Picture the Time

Heather returned from the yard, her phone held in triumph.

“I did it!” she proclaimed. “Fifty-two weeks!”

“Oh? … OH!”

A smile spread across my face to match my wife’s. At long last, the photo forest was complete.

Perhaps I should explain. My wife Heather enjoys photography, especially shots that involve patterns and repetition. She’s also felt a little disconnected from the world since COVID arrived in 2020. With her various autoimmune conditions, she has to be careful about how and where she goes out, even in virus conditions that others might shrug at.

So to grab a sense of time, she started visiting the apple tree in the back yard for a brief photo session. One shot per week, always at the same time of day, always from the same angle and range. The goal: one year’s worth of pictures.

It started slow. After all, there’s not much difference between a barren tree branch in late February and a barren tree branch in mid-March. (Especially with the “second winter” that the Front Range can often get.) But over time, across 52 weeks, the changes became subtle and then profound: first budding, then flourishing, then thinning once more.

At times, it became a panic task. (“Scott! I almost forgot! I’ve got to do the tree!”) Time had started to mean something again among the sameness of home life, even if it mostly meant a date with a silent, leafy companion.

And as the leaves grew, so did her confidence.

She had set a goal. A long-term one. And she was following through.

When you spend a lot of time with chronic illness, that’s not a small thing. Plans often have to change on a dime; schedules and expectations become necessarily fluid. Friends, family, even doctors all become familiar with the phone call that starts “I’m sorry but I can’t today …”

A lot of things get torn away. And any time you can grab something back, it’s a triumph. A moment to plant your feet and say “No. I get to do this and you can’t stop me.”

And so, over time, the photos became a battle record. A simple spectrum of determination.

Fifty-two weeks. Fifty-two moments that added up to so much more.

Everything starts with a moment. It’s easy to forget that, easier still to get overwhelmed by what life asks of us. It all seems so big and our abilities so small, like sculpting with a toothpick.

But taking just a moment, claiming it, repeating it- that’s powerful. Even scattered moments built from brief flashes of opportunity add up. Georges Seurat spent two years painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”  J.R.R. Tolkien spent 17 years on “The Lord of the Rings.” Both created masterworks – but in a way, that’s beside the point.

It’s not about whether the goal resounds through the ages. It’s about what it means to you. And even what you build in yourself as you achieve it.

Heather built something lasting. She reclaimed a piece of her life. And regardless of the pictures themselves, that’s something no one can take away.

It’s amazing what can happen when you just take a shot.

Or even 52 of them.

On the Flip Side

The day after the All-Star Game, it felt like I had entered Bizarro World. 

Even if you’re not a certified geek like me (nobody’s perfect), you’ve probably heard of Bizarro World, the Superman setting where everything is ridiculously reversed. Bizarro World’s residents put curtains outside their windows. Their greatest celebrities are hideously ugly. And of course their Superman equivalent, the clumsy and Frankenstein-ish Bizarro himself, gains power from Green Kryptonite and has a penetrating gaze that can ONLY see through lead. 

So when our own Elias Díaz became the All-Star MVP with a game-winning home run – the first  of the Rockies ever to win the honor – the fan reaction would have made Bizarro feel right at home. 

“Well, it’s been nice knowing him.”

“Yeah, he ought to get traded any day now.” 

Mind you, I get it. It’s been a long, long, LONG time since the glory days of Rocktober in 2007. The current ownership has pretty much dedicated itself to the pursuit of mediocrity … and then not even taken the steps to secure that. Stars get cut or traded before they become expensive, endless streaks of losing are tolerated as long as Coors Field keeps filling up and a .500 record is treated as aspirational to the point of being unrealistic. 

Rebuilding years get bad, I know. But this isn’t rebuilding. This is marking time. To steal a quip from Abraham Lincoln, if the Monforts don’t want to use the Rockies, would they mind letting someone else borrow them for a while? 

But while they’re dithering, let’s not let them steal our joy. However brief it may prove. 

I have a little experience there. 

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that my wife Heather has just a few medical issues. Which is kind of like saying that Hollywood has just a few people on strike right now. We’re talking good stuff like Crohn’s disease. Or MS. Or ankylosing spondylitis. And often, some special guest star that we struggle to identify at all. 

Draining? Yes. Discouraging? Sure. There have been a lot of grinding days where we’ve both felt like we’re walking to the North Pole while trying to drag Pike’s Peak with us. The next moment can never really be counted on and every plan has a just-in-case contingency. 

But here’s the thing. It’s not unrelieved gray. Somehow, some way, sunlight does sneak in. And we’ve learned to treasure it for however long it lasts. 

It might be laughter at a silly joke or horrid pun. Or a “what the heck?” moment in the Chinese action melodramas Heather loves. It could be a moment of peace in the mountains or a cheer from Missy at getting to help us wash dishes. (Yes, our Missy celebrates dish washing – I told you this was Bizarro World.)

Whatever the form it takes, joy finds a way in. And when that happens, there’s nothing wrong with holding it if you can.

It’s not easy, I know. On a grand scale, it sometimes even sounds a little frivolous. “How can you enjoy (x) when (y) is going on?” But the mind can attend to a number of different things.  And while I never want to be the one fiddling while Rome burns to the ground, I also don’t want to be a grim soul who’s closed himself off to anything but pain.

So yes. Celebrate the good when it comes, however small it might be. Touch the joy. Feel the now, no matter what tomorrow holds.

And if someday it holds a change of ownership for the Colorado Rockies, maybe we can all rejoice a little more.

Bizarro? Maybe. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

We Interrupt This Column …

Today’s column was almost called on account of “Yeah!” 

The shouts of triumph – yes, plural – came from Missy. The source? A book full of Star Wars illustrations, every single one of which required her to wave me over so I could share the latest discovery. 

“Look!” 

A tough-looking Wookiee. Han Solo with a blaster. An alien with a baby face. (“Baby!”) Every few seconds brought a new image, a new cheer, a new requirement to get away from that keyboard and come SEE. 

“Yeah!!” 

If you know Missy, this won’t surprise you. Her physical and developmental disabilities can make many things challenging for her, but enthusiasm has never been one of them. When she’s in the mood, just about anything can get her supercharged: a classic car, a cool-looking pair of shoes, even an opportunity to wash the dishes.

“Yeah!!!” 

Now, this could be a column about how great that kind of joy over simple things is. It’s a good thing to remember and I’ve written that piece before. But this time, I want to flip the direction. 

You see, those moments don’t follow a schedule. Not one that fits neatly on a calendar alongside “take notes for half thought-out column” and other such things. It means interruptions. Backtracking. Maybe even frustration as you try to recover a lost bit of focus. 

But that doesn’t matter. 

When you’re a parent – or at least in the position of one – and you get summoned into the latest enthusiasm … you share it. Right then. Right there. Period.

To them, this is the most important thing in the world right now. And being invited to join that is a privilege.

OK, yes, obviously there are limits. Sometimes it’s good to learn to wait. Some dangerous enthusiasms need to be headed off. And yes, sometimes you legitimately can’t interrupt a task . (“I have to keep my eyes on the road right now, sweetie, but I’ll look when we get to this stop sign, ok?”) But by and large, the rule holds.

Don’t squash the joy. Don’t diminish the moment. Never teach the person you love that something else is more important than they are. 

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad rule of thumb in general. 

Missy’s in a quieter mode now, perusing a magazine as she watches the world through the bay window. But the next moment will come. And when it does, we’ll be there. 

After all, it’s a moment to share love. 

And that’s always something to shout about. 

“Yeah!!!!” 

All the Cut-Up Ladies

If life had treated Missy differently, she would have been a first-rate chainsaw ice artist.

Pure speculation, of course. In the real world, Missy’s developmental disabilities and cerebral palsy don’t make her the best match for outsized power tools. (A fact that my wife Heather and I are grateful for during occasional temper tantrums, I might add.) Nonetheless, the potential is clear.

To start with, Missy likes to play it loud. She doesn’t like being surprised by noise, mind you, but if she’s got her hand on the volume … well, as the song goes, it’s time to “Take it to the Limit One More Time.”

Second, Missy does love to create. With crayons and markers. With paint. And most especially these days with collage, where she’ll draft Heather into cutting out ladies from magazines, and then grab a glue stick and some construction paper and POUND POUND POUND everything into place.

Third, and most important, Missy doesn’t see her art as forever.

Oh, Heather and I have saved a lot of it and even hung some of it up; that’s what good guardians do, and there’s a lot of good memories bound up in every piece. But it’s not unusual to see Missy taking one of her works apart again. She’ll start removing stickers, ripping off foamies, or – especially after she’s been working for a while – simply jamming together ladies in a glued-up indistinguishable pile that owes more to stress release than creative impulse.

At the end of a typical art blizzard, the kitchen table will have vanished beneath an onslaught of  construction paper, glue, and cut-out photographs. Within which may be three or four actual art pieces.

And that’s OK.

In fact, it’s wonderful.

Because at the end of the day, art isn’t about having something for the ages or even for the scrapbook. It’s about the joy it brings you in the moment, however temporary and fragile that moment may be.

We forget that. Easily.

Oh, a lot of us used to know it. Ask a little kid to draw, or dance, or pretend to be something, and they’ll typically tear into it with gusto. Ask a co-worker to do it, and what are you likely to hear nine times out of 10?

“Oh, I can’t draw.”

“You don’t want to see me dance.”

“Trust me, I’m no actor.”

We know what expertise looks like, or think we do, thanks to Hollywood and the internet. And so, if we’re not good at something right away, a lot of us stop. Why bother?

That’s sad. Partly because – unless you’re a born genius like Mozart – you have to pass through a lot of “not-good” and “less-good” to reach the level of “good.” But even that overlooks a more important fact: “good” isn’t the object.

Joy is.

My piano playing will never be mistaken for Scott Joplin or Elton John. But it gives me pleasure and it even entertains my friends from time to time. That’s enough.

I know people who create pictures that will never see a museum. Or write poetry that will never climb the bestseller list. It won’t make them immortal. But it does make them happy. It brings out a necessary piece of them.

And if no one else ever sees it, they’ve still had that moment.

Seeing those moments, living them, appreciating them – that is a true art. No matter how the moment is spent.

And if you happen to spend those moments with a chainsaw, know that Missy is with you in spirit. And with an awful lot of glue sticks.

In The Moment

After last week, I’m starting to feel a bit whiplashed.

You too? Welcome to the club.

Every so often, we hit a moment where life seems to have only two speeds: full tilt or stopped in its tracks. In fact, it’s usually both at once. Events seem to rush by us like an express train bearing down on a Hollywood victim-of-the-week … and yet we feel frozen, unable to do anything but watch as our mental phaser resets to “stun.”

They’re the moments that mark a generation. Pearl Harbor. Kennedy. The Challenger explosion. The towers falling on 9/11.

And now this one. COVID-19. The moment where “social distancing” became a virtue and closures became common, from the local school to the NBA.

Granted, it’s not a single discrete moment. Viruses aren’t that simple. (And scheduling would be a lot easier if they were!) This snowball started down the hill in January, half a world away, and Colorado is just the latest skier in its path. But it’s quite possible and maybe even a little appropriate that Friday the 13th will be the date that stands in memory here – especially if you’re a Colorado kid faced with the longest Spring Break ever and almost nowhere to go.

In a way, we’ve been here before, if not quite on this scale. It hasn’t been that long, really, since polio epidemics were common. Even a hint that another outbreak of the disease was underway would be enough to close swimming pools, to have people keeping their distance from each other at movie theaters, to do what you needed to do to diminish the risk.

And then to worry. People do. We like to think we’re in control of our lives. And when that control proves to be an illusion, it’s a blow. A hard one.

We’ve long since driven polio back in defeat, armed with effective vaccines and dedicated souls. But worry is harder to eradicate than any disease. We want security. We want to keep our loved ones safe and happy. But how do you fight something you can’t even see?

The answer in one word: Together.

That’s how we always get through our worst moments.

Wildfires. Tornados. Blizzards. Floods. We know the drill for those, don’t we? We know to stay aware, to stay ready, to gather information and then act on it. To learn what we need to do before it’s necessary, so we can act in the moment if we have to. To be prepared and not panicked.

And most of all, in all of those situations and a hundred more, we know that the first rule is to look out for our neighbors.

We see it every time, whether it’s a random driver helping free someone else’s car from a snowdrift, or an entire nation sending aid to hurricane victims. You look for where you can help and how. And when someone does the same for you, it unbunches your shoulders just a little bit.

This time, the help is a little different than shoveling snow. Some of our neighbors are more at risk from the virus than others. Some already have it. We help them out by lowering the chances for it to spread, like a firebreak in the mountains. We help them out by being their (well-washed) hands for errands they can’t go out to do.

We help however we can. Because that’s what we do.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Easy to feel like one thin reed against the tide. No one person alone is big enough to meet the moment.

But we’re not alone.

And when we meet it together, that becomes the proudest moment of all.