September 11, 2001 and the small silver linings.

It was, like today, one of those early fall days that’s so beautiful you almost can’t believe it’s real.

Rob and I had had Poppy’s for just over 7 years on that day. I had been in the valley getting my car serviced when I heard, and got back just after we opened. I stopped at home and grabbed a tiny old black and white TV that we set up in the lobby. The rabbit-ears reception was unclear and fuzzy, but it matched our mood, and our slow comprehension, perfectly.

We huddled around it as the second tower succumbed.

The patio filled up with subdued tourists, and the server out there sweetly cared for them in spite of the fact that her favorite uncle worked in those towers. (She didn’t hear his fate for days, and he was ok.)

Slowly, stunned locals started wandering in, joining our lobby huddle. We sat a couple after they hugged the breath out of each of us, and we learned their names. We brought in another couple, who recognized the first. They sat together, meeting for the first time. As the day went on, that happened over and over again. Diners saw people they had seen somewhere and invited them to join. People came in small groups and were absorbed into widening circles. Humanity warmly embraced itself.

That was the day we realized what community meant. People wanted somewhere communal to go, and some of them came to us. We learned that a restaurant in a small town doesn’t just serve food.

There is a certain thought process as a young entrepreneur that you may have succeeded on your own, that you’ve actually earned what you have, that you are worthy somehow of this lucky break you’ve enjoyed. That day we understood we hadn’t done any of it alone, that without family and community, without THIS community, we wouldn’t have made it at all. It made us better, more thoughtful citizens.

I think, if we look past the hate and partisanship the news insists on showing us, we will find a lot of stories like ours. People who never smelled the smoke, felt the heat, faced down the sheer horror, lost nothing tangible, but were still moved to some small, fundamental change. Moved to embrace their neighbors. There must be millions of small silver linings.

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Relay for Life

I am lucky to have had one of those safe, happy, normal childhoods. That childhood included fun parents, amazing grandparents with great life stories, and a neighborhood that was like an extended family. I married a guy with a similar story. When I think about the people who helped craft that reality, I realize that of the ones who are gone, nearly all are gone because cancer took them.

Tonight, right now, out at the high school track there are people participating in Relay for Life. They are walking all night to raise money to fight the thing that took someone they love. It’s an amazing night, I’ve dropped by before and you feel surrounded by hope. I’m thinking of four people I love that this disease took.

I met my friend Barb on our first day of kindergarden, she lived across the street. Her dad was an architect. I think what I remember most about him is in 1980, on a drive to Steamboat, he was playing classical music in the car. I was enthralled, and he said simply “I love strings”. I do too, thanks, Will, for teaching me about them.

My grandpa was a biochemist, avid gardener, loved to polish rocks and make bolo ties out of them, and told the most incredible stories. He started life on a farm with oil lamps and an outhouse, and ended it after the first space shuttle missions. He adored every minute of the changes he witnessed. He was friends with the guy who invented nylon. He died before I was mature enough to really listen, but in spite of myself I learned a lot from him. Thanks, Harry, for passing your science-geek genes to me.

His wife, my grandma, was funny, opinionated, had full use of her vocal and verbal faculties, and did not suffer fools. She was also a professional opera singer. My mother once told me that I scare her when I’m angry because I’m exactly like her mom. She was one of those women who showed you how deep and intense her love was by trying to make you the absolute best human being you could possibly be. Scary when you’re little, but shows you who you are. I missed out on knowing her well, but I guess all I really need to do is look inside and there she is. Thanks, Dorcas, for not insisting I be named for you.

And Rob’s dad, the farmer/volunteer/veteran, the kindest soul I’ve ever met. Insight and realism, a man of gentle humor and deep commitment. He promised god that if he survived war in Korea and could just get home to marry his love, he would go to church every week, and he didn’t break that promise once. He carried rocks in his pocket so his great-grandkids would have good ones to skip on the lake. When I got sick during his last days he was more worried about me than himself. Thanks, Bob, for being you.

That’s why Relay for Life happens. One of these days, stories like this will have better endings. Hope is a powerful thing.

Equinox

Ok, I know the actual equinox is long passed, but since I tend to chew on things for too long I’m only just crystallizing these thoughts now. Sorry about two blogs in two days, but here they are.

There are two equinoxes a year. Two days when, in meteorology and astronomy, all things are equal. A cusp, a turning point. Or, at least, it could be. All things being equal…

What an amazing thing that would be, two days when all things are equal, two days that everyone has the same rights, the same amount of food, clean or dirty water, fresh or polluted air, liberty, fair justice or stolen rights. Two days a year of literal, complete equality. Two days a year of everything being averaged out and everyone seeing how the other half lives. If this false equinox were realized, what might we change? Would we stop taking clean water for granted? Would that move us to act? What if we woke up in a new place without our car, our home, our routine of latte and treadmill and job responsibility and entitlement? What if, for two days a year, it got fair?

What if your usual day starts with a dusty two-hour walk to get muddy water for your family, and you’re ten? But, for two days a year you can get sweet water from one of several taps inside a comfortable home with clean sheets on a soft bed? Imagine the motivation you would have the rest of the year to change your circumstance and the world when you know what is possible.

My idea of the true equinox, the false one, is impossible. But, like all impossible ideas, it carries merit. If each of us gives a lot up just two days a year, there is a real potential to change the world.

Think what we could do in four days.

High School Pals and Facebook…

It’s been a frustrating workday, but I got through it in part due to something I’m excited about that isn’t until Monday night.  It’s something that is taking place entirely due to the social network, something reminiscent of what happened last summer.  Something that carries for me an amusing personal coincidence.

Last winter my high school class started finding each other on Facebook. I think we probably have a little more than half the class linked up, as well as a lot of others from nearby years. It’s been great, even though I feel like Tim is still sitting behind me pulling my hair in Dr. Hawkins’ class. Some of us got together for lunch a couple of times last summer. It has been surprisingly fun to find out what everyone is doing and where they are, to reconnect, to laugh, to find out about kids and goats (yes, goats) and jobs and new countries, to realize that we are still friends. And begin to become real friends. Most of us were born in 1966.

I have a friend in Estes Park who found an old friend of hers through Facebook who lives in Houston. They haven’t seen each other since they were wearing high school graduation robes, in 1966. They are forging the same re-connection with their classmates that my class is. Through comments and postings and private messages and sheer charm, Houston has made a slew of new friends here in Estes. So many, in fact, that he and his wife are coming for a visit this weekend. We’re all having dinner together Monday at Mama’s and we can’t wait. Houston and his better half have 7 people they’ve never seen in person eagerly awaiting their arrival.

When email and the internet started, so many of us thought it was the end of real communication and personal interaction. Clearly, it’s just the opposite. We’ll all be physically meeting for the first time on Monday, but we already know each other. What a lovely way to connect.

Connections

I’m having a hard time with this thought tonight, but I spent the day in meetings. Lots of meetings. It seems like that’s all we do these days, it’s kind of like being in college again, sitting, learning, thinking, and absorbing hour after hour, but without those amazing parties at night where you connected with your pals.

The first meeting was about social media: how to use Twitter (I still don’t fully engage with it but I’m getting closer); the realities of Facebook (kinda addicted to that one, as many of you can attest); LinkedIn (I actually thought it was a large city in Nebraska until today);  FourSquare, Gowalla, blogs. I think you four wonderful readers know how the last one is turning out.

The next meeting was with one of the papers in town. Cutting back the restaurants’ advertising (sorry, guys). Wondering whether we’re connecting effectively through that medium anymore, asking who their audience is and how we can do a better job of connecting with their readers.

The third meeting was with three of the most intelligent, amazing women I have ever met. If you want something done, or slammed into perspective, you find these three and give them a topic. We were planning an event for a nonprofit that, from a board perspective, does nothing but struggle and writhe and eat money. We wonder if it needs to continue. We wonder if it can continue. We try to write for grants but are too busy trying to figure out Quickbooks to have time to do any grant writing. We worry and fuss and meet and make insanely large personal sacrifices to keep it going. And that was really bothering me after I got back to the office tonight, until I realized something.

I realized that what this organization does is connect with children who need a deposit made in their educational fortunes. They need academic assistance, or guidance, or tutoring, but it comes down to making a connection. These kids’ futures are going to be made or broken by the connection their tutors make with them. By the connections they learn to make between Fact A and Result C. The connection between who a child is and who they will become is made in these rooms.

What I do for a living isn’t serve, or cook, or clear dishes, or sing happy birthday for the 8 millionth time, what I do for a living is connect. And whether you are a teacher, a biochemist, a politician, a plumber, an artist, or an astronaut, it’s what you do, too. It’s time we all realize that, and make our connections stronger.

Without them, we’re just alone.

It’s a Real Small Town

We have a musical friend, Birgit, who wrote a song called “Its a Real Small Town”. It is written for Estes Park, but could honor a lot of places.

For her, ‘real small’ didn’t mean ‘not a lot of people’. She meant REAL. She was talking about the reality of community and the joy of knowing nearly everyone nearby, of safety, and the value of working together toward common goals. This has been a week filled with ‘real small town’ things. Some small town things are kind of awesome.

Monday, we hosted a dinner we call ‘Party it Forward’, for Donna and Frank Shavlik. It’s an easy concept: if you’re surprised with a PiF dinner in your honor you choose the next recipient. If you’re surprised with one, it means you are an important part of what makes Estes Park tick. If you’re surprised with one, it means you are doing good things. If you’re surprised with one, it means there is someone who is amazed by your commitment to making things better. Frank and Donna were nominated by not one, but four separate recipients. Google the Shavliks. I don’t have space here to tell you who they really are, I just know them as friends and I’ve realized recently that earning their friendship is an honor.

It’s a REAL small town. We served dinner at the high school on Thursday-Saturday nights for the theater department’s only source of funds. The kids not only serve and clear dinner in the school commons, but then put on a play (creative and hilarious). The first night our Sysco sales rep Bob simply appeared to help us serve the kids because he wanted to help (he and his family live in a different town, so it really didn’t HAVE to matter to him). The next two nights, community members did the same. These kids and their great teacher are saving theater in the only way they know how, and it just might be working.

There’s more. But that’s enough for now.

The Beginning

I suppose it’s time to get started with this, and today seemed like the day.
It’s a little snowy out, so it’s beautiful along the riverwalk, and we’re getting ready to cater at the Estes Park High School’s Dinner/Theatre event. The kids work so hard, and it’s a lot of fun. Dinner starts in the high school cafeteria at 6:00 and the play is afterwards. There are still tickets available for tomorrow and Saturday nights, we’re serving Chicken Parmesan, salad, garlic bread, and Tiramisu and the kids are serving up some great entertainment, all for just $15. All the proceeds benefit the theater department!