Rush of Achievement

There’s weird. There’s wonderful. And then there’s David Rush. The man is in a class by himself.

Several classes by himself, actually.

You see, Rush is an Idaho man who’s trying to become the Record Holder of Record Holders – the man who holds more Guinness world records at once than any other person. It’s a quest that has led to some extremely bizarre accomplishments.

Such as being the fastest person to sort M&M’s by color.

Or popping 200 balloons in less than 12 seconds.

Or, just last Thursday, hitting a target with a pump-powered rocket 37 times in a row.

Right now, according to UPI, this gold-level master of strangeness holds 163 simultaneous records, 20 short of his goal. He’s actually achieved 250 different records but – inevitably with a goal this long-term – some of them then got broken by others while he continued his journey. They had to move fast, though: at one point, Rush broke 52 records in 52 weeks.

Why do it? As he’s mentioned to Guinness and many others, he’s a promoter of STEM education (science, technology, engineering, math) who simply wanted to show what focus on a goal could achieve.

“Too many students try, fail, and give up with a fixed mindset,” he says on his website, where he encourages a “growth mindset” instead – the idea that abilities aren’t simply innate, but can be developed through time, effort and help from others. “I can only do a very small part, but I’d like to do that part as well as I can.”

I suspect that hits home for a lot of us. It’s a message of hope, which I’ve described here before as “optimism plus sweat”: the willingness to commit to something better and then see it through.

And it remains powerful even when we’re aware that it’s not always that simple.

We’re all aware of boundaries in our lives. Some are more pliable than others. Some may be physical limitations, whether they’re as everyday as nearsightedness or as profound as severe childhood brain damage. Some have been set by society – we’ve all seen (or even experienced) stories of the additional challenges and barriers set due to poverty, race, gender, or an array of other qualities that can become a dividing line.

Can sufficient work, time and help overcome those? In many cases, sure – but the definition of “sufficient” is going to vary widely between individuals. For one person, a particular achievement may be as easy as a walk in the park. For another, it may be the equivalent of designing an entire space program from scratch.

Does that mean we should all give up? Heck, no. But it does mean  we all have a few additional lessons to remember.

First, be kind. Don’t assume that someone else is lazy just because they haven’t achieved what you think they should. You don’t know their burdens, their battles, or what they may have going on where no one else can see.

Second, try to see. Be aware of those around you. Understand as you would like to be understood, care about them as you would about yourself.

Finally, be the “help from others.” Encourage, teach, stand alongside. Find the boundaries that shouldn’t be there and help bring them down. Even when the limits are severe, work to grow what you can, like a garden behind a stone wall. Create opportunities – not all of them will be fulfilled, but you may be surprised at the ones that flourish.

Together, we can help each other grow. And help ourselves in the process. That’s an exciting feeling.

You might even say it’s quite a Rush.

RIP, PDQ

With apologies to the Terminator, Peter Schickele won’t be Bach. Not anymore, anyway.

The name might not ring a bell – but it should at least play a kazoo or two. You see, Schickele was better known to the world as P.D.Q. Bach, a “forgotten” final son of Bach whose existence was mostly an excuse to turn classical music into uproarious comedy.

If you’ve not discovered Bach the Extremely Lesser yet, you have an interesting musical journey ahead of you. This was, after all, the man whose classical pieces included parts for the bagpipe, the slide whistle and  the “tromboon” (trombone with a bassoon reed). In a given performance, you might catch dozens of musical references, ranging from The William Tell Overture to Shave and a Haircut. Trying to perform pieces like “Oedipus Tex” or “The Seasonings” with a straight face is difficult in the extreme; hearing them without cracking up is downright impossible.

And the best part? It’s a laughter that opens doors instead of drawing weapons.

Perhaps I should explain.

A lot of comedy calls for a victim – a deserving target who has earned absurd retribution. And the more deserving, the better. When John Cleese co-created “Fawlty Towers,” he made hotel manager Basil Fawlty utterly despicable … because if he were at all sympathetic, Cleese said, the series would become a tragedy.

At times, that can be priceless. Well-crafted humor can deflate the pompous, expose the cruel, or even depose the tyrannical. The concept is an ancient one; Thomas Moore once wrote that “the devil … cannot endure to be mocked.”

But too often, people shoot lower.

When that happens,  it makes comedy about the pain instead of the target. Someone gets hurt and it’s funny because it’s not happening to you. Any empathy involved is on the level of “Oooh, I felt that!” but mostly we just laugh at how the universe has it in for someone. (“America’s Funniest Home Videos,” anyone?)

And as we laugh at someone else’s pain, it coarsens us a little.

And that’s where I think PDQ was a downright genius.

His main target was the reverential aura that often surrounds classical music and makes it seem unapproachable. By injecting a heavy dose of silliness, Schickele not only made it approachable but fun. Anyone could laugh and enjoy … and better yet, if you had any experience with classical music, you’d laugh even harder from all the inside jokes he smuggled in. The more you knew, the funnier it got.

In short, he welcomed everyone. Entertained them. And maybe even educated them a little.

How much better can you get?

Schickele has left the stage now, gone at the age of 88. But the laughs live on. And whenever someone replays one of his off-kilter arias or ridiculous concert pieces, the doors will reopen and the wonderful insanity will resume.

That’s a heck of a legacy. And a great example to follow. Not just to laugh, but to laugh well in a way that brings us together.

All you have to do is sit Bach and enjoy.

Working in the Dark

I love weird stuff. And every so often, it’s so weird that I have to spend a morning on it here.

That’s how we’ve ended up with columns on the infamous “Boaty McBoatface.” Or on the man who solved nearly 7,000 Rubik’s Cubes in 24 hours. Or on the friend who loves to wrap a “hippity hop” ball in lights and lower it from a rope to celebrate the New Year. You know, the stuff that keeps the world interesting.

Well, we’re back in Rubik’s territory today. Not quantity this time, but quality. I’d say it’s a real eye-opener, but that would be singularly inappropriate in this case.

You see, today’s weird and wonderful accomplishment comes from an Australian teen who set a new Rubik’s Cube speed record … for solving it while blindfolded.

In 12.1 seconds to be exact.

Now I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t do a 12-second solve with my eyes open. Even if you let me “solve” it by peeling off all the colored stickers and putting them back on again so they matched.

To be fair, Charlie Eggins’ first reaction, according to Guinness, was also “I still can’t believe it!” And that’s after he’d done about 25,000 practice solves.

But maybe I shouldn’t be so startled. Maybe none of us should be.

After all, we try to do the same thing every day. Only we’re taking on something harder than Rubik’s Cubes.

We’re trying to solve people.

We like to think we know our family, our friends, the folks around us. Even with complete strangers, we’re usually pretty comfortable in our rules of thumb … after all, they can’t be that different from us, can they? Even one of our most fundamental rules – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – takes as its first assumption that others want what you want.

That’s not a bad starting point. It’s certainly better than seeing the “other” as a danger to be feared. But every so often – more than every so often – we run into the limits of it and have to reassess.

It could be minor, like discovering their indifference to a movie “everyone” knows. (“What do you mean, you’ve never seen Star Wars?”) It could be something more fundamental in their beliefs, their upbringing, the way they see the world.

Big or small, earthshaking or trivial, we suddenly find something that brings us up short and makes us think instead of react. In that moment, we get new eyes: toward the other person, the world, even ourselves.

Like a number of literature geeks, I’ve been reading Emily Wilson’s new translation of “The Iliad” lately. (I’d offer you my copy but, well, beware of geeks bearing gifts.) There’s a moment early on where the fierce warrior Diomedes is briefly given the ability to recognize the gods on the battlefield , even when they’re invisible or shape-shifted. Able to see who’s receiving special help, he fights more effectively than ever, even wounding Aphrodite when she tries to protect one of her favored warriors.

Clear vision can produce amazing results.

But like Eggins, we won’t solve anything if we’re not willing to come to grips with it.

We may be working in the dark. But if we’re at least trying to understand, we’ve taken the first step. (A step too few take, judging by the headlines.) We may get it wrong. We may fumble and stumble and misunderstand. But if we make the effort, and recognize the attempts of others to do the same with us, we’ll get there eventually … even if it isn’t in 12.1 seconds.

And that’s pretty weird and wonderful in itself.

Oh, THERE’S My Flying Car

When the pandemic first hit, many people joked that we had become the Jetsons. After all, many of us work over monitors. We’ve got wristwatch computers and flat-screen TVs. We even have electronic assistants and housecleaners, even if they’re named Alexa and Roomba rather than Rosie.

But there was always one big exception. One that rose to the level of a meme.

“Where’s my flying car?”

Well, the favorite sci-fi staple may finally be waiting in the wings (er, so to speak). The Associated Press recently reported that the Alef Aeronautics Model A has received its airworthiness certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. Ironically enough, it’s still waiting for its highway certification, but if that goes ahead, the Model A could hit the market in 2025.

Er … yay?

I’m a sci-fi geek. (I know, you’re shocked.) So part of me does find it cool. But I’m also a long time Front Range resident. And so, I have to ask the obvious question.

“Flying cars? Have you seen the way people drive when they’re on the ground?”

OK, curmudgeon moment over for now. But it brings up a couple of useful reminders.

The first is that, even with the most amazing technologies, there are always tradeoffs. The automobile came as a godsend to many large cities, where horse manure had become a serious public health hazard. (New York City alone had to deal with 100,000 tons per year at one point in the 1880s.) Nobody had yet anticipated that we’d also have to deal with carbon emissions, drive-throughs on every corner, and people who head for the grocery store at 70 mph with no turn signals.

But in a way, that’s the easy one. We make changes constantly in our world and we’ll make more. And while we regularly create problems, we also create possibilities. If we can see what needs doing, and we’re willing to seek a solution, we’ve got a chance.

But that brings up the bigger challenge: us.

To put it simply: technology can change rapidly. Human nature doesn’t change much at all.

Go back to ancient Rome and you’ll find parents complaining about how their kids have lost all respect for authority. (And probably kids complaining about how their parents are out of touch.)  Step back even a century or two, and you’ll see people saying how morality is doomed because of the movies … or the waltz … or novels. And of course, we’ve all heard how customer complaints for bad service go back to the Bronze Age.

We still hope, worry, fear and wonder. We’re still capable of the most amazing bursts of creativity and the most idiotic bursts of stupidity imaginable. The tools can enhance that, but they don’t replace it. Even recent developments in AI are still set against a context of our wants, our anxieties, our priorities and our deep-seated need to see what Bart Simpson would have looked like in Shakespearean times.

That means we have choices to make. We always have. If we ignore everything except our own wants, needs and impulses, no tool ever invented will make things better. But if we reach to our neighbors with open hearts, if we let ourselves actually see the world instead of just the parts we like … well. That’s when we and our tools can work from the best of us.

It just takes a willingness to look to the horizon.

And while you’re looking, watch out for that Model A in the wrong lane.

Over the Line

When I first got glasses at age 16, I rediscovered the world. Trees actually had leaves. Lawns revealed their individual blades of grass. Details that had been fuzzy became laser-sharp.

“Wow,” I wondered. “How long have I been missing all this?”

When I last got glasses about two months ago, I discovered … a line. Floating at the lower edge of my vision. Fuzzy and sharp were now a matter of range, position and minor frustration.

“Wow,” I wondered. “How long will I be fumbling with all this?”

Yes, I’ve officially entered Bifocal Country. And in the process, I’ve decided that Ben Franklin’s greatest achievement wasn’t his stove or his electrical experiments – it was his ability to juggle two visual frames of reference at once without going insane.

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF … Hold on, Madison, I have to re-angle this … the blasted paper’s too large to see all at once …”

Teaching my eyes when to dance over and under the line has not exactly been a graceful tango. But somewhere along the line (pardon the phrase), the music clicked. Reflexes adjusted. And that border between far-lenses and near-lenses that had been so annoying became … well, not exactly invisible. But normal, even sometimes forgettable.

That shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose. People get used to anything if it goes on long enough. That’s helpful in a world of situations, from minor eye annoyances to surviving the London Blitz.

But often as not, it’s one of our major problems, too.

We have an ability to edit that would make Hollywood jealous. And boy, do we. Sometimes it’s just a failure to see the everyday with fresh eyes, mentally blurring out a house or tree we’ve walked past a thousand times before. More often, though, we remove the uncomfortable. Not consciously, but by letting it become “normal.”
It might be someone holding a cardboard sign on the side of the road. Or a school shooting headline. Or one more story about those still vulnerable to the virus and its latest mutations. Things that once might have been a punch to the heart – and now, for many, become a moment’s attention and a shake of the head if they’re acknowledged at all.

I know. We’ve all got to survive and find a way to keep going in an often broken world. But we also have to do it without becoming numb. Pain ignored is only pain deferred – it’s not a solution.

Anyone who’s done home repair knows this. It’s easy to ignore a minor drip, a bit of wear, one of the hundred small warning signs around the house that say “fix me.” It becomes background noise … until the day that all that missed maintenance adds up to big problems and bigger repair bills.

Or take our own bodies. The repeated ache that’s “probably no big deal,” the odd lump that “I should get checked out sometime.” We’re busy and everything basically works, right? Until one day it doesn’t, and something that could have been caught early has life-changing consequences.

A person. A home. A society. All need attention. Not obsession or frantic worry, but awareness. An ability to feel and notice pain and then address the cause.

It isn’t easy, Worthwhile things often aren’t. But if we can look beyond our own moment, we can see what needs doing. Maybe even see our way forward to something better.

It’s a matter of focus.

Because unlike bifocals, some lines shouldn’t be overlooked.

To the Letter

This December, Missy and I have been reading someone else’s mail. And it’s been magical.

“Ok, Missy, are you ready for Father Christmas?”

The eager smile as I opened the book said it all.

Every year, our bedtime reading with Missy takes in at least one holiday classic. We’ve done “The Story of Holly and Ivy,” “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” and even “A Christmas Carol.” But given how much Missy enjoys magical stories, I’m kind of surprised it took us this look to reach for “Letters From Father Christmas.”

If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a slim volume by J.R.R. Tolkien. Yes, the Hobbit guy. His children, like many, wrote letters to Father Christmas each year … and in their case, Father Christmas wrote them back. The resulting correspondence from the North Pole (which included hand-drawn pictures) stretched from the 1920s until the early 1940s, when the last of the four young Tolkiens finally grew beyond “stocking age.”

During that period, they could count on getting all the latest news. One year might be the humorous misadventures of what the well-meaning North Polar Bear had broken THIS year. Another might tell of an attempt by goblins to raid the storehouses. And always, whether it was a quick note or a long tale, there’d be the sense of so much going on behind the scenes.

But the collection is also an indirect chronicle of the family itself. Each Father Christmas letter gives a glimpse of the children at the other end: the teddy bear collection, the railroad enthusiasm, the year one child tried sending Father Christmas a telegram in the off-season.  And as they grow, it’s clear that the gifts of love and wonder given by the letters lasted far beyond the holiday.

That’s something worth recapturing now.

I know. By this time of year, most of us are pretty exhausted. And lately, when New Year’s starts to appear on the horizon, we greet it with more resignation than excitement. If Dec. 31 had a motto for the 2020s, it would probably be “Well, thank goodness THAT one’s over.”

But long after candles have been snuffed, trees have come down and lights packed away, we still have the gift of each other. And we have to give it well, whatever the time of year.

We give it to neighbors when we help each other face the challenges of the world, whether it’s a snowstorm, a pandemic, or just a chore that’s too much for one person to do alone.

We give it to friends when we celebrate their joys and ease their trials, even if all we can do is listen and understand.

And yes, we give it to our children when we help them grow with an open heart and a spirit of curiosity and wonder. That, most of all, ensures the gift will continue.

It doesn’t require handwritten letters with a North Pole postmark (though I suppose it never hurts). Even in Tolkien’s day, that was just the gift-wrapping.  It starts with awareness – noticing other people, remembering that they matter, and then treating them that way.

Sounds simple, I know. But when we remember to do it, it has the power of a child receiving Father Christmas’s personal attention: a reminder that they’re seen, they’re important and they’re cared for.

So don’t let that spirit stop at Jan. 1. Keep being the gift.

After all it’s always a good time to be living in the present.

Please Look After …

A dear friend called me the other day to discuss Paddington Bear.

Now, even for a certified geek like me, children’s literature doesn’t come up in the conversation very often. I haven’t set aside time to chat about Babar on Mondays, or Dr. Seuss on alternate weekends or Peter Rabbit over tea. (The fact that Richard Scarry came up in the same week is completely coincidental.)

No, this one got started as many conversations do these days, with something seen on the internet. My friend had been scrolling through social media and noticed a post about Paddington’s origins … one with a drawing to show him (like so much else these days) in Ukrainian colors.

“Do you know the story?” she asked.

I did, in fact. For those who don’t, I’ll be quick.

The stories focus on a young bear – one who walks, talks and dresses like humans, naturally – who’s found alone in Paddington railway station and adopted. A new arrival from “darkest Peru,” he bears a tag reading: “Please Look After This Bear. Thank You.”

The character itself came from two elements. One was a teddy bear alone on a shelf in a shop near Paddington Station, which Bond saw one Christmas Eve. But the other piece – one that’s recently been recirculated online – came from displaced children he’d seen during World War II. The story varies as to whether the children were London evacuees or newly arrived Jewish refugees, and maybe Bond himself wasn’t sure which. The key detail remains the same: the lives of the young, uprooted by the battles of their elders.

Why does that matter now? Because those battles seem to be uprooting more forcefully than ever.

There’s never been a time in our memory when the lives and livelihood of the young haven’t been in danger somewhere. (I wish I could say otherwise.) But the war in Ukraine has put it on a horrifying scale. UNICEF recently estimated that every minute, 55 children have fled Ukraine for elsewhere. That’s roughly one child every second.

“This refugee crisis is, in terms of speed and scale, unprecedented since the Second World War,” UNICEF spokesman James Elder told the press in Geneva, “and is showing no signs of slowing down.”

That’s a staggering thought to hold in the mind. So most of us don’t.

I don’t mean that we don’t care, or that we’re not capable of holding more than one crisis in our minds at a time. But we do get easily distracted. I mean, many of us just spent a week going back and forth about one man slapping another at the Academy Awards. There’s always something new on the radar, screaming for just a few minutes of our attention, and the minutes add up.

Add in the day-to-day concerns that we all have and … well, anything beyond the immediate tends to fall away.

But for some, the immediate is all they have.

We need to see. We need to remember.  

None of us are Superman, able to fly into a war zone and pluck the innocent from danger in a single bound. But anything we can do, we should, even if that something is just to keep reminding the people who can do more.

We’re here to help each other. However we can. Wherever we can. And whether that reach is across the street or around the world, to one person or a flood of children, it matters.

It doesn’t take a hero. But we do have to see the bear and read the tag. It reads much the same as it did then:

Please Look After Each Other.

Thank You.

Down to Human

A halfpipe skier had fallen on the Olympic course. And Missy made sure we knew all about it.

“No!” she shouted at the TV screen as the action shifted to other skiers competing and celebrating.

“Right here!” she informed me and Heather firmly, rubbing her shoulder hard to be absolutely clear about where the impact happened.

“Missy, we get it. But she’s OK now, she got up …”

“NO!!!”

Injuries and stress make a big impression on Missy, the developmentally disabled relative that we’ve been caring for since (has it really been?) 2011. When people cry, she gets upset. When people fall, she remembers. Heck, when fictional characters get hurt, she takes it seriously – a mention of Frodo Baggins getting his finger bitten by Gollum had Missy pointing at and checking out my ring finger for weeks afterward.

It’s a reaction without filters. Raw and undeniable.

And there’s a lot of opportunity for that when Olympic season comes.

Most of us don’t think of that much, outside the moment. After all, the Olympics celebrate the best, right? These are the ones who move faster, go farther and reach higher. It’s about triumph and success, passion and achievement.

Until, abruptly, it isn’t.

We’ve seen it for years. No, for decades, in summer and winter alike. The speed skater with too much on his heart who tumbles to the ice. The ski racer who sprains both knees at a crucial moment. The young athletes – some still young teens – who find themselves at a storm center and no longer have what brought them there.

Even leaving injuries and accidents aside, there are only so many medals. Someone has to fall short. Sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot, always with the world watching.

And in those moments, something reaches out to us. Maybe in a way that no other Olympic moment can.

I’m no Olympian. You probably aren’t either. Most of us, however skilled and accomplished we may be, don’t have the sort of talent that tears up ice rinks and grassy fields on a global scale. It’s been joked online that every Olympic event should have an ordinary person competing as well, to bring home just how good these teens and men and women really are.

But in the moments where everything falls short, where the awesome becomes merely human … we know that one. We’ve been there. We can feel it.

Missy’s right. It hurts.

And when our hearts break with it, we reaffirm our humanity.

Most of the time, in most of our lives, it’s easy to not see the pain. To assume that normal is … well, normal. We’re doing OK, so things must not be too bad, right?

When we see the vulnerable, the hurting, the chronically ill, it’s often uncomfortable. It’s a reminder of how quickly life can change without our permission. How easily we could be there.

And if we let that open us up instead of close us off, it means something better for all of us.

I’m not saying each of us has to jump to every alarm and bandage every wound. That way lies exhaustion. But we can’t shut it out either. When we make our decisions – as individuals or as a society – with an eye to those who need us and a determination to share the pain of others, something happens.

We start seeing people. Not strangers. Not others.

And in reaching for them, we reach to ourselves as well.

Don’t turn away from the falls. Let your heart be broken. See the hurt and respond to it.

That’s the real medal moment.

It’s All in the Accent

For most people, clicks and tweets are the heartbeat of social media.

For me, they’re a daily avian conversation.

“Hey, Chompy, how’s it going?”

“SHRIEK! SHRIEK!”

Don’t call the cops – the screaming’s not coming from the victim of an attack, nor from a hyped-up concert crowd. These are the excited calls of Chompy, our 16-to-17-year-old cockatiel (like his feathers, his age is a little fuzzy) who has become a Bird of Legend among our family. His mighty beak defies all but a chosen few who approach his cage. His piercing song could stretch to the farthest reaches of The Stadium We All Know Is Really Mile High – probably from our own living room.

And somehow, over the past few years, he’s decided I’m his best friend in the world.

This is usually an honor that gets bestowed on my wife Heather, who is one of life’s Bird Women. She has gathered feathered friends to her since childhood: finches, parakeets, everything short of a Long John Silver parrot (and I wouldn’t make bets against that someday). It’s a little like living with Snow White, but without the squirrels who do housekeeping.

Chompy loves her, of course. But I’m the one who gets him dancing. And maybe that’s because I’m the one who knows the tune.

I mimic. Often unconsciously. In my reporting days, I had to be careful during an interview or I’d start picking up the accent of the person I’d just been talking to. It’s a minor talent that’s been handy on stage, or while reading bedtime stories to Missy, or even just for little pranks. (Imitating a cricket during a quiet moment is a great way to make a room full of people do a double-take.)

During all the years that we had parakeets, I would do my own take on the clicks, pops and flowing whistles of their song.  It was a harmless way to join the chatter, and even after our last (for now) parakeet passed away in 2019, I kept doing it out of habit.

All I can say is, Chompy must have missed his ‘keet neighbors. Because Heather soon noticed that every time I whistled the song, our big ol’ cockatiel would hustle to the cage side nearest me and begin calling out, excitedly dancing and playing with his toys.

Mind you, I have no idea what I’m saying. It could be parakeet Shakespeare or the bird equivalent of “We’ve been trying to reach you about your extended warranty.” But regardless, it’s what Chompy’s listening for. It’s what he enjoys and responds to. And so, it’s what I give him.

It’s amazing how fast a friendship you can build when you try to speak someone’s language. Feathers or not.

I don’t just mean talking to people. We do that constantly, blasting our thoughts at every hour of the day through every medium at hand. Calls, texts, social media, even face-to-face (or mask-to-mask?) conversation … the barrage rarely stops.

But for all our expertise at shouting out – not unlike Chompy’s SHRIEK! – many of us are still learning to listen. And that means many of us aren’t really being heard. We’re talking to ourselves, but with a larger audience.

To really talk, we first need to hear.

That can be as simple as listening to the words they choose (do they say “I see” vs. “I hear you”) or as deep as listening for the story and emotions behind them. It’s the skill of the actor, not just reciting from memory but responding to the moment. Or the quality of the parent or teacher, hearing the things that aren’t being said and need to be known. Or the ability of the friend who wants to understand.

And it’s the gift that more of us need to possess.

When we take the time to understand, we can be understood. When we listen, we can be heard. It’s how we can be a “we” in the first place, able to shoulder a world’s challenges that need every one of us.

And that’s something worth shrieking about.

Oh, Say, Can You Hear?

If you held back on bangs, pops and especially BOOMS this Fourth of July season, Missy would like to thank you.

For those of you who know our Missy, that may sound a little odd. After all, Missy slams out music from her stereo at a volume that the band in “This Is Spinal Tap” would envy, with a dial that goes past 11 and all the way to 17. Back in the days when KBPI bragged that it “rrrrrrocks the Rockies,” I’m pretty sure Missy was already shaking a fourteener or two herself with an ultra-high-power recording of “Rocky Mountain Way.”  

But she’s also developmentally disabled. That comes with a few side effects.

One of hers, as it turns out , is that she really hates sudden and unexpected loud noises.

Most of the time, that just means she jumps out of her shoes when she hears a motorcycle rev up or a car backfire. But when we get into the second half of June and the first week of July, it often becomes an auditory minefield that keeps her nerves on edge and her sleep uncertain.

Don’t get me wrong. I personally have nothing against Independence Day fireworks. Growing up, I used to wave sparklers, light fountains, and even climb up the ladder to the roof with Dad to watch the local skyrockets. (That last can be an interesting challenge when you’ve just soaked down all the shingles to guard against someone’s stray illicit bottle rocket.) It was a night of noise and color that easily lit up a grade-schooler’s heart.

So yeah, as long as it’s not a bad wildfire season, I can get on board with some July 4 special effects, finding ways to keep the dog calm and Missy distracted for one night.

It’s the three to four weeks of constant vigilance for the additional voluntary celebrations that can get a little wearing.

I know we’re not alone. There are folks who have their own issues, maybe because of a pet who thinks the world is ending, a vet who doesn’t need to hear explosions without warning, or a neurological issue like Missy’s where the sharp stimulation is just too much. Those stories and more are out there and we hear about them from time to time.

So if you dialed back the usual artillery this year – or if you’re holding back these next few days after the Fourth is done – thank you. If you’re thinking ahead to next year and maybe revising a few plans, thank you. We really, truly appreciate it.

More than that, we appreciate the spirit behind it … the same spirit of thoughtfulness to neighbors that has been reinforced so many times in the last year.

That thoughtfulness meant masking up as the pandemic set in, even when it was inconvenient and annoying, so that others could survive.

That thoughtfulness meant hitting the shovels and the snow blowers over and over in the midst of a major March blizzard, even when resting in a warm home would feel so good, so that others could make it through. (Trying to guide a wheelchair through a snowy sidewalk is No Fun.)

That thoughtfulness meant taking a moment to think of others, even when it meant a little more work or restraint for ourselves.

That’s the sort of thing that builds a good neighborhood. A good community. Even, carried far enough, a good country.

That’s a spirit that’s worth celebrating. And I think we can do a bang-up job of it.

Er … so to speak.