Found in Space

You could call it the ultimate tech-support ticket.

For those of you who don’t keep up on space news – I get it, the NBA playoffs are on – NASA just came to the rescue of Voyager. No, not the old Star Trek sci-fi series, the even older space probe that was launched in the 1970s, left the solar system entirely in the 2010s and is still sending back information today.

Well … at least it was until November, when the most distant man-made object ever stopped sending signals.

Mind you, Voyager was still functional. But it couldn’t “speak” clearly – its signals were garbage. And so, armed with paper documentation and a two-day time lag in sending or receiving information, NASA went to work.

Five months of troubleshooting ultimately found that one chip had gone bad, corrupting a tiny piece of Voyager’s code. Uploading a fix meant working with a 47-year-old computer from 15 billion miles away. (Now THAT’S an overseas call center.)

And finally, on April 23, the news came out: Voyager was back on the line.

That lifts me up in so many ways. And not just because I’m a serious space geek. That’s part of it, mind you, but not all.

It also shows how much we can value what’s gone before. And how much we’ll do to save it.

That might sound a little strange. After all, nostalgia has deep roots in us and they get deeper every day. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, we were looking back with rose-colored glasses on the ‘50s and ‘60s. Today, it’s the ‘80s and so much more. In fact, thanks to the internet, we now get to sample and romanticize almost any era – or a mixture of them – as the “good old days.”

But that’s a surface appreciation and often a nearsighted one, choosing to ignore the worst of an earlier time or the best of today. “Back to the past” movements can even do tremendous damage, bulldozing today’s people and needs in the name of restoring a half-imagined golden age. Ultimately, we can’t live in a memory.

That said, we also tend to swing too hard the other way. Nostalgia trivializes, and if something isn’t lit by the current “Ooh, that’s cool and weird” spotlight, it tends to be rejected as old junk that’s no longer relevant. Tools, ideas, even people get set aside and forgotten in favor of newer and better.

But once in a while, we get a reminder that nothing is totally forgotten, or that the lessons of the past still have value now. And whether it’s programmers blowing the dust off of forgotten code to make a repair or long-ago veterans and refugees sharing their experience with a classroom, we stop for a moment, remember and learn.

Forgotten things can still have value. Forgotten people can still have value.

And when we pull off the impossible to help the forgotten, we remind ourselves what we’re capable of. After all, if we can spend five months to help one scientific instrument 15 billion miles away, how much more can we do to acknowledge and help the person next door?

So I’m happy for Voyager. And I’m even happier for us.

That’s the kind of support and determination that can make space for us all.

Snow in April

When I look out the window and see white on the trees, I smile. After all, there couldn’t be better weather for this time of year.

OK, now that you think I’m nuts, let me explain.

Snow in April is one of those things that can boggle a Front Range newcomer. One minute, the sun is shining and the leaves are budding … and then, just like that, your neighbor gets to explain why you never plant flowers before Memorial Day.

Even when you know it’s inevitable, an April snow shower always has the power to catch you by surprise. And it changes everything when it comes. So for our family, there couldn’t be a better setting for this time of year.

After all, April is also when we became “Missy parents.”

For those who haven’t met her yet, Missy is my wife Heather’s developmentally disabled aunt, a woman who’s my age chronologically but often greets the world from a much younger place. Sometime after her parents passed away, Heather and I moved in to take care of her … 13 years ago in April, as it happens.

Needless to say, all three of us found ourselves with a lot to learn.

We entered a world where the morning must always start with tea, and where the best end to the day is always a bedtime story.

We learned a certain amount of translation (Heather had a massive head start here) to understand Missy’s needs. “Book” could be an actual book or purse, “Up” was usually a request for help and “Mom” could be any parent figure, male or female. But in moments of high excitement, new words or even complete sentences could enter the fray. (The most astonishing remains the “Hallelujah” she picked up one December.)

We discovered just how intense even simple things can become when life is lived without filters. A piece of peanut butter pie. (“Wow!”) The much-awaited climax of a favorite book. (“Yeah!”) The sudden appearance of a much-loved movie character. (“Look-look-look!”)

She demonstrated for us how much a purse can hold, how loudly a stereo can be cranked, and how many different ways the same jigsaw puzzle can be put together if you apply enough force. And that there could never be “enough” when it came to Christmas music, cutting up magazines for artwork, or cute dogs on the street. (“Hi, you!”)

And as we loved and exasperated each other, we re-learned every day that “family” isn’t a one-size-fits-all term. And that we had a pretty darned good one.

The world changed – and we couldn’t see how much until we were in the middle of it. Like snow in April. Powder on fresh grass.

I suspect many of us have a moment like that. The ones where you take a step forward and everything changes. Where you thought you knew what was coming, only to realize how different everything looks from the inside.

It can be humbling. Frightening, even. But it’s also those moments where we truly learn. Where we’re forced out of the comfortable and the familiar, and have to see the world with new eyes.

After all, spring is the season of rebirth. And when your perspective gets reborn with it, anything can happen.

It’s something not to be missed.

But it just might be Missy’d.

On the Roll Again

Missy beamed a 500-watt smile as we strolled through a warm Colorado afternoon. Every neighbor got a wave. Every dog earned an eagerly pointing finger. And every block, the rolling of her wheelchair made its soft song against the pavement.

Rumble, rumble, rumble.

Heather and I don’t break the chair out often. Even with the challenges that our ward Missy has – a developmental disability and cerebral palsy, for the record – she usually gets around pretty well as long as she has someone or something to balance on. But when she’s got a long way to go, then it’s time for us to get rolling. And since Missy just got a brand new chair with great new tires, she’s been more eager than ever to hit the road.

Rumble, rumble, rumble.

Yes, it doesn’t get better than … what was that?

Rumble, rumble, rumble … plink.

I turned around.

A shiny screw looked back at me from the sidewalk.

Now, friends and family have often accused me of having a screw loose. But it’s usually not this literal.  Which meant … 

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” 

Sure enough. The brand new wheelchair had shed a brand new part, a small fastening in the right wheel. An easy fix, and a quick check found everything else still secure. But as we continued the journey, I mentally kicked myself for half a block. 

You see, I thought I had noticed the slightest wobble in that wheel a day or two before. But the major fastenings had all looked good when I tested them, so it seemed like a worry over nothing.

Instead, it became a reminder of the two-part lesson we all get again and again: 

1) Little things matter, and can easily become bigger things. 

2) Trust your intuition – or at least give it a hearing. 

The first part is something that every homeowner learns sooner or later as the First Law of Maintenance. But the second is a little trickier. After all, we live in a world that shouts for our attention constantly, most of the time adding more anxiety than information. To survive, we have to filter – and we don’t always do a great job of it, often picking the stuff that fits the easy answers we’ve already reached. 

But somewhere in the rush we have to pause. To think. And to listen for the things we may have noticed in the background. After all, that’s what good intuition is – unconsciously putting together facts you didn’t know you had to reach a conscious conclusion. 

Is the gut always right? Of course not. Sometimes a worry is just a worry. But we have to step back to be sure. To trust the “wait a moment,” dial down the pressure and take the time to see things clearly.

It’s not easy. But it’s essential. 

And when you get everything screwed down tight, it’s amazing how easily you can get rolling again. 

Just ask Missy. We should be rumbling by any minute now.

Remember to wave.