Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Broken heart

It’s now a proven fact that walking quickly on a treadmill, especially at an incline while wearing a mask, is not fun. I had a stress test this morning, as if life in times of covid isn’t already stressful enough.

While the tech was gathering “before” ultrasound images of my heart I gazed up at the ceiling wondering what a broken heart looked like. And if he’d be able to see that mine surely was.

Dad and his sister.

Seventeen years ago this morning my dad was killed, while slowed in traffic, by a semitruck driver who fell asleep at the wheel. Dad never had a chance.

So today I wonder about a lot of things. Whether our driver ever thinks about the man he killed. Whether today’s date stirs his heart like it stirs the hearts of my family. Whether he measures time in before and afters like we do.

And I think a lot about the recent sentence of the truck driver in Colorado who killed four people and injured several more in a firey crash in 2019. Colorado laws required that sentences for each of the charges he was convicted of be served consequently, and that’s why his sentence was 110 years.

Being a big brother.

Is 110 years too long? I don’t know. What is the right number of years for killing a person, intentionally or not? The Colorado driver made several bad decisions on his way to that devastating crash, the most important being him passing the truck runoff lane on his way to rear ending all those cars.

The driver that killed my dad made several bad decisions too, the most important being continuing to drive tired and not stopping at the state visitor center only 12 miles prior to the crash site. But in Georgia his bad decisions resulted in a misdemeanor and the max time he could serve in jail was 30 days. Is 30 days too short a time to pay for negligence that results in the death of someone else?

Being a dad at Christmas.

On one hand I’m sorry the Colorado driver got such a heavy sentence because it’s garnering sympathy for the driver. He says he wishes he had died instead of all those people. I thought for a moment that he felt remorse. And then he added, he wishes he had died ‘because this is no life.” His statement reflects his own fear and frustration and loss rather than any feeling of responsibility. Lost in all of the hyperbole are the injured, the dead, and their families. The real victims of this crash.

On the other hand, I am grateful that the Colorado driver got such a heavy sentence, because it’s bringing attention to these types of crashes which occur all too frequently. Time and time again I hear the same story. Someone was stopped in traffic. A truck doesn’t stop, for any number of reasons. People die horrible deaths. Truck drivers die too. Some people survive to live lives that are never the same.

Everybody involved lives in a world of before and after.

Being a dad to such a big family carries a lot of responsibility.

Earlier this week I attended a Zoom meeting with several volunteers of the Truck Safety Coalition. We’re trying to get through the holidays by leaning on each other. My heart, toughened by seventeen years of scarring, broke again as I listened to several new stories.

One young man feels lost because his fiancé was killed on her way to work a few months ago. They had a whole life planned — he was helping her get through nursing school, after which she would work and help him get through pilot school. Now he sits in their apartment stunned as he trys to come to terms of his ‘after.’

And another young person has been married only eighteen months when her husband was hit by a semi last month. He’s in an ICU now, can’t move, is on a ventilator and communicates by blinking his eyes. She had just started law school. Now she sits with him, advocating for his care in a hospital short staffed and overrun with covid. It’s not clear yet what their ‘after’ will look like.

Being appreciated by his employer.

That night our group talked a little bit about the Colorado driver and his sentence. The widow of one of the victims of that crash is new to our organization. She doesn’t want his sentence commuted. She says the people pushing for that have not sat through three weeks of testimoney. That they don’t know the whole truth.

She says that she, and all of us, were handed life sentences, too, the day that marked our own before and afters.

We used to laugh a lot. Before.

It’s a complicated issue and will take more pondering on my part before I know exactly where I stand. Meanwhile, I’ll start again repairing my battle scarred heart. No matter how many layers of patches I’ve put on it, it seems to break just as easily as it did seventeen years ago.

Thank you all for reading this far. Drive carefully. Stay safe. Protect that heart of yours and hug your families close. It’s a proven fact that broken hearts can’t ever be entirely healed.

I imagine he has an ocean view now too.


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Masked magic

Our community band has been rehearsing since September for last night’s Christmas concert. It hasn’t been easy. As librarian I sit on the board and we met numerous times, over the long months when we couldn’t play together, to access the situation.

Getting ready.

When we finally could meet again it was under the strict rules of the school system whose buildings we use. Everyone needed to be masked, even when playing our instruments. The instruments themselves had to have bell covers. And our audience had to remain masked at all times too.

Last minute instructions.

This fall we polled our members, asking whether they felt comfortable playing together under these guidelines. About 50% of the band agreed to play. I agreed too, but with trepidation. I am still uneasy being around other people in a closed space. Even if we are all masked up.

A special guest arrives.

But we all tried to be careful, and it was so good to make music again. Even if we sounded a bit ragged, given all the parts weren’t covered. Even though we only had one poor lonely percussionist, and holiday music is full of percussion!

Some rehearsals made me wonder if we’d get our stuff together in time.

We were lucky to have some high school players come in at the last moment to help us. Lots of percussionists, three clarinetists, and several others helped fill in the holes and our sound filled out.

Sleigh Ride isn’t right unless Santa conducts.

And, as is usual in community bands, when everyone shows up for the concert we show up focused, and we played so much better last night than at any one of our rehearsals.

You wouldn’t have been able to tell, because we were wearing masks, but I think every one of us was grinning by the end.

Making music is magic. We are so lucky that we were able to do that last night.

Thanks to our guest conductor, Paul!

The audience gave us a standing ovation. I don’t know if they were just anxious to leave, or glad to hear live music again after such a long break.

I think I’ll just assume they were grinning behind their masks too.


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Convergence

I want to write a post thanking all my fabulous donors who contributed to the Truck Safety Coaltion today during the Giving Tuesday campaign. That’s what I thought I’d be writing about tonight, because you were all truly amazing.

But just before 1 p.m. today, Giving Tuesday, five days after Thanksgiving, only weeks before Christmas our county became another statistic. There was a school shooting here, in a high school a couple of towns over. While we were talking about trucks and death and injury and funding, while we were congratulating each other on moving toward fundraising goals, a 15 year old was shooting classmates and a teacher.

There are three dead students so far, 8 more people injured, several are critical. A fourteen year old girl is on a ventiltor.

Oxford is a small, tight knit community. They are all in shock, as are the rest of us in this county. Just like truck crashes you never think it will happen to you or your family or your community. Until it does.

Tonight, after a full day of fundraising and an afternoon moving from disbelief and incredulity to sad acceptance, I went to my community band rehearsal — our Christmas concert is next Tuesday night. It seemed a lot to process.

The truck crash stories I’d heard today bounced around in my head, ping ponging against the sights of ambulances and medical helicopters and running students and crying parents that I’d seen on television, offset by comforting music played distractedly by folks that are parents and grandparents and high school students themselves.

So many emotions converging, it’s all a jumbled mess inside my brain. So the thank you post I planned to write will have to wait.

Tonight on my way home from rehearsal I thought about the three families who’s children didn’t come home from school today. Who will never come home again. And I thought about the families who’s children are fighting for their lives in the hospital. I thought about how the actions of one person can irreparably damage an entire community, a whole county. A family. How Christmas, and Thanksgiving too, will never be the same in Oxford.

And how Christmas music will forever bring up wells of grief for so many, just as it did in our family for so many years.

If you believe in the power of prayer, please send some this way. Because it feels like crazy has converged here, in a small town, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the holiday season.


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Practice makes perfect

Our community band headed back to rehearsal this week. Tuesday night was the first time we’ve played together since March of 2020. Though we normally start up again in September after the summer break, this year we delayed starting so that the school system could decide what the protocol for our playing in their buildings would be.

We are required to where a split mask while we play, and our instrament bells must be covered as well. It’s kind of crazy, because, at least for woodwinds, air blows out through all the keyholes too which remain uncovered.

Several people protested that playing band instruments while wearing a mask was ridiculous. I suppose it is. I’m on the board and we decided early on to send out a survey, telling our musicians what the requirements would be and asking if they would be playing this season. About 50% decided they weren’t comfortable and opted out.

I understand, I waffled myself.

But in the end, for me, the chance to play overrode lingering fear of contrating covid again. Though I have to tell you, playing while wearing a mask is not easy. Playing while wearing a mask when you haven’t played more than a handful of times in the past 18 months is really hard. Playing while wearing a mask when you haven’t played much in the past 18 months and while wearing glasses that fog up is really really hard.

We’re practicing Christmas music; our first concert will be in December, and Santa will be there, so we’re motivated. I’ll be practicing this week while wearing a mask so I can figure out how to breath without fogging up. And so I can blow for longer than one measure without getting winded.

Santa from another concert, another year, another lifetime ago.

Yep, I have a lot of work to do. But we’re playing music again, a sure sign that the world is beginning to right itself. And that makes me smile. I hope you have found reasons to smile this week too. Even if you’re wearing a mask and fogging up your glasses.

Change is hard.


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Sending cards in new directions

Since this pandemic became overwhelming, way back in March, I’ve been painting little cards and mailing them off to people.

These were birthday cards.

It started as a little project to keep me occupied, and a way to send smiles to people who were stressed or homebound or lonely or all of those things. I planned on producing and mailing one little painting a day until we were through with all this virus stuff, which would certainly be, I thought, just a few months. At most.

Sympathy, birthday and happy retirement!

I was naïve.

Christmas kept me busy.

Now many many months have passed and I’ve mailed cards to almost everyone in my address book and then some. I stopped painting every day and I didn’t have a plan for what to do next.

The foot went to someone who broke his ankle, and the rose was sent in sympathy to someone who lost a sibling.

And then I happened across a Facebook friend’s post about getting recognition for her 1000th donation of a handmade card to a nonprofit group who in turns sends them to people in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group homes. People who are stressed, homebound and lonely.

A Christmas card based on somebody’s holiday doormat. You know who you are.

The name of the group is Bring Smiles to Seniors and they have two offices, one right here in Michigan, just a few miles from where I live!

More last minute Christmas cards.

I emailed them and after a few messages back and forth I knew I had found a worthy group, people that would find good homes for my little paintings.

One of my favorites, a birthday card.

I’ve done my first group of 5 and sent those off. Now I’m working on my next group. I don’t feel pressure to paint every day, but when I feel like making a little picture I know I have a place to send it.

My first batch of 5 cards sent to make seniors smile.

I know the group is called Bring Smiles to Seniors, but it’s also making me smile. I guess that makes sense, I’m a senior too.

Christmas just kept going.

Some of you may see paintings here that look very much like paintings you’ve received from me. That’s because I’ve started doing some that I’ve done before, don’t look too closely, these might be better than the originals I sent you months ago!

Christmas was fun.

It’s true what they say. Practice does make perfect. Or, in my case, nearly perfect.

Some of these got mailed way after Christmas, but I hope people love them anyway.

There’s no real perfect in art, right? The artist always knows where something didn’t go as planned. Sometimes that makes a picture better, sometimes not so much. But either way, I hope those lonely seniors who get my next bits of art smile.

I think they will.

Moving on from the holidays now.


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Holiday smiles

Trent is still hosting the Weekly Smile, and though sometimes I don’t get moving fast enough to include my smiles in his recap, this week I wanted to make sure I shared. This week’s smile is all about music, specifically the Christmas music our community band played last night at our annual holiday concert.

Getting ready for the concert.

I love it when our concert is early enough in December to feel like it kicks off the holiday. This year it seemed perfect, just after Thanksgiving and with a few weeks until the big day.

We shared the stage again this year with a high school choir group. They add just the right touch of elegance to the music, with their formal attire and lovely soaring voices.

Look who arrived!

And of course we had a visit from Santa, who showed up right after the children in the audience came up on the stage and rang their jingle bells as we played Here Comes Santa Clause.

The little ones were in awe of the big guy in red. We kind of like him too.

Children ready to shake those bells? OK, let’s go!

And he stuck around to conduct our last piece, Sleighride, the perfect way to end a fun evening.

A perfect way to end a lovely evening.

You couldn’t count all the smiles that were in that auditorium last night. And that makes it my smile of the week.


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Let the music carry you

I’ve had a cold for the past week and been feeling pretty miserable, blowing my nose and having coughing fits during the most inopportune times. At this Tuesday’s dress rehearsal for our Community Band’s Christmas concert I had to rush out of the band room to hack my lungs out in the girls’ bathroom down the hall.

I was worried something similar would happen during our concert last night.

The program started out with a local big band group, the Stardusters, playing swing, rock and jazz. Community Band members sat in the audience enjoying their performance.

I sat out there plotting my exit just in case I needed to run. How many seats between me and the aisle? And once we were on stage, just where would I run to get as far as possible from the music before I began to cough? I imagined a disaster, the band playing a particularly quiet, delicate part of the music and me hacking, with tears running down my face as I tripped over my chair leg in a futile attempt to get backstage.

I am happy to say it didn’t happen.

Though there were moments during our performance where I felt the familiar tickle in the back of my throat I was able to control it with water. And I remembered not to breath in too deep so as not to trigger the really bad coughing.

Plus I have to say that music is magic. When you’re feeling sad or lonely or just plain crummy listen to a little music and you’re likely to feel a lot better.

And it doesn’t hurt to have Santa visit either.

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you are all healthy and happy and full of the Christmas spirit! And if you’re not quite up to par…well…go find some holiday music. It can heal what ails you.