Here’s a slightly different post this week: my awesome church let me preach another sermon this morning. What follows is the text of my remarks. See you next week with a new essay!


“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”

Many of you know that in addition to teaching just down the road at Bosque School, I write a blog. The last time I had the opportunity to stand here and speak to you, I posted my remarks.

Shortly after I put that essay online, a woman wrote to tell me that I “gave the most erroneous ‘sermon’ on one of the most beautiful gospel readings.” She implored me to stop preaching, and to pray and talk to my spiritual advisor.

I just thought you should know what you are getting into.

Seriously, I am grateful to be speaking again, and you are warned.

Today we heard an odd little story from the book of Numbers.

Moses has led the Israelites out of Egypt, but this morning, they are not grateful. They are like kids in the backseat four hours into a ten-hour road trip. They are bored and they are hungry. They are kicking the front seat and taking turns asking, “Why did we have to go on this stupid trip, anyway?”

So God, Yahweh, does what any loving parent would do: he sends poisonous snakes to bite them, and they die.

(It’s probably best to let go of that analogy about the kids in the back seat now.)

As the snakes slither through camp, though, the Israelites get it. They go back to Moses and say, “Hey, Mo, our bad. Can you do anything about the snakes?”

Yahweh steps in and tells Moses to make a snake and raise it up on a staff. If anyone else gets bitten, Yahweh explains, she can gaze at the snake on the stick and live.

Notice that Yahweh doesn’t make the snakes don’t go away. That feels like it might be important.

Let’s leave the Israelites wandering in the desert

for the moment and shift our gaze to the New Testament.

Years ago, I was talking with a friend who was wishing she had a place like St. Michael‘s in her life. She said, “I’d love to have a church like yours, but I don’t believe in God.”

“Oh,” I replied, without giving it any thought, “you don’t have to believe in God to go to church.”

That conversation kept popping into my mind as I thought about today’s readings. In his letter from prison to the Ephesians, Paul writes that “by grace you have been saved by faith” and in John’s gospel we hear that “Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found this whole believing business to be hard. I think part of why I’ve sought out faith communities my whole life has been to surround myself with believers (people like all of you), so that I can hop onto your faith and ride it like a train clear into glory. One time when my parents were visiting, I woke early and looked out the window. I saw my father sitting outside on the deck as the sun came up, praying the rosary.  Those are the moments that carry me.

If I came to church only on those days when I could say with certainty that “I believe,” and have any idea what I meant by that, I would spend many Sunday mornings at home.

I think that’s why I’m normally over there, singing with the choir. Over there, I don’t have to think about believing. When the spirit breathes through us, turns our bodies and breath into instruments, my critical mind goes silent, and I know God.

But this moment, this space, is about words.

So I’ve been trying to make sense of one of the most beloved passages in scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Think about it—that one sentence feels like it captures the whole thing: the whole New Testament, the whole mystery of faith in less than thirty words.

I’ve been imaging this scene:

Jesus is talking to God over some heavenly dinner table in the sky. He is begging his father to let him go live on earth. And you’re, you know, God. You can keep your child safe in heaven. You can save him from every scraped knee, every broken bone, and every heartache. I’d understand if God had said no.

But of course, to do that, God would also have to deny his son the full moon tilting over the Sandias, the feeling of the sun warming bare skin, that swelling thing your heart does in the presence of glorious art, or music, or poetry. That whole ability to feel embodied love.

Every parent lets him go. You cross your fingers, say a prayer, and watch your child walk out the door. You so love the world that you send your child into it, even though you know there’s a crucifix waiting on every hill.

Jesus says,

“Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already…” I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having a rough Lent. On Ash Wednesday, when those children were gunned down in their school in Parkland, I lost my footing.

I began Lent swinging from grief to anger, wobbling from cynicism into despair. Some days it’s just too hard to love the world. Some days the world (this beautiful earth, “our island home” as we’ll say when we celebrate the Eucharist) feels so old, and heavy, and tired.

In the second week of Lent, when my own school conducted a lock down drill, we drew the shades, turned off the lights, and sat on the floor in my classroom against what we euphemistically call the “safe wall.” Nineteen teenagers and I sat in complete silence for more than twenty minutes while we waited for the all clear. Every one of us was imagining what it would be like if this were real.

As the drill ended, I had to give the kids a break so I could compose myself. I had to figure out how to move out of the swirling morass of love and terror and cynicism and sadness that threatened to swallow me. I had to take a deep breath, turn on the lights, and remind myself that God so loved a world that was every bit as broken as this one.

It has been a rough Lent.

And yet, the days are growing longer, this morning there is actually a little water in the air, and today’s gospel calls us to believe. When Jesus says, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light,” I think he is reminding us that we are called to love the world. That to sink into the darkness of cynicism and despair is to be “condemned already.”

To believe in the resurrection is, I think then, to keep believing that this tired, heavy, broken and breaking planet is bathed in light and remains worthy of our love. To believe in eternal life is to believe that in the long game, the eternal game, love doesn’t just win, love has already won.

Oh—remember those Israelites we left wandering in the desert?

When Yahweh answered their prayer, he didn’t make the biting snakes go away. Instead, he gave the Israelites what they needed in order to survive them.

On this fourth Sunday of Lent, as we yearn toward Easter, as we trudge on together toward resurrection, that feels like it might be important.



How does the universe know when you are in a hurry? I’m going to assume it’s one of Newton’s rarely studied postulates called the Stress-Based Law of Increased Atmospheric Friction.

Or you could just blame it on a design flaw. That’s what I’m thinking after my alarm goes off this morning.  I’m reaching to turn it off when I knock my ipad over on the nightstand. Through the predictable physics of the ricochet (is that a thing?) my glasses fly across the dark room, and of course, since we are talking about my glasses and because it’s dark, I can’t find them. Good morning, design flaw.

I’m in a hurry because I have completely unrealistic expectations for the first sixty minutes of my day today. In order for the  thousand piece jigsaw puzzle that is my life this week to work, I need to start complete this essay and a second piece of writing that is close to being finished, but keeps refusing to give up its truth. Right now that other essay is a beautiful pile of words in search of what it’s trying to say.

Not this essay, though! This essay is going to grow like a freeze-dried seahorse from a tiny capsule into a complex, living creature in mere minutes. All I need to do is add water coffee. (Which is ready now–excuse me for a second while I go get a cup.)

This IS NOT an essay about seahorses. In fact it’s another essay about how wonderful teenagers are, but I know that you can’t tell that yet.

While we all wait for me to get to my point, here is the thing about seahorses. When I wrote that simile about my essay growing like a freeze-dried seahorse, I was thinking about Dudley Do-Right and those crazy things you’d want to order as a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons or reading the backs of cereal boxes.

Help me out, siblings or age-group friends. Does anyone else remember ordering freeze-dried seahorses by mail in the late sixties or early seventies? Pop them in water, and voila, instant seahorse?

It seems unlikely that I could be making this memory up, but when I asked Professor Google just now (and really, I’m in a hurry! Why am I googling seahorses?!) I didn’t find a link to a site for goofy seventies novelties, I found real information.

Did you know that there are twenty-five different species of seahorses? That fact is from some website I already clicked away from, and I’m in a hurry, so I can’t go back to figure out if I should trust it. I’m sorry if that information isn’t true. But really, this isn’t an essay about seahorses, so let it go, ok?

Get this. According to National Geographic, seahorses “are monogamous and mate for life.” And I know what you are thinking now. You are thinking, what can this possibly have to do with teenagers making five circle Venn diagrams?”

At least, that’s what you would be thinking if I had started writing the essay I was planning on writing this morning. That essay is about serious things like fiscal policy and Venn diagrams and compromise. I think you’ll like it.

I know we’re in a hurry; I’ll get to the Venn diagrams in a minute. But did you know that, according to Nat Geo, seahorses,  those amazing creatures that I think I remember buying freeze-dried through the mail “are among the only animal species on Earth in which the male bears the unborn young”?

“Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!”

It reminds me of the day I learned about asparagus plates.

Before I start talking about teenagers and  fiscal policy, I’d like to point out that it’s not even six a.m. (but it’s close–way too close! I’m in a huge hurry this morning!) and I’ve already written about physics, marine biology, and economics. Well, I haven’t really written about economics yet, but that’s the subtext. I’m sure a careful reader will be able to tease it out, just as they picked up on that little Shakespeare quote I just slipped in.

I thought someone should notice. A little applause maybe. (Note to self: When I’m in a hurry, I forget to edit out my arrogance.)

Since googling seahorses led me to information about a real species, I decided to google “freeze dried seahorses” instead. That search didn’t go so well. In fact, it made me sad. I learned that seahorses are ground into powder for use in Chinese medicine. I learned about an illegal shipment of seahorses that was “seized at the Beijing airport.” I skimmed through the comments at  and read this note from a seahorse breeder who said “It is a LOT harder to raise seahorses than to kill them.”

And damn if I haven’t googled myself into a perfect segway for talking about teenagers.

This fall I fumbled my way into my now-all-time favorite lesson plan. It started about six hundred crises ago when the government was on the brink of shutting down. At this point, I can’t remember why. Passing a spending bill, maybe?

I found a nifty little game online called the Fiscal Ship. I’m in a hurry, so I’ll just give you a quick overview. You choose three governing goals–things like “protect the elderly” or “fight climate change” or “rein in entitlements” from ten or eleven choices the game gives you.

Then, you play the game by implementing realistic policies to meet your goal while you simultaneously work to “reduce future debt to today’s levels.” The policies are sorted into seventeen major categories, like education, defense, social security–you get the picture. I’d give you more examples if I wasn’t in a hurry.

Each time you choose a policy, you can see the impact on the debt level. It’s a nifty game, and it worked great for teaching kids about the sort of choices that politicians make.

John Dewey said:

“…give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; …learning naturally results.”

(I’d just like to pause in my rush for a moment to point out that I’ve now added pedagogy to the list of things I’ve written about before six a.m.)

I was having so much fun seeing the students struggle with hard choices that I decided to ask them to present their results to the class. Surreptitiously, I took notes on their governing goals as they spoke.

Then, because one of the students said, “This would be so much harder if we had to get other people to agree with us,” and I had already been thinking along those lines, I matched them up with other people whose goals were radically different from their own and had them play again.

First, though, I wanted them to reach a thorough understanding of their differences. On a whim, I told them to make a Venn diagram showing the overlap between their ideas. For the record, making a five-circle Venn diagram is no small feat. None of us were even sure it was possible.

Here’s what they looked like while they were trying to figure it out (and for the record, they told me I could use these pictures).

Photo of students, not in a hurry, figuring out how to make their Venn diagram.
These students found a model online, projected it onto the board, and traced it. That was the easy part.
A project you can't hurry through; finished five-circle Venn diagrams.
Here are some of the finished products. The tiny writing indicates the policies they each chose when they played alone.

Making a five circle Venn diagram was just hard enough that it took them a really long time to figure out how to do it. By the time they had worked it out, they had a rich understanding of the differences between their goals. (If you didn’t know me, you might think I had planned it that way.)

I’m in a hurry, so I’ll jump to the punchline. Once the students had clearly identified their differences, they were able to reach agreement on shared goals easily. I was shocked; kids who had chosen “rein in entitlements” quickly found common ground with kids who had chosen “shore up social security” or “decrease inequality.”

They played the game, and I listened to them negotiate their differences. I walked around the room hearing them say things like, “We all agree on the carbon tax, so that will give us enough money to pay for pre-K education for all. Can everyone live with that?”

The point is, they made it look easy. If you want to believe there is hope for the world, ask a teenager to solve a problem.

Finally, because one of the skills we’ve been working on is developing  models, and because I was so impressed with their work, I asked them to develop a model for how to reach a compromise. Again, piece of cake for these kids.

Picture of a student model; even if you are in a hurry, you can make a compromise.
One group compared reaching a compromise to growing a flower.
No hurry; this photo shows kids working on their model.
These students created a recipe for compromise.

One group based their model on a recipe. They combined five tablespoons of ideas with a “pinch of open ears and hearts.” Another group drew a flower. That model included taking the areas you agreed on and applying them back to your shared goals. Others created simple, step-by-step flow charts.

None of them failed. Every group was able to agree on policy choices that met their shared goals and kept the deficit in check. Not only that, they kept their friendships intact, too. No one called each other names or stormed off or took their crayons and went home.

The other thing none of them did was to decide that the problem was insoluble. A good Venn diagram  “shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of different sets.” When the students played the game individually, they chose as many as thirty policies each. Showing all of the possible logical relationships between their sets was a massive undertaking.

That fact didn’t stop them. Even when they weren’t certain they could solve the entire problem, they kept doing what they could.

I’m in a hurry this morning, so I’ll leave it to you to wrap things up. There are some things we can all learn from teenagers like the ones I’m lucky enough to spend my days with.

Maybe someday they’ll even save the seahorses.

Teaching Teenagers: All the Feels

When you teach teenagers, you often come home tired. I’ve mentioned this before. Some days it’s because you’ve got more work than hours. Some days it’s because too many students are crying or because your cheeks hurt from laughing all day. Some days, you get a full cardio workout  as your heart swings back and forth through sadness and silliness.

February 7th was one of those days.

It started with the tampons.

At my school, students lead service learning groups that emerge out of their own interests. Faculty act as sponsors, but the students are where the action is. My group is called “WEL,” which stands for Women’s Empowerment League.

Earlier in the year, when the teenagers watched a video showing how hard it is for homeless women to get basic hygiene products, they decided to hold a drive.

On the morning of the seventh, two brave young women got up in front of the whole high school and explained the problem. They talked about the cost of tampons and pads and showed a clip from the video. In less than fifteen minutes, two teenagers disrupted the secrecy surrounding women’s periods.

The young women explained to the group that half the students were boys, so they called on their male peers to participate in the drive. At that point, the man who heads the high school jumped up with a box of tampons and made the first donation to cheers and applause from the student body. I stood up and let the boys know I’d have a box of pads in my classroom if they wanted to come in to practice carrying them.

Joy, pride, laughter, goofiness. It wasn’t even 8:15.

The teenager with the sad eyes stopped by later. It’s a teacher thing: sometimes a student says “Can I use your three-hole punch?” and you hear “I’m falling apart.”  When you respond to what you heard instead of what they said, the tears come. It’s 10:15.

It’s lunch-time and I’m meeting with four young women and another teacher. We are revising the harassment policy from the student handbook and writing a sexual misconduct policy. The teenagers’ insights are clear and nuanced. They balance justice and compassion.

It’s overwhelming, really, to witness their focused commitment to changing the world. It’s 12:45.

Midafternoon, the film crew arrives at my desk. Four teenagers from film class are making a movie about coffee. A few weeks ago they asked if they could interview me for their movie because they had noticed that I drink a lot of coffee.

(Years ago I read a good book about teaching called The Students Are Watching. Note to self: it’s true.)

The teenagers, ever prepared, have brought coffee cups along for props. We all laugh when they count six different cups on my desk and realize they could have skipped that step.

“When we ask if you are addicted to coffee,” the student who seems to be the director prompts me, “would you mind just zoning out and staring at the camera?”  I flub the first take, but nail it on the second. It’s 3:15 and I can’t stop laughing.

It’s Wednesday, which means my next stop is a faculty meeting. At 5:15 I’m heading toward my car in the west lot when I hear a violent commotion. It takes my brain a minute to sort out what I’m hearing. I haven’t processed the squealing tires before I hear the explosion of the crash.

My school sits just off one of the busiest roads in the city. I drive home worked up, worried that someone I love could have been in that car.

That’s the essay I started writing last week. One good day in the life of a person who teaches teenagers. All the feels.

In the nineteen days since February 7, my school has been flooded with tampons and pads. Our donation bins are overflowing and my desk is piled high. I’ve probably said the word tampon out loud more times in these few weeks than I have in the rest of my life. The teenagers taught me (and each other) that it’s ok to talk about these things.

We finished the policy drafts and delivered them to the faculty for their review. Then we took them to our student judicial committee to get their input. Not surprisingly, they said smart things.

Some other stuff happened since then, too. Some other teenagers rose above our expectations and got busy trying to change the world. These aren’t your parents’ teenagers.

Today was another teeter-totter day. At 8:15 I sat in a roomful of teenagers listening to a young woman play a bold Prokofiev violin solo. At 5:00 I met with a group of students and adults to put the final touches on our plans for next week’s HPV awareness event.

In between, we had a lockdown drill. The teenagers and I sat on the floor in a darkened class room for twenty silent minutes waiting for the all clear. When it ended, we raised the blinds and turned the lights on and blinked at each other. We tried to shake it off, but I’ll be honest, we didn’t really accomplish a lot for the rest of the period.

Life is bold and beautiful in a high school. Every day you live full out, your heart wide open. Teachers and teenagers alike: we bring what we have and we hope it will be enough.

In The Writing Lifea book Annie Dillard calls (inexplicably) “an embarrassing nonfiction narrative,” Dillard writes, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

If you spend your days teaching teenagers, you can count on getting your money’s worth.

A Teacher is the Opposite of a Gun

1. We’re less than a week out since the most recent school massacre, and I’m avoiding writing. Since last Wednesday, I’ve spent way too much time drilling deep into the comments on Facebook and reading the New York Times.

2. One bad moment looked like this: someone posted an analogy attempting to show that blaming guns for killing people was similar to blaming women for getting raped.

3. It was a ridiculously bad argument, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The man who posted it is an old colleague. He grieved, too, that night at the funeral home when a boy I loved lay in a coffin because he had an adolescent’s degree of impulse control, a breaking heart, and a gun. Continue reading “A Teacher is the Opposite of a Gun”

Martians Against the Parade

I like a good parade as much as the next person.

When I was growing up in Bethel Park, we’d stuff streamers in our handlebars and ride down Dashwood Drive on our bikes on the fourth of July.

Some years we’d build floats and parade down Donegal. In high school we spent weeks folding Kleenex into flowers to decorate floats for the homecoming parade. I like pageantry, and ritual, and ceremony.

But last week, when Fred kept saying, “Write about how my dad was a martian,” I was still digesting the idea that Trump thought it was treasonous for people not to clap for him. Continue reading “Martians Against the Parade”

Crossword Puzzles and Grandmothers

I’m working a crossword puzzle. A little help, please?

94 Across: G-Man Hoover’s middle name.

103 down: Port on Zuider Zee, occupied by Nazis.

117 down: Nazi submarine base in Belgium.

Notice anything funny about those clues? The puzzle I’m struggling with is the first crossword puzzle the New York Times ever published, dated February 15, 1942.

I was taken aback by the matter of fact references to the Nazis in the clues. In 1942, World War II was raging on. HistoryNet tells me that in February, the Japanese captured Singapore, taking 60,000 British soldiers captive. It would be three more years before the Germans surrendered.

The puzzle is part of a birthday present: “The First 75 Years of NYT Crosswords,” and I’m having fun with it. The puzzles are printed on newsprint and there’s a puzzle for every year. Mixed in among the clues are ads and stories from the paper.

Among the more interesting ads is one for “REIS Scandals,”  which seem to be men’s briefs. These aren’t your run of the mill Hanes. These scandals are “patterned and cut to conform to male anatomy.”

The ad boasts of a “Dart-stitched pouch” that “fights fatigue.” (Those italics are theirs, not mine. Oooh! A dart-stitched pouch! And for the record, I’m not touching “fights fatigue.”)

Photo of 1942 ad for REIS Scandals
1942 ad for REIS Scandals

I worked on the puzzle last night during the Super Bowl, occasionally getting help on a clue from Fred or the grandkids. (Cali came through with 54 Down: Reluctant allies of Germany). Then I woke up this morning thinking about my grandparents.

Mostly I have gaps where grandparents should be. I only ever knew one of them, my dad’s mother, Clare, whom we called Gram. The others had all died before I was born.

This morning when I woke to thoughts of my grandmother it was early. I like to get up at five,  when time feels spacious. As I sit down at my desk, my neighbors’ houses are dark, and Fred and Rusty are sound asleep down the hall. These minutes feel like bonus time, time that isn’t owned by demands of the day.

Still sleepy, I google my grandmother. Clare McCann (who became Clare O’Shea when she married Thomas John) was born on Christmas Day, 1897, and died in August, 1980, just before I started my junior year in high school.

I was up the street babysitting the LeBlonde kids when she died. I want to say there was a storm that night and the power went out, but I might be making that up. I am sure about the rainbow I saw, and that I heard the news later that evening when I got home.

For some reason I did a double take this morning when I saw that my grandmother was born in 1897. She lived through World War II without knowing how it was going to end.

Then I realized she lived through World War I in the same way. She lived both before and after there were planes in the sky and electric refrigerators in the kitchen.

In the middle of the day, working on writing a sexual misconduct policy with a group of young women, I realized my grandmother was born without the right to vote, gaining it as a young woman of twenty-three.

Oh, to have been the teenager smart enough to ask her how that felt!

When I think of my grandmother, I see her sitting at the kitchen table at my Aunt Emma’s house, talking and drinking tea. I feel like a spectator in these memories this morning. I can’t put her in motion. I can’t put us in relationship.

For the first time since I’ve started posting essays every  Monday, this week I worried that I’d hit my deadline without figuring out what I needed to say. It turns out that writing a post for this blog every week is considerably harder than writing a post whenever I feel like it.

Then I woke up this morning with my grandmother, and little memories have been seeping in all day. There’s this one: If you told Gram you liked something, she would give it to you.

I admired this sweater once, and even though it has always been too small for me, I’ve held on to it for three states and more than thirty years. I used to try to make myself give it to Goodwill, but I’m done with that now. It’s staying.

Photo of a sweater from my grandmother
The sweater my grandmother gave me

Likewise for this plate. I don’t remember why little-kid me admired my grandmother’s plate, but sure enough, it came home with me. For years while I was little it lived in my mom’s kitchen, then traveled with me to Chicago and Albuquerque.

Photo of a plate my grandmother gave me
The plate my grandmother gave me

The Home Book of Verse that stood on the bookshelves in my parents’ living room came from my grandmother, too. My dad brought it from down home to our house on Marvle Valley. That’s how my dad and his siblings talked about the house they grew up in on Arlington Avenue. The two volume collection was edited by Burton Egbert Stevenson (enjoy that for a moment) and was first published in 1912.

One time when my grandmother was in the hospital, I tried to memorize “The Charge of the Light Brigade” to recite for her. It’s on page 2,473, and I think I got most of it down. What remains today is “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward” and the deep knowledge that you can make words sound like galloping horses.

Poetry books from my Grandmothers house
The Home Book of Verse in two volumes

I was still unsure of where this essay was heading when late this afternoon, the connection came.  I saw my grandmother sitting at the kitchen table with her tea, and this time the picture zoomed in and I remembered her hands. Her knuckles were big and knobby with arthritis, and she was holding a pencil.

Next to the teacup on the table was a newspaper, folded open to the crossword puzzle. It occurs to me that my grandmother might have solved the puzzle I’m working on. She would have been forty-four in February of 1942.

She probably would have known who the famous one-eyed general was (1 across) or —

And I have to stop there. I was trying to find another clue to add to that sentence, and a funny thing happened. I stared at this puzzle for hours yesterday, and only managed to enter about ten words. In the past two or three minutes, searching for a clue that might capture some essence of my grandmother, I’ve answered at least that many again.

I’m not making that up. It’s almost as though someone who has done the puzzle before is looking over my shoulder, whispering answers in my ear.

So here’s the thing. The essay I was trying to write today wasn’t about my grandmother. I was thinking about the light again, and the fact that I’m hearing birds in the morning. I was trying to process the fact that the latest school shooting barely made the news.

I had thought I might use the crossword puzzle as some kind of metaphor to figure out how to live in times like these. I thought that if I reminded people that it feels like spring in Albuquerque, it might help someone be hopeful that better times are coming.

I couldn’t get there. But my grandmother, who lived through World War II without knowing how it was going to end, stopped by for the day. We worked a few clues together, and I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little better.


Ursula Le Guin and I Go Way Back

I never met Ursula Le Guin, but we go way back.  I was in college when I read The Left Hand of Darkness for the first time. I was fifty-one or fifty-two the last time I read it. In all the readings in between, it’s never failed to teach me something.

If you haven’t read the book, or if it’s been a while, here’s the gist of Le Guin’s story. Genly Ai, an envoy for the Ekumen (think intergalactic UN), travels to the planet Winter. Winter is a cold place where the humans are not exclusively male or female. Sometimes, when they enter “kemmer,” their sexually active phase, they develop male genitalia. Other times, they become female. In other words, the same character that gives birth to one child might father another.

Photo of Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
My well-loved copy of Left Hand of Darkness

Le Guin explains, “The fact that everyone between seventeen and thirty-five or so is liable to be…’tied down to childbearing,’ implies that no one is quite so thoroughly ‘tied down’ here as women, elsewhere, are likely to be–psychologically or physically.”

Genly’s mission is to invite the people of Winter to join the Ekumen. He isn’t there to coerce or cajole, but simply to enter into relationship. Estraven, sort of  “prime minister” to the King of Karhide, is the sole character on the planet who believes the truth about Genly and responds to it with an open heart. Genly, unfortunately, is too ensnared by his biases for most of the book to receive that friendship.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you. Instead, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned through my thirty-plus year paper friendship  with Ursula Le Guin.

In My Twenties, Ursula Le Guin Taught Me that Having Gay Friends Didn’t Mean I Wasn’t Homophobic

My twenties started in 1984.

I remember one time when I was home visiting my parents. I was in the backseat, and Rush Limbaugh was on the radio. “Why do you hate him so much?” my father had asked.

“Because I spend my days teaching kids that critical thinking matters. I tell them that being loud and sarcastic isn’t the same as making a good argument,” I replied. (Probably more snarkily than I might have now. And I wouldn’t have used the word “snark” back then.)

We probably didn’t talk much more about Rush Limbaugh on that trip. And it would be many more years before my mother would tell me that I “had the wrong opinion about everything.”

Besides, that’s not my point, and I’m cheating. That conversation belongs in my thirties, after I’d started teaching. But because listening to my mother’s favorite radio talk show wasn’t conducive to having a good visit, my dad changed the station.

Babe the Sports Animal came on next. I don’t know if Babe the Sports Animal was a Pittsburgh thing or if other people have heard of this program. I’d give you a link, but the quick search I just did led me to  a bunch of sites that pissed me off.

Anyway, we were driving down McMurray Road listening to Babe the Sports Animal talk about the Steelers. After a little while, my dad revealed that Babe was a woman, but I couldn’t believe it. I had just spent twenty minutes or so thinking I was listening to a man. Try as I might, I couldn’t put that voice back into a woman’s body.

I yanked that story into the wrong decade because that’s how Genly Ai feels on the planet Winter. He says, “Though I had been nearly two years on Winter I was still far from being able to see the people of the planet through their own eyes. I tried to, but my efforts took the form of self-consciously seeing a Gethenian first as a man, then as a woman, forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own.”

Much of Genly’s work on the planet, he’ll learn slowly, is not to change the Gethenians. Instead, he realizes, he has been sent alone so that he can be changed.

As Genly’s friendship with Estraven deepens, (at one sexually charged point Genly notes that it “might as well be called, now as later, love”), Genly finally learns to accept Estraven as he is. At the moment of his revelation Le Guin writes, “And I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man.”

Something cracked open in me when I read this book in my twenties. I realized that I’d been holding on tightly to the idea of the “other.” A few friends had come out to me in high school, and I was pleased with myself for my “acceptance.”

Le Guin taught me that my “acceptance” rested in a firmly lodged sense of difference. It was an acceptance that created a chasm, rather than bridging one.

At one point in the novel Le Guin writes that on the planet Winter, “One is respected and judged only as a human being.” Twenty year old me took that as a call to action, and it made me a better person.

In My Thirties Ursula Le Guin Taught Me That Being A Feminist Didn’t Mean I Wasn’t Biased Against Women

My thirties started in 1994.

Remember the story about Babe the Sports Animal I just told you? I don’t know if it was Babe’s particularly deep voice or my particularly deep bias that made me certain that The Sports Animal was a man.

I do know that every year (until my very most recent reading), when I read Chapter 7, “The Question of Sex: from field notes of Ong Tot  Oppong, Investigator, of the first Ekumencal landing party on Gethen…” I assumed the investigator was a man.


Le Guin knew  I was reacting that way. Why else end the chapter with this sentence: “I am a peaceful woman of Chiffewar…”?

Early on, Le Guin received criticism for some of the choices she made in the book. Despite her groundbreaking work with gender, she chose to use masculine pronouns throughout. Her descriptions of the “male” and “female” characteristics of the people of Winter stay largely true to stereotype.  The descriptions of the relationships between the characters are largely heteronormative. (I’m cheating again. I wouldn’t have had that word available to use in my thirties.)

In a 1976 essay called “Is Gender Necessary,” Le Guin defended her choices, sometimes defensively. She wrote, “The fact is that the real subject of the book is not feminism or sex or gender or anything of the sort; as far as I can see, it is a book about betrayal and fidelity.”

A copy of Ursula Le Guin essay described in the text.
The original 1976 essay published side by side with the 1988 do-over.

But then she did something remarkable. In 1988 she wrote “Redux,” in which she responded paragraph by paragraph to her former self. “This is bluster,” she says of her earlier statement. “I was feeling defensive.”

It wasn’t enough that Le Guin wrote a novel that helped me to see my own biases. Then she wrote an essay that taught me how to forgive myself for them.

In My Forties Ursula Le Guin Taught Me that “Progress is Less Important than Presence”

My forties started in 2004.

These were the years when I traveled with students to spend a week practicing Buddhism at the Bodhi Manda Zen Center in the Jemez Mountains northwest of Albuquerque.

I sat zazen, swept sidewalks, and filled birdfeeders. Ursula Le Guin said, “Compare the torrent and the glacier. They both get where they are going.”

In My Fifties Ursula Le Guin Taught Me That the Fact That I’d Loved Her Book for Decades Didn’t Mean I Knew Anything About What it Means to be a Transgender Person

My fifties started in 2014.

As the country moved toward the 2015 Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, I wondered if the book had done all the work I needed it to do. It seemed like it might be time to stop teaching it.

Then I read it again after I’d learned a little about the transgender community. I finally realized it had never been a book about overcoming homophobia. All those years I was assuming Genly was uncomfortable with his feelings for Estraven when Estraven was a man, but the text had never said that. That was my bias speaking again.

At the end of the novel when Genly is reunited with beings like himself, he is uncomfortable. “But they all looked strange to me, men and women…Their voices sounded strange: too deep, too shrill…”

He remains uneasy until he is again with a Gethenian. The young physician has “a human face.” It is “not a man’s face and not a woman’s.” Genly can relax at last, at home with a human being.

In My Sixties and Beyond, I Don’t Know What Ursula Le Guin Will Teach me.

Ursula Le Guin died last Monday at age 88.

My sixties will start, with any luck, in 2024. Tomorrow I’ll turn fifty-four. I’ve bumped up against the edge of where this story can take me for now.

I realized, though, that despite having read Left Hand of Darkness ten or twenty times, I haven’t read much of Ursula Le Guin’s other work. I always meant to. In that way, Le Guin lives on for me.

If you’ve read The Left Hand of Darkness, you know that I’ve left whole themes, maybe even the most important ones, unmentioned. The book, to me, will always be mostly a love story. But it’s also a book that questions our ideas of power, masculinity, and government.

In fact, I feel like I should leave you with one final quote. After his beloved friend skied off to meet his fate, Genly “wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of… and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry.”

Rest in peace, Ms. Le Guin. I’m confident we’ve all still got a lot to learn.





Aly Raisman Nails Another Routine

In honor of the weekend’s Women’s Marches, I thought I’d take a moment to say that Olympic gymnasts are tough.  Pound for pound, I’d put them up there with those crocodile-eating leopards that are all over my Facebook feed this week.  In fact, as my students would say, Aly Raisman is tough af.

In case you missed it, here’s what Raisman, two-time gold medal winning Olympian, had to say to Larry Nassar, the “physician” responsible for sexually abusing US Olympic gymnasts and University of Michigan crew team members for two decades.  (Let that “two decades” number sink in. I’ll get back to it in a bit.)

Looking right at the man who groomed young girls to gain their confidence so he could abuse them, Raisman said,  “Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force and you are nothing.”

Poster saying "Truth Matters" at Women's March
The number of women signing up to tell the truth at Nassar’s trial was 100 and climbing

This Larry that Aly Raisman was staring down is not only the man who spent his career assaulting young women while pretending to “treat” them. He is also the man who wrote the judge a letter explaining it was too hard on him to listen to the women’s testimony.

I heard this story Friday afternoon from my husband, who told me that the judge had laughed at Nassar’s request and told him to get over it. My first question was, “Is the judge a woman?”

“I don’t think so,” my husband said.

I don’t blame him for that. Every year I do a little writing experiment with my students. I stole this from another teacher many years ago, and it’s fascinating. Without explaining what you are doing, you give the students a list of characters defined only by their job title (doctor, lawyer, nurse, etc). You tell them the characters are waiting outside a courtroom and then have them write a short scene.

The point of the exercise is to see how students assign the sex of the characters to the different professions. In 2016, 69% of my students made the judge male. In other high-powered professions, attorneys were 79% male and physicians came in at 84%. The teachers and nurses in the story were predictably female. The teacher I stole this exercise from provided data showing that in 1987 and 1997, the judges in the story were 100% male.

That’s all just a long way of telling you that I don’t blame Fred for thinking the judge was a man. I was skeptical, of course, so I looked up the story. Sure enough,  Judge Rosemarie Aquilina is all woman. Not only that, she “became part of Michigan’s history by becoming the first female JAG Officer in the Michigan Army National Guard.”

Judge Aquilina told Nassar that “Spending four or five days listening to them [the young women he molested] is significantly minor considering the hours of pleasure you had at their expense and ruining their lives.” Judge Aquilina is tough af.

Aly Raisman nailed this one, too. She stared Nassar down and said, “You think this is hard for you? Imagine how all of us feel.”


I have to admit that I’m an Olympics junky. I watch all of it, winter and summer, every time. I watch the athletes process in. I watch them light the torch. I tear up when they stand on the podium. I’ve watched curling, canoe slalom, synchronized swimming, luge, bobsled, skeleton, and even that goofy gymnastics thing with ribbons.

Many years ago, though, watching gymnastics used to make me sad. These tiny elite athletes, it turned out, were basically starving themselves while competing at world class levels. It wasn’t enough to twirl twelve thousand  times ten feet in the air in a half-pike position and land with a half-twist and a giant smile. They had to do all of that while meeting their coach’s misogynistic idea of what a female gymnast’s body should  look like.

Eventually, though, that seemed to change. For the last few Olympics, the US women gymnasts started looking more like well-fueled athletes and less like fragile paper dolls. I thought that meant they were being treated better.

I spend my days surrounded by young men and women. I’m pretty good at knowing when to ask a student if something is bothering them. Watching the 2016 Olympics, I kept asking Fred what was wrong with the gymnasts. They were fierce au (is there a social media “au” that means “as usual”?), but the joy and laser concentration that we all fell in love with in 2012 were obviously missing.

Many years ago, a young woman at my school uttered words that changed my life. A group of students had attended a diversity conference and had come back newly empowered with language that allowed them to describe their experiences.

Their stories of being mistreated by classmates were hard to hear, but it was one young woman’s reaction to the faculty’s outrage and outpouring of compassion that changed me. “I had no idea you would help me with this,” she said.

In the courtroom on Friday, Aly Raisman called out the whole organization; she said that USA Gymnastics was “rotting from the inside” and condemned the US Olympic Committee for their silence.

Raisman said, “If over these many years, just one adult listened, and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided.”

Larry Nassar spent at least twenty years abusing the power of his position and molesting young women. Meanwhile, those young women were waiting for just one adult to do something courageous, and no one did.

Just one adult.

I know that I am not in charge of keeping the US Olympic Gymnastics team safe from pedophiles. (I point that out in case Sister Therapist happens to be reading–I do know that I can’t save or protect all of them.)

And yet. Maybe instead of blithely celebrating the gymnasts’ Olympic victory, I should have written an essay asking why they didn’t look like they were having fun.

I’m at the point in this essay where I need to decide where I’m going. If I’m to meet my new goal of publishing every Monday, it’s time to wrap this up. I’ve been circling; zigging left, zagging right. But I think I’m closing in.

Last week, Fred and I went to see The Post. I’m not much of a movie critic, but I think people should see this movie. In an age where every leader has to look around and take a poll before they decide what to do, the movie tells the story of one person (just one adult, you might say) who looked inside to find that answer.

Katharine Graham was tough af, too.

The 2016 US Olympics Gymnastic Team named themselves the “Final Five.” Let’s all act like adults to make sure they got that right.

(PS–My students taught me that “AF” thing. I’m finding it surprisingly useful.)

Singing We Shall Overcome with White People

“We Shall Overcome” is one of those songs you can’t help but respond to. It’s plaintive and powerful. One verse makes you weep while the next exhorts you to shout in defiance.

I have to admit, though, that as much as I love singing this song, it has always made me uncomfortable. Every January when MLK weekend rolls along and my mostly-white choir sings “We Shall Overcome” in my mostly-white church, a part of me feels like an impostor.

I worry that I’m indulging myself by revelling in the song without living the pain that necessitates its singing. It’s an easy way to congratulate myself–“Look how earnestly I sing for civil rights”–without actually having to change anything once the song ends.

Nevertheless, “We Shall Overcome” is one of those songs you mainline; you don’t just hear it, you feel it like a needle rush in your blood. Every year I tamp down the little voice telling me I should examine my motives.

This year, though, when I headed off to our pre-MLK choir practice on Thursday night, I had just listened to the news that the man we elected to live in the White House had called Haiti, El Salvador, and countries in Africa “shitholes” and wished we could have more immigrants from nice [white] places like Norway.

Protest march showing sign reading "Better to Light a Candle than Curse the Darkness"
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” (Martin Luther King)

I had also heard that man’s apologists explain that it wasn’t  a racist comment, it was code for supporting merit-based immigration. The irony that the second comment was as bad as the first was lost on the man making it.

After we finished singing all the other songs for Sunday, we practiced “We Shall Overcome” to sing while the congregation was gathering. We didn’t talk about the arrangement. Scott launched in on the piano, and then Bob, a tenor whose voice cuts straight through the noise of the world to the quiet of the soul, started singing the first verse. “Deep in my heart, I do believe. We shall overcome, someday.”

On Thursday nights, we practice in the front corner of the church. This time of year it’s already dark when we get there, so no light shines through the stained glass windows. The altar is bare, and most of the lights in the sanctuary are turned off.

Singing at practice is more intimate than singing on Sundays. On the second verse, Margo’s strong alto adds a quiet harmony. “We’ll walk hand in hand,” she sings. The  simple concrete floors  and wooden pews bear witness.

On the third verse the choir comes in softly, oohing while Margo and Bob remind us that “We shall live in peace someday.”

Photo of protest. "Power to the people" sign in center
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Martin Luther King)

In a May, 2015, essay titled The Surprising History of “We Shall Overcome,” The Atlantic traces the melody to a Beethoven setting of the 1792 hymn “O Sanctissima.” It credits the 1901  lyrics to “the Reverend Charles Albert Tindley, a famed black preacher in Philadelphia,” and tells the story of how the song became a staple of American folk protest music.

We aren’t thinking about that history on Thursday night. On the fourth verse, every voice in the choir comes in singing “We are not afraid.” This verse talks about the present moment–right now.  We are not afraid today, we sing; no more waiting for some nebulous someday.

In NPR’s piece on the history of “We Shall Overcome,”  Bernice Johnson-Reagon explains how the song evolved. According to NPR, she “was a preacher’s daughter and knew the song as ‘I Will Overcome.’ She recalls the change to ‘We Shall Overcome as a concession that helped bring whites and blacks closer in the civil rights struggle.” I won’t spoil it for you, but her explanation of why “I” expresses the collective will better than “we” is both funny and insightful. (Her explanation of how she accepted the changes to accommodate white people’s needs is neither funny nor surprising.)

Sheet music for We Shall Overcome.
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” (Martin Luther King)

When the instruments took over after the sixth verse, the choir dropped out. As the flute and recorder danced around each other,  I was wiping my eyes.

Then Bob came back in with a final, glorious, “We Shall Overcome,” and there was nothing for it but to all join in. Our voices rose in crescendo, filling the empty church before softening into a final “someday.”  When the last chord faded we sat in silence, a little stunned by the spirit singing through us.

The NPR piece claims that ” ‘We Shall Overcome’ is not a marching song. It is not necessarily defiant. It is a promise.”

Protest sign saying "Open your eyes, mind, heart."
“The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice…But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.” (Martin Luther King)

Thursday night, for the first time, I understood it that way. I didn’t hear myself singing “we” as a self-righteous, privileged white woman elbowing my way into an experience I haven’t lived. I heard myself singing “we” in community with other white people who need to get busy overcoming.

I heard myself making a promise.

As I left the church a brisk wind was driving the cold into my coat. I turned the seat warmer to high and cranked the heat. I started thinking about the things white people like me need to overcome if we want to keep this promise, if we want to create a more just society, if we want to move beyond “self-deception and comfortable vanity.”

When we talk about race in my classroom, I tell students about the time I stole a Wii game from Best Buy. My husband and I were buying Dance Dance Revolution for our grandkids. I picked up the game and was carrying it around reading the package (to the unsung writer who creates copy for video game packaging, know that at least one person on the planet is reading your work!).

After we checked out, we walked past security, and the alarm went off. The security guard looked at us, shrugged his shoulders, and waved us through.

When we got in the car my husband handed me the bag with the game. I was puzzled, the way you are when you go upstairs and can’t remember why you went there. I looked at the game I was holding in my hand and realized we had two of them. We had the one we had paid for and the one I’d been carrying around.

I went back into the store and told the guard I had just accidentally stolen the game and handed it to him. He looked confused, but took it from me, and I left.

I draw two conclusions from this story. First, and most obviously, the world has been taught that people who look like my husband and me (white, straight, middle-aged) aren’t thieves. It didn’t matter that the alarm was going off to tell this man that we were, indeed, stealing something. We didn’t look the part so he waved us through.

The second thing I’ve come to realize about the Best Buy story is that I’ve grown up expecting the world to be kind to me. I had no fear associated with returning the video–I would smile and laugh at my foolishness and the guard would understand and smile back and we’d all go on about our business.

When I tell teenagers my story, I’m reminded that those lessons don’t apply to everyone. Every year, my students of color tell me about the time their family was followed around a store, refused service, called names.

This telling is itself an improvement; only recently have my students been willing to share these stories with their white teachers and classmates. We’ve only begun to to admit that what we look like shapes how we live in the world.

And there is still a long way to go. It’s not uncommon for another well-meaning person to jump in to explain those experiences away, to attribute their occurrence to causes other than race. I, too, have to keep learning that the most basic form of respect is to believe what someone tells me about their own experience. I’ve realized it’s a special form of arrogance to believe that I possess more insight into someone’s life than they do.

Thursday night with “We Shall Overcome” still ringing in my ears I drove past the dark field where the cranes feed.  When I reached home, this essay was ringing in my ears. The late shows were talking about the shithole comment.

By Sunday morning there were denials, telling silences, a few tepid denunciations.  I went to church and sang “We Shall Overcome.” The congregation stood as we sang the final verse, visibly moved.

Protest sign reading "Love Still Wins"
“Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.” (Martin Luther King)

This time, I didn’t feel uncomfortable; I felt empowered.

In a sermon he preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Martin Luther King called love “the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.” In an interview with a reporter today, Donald Trump said, “I’m the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”

It’s 2018 and we’ve all got to up our game. Love has its work cut out for it.


How She Got Back on Her Bike and Why It Matters: A Bike’s Story

Hello. This is Heather’s bike. Not the big burly teal one; I’m the slick Cannondale at the bottom of the picture. Shiny. That’s what people used to say when they saw me coming. Slick. That’s another thing they used to say.

Teal and the Cannondale perched on their rack.
I’m the cute one on the bottom.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that Heather used to take me out of the garage fairly often. She wrote about the things we’d see on the trail or how she nearly broke my spokes when she tried to learn to ride with clipless pedals. She even rode me in a few sprint triathlons. I remember cruising down that hill in Rio Rancho…

Then the summer of 2o15 happened, and she quit riding me. I heard her tell people that no matter how much she stretched, her body kept getting stiffer. Then her hands and fingers swelled up, and it was just a quick hop, skip, and a jump (or a stumble, droop, and a nap) into her new life with an autoimmune disease.

As she and her rheumatologist experimented with medications, she had to dial everything back. I, her fancy new bike,

A close-up of the Cannondale Quick
That’s me again.

spent my days leaning against the wall in the garage. Even when she got settled into a good treatment plan, she didn’t want to hang out with me. I’d see her leave the house with a gym bag and come home with wet hair. I didn’t know if I’d ever get out of the garage again.

Then, one day she opened the garage door and the wind felt fresh around my tires. She walked up to me and squeezed the brakes; it was as though she was trying to see if her fingers were still working. I tried to encourage her by helping a little, but there’s only so much a bike can do.

Months passed. Everyone now and then she’d squeeze my brakes again, but I knew not to get my hopes up. It was as though she had stopped being a person who couldn’t ride a bike and become a person who wasn’t riding a bike, but she hadn’t figured that out yet.

I started keeping notes in order not to drive myself crazy from the loneliness and boredom. Sure, I had Tealy-bike to keep me company, but she wasn’t going on any rides either. What else are a couple of bikes going to talk about?

Anyway, I heard that I’m not the only one who had a rough  year in 2017, and the idea of Oprah running for president (what, you don’t think bikes follow politics?) has gotten me hopeful again, so here’s the story of how I finally made it out of the garage.

January, 2017

Yippee! She has pulled me out of the garage and into the driveway. She’s got the bike pump out. WE ARE GOING FOR A RIDE! My spokes are tingling and my gears are feeling loose.

Wait, what’s happening? OW!–something doesn’t feel right. She’s working up a sweat pumping, but the air is just whooshing around and my tires still feel all limp and saggy. I’ve been sitting on the cold garage floor for  years months. It looks like I’ve got a hernia in my back valve stem.

She half-rolls, half-drags me back into the garage and leans me against the wall. She’s just going to leave me here? When the door closes, Teal Bike feels so bad for me she doesn’t even gloat.

Worst of all, Heather looked tired and discouraged after all that pumping and I think her hands and wrists were aching. She went inside and called it a day.

March-ish, 2017

For two months, I was back to my bored self, leaning against the wall. Nothing to read, nothing to look at.

Then in March, my neglectful owner remembered that standing on the cold garage floor wasn’t good for me. One boring Saturday she lifted me gently into the car and took me to the bike doctors. They repaired my hernia, gave me new valve stems, and pumped me full of air and confidence. They also chastised Heather. They explained  that if she hung me on a bike rack instead of leaving me on the cold floor, I’d survive the winters better.

She bought the bike rack, but I still had problems. Apparently it looked like it was going to be complicated to install, so she decided to wait for her son-in-law to visit. Teal and I rolled our pedals at her, but she didn’t notice.

June, 2017

The days are long, and sunlight seeps in through the crack under the garage door. Son-in-law finally showed up, and Teal and I love our new digs! Tealy got the top bunk, which I was happy about because I don’t really like heights. I also thought that the bike on the bottom was much more likely to get ridden, and (spoiler alert!) I was right.

July, 2017

Disaster. They got home from vacation. The man she lives with takes a big dog blanket out of the car and throws it on me. Out of sight out of mind.

The Cannondale under a blanket.
Transformed from a proud bike into a poor imitation of a linen closet.

Every now and then I hear her complain to the man that the blanket he has piled on top of her bike is keeping her from riding. I’m a little skeptical, but what do I know. I’ve never been married.

October, 2017

It’s scratchy and dark under the blanket, and I’m having trouble maintaining my self-esteem. How can a light, slick, bike like me feel good about myself when I’ve been reduced to living as a shelf?

Every day when she comes into the garage I concentrate the energy in my spokes and try to communicate with her telepathically. “Move the damn blanket yourself,” I whisper.

November, 2017

The days are growing shorter again. Tealy’s joints are drying out. I hear Heather tell a friend she has given herself a deadline. She says she has “written it down” and “told her friends” which is supposed to make a resolution stick.

Rumor has it her deadline is December 31, 2017. On December 24, I watch her line the driveway with candles and imagine us riding out between them, paparazzi cheering and snapping photos as we go.

On December 31st I stay up late, not wanting to believe she’ll miss the deadline.

When I hear the fireworks at midnight, I understand why people say the holidays can be hard.

January 1, 2018

10:00 AM. The new year dawns without me noticing. I’m in a deep, dejected sleep when she appears. She rolls me out of the garage, puts some air in my tires. My tubes feel good. My valves feel good. This is it.

Then she starts rubbing her hands. She’s cold. She goes inside. Damn; I hate hope.

2:00 PM. She’s back. My gears sing when I notice she’s wearing her bike shoes and her neon yellow jacket. She tosses me in the back of the Subaru. I’m not sick, so I don’t think we’re going to the hospital.

2:05 PM. Are you kidding me? I’m lying on my back, cramped up at a funny angle in the Subaru when she notices that her helmet is missing. She blames her husband for misplacing it.

2:25 PM. She finds her helmet. I hear her say, “What is it doing on a shelf in the hot water heater closet?!”

Messy closet with bike helmet on shelf
Can you spot the bike helmet?

2:30 PM. She pulls her Subaru into  the gravel lot at the west end of the Montano Bridge. I’m so excited my pedals are spinning. She straps on her helmet, takes a swig from her water bottle, and swings her leg over my back.

2:49 PM: She’s on the Bike!

I only have a few more things to tell you. It feels so good to be out on the trail that I’m gulping in air, shifting more smoothly than I’ve ever shifted, dancing around like one of those Arabian ponies we saw practicing their moves on the ditch bank last time we were out.

I can tell she’s feeling it, too, and regretting all that time we spent apart. I know that because we ride too long. The mountains are on our right and the river is just over there through the cottonwoods. I can hear the cranes and geese and we’re even picking up speed and passing a few people. At one point, she gets brave and clicks into my pedals. We’ve never been closer.

Then a whole flock of crows gathers right above her head. She laughs and takes her hands off my handlebars and for a minute we are drafting, until the crows speed up and pull away.

Later we saw them sitting all pretty in a tree like Christmas ornaments (hey, bikes can appreciate beauty) and then something got them all excited and they started flapping and squawking. We both looked around for an eagle or a coyote, but the trail kept its secrets.

4:00 pm

Back in the parking lot, she’s tired and she leans me way down to get her leg over my back. Her hips are stiff and she’s shaking her wrists like they might be hurting, but we’re both smiling as she lifts me back into the Subaru and gives me a little pat on my seat.

So, this is Heather’s bike, and that’s my story. I heard it was a hard year outside of the garage, too. I just wanted to let you know, if you have been hanging on the wall in a cold garage for months on end, that the cranes are still making wide Vs over the river.

The planet is still swinging wide, making slow, graceful loops around the sun.  I’m here to tell you that those long months in the cold garage can end. Tealy says it’s because hope with action gets rewarded.

I’m no philosopher. I just know that when she got back on, we both remembered how to ride.