Snow Idea

A late May snowstorm carries certain obligations. Shake snow from the branches. Disconnect the hose. Rejoice that the Rockies won’t be able to lose today.

Oh, yes. And find a way to keep a young dog from losing his mind.

“Holmes, I promise, it doesn’t look any different out there now than it did 20 minutes ago.”

The deep brown eyes refused to believe me. I knew they wouldn’t. After all, the energy of a 1-year-old pup cannot be denied.

“OK, OK.”

The door opened. Holmes emerged … to a world still gray with cold and snow. The look in his eyes as he returned said it all.
“I thought you FIXED this!”

Sorry, buddy.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve discovered that our new dog’s secret identity is the Flash. (I know, Barry Allen will be shocked.) Given the chance to let out his energy outdoors, he gets the “zoomies,” dashing here, there and everywhere with a velocity that the Indy 500 would envy. Frisbees? Fun! Sticks? Even better! Squirrels? LET ME AT ‘EM!

But he’s also not all that fond of water falling from the sky. So when he hit his first spring snow with us, his pent-up energy could have easily charged a fleet of Teslas. Indoor play time helped, but (puppy and toddler parents, please join in with me here), “It’s just not the same!!!”

These days, I think many of us can sympathize.

After all, we’ve had our own routines disrupted for a lot longer than a one-day snow.

For more than two years now, COVID-19 has been a fact of life for all of us. We’ve learned about it, guarded against it, seen it touch those we know (or maybe even ourselves). At different times, we’ve masked up, locked down and learned the six-foot safety dance.  

All the while, we keep looking for the way out again.

All the while, we keep getting frustrated.

By now, we all know the cycle. Cases cool down. Caution gets relaxed. We sprint for “normal” like Holmes heading for the back door, sure that the world is different this time.

And like Holmes, we discover the world hasn’t changed that much yet. New surge. New variants Same restlessness.

After a few rounds of this, the term “normal” has started reminding me of a line from “The Princess Bride”: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

We’re still finding out what normal is. It’s probably not going to look like 2019. It hopefully won’t look like 2020 (please, no). But there are two things we can know for sure:

First, normal is a moving target.  Always has been, always will be.

Secondly, discovering that normal will take time. And patience. And yes, some continued caution.

That’s not a popular thought. I don’t like it either. I’d love to be able to push “reset” and have instant resolution. We want clear definitions, quick resolution, a finish line that we can cross and celebrate.

But it’s not that neat and simple.

We have to wait out the storm as best we can. Or everyone’s going to keep getting drenched.

On Saturday, Holmes peeked out into a different world. Muddier. A little harder to navigate. But once again open to dashing and discovery. He hurried out, his faith in the world restored.

May we all be so lucky.

You Know What I Meme

By now, we all know the advice: Wear your masks. Get your shots. And remember your daily dose of memes.

Wait, what was that last one?

Yes, according to a recent piece by National Public Radio, internet memes – the contagious jokey or cute images that pop up on Facebook and elsewhere, usually with a pop-culture slant – may have been a key piece of psychological survival during the pandemic. NPR cited a study that found people who viewed memes had higher levels of humor, more positive feelings and less stress than those who didn’t. The effect was even stronger If the meme was directly about COVID-19.

Short version: if you’re that guy who’s been sharing dad jokes and cartoons, your work has not been in vain.

This might sound a little odd. After all, it seems to fly in the face of several “common sense” assumptions, like our mistrust of social media and an urge to keep from stressing out over too much pandemic news. And for heaven’s sake, isn’t serious stuff supposed to be taken … well, seriously?

Well. Maybe not.

Maybe, in fact, a little silliness is just what the doctor ordered.

It’s at moments like this that I like to invoke one of the most profound philosophers of our times, Roger Rabbit. On its surface, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” is sheer goofy slapstick, the sort of chaos you can only get when an army of wild-eyed cartoon characters has to battle the plots of an extremely hammy Christopher Lloyd. But in a quieter moment – relatively speaking – the cartoon Roger takes a moment to convince his cynical human friend Eddie of the value of comedy.

“A laugh can be a very powerful thing,” Roger insists. “Sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have.”

Let me be clear: there’s laughter and then there’s laughter. We’ve all become a little too familiar with the cruel kind, the sort that mocks victims and makes light of tragedy. That’s a weapon turned on the weak, and it’s not the sort of thing we need now or ever.

But there’s a different sort of laughter.

There’s the kind that pulls people together through a shared crisis, like the World War II-era English in the midst of the Blitz. One shopkeeper, after an air raid, put a sign on his damaged business reading “More Open Than Usual.”

There’s the kind that gives a moment of relief and distraction in the midst of too much pain. I’ve written many times about my wife Heather’s chronic illnesses … and about the silliness that gets us through, whether it’s bad Bob Dylan imitations or setting the names of her conditions to music. (No, we haven’t yet tried setting her conditions to Bob Dylan music, but give us time.)

There’s the laughter that hits back at the cruel. Or that exposes absurdity. Or that opens minds as well as mouths. (I’ve lose track of how many times I’ve posted the punchline “I sent you two boats and a helicopter!” to make a point). The sort that can make people aware of the world in a way that makes it more bearable – and maybe even helps them think about it in a new way.

So maybe memes aren’t such a bizarre tool after all. Maybe, in a time when so much is off-kilter, they’re just cockeyed enough to make sense.

The more I think about it, the more I like it.

After all, in these challenging times, we must live within our memes.

Living Upside-Down

Some things just have to be mentioned in the same breath. Like Beethoven and the Ninth Symphony. Or Sean Connery and James Bond. Or John Elway and “The Drive.”

So now that my friend Brie Timms has taken her final bows, it’s only right that someone brings up “Noises Off.”

If you don’t know the show, “Noises Off” takes every nightmare an actor’s ever had about the stage and blends it into a smoothie. It’s a comedy – no, an outright farce – where backstage jealousies lead to onstage chaos, with stalled entrances, sabotaged props, and an increasingly bedraggled cast. It’s also a notoriously difficult show to do, including a stretch where the story has NO dialogue for several minutes, relying on perfectly-timed action to get the laughs.

Brie came back to that show again. And again. And again.

No surprise. It fit her so well.

Let me back up: I’m not calling her a soap opera on wheels. Quite the opposite. Brie didn’t have time for unnecessary drama. Anything that distracted from the show didn’t belong. It’s the kind of focus that made her such a terrifying Nurse Ratched – a role quite opposite her real-life personality – and that built fantastic loyalty in her casts whenever she directed.

But she understood the paradox behind the best comedies. It’s an upside-down world where the golden rules are as follows:

  1. Silly is funniest when it’s taken seriously.
  2. It takes great acting to portray “bad acting.”
  3. Division onstage requires tight teamwork backstage.
  4. And most of all, if you want chaos, you have to plan for it.

Brie loved that. Especially the last one. And because of it, whenever she took on “Noises Off,” it ran like a Swiss watch. But a lot funnier.

And now that she’s gone, it feels like a gear in the watch is missing.

But even as the show goes on without her, I think there’s still something to be said for living an upside-down life.

Unlike comedies, life doesn’t give most of us the luxury of planning our chaos, which may explain why it’s often more tiring than funny. But it does tend to send us situations that work best when we flip the script. Where paradoxes make sense.

And the biggest one is that in a world ruled by isolation, we need each other more than ever.

Over nearly two years, we’ve all learned the pandemic litany. Cover your face. Wash your hands. Get your shots. And keep your distance. But we don’t always talk about the why. Maybe it just seems too obvious – in virus times, a person’s got to protect themselves, right?

But it’s not about each of us. It’s about each other. It’s about making ourselves living breakpoints so that the virus doesn’t wreak further havoc among all of us, especially among the old, the sick and the vulnerable.

When we think of our neighbors first, we win.

Teamwork matters. In comedy. In disasters. In life. And when it’s a teamwork born of compassion, one where we each give a little of our strength to help another, that makes all of us stronger.

I wish the team still had Brie in it. We need her. We need all our loving storytellers. But if we keep up that best paradox of all – to help yourself, help another – then I think we’ve kept one of the best parts of her, too.

And that’s a showstopper even “Noises Off” can’t beat.

Laboring in Vrain

On the first day of the Big Flood, a photographer and I covered southern Longmont like a blanket. We watched Missouri Street turn into the “Missouri river”. We saw washed-out train tracks and rising streams and people dangerously trying to wade a flooded-over Hover Street.

And when it came time to return to the Times-Call newsroom, we saw one other thing. Namely, that getting back home was going to be a lot harder than we thought.

If you were there in 2013, you probably remember. The rising St. Vrain Creek had cut Longmont in two. Within town, there was exactly one north-south connection left – from Ken Pratt to Third – and that was being reserved for emergency vehicles.

And so began the Journey of Exploration.

The photographer knew the area well. He had to. As he drove east, we picked our way between small county roads  like a child’s pencil through a maze, trying to find just one clear route that would let us outflank the St. Vrain.

It took about an hour. It might have been the first time that anyone had gone from Hover Street to the downtown by way of Mead. Wings would have been great to have, or maybe sails.

But we made it.

True, it had required much more work, persistence and time than anyone had expected. Much too much.

But at journey’s end, we were just glad to be home.

**

Eight years later, it sometimes feels like we’re back in the flood.

Once again, we have a people divided by disaster. Some are trying to help. Some are already hit hard. Some are desperate enough to try anything that offers a way out. Most are simply trying to survive until it’s all over … whenever that might be.

And just like that drive home on those rain-swept roads, the journey back is turning out to be a lot longer than we thought.

Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. Pandemics don’t end as quickly and neatly as a Hollywood movie. Or if they do take their cue from Hollywood, it’s from all those interminable sequels where the old threat keeps getting recycled with new abilities and special effects.

We wouldn’t survive as a species if we couldn’t hope. And so we keep crossing our fingers that this time we’ve turned the corner, that this wave will be the last, that things can finally start to subside and normalize again.

And when we turn the corner and find another corner, it’s draining. Frustrating. Even crushing.

But we have to keep driving.

We need to remember the things that got us through the flood – helping neighbors, staying alert, doing what’s needed to stay safe.

It hasn’t been easy. It won’t be easy. Like outmaneuvering a river, it’s taking more time and effort than anyone thought.

But with persistence, with awareness, with careful attention to the road … we can move forward. And we will make it home.

True, home might look different than we expect. Like rivers, “normal” doesn’t stand still. Sometimes it transforms, like the St. Vrain changing its course. Sometimes it needs to transform, like the efforts to widen and deepen the river channel to make a second flood less likely.

But we still have a destination to reach. The way may be long and the vision ahead may be unclear, but we know where we want to be and it isn’t here.

So we keep on. Together. Eyes on the road.

The sign for Mead is out there. And when it comes, we’ll be ready to take the turn.

A Familiar Space

Don’t look now, but NASA is looking for people who can live away from human contact for an entire year.

Gee, I wonder who could possibly qualify?

OK, yes, they’re looking for potential space crew here – specifically, people who are ready to set up shop in a mock Martian habitat at Johnson Space Center. But once you peel away the specific (and strenuous) science and engineering requirements, the needs sound curiously familiar to anyone who faced down calendar year 2020.

Spending months on end with the same handful of faces? Check.

Working with limited resource availability and sudden unexpected emergencies? Check.

Planning for regular walks outside the home – pardon me, the habitat – and a whole lot of Netflix consumption to fill time after work? Check and Check.

Really, all that’s missing is a Zoom elementary school and regular Amazon deliveries and it’d feel just like home.

I know, it’s a serious study, not reality TV. They’re not just going to grab some Joe Average off the street, no matter how good a simulation of the Red Planet might sound in comparison to delta variants, wildfires and the latest breaking news stories about “The View.” NASA wants some lessons it can build on, and I hope it gets them.

Nonetheless, it’s one heck of a reminder. We really have been living on another planet lately, haven’t we?

We’ve learned more than we ever wanted to know about isolation and its effect on the human psyche, an aspect of human psychology that was once mainly of use to submariners, astronauts and the crew of the USS Minnow.

We’ve had to be as alert as any astronaut about making safety and security a part of the daily routine. We learned how far away six feet really is in the grocery store, how long 20 seconds is at the bathroom sink, and just how many masks one wardrobe can hold.

And yes, we’ve been as tethered to electronic communication as any space traveler dreamed, with just a few differences in content. (“Hulu, we have a problem.”)

But in among it all, there’s one huge difference. (OK, there’s a lot of huge differences, but work with me on this.) There’s one shift in perspective that makes this particular ride one of the most challenging of them all.

Space colonists in training know when their mission ends.

Astronauts know their expected return date.

But in our case? That’s in our own hands. Ours, and our neighbors, and a lot of strangers we’ve never met.

That’s daunting.

It’s a little like those group projects we all endured in school. You can work like crazy to do everything right, but if someone on the team doesn’t take it seriously, it makes it that much harder for everyone else.

That doesn’t mean “give up.” Far from it. It does mean that even in these days of semi-demi-hemi-normality, we have to keep doing the work to make things better and encourage others to do the same. Getting the shots. Staying alert and taking precautions where we need to. Learning from what we’ve gone through and then applying the lessons, as surely as any experimental NASA team.

Because the last thing any of us wants to do is keep cycling through the 2020s hamster wheel.

Pandemics take time to resolve. They always have. And if we keep our eyes on where we’re going and how we get there, we can find our way through.

That would be out of this world.

Even by Johnson Space Center’s standards.

Good Boy, You Bad Boy

“I know I should have yelled at him, but I couldn’t help it,” Heather said, with a smile that was just moments away from a laugh.

Well, that’s what happens when you get a Mischief Miracle.

The source, of course, was Blake. For all of his nearly 15 years, our beloved English lab has displayed a paradoxical intelligence: dense as a box of rocks on almost everything, but a genius bordering on Einstein when it comes to acquiring food. (Mind you, since his judgment remains in the “rocks” category, not all of the food that Blake grabs is actually edible – the baby wipes that he once consumed have gone down in family lore.)

But lately, Big Blake the Canine Trash Compactor has been slowing down as time and arthritis catch up. When even the promise of food required a second thought, and a third, and maybe even a fourth before rising to pursue the bounty, it was clear the big guy needed some help. Even after a vet visit, some lifestyle changes and some new pain meds, our concern remained as we wondered whether any of it would take hold.

And then, one morning, Blake paused. His face took on the old “I’m gonna go for it” look. Moments later, right in front of Heather, he lunged for a cereal bar … one that was still in its wrapper, for that matter.

The need for discipline has rarely mixed so thoroughly with the urge for joy.

If you’ve been the parent of a sick child, you may know what I’m getting at here. They get listless, you get worried. And then, you get some minor bit of misbehavior and it’s like the clouds have parted. They’re interested in something, motivated to something, doing something, even if it’s a something you’d rather not have them do.

It’s a sign of normal. For better and worse. But even the worse now goes in the “better” column because you’ve seen the True Worse and have no interest in turning back.

And you still hold your breath a bit. Because normal is oh-so-fragile and you don’t want to jinx yourself by celebrating too soon.

Sound familiar?

We’re seeing this on a larger scale, of course. As pandemic conditions recede around the country, all sorts of “normal” behaviors and conversations are starting up again, including arguments that might have once been chased to a lower tier by COVID concerns. (Billionaires in space, anyone?) Not everything that’s come back is welcome, but it’s a sign that things are coming back … maybe.

Because there’s still the breath-holding. The glance over the shoulder. The worry that the Delta variant, or some other monkey wrench, will put us through another cycle of grief and uncertainty. The need to still be careful until we’re sure the gap has been well and truly crossed.

With Blake, we know this is something of a respite. He’s a big dog who’s almost 15 years old and even in the best of worlds, you only get so much time. But we’ll take this respite for as long as we can hold onto it.

With the larger world … well, to some extent, it’s in our hands. Do we want this to be just a respite, or the next step upward? Our actions and choices during this time will lay the foundations for either.

Chew on that for a while. But don’t take too long about it.

After all, Blake the Walking Stomach is on the move. And if you’re not going to chew something, he’ll be glad to do it for you.

Ark of Recovery

Don’t look now but we just beat the Raiders.

No, not those Raiders. Even for the wandering brethren of Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland-Las Vegas, it would take some doing to lose a football game one month before the NFL preseason even started. (Of course, it may also take some doing for the Broncos to win a game after it starts, but let’s allow ourselves to dream, OK?)

No, I’m talking about the Raiders from everyone’s favorite 40-year-old action film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the breathless adventure where Indiana Jones recreates the thrills, spills and chills of the 1930s serial cliffhanger movies … and, famously, doesn’t accomplish a whole lot else.

The argument’s been made across the internet (not to mention one episode of The Big Bang Theory), so I’ll be brief. By the end of the movie, the Nazis have been destroyed by their own arrogance. Their plan went on pretty much the way it would have without Dr. Jones – in fact, he may have sped it up slightly by showing them the Ark’s true resting place – but it just happened to be a bad plan that was always going to kill them.

For Indy, the adventure’s main significance is in the changes it made in him personally. And since he’s an ‘80s action-movie star, even those aren’t guaranteed to be carried over to the next film.  He did a lot of running. A lot of fighting. And it didn’t make much difference.

That’s where we’ve got the edge.

We know we’ve made a difference. And that we can continue to.

Colorado recently ended its official state of emergency, a crisis condition that’s extended over 16 months, a lot of executive orders, and more than a few fogged-up glasses from habitual face-masking. Worldwide, the pandemic isn’t over by a long shot and even in this country, there’s still a lot of concern about what the delta variant of COVID-19 may mean for the immediate future. But at this time, and in this place, we’ve done a lot.

We went from one of the worst coronavirus fatality rates west of the Mississippi to one of the 10 best states in the nation.

We’ve gotten an awful lot of us vaccinated – at the time I write this, more than 70 percent of our adults have had at least one shot and nearly 64 percent have been fully immunized.

Most of all, we’ve been finding ways to help our neighbor and try to keep life going even when it’s been at its weirdest.

We’re living life differently these days – new habits, new priorities, maybe even new perspectives shaped by what we’ve gone through. And unlike a Hollywood film, normal isn’t a matter of rebuilding the sets and restoring the status quo. Some of what we’ve learned will stay with us. It might be big changes in how and where we work or small pastimes that we got hooked on while living apart, but it’ll be there.

We’ve changed.

Hopefully, that means we’ve grown as well.

I don’t want to be too dramatic. Plenty of pre-pandemic stuff has survived as well (including, to my own surprise, the handshake). The world’s not completely unrecognizable, like some sort of Rip Van Winkle tale. But we have an opportunity to carry lessons forward. We’ve seen the impact our actions can have on others and we have a chance to learn from that.

Let’s face it: this movie doesn’t need a sequel.

After all, why settle for keeping up with the Joneses?  

Game On

It’s an exciting time to be a sports fan in Colorado.

This year, the Denver Nuggets have BLASTED their way through the first round of the NBA playoffs!

This year, the Colorado Avalanche are setting themselves up as the NHL’s TEAM TO BEAT!

And this year, the Colorado Rockies are … are …

Hmm.

Well, they’re showing up. I think.

If you’re a longtime Rockies fan, this is probably a familiar refrain. Most seasons, the Rockies get some April love, a fast start, and then quietly sink into the mire of “Maybe next year.” But this year – ah, this year, the Rockies set out to accomplish something different. And did.

Yes, this year Colorado’s Men In Purple managed to burn their record to the ground before even getting out of April. Woohoo! Go, team!

We could argue about the reasons forever (after all, that’s what the internet is for). It could be the fault of the ownership. Or the space aliens beneath DIA. Or maybe even space aliens in the ownership – it’s been that kind of season.

Whatever the reasons, this is when we see That Fan start to emerge. You know the one.

“Who needs that bandwagon crowd, anyway? This is when you find out who the REAL Rockies fans are! If you can’t stick with the team in the bad years, we don’t want to see you in the good ones!”  

I understand the attitude. Heck, I’ve suffered through some bad Rockies baseball myself. At the same time, this isn’t Valley Forge in the American Revolution, where we’re called on to say who the sunshine soldiers are and who’s ready to fight for life and liberty.

It’s a game. It’s meant to be fun.

For some of us, the fun is in the art of baseball itself, the tactics and psychology that lie behind every pitch and swing. For some, it’s the familiar faces and personalities, the players that have become almost as familiar as next-door neighbors.

And yeah, for some, it’s the excitement of being part of a crowd that’s watching a team of skilled athletes (and even the worst players are a lot more skilled than me and thee) taking the game to another level. Winning. Winning regularly. Feeling the electricity that comes when you KNOW you’re truly seeing the best around.

That’s just as legitimate. And if they fade into the background in the in-between years, it’s not that they’re fake fans … just less intense ones. Ones that demand more than just nine purple suits and a start time.

The priorities are different.

And if we’ve learned about anything over this past year, it’s about priorities.

When your life gets upended by a worldwide crisis, you quickly learn what’s important to you. The things you must do. The things you can’t do that you miss – or that you realize to your shock that you can do just fine without. The things you never had time for before that suddenly become a means of survival.

In particular, we found we needed people. We needed their stories (and streamed an awful lot of them). We needed their faces, their voices, their reminders that they existed at all, even if at a distance. Some of us found we were ok with the distance, while others were straining at the leash for something more.

As this country slowly comes out the other side, I hope we remember those discoveries. I hope we remember what worked in our life and the ways we found joy in a stressful time. Most of all, I hope we remember how important the people around us are, and don’t dismiss them until the next time they’re taken away.

I also hope, someday, that we remember what good baseball looks like in Colorado.

Maybe it’s time to talk with the space aliens.

Singing Out, Singing In

There’s nothing like a jaunt in a time machine to kick off the weekend right.

No, Doc Brown didn’t park the DeLorean in my driveway. The TARDIS from Doctor Who hasn’t made a pit stop on the Front Range. And while I’d have to clean out the basement to be sure, I’m reasonably confident that there’s no Victorian wonder-machine of gears and wheels waiting in the furnace room courtesy of H.G. Wells.

No worries. I’ve got something better yet.

It’s called Virtuosity.

***

Helplessly hoping, her harlequin hovers

Nearby, awaiting a word …  

Virtuosity, as the name might suggest, is a virtual choir, an online singing group organized by Stephen Ross of the Face Vocal Band. Like many others of its kind, it’s a pandemic creation, born from people who shared two common qualities:

  1. They really wanted to sing together for fun.
  2. They really didn’t want to share a virus-laden airflow.

The result is a musical Rube Goldberg machine, with a lot of moving parts adding up to a surprising result. You basically learn the song (with some online coaching), practice, record yourself at home 37 bazillion times until you’re no longer disgusted with your own performance, send the video to the director and then wait while he merges everybody’s video into one coherent and even compelling performance.

It should never work. But it does … brilliantly.

The main trick – well, besides learning to be kind to yourself as you work out the kinks – is that there can be quite a delay between preparation and performance. But even that’s more of a feature than a bug. It means that when you cue up the latest song – in this case, a cover of “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills and Nash – you’re not just hearing music. You’re hearing memories.

That’s where the time machine comes in.

On Friday, it took me back to the March blizzard that overlapped our recording dates. For many of us, that added up to a lot of extra takes, thanks to the sudden roar of snow blowers in the background or the THUMP of drifts sliding off the roof and onto the soundtrack.

Months from now, it’ll probably take me back even farther –  not just to piled-up snowstorms, but to the pandemic itself and the weirdness of trying to live apart from the world while being a part of it at the same time.

It’s a memory brought back to life. And that’s powerful.

I know, I know. Most of us feel like we don’t especially want to remember these times. We’ve shredded the 2020 calendar, buried the mask in the just-in-case back pocket, and set about trying to look forward instead of back. I sympathize, I really do.

Some memories are painful. Or uncomfortable. Or even toxic. Every day, we see headlines generated by memories that are years or even centuries old, pain left unredressed, wounds that never found a chance of healing.

But memory can build, too. It can teach, strengthen, reassure. It’s the sudden laugh that lightens the darkness, the glimpse of hope in the midst of insanity. It’s the reminder that “Yes, we’ve made it through before and we can again.”

When those memories are wrapped in an experience – a song, a story, a journey of the mind or the body – they endure. And when it’s a shared experience … well, that’s the sort of memory that builds communities up instead of tears them down.

I hope we all find some memories worth keeping from this. Maybe even worth learning from.

You could even call it note-worthy.

Worse Than His Bark

WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!

Big Blake, the Labrador of Legend, has many qualities that have made him a frequent guest in this column. There’s his loving, devoted heart. His well-meaning but clumsy reflexes. His simple mind, undistracted by anything resembling thought – except, of course, when it comes to eating the inedible, from brand-new crayons to baby wipes.

Usually, his powerful singing voice isn’t part of the epic. But we are living in unusual times.

WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!

“Blake, buddy! What is it?”

WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!

“OK, we’ve got the message. What’s going on?”

With a bark like that, a reasonable person might expect that Blake had gotten himself caught somewhere. Nope.

A suspicious person might look for burglars or a fearful one for ghosts. Uh-uh.

Injury? Storm? Timmy fallen into the well? No, no and no.

Like much that goes on in the 17 brain cells behind Blake’s eyes, it’s a mystery. But after the 37th time and some careful observation, we think we’ve put together a working theory.

You see, Big Blake is about 15 years old. And while he still has the body of a former athlete (complete with bad knees), his eyes and ears ain’t what they used to be. So when he’s resting in a room, every so often he’ll realize he hasn’t heard us in a while.

Not realizing we have retreated to the far reaches of The Next Room or (heaven forbid) the Great Upstairs, he’ll search his mind and memory and decide that he’s been left alone. At which point, he proceeds to express his heartbreak through the song of his ancestors.

WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!

In short, he gets worried. He gets confused. He gets lonely. Most of the time, with help a lot closer at hand than he thinks.

Sound familiar?

These days, I’m sure we’re all sick to death of the phrase “unprecedented times.” We’ve had to adjust to a new normal … and then a newer normal … and then the normal after that one. With vaccines rolling out and masks coming off, we’ve started to allow ourselves to breathe just a little, but we’re still aware of just how fragile “normality” is.

Early in the pandemic, many of us literally howled at dusk to show solidarity.  Since then, the cries have been lonelier and more anguished or frustrated. The reasons are many, varied and all too familiar. Uncertainty. Fear. Stress. Loss. Desperation. Too many things have gone away that were needed or loved, too many have stayed that were unwanted.

Most of all, perhaps, we’ve felt alone. We’ve been keeping the world at arm’s length and then some. At a time when we need our neighbors most, we’ve sometimes struggled to even see the same world, never mind the same response to a crisis.

And so our lives have had a lot of bark. And even some bite, from time to time.

But even in the midst of isolation, we were always closer to each other than we realized. And every time we did realize it, it sparked just a little more hope.

And so we sang. Worked. Cried. Worshipped. Comforted. We reached for the things that make us human. Not easily or comfortably. But inevitably.

Now that things are starting to ease, maybe we can see that connection more easily. I hope so. It doesn’t have to be rebuilt, just rediscovered.

The house isn’t empty. It never was. And once we realize that, it’ll truly be a time to celebrate.

We might even raise the woof.