Weekend Winter

Colorado has many things that define “consistent.” Like the presence of the Rocky Mountains. Or the awfulness of Rockies relief pitchers. Things that stay the same week after week, year after year.

But weather?

If you’ve hung around this corner of the Front Range for the past three weeks, you know what I’m talking about. Mild throughout the work week … maybe cold, maybe warmer, but definitely dry. And then once the weekend arrives: BAM! Snow and ice time.

It’s been regular as a clock. Steady as a metronome. And probably a little frustrating to 1) students hoping for a snow day or 2) anyone hoping for a Saturday that doesn’t involve slip-sliding away.

I know, I know, it’s winter. (My favorite time of year, as it happens.) Snow comes with the territory. But it usually doesn’t come with a punch clock.

Again, if you live here, you get it.

Everyone talks about how their state’s weather is wild. Colorado is the one where you can get all four seasons before lunch. It’s where a meteorologist’s kit includes a dartboard, dice and a voodoo doll of Mother Nature. (Am I right, Mike Nelson?) As the story goes, if your outfit for the day includes a parka AND Birkenstocks, you might just be a Coloradan.

Steady, scheduled weather just doesn’t fit the profile.

It’s not the story we’re used to telling. And that’s always a little unsettling.

We like stories. We’re storytellers by nature, either trying to explain the world we’ve got, remember the world we had or describe the world that could be. Depending on the tools we use, the result may be epic myth, rigorous science, conspiracy theory or the next hit series of blockbuster films. But at some level, it helps us define patterns and discern reasons …or at least, feel like we are.

The trick comes, of course, when we’re trying to impose a pattern rather than discover one. That’s relatively harmless when we’re seeing shapes in clouds. It can be downright marvelous when it leads someone to write an engrossing novel or the next hit song. But it gets more treacherous when a deeply-held story collides with reality and the story wins.

We get comfortable in how we see the world. And when the world argues with us, a lot of us tend to argue back. Better to hold your ground, be consistent, prove you’re right – or is it?

“When events change, I change my mind,” the economist Paul Samuelson once said (later crediting a similar thought to John Maynard Keynes). “What do you do?”

Easy to say, especially from the outside. But it’s harder to do. It requires humility to change your mind in the face of evidence. It requires awareness rather than acceptance, constant questioning rather than confident certainty.

In other words, it takes work. And a willingness to change.

When we can do it, the result is a better story for all of us.

The weekend winters will shift eventually. (Right?) The memory will become another story. As we write our next one, look around with clear eyes and a thoughtful mind. You might find more than you think.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to find a shovel and some ice melt. After all, Saturday will be here before we know it.

The Time Between

Nobody has perfect 20/20 foresight. Not even John Adams. 

Full of excitement at America’s independence, he predicted in a letter that there’d be a great anniversary festival. He saw how future generations would celebrate it with “pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” 

He also predicted it would be on July 2. Whoops. 

To be fair, the world looked very different when Adams wrote home on July 3. The vote to break with Great Britain had been yesterday. The vote to approve the Declaration would be tomorrow. Few people knew what had happened; fewer still could guess what it might mean. 

A moment of transformation. No, make that a moment IN transformation. A change in process, with the past behind and the new present not yet formed. 

Exciting. Terrifying. Uncertain. 

And oh, so familiar. 

The technical term is a “liminal moment,” meaning a moment on the threshold. We experience a lot of them, as individuals and a society. They’re not a comfortable place to be, not least because they hold so many questions from the inside. 

“Am I an adult yet?” 

“Are we in or out of a pandemic – or does that mean anything?” 

“Am I over the threshold or still in between?” 

We don’t like uncertainty, of course. So we try to set boundaries, definitions, signposts. (“Why, you’re an adult when you’re 18. Except for the parts where you’re 21. Other terms and conditions may apply.”) We want to move ahead and get out of the fog, finding our way to firmer ground. 

But please. Don’t rush too fast. 

That time in between has value. 

You can’t live there, of course. But you can make a life from there. It’s a moment of discarding old assumptions and shaping new ideas.  When tomorrow doesn’t have to look just like today with better cars and smaller computers. When we can choose who we are and what we want to become. 

Treasure that. 

Sure, we’ll be wrong about a lot of things. We’re human. It happens. But if we live these moments unafraid to be wrong – aware, adaptable, open to wonder – then even our mistakes can lead somewhere pretty amazing. Maybe even revolutionary. 

So here’s to Mr. Adams and all his heirs. Perhaps, in his honor, we should commemorate July 3 as well. Not the day of decision, nor the day of declaration, but a day of possibilities with all the world open. 

That’s certainly something worth writing home about. 

Sliding Through 2020

OK, who else remembers “Sliders?”

One … two … all right, you can put your hands down. And if you need to take 20 seconds to wash them, I’ll wait.

For those of you in the great majority, “Sliders” was a 1990s TV show about alternate histories where every week, the heroes would step out of a wormhole into an unfamiliar reality. Maybe it would be a world where Egyptian pharaohs still ruled … or where the American Revolution never happened … or where humanity had been replaced by androids. (You know, as opposed to being replaced by voice-mail trees and self-check-out stands.)

Each week would have its own weirdness. And no matter how hard the heroes tried to find their way home, the world would keep becoming unrecognizable, frequently and without warning.

Doesn’t sound familiar at all, does it?

Yeah, you can stop laughing now.

If anything, “Sliders” looks a little conservative now. Reality turning upside down once a week? I think most of us would  kill for something that dull and predictable. Lately, we seem to have been bouncing around like a ping-pong ball in a clothes dryer, always in motion but not really getting anywhere. I mean, who would have thought we’d be in the timeline where Australia burning down was just the opening act?

Maybe we should have been warned when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series four years ago. But I digress.

We keep trying to find “normal.” And like our heroes, we’re not having much luck. Even when a vaccine or a cure finally arrives for the pandemic, some pieces of the new normal will likely stay. Maybe we’ll keep seeing fewer people drive 40 minutes to work and more of them walk 10 seconds to the living room. Maybe masks will become the new cutting edge of high fashion, with the new styles announced each spring.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll realize that normal isn’t what we think it is.

Oh, we like to believe we know it when we see it. After all, normal is what you grew up with, right? And then the next generation comes along and laughs, gapes, or shakes their head.  “You did THAT? You didn’t know THIS? And Mom, who let you out of the house with that hairstyle?”

The simple truth: every age is a chaotic one. Granted, some are more obvious than others, whether it’s the Depression years of the 1930s or the 2020 That Refused to Die. But even in the best of years, nothing stands still. It’s only memory that turns a time into a perfect photograph, with all the stress and injustice conveniently filtered out.

Things will change. We will not always like it. But we’ll always have to be ready for it, so that we can do the best we can with what we’ve got.

Together. Eyes open. Not just hunkering down and hoping to ride it out, but staying aware and putting in the work that hope demands.

It won’t be easy. It may be painful. But if we watch out for each other, if we adapt, if we learn – then just maybe some of those changes can be for the better.

And what we survive, we’ll survive as a community. Even in 2020.

But if I see a pharaoh marching in next week, I’m talking to the screenwriter.