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.

A Gentle Light

When I told a friend Roger Whittaker had died, her reaction was not entirely unexpected.

“Who?”

The smooth-voiced baritone occupied one of those interesting musical niches. Depending on where and when you grew up, he was either full-screen or off the radar entirely. He had a fan base of millions that followed him in concert and on TV, but no real celebrity profile. His signature song, “The Last Farewell,” sat virtually unnoticed for four years before abruptly going viral; another piece, “I Am But a Small Voice,” was briefly unavoidable if you were within earshot of a children’s choir.

In short, he had fame without being Famous.

And really, that’s not a bad place to be.

We don’t glamorize that sort of thing, almost by definition. The big dream, after all, is supposed to be what the Muppets once called “The Standard Rich and Famous Contract.” Celebrity with a Capital C, the sort of thing that comes with mansions, awards, screaming fans, gossip writers, obsessed stalkers, nuisance lawsuits, no hint of privacy …

Er, remind me why we want this again?

It’s not wrong, of course. Not entirely. When you look at it closely, the “rich and famous” dream is just an exaggeration of two things we all want very much.

First, we want freedom from worry. The ability to handle crises, needs, even some fun, without it being a stress or a strain.

Second, we want someone to remember us. To think about us kindly. Maybe even to know that something we did had an impact on someone else.

That first part, the freedom from worry, is pretty elusive, to be fair. We’ve all got different lives and situations and they can change with amazing speed. If the pandemic taught us nothing else, it showed us how something as fundamental as health is not a given and how thoroughly its absence can transform a once “normal” life.

But the second part – memory. That’s a little more achievable.

I don’t mean that we’ll all have continents light up at the mention of our name. For some of my more introverted friends, that might even be a nightmare more than a dream. But we all have something we can share, some way to touch a life beyond our own.

For some, it’s music or storytelling. For some, it might be the ability to build or repair or restore. It might even be a simple gift of time, lifting up a neighbor or a stranger, showing them they’re not alone and that someone else cares.

That doesn’t require a limo or a record deal (although I suppose it never hurts). Just the willingness to see beyond your own skin and reach out.

Our lives touch each other all the time, like marbles packed in a jar. We can’t help it.  But what we can do is make that touch matter.

Maybe we won’t set the world ablaze. But frankly, there’s enough burning as it is. If enough of us add a soft light, just where we are, maybe that’s enough.

After all, enough small lights can make a world shine. And the ones who see your light won’t forget it.

So here’s to the Rogers, big and small. Here’s to the ones you labored for, the ones who’ll remember your presence and be better for it.

And when you reach your “Last Farewell,” may the chords you struck linger on.

Music and Memory

As the online music rocked, Missy partied like it was 2020.

By itself, the scene could have come from a hundred different nights. Missy, our disabled relative who’s physically in her 40s but much younger in heart and soul, has never met a dancing moment she didn’t like. Crank up her bedroom stereo or a YouTube video and she’ll move and sway as only she can, her smile beaming like a lighthouse.

But this night? Call it “Recent Retro.”  For the first time in several months, her favorite group – the Face Vocal Band – was livestreaming a basement concert. No crowds, no driving, just the joy of good a cappella rock on the doorstep.

“Yeah!!”

If you’re feeling a flashback, I get it. Two years ago, this was the music of lockdown. With masks everywhere and a vaccine nowhere in sight, live concerts became one of the biggest potential super-spreaders out there. So instead, musician after musician recorded quarantine videos and livestreamed concerts from their homes, keeping the music alive in the only way they could.

And in an off-balance world, they became a source of light. That not-so-simple act said “We care. We’re in this, too. And we want to make it better however we can.”

Since then, of course, many restrictions have eased or been put to rest entirely. People mix and mingle and even attend live concerts again. On the surface, things look – well, similar, if not the same.

 But when we look closer, we know it’s not really over. Not yet.

Not while so many are still so vulnerable.

I’ve written here before about my wife Heather, a wonderful woman with WAY too many autoimmune conditions for one human being. Even with the COVID curve so much lower than it was, it’s still totaling about 400 to 500 deaths a day in the U.S. That’s way too much virus for her to safely go out unless she has to.

She’s not alone. There are many others – more than most realize – for whom the pandemic is still a reality and a threat. For whom “normal,” or even this current fun-house mirror of it, is still a long way away.

And so I want to thank Face and others like them. Because once again, a not-so-simple concert said something special.

And this time, the message is “We remember.”

Easy to say. Powerful to feel.

And even without an uploaded video and a really kickin’ backbeat, it’s a message all of us can and should echo.

We remember that not everybody can come out and play yet. That post-pandemic is still mid-pandemic for a lot of us.

We remember that caution and courtesy are not just artifacts of 2020, but remain vital for everyone. That it’s not just about ourselves, but about those around us.

And yes, we remember that even in the midst of stressful times, we can still bring light to someone else’s world by seeing them and reaching out to where they are.

When we remember, we lift all of us up. And together, we become stronger. Maybe even strong enough to carry all of us to a better place.

That’s a pandemic attitude worth keeping.

And when it finally helps us break through to the other side – that will truly be a moment to dance.

I’ll bring Missy.

Singing Out, Singing In

There’s nothing like a jaunt in a time machine to kick off the weekend right.

No, Doc Brown didn’t park the DeLorean in my driveway. The TARDIS from Doctor Who hasn’t made a pit stop on the Front Range. And while I’d have to clean out the basement to be sure, I’m reasonably confident that there’s no Victorian wonder-machine of gears and wheels waiting in the furnace room courtesy of H.G. Wells.

No worries. I’ve got something better yet.

It’s called Virtuosity.

***

Helplessly hoping, her harlequin hovers

Nearby, awaiting a word …  

Virtuosity, as the name might suggest, is a virtual choir, an online singing group organized by Stephen Ross of the Face Vocal Band. Like many others of its kind, it’s a pandemic creation, born from people who shared two common qualities:

  1. They really wanted to sing together for fun.
  2. They really didn’t want to share a virus-laden airflow.

The result is a musical Rube Goldberg machine, with a lot of moving parts adding up to a surprising result. You basically learn the song (with some online coaching), practice, record yourself at home 37 bazillion times until you’re no longer disgusted with your own performance, send the video to the director and then wait while he merges everybody’s video into one coherent and even compelling performance.

It should never work. But it does … brilliantly.

The main trick – well, besides learning to be kind to yourself as you work out the kinks – is that there can be quite a delay between preparation and performance. But even that’s more of a feature than a bug. It means that when you cue up the latest song – in this case, a cover of “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills and Nash – you’re not just hearing music. You’re hearing memories.

That’s where the time machine comes in.

On Friday, it took me back to the March blizzard that overlapped our recording dates. For many of us, that added up to a lot of extra takes, thanks to the sudden roar of snow blowers in the background or the THUMP of drifts sliding off the roof and onto the soundtrack.

Months from now, it’ll probably take me back even farther –  not just to piled-up snowstorms, but to the pandemic itself and the weirdness of trying to live apart from the world while being a part of it at the same time.

It’s a memory brought back to life. And that’s powerful.

I know, I know. Most of us feel like we don’t especially want to remember these times. We’ve shredded the 2020 calendar, buried the mask in the just-in-case back pocket, and set about trying to look forward instead of back. I sympathize, I really do.

Some memories are painful. Or uncomfortable. Or even toxic. Every day, we see headlines generated by memories that are years or even centuries old, pain left unredressed, wounds that never found a chance of healing.

But memory can build, too. It can teach, strengthen, reassure. It’s the sudden laugh that lightens the darkness, the glimpse of hope in the midst of insanity. It’s the reminder that “Yes, we’ve made it through before and we can again.”

When those memories are wrapped in an experience – a song, a story, a journey of the mind or the body – they endure. And when it’s a shared experience … well, that’s the sort of memory that builds communities up instead of tears them down.

I hope we all find some memories worth keeping from this. Maybe even worth learning from.

You could even call it note-worthy.

Harmony of Hope

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

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

Well, in a way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, yes and no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And through all of it, we heal.

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

Missy is ready.

You can see it in her Face.

All is Calm

The words began 200 years ago. They continue to whisper today.

Silent night, holy night,

All is calm, all is bright …

It’s the quietest of Christmas carols and perhaps the best-loved. Simple and pure, there’s almost no way to do it wrong. Whether it’s being sung by a single voice on a street corner, a massive choir on stage, or an old recording of John Denver and the Muppets, the heart comes through, tender and mild, warm and unforgettable.

As you might guess, I’ve got a soft spot for this one, and not just because it was the first carol I would whisper to myself as a kid after going to bed on Christmas Eve. (When you’re a child at Christmas, you stay awake however you can, and for me, that meant quietly pouring out every verse of every Christmas song and carol I had ever learned.) It’s a song born of need, a simple tune against a troubled moment.

The story that’s often told, though never quite verified, is that Father Joseph Mohr asked his friend Franz Gruber to set a poem of his to music for voice and guitar, since the church’s organ was broken and couldn’t be repaired in time for the Christmas Eve mass. What is known is that when Mohr’s poem and Gruber’s tune were created in 1818, they came at a truly dark time for Austria.

Writer Dave Heller of Florida State University notes that just two years before, in 1816, the eruption of Mount Tambora had created the “Year Without a Summer” – plunging temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere caused by the massive amounts of material ejected into the atmosphere, killing crops and herds and kicking off the worst famine of the 19th century. Add to that the devastation of the recently-ended Napoleonic Wars, and Austria – like much of Europe – was in dire straits.

Mohr wrote the poem in the midst of that. Gruber created his music in 1818, when it was still fresh. And somehow, the simple song has endured long after the memory of war and starvation has faded.

In a time of grief, it became a lasting song of joy.

That may seem a strange word to choose. Of all the Advent virtues, “Silent Night” is usually most associated with peace, and that’s not wrong. The notes rock and cradle the listener, a moment of calm in a turbulent world. It doesn’t shout with exultation like “Joy to the World,” or march with purpose like “God Rest, Ye Merry Gentlemen,” or run a treadmill in your brain until you scream like “The Little Drummer Boy.”

But there’s more to joy than smiles and excitement. Joy isn’t dependent on circumstance. It does what it can with what it has. If what it has is a broken organ, it reaches for a guitar and a voice to create its beauty. If what it has is a land and a world that’s become shell-shocked,  it finds the tools of quiet, comfort and reassurance to lift spirits up.

It can be the bonfire against the sky – but it’s also the candle in the night. The pinpoints of colored light in the cold of winter. The song where no song should be.

And whether it’s 1818 or 2018, it’s still something that gives strength to the wounded spirit. And to a weary world.

We still need that sort of quiet joy. Maybe to face a holiday with an empty chair at the table. Maybe to survive a world still torn by anger and fear. Maybe just to keep it together for one more moment, one more step, when life is tired and at its lowest.

One more time. It’s still there. Even in the darkness.

All is calm. All is bright.

And at the end of a silent night, morning waits on the other side.

One in a Gillion

One In a Gillion

 

Inspiration hit as soon as Gil saw the old flood photographs. Caught in the moment, he hurried to the piano and struck up his latest composition:

Going on a flood trip,

We grabbed a surfboard,

Surfed all the buildings …

Not bad for 7 years old, right?

It’s been a while since Mister Gil visited this space. That’s because it’s been a while since Mister Gil visited Colorado. My young nephew is a denizen of Washington State these days, which makes random drop-bys about as common as a Seattle Mariners World Series win. But recently, lightning struck – his parents were back in town for a reunion, which meant Gil would be staying the night with us.

Which meant, in turn, that I would be discovering Gil’s many, many talents.

Such as improvisational piano.

And kitchen dancing. (“Uptown Funk” remains a favorite.)

And ciphers of many sorts.

And spur-of-the-moment jokes and puns. (Well, he is my nephew.)

And card games. (I’ve grown rather fond of “Garbage.”)

And … well, anything else he puts his mind to, really. It doesn’t matter if he’s done it before. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even matter if he’s heard of it before. If it can be managed by an 7-year-old’s hands, feet, or imagination, Gil will give it a try.

I’d call it a fearlessness, except Gil doesn’t know there’s anything to be brave about. It’s just all stuff to try. In that, he’s wiser than a lot of adults, including his uncle.

Down in the kitchen, I have recipes that I want to learn to make one day.

In our guest room is a guitar that I keep meaning to get back to.

Of course, there are the beginner’s drawing tools in my desk drawer. Not to mention the novel that I really will get going on one of these days – promise.

It’s easy to plead time, or exhaustion, or any of a dozen other reasons. Sometimes they’re even legitimate. But for many of us, I think the gap between a Mister Gil and grown-ups like Uncle Scott comes down to two simpler things – habit and focus.

Habit is the behavioral version of Newton’s First Law: we tend to keep doing what we’re used to doing. At 7, Gil is used to doing … well, everything. But the rest of us have comfortable skills, useful routines, boundaries. Talents at rest tend to remain at rest.

And that, in turn, is largely a product of focus.

Have you ever asked a very young child what they want to be when they grow up? Odds are you’ve heard something like “I want to be a firefighter … and a doctor … and a princess … and a tree.” And somewhere along the line, we encourage them to pick something, to find what they’re good at, to concentrate on that so their skill will grow and expand.

By itself, that’s not a bad thing. Every skill needs concentration and discipline if it’s to develop, and no one has time to master absolutely everything. But too often, a corollary comes with it. If a skill doesn’t come easy, or if it’s one we’ve not tried, we learn to draw sharp borders.

“Oh, I can’t do that.”

“I’m no good at that.”

“That’s not my thing.”

No one has to like everything, of course. But like a child in front of an unfamiliar dinner, we’re often too unsure of what we’re seeing to risk a new taste.

It’s OK to try.

It’s OK to learn something you won’t master.

It’s OK to dabble, to play, even to discover you’re not good at something … and that you enjoy it anyway.

That, too, is a joy.

By the time this sees print, Gil will be back in Washington. But I think he’s left a little bit of that fearless discovery behind. All I know is, I’m going to have to dust off that guitar pretty soon.

After all, “Flood Surfing” won’t play itself.

With Everything On It

“Go, ahead, honey,” Heather told Missy. “Show him your card.”

Eagerly, Missy reached out and handed me her latest creation. The sheet of computer paper that it had once been could barely be seen. From corner to corner and edge to edge of the page stretched a sea of foam stickers – no, a wave of them, piled high and crammed tight.

Valentine’s Day had already come and gone, so Missy had grabbed for the package of Easter “foamies” instead and applied it generously. Squadrons of rabbits squeezed for room among armies of eggs and forests of grass. Somewhere beneath, a magazine page had been glued to the page, its image all but invisible beneath the huddled masses.

It was the finest example of Everything Art that I had ever seen.

Our disabled ward Missy, who is my age physically but often much younger in spirit, likes to express herself in a number of media. She’ll paint like it’s going out of style and slice up pictures for her collages until no magazine in the house is safe. But the quintessential Missy artistic style may be “Everything Art”: cram the page with everything you can reach that will stick to it, until the picture you’re creating has nearly become a sculpture.

Everything Art is somewhat tricky to display. Because many of the pieces are stuck to other pieces rather than to the page, hanging it on the wall means some of it may begin to slide and fall. Lying it on a flat surface has a better survival rate, but even so, Everything Art has an ephemeral nature akin to ice sculpture or painting with light – the beauty you see today is not guaranteed to last, so study it well while you have it.

Fragile. Unusual. Undeniably drawing the eye. And most of all, enthusiastic with absolutely nothing held back.

Oh, yes. This couldn’t be more Missy if it tried.

As regular readers may remember, Missy tends to approach life without filters. A bite of a delicious dessert may raise a cheer that echoes across a restaurant. Music exists to be turned up to 11, or even 15. Her smile lights a room as easily as her temper can shake it, and new discoveries produce a lot of excited conversations afterward –with or without words.

Yes, she can be quiet, even stealthy when she has mischief in mind. But even then, she’s fully engaged, just in a different way. She wears herself openly and she gives what she has to everything she does, whether it’s dancing with hands high in the air or waiting at her favorite bay window for someone’s return.

It’s life as Everything Art.

Most of us have learned to hold back a bit. Sometimes to keep from exhausting ourselves too soon. Sometimes out of concern what others might say. There are many good reasons and many less-good ones, some arising from forethought, some from fear or remembered pain.

But every day, Missy reminds me how good it can be to release the restraints. Not to hurt or overwhelm someone else, but just to honestly engage with the world, in joy and wonder and curiosity.

To let down the barriers and see what’s beyond the wall.

To live.

Sure, there’s a place for care and caution. But living under guard can be tiring. As the old words go, there’s a time for every purpose under heaven – and that includes a time to let go and dive in.

Because sometimes, life is too short not to grab all the foamies.

 

All About That Face

Missy twisted and turned, her hands in the air, her face brilliant with delight. Her knees bent to the rhythm, then straightened, then bent again.

“Yeah!!” she called out, laughing and bouncing as the energized voices of the Face Vocal Band – Colorado’s own a cappella rock band – powered their way to a close. Stopping was unthinkable, sitting down impossible.

“All right, Miss!”

Regular readers of this column know that our disabled ward Missy – eight months younger than me physically, but younger still in mind and spirit – will dance at any excuse or none. She’s the original crank-it-to-11 fan, capable of blowing the speakers off a car stereo with just one cut from a John Denver CD. She’s rocked it to the Bee Gees, to Michael Jackson, to a department store recording of the Hallelujah Chorus.

But since we first moved in with her four years ago, a cappella seems to have zoomed to the top of her list. Face holds down the top spot, whether it’s live in concert at the fairgrounds or over and over again on a DVD never made for ritual abuse. But there’s room for more, discovered on old recordings and through the magic of YouTube. The Nylons. Pentatonix. Straight No Chaser. If it’s got all voices, no instruments and a beat that can’t be stopped, Missy is all in.

I can’t say I blame her. After all, this is fuel for my own personal Wayback Machine.

Back in high school – never mind when – I sang in the Longmont High School men’s chorus. The crew met at the what-time-is-this-class hour of 7 o’clock in the morning, an hour at which basses rumble and tenors gasp. (If you’ve never heard a teenage tenor trying to get his voice started at 7 a.m., I encourage you to watch … but don’t try to swallow any carbonated liquids while you do, please.)

We sang whatever the fertile mind of Mr. Harrison could come up with, from show tunes to cowboy songs. But the best ones, for my money anyway, were the a cappella bits. Mind you, I sang bass, so that usually meant my vocal line was something like “Doo doo, da doo doo, da doo doo, whoa, whoa, whoooa” or some similarly deathless lyric. But it didn’t matter.

This was magic. This was music. This was creating something fun and spectacular with nothing more than what you had inside.

There’s no rush to match it.

You don’t have to be a singer to get it. Any talent, loosed into the world without restraint, will hit a similar vein. One man’s sculpture is another woman’s martial arts is another person’s passion for old cars. No brakes but your own enthusiasm, no limits but your own perseverance.

It’s exciting. Addictive, even.

And maybe that’s some of what speaks to Missy.

Her world is often a silent one, even a little mysterious to someone who doesn’t know her well. But rev up her enthusiasms – for dancing, for bowling, for art or a good story – and she’s a woman transformed. How much more so when her transformation is ignited by someone else’s?

It’s more than imitation. To this day, Missy’s musical tastes don’t perfectly match with mine or Heather’s. It’s something that reaches the core, some alchemy of voices unchained meeting a spirit unrestrained.

How can you beat that? Why would you even try?

So tune the tenors. Strike up the bass. Get that vocal percussion going. Missy’s revved and ready to rock.

Trust me. You’ll never have a more Face-ful fan.

Shall We Dance?

Missy’s finger unerringly found Feb. 27 on the calendar. Then her hand went to her collar, tugging it up and out at an angle – her signal for getting dressed up.

“I want to go,” she said firmly.

This one didn’t require an expert in Missy Charades to figure out. Once again, we would be off to the prom.

The prom, in this case, is the “Shine” dance for the disabled, currently held every other year at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette. It’s a huge night in every sense, inviting hundreds of people to don their best clothes and then eat, play games and – of course – dance until the floor wears out.

For Missy, this is an experience just short of heaven. After all, it combines some of her favorite things in the world. It’s peoplewatching on a massive scale. It’s dressing up for your friends (and especially, in the case of Missy the Flirt, for the guys who can be greeted with a shy smile and a “Hi …”) It’s music cranked up past 11 and freedom to move with all the energy and enthusiasm you can muster.

And this year, it’s something else as well. By some odd coincidence of the calendar, Shine falls on my birthday this year.

That couldn’t be more appropriate. Because being with Missy these last four years and seeing the world through her eyes has been a gift beyond compare, for both me and my wife Heather.

Better still – to see how many people can truly see her.  That’s not always a given for the developmentally disabled.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: We have a gift of invisibility that would put J.R.R. Tolkien’s magic ring to shame. But it’s almost never used on ourselves. Instead, we grant the “gift” to anyone whose presence is too uncomfortable for us to bear.

That could be the disabled. It could be the homeless. It could be anyone we don’t know how to approach – or that we fear might approach us, as though misfortune were somehow contagious.

Maybe that’s part of it. Maybe it’s too strong a reminder that all our gifts are temporary, from the money in our banks to the thoughts in our heads. That at any moment, something could happen that resets our entire existence.

It’s a scary thought to look in the face. No one could deny that. But when it keeps us from looking others in the face as well, it’s gone too far.

Those others look back. They know. And they understand more than you would ever guess.

Certainly Missy does.

And thankfully, blessedly, she’s been lucky enough to be surrounded by people that understand her.  Friends and relatives and neighbors who know the balance needed, how to make accommodations without treating her like a pet or a doll. Because of that, she has a life – and a social calendar! – that still makes me blink.

Bowling. Softball. Swimming. Trips downtown. Always among friends, always with someone who gets a look of recognition and a brilliant smile in return.

I count myself lucky to get a lot of those looks.  And to truly see the spirited, mischievous person behind those dancing green eyes.

And when that means escorting her on her big night – well, strike up the band and never mind the crowds.

Our partner’s ready.

It’s time to dance.