Standing Ready

Predicting Colorado weather has to be the most thankless job around.

If you’ve lived here for any length of time, you know what I mean. Whether it comes from the mountains meeting the plains, or some weird cosmic vibrations out of Boulder, or just the cumulative atmospheric effects of too many disappointing Rockies baseball seasons, Colorado weather is weird.

This is where the Four Seasons isn’t a hotel, it’s a 24-hour period. Where the morning’s T-shirt may turn into the afternoon’s parka. Where a school-closing storm can be followed by a perfect day to walk the dog.

Given that, is it any wonder that we get a little cynical at proclamations of snowy doom?

By the time this appears in print, we’ll know for sure whether the latest Snow My Goodness really was the storm of ages or just the usual shoveling and muttering of Colorado’s annual welcome to spring. This region has had some epic snows and everyone has their favorite to talk about:  the Christmas Blizzard of ’82; the roof-busters of 2003; the 2006 storms that piled on like a network TV show, claiming a regular Thursday slot. But we’ve also seen enough doom-and-disaster prophecies go bust to reflexively roll our eyes anytime a TV personality uses the words “Snowmageddon” or “Snowpocalypse.”

But here’s the thing. For all the sarcasm – we still prepare. We may not believe, but we prepare.

Why? Because the potential cost of not doing it is just too darned high.

We’ve learned that from tornado warnings: head to the basement, because even if the last 12 ended harmlessly, there’s no guarantee on the 13th.  

We’ve learned that from wildfires and floods: get out quick when the warning comes, because the longer you linger, the harder it becomes to leave.

And over this last year, a lot of us have learned that again and again from the pandemic.

By now, most of us can recite it like a mantra. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Keep at least six feet away. And when something slips, like a party on the Hill or a burst of Memorial Day impatience,  we see the curves rise and get a fresh reminder of why it’s important.

It’s been tedious, even for the dedicated introverts among us. Constant vigilance is tiring and there’s always the temptation to say “Forget it, I’ll be OK just this once.”

But we know better. As the old adage goes, it’s better to prepare without need than to need and not prepare.

So we do what we need to do. For ourselves. For our neighbors. For our community.

Sometimes the predicted danger melts away like a seventh-inning chance at Coors Field, and we share a laugh at the hype (and maybe a quiet sigh of relief). But when the preparation and endurance pay off – that’s when we come out the other end with gratitude and another story to tell.

So whether today’s landscape looks like a typical Longmont March or a remake of “Nanook of the North,”  thank you for being ready. For yesterday’s warning. For tomorrow’s. And especially for the ongoing one that we’re finally starting to push back as hope rises and the shots roll out.

That’s how we make it through. Not panicking, but not foolhardy either. Eventually, that caution and care will bring us out the other side and we can return to a slightly less stressful existence.

Well … everyone except the weather forecasters, anyway.

Talk to the Hand Turkey

OK, who else remembers hand turkeys?

I suppose there are sillier questions to start a morning with, like “Which is louder, red or 13?” or “Can the Broncos build a real offensive line?” But then, hand turkeys were kind of a silly thing. If you have a kindergartner, you almost certainly know the drill : trace your hand with a pencil or marker, add a face on one end and boom! Instant turkey.

It still makes me laugh because it’s so easy. You see, in a world filled with brilliant holiday crafters, my skills more or less peaked in grade school. Wrapping paper and I have a notoriously uneasy relationship. My attempts to depict hearts or shamrocks usually look like someone let the air out of them. And the less said about my cooking abilities for any holiday (or at any other time), the better.

But when it comes to hand turkeys, we’re all on a level. If you can draw a steady line, you’re good. Maybe even if you can’t.

It’s a simple, weird ability for a simple, weird holiday.

Yeah, I said it – Thanksgiving’s kind of weird. Nice, but weird. Think about it for a second.

It’s a time for stepping aside in quiet contemplation – whose celebrants then complain because it doesn’t draw the attention that more public holidays like Christmas or Halloween do.

It’s a moment for being grateful for what we have, right before four weeks of being told that we don’t have enough.

It’s a time when really odd traditions have the power to stick. Like being passionately devoted to cranberry sauce shaped like a can. Or listening to (and loving) 18 minutes of Arlo Guthrie. Or paying attention to the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions in any shape or form.

Most of all, it’s a time to reach out and reach in. Reaching out to a community, especially those often forgotten. Reaching in to those we care about most.

Which means that once again our kindergarten teachers were right. A hand really is the symbol of the season.

And it’s why this Thanksgiving may be especially hard.

This year, we’ve added one more oddity to the list – to reach out by staying back. To show how much we care by keeping our distance.

That’s not easy.

For a lot of us, Thanksgiving is about drawing people close together (even if some of them are then banished to the kids’ table). Even in a normal year, when someone can’t be there – whether for one feast or for a lifetime – it leaves a hole. This year, the holes may well feel like a Swiss cheese. It’s hard to be thankful for what you have when everything inside you is saying there should be more.

But then, gratitude is easy when everything is in abundance. It’s the harder times that test us. Are we truly thankful – or just comfortable?

Is that hand there to provide others with what they need – or just to take what we think we deserve?

Can we show love, and caring, and thought for others even when it’s difficult? Even if it means making a quiet holiday a little quieter?

I think we can. And I think we do it just like the kindergarten teacher showed us.

Make things simple, not complicated.

Hold your hand still.

Draw the line carefully and firmly.

And then put the best face on it that you can.

This isn’t forever. It can be better and it will. But we need patience for now to bring the joy that will come.

This year, it’s all in our hands.

Living on the Edge

There are quiet people in this world. Shy, retiring, afraid to let you know what they feel.

And then there’s Missy.

As in the Missy that charges the edge of the stage at a Face Vocal Band concert, witnessing the whole show a shoelace away from the singers.

Or the Missy whose face lights up at the sight of a dog (“Doggie!”), a small child (“Baby!”), or a friendly-looking face in the downtown (“Hi, you!”). Who shouts back at passing motorcycles for being too loud, and then cranks the car stereo to 35 when she thinks no one’s looking.

She’s my age by the calendar.  But she’s miles younger when it comes to enthusiasm and sincerity. For Missy, life is something to be embraced – maybe literally in the case of Face, from whom she collects hugs and hellos after every show.

It’s fun to watch. And a little intimidating to match.

You see, I am one of the quiet people by nature.

OK, you can stop laughing.

Yes, I’m also an actor, a former reporter, a PR guy, and a columnist who shares pieces of his life on a regular basis. This is not necessarily a contradiction. While all of those are social, they’re also situations where the conversation usually has rules. An actor has a script. A reporter has questions, a PR guy a specific field to expound on. A columnist has space to think and a copious supply of caffeine.

Granted, all of these allow for some level of improvisation, or demand it, even, at times. But that foundation is always there, a safe outlet.

When you’re a quiet kid, you learn those outlets early.

In grade school, I sometimes hid behind library bookcases to avoid talking to people. In junior high, I was regularly dodging bullies. High school was a lot better, but there was always the awareness of being a little out of the mainstream – the jokes we’d tell each other about being “theatre geeks,” “choir nerds” or heaven help us, one of those weirdos who liked roleplaying.

It’s a different world now than it was, then. The geeks conquered the cultural universe. Now, things like The Lord of the Rings or Marvel superheroes aren’t nerdy obsessions, they’re coffeepot conversations. The niche has become the mainstream.

But habits don’t change quickly. Inner natures even less so. I think a lot of us – whatever our backgrounds, whatever our interests – still weigh situations carefully. To see if it’s acceptable, or even safe, to show what we feel. To keep that careful distance from the edge, lest we fall.

And to marvel, just a little bit, at those willing to dance there without fear.

That is Missy.

And it’s why we make such a curious team.

The sitcoms would love it – the near-silent extrovert paired with the social introvert. (Even more so when you add my wife Heather, an introvert by nature who loves steering both of us to new experiences and situations.) And, as with any good sitcom, everyone learns a lot from each other by the end of the episode.

A little more listening and restraint on one side. A little more fearlessness and willingness to let go, on the other. A world to explore for both.

If we fall, we fall together. But I’m a lot less worried about falling than I used to be.

It’s a great way to face the world. Or even to be whirled toward Face.

It’s certainly music to our ears.