Walking Inward

“It’s not working,” Heather ground out, her face scrunched in pain. “What do I do?”

It had been a heck of a week. Heather had started out with one of her regularly-scheduled infusions for multiple sclerosis … followed by an allergic response that generated two trips to the emergency room over the next two days. The next day, an off-course driver swerved off the road and took out part of our backyard fence before ending his journey against the neighbor’s tree.

And now? Now Heather finally had the medicines she’d been waiting for to calm an MS flare. But after a few hours, they’d had as much effect as a peashooter on a boulder. Maybe less.

“Scotty?” she asked after the latest wave of pain and spasms, as we sat together on the couch. “Tell me what Middle-earth looks like.”

I knew what she was doing. We’d done this before. Call up a landscape. Talk through a memory. Mentally walk through somewhere, anywhere, that isn’t here.

And so we began. We talked out the Shire and the Old Forest. And then the tales of the cabin that her grandma’s family owned. And then the colors of fire, and how hard it could be to tell what had actually happened to start one. And then …

And then, an hour had passed.

The pain wasn’t gone. But it had had time to subside, a little. To lose the spotlight, leave the focus.

Somehow, with a shared weary smile, we’d made it again.

A familiar fight. Especially this year.

You know what I mean. 2020 has been a heck of a week, every week, with no immediate end in sight. It’s been tiring, exhausting, exasperating, and so many other synonyms that I’m surprised the thesaurus makers aren’t rolling in profits.

Each day, the path is a little different but the feeling is the same: fifty miles to walk with 400 pounds to carry on the hottest day of the year through a landscape dotted with thorn bushes and goatheads. And by the way, everything is on fire.

And each day, we have to find a way to make it. Not just through the health risks and the economic pain, though heaven knows those are challenging enough. But through the voice inside that says “I’m not sure I can make it this time.”

And if we stay where we are, as we are, maybe we can’t.

But we don’t have to.

Because even when walking outside is choked with smoke and danger, there’s still a walk inside to take.

We know it. We often reach for it without thinking. Stories, memories, experiences, thoughts. Real or created, beautiful or ridiculous. Streamed for millions or reflected on by one.

It’s one reason we look to each other in a time of crisis. Not just for assistance, but to share and talk. To be somewhere else for a while and heal in the words of a friend.

It’s not ignoring reality. It’s recovering from it. It’s remembering (as Samwise once did in The Lord of the Rings) that there are stars above the smoke that the Darkness can’t touch. It’s thinking beyond the moment to what makes us human and drawing strength from it.

It’d finding hope that what has changed can change again. That having lasted, we can last again.

Sure, some might call it escapist. JRR Tolkien himself had words for that. “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?” the writer asked. “Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

Why indeed?

I wish you well in your own escapes. From the moment. From despair. From helplessness and exhaustion.

May we all walk through the landscapes of the heart and mind to a place of greater strength. Until someday this too is a story.

Together we will outlast the pain. And once again, we will see the dawn.

Leaping Into the Season

Written Dec. 7, 2019

With one excited leap, Big Blake fulfilled his holiday duty of protecting us from plastic pines.

CRASH!!!

To be fair, it wasn’t intentional. Our 85-pound English Labrador is a dog of mighty power, mighty enthusiasm and mighty little brain. Like all good dogs, he wants to guard his family. And like all big dogs, he believes that he’s the size of a terrier.

And so, when Blake watched out the front window and saw a human coming near his house, his protective instincts kicked in while his spatial awareness dropped to zero. Especially his awareness of the freshly decorated Christmas tree within millimeters of him as he turned on a dime – OK, on a quarter – and charged for the front door.

Did I mention CRASH!!!? Yeah, I thought I did.

This year marked a new holiday record for Blake. We had bought and set up the new tree (pre-lit, to spare the family’s spinal columns) less than 24 hours before. It had had a peaceful and beautiful Silent Night to start the season before its ignominious toppling to the theme of Oy To The World, The Dog Has Come.

It had been a while, but we remembered the routine. Lift everything back into place. Check for damaged ornaments (few). Untangle branches and ornaments that had gotten twisted together (many). And then step back and check the picture.

The picture, it turned out, was hung a little crookedly. Like an eager child the day after Thanksgiving, our new tree had developed a Christmas list – it was leaning just a bit to one side.

Somewhere, somehow, Blake had put a bend in the pole. Not a huge one. Not an obvious one (except to my highly detail-aware wife, Heather). The tree’s beauty was still there, but if you knew where to look, you could see that it had been through an impact.

On reflection, that’s not a bad way to see many of us at this time of year.

Every year, we’re reminded that this is a season of joy. It’s in the songs and readings, the lights and decorations, the wishes that we pass along to each other. “Merry Christmas!” “Happy Holidays!” “Have a great New Year!”

And for a number of us, the joy feels muted. It lands softly, or not at all.

It might be a season of ghosts, where memories of Christmas Past make Christmas Present a little harder to bear.

It might be a struggling time, or an anxious one, or a darkness that crept in with the cold and the snow.

It might even be something that has no reason at all, just a gray place that needs to be acknowledged for a while in silence and healing.

And that’s OK.

This shouldn’t be a time of forced gaeity. It’s not about hitting someone over the head with a jingle-bell wreath and then blasting carols at them 24 hours a day, like a Christmas edition of “A Clockwork Orange.” This is a time for remembering that we’re part of a larger family; one with hopes, and needs, and yes, pain that needs to be seen and acknowledged. To be reached out to in love, not bulldozed or whitewashed.

And as we reach out to each other, as we meet each other where we are … sooner or later, we find the joy never really went away. It felt like it. It seemed a certainty that it could never return. But in time, in that gentle, quiet reaching  out, we find the joy reborn. Dented. Marked. Leaning to one side like an injured Christmas tree. But beautiful all the same.

It takes patience. But it’s one of the best gifts anyone can give.

May all of you find your joy this season, whether bright and exuberant or dented but enduring. May we welcome each other as we are and plant the seeds of what can be.

And if that welcome suddenly includes the impact of a loving but clumsy English Labrador, I am so, so sorry.

A Break in the Action

Gil leaps into discovery like only an 8-year-old boy can. All the fields lie open –  space, sports, cryptography, music – and he eagerly throws open the door to each new passion, exciting him and his parents alike.

Now my nephew is learning something new. Namely, the breaking point of a human wrist after falling from a moving scooter.

Yeah. Ow.

So, Gil’s left arm now sports a bright red cast. It’s a minor bump on the road of a grade-school summer. After all, it’s hard to play tennis or piano with one hand down. But there’s still robotics, camping, clubs, a steady flow of books … just about everything that doesn’t involve experimenting with how to pop a wheelie. (Ahem.)

This IS the injured kid, right?

Cast or no cast, Gil’s still moving. It’s what he does.

But then, whatever the shocks, life keeps moving. It’s what it does.

Sometimes whether we’re ready for it or not.

***

You know what I mean. We’ve all been there. The broken places. The moments where life throws up a big stop sign for a moment and says “THIS. THIS is what you will be paying attention to.”

Sometimes we’re lucky. We get the temporary hurts: the broken foot that heals, the smashed-up car that’s insured, the explosive argument that eventually slips into the past.

Sometimes … not so much.

Sometimes it’s a tragedy, whether personal or national, that leaves a hole in the heart that will not go away.

Sometimes it’s the painful calls of your own mind and body, the illnesses that don’t heal, the weights on the soul that just hang.

Sometimes it’s a break in the road. A realization that life is going to be different from this particular point forward, and there’s no way to turn around  and get the old journey back.

Time moves differently in the broken places, or it seems to. Outside, the world flashes past at high speed. But closer in, things just … stop. Time has been condensed into one event that must be lived, one tale that must be told. Sometimes repeatedly.

I’ve mentioned before how offensive it is to tell someone to “move on” after a loss of any kind, how you don’t just discard grief or pain or emptiness like a worn-out T-shirt. But there’s another side to it, too.

Namely, that you don’t have to feel guilty for being happy.

We’re good at that, you know. We find ourselves re-entering time and letting ourselves forget for a moment – to laugh, to enjoy, to marvel – and then feel bad because we know the cause of the hurt hasn’t gone away. As though we’re betraying a memory, or getting distracted from a crucial issue that needs our focus.

I’ll say it simply. It’s OK.

It’s OK to not think about hurting all the time.

It’s OK to enjoy things again.

It’s OK to  let other things into your life.

You’re not doing anything wrong.

Yes, we all need time apart. We all need time to heal. We all need to acknowledge the hurts, however that has to happen.

But it’s OK to look out from there if you feel like it. To see. To do. To live. To let light shine on the broken places.

As a friend observed, that’s how you make mosaics.

***

Gil’s cast will be off before we know it. Soon, he’ll be more unstoppable than ever, full-speed ahead, charging into all that life has to offer.

But then, his motion never really stopped. It just changed direction for a while. That’s a useful thing to remember.

Along with being really, really careful about those wheelies.

A Hairy Moment

There are masters of illusion and concealment in this world. Artists who can make anything from a handkerchief to the Statue of Liberty seem to vanish without a trace.

Toupee Man is not one of those masters.

Who is Toupee Man? The Spanish police haven’t released his name, but his genius is surely one-of-a-kind. After all, there can’t be that many individuals who have hit upon the mind-bending idea of smuggling 17 ounces of cocaine into a country by … well … hiding it under a toupee.

Needless to say, said hairpiece and its cargo were more than a little obvious. Which is something like saying that Elton John was just a bit unrestrained in the 1970s.

“There is no limit to the inventiveness of drug traffickers trying to mock controls,” the police wrote in a statement reprinted by Reuters, one of the many news agencies to report this.

Inventiveness. Yeah. We’ll go with that.

It’s easy to laugh. Heaven knows I did. But like a lot of life’s humor, part of the laugh comes from familiarity.

We’ve seen this before.

Oh, I don’t mean we’ve all witnessed awkward items being smuggled under unlikely formations of hair, unless anyone has had the opportunity to live next door to Marge Simpson. (D’oh!) But we know the routine of trying to conceal the undeniable.

We’ve seen the prominent figure who “walks back” an outrageous statement, trying to explain why what he or she said wasn’t really what you heard.

Or the celebrity at the center of a scandal who tries to deny, to evade, and then to excuse.

Or anyone, great or small, who finds themselves in the midst of something unpleasant and tries, for just a moment, to “make it not have happened.”

There are a million terms for it. But it’s an urge as old as humanity. Hide the bad stuff. Make it appear normal. Even when it’s as obvious as trying to slip an Uzi under a baseball cap.

From the tale of Cain to modern playgrounds and politics, it’s always born of fear. And the answer is the same one that every kindergarten teacher knows, and that ever PR firm today teaches for crisis control.

Don’t hide.

Acknowledge the mistake. Admit the harm that was done.

Apologize. Sincerely.

And then make it clear how things will change going forward.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. There almost certainly will be. After all, if it was harmless, there wouldn’t have been an urge to hide in the first place. Trust gets weakened. Customers leave. Policies can founder and elections be lost.

But invariably, owning your actions causes less damage than trying to bury them. Ask Mr. Nixon sometime.

The last step, of course, is the most important of all – how will things change? That’s where transformation can occur, if we let it. C.S. Lewis once noted that if you’re on the wrong road, the fastest way forward is to first turn back.

No wigs. No disguises. Just coming clean and taking the first step to do something different.

We know this. It’s why we get so angry when someone we know – famous or otherwise – refuses to learn, refuses to change, refuses to acknowledge that they have anything to change. And why we get so embarrassed when we catch ourselves, from time to time.

And it’s what makes it so wonderful when the change truly comes.

It starts with self-recognition. With empathy. With the recognition that other people matter, and that when we wrong them, we need to make it right.

Because if we don’t, there can be hell toupee.

Hearing Through the Storm

I wanted to write about Adam West this week. This was going to be a warm and fuzzy farewell to TV’s Batman, full of  the echoes of “BAM!” and “ZZONK!” and maybe even a “KAPOW!” or two.

But then shots rang out. Again. And it’s been a little hard to think about anything else.

This time, it crossed the country in a single day. The sites couldn’t have been more different. A baseball field in Virginia where congressmen were practicing for a charity game. A UPS center in San Francisco, where it was just another working day – until suddenly, it wasn’t.

Until the anger reached out. Again.

I used to write about these more. That was when the announcement of a mass shooting was a punch to the gut, a painful shattering of an ordinary day. It demanded to be grappled with, even if there were no clear answers to offer. (Are there ever?) Even if all that could be offered was comfort.

Now it seems more like an old wound, poked and prodded to life again. They’ve not become normal – please, let them never become normal – but the pace has increased and the alarm bells have started to blend with the overall noise. Now, we pay lasting attention mostly when something raises the bar, with maybe a high profile victim (the baseball shooting), or a strange setting (the Aurora movie theater), or a huge casualty list (the Orlando nightclub).

I almost wrote “… or a place we expected to be safe.” But that’s the point, isn’t it? We used to expect safety. Now, we seem to expect anger. No, shootings like this aren’t normal yet, but now they’re punctuation marks rather than breaks in the narrative.

When I was a kid, we used to play a storytelling game called “The Boiler Burst.” It was a narrative version of musical chairs, where whoever was up had to tell a story, usually long and rambling. Sooner or later, the person would have to call out the words “the boiler burst” and everyone would move.

After you’d played a while, you became harder to surprise. You learned how to listen to the story, to listen for the cues that would suggest the punchline was coming. You knew which players would jump to the punch line as quickly as possible, and which ones would draw it out to the point of agony. The more closely you listened, the more ready you were.

I think we need to do some listening now. Because the pressure keeps building. And if it doesn’t stop, the boiler will burst again.

I’m not naive enough to think that we can ever completely scourge this kind of thing from the nation, or that we can ever understand every last motive of every last shooter. But we can grapple with the national anger that gives them a space to grow and flourish. The rage that has touched all of us, even those who have never heard a single shot.

Some of that anger comes from understandable places. There are many among us who fear for their families, or their jobs, or their rights, or their place in the world. When the conversation seems to stop, when those who might be able to help turn into stone walls – or worse, seem to add to the pain – the fear turns to anger and the anger grows.

Some of it is manufactured. From ancient times to now, people have found it convenient to stir up anger and point it at a target – an “other” who can be safely blamed for all their woes. That rage can build mobs. It can build camps. It never, ever builds solutions.

We need to hear where the anger is coming from. We need to listen for the real worries and fears that generate it, and to know when we’re being sold an easy answer. We need to be more aware of each other and our hurts, so that no one has to shoulder their burden alone.

We won’t prevent all the crazies. But we can stop helping them flourish. And if we turn down the volume, maybe, just maybe, we can better hear them coming.

Batman’s not going to burst through the door this time.

This time, we have to come to our own rescue.

Looking In

In the wake of an attack, normality can be the strangest thing of all.

When the first reports came out of London, my heart sank. This seemed to have the earmarks of a scene that we’d witnessed many times in different forms – the public spectacle, the first word of fatalities, the wait for information that would link this all to terrorism. The chaos had begun again and I waited to see the next familiar steps of the dance.

And then someone turned down the music.

I don’t mean that the attacks near Parliament completely fell off the radar screen. But for an American, unless you were looking for more accounts, they seemed to get quickly pushed to the background. By Saturday,  if you did a quick drive-by of online news and social media, it’d be easy for someone on this side of the Atlantic to miss that anything had happened at all.

Why?

The distance? France was farther and #prayforparis remained an online trend for days in 2015.

The low number of casualties? It’s true that this produced (thankfully) few deaths – no bombs in the crowd, no mass shootings or falling buildings to endanger more lives.

The most likely explanation, my reporter brain suspects, is that there’s only so much media oxygen to consume and most of America’s was being tied up in the Congressional health-care drama as the Republican proposals came to a screeching halt. What was left seemed to be consumed by the intelligence hearings. That sort of follow-the-leader isn’t uncommon, especially when local stakes are high and newsroom budgets are thin.

But when even the social media ripples are few (outside of English friends and sources, of course),  that suggests that much of the audience has moved on, too.

This either suggests something very good or very bad.

On the one hand it could mean that, like the English during the Blitz of World War II, we’ve finally become good at carrying on normal life in the face of those trying to disrupt it, that we’ve gained some perspective about how to sort out the severe from the sad. I’d like to think that, I really would.

But it’s also possible that there are just too many alarms on the bridge. When crises seem to fill the headlines, when every story demands your attention (with or without justification), how easy is it to become numb to one more alert? At what point are there too many things to invest your heart in any given one?

At what point do people, do countries, say “Forget the rest of the world, I’ve got my own problems?”

It’s easy to do. Problems need to be attended to, whether it’s a fight to make sure your family is cared for, or a struggle to address or prevent national calamities. Attention can’t be everywhere and priorities have to be made.

But when eyes turn too far inward, when our neighbor’s problems become invisible in the face of our own, we become less of an “us” and more of a crowd of scattered “me’s.” Worse, we miss the chances for shared strength that can come as we reach for each other and face down our mutual problems as one.

We don’t need to be traumatized by every new peal of the bell. That way lies fatigue and madness. But we can’t close the door and pull the shades either. Care for self and care for others need not be exclusive from one another. Should not be. Cannot be.

Be someone’s helping hand. Be someone’s neighbor. Even if all you can offer is attention and sympathy, pay it. It spends well.

Together, we can build a “normal” worth having.

Lighting Hope

I’d gotten halfway across town when Santa Claus mugged me.

OK, not literally. There’s no need to call the fine folks of the Longmont Police Department and report a jolly old man with a fur hat and a blackjack, making a getaway in a reindeer-powered sleigh with one (red) headlight. The year’s been strange, but not that strange – yet.

No, this time Santa was part of a yard display that seemed to pop out of nowhere, complete with lights and color and holiday cheer. Normal enough for the holiday season. But a bit striking when it’s several days before Thanksgiving.

Missy, of course, was delighted. Our disabled ward eagerly plays Christmas carols in the middle of July. If Longmont were to break out in colored lights immediately after Labor Day, she’d probably break out in cheers that could be heard as far as Lyons – right before insisting on seeing every display, every night.

Not everyone is in her camp, of course. As stores increasingly deck the halls with holiday merchandise right after Halloween, I’ve seen the more-than-occasional post on social media, all of it set to a common theme: “What happened to Thanksgiving?”

I understand it, believe me. When I worked in the now-vanished City Newsstand bookstore, Christmas music and decorations were strictly forbidden until Black Friday. The dire penalties were never explicitly spelled out, but presumably included a lengthy spell on the Naughty list and a stocking full of coal.

But these days, I’m not really bothered by a chorus of “Oh, Early Light.” For a couple of reasons.

First, I figure Thanksgiving can take care of itself. Where other holidays cry out, Thanksgiving is about drawing in. It doesn’t require fireworks or dazzling displays, just a table to share and a spirit of gratitude. Its one garish parade, the Macy’s march, is really more of a start-of-Christmas celebration, with cartoon balloons and forgettable pop ballads mixed in. Thanksgiving doesn’t need to shout. It just needs a space to be.

Secondly, in this year of all years, I’m not about to refuse light and cheer from any source.

It’s been a hard one, with a lot of fear, anger and uncertainty that isn’t over yet. One (out-of-state) friend has had family threatened.  Another found a friend’s car had been covered with hateful graffiti. In so many places, online and off, battle lines have been drawn.

Mind you, election years are often divisive. But this one has taken it to a power of 10, not least because it’s left so many unsure of their future or fearful that they don’t have one. It’s a time when we need to be standing by each other and saying “You will not be forgotten” – as a promise, not a threat.

But threats are in the air.

I’ll say it again – we need each other. Every time we isolate, every time we declare someone unworthy of a place at the table, we weaken the whole family. Every time we turn aside from someone who needs our comfort, our support, our help, we break one more bond and undermine one more foundation of our common life.

If a few lights can remind us that joy drives out hate, I’ll welcome them.

If an early carol or two can send out the call for peace and understanding, I’ll join the chorus.

This isn’t about burying discord under a carpet of tinsel and plastic snowmen. It’s about recognizing the pain and reaching out to heal. It’s about seeing the darkness and driving it back so that we can find each other … and ourselves, as well.

There’s a Christmas carol I’ve quoted in this space before, taken from the despair and hope of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Its final verses are worth evoking one more time.

 

And in despair, I bowed my head,

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,

‘For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men.’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,

‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep,

The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.’

 

May we give that peace to one another and a true Thanksgiving with it.

May that be our proudest decoration.

The Second Thought

On the night before Sept. 11, I wondered what to write.

In retrospect, that was an unusual feeling.

Most years, the choice would have been automatic. My first ever 9/11 column, “The Last to Know,” ran the day after the attacks in New York, scribbled on the back of a napkin while the news was fresh in my mind. I’ve written many since – maybe not every year, but often enough.

But this year, thirteen years since the attacks, the subject didn’t leap to mind. Not until I saw a friend’s memorial Facebook posting.

I wonder very much if I’m alone in that.

September 11 will never be an ordinary day again. Not entirely. And yet, even the most infamous of dates, with time, become something remembered more than felt, dates that steadily pass into the history books instead of the front pages. Today’s sixth-graders have no memory of the Sept. 11 attacks at all. Soon, tomorrow’s high-schoolers won’t, either.

I wonder if this is how survivors of Pearl Harbor felt in 1954. An event near enough that there was still living, vivid memory, but far enough that other events could overtake it, push it into the background, claim the spotlight.

I’m sure no one had forgotten Pearl Harbor. But I wonder how many first remembered it as a date the water bill was due.

There’s a melancholy with that. But also, in an odd way, a freedom.

Those who perished and those they touched should never be forgotten. And I doubt they ever will be. No one’s passing is ever truly “gotten over” or should be, all the less so when the passing is the violent end of a few thousand people.

But it’s OK for the pain to dull, too.

It’s OK to not feel every anniversary as though it were the first one.

It’s OK to be able to look at those memories from a distance and maybe, in a way, see them for the first time with clear eyes.

A lot of powerful things happened in the wake of Sept. 11. Some are moments we’re still proud of. Some are choices that we’re still dealing with the consequences of. All of them, at the time, were tinged with a color of urgency and uncertainty, with the feeling of desperate need.

Now, perhaps, with the colors dialed down a little, we can weigh carefully the things we’ve done and learn from them.

I know, there’s never a time when we’re completely free from crisis. Today, no airplanes are flying into New York skyscrapers. Instead, our headlines are captured by atrocities and beheadings and the prospect of another war in a faraway place. Maybe it’s never possible to have a moment for completely calm, clear judgment.

But maybe, as old horrors grow farther away, it’s possible to be just clear enough to meet the next crisis.

I hope so. Dear heaven, I hope so.

Every year, we say “Remember.” But what is the purpose of memory? Partly, to hold close that which might otherwise be lost. Partly, to honor those whose deeds are worthy to endure. Partly, to learn from what has happened so that the best can be achieved and the worst avoided.

If the fear and pain that once touched those memories so strongly begins to fade – and I recognize that for some, it may never do so – does that mean the memories themselves have been lost? By no means. The closeness, the honor, the lessons can still survive.

Not because they’ve been emblazoned in burning letters that sear the mind and banish sleep. But because we now choose to do so.

And what we take from that choice should be what we pass to the next generation.

Let the fear go to rest at last. Let the best survive. And let life continue.

Because ordinary life is worth remembering, too.

Come Out and Play

We call her Duchess the Wonder Dog. Usually as in “I wonder what that dog is thinking.”

Take the old game of fetch.

When an object is thrown past Duchess with the words “Go get it!”, one of three results is guaranteed to occur:

  1. Duchess watches the object like Troy Tulowitzki watching an outside pitch. “Huh? Was I supposed to be interested in that?”
  2. Duchess goes calmly over to it and takes possession … and that’s it. “What? You want it back? Why’d you get rid of it, then?”
  3. Duchess takes off after it like the house was on fire, running back forth for about two or three minutes with high acceleration and hard braking. “Vroomvroomvroomvroomscreech ….!”

What she doesn’t do, most times, is keep up the game. Not even after six years with us.

Sigh.

I’m not really complaining. She’s a lovely and loving dog who’s come a long way. At some point in the three years before we got her, she was neglected at the least, abused at the worst. People (except for kids) were something scary for a long time; strangers still make her a little nervous until she knows them better.

A lot of old wounds have mended. But abuse doesn’t just injure. It steals.

And I think it stole some of Duchess’s ability to have fun without reservation.

Not all of it. There’s still a freedom that peeks out when she runs, a joy that escapes when she’s in the mountains. (Duchess grew up a Kansas dog, so the high country remains something of a wonder to her.) But so often it needs the right moment or a bit of coaxing.

Or a rabbit.

Duchess discovered rabbits while we were still in Kansas, where a small family lived beneath a backyard bush. Despite her being half-retriever, she didn’t really know what to do at first. Dog and prey backed up to each other like figures in a Warner Brothers cartoon, noticed each other and then dashed away, startled.

She soon got the idea.

Trips to the backyard tripled in length as she had to sniff every corner, explore every crop of greenery, dash after each long-eared shadow. Squirrels didn’t really interest her (much to the regret of our bird feeder), she wanted a real chase.

There haven’t been any rabbits since moving back here.

I think we’ve all felt the lack.

That, too, was part of her healing.

Duchess loves. And Duchess knows she’s loved. That’s big. She’s become fiercely devoted to us and to Heather especially.

But she still carries her marks. She still has that slight flinch before a pat. That occasional uncertainty before a game.

Just five minutes with the people who did this. That’s all I want.

Well, not all. I want them to understand how long cruelty can scar, how deeply thoughtlessness can rend. I want them to see just how many consequences there are to a callous act, many of them unexpected.

I want them to see how much love can mend. And how much time it takes. Burning down has always been easier than building up; I want them to know the labor they’ve made necessary.

Most of all, I want them to realize. To learn that lesson Kurt Vonnegut considered most vital: how to be kind. To animals. To people. To anyone and anything that crosses your path.

It’s that kindness that will someday make this world a wonder.

And maybe then, all the Duchesses of the world will be ready to go play.

Here, girl.

Blessed Are The Weary

A gale-force wind rattled outside as I watched Heather lying on the bed.

Exhausted. Spent. Tired down to her toes.

On her, it looked absolutely beautiful.

Mind you, I’m not the sort of husband who takes an unholy glee in seeing his wife drained to the last battery. But I knew what her last three days had been like. An all-day trip to Colorado Springs, an all-night visit by her two grade-school sisters, a dinner trip to Northglenn with them and her father – it had been just about non-stop for 72 hours.

For her to be tired, and only tired, after all that was nothing short of a miracle.

As regular readers may know, Heather has just a few health problems. Which is by way of saying the Titanic had a minor leak. And the two biggest icebergs in a crowded sea have been her Crohn’s disease – a charming condition of the guts that an Occupier wouldn’t wish on a Wall Street CEO – and ankylosing spondylitis, a highly painful condition that hits the back, the hip, the shoulder and the neck in an attempt to fuse any or all of them.

The two have waxed and waned over the years, turning life into a minefield. On one memorable occasion, I came home to find her crawling toward the bathroom – walking was simply too agonizing without help. On another, I had to improvise a bed for her in the back of our car so we could make a cross-state trip home that neither of us wanted to cancel.

“I knew you really loved me when you held back my hair while I was throwing up,” she told me once with a smile.

But the hardest parts were the windows of clear weather among the storms. At heart, Heather is a doer. And when her body would calm down for the slightest moment, she would get busy, fitting as much activity into the time as possible – and invariably put herself in bed for the next two or three days, saying “Why did I do that?”

That’s life with chronic pain. You ride the waves, even as you watch fatigued, well-wishing friends struggle with the fact that this isn’t the sort of thing you get better from.

But somewhere along the line, something changed.

It started with a new medicine, the kind with a price tag that suggests diamonds, gold dust and velociraptor DNA were used in its construction. Slowly but surely it pried the window open a little further, enough to hope … and enough to hope to help.

Hope can be a powerful catalyst. And the more Heather could do, the more she could hope to do – never completely consequence-free, but always enough to keep the next step of the ladder in reach. When it came time to become a guardian for her developmentally-disabled 38-year-old aunt Missy, she never hesitated. And that ability to help someone else as she had been helped just pushed the “hope cycle” even higher.

She still has pain days. Sometimes very bad ones. But now, mixed with them, are the days of mere exhaustion, the after-effects of a time well spent. To be able to work hard enough that you’re tired from it.

It’s an odd blessing to name. But a true one.

I don’t know how long this turn of the roller coaster will last. All we can do is ride. I suspect that’s all any of us can do, holding out with as much patience and faith and endurance as we can until the next chance to climb higher comes.

For now, it’s just nice to know that “sick and tired” doesn’t have to be redundant. That to be tired can mean to be well, or at least well enough to truly live.

Sleep on it a bit.

I know Heather has.