A night to be thankful

Absolutely beautiful night for sitting on the porch, listening to the Tigers and doing some journaling. The frogs and crickets are serenading me. It’s early August, not too hot, and I’d be happy to sit here for many, many days.

A beautiful night on the porch

The house behind me is pretty quiet – I can hear Max and Maggie playing a game together in the basement, laughing quietly and enjoying time together. Another few weeks and they’ll be heading out, back to college, and I’ll miss the sounds of them laughing…. or fighting, or singing, or all of the sounds I’ve gotten used to hearing again since they moved back in waaaaay back in March, when the pandemic was just starting and we weren’t sure how long the interruptions would be. Of course I’ll be worried about them, and I still hate that they’re going, but they have leases on apartments, and most of their classes will be online, and so I have to trust they’ll be okay. Ugh.

Jeanne went to sleep a little early, she had a long, busy day. Some exciting things happening for her that’ll be announced soon enough. Yesterday evening the four of us took the dogs for a nice walk as the sun was setting, walking around the neighborhood. We were laughing, watching FlipFlop pull Max on his skateboard (which he LOVES to do!), and Sneakers was pulling on Maggie because she wanted to chase them… as we followed behind Jeanne said “Aw man… we aren’t going to get many more nights like these” and I knew she was right. The kids will be moving out soon, and who knows when or even if they’ll move back in. Sneakers is not doing well – she’s almost 16 and had a good life, but probably won’t be with us much longer, so we’re really trying to enjoy the time we have with her now. Even if you take the pandemic out of the equation, the constant shifting of sand beneath our feet will be bringing us to a new place again soon.

Can we take the pandemic out of the equation? I mean, all we can do is be as careful as possible, and wait. Wear our masks, wash our hands, Hope people do their best, and hope for a vaccine. And do our best to manage the change that keeps coming as time drifts on, gently dragging us along (and sometimes not gently at all).

Thing is, every time I can remember thinking “Aw man, this is the end of an era” in our family, or with friends, later I also found myself having nights like last night, or tonight, once again, where I wound up thinking “This is beautiful. I’m a lucky, lucky man.” So, even though everything is so up in the air right now, I have faith that as much as I love tonight, I’ll have more moments like this again in the future. Hopefully I’ll remember to take the time to recognize them.

For now, though, I’m going to enjoy the back-and-forth of this ridiculous ball game as the Tigers keep finding ways to give away the lead, and listen to the frogs and crickets reminding me to just breathe, and savor.

That is our challenge

That is our challenge: To cultivate lives of reflection, love, and joy and still somehow manage to do our share for this beautiful broken planet of ours.

– Mary Pipher

One of the chief privileges of man is to speak up for the universe.

– Norman Maclean

We have to look deeply at things in order to see. When a swimmer enjoys the clear water of the river, he or she should also be able to be the river.

– Thich Nhat Hahn

I very much enjoyed Mary Pipher’s book Writing to Change the World. Thoughtful, inspiring and practical, it’s been one of my favorite reads of this pandemic “down time” I’m having with the theatre being closed. I love her take on storytelling, and making a difference in the world

Change change change

I was thinking about how much is changing, how it currently feels like I, and my family also, are in this period of transition.  It feels like a lot is happening right now: 

  • Maggie graduated high school, and is off to Finland for a year of student exchange where she’s basically taking a fifth year of high school in Finnish and living with a wonderful family, immersing herself in a foreign culture on the other side of the globe. I’m really proud of her. You can follow her exploits at her website!
  • We decided the house would be too quiet with only one kid, so we agreed to have an exchange student live with us for a year! Tommaso is from Italy, and living with us now through next summer, going to school as a senior at Chelsea high. It’s a fun transition and experience for all of us.  You can check out his blog where he chronicles his exploits here…. If you read Italian!  
  • Max is in the process of getting his driver’s license, and will be a junior this year.  We’ve begun talks about his desire to do a student exchange program of some kind, and what happens after high school!  
  • On Sunday we closed our 10th Season at Williamston Theatre.  We’e begun work on our second decade already, and rehearsals for the first show of next season start this Tuesday.

So, Jeanne and I were discussing how, in about two years, we could be officially “empty-nesters”!  That’s another chapter that came up faster than I expected!  Still, as I was thinking about how much change is currently underway, I also started thinking about how funny it is that we call it “change” or “a period of transition”, and act like it is something that only happens once in a while. 

The fact is, life IS change.  My kids were never the same people from one year to the next.  Their goals, personalities, likes and dislikes hobbies and habits – all these things are in flux all the time.  Our family schedule, our work schedules, all of those change regularly.  I mean, sure, I now have a tendency to categorize things in my life based on whether it happened before, during, or after my coma (The Before, the Dark Time, and The Now, as we jokingly call it!).  Still, I think that’s because even though life is CONSTANTLY changing, we tend to try and make sense of it by labeling the things that seem like the biggest, or most dramatic changes.  Then we can celebrate them, have a communal sense of understanding and compassion with each other about all of the shared changes that most of us go through: births, deaths, graduations, marriages, things that many of our peers share. 

I think that tendency to categorize the big things in our lives is natural, but I also wonder if it stops us from realizing that ALL of it is changing, all the time.  This feeling of “normalcy” or “a routine” that we seem to want, or pretend to want, is something that I think we’ve created to fill the gaps between the big changes we wait for (or long for), but I wonder:  

Does this idea of a “normalcy” between Big Changes cause us to minimize the importance of all of that life and change that happens in that time?  Do we lose sight of the beauty and wonder of our lives because we are waiting for Change with a capital C?  Do we forget that we owe it to ourselves, and our world, to live fully and embrace all the “stuff” that happens every day, and that EVERY DAY is when we should be shaping our lives and the world around us?   

Maybe. Maybe we just need that reminder that NOW is what we have.  The more I remind myself that THIS RIGHT NOW is what I can be sure of, the more I want to explore and experience and help and cherish the world and people around me, because the next breath may not come. That’s what I’m sure of – that I’m not sure I’ll get tomorrow.  So I don’t want to slip into trudging along, day by day, putting out the neverending onslaught of metaphorical fires and looking for the next Change somewhere on the horizon.  How we see our world shapes our world… and it’s being shaped every day, whether we pay attention or not.  

So, I think the lesson I need to stay focused on is this: Pay attention.  Beauty, wonder, magic – it exists around us every day.  Learn, grow, make a difference, marvel at the world – those opportunities exist around us every day, too.   Go out and find them! 

4 a.m.

It’s a few minutes after 4 in the morning.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been awake at this time of the night.  I was sleeping well – we turned the air conditioning off and opened the windows tonight, so there was a gentle breeze coming in.  Still, I occasionally have a “hospital dream”, where I’m back in the hospital, and tonight I had one of those.  Not a scary one, just one where I knew I was dreaming, and knew I didn’t want to be back in the hospital, so I woke up… and suddenly I’m wide awake.  The breeze through the window felt good, and it carried some of my favorites sounds of all, the sound of frogs and crickets, coyotes howling in the fields and woods across the street.  The nighttime sounds of summer blended with the gentle sounds of my wife sleeping next to me.

Got a drink of water, walked around the house just to check, make sure things were all right.  FlipFlop, our little 4-year old dog, heard me moving and followed me into the kitchen.  Once he’d determined that I was just getting water, and not a snack for him, he sighed loudly and padded back into the bedroom.

I checked the kids.  Both are sound asleep, although I know Max was up late reading tonight.  Max.  He started driver’s education last week.  I look back at the timeline of our life and still wonder at how it’s possible for him to be old enough for driver’s ed… He’ll do well, but the Dad in me worries anyway.

Maggie is sleeping.  More change is on the way there, too.  We’ve spent lots of time this summer visiting college campuses with her, trying to help as she decides where to go to college.  Less than a year and she’ll be graduating High School.  Again, I scroll back through the past 17 years… yep, they happened.  She’s officially old enough to graduate.  I close her bedroom door quietly, and stand in the hallway for a moment, just shaking my head.

I get another drink of water.  It’s cold, and feels good.  Standing here at the sink, looking out the window, the nighttime sounds are louder.  Are those katydids?  I forget which is which – katydids, crickets, frogs, I’m sure there’s something else out there too.  I’ll ask Jeanne, she’s the science teacher, she’ll know.  All I know is I love the sound.

I think about change.  Another few weeks, the sounds of summer will fade.  In a couple of weeks we start rehearsals for our tenth season at the theatre.  At the same time school will start for the kids and Jeanne.  An exciting time, so much possibility.  The excitement, the nervousness – how will it all turn out?  Where will we all be a year from now, when we’re closing out a decade of Williamston Theatre? When our home has only one kid in high school, and the other is planning to move out and start her adult life?  Will we be happy with the year we’ve had?  Will we feel we’ve accomplished enough over the year?  I wonder.

It occurs to me to ask those questions of myself, about the year I’ve just had.  With kids in school, a teacher for a wife, and a theatre season that runs September through August, this time of year has always felt like it’s as much a line in the sand as New Year’s Eve does.  A boundary, from old to new.

But tonight won’t be about answering those questions.  Now it’s time to get some more sleep.  I’m sure I’ll have to scoot FlipFlop off my side of the bed when I get back – he’ll sigh again, and drop himself into his own little bed next to the dresser, disappointed that I’ve reclaimed my spot…

And with a little luck, the frogs and crickets will lull me to sleep.

Crickets? Katydids?  Maybe I’ll remember to ask Jeanne.

Quotes For One Of Those Days When You Need Quotes About Getting Through One Of Those Days

(Subtitled: Remember, nothing is easy, and if you don’t decide to make a difference, nothing will be different.)

“Professionalism is like love: it is made up of the constant flow of little bits of proof that testify to devotion and care. Everything else is pretension or incompetence.”
― Tomislav Šola

“Confidence is the immaterial residue of material actions. Confidence is the public face of competence.”
― Ron Suskind

“It is, after all, the responsibility of the expert to operate the familiar and that of the leader to transcend it.”
― Henry Kissinger

“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.”
― Julius Erving

“We choose what attitudes we have right now. And it’s a continuing choice.”
― John C. Maxwell

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because … it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
― Sir Winston Churchill

QUOTES: Change. Making A Difference.

So, as Winter turns to Spring (we HOPE – please stop snowing!), it’s the season for change.  Let’s see what happens if we embrace that.

My life is pretty great.  But, like everyone, there are things that could use a re-evaluation and some tweaking.  Plus, it’s been a month of various changes happening, and when changes are thrust upon you, it can make you examine the rest of your life.  Change is essential for growth and forward momentum no matter what, right?  I mean, it’s always a mix: some good, some less good, but such is life, no?   It’s interesting, though, it’s also been a week of watching people react to change in different ways, in different projects and different aspects of life.  Sometimes change is clearly good.  Sometimes change is made with good intentions, and still fails.  Sometimes people think they’re doing something good, and others decide it’s not.  Sometimes people react politely, sometimes they don’t.  Such is life.

I’ll tell you what, though – I would rather attempt to change the things I don’t like about my life, and see those attempts fail, than sit idly by and simply complain about those things.  This is probably the only life I’ve got, and I can’t come up with a good reason to sit in stagnation knowing that some things aren’t working and just do nothing about it.

So, yes.  Spring.  A Change Of Seasons.  And a time for examination, exploration and action!

You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.
– Shirley Hufstedler,  Former US Secretary of Education

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
– Will Rogers (1879-1935)

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
– William Arthur Ward

We can choose to be affected by the world or we can choose to affect the world.
-Heidi Wills,  Author

Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.
– Henry Ford