Furnishing a Marriage

The stage contains a balcony and literature’s most famous lovers. They seem considerably older than we remember them.

“Romeo, oh, Romeo; wherefore art thou Romeo?”

“Call me but love, Juliet, and I shall be new-baptized. But take this gift of my heart and I never will be Romeo.”

“Oh, Romeo! Dost thou bring me flowers? Diamonds? Silver or gold?”

“Nay, Juliet.”

“Then, what?”

“Behold, I bring thee a 5-piece dinette set with matching hutch. Canst thou give me a hand with the pickup?”

And thus did the happy dagger and the apothecary’s drugs give way to the latest special from Verona’s Furniture Warehouse.

No, I haven’t been taking cold medicine. But thinking too much about anniversaries can certainly make you feel that way.

Heather and I celebrate 17 years of marriage on July 25. It’s been an adventure with a lot of ups and downs – some of them literal, like our 1999 trip to climb the Great Sand Dunes together. We’ve survived Kansas summers, Colorado winters and even life in the newspaper industry.

We’ve also shared a love of trivia. And so one night, I got curious about what sort of anniversary this was. Everyone knows that 25 years is silver, for example, while 50 years is the golden one. But what the heck is seventeen?

I looked it up. Then looked it up again. Then a third time, to be sure.

Furniture.

Yes, really.

No, the list was not prepared by Jake Jabs.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Not that we couldn’t use a new mattress and an additional bookcase, of course. But … furniture? It didn’t quite seem to be the stuff of romantic epics. It was so, well, mature. Mundane. Practical.

Where’s the fun in that?

Then I heard myself and chuckled. Sure, maybe it was tagged at random to fill out a list or because the author had a couch to replace. But In a way, there couldn’t be a more evocative way to demonstrate the difference between a wedding and a marriage.

it’s a difference that sometimes gets glossed over, especially in a country where weddings are a multi-billion dollar industry. Many of us expect our weddings to be an event: fine clothes, a beautiful setting, a band or DJ that knows more than just “Louie, Louie.”

It’s a special day and rightfully so. We try to make it a fun, meaningful celebration, something that will grace photographs and memories with a bit of enchantment.

But even the best events come to an end. The next morning, you wake to find the wedding is over – and that the long road of the marriage is still in front of you.

A good marriage is work. Not the frantic work of trying to assemble details for a moment that will come and go. This is the long haul, where the partnership has to renew itself every day and navigate sometimes difficult waters.

This is about dealing with the daily trials: vomiting dogs, leaking ceilings, mice in the living room, family in the hospital. Sometimes it’s about raising children (or caring for a ward, in our case) and seeing the odder pieces of yourself reflected right back at you. And it’s about not losing sight of each other in the middle of it, even when you’d rather just grab a nap.

There’s still room for romance, even joy. But there’s a practicality mixed with it, one that knows this is still important, even when it isn’t always fun or flashy.

One that has room for furniture as well as diamonds.

Maybe seventeen years is a good time to remember that.

Heather my love, thank you for the love and the fun and the silliness. Thank you for the times we struggled, because we struggled together. Thank you for being with me in the times of frustration and confusion and sheer exhaustion.

Somehow, we’ve done all the grown-up stuff and still love each other. I guess that means we’re doing it right.

Happy anniversary, honey.

Now, tell me again about that table you wanted.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning the Mockingbird’s Song

Opus the Penguin told us this would happen.

Back in 1994, the miniseries “Scarlett” was about to hit the airwaves, based on the why’d-they-do-it sequel to “Gone With The Wind.” About a month before it aired, Opus discovered in his comic-strip world that another American classic was getting a second chapter as well, courtesy of Quentin Tarantino.

The name of this deathless piece of Hollywood literature? “Kill Mo’ Mockingbird: Boo Radley Loose in the ‘Hood.”

Well, we never got to see Bruce Willis as Atticus Finch and Dennis Hopper as a heavily-armed Boo. But from the recent ripples in the book world, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

In case you missed it, the much-loved Harper Lee returned to the bookshelves this week with a long-unpublished manuscript: “Go Set A Watchman.” Seen through the eyes of an adult Jean-Louise “Scout” Finch, the book features numerous changes to the familiar world of “To Kill A Mockingbird” – not least, Scout’s discovery of the racist attitudes of her father, Atticus Finch.

That caused a bit of an earthquake, and understandably so. After all, “Mockingbird” fans are a devoted crew and Atticus is one of the most adored literary creations ever. Turning him into a segregationist is almost on an order with carving the Golden Arches on Mount Everest – so unthinkable as to be almost obscene.

And yet, that’s not quite right.

Before deciding to avoid the new book forever – and plenty of fans have declared their intention to do just that – consider this. “Watchman” was written first. It’s not a sequel. It’s an early attempt, written and then abandoned when Lee decided to approach the story of Scout and Atticus from a different time and perspective, the one that has endured for decades.

In short, it’s a first draft.

Many things can happen in a first draft.

Some regular readers may recall that I’m a longtime fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. Several years ago, Tolkien’s son Christopher wrote a series of books about his father’s creation of Middle-Earth, including the evolution of “The Lord of the Rings.”

The early drafts featured a hero named Bingo Baggins. Treebeard appears as a villainous giant rather than a mighty forest-guardian. And while there’s no sign of the courageous Strider, the reader is treated to a Hobbit ranger known as Trotter, running around the countryside in wooden shoes.

There are false starts. Uncertain tones. Details of the world that seem almost ludicrous compared to the epic we’ve come to know and love.

But to read it is utterly fascinating. Even illuminating. And my appreciation of the Middle-Earth that finally came to be is all the richer for it.

Very few works of art come to life fully-formed. They’re born in struggle and frustration, with all the ungainliness of a toddler learning to walk or a teenager growing into their body. The results aren’t often pretty and many of the early efforts are often well-abandoned.

But without those efforts, the final beauty could never be.

That’s encouraging, not just as a reader, but as a writer – or, indeed, a creator of any kind. It means you don’t have to be perfect from the start. It means you can find your voice, make bad choices, create pieces that fall to earth with a “clunk.”

It means you can learn. You can grow. You can master the skill that no one else can: the skill of your voice, your vision.

And that’s when the mockingbirds fly.

So when you read “Watchman,” read it in that spirit. This isn’t a second verse to an old song. It’s a map of roads not taken, the earliest sketches before the final canvas.

Come to it with those eyes. And you may just love Atticus – the one and only Atticus – more than ever before.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joy in the Net

At five minutes, the World Cup final stopped being an ordinary game.

At a little over fifteen, it became a legend.

I don’t use the word lightly. But what else can you say when a U.S. player kicks the ball from midfield – from 50 yards out, the sort of kick that nobody’s tried since junior high school – and it lands in the net? When it’s not just a fluke goal, but the capstone to a barrage, the fourth goal to strike home in less time than it takes to order a pizza?

That’s when you know you’re in unmarked territory. And oh, man, did it feel good.

Not just because the game was a rout. After all, I’m a Denver Broncos fan. I know all about routs in championship games, usually from the wrong side. There’s a point where every additional score becomes a physical blow, where it starts to feel like the age-old nightmare of going to school in your underwear – exposed before the world with nowhere to hide and no way to escape until that final whistle blows.

Even when you’re on the right side of that, it can start to feel cruel.

But this one didn’t have the same harsh aftertaste. Not to me, anyway.

It’s hard to say exactly why.

Maybe it was the Japanese. In blowouts, we talk all the time about having nothing left to play for but pride. On a night where no one could have blamed them for surrendering – had the rules and the refs allowed it – the women of Japan refused to just mark time. They fought. They rallied. On a wildly uneven stage, they even allowed a moment’s worry that maybe, just maybe, patience could undo the American lightning strike.

Maybe it was the sheer unlikelihood of it all. In the U.S., everyone knows soccer as a low-scoring game, too low-scoring for the tastes of many. To see the early shots go in, and in, and in like a video game or an NBA matchup (is there a difference?) added a level of wonder, almost awe.

But mostly, I think it was the joy.

You could see it in the U.S. players. You could see it in the U.S. crowds. This had become … fun. A pleasure in its own right. You know, like it was a game or something.

For 90 minutes, a simple joy had taken over the grass.

I’m not sure we appreciate how rare that is.

It’s not easy to get unalloyed joy into the spotlight anymore. Too many of us know the backstories or have learned to wait for the other shoe to drop. The steroid use that makes a record a mockery. The dark history behind a famous name. It creates a weariness, a reluctance to trust or let go. A certainty that if we do, we’ll get burned once again.

And the worst burns come from the greatest trust. The ones that seemed to personify the joy of a child in a grown-up’s body (never mind any names). Those are the ones that can make you wonder if any pleasure is as innocent as it truly seems.

So when something like this comes along, can anyone be blamed for grabbing on with both hands?

OK. A World Cup victory – even a 5-2 World Cup victory – is not going to cure cancer, end war or restore Pluto to its rightful state as a planet. But if, for just a moment, it restores some joy and happiness in this place, hasn’t it done all we could ask?

Hasn’t it done what sports are supposed to do?

So one last time, as the cheers fade into history. Thank you, ladies of the U.S. soccer team. Thank you for the thrills and the excitement and the memories that even now may be inspiring a new generation to try and try and try.

Thank you for the unapologetic fun.

For everyone watching, this was truly a net gain.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nation in Progress

For a moment, the show seems to be over. Then the fresh explosion comes. BOOM! Sound and fury light up the landscape until it feels like a battle in full swing, with moments of fiery brilliance giving way to a continuous background chatter, holding the floor until the next burst.

Watching Facebook is really something, isn’t it?

OK, maybe the comparison’s a little inaccurate. After all, even the longest Fourth of July fireworks show is eventually over. But our national fulmination never seems to end, always finding a new source of fuel. A Supreme Court ruling. An inept political remark. A decision to pull “The Dukes of Hazzard” reruns from the airwaves.

Squeeeeeeeeeeee-BOOM!

Between an unsettled nation and unsettled times, it can feel a little exhausting. It’s easy to wish for quiet, for stability, for a little time to make everything make sense before we have to go on to the next crisis.

It’s also about as foreign to this country as Justin Bieber in a Beatles movie.

Sorry for that image. But on this, I think even George Washington might agree. Once he got the tune to “Baby, Baby, Baby” out of his head, anyway.

I think it comes down to something simple: America should never be a comfortable place to live.

I don’t mean the landscape should look like something out of a Mad Max movie. And I’m certainly not suggesting a “Love it or Leave It” attitude that urges all dissenters to make a run for the border of their choice.

But America has always been a little more than a country. It’s a concept. A conversation. Even a dream.

And as such, it’s never really finished.

Once in a while, some pundit will appeal to the Founding Fathers and what they did or didn’t intend. My reaction is always the same: “Which Fathers?” To look at the American Revolution and the years that followed it is to see chaos in a bottle, a group of people that sometimes seemed unable to agree on the lunch bill.

Some wanted to save slavery, or to kill it. Some wanted 13 loosely tied sovereignties with little national leadership, while at least one wanted to do away with state governments all together. We were a year into our war against Britain before we could even agree on why we were fighting. Even our Constitution, venerated by many, is deliberately vague on several points – and had to be, so that everyone could think their side had won.

We are a wrangling people, in the middle of a country that’s always under construction. And that’s not going to change. We’re always working out what America means and we always should be. If we ever stop challenging each other, or being challenged, worry.

A free land should never be a quiet one.

Mind you, I’m not saying we have to be a bunch of rude, bumptious yahoos, either. Part of the constant struggle is that it’s a struggle to find a way forward, not just to make noise. There can be respect. There can be compromise. There can be intelligent consideration of the facts (I swear, even as the network news tries to say otherwise every night).

But what there can’t be is apathy. Or complacency. Even the loudest boor adds more (if maybe not much more) than the individual who steps out of the fight entirely.

The conversation has to go on. Even if it sometimes wakes the neighbors. Or, if we’re lucky, the nation.

Enjoy the fireworks. And don’t forget to light a few of your own.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Change

Duchess the Wonder Dog is wondering how to get up on our bed. It’s no small puzzle.

Not for the mind, I might add. As part lab and part border collie, Duchess is an honor student among canines. She’s especially gifted at the thesis problem of “Removing Objects From the Trash For Later Consumption: A Study in Subtlety,” bringing art to a field where her companion Big Blake has often gained renown through sheer raw talent and audacity.

But even in the most brilliant of dogs, the body has limits. And at 12 years old, those lines are a little clearer than they used to be.

Just a little bit of arthritis in the lower back and hind legs. Eyes that are blurrier than before. Even some recent balance issues (now mostly cleared up) that had my wife Heather wonder if she was trying to join the cool kids’ club, since Heather’s own MS often causes vertigo.

We’re not at the end of the line yet. I hope we won’t be for quite some time to come. And Duchess still has an energy reserve that can turn on at surprising moments, letting her tear around the back yard with great vigor.

But in dog terms, she’s closer to Helen Mirren than to Ellen Page, the Grande Dame rather than the Ingénue. A living reminder that – well, things change.

We’re not always so good at that.

We like to think otherwise, of course. After all, the easiest way to sell something in this country is still to make it “new and improved.” (An old Garfield strip once cracked “Gee, and all this time, I’ve been eating old and inferior.”) We like the latest and the greatest in our toys, our phones, any convenience we can manage.

But when change touches us personally, that’s another story. Rising hairlines. Falling assumptions. Faces that leave the building. A world that moves on regardless of what we like or don’t like – which is why Madison Avenue also does great business with nostalgia and items to fight the clock.

We don’t necessarily want to dip the universe in amber. But just like when we were kids, we often want the good stuff of growing up without the rest. Don’t touch me or the things I care about. Don’t touch my friends or family.

And especially don’t touch the loved ones who can’t speak for themselves.

We know better. Or we should. But that doesn’t make it easier.

My own family’s been fortunate when it comes to pets. Heck, we even had a goldfish make it to 13. But sometimes that makes things even harder as time goes on. The longer they stay, the stronger they grip. I know I wouldn’t trade anything for all the wonderful years – but I’d trade almost everything for just one more.

I know we’re not alone there.

What can you do? What we have to. Live in the moment, regardless of what it brings. Not without thought for the future, but not in fear of it, either. Enjoying the good and adding to it whenever and wherever we can.

We do touch the world even as it touches us. Especially in the lives of those closest to us.

I’ve joked before that Duchess has been Heather’s furry guardian angel for the last nine years. I sometimes wonder if she feels the same of us, taking a timid “rescue dog” and introducing her to a world where cuddles are OK and pizza crust is just a tilted plate away.

Soon our bed will have some pet steps near it. One more concession to a changing life, one more battle to keep things the same for a moment.

Duchess the Wonder Dog may wonder many things. So do I. But neither of us need wonder how much we care.

Some things, truly, never change.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Geeks Bearing Gifts

I never thought I’d say this. But after four years of being with us, it looks like Missy has embraced her inner geek.

Mind you, there are a lot of sides to Missy. More, perhaps, than a newcomer might realize. It’s easy to see the warm smile and note the physical and mental disabilities that have shaped her life. But if you spend even a short time with her, the many Missys beneath the surface begin to emerge.

There’s Missy the Jock, who lives for her weekly swim, her summer softball and any chance to hit the bowling alley. (“I wan’ go bowling!”)

There’s Missy the Prom Princess, who loves gorgeous dresses and hours of dancing to the loudest music she can find.

I’ve met Missy the Artist, who painted up a storm during the 2013 flood, Missy the Socialite who knows half the city and has never forgotten a face, even Missy the Flirt, who can pick out a new male friend within five minutes of entering a gathering, greeting him with wide eyes and a big “Hi!”

By contrast, Missy the Geek is much more recent.

I probably should have recognized the signs much sooner. After all, I’m of the tribe. I was a Tolkien fan by third grade, a D&D gamer by fourth, and by high school, you could have picked me out of a Where’s Waldo lineup or a Hollywood casting call. (“Pipe cleaner body, thick glasses, 300 books in his arms … ok, we can check ‘school nerd’ off the list.”)

Even so, it took a little while for me to realize that I suddenly had an apprentice.

Weekend trips would include forcible pointing at the game store, so she could get a new Pathfinder game book and pore over the lavish illustrations. Oh, and some sparkly dice, please.

A fascinated viewing of “The Empire Strikes Back” one day drew demands to watch Star Wars again – and an equal fascination with the other movies in the series. (Though even she got a little impatient with Episode I.)

And of course, there’s her entrancement with Harry Potter – the first bedtime reading that she ever pushed to repeat, and her favorite Halloween costume ever.

It’s been amazing for my wife and I to watch. And a little humbling. Because I don’t think it’s entirely an accident that Missy is becoming enthralled with this brave new world, even in a country where so many seem to be doing the same.

In fact, if you’ll forgive the brief descent into the world of the cool, it’s something Misters Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reminded us of long ago: “Feed them on your dreams … the one they pick’s the one you’ll know by.”

Whether it’s wards with guardians, kids with parents, or friends with friends, you respond to what you see. And if you see them love something, it’s the most natural thing in the world to try it out.

As you do, you start to become what you love.

I’ve seen it in my own life. When we grew up, my sisters and I saw my parents constantly reading. Today, we could become branches of the Library of Congress – and could probably use its book budget, at that. Their lives became a model for ours.

I don’t mean to make it sound like an imposition or a brainwashing. More of a discovery. In trying new things, you always discover a little more of who you are. And if those things also belong to someone you care for, you discover a little more of what you share.

It’s a way of weaving a family. With or without actual kinship. To see it happen with Missy makes me realize how truly close we have all become.

One more face. One more strand of the heart. One more piece of love made manifest.

Right now, being a geek feels pretty cool.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Run of the Miller

Don’t look now, but the invasion is underway.

Bang on a storm window, and half a dozen visitors may fall from the screen.

Leave a door open just a little too long, and you’ll turn to find 20 of the newcomers in the front hall … or the laundry room … or your office, charging the fluorescent lights.

The silent whir. The soft collisions. The persistence that keeps them coming back more often than robo-calls in election season.

Ladies and gentlemen of Colorado, it’s “miller time.”

Miller moths have been an annoying feature of Colorado springtimes since I was a kid, but every few years they manage to put together a swarm of epic proportions. About 25 years back, for example, they became so numerous that even the cats stopped stalking them.

“They say that to a cat, miller moths are like pizza,” a radio host said at the time. “But if pizza kept falling out every time you pulled down the sun visor on your car, you’d start to get a little sick of it.”

It’s not even anything inherent to the moth itself. One moth in a room is distracting but tolerable. But like potato chips, you never just have one. You get entire flight patterns.

Anything in those quantities, even things we would normally welcome, starts to get overwhelming and hard to handle. It could be an army of puppies. A cacophony of radio stations. A torrent of water …

Ah, I saw some of you nodding with that last one.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I love a good rainfall. I like to claim that it’s in the blood – Mom’s family came here from England, after all, and my sister even lives near the famously soggy skies of Seattle. So when the Colorado landscape turned into “Home on the Range” in reverse – where the skies remain cloudy all day – I gave a mental “hallelujah” and settled back to enjoy it. Heat? Sunburn? Ha!

And then it kept coming.

And coming.

And … well, somewhere after the 16th iteration of “coming,” it began to be just a tad overdone. Even more than a tad, as rivers rose and anxieties climbed with them.

Water is one of the most precious and treasured things in Colorado. But in such relentless quantities, it can officially become Too Much, a curse of house painters and construction workers and anyone who just needs a little sun. A good thing, made horrific through excess.

As I write that, I wonder how well we’re paying attention.

After all, we’re Americans. We’re good at excess. We eat big meals, work long hours, and rack up the highest credit-card debt of anywhere in the world. And of course, anytime the Powerball total starts to climb sky-high, our attention climbs with it.

And yet … deep down, I think most of us know better. We know that too much food makes you fat, too much work makes you crazy, too much debt ties you into knots that can take years to untie. That there’s such a thing as “enough.”

Heresy, maybe, in a consumer culture. But true. Someone once suggested that the real definition of “wealthy” is to have enough that you no longer need to worry. Anything more than that just starts to create its own problems, as the celebrities of the world seem determined to prove every day, and twice on Sundays.

I don’t mean to suggest that we have to become monks, to simply swing our lives to a different extreme. But there’s a quiet beauty in balance. One that lets you truly enjoy the pieces of life – and eventually, the peace of life – without being overwhelmed.

I’m still working on it myself. But it’s worth working on.

Right after I get these moths out of the laundry room.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just My Type

I opened the covers of The Empire Strikes Back Storybook and blinked, stunned. Sure it had been a long time. But how had I forgotten this?

I hurried upstairs to Heather, the thin hardcover volume in my hand.

“Look, hon,” I said, half-sarcastic, half-awed. “Words.”

“Really?” she responded in the same tone.

I held the 35-year-old book open, careful of the ancient masking tape over the binding. There, among the plentiful, full-color photographs of starships and dueling Jedi, was column after column of gray type. Not thin columns, either – roughly 52 pages of words packed like a legion of Imperial stormtroopers, a children’s book that demanded reading, insisted on it.

My wife and I looked at it for a moment in wonder, than at each other. The same thought was on both our minds.

They’d never let this get printed today.

The book had arrived in a stack from Mom, the latest round of liberating the basement from our long-ago possessions. The fact that even my picture books had been so reading-heavy didn’t completely surprise me – I’ve been an avid reader since the age of two and a half, and could even remember using the tattered Star Wars book to act out scenes with my action figures.

But I’d forgotten how much of an honest-to-goodness book it was. As opposed to a picture book with barely-disguised captions.

I don’t mean to sound jaded or old-fashioned here. But I really do wonder if the same book would survive in the hands of modern editors and publishers, when “Show, don’t tell” has all but become a mantra. And not just in children’s publishing.

For a while, one of Heather’s prize possessions was a 1985 issue of Cosmopolitan, just for sheer contrast. Fewer pictures, lengthy articles that might have to “jump” twice within the issue before being completed. Compare it to a modern issue with its splashed photos and large-font one liners and it’s like holding Robinson Crusoe next to Go, Dog, Go!

You could make the same comparison with newspapers, where the emphasis has long been on more photos and graphics, shorter stories. Or in half a dozen other genres and formats, especially when you add digital and online publishing into the mix. Folks want pictures, video, interactive graphics, cute kittens!

Now there’s some truth to that. The author Spider Robinson once noted that reading is a newcomer as a means of acquiring information and one that requires a lot of work compared to just … looking. And with the decline in children who read for fun (31 percent of kids aged 6 to 17, compared to 37 percent in 2010), it might seem like we’ve got to pull out all the stops to hook kids back in to the habit.

But I wonder.

What if the problem isn’t the format, but the content?

Remember Harry Potter? The boy wizard dragged a whole generation of kids (and their parents and older siblings) through seven increasingly thick volumes of adventures. It became a point of pride to have read each book on its publication day.

There have been other crazes since, if not as intense. (What could be?) In the United Kingdom, in fact, series like The Hunger Games and Twilight (yes, I went there) are credited with bringing up the number of child readers.

Give kids a story they’re interested in, it seems, and they’ll chew up text just fine. Adults, too, I’d bet. If you’re interested in the subject, a longer story is a blessing, not a curse.

By all means, have cool pictures and all the other bells and whistles. Heaven knows my storybooks had art that popped. But remember the fundamentals. When you want people to drive, you sell cars. When you want people to read, you sell words.

Good words. And plenty of ‘em.

We can do our part, “selling” by example – it’s almost proverbial that when parents read, kids read, too. And over time, if enough of us reward good words with a good audience, someone’s going to see the chance of making good money.

Someday, just maybe, our prints will come.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If There’s Anything …

I’m tempted to just write the words “Thank you” and be done with it this week. After all, what else is there for me to say?

I’m referring, of course, to the steady stream of comments, offers and good wishes that followed the appearance of last week’s column, where I noted that my wife Heather had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That included the oddly celebratory mood both of us had been feeling, since we had finally ripped the mask off our opponent and knew what we were fighting.

Pieces like that are always a little risky to write. My oldest rule for this column, taught to me a long time ago, is “No navel gazing” – anything said here has to be of interest to more than just me. There has to be a universal tie, something for a reader to latch onto and care about, even in the most personal of stories.

Even so, I was shocked at just how many of you turned out to care very much indeed.

Some of you shared words of encouragement or stories of friends and family with MS that kept living normal lives. Others had suggestions for how diet could help Heather, or how activity could. A couple of very powerful accounts talked of their own struggles to put a name to a chronic condition and how isolating and painful it could be to just not know.

And of course, from friends and family across the board, we’ve heard the invocation: “If there’s anything I can do …”

Simple words. Powerful ones, too.

We’ve all said it, of course. Often when we don’t know what else to say. The times when the mountain seems so large and threatening, a mystery too great to even comprehend – and yet, we know we can’t let a friend go up it alone.

And so, when the hard news comes, we reach out a hand. Maybe with a confident grip, maybe unsure of our own strength and ability. After all, sometimes there isn’t much one can do. The late, great fantasy author Terry Pratchett, who died recently from Alzheimer’s-related complications, once said that he appreciated the sentiment but was only accepting offers from “very high-end experts in brain chemistry.”

But it does help. More than anyone realizes.

Pain isolates. It can be the physical pain of an illness, the emotional pain of a death, the all-consuming anguish of news too terrible to comprehend. All of it tries to draw limits, to seal us off from the world, to trap us in our own bodies and heads.

Granted, some withdrawal can be necessary to heal. But it’s easy to get trapped in the cycle, to become convinced that you have to deal with this yourself, that you don’t want to be a burden. It feels like a surrender to ask for help, an admission that you’ve lost control.

And then, someone reaches beyond the walls.

It may not be huge. It may not even be much more than the words themselves. But like a candle in the night, it becomes a small gesture that changes the landscape.

Someone cares.

Someone noticed.

Someone wants to help, even if they’re not quite sure how.

Someone’s heart has opened to me.

That is a powerful realization.

A friend recently reminded me that it’s a gift to allow others to give. It’s a harder lesson than it sounds. But a true one.

In admitting our mutual need, we summon our mutual strength. We become a family. No … we remind ourselves of the family that we already are.

Thank you for that reminder.

“If there’s anything I can do ….”

Trust me. You certainly have.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full View

My wife Heather may be the happiest person to ever receive an MS diagnosis.

“Yes!” she shouted after the doctor’s call came in Wednesday afternoon. “I told them I was sick! I told them I was sick!”

Regular readers know that we’ve been searching to an answer for Heather’s “mystery illness” for some time. The symptoms have been a regular cavalcade, including fatigue, pain, loss of coordination, foggy eyesight, foggy memory, a foggy day in London town …

Ahem. Sorry about that.

Anyway, after being introduced to a spinal tap that’s not nearly as entertaining as the Christopher Guest version, Heather can now definitively tie her troubles down to two words: multiple sclerosis. Yes, that ugly disease of the brain and spinal cord, the one that can’t really be cured, only contained.

Of course, anyone who saw our huge, relieved grins after the diagnosis would probably conclude that there wasn’t much brain left to affect, anyway. But in a weird way, it’s exciting.

At long last, something makes sense.

Any chronic pain sufferer should recognize the feeling. You can spend weeks, months, even years in shadow boxing, going through the medical motions without hitting anything solid. You get told that you’re fine, even when you know better. You get medicines that don’t help, tests that don’t show anything, advice that fails to illuminate. Sometimes people will suggest you’re a hypochondriac. After a while, you may start to wonder if they’re right.

And then, BAM – you hit something solid. Or it hits you. Either way, there’s a reality that can no longer be denied. You’re not crazy, you are in a fight, and even if it’s one against Mike Tyson himself, you can finally see the other fighter in the ring.

That’s huge.

You don’t even need to be a patient to understand. We see the same thing every day in the political world, or the business world, or in military strategy, or in the thousand small-scale issues we deal with every day. To solve a problem, the people involved have to agree 1) That a problem exists and 2) What exactly the problem is. What you cannot define, you cannot defeat.

Put down a name and you can have objectives. Goals. Tactics. Hope.

Heather has a name. A nasty name. But a real one.

That means we have a road forward.

Even better, the road may not have as many potholes as we feared. The tests caught her MS early. That’s one reason it slipped through the early scans undetected, and it means the disease may be at a more manageable stage.

Still better: this is something we know from the outside. We have good friends who have been through this, people who still live full lives despite the need to recharge and recover. One even kept up a position in the Navy Reserve until fairly recently.

I know, there are stories of worse as well as better. But again – what you can name, you can know. And some of that knowledge is encouraging.

We’re not alone.

Not that we ever were. But now our friends and family have something to rally around as well. Unease and uncertainty can drain a caregiver as well as a patient; a lifting of the fog can be almost rejuvenating.

Is it any wonder we smile? And even laugh?

No wonder at all. Not when there’s a purpose that can outweigh the fear.

It will not be unremitting joy. We know that. We’re looking at a hard struggle, probably a painful one.

But we’re looking at it. And that makes all the difference.

I hope someone out there can take encouragement from this. The fog can someday lift. The light can shine. The battle lines can be drawn and defended to the inch.

Victory is never certain. But knowing, really knowing, is a victory all its own.

It’s time to celebrate.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment