A Step Into Memory

“This popular game show brought attention to Longmont, Colo. and memories to a local columnist.”

“Ken, what is ‘Jeopardy!’?”


Like a lot of former reporters, I’m a “Jeopardy!” fan. Journalists have a habit of picking up a lot of odd facts in a wide variety of fields – someone once called it a ‘wastebasket mind’ – so the trivia game with the guess-the-question format has a natural appeal.

So when Longmont resident Stephen Webb began racking up the big bucks on the blue board, I got as excited as anyone. At this writing, he’s been the champ for three straight games, living the dream for all of us armchair trivia buffs.

Including one who really ought to be here watching.

My friend Mark Scheidies had a mind made for “Jeopardy!” That’s not just hyperbole. He made the contestant pool six different times. Had the world been different, he’d probably be trying yet again to become the third Longmonter to win big on the show (following both Webb and previous champion Jennifer Giles).

An accident claimed Mark in 2020. But even without a “Jeopardy!” appearance, he still left behind some indelible memories. As a treasured Longmont Theatre Company actor. As a gentle man with a wry sense of humor.

And, for a few months in 2013, as the “Longmont Street Walker.”

It’s not what it sounds like. (That wry humor again.) In 2013, Mark set out to walk every mile of every street in Longmont. It took him over 1.5 million steps, but he did it, blogging the journey after each new expedition.

In the process he rediscovered the city he’d been living in for 30 years. And reintroduced a lot of us to it as well.

“Even though I’ve driven a street many times, there are still things that I will notice walking that I have never noticed driving,” Mark wrote.

Yes. Yes. A hundred times, yes.

I’m not in Mark’s class as a walker OR a trivia champion. (Our epic battle of Trivial Pursuit never did happen, and I’m probably less humiliated for it.) But in my own lengthy walks across Longmont, I’ve noticed the same thing. Driving gives you tunnel vision. Your mind locks on your destination and (hopefully) the drivers around you, but you don’t really experience much beyond that bubble of thought.

Walking forces you to pay attention.

You learn where every dog in the neighborhood is – or at least what their bark sounds like.

“Where the Sidewalk Ends” is no longer just a Shel Silverstein poem, but an occasional reality. (And a challenging one if you’re also pushing a relative’s wheelchair, but I digress.)

You discover shortcuts. Faces. Interesting sights that get missed at 30 mph but become glaringly obvious at one-tenth that speed.

In short, you learn to see. And that’s a rare skill.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote of the importance of “recovery,” the ability to clean off your mental windows and actually notice things that have become commonplace. It means not just telling yourself “oh, another tree,” so you can put it in its box and move on, but actually seeing the tree as though you had never seen one before: its texture, its color, its life.

Life at walking speed makes a good window-cleaner. No bubble, no isolation – just a world close enough to touch, or at least to notice.

Mark’s blog Is still up at www.longmontstreetwalker.com. The sidewalks await any time. It doesn’t have to be an epic journey. Even a few steps can make a big difference.

And if you plan it right, you’ll even get home in time for “Jeopardy!”

Benedict of the Doubt

When the Pope made his big announcement this week, I was probably one of the few people thinking of car keys.

Not at first, of course. Like a lot of us, my first reaction when Pope Benedict XVI announced he would retire at the end of February was “What? He can DO that?” I guess when a trigger doesn’t get pulled in 600 years, you kind of forget it’s there.

After that? Some sympathy, some jokes, some expressions of good or bad memories of the Pope and what he had or hadn’t done. And of course, some confusion and anger over Benedict’s decision to lay down the Fisherman’s Ring.

“If a Pope is, literally, a father … elected to be a father to the Body of Christ … well, fathers don’t step down,” said one Facebook friend who admitted to being “flabbergasted” by the news.

I can understand the feeling. But I came at it from a different angle.

It’s true that fatherhood isn’t something you can retire from. But it is something you can be forced to lay down. I have at least two close friends who had to become a parent to their fathers because their dads had grown too weak, physically and mentally, to take care of themselves, never mind a family. It was a hard moment for both of them, one born of love and pain, and they weathered it with all the strength they had.

Most of us, I think, haven’t been brought to that point. I hope we never are. But we probably all know someone who has made a smaller decision in deference to age and ability.

Namely, the decision to hang up your car keys for good.

My grandma had to make that decision last year. It wasn’t an easy one. She’s long been used to going where she wants, when she wants: church, the library, the pharmacy, the store. As she got older, she cut out night driving and out-of-town trips, but kept the rest into her 90s.

But when the choice came, it came for a good reason. Her reflexes weren’t what they had been. Small warnings that would have jumped out at her even five years before could be missed now. It wasn’t what she wanted to do – it’s probably not what any of us want to do – but for her safety and that of others, she made the decision.

If I can acknowledge that that’s a good idea for a relatively small responsibility, how much more so for one that could affect the entire world?

“In order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary,” Benedict declared on Monday, “strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

Those had to be hard words to say. That he could say them at all wins some respect from me.

Were there other motives behind the decision? Probably. When a world leader surrenders power, it’s rarely just for one reason. I’m sure there’ll be speculation for months on the whys and wherefores, maybe even a book or two.

But for me, for now, the stated reason is more than sufficient. However willing the spirit, there comes a time when the body can’t back it up.

At that point, there’s a strength in surrender. In knowing, and acting on the knowledge, while you remain able.

It’s a sign of wisdom.

You could even call it a key decision.