The Roads We Can’t Ever Travel

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

On a good friend’s recommendation, I started watching Maid on Netflix yesterday. I finished all ten episodes already, if that tells you anything about the quality of the show. It is about a young, single mother trying to make her own way after leaving an abusive relationship. The characters are raw. Their lives are complicated and difficult. They have mental illnesses, chemical dependencies, financial struggles, and broken dreams. It’s painful to watch, but that is exactly why it should be seen. It’s a poignant reminder of how little we know about the lives of those outside our own circle.

In a time when it seems everyone is on edge and no one seems to notice or care about anyone else, when everyone is quick to anger and judgment, this is the kind of show we need to see. It’s a lesson in our common humanity. If you watch the show and it doesn’t make you a little softer and kinder to your fellow humans, watch it again. It’s time we get our heads back on straight. The pandemic has taken a lot of out of us. We’ve been isolated, stressed about our survival, our lack of freedom, our health. Maybe it would be a good idea to recognize that we are all struggling.

As I’m writing all this pontifical, pie-in-the-sky bullshit, though, I am realizing that I need to be honest with you too. There’s another reason this show grabbed me the way it did. It’s because a large part of it is about surviving emotional abuse, the abuse that has no outward scars so people don’t believe you were injured. There’s plausible deniability in emotions. Well-meaning people tell you to your face that the people who hurt you over and over didn’t mean it. They tell you that you’re being dramatic. They tell you that because they are fortunate enough not to understand what it’s like to have someone close to you manipulate, terrify, and crush you. The show is about deciding to put your mental health first and making the difficult, conscious choice to let others deal with their own demons while you face your own. It’s about using your outside voice to proclaim to the world that you want something for yourself, and you’re ready to believe you deserve it. While watching these characters interact, I saw my life. I saw their struggles and nodded my head. But I also saw their strength, and for the first time I am seeing my own too. It feels good to be at a place where I can like myself for both my beauty and my imperfections.

We don’t know what anyone else is going through. What we know is filtered through our own lens. Tread lightly. Be gentle with others if you can. It’s been a little rough on this rock recently. We can’t know the roads others are on, where they lead, or why they wind the way they do. We can’t help others read their map or give them directions. We can’t ever travel their road with them. We’re not meant to. We have our own road on which to focus and that one deserves our full attention.

Young At Heart

“And if you should survive to a hundred and five, look at all you’ll derive out of bein’ alive,
And here is the best part, you have a head start, if you are among the very young at heart”
~ Frank Sinatra

Tonight my 13 year old puppy did not want to stop playing with her squeaky squirrel. I finally had to take it away from her because she was panting like crazy. Over the past couple months since we learned she was in kidney failure, Ruby has become more puppy-like than she was, even as a puppy. She walks 2-4 miles a day. She’s finishing all her food in record time. She’s rooting through the trash can. It seems she is Benjamin Button dog, aging in reverse. She’s clearly unaware of her age and condition.

Once again, this old dog seems to be teaching me a new trick. Age is just a number that only matters if you are a cheese or a bottle of wine. The young at heart never truly get old.

The Transition Trip

I love seeing my sons together, even if it is via a Snap map

As a parent of a high school senior, the college search is often on my radar. After successfully launching Joe in person at his college of choice in January, I began to work with Luke on his search. To that end, back in March, I took Luke to get a feel for a Reed College in Portland, which at the time was his number one choice. Then, in June, we flew to the northeast because he wanted to visit Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. After that, I decided he needed to see some schools in the middle of the country, a little closer to home, so we visited three colleges in Minnesota. The schools on Luke’s list have largely stayed the same, but the order he has them ranked in has evolved several times. It’s been kind of exciting to see his process at work.

This weekend Luke is in Walla Walla, Washington, visiting Joe at Whitman College. Today he toured the campus and sat in on an information session. Initially, Luke had no desire to attend his brother’s school of choice because he was intent on finally setting himself apart from Joe. The boys have attended the same schools together since Luke started kindergarten, so I didn’t blame him for wanting to step out of his older brother’s shadow. Still, I couldn’t help but selfishly want them to end up at the same place again. They would still be a thousand miles from home, but they would be there together, at least for part of the time until Joe graduated. They could share a car and have family there for emotional support. It made sense to me, but it was never my choice to make so I decided to let it go and let the chips fall where they may.

Luke told me recently that Whitman had moved into the top spot for him. I think after doing a cost/benefit analysis of his situation, he realized that he would have time to make his own way as an upperclassman after his brother had graduated and gone on. And, in the meantime, he would have a support system at school, someone who could give him advice on professors and activities and dorms. He could start down his own path, make his own friends, but not be taking such a huge leap on living across the country alone. Joe could be a safety net for him as he branched out for the first time as an adult. Luke, for all his ideas and occasionally stubborn views about his future, usually lands squarely on the wisest choice.

Nothing is definite until the five schools Luke will apply to make their decisions, but I am solidly behind his selections and don’t think he could go wrong with any of them. Would I like it if he ended up with his brother in small town Walla Walla with its charming downtown, 140 local wineries, beautiful scenery, and pleasant weather? No. I would love it. I fell in love with Walla Walla two years ago when I toured Whitman with Joe the first time. But I will have to pull back my enthusiasm until the dust settles. It’s hard to be a parent as your kids transition into adulthood. What was once settled and routine and in your control gets upended. It’s your turn to go along for the ride. I keep wondering where we will end up.

For now, I will just be grateful that the two are together again tonight. All is right in my world. And probably in theirs too.

Divine Interstate Intervention

When you are stopped for an accident, you can take photos of the fool in the car in front of you

I was driving on the highway today, going about 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in the fast lane, when a shiny, brand new, bright blue Audi S4 came buzzing up behind me way too fast. I quickly moved out of his way, shaking my head at the driver, because there was traffic in front of me. I wasn’t sure exactly where he thought he was going once he got me out of the way because there were plenty of cars ahead of me, but I let him zip around. As he did, I noticed he was on his cell phone texting. I rolled my eyes. I’d like to say that drivers like this dude are a rarity in Denver traffic, but they’re not. On any normal commute, I will encounter at least two accidents slowing traffic because some people haven’t figured out that when you are going 80, weaving in and out and zooming around people like you’re in Mario Kart, you’re creating dangerous situations.

Anyway, I got out of his way because I didn’t want to be in an accident, much less in an accident with a dope like that. A few minutes later, though, continuing along at my same, steady speed, I passed him because he had pulled into the slow lane and was going 65. I looked over and saw he was still texting, though. I assume he thought 65 was a safer speed for that illegal behavior. I shook my head again, merged onto the northbound highway, and was in the process of expunging him from my mind, when I saw him flying up behind me again. Holy hell. I was in the right lane now, and he sped around me on the left going at least 20 miles an hour faster than I was, and then pulled back into the lane in front of me so I could enjoy the tail view of his shiny car once more. Sigh.

Then it happened. Traffic came to a standstill. The blue Audi was suddenly stopped directly in front of me. All five lanes were loaded with cars at full stop. I slowed down, pulled up directly behind him, and smiled. I love it when shit like this happens. It makes me happy. I call it “divine intervention.” Some outside force leveled the playing field. Despite all his speeding, zipping, zooming, and buzzing in his quick little Audi, we were in the same spot. He hadn’t gotten any further than I had. Tee hee.

He noticed me pull up behind him. He adjusted his designed sunglasses in his side view mirror. At least now he could continue texting without potentially killing someone, I thought. I have to admit I was a little tempted to pull an Evelyn Couch from Fried Green Tomatoes, ram into his rear bumper (okay, okay, maybe just tap his bumper enough to scratch it) and tell the young fool, “Face it, dude. I’m older and I have more insurance.” Instead, I sat in my car feeling a little smug because all the speed of his fancy new car was rendered useless. He might have enjoyed passing the old lady in her 2015 Lexus SUV and feeling powerful, but now he was impotent like the rest of us. It almost made sitting for the extra twenty minutes behind him, waiting to get around another highway fender bender, worth it.

Divine intervention for the win.

Puppies Can Cure Almost Anything

It has been a day. I’ve been all over the place mentally. So, rather than try to form coherent sentences, I shall just share this video with you of our future furry family member. Try not to die from the cuteness of six, five-week old corgi puppies running outside for the first time. When the world is going to hell, puppies still have the ability to make things better, even if temporarily.

A group of corgis is called a consort. After seeing this video, though, I’m thinking maybe it’s a chaos of corgis.

You’re welcome.

The Red Shirt Nation

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” ~Albert Einstein

Another mass shooting in the news today, this one in Florida. There are no words to describe my sadness, disgust, anger, and frustration over this never-ending story. One stupid man killed four people before giving himself up to authorities. Why do we as a country put up with this? Is it really because we believe the right to own a gun supercedes the right to feel safe moving about in our society, to go grocery shopping, to attend school, to see a film or concert without worrying it might be the last thing we do? Is it really because we think this is a “mental health” issue and not a gun issue at all? I think it’s fair also to say that anyone who would arm up and go kill other people has some mental trouble. But I don’t think you can claim this person was insane when he was sane enough to put on body armor before cowardly murdering unarmed people, including a mother and her infant child who was found dead in her arms. An eleven year old girl was shot multiple times and is expected to survive, but you can only imagine what this will do to her mental well being. The Florida guy claimed he was on methamphetamines. Being hopped up on drugs might be another explanation for his murderous shooting spree. But the bottom line is this keeps happening because as a nation we don’t seem to care about it. Mass shootings and gun deaths are just part of what we get as part of our Freedom Package in this country. You’re free to own as many guns and as much ammunition as you want. You’re also free to be gunned down at any point by a fellow citizen. Brilliant.

I scrolled past fourteen news stories on the CNN app, including one about how Tom Brady had Covid at one point (yawn), before finding the report about this shooting. We are so used to this shit that it’s hardly news anymore. It’s simply what is. We see the story and there is no surprise, shock, or outrage. We just shrug. And half the population says, “Well, it’s just a mental health issue,” while the other half of the populations says, “I’d like there to be some change around this, but we can’t get by the gun lobby so I guess we’re stuck.” Stuck, indeed.

2021 is on track to be the deadliest year for gun violence yet. I’m sure the reasons for this are myriad and complicated. Can we do better? I’d like to say yes, but so far we can’t get our spineless leaders in Congress to work together to make any changes (including something like putting more money towards mental health care) that might start to put a dent in these endless tragedies.

So, I’m left with this conclusion. As a nation, we are sick. Only a sick population would believe that there is not one good goddamned thing we can do to ameliorate this preponderance of gun violence. Only a sick population would accept that we or someone we love might be next. Only a sick population would decide putting kindergarteners through active shooter drills makes more sense than trying to reduce gun deaths. We are seriously ill. We are the only ones who can make us better. We are simply too fucked up to do it.

None Of Us Are Getting Out Of Here Alive

“None of us are getting out of here alive, So please stop treating yourself as an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There is no time for anything else.”

Ruby is on a special diet because of her failing kidneys. She is none too thrilled about the fact that she is no longer getting table scraps or bites of peanut butter and jelly toast. The way she is fixated on that toast in this photo reminded me of the above quote. We know that she is in the final months of her wonderful doggie life, so we are working to make them as good and healthy for her as we can, presumably to help keep her around a little longer. But as she sat staring at Steve’s evening snack, I found myself thinking about that quote. She just wants to eat the delicious food, but we aren’t allowing her to do that.

We humans are funny creatures. We pay so little attention to life while we run around living it. And then when it comes down to facing our mortality, then and only then do we get serious about living intentionally, about paying attention to the important little things in the fleeting present moment.

Perhaps Ruby was simply trying to remind Steve to savor that damn toast because someday someone might decide it isn’t good for him, and then he won’t get to eat it anymore. He will have let his last bite of peanut butter and jelly slip away and won’t have even taken the time to savor every bit of its perfect complexity, the flawless balance of the salty and sweet. It will be gone, and he won’t have taken a moment to celebrate its gustatory elegance.

Sometimes I think we’d be a lot happier if we lived like our dogs do: begging for the best snacks, rolling around on the soft rug, chasing after butterflies, napping in the sun. Maybe we should just let Ruby eat what she wants. She’s been living her best, most aware, most immediate and intentional life since she was born. Maybe she doesn’t need to eke out more life. Maybe we should let her keep living the way she has been because she’s been getting it right all along. It’s only we humans that screw it up.

The Next Step Is A Doozy

“You don’t need to take all of the steps. Only the next one.”

For thirteen years, we’ve lived with a beautiful, anxious, determined, crazy, personality-plus border collie. We have adored her 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time we were wondering what planet she came from and pondering how to deal with her quirks. Dogs are something else. They are furry animals. Animals. And you let them live in your home and sleep in your bedroom. You buy them food and put them on ropes and walk them around outside. You travel with them. They become part of your people family, but they are still animals at the end of the day. Short-lived animals at that. It took us about ten years to understand our border collie, and now we’re on the precipice of losing our sweet baby girl. It’s been a rewarding (and now heartbreaking) journey.

We’ve never had one day in our home without a dog, so when we learned Ruby is losing kidney function we decided it was time to get a second dog that at some point will become our only dog. This is how Ruby came to us. Buddy was our senior dog who began having seizures and other problems. We saw his suffering and knew he wasn’t long for this world, so we selfishly got a puppy to ease our sadness around his transition. A funny thing happened when Ruby came along, though. Buddy (who Luke said was “on death’s doorstep”) suddenly perked up. He initially wasn’t thrilled to have Ruby around, but soon enough they settled into an arrangement. As time went on, Buddy became a bit more active. He played. It’s as if he saw the new dog and said to us, “Hey, hey, hey. I see what you’re doing here. Not so fast. I’m not done yet.” Luke said Buddy “must have drank from the Holy Grail” because he lived a year beyond the seizure we thought would be his end. I suppose now we are thinking that a new puppy might also give Ruby a new leash on life in her final months.

So today we did a thing. We made a commitment to purchase our next, greatest furry family member. Not a replacement for Ruby, as there will never be another dog like her, but a successor. We will be getting a BHT (black-headed tri-color) Corgi from an AKC breeder in Utah before the end of September. When we pick him up, he will be 8 weeks old. He will have been socialized with his five littermates and the breeder’s children, other dogs and pets, and farm animals. He will be cute but he will not look like the dog he will eventually become. He will be an energetic, active, ball of shedding fluff that will keep us awake at night for a while and keep us on our toes for years. We don’t know who this new family member will be or what role he will fill in our family unit, but we know he will bring new life into our home and shake us up. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting as hell. It’a a big commitment, but our kids are grown and we’re ready to experience some youthful energy again.

So, without further ado, meet our future family member, Loki.

He has a seven on his head, so we’re thinking he will be Loki Seven.

I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night — In Person Again

Last night my family and I did something we haven’t done since February of last year: we attended a concert in person. What seems like ages ago, we purchased tickets to the Hellamega Tour featuring Weezer, Fall Out Boy, and Green Day. The show was supposed to be last July, but then we all know what happened. So, it was rescheduled. The concert was held outdoors at a soccer stadium and we are vaccinated, but still we were a little wary about attending because of the crowd size and our knowledge that the vaccine we got is only 66% effective against the prevalent and more contagious Delta strain of Covid-19. Since Joe is heading off to college tomorrow and doesn’t want to end up in quarantine, we decided as a family to wear masks just in case someone we encountered in the 20k people crowd was contagious.

The show was held at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, which shall henceforth be known simply as “not my favorite.” We paid $20 to park in Egypt and walk a literal mile to get to our seats. The venue’s web site listed that you could bring in one factory-sealed water bottle per person. I don’t normally buy water bottles because, well, single-use plastic, but I bought one for each member of our family just to be told at the gate that they were not permitted. Grrrrr. Once inside, we ended up spending $20 for four bottles because capitalism. Not certain I will clamor to see a show here again.

That said, the concert itself was AMAZING, easily one of the best shows I’ve ever attended, and I have seen somewhere around or above 100 live concerts in my estimation. Due in part to the parking nightmare and the cross-country trek to our seats, we were a little too late to catch the majority of the Weezer set. We saw Weezer in July of 2018, though, so we decided to make our peace with it and adjust our attitudes accordingly to prepare for the rest of the show.

Fall Out Boy

Luke and I had seen Fall Out Boy together in 2015, so we knew what to expect. Patrick Stump had zero trouble with the altitude that often trips up other singers and belted out their set list like a Colorado resident. The stage show, complete with all manner of pyrotechnics, including flames shooting from Pete Wentz’s bass, was great. Fall Out Boy performs true to their album sound and with twice as much energy. I started listening to Fall Out Boy in 2005 when the boys were just 4 and 2, so it was fun to have Luke turn to me during some of their older songs I was singing along to and ask, “What is this one called?” It’s always good to surprise your kids with your knowledge about anything. And I loved when Pete Wentz called out a person in the front of the stadium for being on their phone too much. He reminded the crowd that we’ve been locked up looking at our phones at home for a year, and it was time to put them down and live life. Preach it, Pete!

As expected, Green Day was the highlight of the evening. Before they came on stage, the speakers blasted Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for a little pre-show sing along. When Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool started the show off with an oddly appropriate American Idiot, they set the tempo for the rest of their set. They were rocking like it was 1991 and they were still 19 rather than 49. I had to marvel that I have been listening to this band for THIRTY years. I couldn’t decide if that made me really old, them really old, us all really old, or all of us just incredible cool. Billie Joe made a point to remind us all several times that we were alive and finally here to enjoy live music and that we should all be basking in the joy of the moment. So, we did. When they covered Kiss’s 1975 classic I Wanna Rock n Roll All Night, the crowd was a haze of jumping, clapping, and singing along. At times it felt like the entire stadium could be heard miles away. And during a couple particularly punk songs, I was transported back to the person I used to be, the one who would end up in the middle of a slam dancing group on the venue floor. (Mind you, I didn’t do that in the stands because I’m 53 and that might no longer be a wise choice.) We left physically exhausted but mentally energized, without a second thought to the ticket price that initially had given me sticker shock.

It had been 18 months since I had seen a live show, long enough that I had nearly forgotten how much being in person at a show is in my DNA. I have been seeing concerts since I was 15. Some years I could only afford one show, while other years I saw upwards of ten. There is something magical about attending a concert, knowing that all the strangers there have something in common with you. They also like this music enough to invest in it. There is nothing like singing and dancing along with thousands of other people who share your love of music. It’s intoxicating. It brings me to tears at some point during every single show. How lucky we are to have music to remind us that life is worth living even when it’s been challenging and somewhat dark. Last night was a good reminder that those who enjoy live music are never truly alone in a crowd.

The Best Views Come After An Uphill Climb

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” ~John Muir

Thing 1 heads back to college next week. In between packing and getting in last-minute visits with high school friends, he’s been trying to fit in as much time in the great Colorado outdoors as possible. This summer he climbed three 14ers, rode his bike over Vail Pass (10k feet), and this past weekend he and his father rode from our house to downtown Denver and back again (56 miles). He and I had discussed going out to climb another 14er today, but decided to sleep in and hike a little closer to home. So this morning we went to Roxborough State Park. It’s one of our favorites and it’s ten minutes from our front door. We’ve been hiking in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter at this park since the boys (I can’t get used to calling them men) were young.

Since the original goal was to climb a 14er, we decided to hike Carpenter Peak, the park’s longest and most strenuous hike. During the past few weeks, Denver has been inundated with smoke from the fires in California; today the skies were crystal clear by comparison. We started hiking around 8, but it was already quite warm. We found ourselves lingering longer in the shady spots than we might normally. Joe was patient, waiting for me when I had to stop to catch my breath. But finally I was spurred on by the rising heat to push for the summit as quickly as possible, and we started making good time. When we finally made it to the top, we were rewarded by being the only ones there and having the clearest views we’ve seen in a while. And when the hike was finished we’d logged over 7 miles and climbed about 123 flights. It was a nice morning workout.

I will miss having Joe around to kick my butt into gear, but maybe I will be able to use today as a springboard. Then when he comes home for Thanksgiving, we can do this hike again and I can show him the progress I’ve made.