The Final Passage: Out of time but not out of opportunity

In the late 1970s, journalist Gail Sheehy helped a lot of people understand their lives with her book “Passages.” Alas, I was not one of them. I tried to read it, but didn’t get far before setting it aside for my usual fare, a murder mystery. In those years I was more into detection than introspection.

The subtitle of Sheehy’s book is “Predictable Crises in Adult Life.” She describes those crises using the framework of decades: The Trying 20s, The Catch 30s, The Forlorn 40s, The Refreshed (or Resigned) 50s.

The Library of Congress listed “Passages” as one of the ten most influential books of modern times. But that was then. A thirtieth anniversary edition of the book was issued in 2006. In the new introduction, Sheehy (who died just last year) wrote she’d been asked to address what had changed since the book’s initial publication. 

“What hasn’t changed?” she asked rhetorically. “Passages” is steeped in the culture and mores of the ’70s. An apparently younger reviewer on the website goodreads.com declared, “I’m SO glad I didn’t grow up then. [As a woman] I’m so grateful for my ‘freedom.’”

My own adult passages did not coincide with the decades but occurred like clockwork every fourteen years with a major event in my life. At age twenty-one, I married my high school sweetheart, which he observed much later, seemed at the time “like the thing to do.” The next fourteen years included an amicable divorce, much searching and discovery.

At age thirty-five I married my soulmate, John, and settled into fourteen years of maximum productivity, a full life. When I was forty-nine, John suffered a brain stem stroke, resulting in total paralysis and catapulting us both into an era of disruption and deeper discovery. Fourteen years later, when I was sixty-three, John’s death coincided with a sense of my own maturity.

Now at seventy-seven, it’s not a personal event but a global pandemic that has ushered in what is most likely my final fourteen. I don’t know if that’s fourteen years, months, weeks, or days. Google says the number fourteen in Chinese tradition means “guaranteed death.” Well, we’re all guaranteed that. 

I do know that I’m afraid, but not of death, which Jane Goodall at age eighty-seven describes as “the next great adventure.” My fear comes with the certainty that the next fourteen years are critical for the life of our mother, Earth. She and I may be on a parallel path, and her health is already more fragile than mine. Climate crisis is not some day. Climate crisis is now. As recent months proved, our four seasons now are autumn, winter, spring, and hell. Moreover, hell is sneaking across the boundaries, invading spring and autumn. 

In the darkest of black humor columns, New Yorker writer Dennard Dayle suggests, “You’re not looking at the death of the human race. Just the death of the  human dream.” I disagree. We may be out of time, but we’re not out of opportunity. And opportunity offers passages to dreams, to hope.

We have the opportunity of choice. We each make hundreds of choices every day. Many, if not most, affect the whole of creation. When we make choices as captives of a consumer culture instead of as free children of a beloved Mother Earth, we diminish the dream. Paraphrasing theosophy writer Alice Bailey: “Let Reality govern my every thought, and Truth be the heart of my life. For so it must be for all of humanity. Please help me do ‘my part.’”

Looking for love? It may just stray into your life

“RESCUED” 

Stopped at a red light, I could easily read the all-caps word beneath the license plate holder on the car in front of me. I couldn’t make out the smaller words at the top. Intrigued, I took my foot off the brake, let my car creep forward, and read, “My favorite breed is …”

I don’t know if “rescued” is my favorite, but it is the breed of my current canine companion, Tawny. I’ve lived with a broad range of dogs over the years, some with pricey pedigrees, others who strayed into my life, their parentage varied and vague. 

Tawny’s trickster grin

Tawny is the proverbial Heinz 57 dog of many breeds and everything I never thought I wanted in a dog. For one thing, he’s a he. That perpetual lifting-of-the-leg on every piece of patio furniture and shrub — ach! Secondly, he’s a short-haired shedder, depositing clouds of golden fluff everywhere and on everyone. I keep an adhesive lint removal roller near the front door for guests who arrive wearing black and leave wearing Tawny.

Some six years ago, he showed up at my door as a tiny pup in the arms of a friend. He’d been playfully chasing her while she roller bladed in the park near me.

“I’ve already got two dogs!” she pleaded. I had but one, Daphne, an elderly black lab mix. I like to overlap my dogs — acquire a young one before the inevitable happens with the older one. I never want to be without a dog. I called the animal control officer, explaining that we’d found this puppy in the park — in case anybody called looking for him.

“Nobody’s gonna call,” he responded. Yeah, I already knew that.

I chose Tawny’s name based on the color of his fur. I imagined him growing up to be an elegant, dignified dog — there was a hint of golden retriever in his appearance. I should have named him “Coyote,” based on the trickster character of Native American mythology. His wide grin reveals his penchant for playful pranks.

At about age four, he began to bully Daphne, whom he’d all along acknowledged as alpha dog. As the bullying became rougher, I decided to find Tawny a new home. I was reminded, as I filled out the four-page application to turn him over to the Humane Society, what a smart dog he is. He would surely be a good companion for someone. The application process was interrupted because Daphne required immediate attention. She had a sore and swollen paw that turned out to be an operable cancer. After it was removed, Tawny returned to normal behavior. I like to think that he was not bullying Daphne, but the cancer.

Daphne’s eventual, inevitable demise was quick. A sympathetic vet ushered her painlessly out of this life last May, just short of her thirteenth birthday. Tawny mourned with me, for a while less frisky and playful. But we worked — both of us — to establish a new, even more loving relationship. 

I’m not looking for an “overlap” dog, not yet. But I am pondering a basic question: when a dog strays into my life, which one of us is “Rescued”?

What’s Real? The Stories We Tell Ourselves

While I was waiting to get my Pfizer booster vaccine, a thirtyish woman and and her male companion entered the small pharmacy. They were first-timers, there for the single-shot Johnson vaccine.

We briefly chatted in the waiting area until the pharmacist appeared, motioning me to the curtained alcove where the shots are dispensed. He was efficient and quick. I felt only the slightest prick in my left arm.

As I settled back in my chair for the recommended post-shot wait, the woman began to murmur how worried she was about getting the shot, how needles terrified her.

“I could pinch your arm and it would hurt more than that shot did,” I tried to assure her. To no effect. She claimed she was about to have a panic attack because of her dread of needles. I suggested that she go outside, remove her mask and take some deep breaths. She agreed, and I watched through the door as she stood on the sidewalk, gasping. Within seconds she returned, although now nearly hysterical.

Soon it was her turn behind the curtain. I was astonished to hear the pharmacist say, “Oh, what’s your tattoo?”

“A butterfly,” she answered. Moments later, she emerged, glaring at me.

“That was WAY worse than a pinch!” she complained.

She returned to her chair, and I scooted over next to her.

“I’m sorry if I’m being nosy, but I heard the pharmacist say you had a tattoo. How did you manage that?”

“I was drunk.” Made sense.

“It was a bet,” she continued. 

“Did you win or lose?”

“I won,” she said. She started to explain when the pharmacist showed up with her proof-of-vaccination card. She asked where she could get the card laminated. The pharmacist replied that it wasn’t a good idea to laminate the card because he wouldn’t be able to write on it if she needed a booster shot.

“I’M NOT GETTIN’ NO BOOSTER SHOT!” she shouted as she grabbed the card and headed out the door. “I wouldn’t have got THIS shot except for [insert profanity] Inslee …” That would be Gov. Jay Inslee and his vaccine mandate. Her words trailed off as the door swung shut.

She got me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. We might tell ourselves we’re deathly afraid of something and then find a way to anesthetize our way around that fear. Or we might tell ourselves that we’re victims, helplessly pitted against someone or something more powerful. I wonder if this woman’s story would include intense pain in her arm and side effects from the vaccine so severe that she wouldn’t be able to work the next day. It’s all the [insert profanity] governor’s fault.

Reality is subjective — subject to the stories we tell ourselves. You know the cliche? “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!” Yet whenever I’m feeling unreasonably angry or unreasonably dejected or just plain unreasonable, most likely the fix is not “out there,” but in my own head. The story I’m telling myself could use a rewrite.

Just a pinch?

Odometer Lessons

99,999. When I spotted the numbers on my car’s odometer, I pulled off the highway onto a rural road. I wanted to be out of traffic so I could celebrate 100,000 by honking the horn, a family tradition.

When I was growing up, my family never had new cars. High mileage — not miles per gallon but miles travelled — was the norm. Whenever the odometer was about to line up the zeroes, the driver would alert all aboard. We’d wait in hushed excitement. Time itself slowed as the odometer rolled out a perfect symmetry of ovals. The horn would honk and onward we’d travel, a milestone reached with jubilation and relief that the old sedan had managed to transport us across yet another ten thousand miles. 

I was a teen by the time my parents managed to achieve the status of actually having two cars — both used, of course — in their two-car garage. My mother wryly explained that we needed a car that started so we could push the one that didn’t. It was sometimes tricky to tell which was which.

My current vehicle — the one that just turned 100,000 — had fewer than thirty miles on the odometer when I bought it ten years ago. It’s a 2009 model, a special order that sat unclaimed on the dealer’s lot for two years. The original buyer apparently suffered an economic setback and forfeited their deposit. It still had the new-car warranty when a neighbor tipped me off that it was there.

“You’re the only person who could manage to buy a two-year-old new car,” a friend observed.

Those 100,000 miles are only a portion of my travels over the past decade. For three years I also owned a camper van in which my dogs and I crossed multiple states, West to East, North to South. What adventures we had! But like many RV owners, I ultimately decided maintaining the van was more burden than blessing. 

Down to one vehicle now, I ceremoniously honked the horn as the zeroes rolled into place. The road was quintessentially rural: a field of corn stalks growing tall and green on one side, a wooden fence looming tall and brown on the other. The fence shielded the sight but not the smell of one of Okanogan Valley’s more odoriferous crops, cannabis.

Instead of heading back to the highway, I meandered along the backroad, no particular destination in mind. The skunky smell of marijuana gave way to the pleasant perfume of ripening apples and pears. As I drove slowly alongside orchards, I thought about another measure of travel on my dashboard — the speedometer.

A friend recently remarked how time passed so slowly when we were children but races by as we age. Just like the speedometer. Drive slower than 10 mph, and you feel like you’re barely moving. But over 70? Hey, wait! Slow the heck down! I can see 80 on the horizon. 

With aging comes the dilemma of when to give up driving. I hope to see the zeroes line up at least a few more times before I get there.

Love in the Time of Covid

If there is any saving grace to the Covid catastrophe, it is the opportunity to expand our capacity for love. I’m not talking about romantic, feeling kind of love. The love I’m talking about is an attitude.

Throughout the pandemic it’s been natural for us to care about the people who are suffering and dying. It’s been oh-so-much harder to love the people who disagree with us over Covid mandates, policies, and strategies. THEY don’t know — or refuse to believe — what WE know, and WE can’t convince THEM!

Where I live, in north central Washington state, we’ve been choking under a blanket of wildfire smoke for weeks. But those raging fires don’t hold near the heat as some people’s fury over new mask mandates and vaccination requirements — among the strictest in the nation. I have friends who are furious about having to wear masks, much less get a vaccine. I have friends who are furious at people who won’t wear masks or get vaccinated. The beauty of it all is that I have friends! It’s just that some are easier to love than others.

It doesn’t matter which side you’re on: you know what I’m saying. It might be in a Facebook post, or a phone conversation, or an email. Someone says something that pulls your trigger. You feel sick, enraged, and sad. What they just said contradicts everything you believe and know for a fact. You want to fire back: “I have it on good authority that …”

Don’t even try. As a journalist, I spent a career locating knowledgeable authorities and reporting the facts. That’s no longer sufficient. As I heard writer Skye Jethani observe on the Holy Post podcast this week, “Conspiratorial thinking is impervious to facts.”

What’s left for me is to love, to — as Fr. Richard Rohr suggests — “soften my gaze,” to try to understand where that person is coming from. Years ago, when I was just starting in the news business, I interviewed a respected government official who’d suffered a stroke and was unable to speak for an extended time. So he listened. And by listening, he told me, he made an incredible discovery: there are no stupid people.

My husband was also silenced by stroke. He’d already figured out before the stroke that there are no stupid people. He didn’t always agree with but he respected everyone who crossed his path, no matter their politics, education, race, religion, social or economic status, food or apparel choices. No stupid people but some, he would say, occasionally dislocate their brains. He had a more colorful way of describing that condition. Politicians especially, he claimed, were frequently subject to an awkward physical posture when they had their “heads up their …”

It’s a contortion that afflicts all of us at one time or another. So take another look at that person who yanked your trigger. Chances are you’ll see they’re in that dislocated brain position. Your inbred humanity kicks in, and you’ll say with love, “Gee, that’s gotta hurt. Let’s hope it’s temporary.”

July Fourth Without Fireworks

We’ve been here before. My generation well remembers the “love it or leave it” era: Vietnam, civil rights, Earth Day, marches and demonstrations versus “My country, right or wrong.” The newer version appears to be “My country is never wrong and never has been.” Blind patriotism is as old as the mythical emperor who wore no clothes. And thus we swagger and jostle our way into Independence Day, arguably the most patriotic of holidays. 

It’s a quiet Fourth where I live. Due to the imminent threat of wildfire, fireworks are illegal. Usually, sales are brisk at fireworks stands on the Colville Indian Reservation. The night of the Fourth, folks gather at the large East Omak Park on the reservation, directly across the river from my house. As dark descends, the crowd starts shooting off rockets and missiles, sparklers and fiery fountains in a disorganized spectacle of light, color, sound, bravado and glee. 

The lack of all that brings a somber if not sober atmosphere to the Fourth. We have time to reflect, starting with the Declaration of Independence, the beloved document that laid the foundation for our democracy. The document that lists “the repeated injuries and usurpations” committed by the King of Great Britain, including that he “has endeavoured to bring [up]on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages …” 

“Savages” like the Iroquois, whose advanced system of government inspired Benjamin Franklin and other founders? “Savages” like the indigenous bands where I live who for thousands of years mastered the art of wildfire to maintain healthy forests and grasslands? “Savages” whose descendants are now wisely saying, we catch you shooting off even one firecracker and it’ll cost you five thousand bucks. 

The Declaration was written by a brilliant but not perfect man who owned slaves and left a legacy of unacknowledged Black descendants. I recall a Fourth of July decades ago when my late husband was drafted to read the Declaration at a community picnic. John was uncomfortable with the “Savages” line but recognized that it reflected the imperfect views of the time.

I’ve been thinking about how my love for John is something like my love for our country, or at least the ideals of our country. He was an imperfect man with high ideals, married to an imperfect woman. We were well aware of each other’s imperfections, occasionally made note of them, usually in an objective or even humorous manner. Embracing imperfections tightens the bonds of love. When John became gravely disabled, I did everything I could to care for him, to help him heal.

Many see our country as gravely disabled, our democracy at risk, in need of healing. All the more reason for caring, not for some abstract ideal or political “ism,” but for each other. All the more reason for acknowledging past imperfections and the resulting wounds that fester. All the more reason to shine a light on our imperfections, on our wounds, in search of healing and truth.

“America! America! God mend thine every flaw,

“confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”*

*Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929)

The Road Back Goes Only One Way: Forward

There’s nothing like being stuck in traffic to allow time to think through your life. At age seventy-seven, I have plenty to think through. And inching along with traffic in the Seattle area gave me plenty of time. Seattle traffic ranks only the fourteenth worst in the nation (Boston is first). Still, INRIX, a transportation data firm, claims traffic slowdowns cost every man, woman, and child in Seattle seventy-four hours per year. 

Even though I loved living and working in the Seattle area for many years, I’m now a confirmed eastern Washingtonian, thoroughly adapted to rural roads where we slow down because we WANT to. Or because there’s a cow on the road. 

A quiet moment between RVs on the North Cascade Highway

But it was time to emerge from my Covid cocoon. I’d probably still be sequestered had I not been invited to speak at a memorial celebration for a friend in Bellingham. That  required driving over one of the nation’s most scenic mountain routes, the North Cascades Highway. I first chugged along that route in 1974 in a Volkswagen bug. It was the day before the highway, which is closed in winter, was to open for the summer. As a young reporter, I’d wrangled a pass from a highway department official, who drove behind me in his state truck. 

Just imagine cruising along that glorious road with increasingly spectacular mountain crests emerging behind every curve! I didn’t have to pull over to take photos. I’d just stop in the middle of the highway, get out of the car, and start shooting. I’ve driven the North Cascades many times since, but memories of that first trip stay with me. Especially when I’m following a string of view-blocking mega RVs. Or when the scenic pull-outs are so jammed with vehicles and people, you can’t find a place to park. So it was that Friday before Father’s Day, when hundreds, no, thousands of folks were breaking loose the bonds of Covid isolation.

From Bellingham, I decided to continue south to visit friends and family who live at various places along Washington’s Interstate-5 corridor. It seemed as if every milepost held a memory: places I’d visited long ago, events I’d covered, people I knew who no longer are in my life. It was all so familiar, yet everything, everything was different. Small towns have grown into urban centers, city limits bumping into each other. 

Even the freeway is different — more lanes, alternative routes, expressways. A digital sign told me I could take the express lane and pay seventy-five cents to get somewhere (nowhere?) two minutes faster. Now there’s a sign for our times.

None of this was surprising. It’s just a jolt when we’re remembering how things were and confronting how things are. That familiar longing for how things used to be and can’t ever be again. It’s apparent that post-Covid, life will never again be as it was. There’s no return to whatever we think was “normal.”

My father had a wise response when people longed for “the good old days.” 

“Yeah,” he’d chuckle. “Formerly  known as ‘these trying times.’”

After the Fall

“She’s aging gracefully,” said the vet, having examined my soon-to-be 13-year-old black lab, Daphne. That makes one of us, I said to myself. 

Daphne’s heart, lungs, and other vitals were good. But that morning, she’d not been able to put weight on her left rear leg. Diagnosis: She’d pulled a muscle, apparently in a fall. That makes two of us. Together we limped out of the vet’s office, armed with medicines to combat Daphne’s pain and arthritis.

It is generally believed that emergence of our ancestor, homo Erectus, some two million years ago was a sign of evolutionary progress. We had climbed out of trees and no longer walked on all fours. After watching Daphne quickly heal and return to using all four legs, I’m not so sure. Are we human beings really better off with only two feet anchoring us — especially those of us convicted under the law of gravity? In other words, the fallen.

I do not mean to make light of the issue of falling. The National Council on Aging reports that one in four Americans sixty-five years and older fall each year. “Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions for older adults,” says the Council’s website.

My late mother, when in her 90s, leaned down to pick something off the floor, fell, and broke her neck. She ended up with one of those horrible metal halos screwed into her skull. Miraculously, neither the fall nor halo killed her. She eventually succumbed to cancer.

Unlike Mother, I didn’t break anything in my most recent fall. I consider myself fortunate, though bruised from toe to chin, with various injuries including a torn meniscus in my right knee. That was six weeks ago. Under the care of a physical therapist, I’m finally bruise- and pain-free, slowly regaining flexion in the knee. In another week or two I expect I’ll no longer walk like Chester, the long-ago sidekick in the TV show, “Gunsmoke.” Actor Dennis Weaver, who played Chester, invented the limp to make his character unique. He reportedly later regretted the decision, because it wasn’t easy limping week after week. No kidding.

The humiliating part of my fall was that it was my second crash-and-burn inside a month. Both involved dear Daphne, but both are the fault of my failure to simply pay attention. Christmas Day I stepped away from my computer, thinking I was stepping onto the floor. I was really stepping onto Daphne, who I hadn’t noticed was stretched out beside me. After I landed on my back, I lay there for a minute, catching my breath. I realized that my Christmas miracle was that I could get back up again.

I wasn’t so lucky the second time, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was blessedly sunny. Daphne, my other dog Tawny, and I were enjoying a walk at a brisk pace. I was reveling in my good health and mobility at age seventy-six. What’s that old saying about “Pride goeth before a …” CUH-RASH! Distracted, I’d gotten tangled in their leashes and landed on unforgiving asphalt.  I was two blocks from home, pretty sure I hadn’t broken anything, but unable to get up. Not by myself.

Two people — a man and a woman I didn’t know — had been chatting nearby and came over to help. Turned out they were in the middle of moving the woman out of her apartment because  — get this — she was being evicted. They clearly had bigger problems and more important things to do than help me. They insisted on bundling me into their aged van along with my dogs, driving me home, and helping me into the house. When total strangers care for you like that, it’s a taste of heaven.

Despite the frequency of falls, they “are not a normal part of aging,” says the Council on Aging website. In other words, they’re not inevitable. After I get my injuries sorted out, my physical therapist and I will be working on balance techniques. I’m also exploring evidence-based fall prevention programs recommended by the Council.  This is tricky in the era of Covid. Many of these programs are taught in group settings, thus aren’t available right now. Some, however, have moved online, including SAIL (Stay Active and Independent for Life), which offers both real-time Zoom classes and any-time videos. (Check out the “Resources” menu.)

SAIL originated in my state of Washington with studies in 2003 and the development of classes in 2006. It’s now nationwide. The name came about when researchers learned seniors were disinterested in fall-prevention exercise programs but more responsive to the message of “staying active and independent.” Yeah, well, that too. 

I just want to stop falling. It hurts.

The Vaccine

injection-40696_1280Growing up, I’d occasionally hear adults sigh, “Them that has, gets” — a folksy if rueful translation of the maxim, “The rich get richer.” Amidst the current COVID vaccine chaos, a new version might be: “Them that can get, don’t want, and them that want, can’t get.”

As of this writing, fewer than 5 percent of American adults have received the vaccine. I’m surprised and grateful to be among them.  As I was rolling up my sleeve, the individual holding the needle acknowledged not getting the shot personally, adding, “I probably will,” with emphasis on “probably.”

I qualified not because of my age (76), but as a volunteer with the Okanogan Community Homeless Shelters. Other folks in my age group — from Sequim, Washington, to Orlando, Florida — have waited futilely in long lines, some even camping overnight in their cars, desperate to be vaccinated.

At the same time there are folks with “vaccine hesitancy.” It’s a national phenomenon, especially among many front-line health care workers whose responses range from “maybe later” to downright “no.” A hospital in New York reported that only three of nineteen full-time staff members in the respiratory therapy department agreed to get vaccinated. These are the folks who are at great personal risk as they intubate critically ill coronavirus patients.

Reportedly, some employers are offering bonuses, gift cards, and other lures to entice workers to get vaccinated. Other employers are threatening: get shot or get fired. My own Patrick Henry stance is that I’ll fight for other people’s right not to be injected, but I didn’t hesitate. I rolled up my sleeve for the same reason I get a flu shot every winter, for the same reason I wear a mask when around others. It’s really not about me. It’s about living in a community. The healthier each one of us is, the healthier we all are.

The release form I signed before getting the shot was enough to give anyone pause. A six-page fact sheet emphasized the vaccine was “unapproved” and only “may” prevent COVID-19. In lawyerly fashion, it went on to explain the FDA has authorized “emergency use.” It boils down to: don’t even think about suing us.

“The Plague Year,” a long article in New Yorker magazine, is more reassuring, detailing how the vaccines’ development hasn’t been a hurry-up, slap-dash process, but the result of decades of scientific anticipation and research. I had no side effects from that first shot.

Because of COVID and my age, I’d limited my involvement at the homeless shelter this winter to making and delivering two suppers a week. My second shot is scheduled for ten days from now. Then I’ll feel comfortable going back to spending time face-to-face, that is, mask-to-mask with guests. Yes, I’ll continue to wear a mask. Shelter volunteers spend an hour in conversation with guests to establish they are clean (of drugs) and sober, as the shelter requires.

I’ve missed those conversations; it really is about all of us being together again.

A Moving Experience

A friend in her early nineties is moving into an assisted living apartment this week. Nothing unusual about that, except: unlike most of us, in her long life she has never before moved. When she was born, her parents brought her home from the hospital, and she never left. She continued to live in her parental abode after her siblings moved away and her parents died.

It’s not that she’s a shrinking violet. Creative and talented, she had a good career, is loved by friends and families, still socially active. But this business of never moving makes her exceptional. The U.S Census Bureau says the average American moves eleven times in their life. Every year, 14 percent of the population is on the move.

We move because we get a better job, we want a nicer apartment, we need a larger house — and then after a few decades, a smaller one. With each move, we’re anticipating something better. Despite the upheaval, we’re excited and happy. Until that last move, the one that says we can’t live independently any longer. You’d think my friend would be devastated, leaving the only home she’s ever known. But she’s approaching it with her characteristic combination of practicality and grace.

Just think of the moving adventures she has missed all these years: the scrounging for cardboard boxes in which to stuff your stuff, the trauma of deciding what stuff to go and what stuff to throw, the renting of the U-Haul, the drafting of friends to tote that carton, lift that sofa!

I’m above average, having moved fourteen times. Most of my moves have involved an extra element of adventure: a quarter-ton behemoth, my piano. Anyone who’s ever owned a piano has piano-moving horror stories. My worst experience involved a lovely man, with whom I was romantically involved, and three other fellows who hadn’t been able to come up with credible excuses when asked to help.

The four were jockeying the piano through the front door, my guy in the lead, when somehow they knocked the storm door window loose. It fell onto the head of my beloved, shattered, and rested on his shoulders, jagged pieces of glass pointing at his jugular and other vulnerable areas of his neck.

“Don’t move,” whispered one of the men.

“I don’t intend to,” answered my beau, barely moving even his lips.

I was inside the house. The piano, halfway in and halfway out, blocked the doorway. I flew through the living room, dining room, kitchen, out the back door, around the outside to the front porch, where my sweetheart and his buddies were standing, frozen statues. Gingerly, ever so slowly, I lifted the broken window from around his neck. The men set the piano down, and we proceeded to pick glass shards from his clothing.

He was good-natured about it, but it was the beginning of the end. I heard later that he eventually got married, undoubtedly to a woman who did NOT own a piano. I no longer own one either. I make do with a professional-level keyboard. If there’s a fifteenth move in my future, I’ll pack the keyboard –– all fifty-two pounds, eight ounces of it –– into its case and simply roll it away.

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