reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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the holidays. messy. [merely-a-thought monday]

we have a small stack of unopened envelopes on the counter. it’s a stack of holiday cards and we’re saving it for closer to christmas. opening these while sitting together will seem like a visit from these people we care about at a time when visits are scarce and time together is minimal. these cards will help.

because these holidays are messy.

we’ve been succumbing to the hallmark channel. it has been both delightful and a disservice, a bar we cannot touch, with families gathered around roaring fireplaces with cocoa, around kitchen counters icing cookies, around the town square christmas tree singing, around the tree farm choosing the exact right tree to cut down, dancing at the christmas ball. our hearts soar with these picturesque modern-day norman-rockwells and yet…

because the holidays are messy.

in my mind’s eye i can create all kinds of wondrous times – with our children, our extended families, our friends. i envision everyone here at home or at a giant cabin in the mountains with snow gently falling outside, arriving at the door with ecstatic hugs of anticipation. i can hear laughter and records spinning and song and many shared old stories. i catch a whiff of the fireplace and the cocoa, early morning coffee brewing like in all the old folgers commercials, the turkey or ham or lasagna in the oven, snickerdoodles and peanut butter cookies with hersheys kisses and krumkake baking. i can feel the excitement with everyone throwing wrap on the floor, bows and ribbons flying, opening thoughtful gifts. i can see evidence of our angels in the air, my sweet momma and poppo, columbus, my big brother, grandparents, even our babycat. i blink and i’m back. like many of you, i know this wondrous time, though perhaps entirely possible someday, is – again – not reality.

because the holidays are messy.

in this final stretch to christmas i know that expectations are high and disappointment is higher. the simplest moments that our hearts desire are somehow unattainable and complex. it is not an easy time and it is on the heels of a not-easy year for so many, including us.

the holidays are messy.

so we keep the small stack of cards and wait to open them. we sit at the end of the evening in the living room lit by the lights of our tree and the white branches of previous years. we write cards and sticker envelopes and wrap packages and ship. we, like you, try to immerse in both memory-rituals and new traditions, try to make-the-best-of-it. we know that time marches on, too quickly-quickly. in looking back we all know how fast ahead goes. we wish for the holidays we can see – but not quite touch – in our mind’s eye. we know that angst and worries and loneliness and exhaustion and issues and comparisons and striving for perfection and dismaying sadness are not supposed to be a part of the holiday spirit, yet we see tidbits of these shades of blue as we look around. we work to move in grace and trust and hold unconditional love as guiding forces.

we hope for less-messy another year.

i believe the cardinals out back at the pond came to reassure me.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY


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at the lake. [d.r. thursday]

we brought the jelly jar and the tealight with us, anticipating a chance to privately and quietly celebrate his life.

the lake was the place. there were clear fishing bobbers on the shoreline, waiting for us to discover them, to wonder if somehow they were his. there were glowing golden aspens and burning orange underbrush bushes, crows crowing and fishermen cussing the ones that got away. and it was perfect.

we lit the candle and found the right flat rock to place it on. we toasted columbus and sat back and watched the candle dance and burn and flicker.

we were there way longer than we thought we’d be. it was serene; it was a direct line to him. and it was exactly where we needed to be.

we had no place to stay that night and i wished we had our tent, sleeping bags and camping stove. the lake asked us to stay. we asked it for a rain check. another day, we promised.

we will come prepared to stay, to watch the sun set and a new day rise. and he’ll be there, cheering us on.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this D.R. THURSDAY


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past the curve in the tracks. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

somewhere along the way someone impressed upon me not to ever walk on railroad tracks. and so i never have. until the day i stood in the middle of these tracks and took a few pictures.

railroad tracks intrigue me, whether teetering on the edge of a mountainous precipice or crossing the great plains. i was astounded the day i drove along the arkansas river in red rock canyons, tracks by my side. i could not imagine the arduous, back-breaking, dangerous work it took to install those tracks. at home, the sound of the train whistle at night is reassuring. the whiz of the train passing by the trail is a blur of amtrack cars, headed for mysterious destinations; i reluctantly hold back waving to the engineer as the train passes the crossing.

we’ve missed taking the train to chicago to see our son or for adventures in this last year-plus-of-covid. for that matter, we’ve missed airplanes as well. we’ve driven anywhere we have gone. and today is no exception.

today we are driving. yesterday as well. long days in big red across acres of corn-states, browned, tinges of color in the trees. the sun rises out the hotel window as we prepare to leave and we ponder what we will see today, what markers of this new season will be side-of-road. in the wide open spaces trains will appear, seemingly unending freight trains, the stuff of yesteryear ‘boxcar children‘ and reading books with my kids. time and years and planting and harvest and fallow and regrowth. corn and soybeans, bending sunflowers, leaves beginning to acknowledge golds and reds – all remind us.

we’ll arrive in colorado, attend a come-and-go dinner (i believe this is the same as an open house, though i haven’t heard that terminology before). tomorrow’s schedule is all set; all the while we will be processing the reason we are there – the loss of david’s dad. somewhere in the middle of the scheduled events and the eating, we will walk in quiet under the colorful-colorado sky and grasp that which seems surreal right now. we’ll talk a little about time passing and stories of days gone by. we’ll gaze out at the mountains and see the past, the future. we’ll say goodbye to columbus, all the while knowing, in the way of the death of a parent, he’ll stay right here with us.

and we’ll wonder what’s around the curve in the tracks.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY


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and then, another star. [two artists tuesday]

and just like that, in a sliver of a moment, columbus became a star in a constellation of galactic proportion. he joins with all who have gone before, souls of people-loving-people and surrounds us in the wind as we move about our days.

i won’t forget the day my dad died. though i saw him hours before, i didn’t know it would be that very night. the axis tilted and the news came.

same with david. i know he won’t forget. his last visit with his dad was months earlier and, in his latest days, columbus had taken a path where memories escape into the atmosphere and he was simply in the moment or in a moment of his imagination. we held vigil, as we all do in those last somewhat-expected days. and then, we woke on friday and just knew. the axis titled and the news came.

there have been three fathers in my life – generationally-speaking. my sweet dad, erling, ever-present-poppo-chain on our wrists, was a quiet steady force in my life, always encouraging, undaunted by the hardships of his life and a loving champion for his family. and marvin. the father of our children’s father, marvin was delightfully positive and simple, hardworking and a mush for those he loved. and columbus, whose perspective is easily that which louis armstrong sang about in “what a wonderful world”. each, men who would tear up when beloveds were leaving. strength in honest hearts.

all – stars in the constellation. all – love in the wind.

and now, now that the earth has regained just a little center, though never to be absolutely balanced again, i imagine columbus sitting with my sweet poppo and marvin too. talking shop, telling stories, assigning the breeze on which those they love will find them, shining in a night sky.

*****

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pointed at wonder. [merely-a-thought monday]

my yashica fx-2 35mm camera went everywhere with me. a prized possession i had gotten for my high school graduation, it opened my vision of the world, the things i looked at. in the days of film and negatives and developing, i was an enthusiastic participant, eating boxes of cornflakes so that i could develop the next roll and the next.

i passed through the minolta auto-exposure-auto-focus phase when my children were young. it was easier to grab the camera and snap a picture of them doing something amazing or indescribably adorable with the auto-camera.

then came the sony tiny-cameras you could slide into your pocket, also easy and accessible. that camera and the minolta and my treasured yashica are still around here somewhere, lenses for the 35mm in a hard-shell briefcase my dad designed with foam fitting around the wide-angle and telephoto choices.

in these days i carry my phone. it is the height of easy and always right there, ready to record a moment. in recent years, i have rediscovered the utter joy of taking photographs, of recording the sun glimmering on dogdog’s fur, of capturing the blossom as it wanes and the curl of the wave and the way the mountains look in a dark sky. a camera pointed at wonder.

“come forth into the light of things. let nature be your teacher.” (william wordsworth – from today’s daily wonder app)

i haven’t opened the “daily wonder” app in a while. i discovered it when we chose and featured the movie “wonder” on island. a single snippet of thought for your day, it is a tiny gift i had forgotten about, often reminding you of the wonder of simply being here.

we carry the not-so-wondrous around in heavy baggage, somewhat unwilling to part with it, feeling as if it somehow defines us. how buoyant we might be without it, how resilient. letting go might yield a smidge of wonder.

one evening, watching “life below zero” one of the intrepid alaskans said, “bring the wonder back in life” and i grabbed my phone to jot it down. as we travel to his memorial service to honor columbus’ life and his earnest grasp on happy-living, intentionally marveling, i know he would immediately agree with the person who said that.

undoubtedly, he would laugh a little and add that the wonder was always there.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY


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columbus. a jewel. glistening. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

there are days i really miss the littlehouse. perched right on – merely truly feet from – the shore of lake michigan, it was the sweetest house with a gentle spirit. we both felt it the first time we walked in. a reassuring sense of home filled with light. the lake right outside was moody, as lake michigan is. there were nights i could not sleep, its non-rhythmic crashing keeping me wide awake. and there were nights i could feel its powerful presence, quiet, calm, gigantic potential laying in wait. lake michigan is no weenie lake. it is full of peril and demands respect. but its latent power is potent and gives rise to unparalleled energy.

living near lake michigan off-island is different than on-island, but we still feel the lake. a couple nights ago, windows open, we could hear the surf pounding. wave after wave – with a beach hazards warning on our weather app – crashing onto the rocks. and the other day, walking along the shore, the surf rose high and jewels of water caught the light as it motored into the seawall boulders. an unrelenting and dispassionate force of nature.

monday night we received a facetime call. david’s sister-in-law dialed us so that we could see his mom visiting columbus, his dad. columbus, who has been an unrelentingly sweet force of nature all his life, is failing. this has come on rather suddenly, though he has been traveling the road of dementia now for a time. it was shocking to see his face, thinned by weariness and ailing. it was shocking to not really hear his voice, to just gaze at him, oxygen-aided, to try and talk to him, to say all the words – the important ones – in an unprepared moment. it was shocking to hang up so that they could call his next child, so that he could hear another beloved’s voice.

we don’t know what will happen next. we have the wisdom of hospice personnel and their perspective from years of experience. we know columbus appears lost now, not a lot of acknowledgement on the face that used to light up around anyone he loved, well, truth be told, around people in general. we watch and wait now. completely at a loss, gravity driving the tide, a mystery. we sit in the grace of the gift of columbus’ life and the sun rises and sets and the harvest moon is full. and the waves keep us awake.

just like lake michigan, though, columbus’ power is ever-present. his intense love is deep and unwavering. his family will carry him wherever they go. every day. he is a jewel glistening in the light.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY


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la vida. [two artists tuesday]

i don’t remember what grade i was in when it was assigned: a project detailing what your ideal life would look like. it was either later junior high or early high school years. if i could find it in one of the bins in the basement i’m sure it would be predictably naive. i remember designing a house, writing about family, but not too many other details come up for me. designing an ideal life is never really inclusive of actual reality, difficulties, disappointments, hardships. i think it would be interesting to find this report anyway. the 1970s were a different time and this project would reflect that. were i to write a report now to reflect my ideal life, it would be a much simpler picture than i would guess that old paper would paint.

i remember columbus saying that he worked his whole life to have weekends with his family. to enjoy his backyard, his garden, a little fishing, time with the masons. he was living his ideal life each day, though the look in his eyes when we took him back to iowa and he stood in the fields gazing out at maize corn and blue sky would belie that. his dream was to raise his family in his hometown and, though he ended up in colorado, his other life was, i’m sure, somewhere in the farmland daydreams that swirled in his heart. he was wise, though, and didn’t wait to live until he was back in the midwest. instead, he set his sights on now. he didn’t wait. and each time his children or grandchildren visited he would cry upon their leaving, giant tears falling on this rugged man’s face. dolce.

some people are fortunate enough to have both: real life and the other life, la otra vida. crunch always felt that way about his boat too, so he’d understand the boat owner who named his boat ‘the other life’. moments of escape away, drifting, piloting to block island and fishing in long island sound, these are crunch’s ideal moments. though many of the boats and yachts in our harbor never leave their slips, perhaps just sitting on them in fresh lake air yields much peace for these boaters.

a house with lots of windows and open space, lots of repurposed old stuff, a kitchen in which we love to cook. nothing fancy. wood floors and a lot of white paint. a fireplace, my piano, david’s easels, places to sit and write and room for our beloved children, family, friends to come with significant others and visit. mountains and a lake out the window, a couple horses grazing.

last night as we sat on the deck in waning light turning to dark, tiki torches and our tiny firepit burning, dogdog sprawled out at our feet, we listened to the soundtrack of richard curtis’ movie about time. arvo pärt’s piece ‘spiegel im spiegel’ came on, a long piano-cello interplay of simplicity. we both had tears. if contentment was a piece of music, it would look like this.

though there are not mountains, a lake and horses out the window, perhaps someday there will be. it’s my maize-corn-blue-sky vision. but columbus was right. there’s the rest of it. the other life is always right there.

andrea wrote to me in 2009, “nothing is idyllic. i think we have idyllic moments. we have to take time to savor what is around us.”

la otra vida = la vida. ideal living.

*****

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blooming. [merely-a-thought monday]

as i stand with david, together with his mom and siblings, watching his dad walk down the path of dementia, i am deep in thought of my own parents, missing them. elusive complexities become simple and unimportant as i think about my sweet momma and poppo and their stamp on the world. though certainly worthy, they will not be detailed in history books or in record-holding guiness lists, nor will they be featured in paintings in state buildings or referenced in periodicals, footnotes of prestige. but, just as the life that columbus is forgetting, a life rich in experience and love, so were the lives of my parents. their lives had purpose, their stories were and are important. their dreams counted and their voices mattered. and, though it need not be said, they made an impact.

there are moments when i gaze around and marvel at the rapid movement around us. i feel as if i step back away from the edge of the chaos that is everyday life in a society that values ‘more’ and i just wonder. i wonder about how we all fit in, how, from beginning to end, our lives – in the swirl of everyone’s lives – play a part in this world. i wonder how our very molecules affect other molecules, how permanent or impermanent this effect we have.

pat said, “it’s why you’re here.” she seemed much more certain of that than i. middle age, or maybe it is later middle age, as ross pointed out the other day, is complicated. there is a bit of that elusive complexity whirling around, waiting for us to reach up and cup it in our hands, like catching fireflies on a muggy summer night. holding memories close, we glance back at our lives, pondering the rights and the wrongs and the joys and blisses and the mistakes and the regrets and the happies and the sadnesses, and we watch the glimmering light, surprised at the time that has gone by, stunned by the arc of life that even the tiniest path-choices brought us. in the looking-back we notice the insignificant. in the looking-back, we notice the significant. and sometimes, when we are lucky, we realize how absolutely preposterous it is that we are here at all, how miraculous that we can feel, that we are breathing in this very time.

and i think about my mom and dad. though perhaps generations from now – even possibly just a few – there may be no more out-loud mention of their names or their stories, but they will have been here and, for that, the world is different. i think about columbus, who, though forgetting, is still here, is still holding to life and the filmy stories he can access, his innate and unspoken courage on that path – so painful – moves us, brings us to tears, yet, inspires us. his forgetting reminds us to remember – to live.

we are all on our way to changing the world. each and every one of us, despite our differences, despite anything. it’s why we’re here. it’s ridiculously simple and ridiculously complex.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY


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the glimmer and the glint. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

the glint in his eyes was there. columbus told us about the business he was running from his memory care apartment, as steadfast as i suspect he has always been about hard work and dedication. though he was imagining that the bathroom was a library and that the lack of customers was due to the inclement weather, he remained dutifully on duty, waiting for the end of his work day with good humor. talking about his “shop” and his customers and challenges he, always humble, admitted, “i can make as good a mistake as anybody.” i took photographs of his sweet face as he talked and gestured, hands lined with age and the evidence of toil. i caught my breath more than once as he spoke and as i looked around, taking in this phase of columbus’ life. though he seemed content, dementia is a cruel robber.

my sweet poppo’s favorite saying was the quote, “be not concerned, be not surprised, if what you do is criticized. mistakes are made, we don’t deny, but they’re only made by those who try.” (unknown) with a glimmer in his eye, he was also famous for repeating (and repeating) “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” a believer in the re-do, the fix, the oh-well, the humanness, my dad never lingered in the mistake. he was also aware that he could make as good a mistake as anybody and i would bet that, given the chance, he and columbus would have been pals. these two gentlemen were raised in a certain era and times of challenge; even fifteen years or so difference would not have mattered. their humility and simple straightforward approaches run parallel, both smart and extraordinarily capable in unique ways. their commitment to family and a strong work ethic would have united them.

up in the mountains we sat at dinner and listened to my amazing daughter talk about physical therapy for a concussion she got while coaching snowboarding. she spoke of climbing and ropes and uncomfortable shoes you stuff your feet into to elicit a better grip. she and her sweet boyfriend talked about the challenges of living spaces in high elevation and adventure and camping. the one thing missing from the conversation was anything about fear. there is no fear of making a mistake, of a choice-gone-wrong. there is only fluid adjusting, correction, a different direction, a new tack. it is acknowledging, without words, that we all can make as good mistakes as the next. it is living without concern of criticism for those mistakes. it is being those who try.

were they to have been at the table with us all, in our first restaurant experience in well over a year, i imagine that columbus and my poppo would nod their heads in proud appreciation. “yes,” they would say in chorus, “that’s the way to live.”

and the glimmer and the glint would smile.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY


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humanity revealed. [merely-thought monday]

in a twist of irony, the measured-computerized female voice on our voicemail the other day admonished us, “sorry. you did not reveal yourself to be human. goodbye.” 

what??! 

the audacity!

we are sitting in the emptied living room of my in-laws as we write.  long grooves in the carpet reveal where the couch was and a few browned leaves lay in a trail of the shedding ivy that was moved yesterday.  pictures are off the wall and the mirrors have been taken down.  we sit at the counter on folding chairs from the shed out back. 

all along the top of the mantel are shot glasses, part of columbus’ collection, the rest of which are on shelving downstairs or on top of the player piano in the family room.  they read things like “green bay” or “maker’s mark” or “south dakota” or “heidelberg” or “cedar rapids, iowa” or “yosemite national park” or “krakow” or “utah shakespeare festival” or “ithaca college” or “chicago” or “estes park” or “florida” or “skagway”.  over a hundred, there are too many to list.  but they are a glimpse into a life – a human life – a timeline shared by others. 

columbus went to some of these places, not all.  but his beloved family and dear friends would bring him tiny glassware from wherever they roamed.  their story became his story in the way that sharing stories works. 

it would be a 100-act play to sit and listen to the narrative behind each of these memory shots; it would reveal times of travel and joy and yearning and the seeking of adventure.  it would traverse across miles of decades; it would travel around the globe.  it would be punctuated with laughter and sighs and maybe a few tears. 

the thing i know – it would be rich with human-ness, rich with revelation, rich with love.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY