Harmony of Hope

As music poured from the speakers, Missy danced. And squirmed. And smiled.

How could she not? Her favorites, the Face Vocal Band, were back on the microphone.

Well, in a way.

Like everyone else, Boulder County’s own a cappella rock band had been pushed off the concert stage and into shelter by COVID-19. And like so many performers, they were finding a work-around  – a periodic livestream that mixed behind-the-scenes commentary and familiar videos, each time culminating in the debut of a brand new piece.

By itself, that would be more than enough to keep the flame burning in the hearts of the Face-ful followers. But on Friday night, Face cheated.

It’s really not fair to bring in magic, too.

“From now on … these eyes will not be blinded by the lights …”

The tune would be familiar to many: the showstopping “From Now On” from the movie musical “The Greatest Showman.” Face was supposed to be bringing that song to Carnegie Hall, backed by a mighty community chorus. Instead, they were bringing it to the world, voices stitched together from a myriad of homes as band, chorus, and fans united in the only way they could.

At any time, it would have been a beautiful song. But at this time – blended with images of joy, hope and togetherness from the families of their fans everywhere – it did more than sing. It resonated. And as the hook repeated over and over, I realized for a moment that sometimes life really does have a soundtrack:

“And we will come back home, and we will come back home, home again …”

Isn’t that what we’re all waiting for?

OK, put like that, it might sound a little strange. After all, we’re all spending a lot more time at home lately than any of us had planned on. Some are climbing the walls while others are bunking down in introverted peace, but surely all of us are looking to the day when home can be a base instead of a world. Aren’t we?

Well, yes and no.

Sure, most of us want the front door to open again for something that isn’t a weekly grocery trip. But home is more than a living space. It’s a mental space. It’s a life that we know and recognize, a state of mind where we know how things fit and where we belong.

That home has been distant for quite a while now. We want it back. And we sometimes fear how little of it may remain, how much may have changed beyond recognition.

I can’t claim a gift of prophecy. I don’t know what the far end of this looks like any more than you do. But I suspect we’ll keep more than we think.

And that’s because we’ve already kept more than we know.

When everything familiar is taken away, it puts the essentials in a spotlight. There’s time to see what’s really important and what was just noise.

Maybe that’s why, even in the midst of so much isolation, we’re still finding ways to be together.

I’m not blindly optimistic. I know there’s anger and debate and contention – I do have a social media account, after all. But I’m constantly struck by how many people are doing so much to add a little beauty, humor and hope to the world. Not because they’re ignoring the situation – is it ignoring the darkness to light a candle?- but because it’s what we do. As friends. As neighbors. As people.

We help. We listen. We howl in the night. And yes, sometimes we sing.

And through all of it, we heal.

Yes. We will come back home again. Not unchanged. But not alone. And when we do – that will truly be a time to dance.

Missy is ready.

You can see it in her Face.

No Place Like Home

My home is running away from me.

Yes, I wrote that correctly. It’s a simple demonstration of what Jack London might have titled The Call of the Grandchild. When two sisters with three kids between them both choose to live in Washington State, Mom and Dad will follow, and it will be sooner rather than later. The draw of gold panners to the Yukon is a weak thing compared to the draw of getting to be Grandma and Grandpa without the need of plane tickets.

By the time the dust settles, I’ll be the last member of the old team still in the state. By itself, that’s OK. We’ve been scattered before. I lived in Kansas for almost 10 years after college, with co-workers who often asked “You moved here from Colorado? Why?” My sister Carey spent two years in Chicago before coming back to Colorado, while Leslie’s been in Washington for so long that we’re used to celebrating birthdays via Amazon. Through all of it, we knew that blood was thicker than distance, that family endured even when we couldn’t see each other all the time.

But this one’s a little harder.

This time, my folks have sold The House.

The House is where my parents have lived since 1977.  It’s a curious place in a way, more open in the back than the front. According to family history, The House was originally designed to be placed near a golf course and protected from errant shots; when that location didn’t happen, the plans were moved part and parcel to a site on Gay Street instead.

But don’t be fooled by blueprints. That house was open to a lot.

Its backyard was an opening to the galaxy. There sat the three swings that magically transformed into X-Wing fighters when my sisters and I took to the skies; a nearby two-seater was the avatar for the Millennium Falcon.  In the Christmas Blizzard of 1982, it became the ice planet of Hoth; in summers, it hosted backyard baseball games (including, memorably, one broken arm for an unlucky friend).

Its basement hosted tools, plants, books, a half-finished doll house, video games, and an ultra-organized pantry. (FEMA only wishes its planners were as detail-oriented as my Dad.) It was the base for sleepovers, for Bible studies, and for any game my sisters and I could invent. Blackout Tag, where we killed all the lights and searched for each other on our hands and knees, was perhaps not the best idea we ever had, as my black eye could soon attest. (“Tell me again how you ran into a table leg?”)

Every room of its two levels could host similar stories, along with the Rochat Family Zoo. Dogs, cats, a horned toad, birds, a rabbit, and some surprisingly-long-lived fish all called the place home. Looking back, it’s a wonder there was room for people – and yet, it held not only us, but Grandma Elsie as well, who lived in The House with us for a few years and visited often.

When Heather and I moved in with Missy, The House was just a few blocks up the road. It was one of the many things that made a surprising move feel pre-ordained, like pieces fitting together.

Now, The House will make memories for someone else.

It’s a strange feeling.

Ancient Romans spoke of a “spirit of place.” I think any Coloradan could agree with that feeling. We’ve felt the power and even quiet majesty that some locations can hold, from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Sand Dunes. But that power is never stronger than in a place you’ve called home.

When that place is removed, it’s disorienting.

The important things are still true. We’re still a family. We’ll still see each other. The love that was always our real home is still there.

And maybe, sometime, I’ll drop by and meet the new neighbors.

After all, when TIE fighters could strike at any time, it’s only fair to give warning.

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.