Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2021, or Great Expectations

The infant 2021 has so much riding on its appearance, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned tail and fled. Talk about outsized expectations; the regular New Year's countdowns are tinged with hysteria over the "plague year" of 2020 while posted resolutions and hopes for 2021 include grand phrases like "sea change," "the return of science," and "return to normalcy." New Year's Eves are always overhyped, but this one carries an unusually large burden, though without attendant expectations of partying until we drop.

There's a giant "2021" word puzzle floating around Facebook with the invitation to notice the "first four words that leap out at you." These words are supposedly your banners for the new year, and when I did it (couldn't resist), I saw "change, strength, health, love."  Motivating, hopeful and optimistic. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that the nouns I found in the puzzle are already goals and focii, ongoing areas of importance rather than one-off inspirations. Following the mantra of "change, strength, health, love" will merely emphasize current priorities. 

Which brings me to the main point: when we do the big reveal on the 2021 calendar and start writing "2021" on our checks we will still, in large part, carry on doing what we're doing today. The New Year is a clerical change, not a sea change. We have hope now in the vaccine and in a new administration, but so much still rests on our individual actions. We still have a responsibility to stay safe and keep others safe. If our actions contributed to problems in 2021 then we'll have to make changes if we want the new year to see different results. It's still a daily struggle, it just has a new name.

So don't burden the fledgling year with overly large expectations. I'll keep taking it day-by-day,  working on embracing "change, strength, health, love," perhaps waking up one day in July to find that I can embrace not only those values but my friends and family again.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

You're Telling Me There's a Chance

Lloyd Christmas: "I want to ask you a question, straight out, flat out, and I want you to give me the honest answer. What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me ending up together?

Mary Swanson: "Well, Lloyd, that's difficult to say. We really don't..."

 Lloyd Christmas: "Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you Mary, just... The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?

Mary Swanson: "Not good."

 Lloyd Christmas: [gulps, his mouth twitching] "You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?"

Mary Swanson: "I'd say more like one out of a million."

 Lloyd Christmas: [long pause while he processes what he's heard] "So you're telling me there's a chance. YEAH."

- From "Dumb and Dumber" with Jim Carrey as Lloyd and Lauren Holly as Mary

I love this scene from "Dumb and Dumber." Lloyd Christmas is the most obtusely optimistic (and aptly named) person I've "met" in film, on the page or in reality. Blind to monumental odds, he seizes on the sliver of hope that's offered. On the last line in this scene of rejection his face virtually lights up with glee.

William was deferred from his reach school, which means that his application will be considered again with tens of thousands of others for the traditional March 31 deadline. After initial disappointment, he responded similarly to Lloyd - he's got a chance. Anything short of outright rejection can be construed as a positive, another opportunity. 

I plan to borrow Lloyd's bizarre confidence for this holy week approaching Christmas. We have two vaccines, and it cannot be overstated that their development was miraculous. We are fortunate that friends and family are healthy, and only one month remains of the current administration. Last night we even saw the "super conjunction" of Jupiter and Saturn, and I felt as if the Christmas star was reborn in Denver.  For a few days, anyway, I'm going to block out the rest of reality and concentrate on these beams of light, the needles of hope in the haystack of headlines. 

Though we will "go" to church in our living room - only the second time I've ever missed church on Christmas or Christmas Eve - though our families will be celebrating at home and apart, we can get to the end zone of this pandemic and we will celebrate with wildly inappropriate dancing. We will face down the naysayers and not even blink at the oddsmakers. If you're telling me there's a chance, I'm going to grab that lifeline, climb that gym rope, and drink all the champagne. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Joy and Pain Dancing

I opened my text messages this morning and Rob had sent me a Reddit post, a video of an "Ode to Joy" flash mob. Didn't take long before I was weeping and wiping my nose on my sweatshirt, shocking the cats (and ruining the sweatshirt). Beautiful music, pre-pandemic crowds without masks, children clapping hands and climbing lampposts or their father's shoulders to see better - it brought all the feels. 

Today is already a red-letter, fragile day. William should find out if he got into his reach college, and I tossed and turned last night worrying about what the email will say to my son and what his reaction will be. This morning, Rob and I were both up at 5:00, turning off our heating blankets and carefully rolling to one side so we didn't disturb the other, though of course we were already disturbed.

My heart feels bruised, pummeled by this week. The one-year anniversary of my father's death was Tuesday, and my family gathered via Zoom to share favorite memories, ask questions, laugh and cry. My mother was a pillar of strength, as she has been for the past year, and led the way in reminiscences and gratitude. It was a gift to be together virtually and to appreciate the fact that we were all able to be at his bedside a year ago to watch his spirit ascend. That is a privilege which has been denied to many in the last nine months.

So joy and pain hold hands and dance across my chest, sometimes in a waltz and sometimes a square dance. My pulse varies with the dance but it has been higher since last weekend, my veneer of control thinner and more fragile, with cracks radiating by the end of each day. Tears pool, ready to spill at the slightest provocation. I can only pray for the strength to handle whatever comes, for trust in the intrinsic goodness and connectedness of the universe, and for the absence of musical flash mobs - at least for today.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Finding Light in the Fog

I woke before the alarm clock could go off at 5:35 am. The outdoor temperature was 16 degrees Fahrenheit, the world dark and quiet. At the athletic club where I coach Masters, I could see tell-tale banks of steam rising from the parking lot and my heart sank - the covers weren't on the pool. Who knew what the water temperature would be after a frigid night with no protection. The indoor lanes were not an option because COVID restrictions limit us to ten people per area and the indoor pool was already reserved.

Trudging through snow on deck to get to the thermometer, I held my breath for something better than 78 degrees. Victory! It was 80. With my massive college parka, my handwarmers in gloves, my triple layers, I was warm enough to stay on deck for an hour. One by one, my morning crew emerged from the long covered hallway and moved quickly but gingerly over the biting cold concrete. I gave the good news about the temperature and tried to recognize and greet each individual, though it was difficult. Between my fogging glasses and face mask I could see very little. My athletes disappeared into the clouds of steam and started their miles.

One vivid hot-pink sunrise and an hour of cold coaching later, I helped them slide and tip-toe over the skating rink that now covered the pool deck, back into the warm tunnel where their towels waited. Such a hardy crew! We earned the sunrise and the bright blue sky that followed their labors. I heard from the manager that she tried to cover the pool yesterday, but the whole unwieldy apparatus was frozen to the ground. Perhaps it will un-freeze later today as the welcome sun emerges. Watching the sun rise every winter Monday is my favorite part of the workout, a harbinger of good tidings and not bad.

Now home, the hardest - and best - part of my day complete, I slowly warm nose and fingers as I watch the cats drink out of the Christmas tree water. My three boys (one husband and two sons) slouch over coffee and cereal at the kitchen table, and my daughter will not likely emerge from her bedroom until after 10. It's nearly Christmas, and regardless of freezing temps, careless cats or grouchy kids, we're getting in the spirit, finding light in the fog, waiting for sunshine to burn the clouds away.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Dreams and Lights

My dreams have been vivid over the last week, involving a diverse array of people from my past. College friends, old co-workers, childhood playmates all come forward and ask me to participate in some activity with fervent desire, wide-eyed need. The activities differ but in every dream there is one constant - no one is wearing a mask. This absence of masks usually dawns on me toward the end of the dream and I wake up in terror, as if from a nightmare. "How could I not wear a mask?" I think, before the rational mind kicks in and reassures me that the event never occurred, that I have not recently gone on a plane, into a competition, or to a hotel without a face mask.

I wonder if this phenomenon affects my friends and neighbors. Impossible to say, as we go about our newly restructured routines, smiling at each other with our eyes, or standing 6 feet apart on the greenbelt catching up on the whereabouts and well-being of our children. I usually exercise to the point of exhaustion so that I can fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, but it takes a lot less exertion these days to get to that point. My body and mind wake up tired and become more tired as I read the news over coffee. I don't know how doctors, nurses and teachers are managing their jobs, managing the stress. They are heroes.

One thing that inspires me and gives me a boost of energy: our neighborhood Christmas lights. The Willow Creek community usually has a high number of decorators at the holidays - colored lights, white icicles, illuminated reindeer, blow-up Santas - these festive items adorn most properties. This year, it seems that every single house has taken on the job of lighting our December, and I volunteer to do driving errands at night just so I can see the flood of colors, twinkling on fences and even random trees in the greenbelt. Where a month ago we had election signs for Trump or Biden, now we have lights. We even have people volunteering to string lights on communal property (though not while wearing masks). No matter the religion or lack thereof, no matter the political beliefs, we are united in trying to make it through the darkest month as much twinkling hope as we can muster.


Sunday, December 6, 2020


 "We said we'd all go down together / Yes we would all go down together." - Lyrics to "Goodnight Saigon" by Billy Joel

"As Theodore Roosevelt put it, 'The fundamental rule in our national life - the rule which underlies all others - is that, on the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.'" - Roosevelt is quoted in "Why Did Racial Progress Stall in America?" by Shaylyn Romney Garrett and Robert D. Putnam in the New York Times

Last week was hard. My son and his swim teammates had their championship meet cancelled two days before they were set to race. One of my co-workers called in sick and I'm anxiously waiting for her test results. Ironically, we were in contact on the one day I was on-site in the last four weeks. My sister is in lockdown in Los Angeles County and my son and my niece are waiting to hear from their top colleges. No wonder that my teeth hurt from nighttime clenching or that my chest permanently feels compressed - from anxiety, not coronavirus. 

Which is why I found the op-ed by Garrett and Putnam to be so uplifting. They describe the movement from "I to We to I" over the last 150 years, starting in The Gilded Age of the late 19th century (which looks remarkably similar to our situation at present) and rising toward the "We" movements that equalized the playing field for many in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Ironically, they note, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s represents the point at which a majority of people had enough of "we" and started the slide back to "I". We seem to be at the height of such egoism now, especially under the non-guidance of our fearful leader, but at least we can hope for the pendulum to swing back to "we" as it has before.

Many American heroes still operate under the system of "we first." Healthcare workers across this country are desperately putting the needs of others before their own, as are first responders and other essential workers. We need to swell their numbers, to put the good of the collective in front of the wealth of the individual, and we need to do it in a hurry. As the virus spreads wildly, I can only hope that one side effect of this pandemic is a movement back to "we," because we all go down - or up - together. Any artificial and hypothetical separation will not withstand the tidal wave of the coming months.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Happy birthday to the EPA

Today, December 2nd, we celebrate the 50th birthday of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Tasked with protecting our country’s environment and public health, the agency’s role has never been more important. During the COVID-19 pandemic, disadvantaged communities plagued by dirty air have suffered from coronavirus at disproportionately higher rates. 

The EPA is also our country’s best defense against the climate crisis. Since 1970, scientists have proven definitively that climate change is real. We must address it now in order to stave off the worst impacts. Here in Colorado, we’re already seeing its effects, with incidence of deadly forest fires growing more frequent and severe each year. We need an EPA driven by a bold, knowledgeable vision to correct the course.

Under Trump’s EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who was a coal lobbyist, we had four years of rollbacks which gutted over 100 environmental safeguards. It’s time to put the EPA back on track. President-elect Joe Biden has committed to spending $2 trillion in investments on clean energy infrastructure over the next 4 years. This promises huge benefits to not only the climate, but also public health and the economy - a bold re-start for the EPA just in time to celebrate its 50 years.

**Above was written as a letter to the editor for a local paper. I copied and pasted for a blog entry because the EPA deserves a little extra love on its Golden Anniversary. Back to our regularly scheduled programming with the next blog.