What Counts … And What Not To

In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams declared that the answer to life, the universe and everything was 42.

So this year, maybe Heather and I have all the answers – but we’ve got them exactly backward.

Yes, it’s official.  The charming couple of Chez Rochat has logged 24 years together.  Twenty-four years since a brief moment of sunshine on a rainy day, with my hair refusing to stay down as we said “I do” in a friend’s garden.  

Fast forward to the present. My hair stays down perfectly now – mostly due to lighter population density. We’ve lived in four different places, only to end up just down the street from two of my childhood homes.

And after all this time, we’re still grabbing for moments of sunshine anywhere we can find them.

It’s weird to look back like this. At 24 years, a marriage has started to go beyond “Aww, congratulations!” and begun to reach “Wow, really?” You’ve gotten past all the bizarre anniversaries you used to joke about – the paper anniversary, the tin anniversary, even the yes-it-exists furniture anniversary – but you’re still a year away from reaching the ones that everyone’s heard of. You know: the silver, the golden, the diamond, the bearer bonds and so on.

I suppose that’s not all bad. After all, if you haven’t quite reached your silver anniversary yet, you can still lay claim to being crazy kids, right? Right?

Well, it was worth a try.

But it does sound strange to say “24 years of marriage” when in your head, you’re still 25. In a way, time stopped on our wedding day. I guess it does for a lot of people. Oh, the days go by with plenty to fill them. But it’s like driving across the plains on I-70; there’s no obvious clue to tell you how far you’ve gone until you happen to check the mileage.

And once you do, you wonder how the car’s kept running this long.

But maybe it’s just in how you look at it.

If you’re a Broadway fan, you probably know the song “Seasons of Love” from Rent. It famously opens with the phrase “525,600 minutes ….” Which sounds pretty gargantuan until the song reminds you that it’s just one year.

More than half a million minutes. But we’re not counting the minutes. We’re living the year.

And at the other end, we’re rarely counting the years. We’re living the days. Live enough of them, well enough, and the minutes and years take care of themselves.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Even at our first anniversary, Heather and I were joking about “When does the ‘in health’ part start?” Over the years, we’ve weathered disasters, mourned family, stacked up medical bills like a game of Jenga, and watched a leaking ceiling “rain” all over our kitchen table.

But we’re still standing. A lot of times, we’re even smiling. Sure, sometimes we’ve had to fight for every bit of sunlight. Sometimes we’ve been going on a mixture of routine and caffeine just to make it through the day. But we keep reaching for the next day. And the next. And the next.

Reach for enough of them and it can be pretty amazing. Maybe even amazing enough to rival life, the universe and everything.

Maybe when we reach 42, we’ll know the answer for sure. But for now, it’s enough to be looking for it together.

For now, this answer’s pretty fantastic. Backward or not.

By the Light’s Early Dawn

Ok. I’m officially one of Those People.

No, not a Raiders fan. (I do have my standards, you know.)

No, I haven’t started changing lanes without a turn signal.

And no, I haven’t been forgetting to take my mask off when I’m alone in the car. Not for more than one or two blocks, anyway.

This is something far more serious.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Scott Rochat … and I am an Early Christmas Decorator.  

(Ow! If you’re going to throw cranberry sauce at me, take it out of the can first, OK?)

To be fair, this goes against a LOT of my early training. From childhood on, family and employers made it clear that Thanksgiving was the demarcation line that must not be crossed. Even now, my folks deck the halls beautifully, but not until well into December.

So how did we come to violate the Turkey Truce?

I’d love to blame Missy for this, but for once, she’s innocent. Relatively so, anyway. If you’ve met her in this space before, you know that our ward has no fear of blaring out some holiday tunes in the middle of June if the mood strikes her. This year was no exception – but the Veterans Day tree in the window was not her fault.

That started with my wife Heather.

Well, in all honesty, it started with 2021. And more than a bit of 2020 as well.

I think we can all agree that these last two years have been  … what’s the word? Stressful? Frustrating? Flaming dumpsters full of near-apocalyptic wretchedness? (I know, that’s more than one word. Go with me here.) Certainly there have been some amazing moments – any time period where Grumpy Bernie turns into a meme can’t be all bad – but  for the most part, it’s been a slog. Through a swamp. That’s on fire. And filled with bear traps.

Within Chez Rochat itself, this is the year we lost our oldest pet. And our youngest pet. We racked up way too many medical emergencies, even by Heather’s standards. Not to mention … but no, I won’t mention. You’ve got your own tales of family exhaustion and you probably don’t need to be burdened down by mine.

Suffice it to say, there’s been a lot of darkness. And darkness needs light.

So we kindled some.

Two weeks early for the calendar. But just in time for us.

And I know we’ve got company.

It’s a human reflex. Almost every winter holiday I can think of involves kindling lights.  It’s an act that pushes back against the growing night, creating beauty out of shadow. When reflected by snow, the light grows still stronger, reaching out to embrace all who see it.

In a cold time, it’s a promise that we’re still here. That we can still hope.  

That’s no small thing.

Joy, love, peace, hope – those aren’t qualities for just one time of year, to be packed up in a cardboard box when reality returns. They’re survival traits. We pick a time to make them more visible so they’re not forgotten, but they always belong. And in times like this, they’re more essential than ever.

So if this year, giving thanks is mixed with your holiday cheer of choice, I won’t blame you. Quite the opposite.

Let there be lights. And trees. And hearts with the strength and desire to raise spirits. Whatever you do, however you do it … if you’re helping hold back the dark this year, you’re family.

Yes, even the Raiders fans.

A Blake-Shaped Hole

There’d been a wonderful run in the mountains. As fast as a 15-year-old dog can run, anyway. He’d taken off on an impulse, just like the old days, keeping ahead of my wife Heather until she finally caught up with him near the road.

“Blake, you goof.”

Big Blake panted and grinned as only an English Lab can. All was right.

And then, back home, over the next few days, all began to go wrong.

For a long time, Blake had been slowing down. He’d always rally, sometimes from a change in medicine, sometimes from a laser therapy, sometimes from his own strong heart and a blessing from the Angel of Dogs. But each rally got a little shorter, each miracle a little less enduring than the one before.

Now what rallies there were seemed to come and go like summer lightning. A brief moment of courage to handle the stairs. Twenty minutes of ease while listening to someone read. Some excitement as Missy entered the room, stiffly heaving himself up to greet his developmentally disabled friend. And then, more pain and confusion.

The conversation that had ebbed and flowed for weeks began to accelerate in earnest as Heather and I tried to figure out how much time there really was.  Maybe two weeks? Next weekend? This weekend? Tomorrow?

Each time we looked at his hurting body and worried mind, each time we asked ourselves the question, the true answer got a little clearer.

Today.

And on July 29, after a hamburger of his own and half of Missy’s (this is still Blake we’re talking about), way too many french fries, and all the hugs and tears that a family’s hearts could hold – we let Blake go.

It hurts to write those words.

If it didn’t, something would be terribly wrong.

Because even when you’re ready, you’re never ready.

We touch so many lives, collecting heartprints from each one that embraces ours. We build a well of memories that refreshes our soul, we weave their story into our own for a richer, fuller tapestry.

And then the fabric tears away. And it leaves a hole behind.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. This is the bargain we make, every time we hold someone close in love – that loss will come, but that the having will somehow be worth the losing. We know it. But we let ourselves forget the day will come. We have to, in order to live.

Sometimes, it really seems like it won’t ever end. Big dogs don’t always last long, but Big Blake had an amazing gift of life. At 12, he had all the energy and athleticism he’d possessed at 6. Even into his truly old and slow years, he still had to be watched for acts of food burglary, still stuck to Heather like a second shadow, still often greeted Missy’s arrival with a loud THUMP, THUMP, THUMP on the floor from his muscular tail.

It fools you. Lets you think that maybe you won the lottery, maybe you finally discovered the one that’s truly immortal.

In a way, maybe we did.

Maybe we all have.

Every memory, every story, every past moment of love and exasperation, brings a bit of them back for a moment. It’s never enough. It never can be. And it hurts with the sting of salt water on an open wound.

But that’s part of the bargain, too. That if you give enough to each other, a piece of them stays on in you.

And so a little of me will be forever Blake. A bit of all our family is forever tied to that wonderful blockheaded klutz, with the voracious stomach and the mighty heart.

Once more, Blake is running ahead of us. Someday, we’ll catch up. Near the road, ready to smile as only an English Lab can.

We love you, Blake, you goof.

Wait for us, big buddy.

The More Things Change

In 1998, Japan hosted the Olympic Games. The world marveled as humanity’s oldest space traveler launched into the blue. The Colorado Rockies struggled to stay out of the basement, prevented only by the even-worse Arizona Diamondbacks.  

Oh, and a young Colorado couple realized they had no idea what they were doing, but were willing to make a try of it together.

Fast forward 23 years later and …

Hmm.

Did someone give us the script of “Groundhog Day” when we weren’t looking?

OK, I’m teasing a little bit here. Obviously, we’ve seen more than a few shock waves since the days when  Google was new, Facebook was non-existent and masks were mostly for operating rooms and trick-or-treaters.

But after 23 years together – as of July 25 –Heather and I still spend a lot of time feeling like we’re making this up as we go along.

“It’s really only 10 years, right?” Heather teased me the other day. “We’re not counting the days with all the chronic illness stuff, are we?”

Sounds great to me.

It’s a little startling to think about. We’ve seen the larger world deal with Y2K and 9/11, ubiquitous computing and social media, even worldwide pandemic. (All of which have somehow failed to shake “The Bachelor” from the airwaves, by the way.) In our own lives, we’ve left Colorado and returned, become parents of a sort, and carefully learned how to spell scary stuff like “multiple sclerosis,” “ankylosing spondylitis” and “post-journalism career.”

But through all the blessings, scars and lessons … well, it still feels like we’re on day 2. With a world ahead and no idea how we’re going to meet it.

I guess that’s true for all of us, isn’t it?

We like to think we know better. From the first day that someone asks “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, we start to build grand plans for the future. It might be a general ambition or a detailed breakdown that looks like Richard Branson’s pre-flight checklist, but we like to think we know where we’re going and that we have some control over how to get there.

And then – life happens. A lot. And then a lot more.

If we’re lucky, we hang on to a piece of what we were expecting. If we’re even luckier, our old dreams give birth to new ones. I never expected to leave newspaper reporting – but I also never expected to be a parent-by-choice to Missy, either.

But a lot of times – scary, tiring times – it can feel a lot like circling the Monopoly board. The territory looks awfully familiar, but you’re not quite sure where you’ll land. (And that $200 for passing Go never seems to materialize.)

At those moments, I’m glad to not be the only piece in the game.

In a world where the changing and the changeless can be equally terrifying, it makes a difference to face it together. To know that even if you’re guessing, one person is guessing along with you.

I don’t know what tomorrow will be. Some days, I’m barely sure what yesterday was. But I know who I’ll be facing it with. And that makes all the difference.

Happy anniversary, hon.

Oh, and if we’re replaying 1998’s greatest hits … do you think we can get a Broncos Super Bowl win out of it?

Just checking.

You’re a Scarce One, Mr. Finch

Psst! Want a line on the next hot commodity? Lean in close and I’ll tell you.

Zebra finches.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Well, not in that regard, anyway.

For some time, Heather and I had marked out Friday on our mental calendars as “Z-Day,” the day when we would finally restore a zebra finch or two to the house. It had been almost a year since our tiny D2 had flown this world, and we needed some energetic beeping in the house again. Apparently, so did our cockatiel Chompy, who had been getting excited ever since seeing the new cage go up.

There was only one catch.

“What do you mean, you don’t have any zebra finches?”

That was the theme of a long Friday afternoon and evening. Store after store after store in a 75-mile radius gave the same answer: Sorry, nothing now, try back in a couple of weeks. (Well, except for the one that said “Sorry, we just sold our last two this morning.” Sigh.)

If you want to blame COVID-19 … well, you might be right. This is a world where many things are slowed down by precautions and quarantines, and I suppose it’s not surprising that live birds aren’t an exception.

Still, while it may be reasonable, it’s still hard.

That’s sort of the theme for this stage of pandemic life in general, isn’t it?

You know what I mean. We can all feel “normal” getting closer. Most of us by now know someone who’s gotten the vaccine, or even several someones. There’s been hints of hope in the air, signs that maybe the drawbridge can start to open this year, that by fall or winter we’ll have regained more pieces of the life we used to know.

But “close” isn’t the same as “here.”

And reminders of the gap between the two still abound.

Thinking about it, grade school was great training for this. You spent a lot of time doing things that were necessary, whether you really wanted to or not. And the closer you got to summer vacation, the more interminable those last few structured days and hours felt. To an anxious third-grader, the last week before summer is a lot like the last 20 miles of a long car ride: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

Then and now, the answer’s obvious. It’s not the answer we want, but it’s obvious all the same.

And we really don’t want to be kept into summer school this time.

And so we go on. Teased every so often by the promise of what’s ahead, only to run up against one more reminder of where we still are.

Frustrating.

But time will pass. Things will change. Finches will come, along with many other things.

We’ll get there.

Oh, it won’t be the same world. It never truly is from day to day, even without a sudden pandemic muddling things up. Just as with any other crisis in our history, there’ll be lessons we learn, behaviors we change, newfound strengths or scars that we carry with us. “Normal” is a moving target, one that we redefine with each generation.

But more normal than now? Less isolated, less wary, more “a part of” than “apart from?”

Yes, I believe that. Absolutely. We’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do, but we’ll get there. And when we do, we’ll have a new appreciation for the precious things in life. Like togetherness. Hugs. Mobility.

And, of course, zebra finches.

You don’t get much more valuable than that.

Snow Time, Like The Present

Inch by inch, the Subaru crawled over the snow-covered road. Inside the car, the CRUNCH and TEAR of our progress seemed to echo as Dad carefully drove the six long blocks up Gay Street.

It was time to pick up Grandma Elsie. And during the Christmas Blizzard of 1982, that was no small feat.

I can see a number of you nodding along. No surprise. You can always tell the long-time Front Range residents by dropping the words “Christmas” and “1982” into the conversation. That was the year of Bing Crosby’s Revenge, when the snow started coming on Christmas Eve and refused to stop.

That was the Christmas Eve when Dad battled long and hard to clear the front driveway – only to peek out the window during his coffee break and see it covered over again.

That was the Christmas Eve when I left my bicycle on the back porch – and looked out the next morning to see just the tip of one handle breaking the snow.

For my sisters and me, it was the coolest Christmas ever, with the world briefly transformed into our own personal Hoth. (Yes, even then we were Star Wars geeks.) Looking back as an adult, I can only imagine how exhausting it must have been for my folks.

Snow transforms the world, and I still love the beauty and magic that it brings as it makes old landscapes new. But it also carries a price.

It means more work, more caution and less haste.

It means breaking your routine and thinking about what you’re doing and why.

Most of all, it means looking out for your neighbor and lending a hand where you can, whether it’s helping to shove their high-centered car off a snowy median or lending an extra shovel to clear a walk.

And when you’ve made it through one of the Big Ones, you remember. Surviving the Christmas Blizzard of ’82 becomes a badge of pride.

We’ve seen those lessons in other times and places, many of them much less picturesque. Tornado. Wildfire. Flood. All the moments that reach out and test you as a person and a community.

Moments like now.

Years from now, a lot of us (I hope) will be boring kids and grandkids with our stories of the Pandemic of 2020. We’ll have our own tales of the uncertainty, the frustration, the odd things we had to do to get by when the world suddenly sprouted more masks than a Marvel Comics movie.

And hopefully, we’ll also have the same lesson to pass on. That it’s in the times of crisis that your love for your neighbor is truly tested.

We sing a lot about love this time of year. It fills our stories from the haunting lines of “A Christmas Carol” to the cheesiest Hallmark movie on the screen. And whether the tale is profound or trite, one element always comes back – love doesn’t leave you alone.

It doesn’t care about what’s comfortable or normal. It’s likely to ask you to change – to uproot what you thought you knew and rebuild. To think beyond your own skin and sacrifice, whether it’s to help a neighbor or a world.

It’s a hard gift to give. And the best one.

And when the world seems cold, it’s that love that will again light the fire.

The time has come. The season is here. The need is everywhere. Remember the lessons we learned in the snow and reach out with them, even when there’s not a single flake to be seen.

The road has been slow and the progress agonizing. But the destination’s worth it.  

With care, we can reach it together.

Even without four-wheel drive.

Seeing Through the Walls

Big Blake’s tail didn’t thump when we walked in the room.

His eyes were … there but not there.

Even the magic word “Food!” provoked only a little attention and some reluctant movement – maybe. For a dog who had always been ruled by his stomach, that was the scariest of all.

“I think we’d better call the vet again.”

It would be his second trip in two days. Yesterday he had been moving fine and eating fine, but with rather messy results out the other end. He’d been checked out and sent home with something for an upset stomach – but this seemed like a new ballgame.

There are moments in a crisis when all the walls turn transparent. You can see all the possibilities but you have no idea which one the path leads toward. Were we looking at an intestinal blockage? An injury, from a slip as he left the car the day before? Something more insidious that had been waiting until now to show its head?

All we could do was take him in, hope, and watch the clock.

Two hours later, the call came. Two minutes later, so did our reaction.

“It looks like what he’s having is an extreme arthritis flare-up . We’ve added some pain medicine to his NSAIDs for now ….”

I think our collective sigh of relief must have re-routed hurricanes in the Gulf.

We could see the path at last. And it actually led somewhere that we wanted to be.

Now, with our furry friend beside us, we get to watch another moment of clarity and uncertainty – this time on a national scale.

As I write this, the drama of COVID-19 entering the White House is still going on. So many questions are still hanging in the air. How many more names will we hear that we recognize? What does this mean for the country? Headlines about confirmations, debates, economies, elections, and yes, very real lives – those actually infected and those affected by them and their choices – continue to whirl and spin across the landscape like a Kansas tornado.

Once again, the walls are transparent and the path unclear. The nature of the virus almost guarantees it. Some get sick and get well and get on with things. Some require much more intensive medical care. Some recover, but with serious after-effects that can hang on for months.

And yes, some die. Too many have.

Again, you’re reading this later than I’m writing this. You may already know the next chapter of the story. But if we’re still watching the news, wondering what’s next and what it will mean – well, I suppose in 2020, it isn’t all that surprising.

Once again, we have to wait. And to keep doing what we need to do while we’re waiting. Because life doesn’t stop for the rest of us.

We still need to hold out hope for the future and caution for the present, looking to a day when things can be better while taking the careful steps needed to make it there.

We still need to look to each other as friends and neighbors, giving and accepting strength.

We still need to look to our own care, so that whatever the world sends us tomorrow, we’re ready to meet it.

Ready when the path starts to re-emerge.

For now, we’re once again walking the path with our dog. Big Blake’s tail is thumping. His eyes are bright. And his attention to food is as laser-sharp as ever.

It’s the moment we didn’t dare hope for.

And we couldn’t be happier.

Directions in the Fogg

For the last few weeks, bedtime has been a race. And now, at last, Missy has pulled up smiling at the finish line.

A trip around the world can do that.

No, we’re not defying coronavirus restrictions and dashing through international borders one step ahead of the health authorities. Heck, at the rate baseball has been going, even state borders are starting to look like an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones.

But Missy’s bedtime reading has opened a lot of doors over the years. We’ve journeyed through Middle-earth. We’ve battled evil at Hogwarts. We’ve traveled the stars with Madeleine L’Engle and solved mysteries with Ellen Raskin.  And since Missy’s online activity group has been “visiting” a lot of countries lately, the time felt right  to introduce her to an old friend.

Once again, it was time to travel with Phileas Fogg.

If you’re not familiar with “Around The World In Eighty Days” – is there anyone left? – you have quite the journey ahead of you. I was a kid on summer vacation with my family when I first read Jules Verne’s tale of the incredibly precise 19th-century Englishman who accepts a 20,000 pound wager to circle the world  in the stipulated time without being a single minute late.  It’s a short novel and one that moves as quickly as its characters as they jump from trains and steamships to sailing craft and elephants, efficiently racing the clock (and a misguided detective).

Like a lot of older books, some bits age better than others. But the story still draws like a magnet because the central idea still works.

No, not the idea of circling the globe in under three months. Anyone with access to an airline ticket and a passport – a combination which, admittedly, has become a piece of fiction itself lately – can travel at a pace that leaves Fogg and his friends gasping in the dust.  But the challenge behind Fogg’s wager is still part of us today.

Namely, the idea that with enough planning, even the unexpected can become predictable.

At this stage of 2020, the idea sounds almost humorous. Anything we may have expected on  New Year’s Eve has surely gone through the paper shredder as we’ve grappled with seven months of upside-down events. It’s always hard to grasp how little control we truly have, but 2020 seems determined to remind us of that constantly … with a Louisville Slugger, if necessary.

The thing is, Fogg’s friends back home seem to have already absorbed the lesson. From the start, they remind him of all the things that could go wrong – breakdowns, bad weather, local violence and more. And in a way, they’re right. Fogg’s ability to take advantage of the good and improvise around the bad gets absolutely derailed on the final lap, disrupted by the one complication he hadn’t foreseen. Disaster looms.

It sounds like a pandemic lesson. And I hope it is. Because – spoiler alert! – that’s not the end of the story.

There’s a second complication. A positive one that gives Fogg more time than he thought he had. But without his planning, he would never have been in position to take advantage of it. And without learning to recognize and return the love of others, he would never have seen the opportunity at all.

And that is the lesson we need to learn.

Not to give up. Not to say “Nothing we do will make any difference.” But to plan as best we can, improvise where we have to, and recognize that ultimately it’s our compassion for the people around us that will get us through this. When we look out for each other instead of grasping desperately at normal, we win – because every one of us is “each other” to someone else.

Like all adventures, this will leave us changed. But it can be a change for the better.

Maybe, just maybe, a little Fogg can help us see clearly.

For Today, For a Lifetime

“And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”

– Talking Heads

I’ve never been married for 22 years before.

It’s a little strange for both me and Heather, like we just came into possession of a DMC DeLorean with the Doc Brown option package. Last week, it was 1998 with my hair refusing to lie flat while we said “I do.” Yesterday, it was 2011, when we moved in with Missy for the first time and became parents in a way that neither of us had ever expected.

Now it’s 2020. And even against the backdrop of The Strangest Year of All™, this still makes us pause.

How DID we get here, anyway?

Silly question, of course. I mean, this is what we promised to do, right? To keep being there even when everything else changes. Like jobs. And homes. And new family members arriving while old ones (or not-so-old ones) leave. And all the rest of it.

But somehow, when you add it all up, it becomes stunning.

Think about it: Who thought we’d last long enough for the 1980s to become cool again?

 

“I did it one piece at a time.”

-Johnny Cash

It’s not unique to us, of course. It’s not even unique to marriage. As a species, we love to make promises that take moments to say and so  much longer to live.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

“…and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity …”

Personal commitments. National commitments. All of them so much more than we can see. Our words can leap years, decades, even centuries, but we still have to put them together day by day like everyone else.

And that’s hard.

It’s hard for a young couple who puts time and energy into a fantastic wedding and then discovers that a lasting marriage is a different animal, one that has to be reinvented every day.

It’s hard for a young nation that has to reach those blessings of posterity in fits and starts: sometimes surging forward in triumph, sometimes falling back in despair and most often moving one painful compromise at a time.

It’s hard now, when so much seems to have changed so quickly, to realize that our solutions may not be as quick. That they can’t be.

We can plan. We can prepare. And we should. But all we can reach, right here and now, is today. We’re getting through it as best as we can with what we’ve got.

But if we get through it enough times, it builds into something more.

If we keep going, we can make a difference. To ourselves. To each other. Maybe even to the world.

It all starts with one day.

 

“Look at where we are. Look at where we started.”

-Lin-Manuel Miranda

Heather and I have had a lot of “one days.” Twenty-two years’ worth.

On our very first anniversary, we struggled up the ridge of the Great Sand Dunes. It’s not something either of us would have thought to do on our own, maybe not even something we could have. But together, encouraging each other, we made it step by step.

In a way, we never stopped climbing that ridge. Through chronic illness. Through Missy’s dances and softball games. Through celebration and reflection and more books than any one family should reasonably own.

And love. Love most of all.

Maybe that’s why, when we look back, the surrounding landscape feels so staggering. There’s a lot of journey ahead. But we’ve come so far.

Here’s to all our journeys, wherever we may be on the path. May we all find what we need to take the next step.

We have a day ahead. Let’s make the most of it.

Heather and I certainly plan to.

Let It Glow, Let It Glow, Let It Glow

I’m convinced that Heather is a prophet.

When the coronavirus closures first started and people began staying around the homestead like an episode of Little House on the Prairie, my wife said she had the perfect idea for brightening up the situation. Literally.

“Everyone should put up their Christmas lights again,” she said. “We’ve all got this extra time and it’d be fun to drive around and see everything.”

Well.

Within two days of her pronouncement came word of the latest social media trend: people re-hanging their holiday lights to lift the spirits of quarantined neighbors.

I know Heather is always right but this has got to be a new record.

I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, we usually put out the brilliant colors and florid displays at the darkest time of the year – “In the Bleak Midwinter,” as Christina Rossetti put it. We labor and we plan so that we can light the night, lifting even the heaviest shadows of the soul with a burst of joy and exuberance that will not be denied.

Time has passed. Spring has come. With a snow shovel rather than a garden spade, but it’s spring nonetheless.

But for a lot of folks, the shadows of winter are still falling.

Life isn’t what it was. OK, it never is. But this one has been a hard shake. We’ve seen gathering places go quiet, events fold up and wait for healthier times. Most of us have learned to keep our distance and try to let the pandemic pass by. Some have made its acquaintance anyway.

At a time like this, even the most case-hardened introvert is going to feel some stress. Many people are feeling more than some. It’s a situation that can leave folks feeling disconnected, restless, uncertain, scared.

It’s a time when we need every piece of joy we can find.

So why not let there be light?

I confess to a little selfishness here. Missy, our developmentally disabled ward, has been very confused and frustrated by the situation. A born extrovert, she always wants to grab her Giant Red Purse ™ and GOOOO! She lives for concerts, dances, bowling groups, dinners out. All of which are pretty much out the door for a while.

But if you’re a regular reader, you also remember that Missy loves Christmas lights. It’s a literal driving passion – in that we pretty much spend most of December driving Longmont to discover the neighborhoods and displays we haven’t yet seen.

It lifts her soul. And that lifts mine.

That’s how a family works. Or a neighborhood. Or a community. You do the things that lift each other up so that we can all walk a little taller.

We do a lot of the big things right, the ones that keep the water flowing and the power running and the garbage picked up each week. But what sets a place in the heart is the little things.

Like the Kansas families who brought us dinner every night for a week after Heather had surgery.

Like the neighbor here who shoveled our front walk when he learned my back was having problems.

Like anybody who goes out of their way to add beauty, love, or joy to someone else’s life.

Those are the real lights in the darkness. The ones that break through even the longest isolation and remind us that we’re not alone. That we have neighbors, families, friends who care.

So let’s do it.

Let’s make this a town that Santa Claus would envy and the Stock Show would admire. Bring ‘em on. Light ‘em up. Make it glow.

And even if you can’t put lights on your house, remember to turn on the ones in your heart.

One way or another, we are going to make a dark moment shine.