“After 25 Years …”

Heather and I have finally caught up with Tevye and Golde. But we figured out Tevye’s question long ago.

If your “Fiddler on the Roof” trivia’s a little rusty, there’s a moment where the lead character Tevye suddenly realizes that after 25 years or marriage, he’s never asked his wife a simple question: “Do you love me?” With their marriage arranged and a pile of daughters to raise, it never had a chance to come up. But as they reach a moment where their lives and world are changing, he realizes that he needs the answer.

Golde resists at first: why  worry about it NOW? But after much musical back-and-forth, she finally confesses that after 25 years of struggling together, something has grown between them. “I suppose I do,” she admits, surprised at her own answer.

“Then I suppose I love you too,” Tevye answers with a smile.

“It doesn’t change a thing,” they sing together, “but even so/After 25 years … it’s nice to know.”

It is, indeed.

We hit our own 25th a few days ago. The one they call silver. That makes it sound pretty and timeless, like jewelry in a safe, doesn’t it?

Well, it has been timeless. But I think Heather would agree that it hasn’t always been pretty.

Our parents like to tease us about having a whirlwind courtship: Heather and I met in November, proposed the next spring and had a three and a half month engagement.  Sometimes when you know, you don’t want to waste time.

That launched the adventure.  And since then, our mutual weirdness has carried us through a lot.

We’ve discovered what it’s like to spend “date nights” in the emergency room, somehow smiling at each other through the latest medical emergency .

We’ve entered parenthood through the back door, becoming guardians for Heather’s developmentally disabled aunt and uncovering new surprises daily.

We’ve weathered the losses that 25 years bring, from elderly grandparents to a too-young cousin.

And yes, we’ve accumulated photographs, marveled over interesting words, delved into each other’s favorite songs and stories, and shared WAY too many terrible puns. (That last one is mostly me, but she swears I’ve corrupted her.)

There’s been stress and strain to be sure. But also joy as well. And bit by bit, it’s added up.

So I guess, like Tevye, I am a little surprised. Not at the love we always knew was there. But at how small 25 years suddenly looks.

Like a mountain range, it’s built of smaller bits, brought together over time. And traveling that 25 years just means navigating the bits. You make it through the next day. And the next. And the next one after that.

That doesn’t have to just describe a marriage. It’s any worthwhile commitment, really. You decide what’s important to you and then treat it that way. Over and over and over again.

Sure, it can be tiring. Every mountain hiker knows that. But if you’ve committed to something good, the journey is worth the effort.

Ours certainly has been.

So happy anniversary, my love. We’ve climbed a lot of peaks together. And somehow, you haven’t pushed me off any of them, no matter how bad the jokes get.

We asked our Tevye question at the start and every day since. Thank you for the answer that’s always been “yes.”

Now, how about a movie night?

I think “Fiddler” is on.

Gone to (Tea) Pot

There are things that must happen in a Missy morning. But the greatest of these is tea.

Get the kettle singing. Ready the Tetley’s – always Tetley’s, never any flavored stuff. Mix it up with a bit of milk, enough to turn a black cup into the beige of a Volvo station wagon.

Oh. And make a full pot. There will be refills.

“I wan’ m’ tea.”

“Coming right up.”

For all her disabilities, both physical and mental, Missy is still the daughter of an English mother. And that means a cup of tea is as much a reflex for her as her puzzle ball or her 120-decibel stereo. It launches her off to her day program in the morning and it greets her on her return in the afternoon, a cup of liquid welcome. A sip of home.

Often, it’s a sip of memory, too.

In my mind, the memories are always of Val, who was Missy’s mom and my grandmother-in-law. One of Longmont’s ubiquitous “English ladies,” Val passed on many things to Missy, including a small stature, a love of dancing and a steaming teapot. I never visited the house for long before a cup found its way to me – though I picked up my share of wry looks for taking my own tea black, without milk or sugar.

I know. American barbarian, that’s me.

Val’s gone now. But the tea remains, the cup held carefully in her daughter’s shaky hand. It’s a space in the day, one where nothing has to happen, where it’s OK to just be.

That’s a small accomplishment by itself.

“Being” isn’t something that’s greatly prized in our country today. We’re a nation of doers, where who you are is measured by what you’ve accomplished, or at least whether you have the decency to look busy. We treat absence of activity like a mom faced with bored children: “If you don’t have anything to do, I can find you something.”

No time for reflection. No time for discovery. No time for second thought, or maybe even a first one.

That’s a great way for a piston to live. For a person? Not so much. Having that small space in the day is like having a period in a sentence: essential for any clarity and meaning.

But there’s more to it as well. At a very basic level, a cup of tea is a small act of caring.

I lived for nine years in Kansas. Not once in those nine years did I enter a home without being offered a glass of water or a cup of coffee in the first minute. It was the fundamental decency of a host or a neighbor, welcoming another with something of your own.

It was a small ritual. But it had a big message behind it. Stay a while. There’s no rush. You’re among friends.

It’s those little, almost routine acts that can mean the most.

Love doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. It can be – I still remember the newlywed obsession that led me to organize a “12 Days of Christmas” onslaught of surprise gifts for my wife Heather – but truth to tell, the saintly and the passionate can be a bit intimidating for the rest of us. Fearing not to be perfect, we can fail to be merely good.

But a life lived with love can find a voice even through the everyday and the mundane. Maybe especially through them.

Maybe it’s in the things we do without thought that we see who we truly are.

And once in a while, the ripples of those small efforts for another come back in a wave.

This morning, after getting ready for the day, Missy looked up at me with a sweet smile. She reached out with both arms.

“Love me?” she asked, eyes sparkling.

The hug that followed was warm and long.

And then, we went downstairs for tea.

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.

Breaking Through

Some of you may remember that Robert Heinlein once wrote about a cat who could walk through walls. I figure, this once, that I can match him.

After all, I have the dog who walked through doors. The hard way.

She usually appears here as Duchess the Wonder Dog, as in “It’s a wonder this dog hasn’t given herself a heart attack.” Half border collie, half black Lab and all love, she is easily one of the most lovable animals ever issued four legs.

And just a wee bit timid. Which is like saying that Batman is a little bit driven.

It’s not without reason. Dutch, you see, is a rescue dog, one that was never properly socialized as a puppy. We adopted her nearly six years ago, and through love, affection and the careful application of pizza, she had come a long way.

Until our move last April, anyway.

Suddenly Duchess’s world was turned upside down. There was a new house, rich (to her) with the scents of the four dogs who had lived here before. Room layouts were changing by the day, people were coming and going, we even had an infant niece being brought over once a week to be babysat.

And so, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised when we came back from a trip one afternoon to find Duchess waiting for us just inside the front door.

“Did you shut her up in the bedroom?” Heather asked.

“I thought you did.”

I went upstairs. And found we had.

I also found a pile of wood shavings. And a Duchess-sized hole in the door.

Duchess had gotten so anxious that she had clawed her way through.

“Oh, Dutch …”

She’s OK now. More love, more affection, just a little bit of medicine. But you can’t experience the Arc du Duchess without it clawing at your soul a bit too.

And perhaps finding a bit of kinship.

We’re a strange species. We change our world more than any other … and often fear change more than anything else could. Something as simple as a new Facebook design can inspire outrage for days; more fundamental shocks can fill letters pages, or council chambers, or the streets themselves.

When I was very young, my Grandma lived with us for a while. On some nights, when she had rinsed out my hair to finish a bath, I would look in the mirror at this face with its drippy, sodden locks hanging down and declare “That’s not me!”

How much of that survives when we get older?

And how much of it must live in the heart of the abused – animal or human – who has been hurt without understanding why?

Perhaps in realizing it, we can fight it a little. Perhaps we can help bring a little peace to ourselves, a little kindness to others. Perhaps at some point, we can actually remember that all of us need all of us, and that love, whether to a fearful dog or a fearful world, is never out of place.

I hope so. I really do.

A hole in the door is easily fixed.

It’s the hole in the heart that needs all the love we can give it.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go hug my dog.