The Great Escape

It sounded like the checklist for a bank robbery. Masks on. Remember how we practiced this. Get in, get out, go home.

“Are you ready?” I asked Missy.

“Y-yeah!” The cloth hid her grin but her eyes were bright.

And with that, we crossed the street to the comic book store. Our first (extremely brief) foray downtown since the Great Stay-at-Home was underway.

For Missy, it may as well have been a lottery win.

Regular readers may remember that when the world went into lockdown, our developmentally disabled ward went into frustration. Missy doesn’t talk a lot but she loves being around people, the extrovert’s extrovert who’s happiest in the middle of a dance floor, or a crowded restaurant, or a knock-em-down day at the bowling alley. She’s never forgotten a face, so any trip around town tends to produce a “Hey you!” and a wave as she works her way over, while I quickly try to remember if this is an old friend of hers or someone who’s about to become a new one.

So as you can imagine, COVID-19 has been her personal Lex Luthor. Only without the cool gadgets and shiny green rocks.

No restaurants. No crowds. Nothing beyond the walls of home, really, since with her disabilities she’s considered part of the “vulnerable “ population. And with her favorite businesses and weekly activities closed, there wasn’t anywhere to go.

I can hear some of you nodding your heads. Yep, familiar situation. A lot of folks were in the same boat – they just couldn’t share crew space.

That’s not easy. Especially for the most social folks among us who need a visit, a hug, a change of scenery the way that some of us need oxygen or water.

And it’s one reason why we’re finding re-opening the world to be a lot harder than shutting it down.

If you are or have been a parent – Happy Father’s Day, by the way! –  you know what I’m talking it about. Saying “NO” is frustrating, but clear. Saying “Yes, we can, if …” is a lot harder. That usually means conditions and rules and promises. And promises are easy to make but hard to keep in the heat of the moment. Of course I’ll walk the dog if we get one! Sure I’ll clean my room before going out!

We mean well. But we get excited. We want to hurry things along.

And in a situation like this, where careful steps are needed, that over-eagerness can trip things up fast.

The good news is that we’re still in a place where careful steps can work. Where they have been working. Where thinking about what we do before we do it can make a big difference.

With Missy, that meant practicing regularly with her mask, making sure she could keep it on, and using her wheelchair when we finally went out for real to reduce the chance of wandering.

With us as a society, it means continuing to look out for each other. To not just focus on the stuff we want to do, but to learn and practice the things we need to do, in order to make sure that we all get through this.

It’s easy to get impatient. But if we keep it doing right, even the small victories become a big deal. And the big victories come that much closer.

Thank you to everyone who’s been doing it right. Who’s given us this crack in the door. Together, we’re making life just a little more normal.

For Missy, that’s an excitement that nothing can mask.

The Quiet Time

By now, we should be experts in quiet.

Think about it. We’ve had weeks, even months of practice. Self-quarantine. Social distancing. Stay-at-home orders with every possible distraction removed (except Netflix). Surely by now, we’ve mastered the art of silent contemplation, gained a new appreciation for the inner life, and dedicated ourselves to a period of reflection and self-discovery …

You’re not buying it, are you?

Well, it was worth a shot.

In all honesty, the growing levels of COVID-19 restlessness haven’t really shocked me that much, and not just because of economic pressure and a rising tide of Amazon boxes that threatens to inundate all of suburbia. The fact of the matter is, we’re a loud country. An extrovert among nations. Folks who want to do instead of be, and preferably do it with friends at 100 decibels or more, especially when it comes time for the July 4 Symphony in the Key of High Explosives. (If you’re not part of the annual conflagration, by the way, our dog would like to thank you from the bottom of his eardrums.)

I know, there are plenty of exceptions (myself included). But by and large, we’re not a country that does real well with “sit still and wait.”

So there’s a real irony to the fact that our first restless steps beyond the house and the grocery store are coming just in time for Memorial Day.

A couple of years ago, I noted that Memorial Day is something of an oddity among the holidays, since it doesn’t ask you to do all that much. There’s no calls to put out acres of holiday lights, or dress in bizarre costumes, or call your mom before her day slips away again. (You did remember this year, right?) Instead, we’re asked to pause and remember and reflect, to hold close the memory of those who gave everything they had to protect the nation.

And to be honest, we don’t do it all that well. We mean well, most of us, but backyard grills are seductive. And swimming pools. And the chance to grab the first three-day weekend in the last three months or so.

But now … now we have the quiet holiday in the midst of the quiet time. A moment where we’re still supposed to be taking it slow and distant, the perfect atmosphere in which to focus on the things that matter.

What if we actually did?

What if we took the time to remember those who stepped forward to protect those more vulnerable, whatever the sacrifice?

What if we learned from them? And emulated them? Not by hurrying to a foreign battlefield, but by coming to the aid of our friends and neighbors, even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable?

What if we took a moment to recall the cost of conflict, and then looked for ways to ease it?

What if we opened ourselves to the lessons of the past, so that we could build a better future?

What if we just stopped to think? To look beyond our skin? To see a need and stand up to fill it, as someone once did for us?

That would be a Memorial Day worth remembering. And not just for the epic barbecue rubs.

Take the opportunity. In a world of uncertainty, be someone’s reassurance, even if it’s through the simplest of acts. In a time where distancing is survival, take the actions that bind all of us closer together, even when we have to stay physically apart.

So many gave so much to bring us where we are. But it’s up to us to carry it forward, with our heart, our willingness, and our sacrifices, big and small.

Don’t do it for applause or acclaim. Do it because we’re counting on each other. Because none of us can do this alone.

You may even find a quiet satisfaction.

And at a time like this, that’s the most fitting reward of all.

This New Guitar

I twisted the peg, checked the tone. Way too low.

“Other direction, Rochat,” I muttered as I begin to reverse the tuning on the guitar. Better … better … perfect.

I smiled. Only 70 zillion steps to go.

Music’s never been a stranger to Casa Rochat, but it usually involves 88 keys and some desperate scrambling to turn a page without losing the rhythm or my sheet music. But this Christmas, Heather and Missy decided they were going to expand my repertoire a bit. Which is how I wound up with an acoustic guitar under the tree.
A guitar!

There has always been something about a guitar that sounds like home to me. Like a lot of Colorado kids born in the ’70s, I grew up listening to my parents’ John Denver albums, which probably set the pattern. That got reinforced by a lot of friends and relatives, especially acting buddies who would break out their six-string at a cast party. Often we’d play together, piano and guitar, chiming out folk songs or oldies or anything else we could think of.

When music became more available online, I adapted so many chord sheets that I began to joke about playing “rhythm piano.” And so, over the years, I began to think about chasing those warm, familiar sounds myself.

Easy to talk about, of course. Everyone’s got one of those friendly, fuzzy dreams from writing the next big bestseller to climbing the Fourteeners. They’re fun to bring up and cool to contemplate. But turning them into reality … well, that’s a different animal.

That’s work.

Or at least, that’s the attitude most of us take toward it.

Two attitudes, really. The first is to get disappointed when a new task doesn’t yield success right away. “I can’t draw Longs Peak on the first attempt, therefore I can’t draw.” “I tried auditioning and I didn’t get Prince Hamlet, so I’m done.”

The second … well, the second is viewing it as work in the first place.

Granted, to any objective bystander, work is exactly what it is. But most of us aren’t objective about what we do. Mark Twain hit it right on the money in “Tom Sawyer” when he pointed out that “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

I write. A lot. I read about writing a lot. Even when I read for pleasure, I catch myself breaking down the structure and style, like an architect studying a blueprint. It’s effort at times, but it’s not really work. It’s just what I do, how I think, who I am.

At least, until I break into a sort of writing I’ve not done before. Then the sweat comes and the doubt begins. The reflexes aren’t trained, the expectations aren’t familiar, and the work, so second-nature at other times, becomes visible, even awkward.

Arguably, I’m doing exactly the same thing. But my mind doesn’t know that yet. It sees work, and lots of it; a mountain to be climbed rather than a view to be discovered.

If I turned that around, I’d probably have half a dozen novels by now.

Turn it around and there’s a freedom. This isn’t school. Nobody’s making me write a book or learn guitar or become a kitchen virtuoso. This is something I can choose to do or not do, to my own satisfaction or disappointment.

Terrifying? Sometimes. But also attractive. And somewhere, buried beneath the surface of the work, a lot of fun.

We discover that on so many other things we love. Why be surprised to find it again?

And so, this year, I’m strumming. Not as a resolution, forced by the change of the year. But as a dream that can finally be real – and real fun – with some time and effort and joy.

And maybe, in the chords, I’ll even hear an echo of a distant time and a Rocky Mountain tenor.

Take me home.