Rolling With Joy

When Missy gets hold of a pair of dice, watch out. Magic is likely to happen. 

“YEAH!!” 

Missy’s developmental disabilities make it difficult for her to take part in a lot of games. But when dice need rolling, cards need drawing or any kind of random factor enters in, she quickly takes the spotlight. Not only does Missy roll with gusto, she typically rolls well – to the point where we’ve sometimes claimed her as our family’s secret weapon at holiday board games. 

It’s given her an impressive winning streak against my wife Heather at Candy Land. 

It helped her trounce all comers – roughly a dozen players or so – in a sprawling Yahtzee battle. 

And yes, it gave her just a little frustration at our last gathering when that famous luck went south for a while, producing 1’s and 2’s on the dice instead of 5’s and 6’s. No one’s perfect, right? 

Even so, I’ve still been tempted to have her pick our lottery numbers. We’ve learned to respect the gift – and more importantly, to appreciate the glee. 

You see, that’s the best part. Missy LOVES being “the roller.” It lets her play on an equal level with everyone else. More than that, it lets her be appreciated, even celebrated at times. 

For her, it’s a pathway to joy. 

And she’s far from the only one. 

I don’t want to throw the word around casually. I’m not  just referring to a brief burst of happiness, though that’s often a side effect. Joy is tougher than that, something that sustains you even when the circumstances don’t. If “hope” is the willingness to work toward a positive outcome that you desire but can’t yet see, then “joy” is the fuel for the fire that keeps you moving, letting you hold each moment close for what it is.

That’s not an easy thing. Especially these days. 

Many of us are tired. Many of us have losses. And when everything in the season starts shouting at us to “Celebrate! Celebrate!”, sometimes it just piles more on. We feel out of place … if we have the energy left to feel anything at all. 

But when we find a place – not the one the world wants to give us, but one that’s truly our own – something opens up.

When we can share appreciation for another – however simple and small it may seem – that something spreads.

Remember the Charlie Brown Christmas tree? Bedraggled, overlooked, but able to flourish with some support and love. Not unlike Charlie Brown himself, for that matter: mocked in the role that others tried to give him, but triumphant despite himself when he put it aside to reach out to something neglected.

We all have light to share. Not “jobs to do,” with the grinding sense of obligation that can imply, but a little spark that’s part of who and what we are. Maybe it’s just a glimmer, barely visible to anyone else.

But if you put enough glimmers together, they become a chandelier.

That’s what joy can be.

That’s what we can be.

May we all share in that gift, this season and beyond, with a joy that not only sustains but welcomes. May it become second nature, but never taken for granted.

Magic happening? Why not?

After all, this is how we roll.

Stream of Second Chances

Smart phones have found their Timex moment

I realize that I just dated myself with that one. Anyone under the age of 30 who recognizes the phrase “It takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’” is probably either a serious YouTube fanatic or a time traveler in disguise. But how else do you describe the super-powered phone of Jordan Miezlaiskis?

According to UPI, Miezlaiskis was up in Canada last year to celebrate her brother’s birthday when she dropped her phone into the fast-moving Chippewa River, where it quickly vanished  from sight. Worse yet, her brother died a short while later that year – and naturally, the last photos she had of him had been on that phone.

So far, it sounds like 2020, right?

But here’s the thing. Miezlaiskis returned to Canada this summer to remember her brother, and a Facebook message from a stranger popped up. Usually, social media messages from strangers are a little dodgy … but this one had amazing news. While diving near Chippewa Falls, he and his brother had found her phone.

Even more amazing, it still worked.

“(The photos) just popped up like nothing,” she told UPI. “It was wild. The phone had been underwater for a year in 12 feet of water and it was as if nothing happened.”

If someone hasn’t signed her up for a commercial by now, then the American advertising industry is really asleep at the switch.

That one stayed with me, even after the few moments it took to chuckle and shake my head in amazement. After all, we’ve all been there. We’ve all had the screw-up that seemed irreparable, the moment we would give anything to take back.

So it’s kind of nice to remember that, every once in a while, second chances exist. That not all mistakes have to be forever.

And those weird odds get just a little better if you face them with some friendly help.

When I was still newly married, I went on a feature assignment at the Arkansas River near Garden City, Kansas. Usually running at a trickle at the best of times, it had real water in it that day due to a reservoir release, so a photographer and I had traveled thereto meet with some folks who were boating down the stream while they could. Not a world-shaking story, but a fun chat and some good pictures.

As I started to drive the two of us back, my car hit an area of soft sand and bottomed out. The photographer and I got out to try to push it free … and my wedding ring, which still fit a little loosely, slipped off my finger and disappeared into the sand.

Panic does not begin to describe my mood. I tried to dig in but couldn’t see anything. Worse, the sand itself was so loose that I feared I was pushing the ring deeper with every attempt. I stared, frozen.

The photographer then knelt down and began to pick gently through the grains with her small hands and careful fingers. Nothing … nothing … wait …

There.

A friend’s patience had literally struck gold.

Small treasures like rings and phones may not seem like much in a cosmic sense. But they carry a heart. And when we each look after the heart of our neighbor, the world gets a little better. Maybe in small ways. Maybe in life-saving ones. (After all, what has this last year and a half been if not a constant reminder to look out for your neighbor?)

 If you’ve been that friend, thank you. If you’ve been helped by that friend, great. Pass it on. Make it better.

Together, maybe we’ll all keep on tickin’.  

That Thirteen Something

I don’t have a lot of superstitions. I find black cats adorable, broken mirrors are just a mess to clean up, and I could step on a sidewalk’s worth of cracks without screwing up my family’s spines any worse than they already are.

But I have to admit, I’m getting a little edgy about the number 13. Or to be more accurate, about 2013.

Something in this year has it in for us.

Granted, Heather and I have gone in for long streaks of bizarre luck at times. Our honeymoon, for example, was marked by a torrential downpour that washed every “Just Married” inscription from the car, a Mexican restaurant that left us both ill, and a local bird population that repeatedly mistook my wife for a bombing range. You know, the usual.

But this last January … well, where do I begin?

There’s the back I strained (though thankfully not outright pulled) while helping my sister-in-law move to Lakewood. Naturally, work was missed.

There’s the flu that bombed Heather and Missy just as I recovered from the back strain. Naturally, more work was missed.

Then, of course, the flu jumped to me after three straight days of caring for Heather and Missy. Naturally … ah, you’ve heard that one.

Having the bathroom pipes leak through the kitchen ceiling added a bit of spice to my own bout with the flu. (Rain on the kitchen table gives a home such atmosphere, don’t you think?) And I shouldn’t leave out the joys of getting Missy the antibiotic she needed to speed her own recovery … only to discover she was brilliantly allergic to the medicine in question.

Have you ever seen a young woman turn into a human strawberry? I really don’t recommend it.

The irony is that I used to dread Februaries, the half-forgotten tail end of the winter season. Now, I’m leaping into the month like a welcoming bath after a long day.

It’s got to get better – right?

The funny thing is, the belief that “it’s got to get better” can be a big part of making it better. There’s been a few studies of lucky or unlucky people over the years and they seem to reach the same conclusion: more often than not, the lucky make their luck.

“Lucky people are certain that the future is going to be full of good fortune,” said writer Eric Barker, himself citing researcher Richard Wiseman. “These expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies by helping lucky people persist in the face of failure, and shape their interactions with others in a positive way.”

In other words, people who look for the best, even while undergoing the worst, tend to find it. They don’t give up.

The idea reminded me of the Lloyd Alexander fantasy novels I read as a child, where the character Llonio the Lucky kept his nets on the river and his eyes on his surroundings and was able to reclaim all sorts of odd objects as a result – all of which proved to be useful, once a little imagination was applied.

“Trust your luck, Taran Wanderer,” he tells the main character at one point. “But don’t forget to put out your nets!”

My own nets have caught a lot of wonderful things over the years – a good family, a good job, friends I love and value. (Still no $3 million dollar fortune, alas, but I suppose you can’t have everything.) And if there’s been one good thing about this latest streak of trouble, it’s been that it let me spend more time with Heather and Missy, maybe even catch some quiet in the midst of chaos.

After all, nothing that hit us was irreparable. Nothing happened that couldn’t get better. And that’s pretty lucky, too, now that I think about it.

Even so, I may keep a careful eye out this year. Just to be thirteen – uh, I mean, certain.

Sigh.

Well, there goes February.