A Moment Made

Some of life’s great truths have the staying power of Keith Richards and Bob Dylan combined. Which is to say, they’re not pretty, but there’s no getting rid of them.

One of these truths is that the new guy will always get the “fun” stuff.

A second is that the news always happens, regardless of any calendar dates or holidays.

Put these together, and you’ll understand why, about 20 years ago, I was heading into the newsroom of The Garden City Telegram on Christmas Day.

Mind you, the world wasn’t burning down – well, no more than it usually is, anyway. No apartment buildings had exploded, no planes had crashed on Main Street, no eccentric billionaires had decreed that every resident of southwest Kansas was getting a lifetime cash award. (Darn it.) But there would still be a newspaper on Dec. 26, and so the rookie got to come in and keep an ear on the police scanner in case anything happened … and to work on a short feature in case nothing did.

Appropriately enough, I spent the time talking to my colleagues of the moment – namely, the others who by choice or circumstance found themselves working on the holiday. Truckers. Ambulance workers. Police officers. All the folks who quietly keep the gears moving, even when life seems to come to a halt.

For most, it wasn’t a day lost, but a day postponed. There would be time to celebrate, to observe, to enjoy … once the job was done. A time claimed rather than found, a moment to be made rather than simply reached.

I still appreciate that.

After all, it’s a lesson Heather and I came to know very well.


Christmas Eve in Garden City. Our first as a married couple. A friend had invited us to a candlelight service, one of Heather’s favorite things in the world – only for one of her chronic illnesses to have a brief flare-up that evening. We didn’t have to go to an emergency room, but we clearly weren’t going anywhere else, either.

Young husbands do many things out of desperation. Which is how I happened to sit at our piano that night by candlelight, playing carols from the hymnal and reading appropriate sections of the Christmas story.  Since Heather couldn’t go to the candlelight service, I brought the service to her.

We weren’t where we meant to be. We weren’t where we wanted to be. But together, we made the moment.

And a memory that still endures for both of us.


We imbue dates with a lot of power. That can create a sort of magic where it feels like everyone around you is acting in a common purpose, to a common goal. But if for some reason you’re disconnected from the revelry, that approaching holiday can become awkward instead of wonderful, something that everyone else gets to enjoy while you stand to one side.

And like that, “Christmas is coming” starts to sound less like a carol and more like a threat.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Christmas isn’t about Dec. 25. It never was. It’s about setting a time aside to recognize unexpected joy and quiet love, to treasure those who are closest to your heart and focus on what’s truly important. To see those around us as people deserving of kindness (even if they do have horrible taste in sweaters).

That’s a moment that can be claimed at any time.

Or even at every time.

May that moment always be with you, whenever you choose to make it. May it comfort you with a warmth that will last and endure.

If we’re truly fortunate, it might even outlast Keith Richards.

We Go Together

It didn’t look like much. A fuzzy gray bowling ball, maybe, without holes.

But you wouldn’t want to roll this one. Not the Great Hairball.

I met the Great Hairball in a Garden City museum, in southwestern Kansas. Like most museums, this one tended to accumulate stuff. And like most museum stuff, some of it defied the easy categorization that would get it displayed more often.

So, once in a great while, the museum would do a “Dagwood’s Closet” exhibit – a display of curious or popular items that never seemed to get out at any other time. (Yes, I know, it’s Fibber McGee who had the junk-filled closet. The name stuck anyway.) Anything could turn up and usually did.

But the one thing that invariably turned up, easily the most popular rarely-displayed item, was the Great Hairball. The largest hairball ever retrieved from a cow’s stomach on the IBP kill line.

Sorry. I know some of you are eating breakfast.

The museum’s staff assured me that it had been even bigger before it dried out. They found it weird, even a little disgusting. But they couldn’t deny its popularity. The thing even had its own postcard, with the ball posed next to a ruler to show its true size.

Amazing what we get attached to, isn’t it?

Granted, most of us don’t fixate on a bovine after-dinner comment. But nonetheless, I’d bet that each of us has at least one attachment we can’t fully explain – some object or person or even idea where all we can say is “I like it, OK?”

For Missy the Wonderful, my wife’s developmentally-disabled aunt whom we care for, it’s purses. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big pink duffel bag, a tiny purple handbag, or her iconic red purse of any style – once she has hold of it, it’s her “booky” and will end up 1) Full to bursting and 2) All but inseparable from her.

Why? Well, why did the Lone Ranger carry silver bullets? It’s part of who she is.

My 18-month-old niece Riley has a stuffed duck she’s hauled around since just after birth. It looks like it. More gray than yellow, defiant of washing machines, grungy to a point where even Oscar the Grouch might look at it and say “Meh.”

She won’t be separated from the thing. Not for long. Try it sometime – but bring earplugs.

It starts that young. And I suspect it never really leaves us. At heart, we’re part of a fascinating world, and when we find a piece of it that resonates with us, we cling on. However strange the attachment may seem.

It’s why there’s a doorknob on my desk at work, a tongue-in-cheek award from an old acting company.

It’s why my wife has hung on to the head of a Holly Hobbie ornament since childhood, even after the rest of it vanished one Christmas. We feel like headhunters setting it out each year – but set it out, we do.

They’re objects that carry memory. Or comfort. Or an odd fascination.

And without them, we wouldn’t feel completely “us” for a while.

That’s not a bad thing. Oh, it can be, I suppose. We’ve all run into attachments that hold us back or weigh us down, things we know we should throw away and can’t quite. Objects of the hand or objects of the mind, they may as well be the One Ring for all the power they hold.

But most of the time, it’s more benign. A proof, if you will, that anything can be worthy of love, no matter how small or strange it may seem.

When you come down to it, that’s a very hopeful thought.

Touch the world. Experience it. Let some of it come along for the ride. Have a ball.

Only – not a giant mutant hairball, please?

I’m pretty sure one of those is enough. Really.