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Posts Tagged ‘luck’

It’s about 11:30 when I finally make it upstairs  – a little later than my normal bedtime. So maybe I’m not as clearheaded as I might have been in the middle of the day. Maybe I’m hallucinating.

But what I see is this – the lake, silvery in the strong moonlight, pulses, subtly heaving up and down, as though it’s breathing. I move closer, standing close enough now for my breath to fog the floor-to-ceiling windows a bit, and I can see that maybe it’s not pulsing after all, but it’s in some sort of steady motion all the same.

After a moment, it’s clear that from somewhere to the west, down the length of the open water, an almost imperceptible force – not quite wind – is nudging the water eastward, bouncing it off the rocky shore in front of our house at an odd angle, and that combination of waves and wind and shore and moonlight is creating something I’ve never seen before.

Living here on the shore of Messalonskee Lake in Central Maine, it’s not unusual for me to see the water in a way I’ve never seen it before. In fact, it’s become commonplace, a source of almost daily fascination. Some days it might be a strange band of dark still water bisecting the otherwise variegated surface. Some days it might be a concentration of irregularly shaped rings scattered randomly across the surface in the lee of Blake’s Island. And some days, especially in the thick morning fog, the water is indistinguishable from the land or the sky on the horizon.

But here’s the deal: it’s always the same lake. The shore never shifts. Blake’s Island never moves. The treeline opposite me varies in color only. So given those parameters only, one might reasonably expect constancy. Not so.

Standing there before the window and the silvery breathing surface of the lake, it occurs to me that maybe life is like this, too. Most of the parameters of my days seem fixed — same routines, same job, same relationships. There’s not a lot of variance in them, and usually, I regard that constancy as a blessing.

But suppose my days demanded my attention the way the lake seems to do? Suppose I was powerfully drawn to stop and look – I mean really look – at any given moment? Would I see something I’ve never seen before?

Then I’d really be one lucky man.

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Home of the IndiansThese are pretty big days in our house, at least for my soon-to-be 16-year-old son. Last week, he started his first job at a local grocery store, and this week he starts driver’s ed. It’s not so hard to see that, in many ways, these are significant milestones in his life, milestones that mark a time when his circle — his entire world, really — begins to expand at a pretty dramatic pace. This is just Point A, and I spend no small amount of time wondering what other waypoints he’ll pass in his lifetime, and what he will make of it all.

Usually, it’s pretty hard for me to remember that far back in my own life, back to a time when so many possibilities stretched out before me, and so few had been ruled out. Maybe that’s why, when a handful of my friends from those days took the time and trouble to put together a reunion for the Portage High School Class of 1975, my initial interest didn’t really go beyond a passing curiosity. Most of my memories just didn’t seem strong enough to warrant the 12 hour drive north from the mountains of Virginia to the shores of Lake Michigan.

But as the days passed and the friend requests kept coming in, I felt something stir, something that went beyond curiosity. Names that held only a glimmer of recognition for me began to coalesce around newly discovered memories — ill-advised road trips to Michigan, long summer days on the Lake Michigan shore, two-a-day football practices in the thick summer air, hanging out in Jungle Hall. My friend Gail played a key role here, bolstering my fading recollections with a reasonable incredulity — “How can you not remember her?” — and remarkable grace, supplying me with bits and pieces that pulled up memories from some pretty obscure corners of my brain.  And with each new recollection came the pleasure of rediscovering something I had long ago treasured, and then somehow misplaced.

That pleasure only magnified when I arrived at the country club for the reunion. There they were — my first serious crush, some teammates from the football team, the girl next door, and the pal that I roamed the streets with summer after summer after summer. Some I recognized instantly, but some I didn’t recognize until a particular mannerism or pattern of speech lifted the veil that three decades had drawn between us, leaving them there before me as clear-eyed and hopeful and young as they had been so many years before. I heard tales of triumph and tragedy, loss and gain, happiness and heartache, sickness and health. Some of these tales left me stunned, characterized as they were by uncommon courage and sacrifice. Some left me doubled over in laughter, as I had been so often growing up. And some of them left me with a profound sense of gratitude that I should know someone so loyal, so true, and so resilient.

More than 35 years have passed since our Point A — the time when we got our first jobs and slipped behind the wheel for the first time — and while we may well have felt our world expanding, I doubt that many of us could have foreseen what that actually would come to mean — how our lives would be shaped moment by moment, decision by decision. Of course it’s easy enough to look back three and a half decades later to see what went right and what went wrong, what we would do again and what we wish we had never done. But after all this time, does it really matter? Are we not, for better or for worse, precisely where we are meant to be?

Thanks in part to having reconnected with so many old friends, I’m more convinced than ever that I am, but maybe that’s just me. I am, as I’ve said before, one lucky man.

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Digging out

Okay, so let me just admit it right up front. I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to having a clean driveway in the winter. I’m not sure what that’s all about, though I like to tell people it’s because I want to be able to get out if I have to. You know, be prepared and all that. The truth is probably a bit more complicated and a bit less practical. I just like the thought of my driveway being clean and clear, even after — no, especially after — the biggest and messiest snowstorms. It’s like my small and pitiful stand against the elements, a sign of industriousness and purpose in the face of adversity.

So around 5:00 or so last Saturday, when the snow had finally stopped falling, topping off at about a foot or so, I couldn’t resist it any longer. My wife, my son, and I had spent the whole day in the house, a welcome respite from our normally demanding schedules. But as the credits rolled on the last movie of the day, I knew it was time.

It probably won’t surprise you that my teenage son, Simon, doesn’t share my compulsion for a clean driveway, but those of you who have the good fortune to know him will also not be surprised that after some brief perfunctory grumbling, he went upstairs to suit up to come out and help.

We tackled the hard part first, the only sensible thing to do. The driveway is about three cars wide at the base, great for shooting hoops in warmer weather, but not so great when you have to clear it of snow. There’s no easy way. You have to pick up a shovelful, walk to the edge, toss it, then walk back. Shovel. Walk. Toss. Repeat. It’s laborious, and for a time, we muttered under our breath, complained about our cold hands, yanked our hats down even further.

But after 20 minutes or so, we began working in rhythm, not speaking, not complaining — just working. We had formed a kind of silent pact — man to man — that we were bigger than the challenge before us. Even our movements were synchronized, the man with the empty shovel circling behind the man filling one up. We went on like this, without stopping, for some time until the driveway was nearly cleared. Then Simon spoke up.

“Dad, look at the sky.”

I looked up, and over the houses on the opposite side of the cul-de-sac, the sky was a deep rich purple, almost iridescent, a color I don’t think I’ve ever seen. We took a breather for a few minutes, just looking, as the chill crept under our jackets and clutched at our damp shirts. Two partners really, leaning on their shovels with a clear blacktop driveway behind them and an impossibly beautiful sky overhead.

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Where there are miracles.

They come every year, as regular as the cold fall rain. The Perseids. The Leonids. And the best of all, the Geminids. And every year, it’s the same routine for me. I catch a news story online, forecasting brilliant showers of meteors falling from heaven, sometimes as many as two or three a minute. And every year I imagine it will be the year that I do what’s necessary to catch them at their peak: Rise at 2:00 AM. Fill a thermos with hot coffee. Throw a camping chair and warm gear into the car, and make my way out to the Blue Ridge, far from the lights of my city, any city. Once there, I’ll wait, looking to the north or the east, or wherever I’m supposed to be looking, and my patience will be rewarded with a display beyond measure, a glimpse of the infinite.

But this year, like every other year, I never got beyond the imagining part. The reality of rising so early, sitting still in the dark cold night, and surviving the long, long day that was sure to follow was too much for me to manage. So this year was the same as all the others. Well, almost the same …

It’s a Sunday evening. Mid-November. Night is gathering in the Ellett Valley as I drive north toward Blacksburg, but the sky overhead still holds that luminous blue-black light that follows bright fall days. I’m ferrying my son from Roanoke, where he has spent the last few hours, to church youth group in Blacksburg, where he will spend the next few. We are talking some,  but not much. Our surroundings — the high scattered clouds tinged with purple, the deepening green of the surrounding forests going black where it folds into narrow valleys, the sky shimmering silver in the creek to our right — are too beautiful to be ignored. The landscape demands our attention. It silences us.

And then, suddenly, just above the crest of the ridge to my left, moving slow enough to track but fast enough that I know it won’t last, an orange ball arcs across the horizon, leaving an iridescent trail across the deep blue sky. And just as I manage to comprehend what it is I’m seeing — before  I can even open my mouth to form words to call my son’s attention to it — it’s gone. There is no trace. No way to even know or prove that it happened. And, despite the preposterousness of the sight, the valley remains unchanged in its wake — still luminous, still breathtaking.

But in that moment, something has changed. Something in me. Some small part of my world has been peeled back, and something underneath — something miraculous even — has been made visible, if only for a few seconds. I spend the next few hours — days really– stunned by the revelation that the miraculous, something we all long to see, may be around us every day.

Of course that feeling, like the phenomenon that created it, faded quickly, leaving me wondering if I really saw what I think I saw.

But then just a couple of days ago, I came home for lunch, rushed and harried as usual, and as I draped my jacket across the armchair in the family room, I spotted a pair of birds that I’d never seen before– rufous-sided towhees, as it turns out — bathing and grooming in a puddle on our brick patio left by the previous night’s heavy rain. Oblivious to my presence, they luxuriated in the water and the sun — dunking and shaking themselves so vigorously that they seemed to be vibrating. Small arcs of fine mist rose from their trembling bodies, and the surface of the puddle itself rippled in the tiniest of waves. I called my wife to come and see, then my son and daughter, and for a few moments — there in the middle of our busy days and our busy lives — we stood together, shoulder to shoulder, transfixed by what we were seeing, knowing it wouldn’t last.

No gaudy light show. No celestial fireworks. No cosmic happenstance. But still, a miracle.

Again.

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My wife couldn’t sleep the other night, and who could blame her? Thanks to some oddball geography, our town seems to be home to a pretty steady supply of gusty, limb-dropping, window-rattling winds, and that night was no exception. By the time the morning rolled around, our yard was littered with branches and our full garbage can had been blown over the curb, scattering a load of papers across the yard.

But that’s nothing compared to what lots of folks live with. We spent some time in central Ohio over the break. At one point the temperature was -5 degrees and the wind was gusting to 40 mph. You don’t need to be a meteorologist to figure out that that makes the windchill … well, unbearable. Even a couple of minutes outside left you with no feeling in your face. Not sure how (or even why) people live in such conditions, but I’m glad it’s not me. It’s been a blessedly long time since I’ve had to consider the weather as something malevolent, something that could harm me or my family while we simply tried to live our normal lives.

Just the other day, I listened to an NPR correspondent interviewing a father of four in the Gaza Strip. The man, an articulate, educated professional, described conditions there as quite cold. Nowhere near what my friends in Ohio deal with, but still, I can’t imagine they are used to or prepared for temperatures much below 50 degrees. The situation was made worse by the fact that there has been no power in his home for several days, and they have to leave the windows open. I puzzled over this latter fact for a few minutes until he explained that the bombing created percussive sound waves, and if you didn’t leave your windows open, they would all shatter.

For some reason, this small detail of everyday life in a war zone struck me. When we think of war, we think of combatants. This man and his family were not combatants. They were just a family — not unlike mine or yours in many ways, I’m sure. They were coping as best as they could, hunkered down in the cold and in the dark, rationing food and candles, and trying to carry on their lives in the midst of conditions far worse than the wind and the cold that I’m so quick to grumble about.

There’s likely to be more sleepless nights for my darling wife. The wind doesn’t just blow here; it howls, and it does so regularly. The weather may be awful where you are, as well. But I assume that you, like us, can keep your windows closed and your heat on and your head up as you go about your lives. And as we head into a new year, that’s certainly something to be thankful for.

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