Category Archives: perfect little miracles

the deluge

[Blogger’s Note: This is part of an on-going series I’ve titled “perfect little miracles,” a series of posts about moments that have inspired, reassured, or comforted me.]

As many of my readers have likely noticed from my posts, I currently live in Colorado.  Boulder County, Colorado, to be precise.  And, as you might have seen on your national (and international, from what I hear) news, we were hit this past week with a massive flash flood, of the magnitude that occurs only roughly every 100 years.

When you live on the prairie (or “flatlands” as we call it here) at the foot of one of the world’s largest mountain ranges, the threat of a flash flood is always present, but not usually in a tangible way.  It is, rather, like when I was growing up in DC before the end of the Cold War and we’d have “nuclear drills” meant to prepare us for being vaporized should the Russians actually decide to annihilate the world by initiating a nuclear attack.  The threat of that attack — like that of a flash flood pouring down from the canyons — seemed remote and almost illogical.

But last week the remote became the real.  The rain started on Tuesday, September 10th, falling hard and steady on the foothills and the valleys at their base, without a break, as a weather front settled in against the mountains.  Short bursts of rain are not uncommon here (although September tends to be one of the driest months of the year), but this storm hadn’t gotten that memo, and instead of moving quickly off to the American heartland, she kept turning back onto herself and drenching the foothills.  Days of continuous, pouring rain swelled gutters and curbs, portending what was to come. Small creeks and streams, running low after many years of mostly drought, quickly filled and spilled their banks as the clay soil, hard as concrete due to those same droughts, refused to absorb the runoff.  As stream led into stream and creek into creek, they all dumped into the small rivers that meander down our mountains most of the year and gracefully open up in the valleys beneath.  Those small rivers — the South Platte, Boulder Creek, the St. Vrain, the Little Thompson, and the Big Thompson — soon became rushing walls of water that crashed into anything in their way.

On Thursday morning, James and I had a meeting with our lawyer in downtown Boulder, roughly 3 blocks from where Boulder Creek splashes into the valley after winding down the canyon.  On that morning, flood sirens, tested weekly in the summer and mostly ignored by residents, began sounding, and the young women from the lawyers office rushed down to the creekside just before the wall of water hit the town and the officials began the first of many evacuations.  When I left the attorney’s office and made my way further out the flatlands toward our home, I saw that the St. Vrain river had already spilled its banks and was threatening the highway, and when I pulled into my neighborhood, I saw that the small creek running through it had begun flooding neighborhood streets.  The force of that creek was certainly shocking — merely a week before, our 8-pound mini-dachshund had crossed it unassisted.  Even so, at this point, the floods were hardly more than a curiosity, as no property had yet been destroyed or lives endangered.

IMG_2768

Street in our neighborhood, flooded and with a stranded mini-van.

Bridge over a small creek, over-run by the flood waters.

Bridge over a small creek, over-run by the flood waters.

But that didn’t last, of course.

By Thursday night, September 11th, homes were flooding across the county, and the destructive power of water was on full display.  Whole towns were wiped out as the rivers that ran through them carried off homes, cars, and anything else in their path.  People in the canyons were hit especially hard in those early hours, as the floods raged without warning and residents scrambled up mountainsides, seeking ground high enough to avoid the onslaught.  Stories have emerged since of parents, clawing desperately through thick mud to free their children buried by the raging waters that reduced their homes to detritus carried off down the river and slammed into structures further downstream.

For days the rain continued, and we watched the waters steadily rise.  For those still with power, social media allowed people to connect and determine who had escaped the waters and who had not.  The Denver news stations streamed coverage constantly, but no aerial shots were available until late Sunday, when the clouds lifted enough to allow helicopters to take to the air.   Blackhawk helicopters provided by the National Guard immediately took flight and conducted two days of search and rescue, plucking people and their pets from rooftops and cliff faces.

The water in our area crested on Saturday, before it pushed past us and sped toward Eastern Colorado and, eventually, Nebraska.  But even once the rain stopped, the devastation didn’t.  Mudslides brought down roads — whole towns were cut off from help — and receding waters deposited thick and filthy mud in basements and streets across the county.  Neighbors a block away from us were using snow shovels to move mountains of mud from their basements and garages.

Our neighborhood park, hours before the waters crested.

Our neighborhood park, hours before the waters crested.

Stairs leading to the creekside pedestrian path, a few hours before the waters' peak.

Stairs leading to the creekside pedestrian path, a few hours before the waters’ peak.

Our local bike path, after being destroyed by the flood.

Our local bike path, after being destroyed by the flood.

All told, it is believed that 4 souls were lost to the flood waters, including a teenage couple who were the first fatalities after being caught in their car in a deluge on a neighborhood street Thursday night.  Nearly 400 homes in our county were damaged, with another almost 350 completely destroyed.  But those are only the official numbers; they do not include the people with damaged basements or destroyed landscaping who have not made an official claim for financial assistance.  Nearly all of my friends in the City of Boulder had basements that were either moderately wet or a complete loss.

As is usually the case, it could have been much worse.  The City of Boulder has a strict building code that forbids any new construction whatsoever in those areas deemed floodplains.  Instead, those areas tend to be dedicated to parks, and those parks were mostly obliterated during this flood.  It is terrifying to think of the potential loss of life and property had there been dwellings on those sites…

James parents live in a town without such stringent building codes, and it was one of the towns that is likely changed forever.  Tucked at the base of the mountains, with the St. Vrain river running right through the center of town, Lyons had spent millions of dollars improving infrastructure and amenities over the last 10 years, turning it into a quaint tourist destination and well-loved artist community.  The river almost completely covered the town when it swelled over its banks, and most residents still do not have power, telephone service, or fresh water.   Roads in and out were wiped away, and the National Guard continues to monitor traffic coming and going; only residents are allowed in.

At the height of the flood, James’ parents found themselves stranded above Lyons, with no power, phone, or water, and a lower level of their home filling quickly with water.  When we didn’t hear from them for nearly a day, James got into his truck, talked his way past the National Guard roadblock, and braved washed-out roads and still-dangerous water levels to get to his parents’ house.  Once there, it took some begging and pleading to get them into the truck and down to the flatlands.  They arrived at our house on Sunday, September 14th, dirty, exhausted, and in shock.

In the days that followed, I helped James’ parents navigate the FEMA process, and James guided them through their insurance claim.  James and his dad purchased a pump to get the flood waters out of the house and a generator, which would power the electricity in the home, plus the pump for well water and the sump pump to keep any additional flood waters from their lower level  As soon as the National Guard began issuing 1/2 day passes for residents to re-enter Lyons, James and his dad returned to the house and stripped it of the damage.  On Thursday, September 19th, his parents returned home, feeling blessed to still have a home mostly intact, and ready to begin rebuilding.

So what about us, you ask?  James and I and our home survived without any damage at all.  Not so much as a leaky roof, which is truly amazing, given the destruction just yards away from us.  Our beloved neighborhood park is severely damaged, and the new bike paths that the kids rode all summer are damaged or completely gone, but those are small losses compared to the suffering of others.

Park bench in our neighborhood park, after the waters had receded.

Park bench in our neighborhood park, after the waters had receded.

Stories abound of communities pulling together to rescue each other and salvage what can be saved.  Money and assistance is pouring into our area from across the country, and families are creating new normals in the face  of destruction.  In the midst of all of this, there have been so many perfect little miracles, but there is one otherwise insignificant aspect of the flood that still makes me shake my head, and it actually happened before the flood even began.

On September 10th, I rose early and dressed to go to a new networking group in the hopes of jump-starting my job search.  Dark clouds hung low and thick over the flatlands and concealed our mountains as my friend Denise and I pulled into the parking lot of the mega-church where the networking group meets each Tuesday.  As we got out of the car, the first sprinkles began to fall.  Inside, it was a fairly small group, but a good one.  As an icebreaker, the facilitator asked everyone to share their “Worst Weather Story,” and we went around the room relating mostly light-hearted tales.  When we broke up, people exchanged numbers and offered contacts.

Forty-eight hours later that very church became the primary evacuation center for those running from the floodwaters.  That same room where we so blithely shared our Worst Weather Stories was filled with cots and the miscellaneous belongings that one might grab in the middle of the night before fleeing.  The halls through which Denise and I walked were converted into command central for the Sheriff’s Department, the National Guard, and FEMA.  Those first sprinkles that we dashed through on our way into the building became the historic deluge that changed the lives of so many, including some of the people in that room during the networking meeting.  What must their Worst Weather Story be now?  I think of each of those strangers, and I wonder how they fared. I wonder if any of them have marveled at how we shared those stories on the eve of one of Colorado’s biggest floods ever.  And I wonder at the facilitator’s choice of icebreaker.  Had he known, somehow?  Or was it simply the kind of thing we all label a coincidence and never think of again?

I don’t believe in coincidences, but I do believe in miracles.

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the snowpack miracle

[Blogger’s Note: This is part of an on-going series I’ve titled “perfect little miracles,” a series of posts about moments that have inspired, reassured, or comforted me.]

When James and I got back together last December, both of our lives were, to a greater or lesser extent, in a state of disarray. We had each weathered a brutal year emotionally and were completely uncertain as to what the future might hold or even which direction in which to steer ourselves. We weren’t lost, just a little war-weary and unsure of how to best move forward toward our individual dreams.

Then we got back together. In the midst of trying to knit our fractured relationship back together, we let the rest of it kind of fall away for a while. We focused on nurturing our fragile union and taking good care of each other. Worries about work, kids, exes were temporarily back-burnered while we decided that whatever our next step would be, we’d be taking it together.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about my life is how, once I surrender control of my destiny, Fate (or Faith, if you prefer) swoops in and begins to sail my ship smoothly to a destination I might not have chosen nor even known that I could reach. And that is precisely what has happened over the last few months. One small, perfect miracle after another… gently, slowly pushing us forward.

I think the first time I was consciously aware of it this time was with the contract on our new house. As I wrote about here, the sellers accepted our offer a mere four hours before I was fired for the first time in my professional life. It was the second house we’d tried to place under contract, and there were multiple offers on the table, including a full-price cash offer. We nearly lost the house in all the wrangling, but a last minute strategic suggestion by our realtor allowed us to close the negotiations and secure the contract. Against all odds and all logic – and, some would say, all reason – we were buying a house together not even 12 weeks after getting back together and within days of my becoming unemployed.

So how in the world did we secure a mortgage, you’re asking yourself? In this post-Mortgage Meltdown world, what lender would be that crazy? Well, my mother stepped in and helped with the asset balance sheet, while our mortgage agent expressed strong confidence in the temporary nature of my unemployment. So ahead it went. It was painful yes, but that’s lending these days – a wild rollercoaster of will-you-or-won’t-you be approved. And we were.

And our house wasn’t just four walls – it was almost 5,000 gorgeous square feet of enough space to house our family of 8 (and 3 dogs) comfortably. We had been prepared to settle for a sad fixer-upper that we’d have to expand or renovate or otherwise fit to our atypical needs, but somehow we were buying a big, beautiful house that required almost no fixing or changing. True, the home is in a city different from the ones in which either of us were living, and the commute to my children’s schools isn’t a short bike-ride anymore, but those seemed like small sacrifices to avoid many years of construction dust and expense. We couldn’t believe our luck.

We were supposed on to move on Tuesday April 9th, but some last minute concessions on the sellers’ part gave us possession on Sunday April 7th, instead. April 7th was sunny, cloudless, and relatively warm. Our move went off smoothly and under beautiful blue skies. April 9th, on the other hand, ushered in the record-breaking series of April snowstorms unlike this part of Colorado has ever seen. The next 15 days saw 47.6 inches of snow fall in our town, annihilating the previous record of 44” from 1957. It was one cloudy, snowy, bitterly cold day after another, broken only by the occasional mild day that didn’t last. But not only had we managed to move before the terrible snows hit, but those snowy, impassable days gave us lots of time in our new home to unpack and get settled. James has a sprinkler and landscaping business that provides most of his income for the spring and summer, and, under normal weather conditions, he would have been very busy and not able to be home with me during that time. But the snows made outdoor work impossible, so he was home, unpacking boxes and doing various handyman jobs around the house. It was my own little slice of heaven.

As the snows turned from one freak storm to a series of freak storms, another path before us was smoothed. You see, in this part of the West, water from melting snow (known as “snowmelt”) provides our water supply to our reservoirs. That snow melts from the many feet of snow accumulated in the Rockies over the winter. That accumulation is known as “snowpack.” Those of us who live here watch the snowpack levels through the winter because low snowpack levels mean spring and summer droughts. And droughts mean bad wildfire seasons, like the one we had last year, culminating in the horrific Waldo Canyon fire outside of Colorado Springs. Wildfires are terrifying, and even if you aren’t near them, the communal anxiety they breed sucks the fun out of summer for grown-ups.

Droughts also mean government-imposed watering restrictions. Sprinkler systems are the only way to have a lawn or healthy trees or shrubs or flowers in this high desert climate. Even if you xeriscape your garden and lawn (meaning you employ plants and materials that are naturally drought-resistant), you still have to provide them with some water. This isn’t cactus country – we walk a fine line between green and brown. During the terrible drought of 2002, a neighboring town prohibited all landscape watering and everyone in town without a well for water lost their lawns. You could drive through that town in August and see one brown, dead lawn after another. It was awful.

For a sprinkler and landscaping business like James’, water restrictions are like a death sentence for the season. Every year, James watches the snowpack numbers and follows the water table and reservoir levels for clues as to what kind of season he’ll have. This year, more than ever, he needs a good season, to make up for the losses inflicted by the embezzling employee of last year. But all through March, the Colorado Rockies got little measurable snow. March is supposed to be our snowiest month, so by the time April dawned, James was getting nervous. Denver and two smaller municipalities in our area issued watering restrictions. It was getting dire.

But something told me it would be okay. Everything else was working out so beautifully, I felt certain that Fate wouldn’t forsake us now. It didn’t seem possible to me that Fate would have delivered us this beautiful home, only to create a financial hardship that would threaten our ability to keep it. Such a turn of events seemed unfathomably cruel.

And then the snows came. And came. And came. And finally stopped. The morning of April 24th dawned warm and sunny with only more of the same in the near future. The next day’s local paper reported that one of the cities with watering restrictions would be repealing those, which will likely prompt the others to reconsider, too. And the phones in James’ office started ringing off the hook.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Life sure is funny. You never really know when your next stroke of luck will come from or what your next perfect little miracle will look like. Sometimes it even comes in the form of cold, white, fluffy snowpack deep in the Colorado Rockies.

Who would’ve thought?

snowy mts

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was it worth it? (pt. 4)

Following my announcement to my husband Bryce that I was leaving our marriage of nearly 11 years, I had one final conversation with my then-best friend, which ended with her caustically telling me, “Well, I just hope it’s worth it, what you’re doing.  Because I really doubt it will be.”

Certain moments get frozen your mind.  Sealed for the remainder of your life in a corner of your brain where they might gather dust, but they never fade.  Crystallized, every small detail recollected with the same power and force they wielded when first experienced.  That was one such moment for me.

Her yawning question has echoed in my brain and in the hollows of my heart as the months and years since that day have passed.  It has served as a touchstone for me — a chance to check in with myself and the consequences of my fateful choice.  I have revisited the question in my writing, too:

was it worth it? (pt. 1)  (Feb. 2011)

was it worth it? (pt. 2)  (May 2011)

was it worth it? (pt. 3) (Jan. 2012)

Yesterday, James and I closed on a beautiful house that will become a home to us, our children, and our animals.  Afterwards, we had a romantic celebratory dinner at the restaurant we visited on our first date, in September 2010.  We had not been back since then, and the sense of having completed some imaginary circle was palpable to us.  We reminisced about our first date — where we sat, what I was wearing, what we were each thinking — and throughout dinner I sat across the table from him and tried to figure out how in the world we have landed where we are now.

I have that feeling often these days.  I will look at him and it suddenly hits me that it has happened.  I have actually found what I had been searching for since I first fell in love with Parker at age 22 and discovered what true love, mixed with destiny and fate, actually can be like.  Every single day since then, I have hoped to once again be blessed enough to find it.  There were many, many dark days and darker nights during which I wondered if perhaps I was requesting too much of the universe; I had been fortunate enough to experience true love once, perhaps it was asking too much to want it again?

But I couldn’t give up.  Or, rather, my heart wouldn’t let me.  My brain argued quite rationally and logically.  It urged me to settle for good enough and be happy with that.  It berated me for expecting so much.  It pointed out my arrogance in hoping that I was special enough to be so blessed twice.  But the pounding of my heart drowned out the rational logic of my brain.  Thump, thump, thump… like a mantra it reminded me, forced me to remember what it had once felt like to be loved so completely and purely and deeply, and to return that love equally.

And now here I am.  I feel as if I am sitting upon a beautiful mountain top, surveying a valley below lush with possibilities and promise.  The world feels wide open and full of choices, any one of which might become the next great adventure of my life.  My blessings are so many, I feel almost embarrassed by their abundance.  But then I remember my dark times and how much I have struggled to find this space of emotional security, happiness, and expansiveness.  This time is what I have been searching for, defending to my detractors, and protecting from the naysayers.  It is here and I am in it.  And it is even better, richer, deeper than it was the first time around.

But what of the others so deeply affected by my choice?  My ex-husband Bryce seems happier than I think I have ever known him to be.  His countenance is relaxed, his outlook optimistic, his relationship seemingly solid and fulfilling.  My daughters are thriving in every way and embracing our changing circumstances with greater poise and enthusiasm and trust than I could have possibly expected.  They still don’t like moving back and forth between me and their dad each week, but it is the logistics that bother them now, not the emotional aspects of so many good-byes and hellos.  I watch over them protectively, awaiting signs to indicate that I have permanently scarred them with my choice to divorce their father and dismantle their family.  But such scars have yet to appear.  We talk through feelings with compassion and patience, and I wonder if possibly they are learning that dramatic life changes do not always portend endless grief and struggle.  I wonder if they are learning how resilient they are as individuals and we are as a family….

Life is not done, of course, and oftentimes regrets sneak up on you long after you hope the final verdict has been read.  But I humbly suspect that this will not be such a case.  Bryce, our daughters, and I have turned some corner, crossed some bridge, this year.  The divorce has ceased to be the defining construct in our lives anymore.  It is merely a reality of our existence now — like living in Colorado or having two dogs.  Four years later, it no longer constrains us or informs our feelings about everything.  My once-intact family has stretched and grown beyond the pain and grief that accompanied its breakage.  We have each evolved into more fully-formed individuals, with a greater sense of our own possibilities.   We love and support each other, secure in the knowledge that our separateness has granted us hopes and dreams that were not possible in our togetherness.

I can look at the long road since that conversation with my former best friend more than 4 years ago.  I can see how many times her warning scold seemed frighteningly true.  I am aware of how easily fate could have shifted slightly and she would have been proven correct.

But that is not what happened.  She was wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Because it has been worth it.  The good, the bad, the painful, the joyful.  All of it.  Absolutely, positively worth it.

chautauqua trail

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fired… up

On February 19, 2013, for the first time in my life, I was fired from my job.

Actually, I was asked to resign and refused.  It doesn’t seem to matter, though, since my former employer is telling everyone that I resigned. I refused to resign because I had poured too much heart and soul into my job, and I refused to be labeled a quitter.  I was not quitting.   I was refusing to go out quietly, as they wished.  If they wanted me gone, they’d have to fire me.  So they did.

In truth, that morning in my boss’ office was the culmination of months of increasing and evolving dissatisfaction and disillusionment on my part, and discomfort on theirs.  I was a politically-appointed municipal employee for a very small town, and the mayor and council that had hired me was very different from the one under which I was serving my second term.  Indeed, when I was first appointed, I felt excited and energized to be part of something special — a newly-elected administration determined to end the corruption for which the town had long been known and institute progressive measures to reinvigorate the town’s economy, attract stronger locally-owned businesses, and improve the quality of life for all residents. But, as tends to happen in politics, the do-gooders on the council were quickly burned out, roundly criticized for trying to change the status quo, and, for the most part, quite literally run out of town.  As the mayor’s two-year term drew to a close, only three members of the seven-member council still lived in the town.  The others, including the mayor, had quietly moved away.

With the benefit of hindsight, I should have left then — in September 2011 — but I chose to stay on, dedicated to the goals of that earlier council and dedicated to my colleagues, for whom I had immeasurable respect and appreciation and many of whom looked to me for leadership that was lacking elsewhere.  I chose to believe that the incoming mayor, one of the original council that hired me, would stay true to the course set by the previous council and the values it embodied.  I was wrong.

Over the next 18 months, I watched the tone of government in the town change.  I saw things that were all-too-familiar to me after so many years in politics — backroom deals, offline conversations, hidden conflicts of interest.  I listened as various council members lectured me on how to do my job, and flagrantly disregarded the ethics training I’d provided them.

I guess I knew that it was over for all real purposes the day the mayor admonished me to “set [my] integrity aside for just a moment” and then consider an issue without it.  Such a request was anathema to my ideas of public service and professionalism, and I told him so bluntly.  That was likely the first nail in my employment coffin.  But there were others — many others.  Times when I told various councilmembers their actions were in violation of the town’s ethical code or even, occasionally, state law.  They ignored me.  I was isolated as a “square” who really wasn’t in sync with the laid-back nature of the town.  I was fine with that characterization, since by “laid back” they seemed to mean seedy and underhanded.

Finally, on February 18th, the Monday of a long weekend, I learned (via social media, no less) that the mayor had once again overstepped his bounds, and this time in such a way that was likely to land me, and possibly the town, on the wrong side of a lawsuit.  I saw very clearly that I would be made the scapegoat in such a situation.  I texted my boss to ask if she was aware of the developments, and she acknowledged that she was.  I paused only a moment, long enough to tell James what I intended to do, and then I fired off an email to the entire council, again stating that the mayor was overstepping the limits of his authority.  I received a reply shortly from my boss, berating me for the email and demanding that I present myself in her office first thing in the morning.

I knew how the morning would go, although James was skeptical that they would react so impulsively.  When I called him a few hours later to deliver the news, however, his first response was “Hallelujah! That place is toxic, they don’t appreciate you, and I’ve wanted you out of there for ages!”  This, despite the fact that only hours earlier we’d placed a house under contract.  A house for which we would likely no longer qualify for a mortgage….

My mom was visiting with us that week, and her reaction was the same as James’ — enormous relief mixed with righteous indignation that they would actually fire me for demanding high standards of public service from our elected officials.  My daughters cheered for me, and my friends offered overwhelming assistance in locating another job.  Clandestine emails poured in from colleagues and former colleagues in that town, filled with disgust and anger that I’d been fired, and sadness that we’d no longer be working together.

What should have been one of the worst days of my life never even broke the Top 10.

I slept well that first night, better, in fact, than I had in many months.  Within days, I had been approved for unemployment insurance, secured new healthcare coverage, and begun filling my calendar with informational interviews and job application deadlines.  Friends who had offered help followed through; I learned of some opportunities before they were even posted, and managed a 90-minute lunch with the local District Attorney, thanks to the only remaining councilmember I trusted.  The comfort, support, and generosity of friends and near strangers was almost overwhelming.  I quite literally had no time to feel sorry for myself.

But what of the house?  Well, Fate stepped in as she often does in my life and worked a miracle.  Our loan was saved and the closing date set.  We would not lose the house just because of my employment situation.  I could barely believe our good fortune.  In fact, I’m still kind of holding my breath.

And there’s more:  A week or so before I lost my job, a former councilmember from the council that had first appointed me contacted me, wondering if I was still doing interior design work.  She and her husband had just purchased a big, beautiful home in a different city, and it needed a lot of personalizing.  I let her know that I was only taking small projects on the weekend, and we commiserated over the disappointment that we couldn’t work together on her house.  So, after I was fired, I let her know, and voila!  Instant design job!  We spent three hours together late last week, laying out the project and the long list of items with which she needs help.  Simply finishing her house could well take most of my current spare time. And the fact that I get to spend that time with a woman I truly like and admire is even better.

And still more: the writer’s block that had settled like a permanent fog over my brain as soon as the book editor said the words “Book Proposal” and my name in the same sentence back in January has finally lifted and I am filled with ideas to write about again. I think I could finish the book in a couple of weeks if I only had the time to do nothing but write.

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess in which direction my career will next careen.  I have not the slightest idea from whence my next regular paycheck will come, but — amazingly — I’m honestly not worried about it.  Something deep inside me keeps telling me to have faith and it will all be okay.  And, somehow, that is enough right now.

I can already fathom that at some point in the not-so-distant future, I will reflect upon that cold day in February as an enormous blessing.  A turning point.  A fresh start.  Perhaps I will even cease to call it my firing… and instead begin referring to it as my release. Because I’m beginning to think that’s actually what it was…

butterfly

Blogger’s Note:  As some of you know, I currently live in Boulder, CO.  To be clear, I was not employed by the City or County of Boulder, but by a neighboring municipality.

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when the student is ready…

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to just get out of our own way.  Learning a new language or a new job or how to care for a new baby or how to play a musical instrument — none of these things seems as difficult as learning how to do something we have always done, in a different way.

Or maybe that’s just me?

I tend to cling to my convictions pretty hard.  I am a red-headed only child; both nature and nurture have predisposed me to stubbornly dig in and try to fit the world to my view of of it, rather than amend my world view to accommodate new possibilities.  Almost every hour of therapy I have done in my life has been basically about trying to overcome this tendency in one arena or another, to change my view of, or response to, or persistent feelings about something in my life.

At various times, I have actively sought to push back against the paradigm that is no longer serving me.  When I left to study abroad in college, I consciously did so with the intention of becoming different, expanding my ideas about the world, seeing how other people thought and acted and re-acted.  I find that, more than 20 years later, I don’t often require such dramatic efforts; sometimes simply having a stimulating conversation with someone new is enough.  The point is that these moments — these small experiences — are expansive opportunities for growth.

Around the time I gave up battling the Year of the Dragon, I had one of my “Fine.  You win.” conversations with the universe in which I generally concede that I have a lot of learning to do and need lots of help to do it.  Then I wait.  And always, without fail, the help I need appears.

This time, my first teacher came in the form of a fellow blogger, whom I shall call “Achilles.” At times, he has been a regular commentator on my blog, but it was our off-line conversations that were really interesting.  Quite often, we approached things from differing viewpoints; my posts frequently challenged his truths and my positions could easily have offended his feelings and/or his sensibilities.  But rather than turn away from me and seek the comfort of like-minded bloggers, he kept at me — asking me probing questions and for further explanations, sharing his own reasoning without much concern for altering my own. And so began a dialogue that focused moreso on me providing my perspective to situations and concerns we had in common.

Through the course of these conversations, I gathered certain things about him that led me to believe that he was, in some very important, fundamental ways, very similar to my ex-boyfriend, James.  Despite being broken-up for the better part of a year, the late autumn found me still struggling with a fair number of unresolved questions about my relationship with James.  Questions I was too afraid to ask him, even though I could see clearly my need to.  So, I turned the tables and sought out Achilles.  I asked for his perspective, rather than his advice.  I wanted to understand his reasoning and his feelings and his motives, not to support my own tired ideas about my relationship with James, but on the off-chance that they might provide a different outlook or understanding than I’d been able to gain before.

Achilles answered my questions honestly and directly.  Some of his answers made me cringe, but even those gave me pause.  Much of what he said consisted of angles and approaches that were foreign to my way of thinking.  “Really?” was a common response of mine during that chat.  And that night I went to sleep turning over in my head the things he said, feeling comforted and wondrous at the same time.

The next month saw a veritable march of caring, unexpected souls who extended simple words of wisdom, thoughtful perspectives, or unsolicited support.  It is almost mystical to me how every single question I asked of the ether that evening after the job slipped away has now been answered.  I find myself in the happy posture of feeling grounded, and hopeful, and confident, and content.  The issues that crushed me in 2012 have not been resolved, but my faith in my ability to resolve them has returned because I no longer feel constrained by the thoughts and fears that held me captive so much of last year. I once again have confidence in my ability to adapt and consider and be present in the moment.

So often we think we need a change to make us happy.  But sometimes what we need — first and foremost — is a change of perspective.  That can be really hard to do on our own, but the teachers are all around us.  Every day.  We just need to be open and willing and available to the messages and experiences and wisdom they’re offering.   And then watch what happens…

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perfect little miracles

Blogger’s Note:  This is the first in a new series of posts that I’ll be doing occasionally recounting some small bit of a miracle that comes along in my life.  You see, I happen to believe in divine intervention… how the universe sometimes steps in and makes a micro-adjustment to your life in a way that is startling and unexpected and leaves you feeling cared for and comforted.  You might think of these moments as quaint coincidences, or maybe as a collision of free wills, or maybe the literal hand of God, and I’m okay with any of that; you needn’t believe what I believe to take something that you need from these stories.  I simply know that these perfect little miracles give me hope and inspiration and faith that things are just as they should be and will turn out okay.  I hope you enjoy them, too.

Road crews work to break up rocks in canyon rockslide. Credit: KDVR, Denver.

On Monday, I was late going into work after a doctor appointment.  It was an overcast, rainy day, unusual for Colorado, and all I really wanted was to go home and crawl back into bed with my sweet little dog and listen to the rain on the roof.  But instead, I steered my car toward the canyon for my 20 mile “drive up the hill” to my job.

Most days, I love my drive through the canyon.  The meandering twists and turns of the road are very soothing to me, and I know them so well I can nearly do it without thinking.  The 3,000 foot elevation gain means that I can sometimes pass from one weather system to another, which is pretty amazing to behold, and the seasons happen at different rates at the top and bottom of the canyon, too.  The quiet meditative drive through that canyon has been my constant companion for two years now.  No cell phone reception and minimal radio reception means isolation and contemplation.  Sometimes I put on my iPhone and sing along at the top of my lungs, but just as often I allow my thoughts to wander like the road before me.  That car time is like my re-set button going to and from work….

The canyon I drive each day hugs a creek the whole way up the mountain, and in some parts it’s open to high mountain meadows with wildflowers in the summer and elk in the fall.  Other parts of it — aptly nicknamed “The Narrows” — are closed in by sheer mountain cliffs, where souls braver than me scale nearly vertical rocks just because they can.  At the top of my drive, the road opens onto a beautiful reservoir with snowy tops of the Indian Peaks far in the distance.

On Monday morning, my peaceful drive was interrupted shortly after I entered the canyon.  My car started making a funny noise, a loud squealing sound that was like nails on a chalkboard, amplified 100-fold.  It was horrible and I had no idea what it was.  It sounded like it was emanating from one or both of my back wheels.  It didn’t sound like the car was breaking down, and I was already so late for work that I decided to push on.  If it was still having problems at the top of the mountain, I reasoned, I would take it to one of the local mechanics there. I turned my music on, trying to drown out the nightmarish sound and ploughed forward.

As I squealed along, I noticed that when I stepped on the gas, the noise subsided.  Hmmm…. But when I eased off, it resumed.  So, I did what any reasonable person who is averse to nails-on-the-chalkboard does:  I gunned it.  All the way up the canyon.  On a road slick from our first rain in many, many weeks.  I know the road and I know my sturdy, all-wheel-drive Volvo, and I went just fast enough to keep the God-awful sound at bay.  Fortunately I encountered nary a soul on the road that morning, and no one at all in my lane.  Nonetheless, it was fairly ridiculous to be careening up the canyon at 50mph in a rainstorm.  But there I was.

I passed through the Narrows, and as I was reaching the end of it, where the road opens wide again, I heard a sound — above my music even! — that at first I thought was coming from my car again.  It was a terrific scraping sound… but it ended with a boom.  I kept driving, grateful that it wasn’t my car, and dismissing it immediately with the assumption that someone, somewhere in the mountains was dynamiting.  I turned my focus back to keep my speeding car on the narrow mountain road.

By the time I eased off my accelerator and pulled into the mountain town where I work, the noise in my car was gone.  Amazed and relieved, I parked and went inside, fixed myself a cup of tea and logged onto my computer.

And what I saw gave me chills.

The Twitter feed was blowing up with breaking news of a rock slide in the canyon — the same canyon I had just traveled through.  Emergency dispatch was describing the largest rock as “as big as VW bus” (its weight was later estimated at 15 tons).  It had sheered off one of the cliffs in the Narrows and crashed to the road below, pulling dozens of smaller (relatively) rocks with it and blocking one lane of traffic (the lane in which I’d been traveling).   Emergency personnel were racing to the scene but were already crediting the poor weather for the light traffic in the canyon and the absence of any vehicular damage or casualties.

I sat for a moment, the steam from my tea warming my face, and wondered…. what if I hadn’t had the car trouble that caused me to speed up?  How far back might I have been if I’d been traveling at a normal speed?  Far enough to have been caught in the rock slide?  Or what would have happened if I had hit the canyon a few minutes later and come flying around that blind bend at 50 or 60 mph and encountered 15-ton rock in my lane and the creek on the other side of my car?  What then?

Intellectually I know that life is about little hits and little misses and they probably happen all the time.  But sometimes, the miss is so huge and so unmistakable that it gives me a moment’s pause.  And in that moment, I appreciate whatever set of circumstances caused me to be the lucky recipient of that miss. So I said a little prayer of gratitude, just in case someone is listening, and then I stood up and went to meet with my boss.  And my life went on as if there’d never been a rock slide in the canyon that morning.

Just as it should.

Just as it’s meant to.

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