Decennium

It was another life.

Freshly separated, sitting in an empty home.

Bitterness still had its sway at this point. It demanded my fealty to singledom, despite my loneliness. I was prone to grand proclamations against coupling in general and marriage specifically.

I was awash in loneliness. In a quiet house, half emptied of furniture and completely emptied of children, I decided I needed some companionship. Online, I joined a site that was free, being that I was broke and broken. I dug in, reaching out to women, and largely getting no replies. Or if I did, their vocabulary was rather lacking. This was not going as I had hoped.

Then a photo captured my eye. A ginger haired lady, face half wreathed in darkness, hat slightly shielding her eyes, mischievous smirk curling the lighted side of her lovely face. There was an allure that was written in nuance, born of more than physical beauty, that enraptured me. I read her profile, and I was smitten. I knew I needed to craft a message that reached her level of intelligence and frivolity. I poured over every word, nervous that the tiniest mishap would ruin the opportunity to learn more of her.

Nerves jangling, I hit send.

I’m not certain, in hind sight, how long it was before I received a response. But I did get one. I could not stop smiling as I read it. She was beyond intriguing. She was beguiling.

Two weeks of long, winding, intense, scintillating conversation ensued. Usually these words flew between us well past the witching hour. Finally, I drew up the courage to ask her to meet. I felt confident that she’d say yes, considering our steamy flirtations and deep discussions on all things. Still, the possibility of her saying no and ending this buoyant euphoria scared me.

Fortunately, you agreed.

We decided to meet in a fast food parking lot, as it was right off the highway. Such was my excitement that I kissed you through a car window. I had not planned that; looking back that seems like a strange place to recount our first kiss. But we did, and I’m not sure if my feet touched the ground on my walk back to my car so you could follow me to our date.

That date was the very best first date I’ve ever had.

That date was also ten years ago. A decade. Decennium.

In the time since, we’ve lived quite a life: raising children and step children, purchased a house, got married, changed jobs, challenging each other and rising to those challenges, traveling (with and without kids), several terrifying moments but more amazing ones, building each other up.

You have been my greatest journey. I thank you for choosing me to weave our way along life’s path. I hope that I’ve been a partner that gives you joy and wonder, as you have been for me.

The years we’ve been collaborators on our story have been a gift beyond my hopes. Let’s keep adding pages and chapters, devotionals to our love and our voyage as one.

Happy decennium, Moon of my Life. Many more await us.

Advertisements

Sky Lessons

My day began at 4 AM. Had to catch a flight to work.

We all offer up pleas for help when we get on an airplane: “Please don’t let someone be sitting next to me. Or at least let it not be someone who I can’t handle being next to on this flying metal tube for the next several hours.”

I boarded and made my way to my seat. I had hit the anti-jackpot: a mother flying solo with a toddler who couldn’t be more than fifteen months old. Internally, I groaned. Externally, I avoided eye contact and put my carry-ons in the storage above. I took my seat.

A funny thing happened then. I sent a wary look to my right, expecting the worst. The little boy was squirmy and curious, having more energy than is rightful at that hour. The mom looked understandably exhausted. The wee one looked my way, and without a hint of hesitation, held his hands out to me, toddler-speak for “pick me up.”

And so I did. The mother looked at me, and I said, “No worries, I have four kids. They’re all too old for this. I’d like to help.”

Her face shed stress in an instant. Relief flowed forth. It could have been from having a person seated next to her who understood her plight. Maybe it was the respite of a few minutes without a tiny human crawling everywhere in a space that demands stillness.

For that hour flight, we took turns holding the child as he threw magazines and stuffed animals. I dutifully picked them up, gave them back only to have them thrown again. Such is entertainment to one so small.

We landed, and I helped her get out ahead of me; she had a connecting flight that they had to make in thirty minutes. She thanked me and I said that I was happy to help, and meant it. They then made their way to their destination.

I tell you all this not for any sort of kudos. I tell you this to share what I got out of this: my renewed desire for patience. I have struggled mightily with this of late, I confess. But like the mom I helped for a small span of time on a plane, most folks are doing the best they can in the moment. I need to do the same. They need me to meet them there, with empathy and patience.

All it took was a rambunctious child sitting next to me on a plane who wanted to play to remind me. Thanks, little one. And thanks, tired mom, for allowing that message to come through.

Photo Credit: Of Gass

Making Space

A confluence of people, largely comprised of fathers, gathered near the Alamo recently. It’s a yearly custom, this gathering. The locale changes, but the goal of it does not: to be better fathers to our children.

The name of this collection of creatives and parents is Dad 2.0. They come from all manner of places: cities, rural communities, other countries. A wide array of viewpoints and opinions descend into one place, seeking out camaraderie and experiences together. Whatever someone is looking to glean from this assemblage of talent, they’re bound to find it. Whether from panels, speakers, or conversation amongst the crowd, there’s limitless perspectives and stories to find and hear.

Ordinarily, the stories are what I relish most. This year’s conference did not disappoint. Some stories elicited laughs, others brought tears. The gamut of emotions was run.

This year was special for me, though.

I was given the opportunity to moderate a panel about a topic I’m incredibly passionate about: gender and sexuality, especially as it pertains to raising children. I was even more fortunate to have a stellar panel: Amber Leventry, a non-binary parent with three kids, including twins, one of whom is transgender; Nick North, a trans male who birthed 4 kids before he transitioned and remarried a woman who had a child from a previous relationship; Jillian Zeigler, my wife and mother to a trans son and a non-binary child; and Brent Almond, a gay father with an adopted son that he parents with his husband.

An hour was simply not enough time to cover the enormous swath of territory that encompasses gender and sexuality, especially in these times where kids are able to articulate who they are at earlier and earlier ages. We made due with the time allotted and spent more time with those who had questions afterwards. It was an incredibly informative panel, and one that I’m proud to have been a part of.

This was near the end of the summit, so I had some time to contemplate that panel session, and one recurrent theme was apparent: making space.

Making space for everyone, no matter their gender identity or sexual identity. More importantly, I need to use my privilege as a straight white male to not only make space for our LGBTQ+ friends, but to maintain and broaden that space wherever possible. We all do. Inclusivity is elastic, and if you don’t stretch its boundaries, it will snap back to its original size. We must use our leverage to expand the space we all inhabit as humans so that everyone has a voice. The LGBTQ+ community is strong, but they need our help to combat the ugliness of bigotry that seeks to shrink their voices and the spaces in which they occupy.

It is incumbent upon us as allies to stand beside our LGBTQ+ brethren, and beyond that, elevate them so their voices are heard and respected. We also need to listen, REALLY listen, to what they are saying and what they need, then amplify their message.

It starts with making space. The next step is expanding that space so that they know they’re being heard and respected. The more we push, the more they will be seen as equals by those that seek to quell their demands for equality.

That’s the thing about elasticity; if given enough time and pressure outward, the elastic breaks. Then the space is truly inclusive, and permanently so.

Keep pushing.

Conspirator

Cleverness is its shield and also its sword.

It camouflages itself as reason. Overrides your better angels. Knowing your fears, it plays upon them, a crescendo that rises to an apex that is impossible to ignore. There are cracks within you, and it inveigles into them, pushes them wider. All the while tricking you into believing you’re something you’re not. Too often, you listen. It whispers to you in a tone only you hear.

Your conspirator misleads you time and time again. After it has worked its alchemy on you, it slithers back to the darkness within, waiting for another opportunity to bring its agenda to the fore. To conspire with you, unwittingly, to follow its whims. Only after the fact can you see the falsity of its claims. Its true genius, though, lies in its ability to rebirth itself again, unseen, and lure you into its trap and plunge you into its morass.

Conspirator, thy name is doubt.

Nowhere is my conspirator more active than in my role as a father, especially as my children edge closer to adulthood. My every statement, every action is subject to its blistering feedback, after which it masterfully rewrites my mental code to assign the source as logic rather than itself.

Doubt is a chameleon.

Teen age years are rife with self-exploration and self-expression. What they are not, by and large, are times where my fatherly advice is needed. The nature of adolescence is discovery, and there’s not much room for my wisdom from a pre-internet time.

That leaves me in an alien role: a parent who isn’t needed constantly. The younger the kids, the more you are needed, an essential piece of their days. Years and experience gained for them means stature lost me. It seems an odd space for me to occupy. This unfamiliarity is where the conspirator finds a foothold yet again and uses fear to bolster itself.

Since I want my kids to become good adults, I believe my thirty years’ experience as human adult qualifies me to dole out those nuggets of insight. Because my capacity as a dad previously commanded their attention, I overestimate their willingness to hear my life lessons. To their credit, they desire to make their own way, to learn as I did: trial and error. The challenge is for me to take my latent expectations out of the equation. The conspirator instigates here as well, playing on my hurt feelings about being needed less and insisting what I have to offer from “real world” experience is in fact required to be given.

Doubt is resourceful.

The truth that my conspirator doesn’t want me to grasp is that I have done an admirable job as a father. My children have been imbued with the morals my wife and I believe to be imperative for operating as a good person in the adult world. They practice these more than I realize, thanks to the deception that doubt weaves into my thoughts. While they can be abrasive and lean towards ignoring advice given to them most times, they truly are good and wonderful people. They are working through how they fit in society, just as I had (and in truth, am still doing). They care. They love. They grow. And oh, how proud I am of them.

I’ll set a watch for that conspirator. It is gifted, and will breach my defenses at times, insinuating itself into my consciousness. More than four decades of deft maneuvering makes it a formidable foe. While I may never be rid of it, perhaps it can be steered in other directions. I certainly have no shortage of insecurities it can latch on to.

Doubt is flexible, after all.

Photo credit: DrCuervo

 

 

 

 

Collision of Moments

There will be moments, even though they are well past the era of affection, when your teenagers will surprise you. Perhaps even elicit a moment of nostalgia.

It happened this weekend in the most unexpected of places.

Our youngest decided to take on basketball this year. Being an enormous fan of the sport myself, I was thrilled. He’s blessed with height; he’s taller than anyone in his class, and the tallest one on his team, despite him playing on the seventh grade team as a sixth grader. It seemed like a natural fit.

His first organized game comes. He plays well, even scores a basket. Needless to say, we’re all proud.

After the game, my wife and I waited for him to come out so we could take him home while his mother and her boyfriend were taking admissions for the next game. We all sat together during the game because we get along. We put the kids’ needs first, and it has made a world of difference.

Out comes our son. He’s smiling. His first words were “I played bad.” Ever the critical one, just like his father.

He didn’t, and we told him so. He gave me a hug, then saw Jill. He walked right up to her, and gave her kiss. Right in the middle of everyone; he wasn’t too cool to give his stepmom a kiss because he loves her.

Deja vu struck. A moment materialized in my mind when this same child, just six years prior at his Kindergarten graduation, found his stepmom and gave her a kiss in front of everyone because she didn’t get a mother’s bouquet. Just when she was feeling upset and out of place, his little heart knew it, and filled that void. It was a tender moment in a public space. Just as this one was, but it felt more like he was expressing his love and appreciation for her sharing in this important moment in his young life.

For the briefest of seconds, I was in that darkened room years before where a young boy kissed his mom when she needed it most. And then I was back, wan smile on my face. Two fleeting instances, six years apart, connected by a kiss.

It was beautiful.

Our day sped up after that, as time always does. We drove home, and life moved along.

Frozen in my mind are those two moments. Snapshots of tenderness, etched into the walls of my memory.

There will be moments, folks. Be sure to pay attention when they come.

Photo: I Am Spheric

An Unexpected Revisiting

Last night we watched the fourth episode of the series The Haunting of Hill House. It was called “The Twin Thing,” and it made me weep.

Not for the death of certain characters. It was for the portrayal of Luke’s addiction. It showed so very well the stages of addiction, the depths of it, the well of dependency you fall in. Above all it perfectly captured the despair.

In the recesses of addiction, at least for me, every moment is spent in wretchedness. You forgo the trust of loved ones to feed its greedy hunger. Over and over again, until they can no longer trust you in any fashion. Then those folks tell you plainly how angry they are at you, and rightfully so. You KNOW you’ve taken an emotional sledgehammer to that relationship, that you may have pushed it into unrecoverable territory. Yet that insidious need requires you to grab that handle and take another swing. And you do, damage and love be damned. Through disappointed and livid stares, you shatter hope.

You travel in spaces reserved for the despondent. Life’s cast offs, scrabbling for satiation in places where none can be found. This is your tribe; you share in their desolation. Your home is in the fringes, your bed is shame. Yet you push on, scheming for ways to at least take an edge off the craving, knowing it will not be the end. Moments are all you have now, moving from one to the next, praying for the pain to go away, if only for that moment.

There’s a freneticism to addition that is exhausting, but such is the power it has over you that you dare not stop. If you rest for even a second, your mind may replay all of the awfulness you’ve inflicted on others. Rarely does that correlate to the damage you’ve done to yourself; the movies your mind will play on a loop have an exclusive fixation on what your actions heaped upon your loved ones’ lives, strangers’ lives. You have no self-worth. You are worse than trash, for at least some of that can be recycled and reused. You don’t deserve any reclamation.

In the end, all you have is the high to make it go away for however brief a time. Nothing else matters. Sobriety is hell, being high is a temporary reprieve from the flames.

I did not expect a horror show like this to hit me so squarely in my past. All the feelings, all the loathing of self, all the utter despair shown on the screen in front of me wasn’t a show. It was me. No matter the fact that it has been over 25 years, it all rushed back, making me feel small and out of control. I was back in that well, scared that was where I belonged. All the years I’ve worked to restore trust, to build a better life, to be the very best man and father I can be, all of that fell away. The despair was front and center. The ugliness hit me, and I cried. A big heavy cry, the type that comes from the depths of self-imposed exile.

Jill, my anchor and the person who values me more than I do myself, turned as I started sobbing. She didn’t know that would hit me that hard either. But her caring face and thoughtful words lessened the demon’s grip, and her holding me brought me back to the life I’ve made. The life I’ve earned.

There were no trigger warnings. It just came in a rush. But when a story can capture something so dark and real that it pulls you into it, that is the sign of excellent story telling.

I never expected that the part of a horror story that would scare and affect me so profoundly would be an addict’s backstory. But let me assure you, that is the scariest thing of all; knowing that you have the capacity for harming those you love and care for, and questioning whether or not you’d be strong enough this time to battle it off if it came for you again.

Photo credit: lisado

Lines

We are the arbiters of lines. Moreover, we are the creators of them.

In nature, lines aren’t permanent; when they do appear they are jagged and fluid, ebbing and flowing with the tides of elemental whims. Mountains can be craggy or rolling, depending on their age and origin. Bodies of water expand and contract and nature adjusts to its transformations. Trees rise from the ground, but their paths to the sky are not straight nor symmetrical. Simply put the natural world is in constant flux, making static lines irrelevant. The geometry of nature is variable, even in its loose claims of solidity.

People, however, resist change. We crave stability and definitions. We abhor alterations to the world we live in. Look at all that we build. Straight lines are seen as desirable. Smooth surfaces are the mandate of manufactured things. We are soothed when we see a structure filled with right angles and flat tops to set objects on. Nature, it seems, runs afoul of our needs.

One might say we crave order. I would say we crave control.

We make lines where none are needed to satisfy our discomfort. This obsession stretches beyond nature.

Borders, arbitrary lines that denote territory, are created to imply ownership by a group of humans in a particular area. Imagined demarcations that cause people to fight over them in the hopes that victory will help them occupy more land that previously had never had ownership for the millions of years Earth’s existence. More lives have been lost over territory that people have coveted than any other cause of death with the exception of disease. All because we made lines.

It gets even more granular than that. We create boundaries between religions. Between races. Between sexuality, gender, wealth, education, and so many more lines we manufacture to cut things up a little finer to push away the fear we have.

These are societal constructs and they do a disservice to us as a species. We have more capacity for love and empathy than nearly any of our fellow inhabitants of our planet. Yet we devise ways to cordon ourselves off from one another, all for the sake of what we perceive as safety.

What is happening at the southwestern border of the United States is an example of our compulsion for lines run amok. The humans who made their way to a place that screamed opportunity from their locus of fear now despair because they’ve had their children taken from them, with little hope of them seeing them again. These people made the grave error of crossing a line in a desert in the hopes for their own safety. A border created by us. People died for that line. These travelers also committed other violations of lines of our own design: skin color, education level, wealth to name a few. These asylum seekers inspire fear in folks that steadfastly believe that these lines keep them safe, despite all of the data to the contrary. To occupants within those lines, it’s irrelevant; they’re told it’s so, and nothing is more comforting than reassurance, true or otherwise.

The trouble with boundaries is that they not only keep others out, they confine you. Physically for certain, but also mentally. If you can’t see anyone who is different than you, you cannot learn from them or understand them. You’ve imprisoned yourself in ignorance. Lined in comfort and isolation.

True empathy knows no such lines. It is boundless, and is to be given freely. But those who have constructed invisible walls due to fear and lack of control need to be enlightened of the virtue of the natural state of the universe. Caring is good and moral. Constraining any one because you are fearful of them as a result of misinformation and misplaced distrust harms us all.

We are the arbiters of lines. Moreover, we can be the erasers of them.

Fleeting Peace

It’s early. Too early for my sleep crusted eyes and cloudy mind. But duty calls: Simon, our Boston Terrier, needs to go outside. Jill fills her part of this morning routine. “The dog needs to go out,” she mumbles, her notification of Simon’s awakening and a call to action for me.

There’s nothing remarkable about this morning. Simon sniffs about the lawn, marking his territory, fierce descendant of wolves that he is. Content that his turf is dutifully claimed, we walk back to the patio and into the house where the kettle is near done warming its contents. Food gets put into the dog’s bowl, and is gone in seconds. Breakfast for Simon is not about enjoyment, it’s all about expediency.

I go about my other morning ritual, then bring both Simon (who’s afraid of stairs and refuses to go up or down them) and our coffee to our bedroom. After depositing Simon in his dog bed, I set the coffees on their respective side tables.

Jill is sleeping. I crawl back into bed, and she snuggles up to me, head on my chest, her breathing barely breaking rhythm. Light breezes come in through our open windows, flung about the room by the ceiling fan, creating the illusion of coolness. The humidity also makes its way in, the light rain outside unable to dampen its effects. We lay like this, Jill sleeping, me drifting off slightly to that blissful little place where you’re not entirely awake, but also not deep enough for dreams to take hold of you and tell you stories. I wake every so often, usually to the dog snoring as he does, snorty and loud. My arm is asleep now, and our skin is sticking to each other’s, another demonstration of humidity’s sly prowess. I’m still not fully awake, but my mind says “This is nice. Don’t move.” Strange notion for someone who is clearly uncomfortable.

The machinery inside my head comes more fully to the fore. I stay still. The sounds of the distant highway, its white noise hum, waft in the windows, too. There’s a few birds chittering and chatting. I open my eyes and look out the window. One of our large oak trees has been serving as a home for wood peckers for three years now as fewer and fewer leaves adorn its branches. A squirrel scurries up its trunk. Life is happening out there. Sometimes I forget that life isn’t just a human thing; there’s a myriad of living creatures moving in and out of our days. Our human experience has rendered these to the background for most. I only notice them when I get out of the constant thrum of thoughts and need to be active. I am a fidgeter by nature, in real life and online. Sitting still is not a skill I’ve had the ability to acquire.

I’m not alone in that. It’s challenging to be present and slow ourselves down, much less be still and take everything in. Incessant news cycles, world injustices, the lure of distraction from the awfulness that can engulf us, the desire to be right and make your points to someone who has no interest in real dialogue, the ever changing landscape of parenting teens and preteens. The bustle is so loud, the quiet doesn’t stand a chance to grab our attention.

There are moments, though, like this. Where natural elements gently remind you that there is more going on in the background, begging for your attention. Where the skin of your loved one is against yours, their trust in you absolute as they sleep in your arms. Where you don’t feel the pull of house projects and the need to be doing something.

They are rare and fleeting. For an hour this morning, I knew gratefulness and peace. I was still and mindful and it was beautiful.

Soon, the world will collapse this small cocoon of joy. The freneticism of life will demand I move, and I will meet its call. Hopefully I’ll take a second or two and recall the moment of this morning, smile, and move on to tackle the next crisis that presents itself. I’ll promise myself to slow down, and take things in. It’s a largely empty promise, as life tends to detest inactivity. But some day I will find it again, bask in it, and wonder why I don’t seek it out more.

Right now, though, I’ll milk this for all it’s worth.

Unbalanced

The balance is weird.

In the beginning, it was all tilted my way. I was needed, damn it, and the requirements of me never dwindled. I was deified – a god amongst you – assuring you of your safety. I provided laughs, love, protection, and warmth.

Then, you decided that you had a world to explore and means to make that happen. I still mattered greatly, a guardian angel of sorts while you moved awkwardly about, trying to make sure your curiosity didn’t meet your demise. There were bumps and falls to be certain, but on the whole, I was there to save the day when needed.

Through the persistent exhaustion and the time that blurred past, the scales were yet in my favor.

Then, a new phase came to the fore, a daily routine where you garnered new friends and were bequeathed knowledge to shape you and your worldview – all given to you by strangers. While I weighed more heavily than these recent additions, the time I could be your champion was relegated to mornings, evenings, and weekends.

Your peers started intruding on my importance, eroding my stature, or at least, that’s how it felt. Hugs and kisses remained part of our bed time repertoire, thankfully. Public displays of affection waned. I lamented those moments would forever be passed off to memory, remnants of erstwhile yore.

The balance is uncomfortable.

The pillars of your days moved farther and farther from me. You shared stories with friends, and then with me if you were home and it struck your fancy. Screens filled your conscious because that’s where your tribe resides. I quibbled about how much you were reliant upon those tools to maintain relationships. In reality, I was jealous of their ability to take time from me and you.

The ongoing discovery of yourself in the roiling seas of tweendom filled me with pride. That pride rode shotgun with my fear. The fear that my role in your life would lessen as others became essential. However, I maintained some status of equality on this life’s see-saw, but only just.

Now, comes the hard part. There is no scale. No balance.

A fully fledged young adult; a teenager. You rightly came into your own, and yet, you struggle to define yourself, pushing of all manner of boundaries. Some are benign. Others keep me awake at night, worried about you functioning outside the safety and comfort of our home. You argue, mock, cajole, and at times, flat out insult me. This isn’t really a fault or something to blame you for. You are finding your way and putting me on notice that you are becoming who you’ve always been. I did not realize it until now.

Honestly, it stings. This person I’ve helped grow and develop pushing for autonomy from me. Surely this can’t be? Moments flare in my memory of you struggling to walk, seeking me out when the dark was too fearful to face alone, craving comfort from the world. Those days are largely gone now.

The scales are toppled over, equilibrium jettisoned in favor of staunch opinion and individuality. An occasional hug is fleeting salvation as I slide further into ignominy. While I ingest the ache of irrelevance, I do not blame you for moving forward. I’ve raised you to become this – a person who shares their feelings and thoughts, and goes out to live them. A child on the cusp of adulthood, ready to face its challenges and rewards. I am above all proud, even if my ego cringes at your new-found strength. Ultimately this was my goal all along. I can’t help but be wistful for the time I was your hero and the one you needed when things were uncertain. But that feeling will quickly morph into happiness that you are a force to be reckoned with. You will do great things in this world, I know.

My perception of the balance is weird, but it isn’t to you, and that’s as it should be.

Photo: Abby Thompson

Grace Is Gone

Sometimes I forget grace.

It is nearly everywhere, if we take the time seek it out. For me, that has become increasingly difficult in this age of relentless desideratum. The minute-to-minute war against feeding the outrage held against those we disagree with is exhausting. The desire to watch the latest “best show ever” is ceaseless and alluring. The need to bolster awareness to social issues of import, noting the progress and obstruction they face for planning activism accordingly is also bottomless, or so it seems.

However, grace hides in plain sight, resolute and available. It never holds a grudge at our ignorance but simply bides its time knowing that eventually we will wander back, anxious for the comfort it gives. There are many forms grace can take. It’s as malleable as we need it to be, filling us when we’re empty. It can be the laugh of a child, the tender way a lover grabs your hand, or a sweet breeze during a summer rain shower. Its flexibility alone is breathtaking.

As I so often do, I had forgotten grace the past few weeks. Life had been taking a non-linear path rather than my preferred straight line, inflicting stress with its untidy turns. I sought escape from these pesky intrusions. My phone was the perfect vehicle to launch me from my reality. It took up residency in my hand more than usual, offering so many ways to release my mind from the instruments of my dissatisfaction, and I was all too willing to accept the invitation. It is filled with the false promises of relief. Rarely does one put their device down, after having explored the phalanx of apps available, and truly feel at ease. Each click and scroll leads to less satisfactory reprieves; many times these said clicks lead to further anger and anxiety – two feelings distinctly not in the realm of relaxation.

This morning I chased the improbable again, my phone playing windmills to my Don Quixote.

Several unfulfilling moments later, I put my phone down as I prepared to make the trek to work, packing a lunch and making a cup of coffee for the journey. I kissed my wife, saying our “love yous” and goodbyes, and then walked to the door. As I reached for the knob, she said, “It looks lovely out. I bet you’ll have a nice ride in.” Those words, for whatever reason, stopped me. I turned to her and flashed my most winsome smile.

“I think so,” I replied.

On my commute, I found grace. Few might see the commute a place to find much of anything, but as I wove through the countryside of Upstate NY, I was given a reset button. This time of year, after the beauty of fall foliage and facing the onset of winter, is seen as boring and monochromatic with hues of brown dominating the landscape. But looking closer, there were other colors before me too. Not like the eye-popping brilliance synonymous with fall or the verdant abundance of spring, but subtle diversity was all around. Rolling farmland of earthy beiges interrupted by the yellowed stumps that once supported corn poking up from the ground, the same soil prepping itself for winter slumber. Mountains framed the valleys the road traversed, dark green fir trees freckling the grays of the rocks and sepia trees devoid of leaves. Sunlight dappled the uppermost parts of those mountains and trees, bringing to life that which seemed dormant. Birds dotted the cerulean sky in various specks of black and gray. Here, grace was everywhere. I drank deeply with my eyes and smiled. Jillian was right: it was a nice ride in.

Once at work, I was inundated with screens again, but this time out of professional necessity. Still, I occasionally closed my eyes for a moment here and there to replay the beauty shown on my way in, and I was able to experience that grace all over again.

All of us utilize our handheld wonders to distract us from the daily stress we face. In that capacity and if used wisely, they truly are a marvel of their own. Phones and tablets are not inherently bad. Inanimate objects rarely are. But the access to unlimited options is where we can, and often do, lose ourselves in rabbit holes into which we invariably tumble. I implore you to not let them use you. Look up once in a while. See, without the lens of technology, what lay before and around you.

I know I’ll forget grace again. At least it is never far from my grasp, awaiting my return. When I remember its presence, I’ll run to its embrace and bask in the warmth and acceptance it has to give. I’ll make promises not to forget grace again, knowing it’s an empty statement at best. I also know it doesn’t care if my promises are bereft, and its arms will be open wide when I return. Grace is non-judgmental, thankfully. We should all be so forgiving.