Season.” Somehow, it still works.

For those who don’t have the dates permanently engraved on their brain, the moon mission known as Apollo 11 launched 49 years ago on July 16, reached the moon on July 20, and then splashed down back on Earth on July 24. It was and remains one of the most transcendently amazing things our species has ever done, an expedition that drew the awe and admiration of millions.

So much could have gone wrong. Some of it did. Total disaster was always a real possibility, as close at hand as the unforgiving vacuum of space. So close that President Nixon even had a speech ready in case the attempt proved fatal and those “who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”

But the triumph, the achievement, put everything else in its shadow. All the stress and the worry that had gone into making it happen are remembered mainly by the participants now, or perhaps by those who deliberately study them. For everyone else, it’s “The Eagle Has Landed.” A beautiful moment, never to be forgotten.

And not a bad model for a marriage.

OK, that sounds a little silly. But consider.

There was a huge amount of planning at the outset that still never felt like enough.

There were vows and promises that sounded grand, but would require massive amounts of work to achieve.

There were minor communications flubs that later became amusing (from Armstrong’s famous “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” to Mission Control’s “Roger, Twank … Tranquility”) and major crises that almost upset everything (such as a difficult landing that took far more fuel to achieve than expected).

There was the eager anticipation of first steps, first words.

And while countless people stood behind them, supported them, made it all possible – the ultimate success or failure would be on the shoulders of the people who made the journey.

A big responsibility in front of the entire Earth. Maybe even a bigger one when just trying to patch your own journey together, day by day by day.

And most of all – for all the ceremony and spectacle, it’s that day-to-day work that’s the most vital. A marriage is not a wedding, anymore than a single television broadcast is a mission. An indelible record, yes. A moment to be celebrated, absolutely.

But it’s the stuff that happens next that makes all the difference.


We’ve long since left the moon. Maybe one day we’ll return and relight the fire that once burned so brightly. I hope so, with all my heart.

But in the meantime, our own mission of the heart continues. And despite everything life tries to do to bring us back to Earth, Heather and I are still over the moon.

One small step for a couple. One giant leap for a lifetime.

A Moment of Victory

The word has reached around the world and back again, echoing in our minds like the ringing of a church bell.



The boys are safe.

At this time last month, most of us had probably never heard of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, never thought much about Thailand at all. Now the rescue of 12 young soccer players and their assistant coach from its winding depths has been celebrated from shore to shore.



The boys are safe.

It unfolded like a movie – and you know people are making movies about this. The innocent exploration by the boys that turned into a deadly trap as rainwater cut them off. The desperate search, in a place where radios were useless, guided by determination and the maps of an obsessed spelunker. The fear that hope had already gone. Too far. Too deep. Too late.

And then, too amazing.

One life lost, unforgettably; a retired Thai navy diver who used up his oxygen while delivering air to the boys. (Remember his name: Saman Kunam.) And then, the rescue. The emergence, after so many days, of the team and its rescuers.



The boys are safe.

If we got a little obsessed, it’s understandable. It’s what we do in crises like these, whether it’s a flooded Thai cave or a collapsed Chilean mine. For a moment, other fears become muted. There’s just the danger and the hope, the prayer for its resolution, often riding on the backs of so many that seem to be so few.

We know that sort of story from the inside, even if we’ve never been further underground than a basement rec room. More than once, the simple weather of the West has created devastation that took entire communities to overcome. Blizzards. Tornadoes. Floods that tore our own city in two physically, and made us one in mind and effort.

It’s a story of hope. Not optimism. Hope, with all the strain and effort and common strength that goes into making it real.

When it’s us, we reach for each other. When it isn’t, we reach for the stories. Because we need the stories of hope so very badly.

In a world where the worst of us dominate every news cycle, we remember that the best of us have not gone away.

In a time of anger and division and fear, we remember that struggles are not hopeless. That fights are not futile. That trials can be overcome.

And at a moment when it’s all too easy to write off our own world as too far gone to save, beyond the reach of any rescue … at those moments, this shines one more light, holds out one more promise that desperation, ingenuity, and will may yet find the way.

This isn’t a call to become complacent, sure that things will work themselves out. The problems facing us are real. Lives often hang in the balance. The rain is falling, the tunnels are filling, and waiting for the best simply uses up time we don’t have.

No, this is a call to fight. To try. To struggle together in the face of everything facing us, to be the rescue that we need. No one of us will do it all – but each one of us can do something, whatever the challenge may be.

We must hope, in order to try. Even in the face of overwhelming futility. We must try, in order to succeed, even when the quest seems quixotic.

And in the moments when success comes – well, then we’re allowed a little celebration for us all.



The boys are safe.

And hope, with them, survives.