Stuck on the Rox

Opening Day has always been a little special to me. A new baseball season. A fresh start. All the possibilities waiting ….

Wait a second.

How many runs?

Oh, dear.

For those of you who missed the disaster Thursday, you have my envy. An unnamed genius scheduled the Arizona Diamondbacks – holders of the National League pennant – to start the season against our Colorado Rockies, holders of national embarrassment after their first-ever 100-loss season. The results should have been predictable.

They weren’t. If only because no one could have predicted the third inning of our first game.

Fourteen runs. Fourteen runs. For the curious, that’s the highest one-inning total that has been recorded in an Opening Day game since 1900. It’s a baseball Titanic … except the Titanic at least had a chance of avoiding the iceberg.

The season has barely started and we’re already a team of legend.

Now, we’re not the first franchise to ever have an extended stay in the baseball doldrums. Back in junior high school days, I can still remember shaking my head in sympathy for a teacher who was a fan of the Chicago Cubs AND the Boston Red Sox at the same time. Both have since returned to respectability and even to glory within recent memory.

I can already hear the sighs of my fellow fans. Yes, our team still has to take step one: actually trying to get out of the basement. And even that’s not a fair statement. Everyone on the team –  as in, the folks in the gloves and ball caps – probably is doing the best they can with what they’ve got. The trouble starts higher up and we all know it, with an ownership that says it’s tired of losing but has taken few if any steps to address it.

But as our Rox muddle through their Rocky Mountain Low, we can at least take an example and a lesson. Because a lot of us are in the position of the Men in Purple: having to keep going day after day in a tiring situation that seems to have no end.

We all spend some time there. Some practically have long-term leases. And it’s not always clear how to get out.

Time and again, the same answer floats to the surface: not alone.

I keep a music playlist on hand for harder days. One song that keeps leading the pack is “The Mary Ellen Carter” by Stan Rogers, about a ship sunk by a drunken captain, abandoned by an apathetic owner … and raised by a determined crew. One of the final verses is one that I’ve quoted to myself and others many times:

“And you to whom adversity has dealt the final blow,

With smiling b******s lying to you everywhere you go,

Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain,

And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again!”

The thing is, the Mary Ellen Carter couldn’t spontaneously rise by itself. It needed the help of the crew who loved it, the ones who had been saved by the ship so many times and who repaid it with their work and dedication.

That’s us.

Asking anyone to haul themselves off the rocks is a cruelty. We need to be there for each other, ready to lift and haul and repair. That’s how we rise again: through community and mutual strength.

None of us are in a position to raise up a baseball team with anything more than cheers (alas). But we can raise up those around us. We can be the love that helps them rise again and accept that love from others.

Set the example. Help it spread. Others will notice.

And if some of those others are in a position to move mountains – or at least Rockies – maybe the next Opening Day will be worth the wait at last.

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.

Small Step

The moon has never felt so close.

Irrational? Maybe. After all, this summer will be 55 years since Neil Armstrong took his first steps on our nearest neighbor. We’ve walked, driven, even played golf on the moon. And since then, we’ve remotely flown helicopters on Mars, peered into distant stars and black holes, and been serenaded by music played aboard a space station. After all that, shouldn’t returning to a bunch of rocks and craters feel old hat?

And yet, something about Thursday seemed special. No … WAS special.

For the first time since the ‘70s, an American spacecraft returned to the moon. No astronauts, not yet. Just a robot craft with a challenging landing, an uncertain signal and a few science instruments. Just that. And with it came the promise of a new start.

So much has changed, of course. New technology, new players. We’re not the only ones bringing spacecraft to the lunar surface anymore and everyone has had a lot of learning and re-learning to do. Especially since the folks who did it the first time are long since gone from the field (or from life) and their experience with it.

But we are learning. The drive is there again. And this time, instead of just a monument, it may become a stepping stone.

Oh, you could argue that Thursday remained an ordinary day for the overwhelming majority of us. We still had the same needs to fulfill and jobs to do, the same joys and stresses and looming headlines. My own attention to the Odysseus landing came as I was helping a family member recover from a stomach bug, about as un-science-fiction a task as you can imagine.

But in a real way, it put another crack in a wall that we build far too easily.

We tend to make our universe a very small place. I don’t mean the stars and planets, but the mental worlds we build around ourselves. It’s easy to tightly focus on our own routines and concerns, partly in self-defense against a media landscape that keeps threatening to overwhelm us with the troubles of 8 billion people.

But while some distance may be necessary for survival, it also becomes isolating. Over time, it can become a tunnel vision that limits horizons, diminishes joy and turns all but a select few into strangers. In tending our own garden, we look less and less over the garden wall.

No judgment. I do it, too. And that’s why I value the moments of wonder that turn my eyes upward again.

Suddenly, the universe is both big and close. Space suddenly isn’t something way out there, but close at hand, not apart from us but a part of us.

And once we lower our barriers, there’s a lot we can bring inside.

No one reaches space on their own. It requires a lot of teamwork and connection. That same sort of connection can strengthen us here on Earth, reaching to neighbors near and far, being and doing so much more than we could ever manage alone.

Sure, there are practical benefits from space exploration and plenty of people will write about them. But for me, at its heart, it goes back to those first words of Neil. When any of us makes just one small step outwards, it can become a giant leap for all of us.

May that hope always shine as brightly as our old friend does right now. May it always inspire us to look upward and outward and inward to find a larger world … and a closer one as well.

In a world where so much can weigh so heavily, it’s not a bad thing to let ourselves be moonstruck.

Branching Out

Pinch, pull, twist. Pinch, pull, twist.

It sounds like the world’s strangest football chant. Or maybe a post-Thanksgiving exercise routine. (“And PULL and TWIST … c’mon, burn off that stuffing!”) Both wrong, although the second one’s close.

Namely, this was the welcoming ceremony for our new Christmas tree. An exercise in focus, patience and tedium second only to being a Colorado Rockies fan.

Perhaps I should explain.

I’ve been part of the Fake Tree Faction since childhood, when my folks decided that cleaning up pine needles (and dealing with pets who found the ones they missed) was not how they wanted to spend a significant fraction of December and January. The plastic pine they purchased – say THAT five times fast! – became part of family legend. That was partly because it also became a family journal, with each of us writing a short note about the year gone by as we unpacked the tree each winter.

So when Heather and I struck out on our own, a false fir was de rigueur. For a while, it became a pre-lit tree, with the noble intention of saving our none-too-good spinal columns from having to twist a strand of lights from top to bottom. But of course, a pre-lit tree has its own distinct evolutionary pattern:

  • Stage 1: “Oh, how beautiful!”
  • Stage 2: “Honey, I think some of the lights are out.”
  • Stage 3: “Honey! I think some of the lights are actually ON!”

After dealing with too many Stage 3 situations, we surrendered and bought an unlit pine this year. One that came with a warning that we’d need to spend some setup time to make it look right.

Boy, were they NOT kidding.

The branches on each level looked like sheaves of wheat or maybe rolled-up newspapers, tightly bunched around a central limb. Transforming it from “greenish hat-rack” to “fully-formed pine” would require shaping each branch – namely, by pinching the tip of a smaller sub-branch, pulling it free of the mass and then twisting it in the direction you wanted it to go.

Pinch, pull, twist. Over and over. For at least 20 to 30 minutes that felt like an entire presidential administration.

Remember what I said about preventing back pain? Don’t.

As so often happens, the result was worth the effort. When fully fluffed out, the tree stood tall and proud, a sentinel of the season. Especially that part of it called hope.

We use that word a lot this time of year without really thinking about what it needs. It’s not the magical expectation that a tree will leap to life from the box as soon as you cut the tape free. It’s knowing where you want to be and then putting in the effort to get there, no matter how frustrating or difficult it may become.

Hope starts with a vision. But it doesn’t end there. Real hope stays for the long haul, motivating and pushing until you cross the finish line. It’s the knowledge that “You can do this!”, not the illusion that “This will be easy to do!”

This season of the year is often about a culmination of hope, a promise that after a long darkness, light still comes. The waiting and endurance are still real. But so is the glimmer that waits at the end, shining in darkened streets.

Remember that. Hold on. Keep the vision alive and work to make it real.

And if your vision includes a simpler way to shape a plastic pine, I’ll be sending you an invitation to visit for the holidays next year.

Fir sure.

Rock Doubt

Well, at least we’re not Oakland. 

Small consolation at the best of times, I know. But it’s all I’ve got left to offer. 

If you’re a fellow Colorado Rockies fan, you get it. And if you’re a fellow Colorado Rockies fan, I am so, so sorry. 

One. Hundred. Losses. 

And beyond, naturally. The count stood at 102 when I wrote this and may have added one or two more by the time our final out of the year was recorded on Sunday. But as usual, it’s the big round number that stands out, the mark of infamy that no Rockies team had ever before reached. 

One hundred losses.

We’re not the first team to ever get here, of course. We’re not even the first one this season. The aforementioned Oakland A’s (111 losses at this writing) had a year that almost gave the tragic 1962 Mets a run for their money. Lest anyone forget, that was the year manager Casey Stengel uttered the immortal words “Can’t anybody here play this game?” 

So yeah. We’re not the worst of the worst of the worst.  

Um … yay?

It’s not just the bad season, of course. Everyone gets them eventually. It’s that there have been so many for so long, years where even “mediocre” has seemed like an aspirational goal.  It’s been 16 years since “Rocktober” now. Only four of those have seen winning seasons. The last one – admittedly, one of our best teams since those brief World Series days – was five years ago. 

But even there, it’s not just that it’s happened. It’s how. Get any group of Rockies fans together for longer than ten minutes and you’ll hear the same grumbles. “The owners don’t care. They don’t have to. People keep coming … they could lose every game and still make money.” 

I don’t live in the Monforts’ heads, so I can’t swear to whether that’s true, though I have my theories. (That’s half the fun of being a fan, after all.) But the fact that it’s even credible is toxic. 

After all, it’s a problem that goes beyond baseball. A problem that can be summed up in four words. 

“It’s all about me.” 

It fills the headlines every day. We see it in political showdowns that play poker with people’s lives and well-being. We see it in collisions at every level, where the fears or ambitions of a few can run roughshod over everyone else. During the height of the pandemic, it was an opponent almost as dangerous as the virus itself, when all of us had to remember that our actions affected more than just ourselves.

To be honest, we’re better at that than we give ourselves credit for. Most of us know that we should be looking beyond our own skin, that our neighbors matter. But like a person standing in a doorway, it only takes a few to get in the way of everyone else – not just by what they do or prevent, but by building a feeling of despair that accelerates the cycle. When you start to feel like nothing can be done, you’re less likely to do anything.

Heavy thoughts for something as light as a bad baseball season, I know. But the answer’s the same. Awareness. Hope. Determination. Not to give up, not to wait for things to magically get better, but to act. To remind the self-focused – in the owner’s box or in the nation – that we’re here and we won’t be taken for granted.

Interesting stat – out of all the baseball teams that have lost 100 games, about one in eight had a winning season the next year. Even the “average” mega-loser made their way back to the playoffs in about seven years. Change can happen … once there’s the willingness to do it.

It’s time to play ball. Push hard. And remember, we’re not Oakland.

It’s not much of a battle cry, but it’s a start.   

Mile-High Hopes?

Sure, I could have written about CU this morning. I didn’t for two reasons: 

1) There doesn’t seem to be a lot of need to. Everyone and their cocker spaniel is writing about the Buffs, Coach Prime and a transformation that’s right up there with Bruce Banner’s. 

2) I’m kind of afraid of jinxing the whole mess. Sure, it’s silly, but after seeing a “Yay, Nuggets” column get followed by the Heat’s only win of the NBA Finals, I am taking no chances. 

So instead, I’m turning my eyes to the Boys in Orange. After all, there’s only so much harm I can do there, right? 

If you felt a wind gust through the Front Range last week, it might have been the WHOOSH of deflated expectations from a horde of Bronco fans. After all, on the surface, we got a new coach, a new season and the same result: a 17-16 loss to open the campaign, just like 2022. 

It’s been hard to take, especially for the parts of the fandom that can remember the Broncos being at least a playoff threat for 30 years and then again in the Peyton Manning years. There’s history here. But ever since The Sheriff walked off the field, that history has been … well, history. 

That said, I have to admit something. Sure, I gritted my teeth through that Raiders game, too. But I still left with something that sorta, kinda, maybe, if-you-squint-real-hard, looks like hope. 

No, I don’t need the concussion protocol. 

The opening game came down to two big things: dumb penalties and a bad extra point. Both of these are correctable. More to the point, it did NOT come down to a disappointing day from Russell Wilson, who finally started to look like the quarterback we expected to see in 2022. I’ll emphasize the word “started,” especially since he didn’t exactly pour on the yardage in the second half.  But I’ll take a sharp completion percentage, two touchdown passes and – most importantly – no interceptions as a starting point. 

By the time this appears in print, Game 2 will have played and I’ll look like either a genius or an idiot. So it goes. But I’ll stand by this: for the first time in a while, it feels like there’s potential here. 

Yes, that’s a dangerous word. As Linus from “Peanuts” once put it, “There’s no heavier burden than a great potential.” And when we’ve been burned so many times – OK, when we’ve burned OURSELVES so many times – it can feel instead like Charlie Brown rushing up to try kicking the football yet again. 

I’ll be honest: I do not expect the playoffs this year. But I do expect better. As long as we have a coach that’s willing to work, able to work and given a chance to work. (That last has not exactly been a guarantee with the revolving door Denver has seen in the last few years.) 

That’s where anything worth doing starts. With the willingness and the opportunity to try. 

As I’ve said and quoted before, hope isn’t optimism. It’s optimism plus sweat. If you believe that better is possible, you have to show that belief by committing to it. That’s true whether you’re talking about a sport, a job, even a country. 

That doesn’t mean being blind about faults and weaknesses: “My team/party/country right or wrong.” But if you can set your sights higher than where you are and put in the effort to travel that path, then even a failure can make you stronger. Even a stumble can be forward motion. 

We may have a lot of stumbles ahead. But if we keep them in the right direction, we’ll get there. Jinx or no jinx. 

After all, we’ve seen what can happen when a team hits its Prime.

For Just a Moment

“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the HOPE!”  

– John Cleese, “Clockwise”

Oh, my Colorado Rockies. You do know how to break our hearts, don’t you?

We go through an entire offseason remembering how bad things have been. We grumble at an ownership that sees .500 as a lofty aspiration – even while we know in our heart of hearts that that’s absolutely right.

And then you do it. You go out and win your first two games against a team that played for the National League pennant last year. Not just lucky squeakers, but actual, solid wins.

What’s a fan supposed to do?

I admit it. On Friday night, I was singing a certain score to the tune of “Cleveland Rocks”: “4-1 ROX! 4-1 ROX! 4-1 ROX! 4-1 ROX!”

“Don’t fall for the ‘opening days’ of hope,” a friend advised on Facebook. Cynical, but basically sound. Smart, even. After all, the Rockies are past masters of April Love: a beautiful opening month followed by a loud ker-SPLAT.

I pondered it. Considered it. And then rejected it.

“I refuse to let the present be poisoned by the future,” I wrote back. “Especially when it’s this much fun.”

We’re often advised to follow the classic Mel Brooks proverb: “Hope for the best, expect the worst.” It’s good advice. Aspirations should always be high, plans should always account for challenges and disruptions. But somewhere along the line, a lot of us lost the first half of that saying.

It’s so easy to forget how to hope.

Mind you, I’m not talking about tolerating abuse or a dangerous situation. I’m not even talking about waiting for things to magically get better instead of backing up your dreams with action (something the Rockies ownership has been accused of on multiple occasions). As I’ve said before, hope is optimism plus sweat.

This is something simpler. When you have a good thing, even for a moment, why not allow yourself to enjoy it? Even if it’s likely not to last?

Maybe especially then. That’s when it becomes all the more valuable.

It’s easy to get grim. Heaven knows the world gives us enough reason. Sometimes it inspires a drive to sally forth and make things better. Often it just inspires exhaustion from trying to survive one more day.

But when it inspires nothing but despair … that’s when it gets deadly. Because despair is inertia. it allows no joy, no effort, no hope. It expects nothing and then immediately fulfills its own prophecy.

I’m not making light of it. I get it. There are days that crush me under their weight. In a perverse way, I suppose that’s why I reach for joy when I can. It’s a way to take even one step forward, even if it’s at a limp.

And when a moment gives light – even something as trivial as a baseball game – I hold it close. Because we need all the light we can get.

By the time this appears in the paper, the Rockies may have fallen back down to Earth … or still be soaring. Either way, we had the moment, however long it lasted. And that’s something.

So have at it, my Men in Purple. Break my heart one more time.

At least for today, you’ve made it beat a little faster.

In Thy Darth Streets Shineth …

Not long ago, Missy and I sat down to watch a classic holiday movie. Plenty of snow, a family reunion, and of course, a figure with a booming voice who’s recognized worldwide.

Man, “The Empire Strikes Back” never gets old.

Now that everyone’s stopped throwing snowballs at me, perhaps I should explain.

A long time ago, in a living room not so far away, I got Missy hooked on Star Wars. It wasn’t intentional. One quiet Saturday afternoon, I just suddenly found that I had company on the couch, watching blasters and bounty hunters with me. And since Missy goes all in on what she loves (partly from her developmental disability, partly from a naturally enthusiastic personality), it wasn’t long before she started pointing out Darth Vaders and Chewbaccas everywhere we went.

“Look-look-look!”

The best part? It was “Empire” that drew her in.

Now Missy’s not a dark and brooding personality. I mean, she cranks up the stereo to house-rocking levels with dance music and Christmas carols. She would go out every night to see holiday decorations if she could (and some years, we’ve come close). She likes bright colors, bright dresses, bright purses of near-infinite capacity.

And yet the movie that set the hook in her is easily the darkest of George Lucas’s original trilogy. It’s not a happy-ever-after fairy tale like the original “Star Wars” or a redemption story like “Return of the Jedi.” It’s a pure curb-stomp trampling of the good guys from beginning to end: the rebels lose their new base, Leia and Chewie lose Han, Luke loses his hand and his certainty. Even C-3P0, the comic relief, gets blasted to bits before everything’s done.

But the more I think about it, the more it fits. “Empire” is the perfect movie not just for our family Christmas Princess, but for the season in general.

Because first and foremost, it’s a story of hope.

The Empire wins victory after victory. But by the end of the story, the Rebellion’s still there. Nearly all of the major heroes have gotten away, including the one Vader wanted most. The light has dimmed – but as long as it’s still shining, the darkness hasn’t won.

Now come back to this season. The time of year where the nights grow darker – and the lights shine brighter. Maybe for Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Yule, or just someone’s own personal persistence. At the darkest times, we shine.

And boy, have we had a lot of darkness to push against lately.

You don’t need me to list all of it. For one thing, I’d need a longer column than this. For another, each of us knows the pains and the strains far too well by now. Violence and death in places that should be safe. Hate and anger driving fractures at a moment when we need everyone’s strength. A world that too often has us under siege, collectively, individually, and even microscopically.

But the light hasn’t gone out yet.

And when any of us add our glow – however flickering it may feel – that light of hope gets just a little stronger.

If that isn’t something to celebrate, I don’t know what is.

So light the lights, on the houses and in the hearts. Reach. Listen. Strengthen. Hope. Especially hope. That’s where it begins and how it endures: believing that the light will come and shining your own until it does.

That’s the beauty of the season and everything behind it. So give it a good look.

And if you want to give it a good Lucas too, Missy won’t complain.

Nugget of Hope

I rubbed my eyes to clear them. This couldn’t be right.

No illusion. The sports analysis still said the same thing: the Denver Nuggets were the favorite to win the West. With about one chance in eight of winning it all – better than anyone but the Boston Celtics.

This had to be a joke. Or at least a Jokić.

No slam meant on the Nuggets, by the way, who along with the Avs, have contrived to make half of the Colorado sports year exciting again. But I’ve lived most of my life in Colorado. And in many of those years, the Denver Nuggets were the Little Engine That Almost Could.

Alex English. Dikembe Mutombo. Carmelo Anthony. Time and again, the golden boys of basketball turned up some of the game’s brightest stars from yesterday’s Dan Issel to today’s Nikola Jokić. They made run after run at the playoffs, sometimes with moments for the ages. (I still remember Mutombo’s expression of joy as he lay flat on the court after upsetting the top-seeded SuperSonics.)

But they never brought home a championship. Barely even came close. The Avs brought home Stanley Cups. The Broncos discovered a way to win Super Bowls (and I wish they’d jog their memory). Even the Rockies managed to at least make the World Series once.

The Nuggets? The numbers tell the tale. Since joining the NBA in 1977, they’ve made the Western Conference finals four times – and been shot down every time. Three of them by the Lakers.

NBA Finals appearances: zero.

But as Nuggets fans know, even numbers only go so far to describe heartbreak. So many times, it’s seemed like this had to be the year, whether from on-the-court awesomeness or blind Cinderella magic. But the moments that are mere bumps in the road during an 82-game regular season can bump you out fast in a short playoff series. And bumped we were – again and again and again.

It hurts. Maybe because it’s so familiar. And I don’t just mean on the basketball court.

A lot of us have been there. Maybe all of us. Year after year of doing the right thing, maybe even doing it well … but somewhere, at least once, falling short when it counted. Not because of laziness or ignorance or anything else wrong, but because the moment just wasn’t there.

A moment that you know deserved to be better.

We get up again, of course. That’s literally how we’re made. Biologists describe humanity as a persistence predator. That means our early successes weren’t from having mighty strength, sharp teeth or blazing speed, but from a sheer refusal to quit, walking on and on long after our faster prey had worn itself out.

Funny thing. Hope works the same way.

Excitement can die off fast. Optimism melts like fog when the heat of the moment hits. But hope walks. Step by step, mile by mile. Maybe not catching its target right away, but never leaving it. Always keeping it in sight, however exhausting it might be.

Sheer stubbornness. At its worst, it’s the most exasperating quality humanity has. But at its best, it’s the one that carries us through when everything seems lost.

Even when it hurts.

So best wishes to the Nuggets. Sure, in a world full of crazy, one NBA season might not seem like much. But if they can break through the wall at last … well, a little more joy and sunshine never hurt anyone.

And if they don’t … then it’s time to do what we always do. Dust off, stand up and move forward again.

And again.

And again.  

And that’s no joke at all.

Ever a -dle Moment

I feel a little sorry for anyone trying to eavesdrop on the conversations of Chez Rochat these days.

“So did you get today’s flag yet?”

“Yeah, but I was totally in the wrong place for the country. You’ll see. And I have no idea on the music.”

‘Really? Play it a couple more times, you’ll know the guitar.”

“Ok …”

If it sounds puzzling … you’re absolutely right.

A few months back, I wrote about getting caught up in the Wordle craze, the ubiquitous puzzle game where you have to guess a five-letter word in six tries. I’m still there (and currently with a streak of over 260 wins). But these days, it’s got a lot of company.

Like Warbl, where you guess a song after hearing 30 seconds of it played backward.

Or Flagdle, where you have to recognize … well, national flags.

Or Quordle, the Wordle spin-off where you figure out four words in nine tries.

Not to mention Worldle (recognizing the shape of a country), Emovi (guess a film from a few emojis describing it), Yeardle (find the right year that an event happened in), and much, much more.

Heather discovered most of the games. I found a couple. A reader of this column even recommended one to us. It’s a little like finding dandelions in spring; every time you spot a new one, five more are nearby.

So what’s the point?

I’m not under the illusion that it makes me any smarter. Even the best brain games mostly teach you how to play brain games, a limited field unless you’re applying to become the New York Times crossword editor. (Know of any openings?) But that’s not to say that it’s useless, either.

Heather does them in part to sharpen her memory against the “brain fog” that multiple sclerosis can cause.  The moment where a reversed 30-second “Smoke on the Water” falls into place can be very reassuring.

For me, many of them play to my strengths: word play and weird bits of trivia.

And for both of us, the games hold the same appeal as a great mystery novel: pattern recognition from limited clues. As I pointed out last time, that’s a survival skill these days.

But there’s another quality that may be as valuable: tenaciousness. In particular, the awareness that an answer can be found, even if it’s not obvious or easy, and the will to keep trying for it.

I’m not naïve. I know that most of the issues we face in this world require a lot more thought than simply recognizing the shape of Belgium. But either way, persistence matters. No problem, simple or difficult, gets solved if people give up trying.

There’s a lot of temptation to do just that. As 2021 ended, an Axios poll found that more Americans were fearful than hopeful about the year to come. Ten months later, I suspect the proportions haven’t changed much.  Now, fear for the future isn’t necessarily unhelpful … but it depends on what you do with it. Does it drive you to despair and surrender? Or does it push you to struggle and try, to preserve something or even improve it?

If you’re struggling, if you’re tying, then there’s still hope in the midst of the dread. Hope sees a possible answer and then sweats to make it happen. It may take a lot of failed attempts. But hope keeps pushing for one more, to stay in the game a little longer.

So play on.  Hold your flag high.

And speaking of flags, have you seen today’s …?