Road Trip Takeaway

My wife, daughter and I recently returned from an 8 day, 1941 mile road trip vacation. We roller-coastered at HersheyPark, Pennsylvania and explored Niagra Falls, Ontario from above, below, behind and beside. We ate over-priced sandwiches at the top of Toronto’s CN Tower. We snapped hundreds of photos and bought the tee-shirts, hoodies and other souvenirs necessary to commemorate our journey.

It was a terrific trip. We saw beautiful places, ate delicious food and had interesting adventures together.

My wife has noticed that I look my most relaxed, happy self in photos taken while traveling. She isn’t wrong. The change of scenery sharpens my senses and wakes me up.

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This was my family’s first big road trip vacation. We usually go directly to a place (the beach) where being at the locale is the point. Our road trip vacation was different. More than usual, I enjoyed the surprise of the people I met along the way as much as I enjoyed being in the places where I met them.

The Apostolic church congregation in their Sunday white suits and dresses holding their annual conference in the HersheyPark hotel. The manager at the upstate New York gas station Subway who appreciated my twelve year old daughter’s affinity for hot tea. The Subway sandwich artiste who verified twice that when we ordered soda we actually wanted pop. The waitress at Niagra hotel who encouraged me to take my time eating breakfast because she was too tired to set another table after I left. The waitress at Dad’s Diner in Niagra who works all spring, summer and fall to save up enough money to winter in Cuba.

And our Toronto evening cab driver who was a resettled refugee from Afghanistan. He grew up under the Taliban, escaped to Germany and finally managed to resettle with his family in Canada. And he doesn’t want to get political but who can see how or when this endless war will end?

Every language of the world was spoken in the lobby of our Toronto hotel and every manner of dress represented. The night clerk was Japanese. The morning clerk Korean. The friendliest, most helpful concierege South African.

All along the trip everyone was please and thank you at the hotel elevators and have a nice night and take care.

There were some crazies, too. The cursing guy in the Toronto subway station who repeatedly kicked the passing train as it sped by. He was quickly hauled off by the police. The drunk outside the Chinatown gift shop who kept grabbing the crutches of his hobbled companion to start a fight and then, once the fight was well-started, wrapping this friend in a huge embrace as apology. Repeat this cycle five times.

Throughout the clean, friendly, well-ordered city, the destitute, the homeless, the friendless. My daughter wanting to cross every busy street and give money to every homeless man or woman who had a dog. Me explaining in my Father Knows Best voice that you can’t help everybody by giving them money and you certainly can’t put yourself at danger crossing busy streets and some of these people are definitely nice pet owners who need help but some just have the dog as a way to get your attention. And then myself, hypocritically crossing those same busy streets to admire a local musician play the guitar or flute or Chinese fiddle and dropping money into their open instrument case.

These people, all of them, made our family road trip special. And my heart is very full remembering the few minutes shared with each. They will not remember me. In a few weeks, I will not remember them well. And yet, they matter because my twelve year old daughter will remember something very important. As we were leaving Toronto for the 14 hour return drive home, she said, “You know. People are a lot nicer than I expected. And polite. And friendly.”

“In Canada?” I asked.

“Yeah, but actually everywhere.”

She isn’t wrong.

Menagerie: Our History Told in Dogs

My house used to be a menagerie. Five dogs living, more or less, in harmony. You learned to overlook the occasional outburst from grumpy Bella, so full of fiesty swagger she picked on Sunny, a dog twice her size. Bella went blind and learned humility late in life. Better late than never.

Five dogs is a lot for one home. We didn’t plan it. We found them or they found us. Hard to say who rescued whom.

Now we have only two dogs and our house is much quieter. We lost Bella and Bailey last autumn and Tinker just last week. Losing Tinker was the hardest hit. He was my good friend. He was also the last pack mate of our first dogs Lucy and Jasper. Losing Tinker was losing a link in a chain that went back to the beginning of my marriage.

My wife and I have shared our home with eight dogs since the beginning of our marriage.

Lucy found us while we living in a tiny one bedroom apartment with a kitchen so small you couldn’t open the refrigerator and the stove at the same time. Lucy ran across the intersection one rainy night. Fearing we had run over her, we stopped the car. My wife opened her door and called, “Puppy?” Lucy jumped into the car and went home with us. She was a wise, patient, noble soul with a passion for stolen bread. She loved kids and skunks. Fun fact: you can turn a terrier pink by using tomato sauce to cut skunk spray.

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My wife found Jasper while donating aluminum cans to the animal shelter. I was finishing graduate school and we had just bought our first house. Jasper, a Manchester terrier, was picked up by animal control in a local coal yard, riddled with worms. We had to quarantine Jasper for 10 days in my mom-in-law’s garage while purging the worm infestation. If you’ve ever had a nightmare where plates of unsauced spaghetti come to life and start looking for you, you’ll know something about those 10 days. Jasper recovered and quickly adapted to his new life. He never lost his dread of hunger or his anxiety about being abandoned. He was the most loyal, care taking dog we ever had. Jasper was our nurse. My wife put an axe into her leg one evening while I was at work. She managed to drag herself into the house before passing out in the bathroom. Jasper cleaned up the scene and woke Michelle with kisses. Medical science does not recommend dog licks as a cure for cuts and abrasions but Jasper’s kind kisses healed many wounds in a fraction of the normal time.

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We found Bailey at the animal shelter. My wife thought Lucy’s mothering instincts deserved a puppy. We came home with a full grown golden retriever mix, instead. Bailey was our happiest, friendliest dog. He also had the worst breath. He liked to get up close and personal. You just held your breath and went with it. Bailey loved toys but rarely actually played with them. He mostly just enjoyed seeing how many he could carry in his mouth at one time and obsessively moved them from room to room to keep the other dogs from stealing them. He had long, luscious fur and everyone assumed he was a lady. He was pretty. We might have called him Bowie. He gave the impression of being large, but, when shaved for summer, was quite small.

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I found Tinker while on a run. He was sniffing around a dumpster in front of the low-rent apartments across the street. I picked him up and carried him from door to door asking if anyone knew him. No one did. I took him home. Bailey got excited, having found his good friend. We kept Tinker. Tinker was a dachshund/chihuahua mix, a scrappy low-rider. Bailey was big and Tinker was small. Looking at one another and lacking mirrors, each assumed the other reflected his own proper size and stature. Bailey thought he was small. Tinker thought he was big. It worked for them. I used to carry Tinker around like in one arm, like a football. Or a loaf of bread because why would I be carrying a football? Being carried was Tinker’s favorite place to be.

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Phoebe wasn’t with us long. The neighborhood kids found her roaming around and decided to bring her to the crazy dog people house. She was a black lab/hound mix and the smartest dog I’ve ever met. She could work out problems like how to bring a six foot tree branch through a twelve inch dog door. The dog actually dropped the branch, studied the problem and then brought it through sideways. I’m pretty sure she understood quantum physics and relativity. Unfortunately, she was also a touch aggressive when it came to pack dominance. When our daughter was born, Phoebe decided to challenge Lucy for head of pack status. She attacked Lucy while Lucy was sitting on the couch near Michelle and newborn Emersey. She would never have intentionally hurt anyone but was ready to kill Lucy. No longer able to trust her, she had her put down the next day. It was the right decision but not finding a new home for Phoebe still stings.

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Michelle and Emersey ganged up on me to adopt Sunny. They went to the animal shelter while Michelle was feeling depressed. Sunny was a hound who had lived her entire life inside an apartment with an elderly shut in. Sunny was pad trained but had developed a grass allergy because she had never been outside. She didn’t trust men and freaked out everytime someone came to the door. People didn’t come to the door where she had lived before. Certainly not men. For five months, she barked in confused anxiety when I came home from work, as if she didn’t know me. And then, one day, she chilled. That’s the power of putting down the dog food. Food, eventually, equals trust. We are friends now.

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Nellie came to us from Michelle’s grandmother, who at the age of 90, decided she couldn’t live at home alone anymore. Ma and Nellie moved in with us for one day and then Ma decided she could live at home alone after all. Nellie stayed. Nellie is an 18 year old Jack Russell terrier mix. We attribute her longevity to the fact that Ma cooked chicken breast and rice and vegetables for dinner everyday for years. Nellie is a bit neurotic, but who among us is not? She loves my wife fiercely and follows her around the house all day and night, keeping herself in sight at all times.

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Bella was a true mutt and a true rescue. My mother-in-law took Bella in as a temporary foster while taking radiation for Stage 4 lung cancer. Bella’s sojourn was meant to a temporary stop over on her way to another home. Everything at that time was temporary. We lived day to day, grateful for the moments we still had together. I am still amazed at the generosity my mom-in-law showed to help a dog while she herself was dying. Dog people are special. Bella was meant to catch a ride north with a relocation/rescue service but she missed her ride because the program  organizer was a flake. After three missed attempts, we took Bella in permanently. I suspect that was the organizer’s plan all along. Bella was an older dog who had whelped many litters in a puppy mill. She had been misused and was tired and crabby about it. She didn’t easily tolerate the fun and games of the other dogs and often growled at Sunny for breathing too much of her air. Bella went blind one week while we were on vacation. We returned to find her stumbling under tables and trapped by chairs. We never learned why she went blind but the blindness taught her humility. She learned to enjoy being held and tolerated the presence of other dogs.

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Eight dogs so far, but right now only two. We have Sunny and Nellie. Nellie is very old.

When we said goodbye to Bailey, my daughter asked why dogs lives are so much shorter than ours. I told her it was to help us practice loving them completely even when we know we will eventually lose them. That is, it seems to me, the secret of a well-lived life. A life well-lived is a life where you have allowed yourself to love completely despite the knowledge of inevitable pain, disappointment and loss. Our dogs prepare us for the harder times when we must say goodbye to the people we most love.

My house is very quiet. I miss my good friends. I am grateful for them and for their help with the practice of loving in the face of certain loss and the bravery required to open oneself to the loss that makes life much richer and bigger than before.

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2017: Look Back

2017 was a difficult year.

Okay, that was a literary device called understatement. 2017 was a shit ass painful year. It was frightening, dispiriting and chaotic. People I love got swallowed up by their depression. The monster got me into its mouth a time or two, but, for now, I manage to keep climbing back out.

In January, we swore in our Reality TV show president. He gave us a dark, sinister inauguration speech. American carnage, anyone? American carnage ensued. Most mornings through June I woke up in a panic, thinking there had to be something I could do to help slow the carnage.

I wrote my senators. One of my senators sent back form letters explaining why I was stupid and wrong. My other senator sent thoughtful, considerate replies. He actually agreed with me on a few points and voted accordingly. Then, he sold his vote for personal profit. If you haven’t noticed, the representative part of representative democracy is broken.

But I digress. This isn’t a political post. Politics was a blanket over most everything I thought, felt or did in 2017. It made me an anxious wreck. Politics are important and inescapable. Politics describe how power moves through groups of people. This isn’t Republican vs Democrat stuff. This is The Powerful vs Everybody Else stuff. Please do pay attention.

At yet, as I sit here in the last 12 hours of 2017 thinking back over the year, it isn’t the awfulness and anxiety that comes to me. I find, looking backward, that my life remains wonderful.

I started taking piano lessons in January. I’m not brilliant but the practice is creative struggle. It is difficult. The difficulty is the point. My daughter plays too. She has more natural ability than I ever hope to have. It is a joy to let her see me struggle with my imperfection. What I lack in talent, I make up for in discipline. I hope she notices me getting incrementally better.

We bought a piano in February. Felt hammers on metal strings in a house with wood floors. We make a joyful noise.

My wife and I attended a weekend poetry workshop at Campbell Folk School in June. I reconnected with poetry, enjoyed the company of fellow poets and ate dinner with a few blacksmiths. It was a very Walt Whitman weekend. Oh, and I befriended a tree.

I run three libraries for my college. We recarpeted the largest library in June. The new carpet made a huge difference. Our entire building felt the way you feel when you wear new clothes for the first time — fresh, eager, confident — plus that new car smell. In preparing for the new carpet, my team recognized that our shelves no longer showcased the best of what our library has to offer. We woke up one day and realized we were highlighting dusty back runs of magazines no one read anymore, reference books no one needed and microfilm no one understood. We lightened up, opened the space and created alcoves to show off our new books, new magazines and media. There’s still work to do, but you can now step in the front door and understand what the library is for.

Fall semester started with a full solar eclipse. I watched with my family from campus while listening to Dark Side of the Moon. It was incredible.

In September, my wife and I saw HGTV’s Property Brothers give a live performance. I didn’t know what to expect. It was super fun. They took interactive questions from the audience via Twitter. My Twitter question was first. Jonathan Scott gave me a shout out by name. I felt Twitter famous for something like 20 seconds.

My house is a refuge for needy dogs. We’ve had five dogs for several years. Four of them were senior. We lost Bella and Bailey this year. Bella was blind and getting confused. Bailey’s back legs gave out. We miss them terribly. The morning we put Bailey down, my daughter asked why dogs have to die before people do. I told her it was too help us practice loving people we know we are going to lose someday and loving them anyway. It was a hard truth. Truth is always hard.

We took our first family camping trip in October. Three nights at Big South Fork Park. We had great weather. We rode a train and visited an old Kentucky coal camp. I woke up every morning profoundly grateful for a mediocre cup of instant coffee and read Mary Oliver while in the woods. I put down my phone and took off my Fitbit. I measured time by hunger and the angle of sunlight. Like Thoreau, I lived deliberately. I felt awake.

A few weeks later I visited a community college as part of an onsite accreditation team. The team I worked with was well-organized, well-prepared and well-led. We liked each other and helped other. I’ve done leadership academies and conferences. I read about leadership principles and practices. That three day visit was one of the best professional experiences of my life.

In November, my library team hosted our first Long Night Against Procrastination. Two hundred students showed up to take advantage of extra library/learning center help, get focused on their end of semester goals and eat free food. It felt good to help student focus on practical, specific goals. It reminded me to do the same.

I ran my first half-marathon the week before Thanksgiving. I trained with a running group on Saturday mornings for months. Each week, I felt myself getting stronger and better prepared. A few weeks before, I did a practice half with these friends and found I had set my goals too low. I knew I could run 13.1 miles and a bit faster than I had expected. I had a terrific partner for race day. We ran the best race of our lives, greatly outperforming my own expectations.

And now, I am enjoying the last few days of a two week vacation. I stay up too late with my night-owl wife and wake up whenever I want. We are visiting family and friends. We are together.

And so, it seems 2017 wasn’t awful at all. My life is bursting with richness and reward. I find that I am well-blessed to live in a house with people I love and who love me. I work with great people, and our work is meaningful. I write things. People read them.

The year ahead will be politically brutal. The Powerful will seek to make themselves more powerful still. They will seem to succeed. We will resist. But as we do, as we engage in the coming struggles, let’s remember that our lives are made with our attention.

Every day is new. Every day contains wonder.

Empty Chair

There is an empty chair at your Christmas table. Maybe you lost someone 40 years ago. Maybe you lost someone earlier this week. Our Christmas celebrations recognize abundance — the gathering of friends and family into our homes, the tables laden with roast and casseroles and treats. Our Christmas trees are rooted deep in piles of gifts given and gifts received.

But Christmas is also about what’s missing. The people we loved, we lost and we need back in our lives. When we slow down to recognize the empty chairs, it isn’t only their absence we feel. There is greater abundance. We laugh. We tell stories. We remember. Their lives fill our lives.

We hug our children. We kiss our wives. We celebrate the long unbroken line that is our family meal. The table stretches farther before us and farther beyond us than we can possibly see. And yet, we each have our plate, our place at this table. For this moment, maybe the next, until one day we too have passed and the empty chair is ours and it is our time to hope our lives have helped make the meal richer for all.

Show. Don’t Tell.

“Show. Don’t tell” is the most common advice given to writers practicing their craft. It is essential advice but often difficult to practice. Words are easy. Telling is a shortcut to getting the idea across. But writing is about more than just getting the idea across. We need our reader to feel something, to have an experience that makes for them a lasting change.

“Show. Don’t tell” happens also to be excellent advice for life. It is becoming my directive for authentic, meaningful relationships.

I share my life with an incredible woman who doesn’t realize how incredible she is. We have known each other 25 years. That’s more than half our lives. In that time, you come to understand essential things about each other. You also develop shortcuts and habits in the way you see and tell each other things.

In 25 years, you say “I love you” a hundred thousand times, sometimes without thinking, sometimes as reflex. Sometimes “I love you” makes complicated things easier. Other times, instead of saying the thing you need to say, saying “I love you” lets you off the hook.

I love this person more today than I ever have, but I am trying to say “I love you” a little less. I am trying to put myself back on the hook. I am trying to find ways inside our life to show rather than tell. And when I do say those words, “I love you”, I want to know she understands exactly what I mean. I want her to have an experience that she can feel, some small thing that makes a lasting change.

Temporary

My mom-in-law died very early Sunday morning. She had been sick with lung cancer and all the sordid complications, pains and harrassments that come with the disease. When diagnosed in July 2013, the doctors guessed she might have 5 months. She lived 9. Eight of those months were pretty good.

When my family realized how short our time together was going to be, we learned how to be very honest with ourselves and each other. If we needed something, we learned how to ask. If we wanted something done, we did it with little delay. We cried and worried a lot at first, but soon found ourselves laughing as much as we were crying and then laughing more often than crying.

When we hurt feelings, we quickly apologized. We said I love you more often and practiced patience and humility when foundering in painful or embarrassing situations.

My mom-in-law had been sick and, when she died, was about to be become even sicker. Her passing was a strange kind of mercy.

If you listen, life carries strange echoes.

I was away from home the day my wife’s mom got the first diagnosis. My wife called, and I drove home as quickly as I could.

I was away from home the day my wife got the call that her mom had suffered a sudden, unexpected brain hemorrhage. She called, and I drove home as quickly as I could.

Both of those drives were the most awful miles. Having had my wife’s voice with all of her pain and grief in my ear, I felt right there with her and yet, I had to cross 150 miles of interstate to be with her. I often live divorced from the realities of time and distance. Feeling both between us made me afraid and bit frantic.

And yet, both of those awful drives were a kind of mindful meditation. Both times, I was pressed forward by two inescapable realizations.

Everything we build, develop or make with our own efforts and our own energies is temporary. No matter how important or useful or beautiful, everything we call our life is temporary. This is terrifying, but it is also comforting.

Being temporary and recognizing our temporariness frees us to understand a greater truth. We are not here for ourselves. Our lives do not really belong to us.

It doesn’t matter what church you go to or which way you say your prayers. We are here for one reason. All of us. We are here to help each other be brave in the face of our own individual temporariness. We are here to comfort, to encourage and to remind each other to practice our lives with openness. There is always sadness. There is always fear. There is always discouragement.

Uncertainty is not an aberrant state. Uncertainty cannot be avoided. Uncertainty is our lives. We can help each other work with uncertainty so that it is not a source of fear or pain.

There is beauty and confidence and assurance waiting in uncertainty. We are here to remind each other and to help each other practice remembering.

An Orange in a Tree

My six year old daughter heard somewhere that the Chinese have an ancient tradition of placing an orange in a tree as a way of making a wish. If the orange stays in the tree overnight, the wish will be granted. If the orange falls out from the tree, the wish will not come to pass.

I haven’t yet taken the time to research this to figure out what she’s talking about. I don’t want to know. I think the idea is perfectly beautiful and, of course, perfectly doomed to fail.

She has a stuffed dog she calls Mudge. My daughter, my wife, Mudge and I live in a house with four real, honest-to-gosh dogs. We feed them, groom them, pet them and generally love them. You probably know where this is going.

My daughter decided that she wanted Mudge to be a real dog so that Mudge could have real dog experiences. She wanted Mudge to eat when fed, to wag when groomed, and to bask in the pleasantness that comes with being generally loved.

Her plan was simple. She put an orange in a tree. This morning as we left for school, she locked Mudge in her room. “If Mudge becomes a real dog while we are gone, I don’t want him getting lost or getting scared by the other dogs.” Very practical. She is a planner like her mother.

After school, she was in a rush to get home and check on the orange. I explained that she might want to dial back her expectations a little bit and that I had never known or heard of a stuffed animal coming to life for any reason but particularly not from placing an orange in a tree.

“We’ll have to see,” she told me, which was not really fair. That’s usually my line.

When we pulled into the driveway, I could already see the outcome of her hopes. The orange had fallen out of the tree.

“Oh man,” she said, genuinely disappointed. There was such sweetness in that voice and a little bit of disbelief. “I thought it would work. Let’s go inside.”

We got inside, greeted by four enthusiastically happy dogs. “Come on. Let’s check,” she said. “Just to be sure.”

She strode down the hall, opened her bedroom door a bit and peered inside. “Mudge?”

She listened for an answer. Hearing none, she opened the door completely and walked to her bed where Mudge lay exactly as she had left him.

She shrugged. She nodded. “We’ll try again in the Spring,” she told me.

“Sure.” I nodded.

My daughter will have her heart broken a hundred thousand times. The world can be mean and petty. Sometimes there isn’t enough magic in it. I know how she feels.

And yet, there is something inside of us, all three of us, that does not die with the disappointment. We will try again in the spring. These are the words of someone who is relentlessly optimistic. My daughter, myself, my family. It is the way we choose to live our life.

Sometimes you hope for things that are never going to happen.

Sometimes you make plans for the impossible.

Sometimes you put an orange up in a tree because someone told you that the Chinese did the exact same thing thousands of years ago. Maybe they. Maybe they didn’t. It doesn’t really matter. If it doesn’t work, we can try again next spring.

 

 

The People You Cannot Help

There is someone in your life you cannot help. It may be a parent or a spouse, a child or a grandparent. You may love them with your whole heart, and they do not reciprocate. You may treat them with kindness which they repay with selfish demands. These people are never happy.

These people will take everything you can give and then ask why you never offer what they need.

They will eat the full meal of your generosity and complain that it is not enough. It is never enough.

These people will never admit fault but are quick to relish every small disappointment.

These people will kill you. Don’t let them.

Do the small kindnesses where you are able. Do the things that are needed and let that be enough. Speak with patience. Know when to hold your chair and when to leave the room.

Recognize that you cannot change people or make people happy or bring people into the light against their will. Recognize that some people choose to stay inside their own darkness.

Be kind to yourself and generous with your spirit, but recognize that you cannot rescue these people.

There is someone in your life you cannot help. Do not let them pull you into darkness. If you must love them, love them, but do not let them take your light.

A Few Things About My Grandmother

My grandmother celebrates 87 years today. She lives alone, drives her car and is learning to check Facebook on her Android tablet. The walls of her house are filled from floor to ceiling with framed family photographs. Her shelves are stacked with pictures, four frames deep. She is lovely, generous and kind. Many of the things I know that are worth knowing I have learned from my grandmother.

I never knew my grandfather. My mother’s father died one month before I was born. My grandmother has filled the years that followed by loving her family enough for both of them.

My grandmother finished her formal education at 8th grade. There was nothing beyond that available to her. She enjoyed school so much she took 8th grade twice.

My grandmother is a news and politics junky. Back in the Reagan/Bush/Clinton days she was a keen follower of public policy, celebrating the success of both parties. When politics turns nasty, she loses her taste for it and cultivates an expertise in the national weather.

When her sight was better, my grandmother was a voracious reader, preferring political and celebrity biography. She has never developed an appreciation for fiction.

When I was 10 years old, I often spent the night with my grandmother. She had cable. That’s how I found out about MTV.

When spending the night, we often had dinner together at Krystal. She never had much money and she enjoyed buying those dozen tiny, little hamburgers. It was always a low-cost feast.

When I was a kid, she was always giving me the last dollar out of her wallet. I took those dollars, never realizing she was giving her last one.

She used to carry Certs with her everywhere. She offered me one every time there was a lull in conversation or we were waiting for something to happen.

My grandmother is the kind of person with whom it is easy to share good news. She was one of the first people my wife and I told when we got engaged and again when expecting our daughter.

She doesn’t have much and has never asked for much. She surrounds herself with the love of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She gives more generously than her means and never speaks unkindly of anyone. She forgives quickly and celebrates every little success. She always expects the best of everyone and is seldom disappointed.

She worries too much and hates to be a burden on anyone. She lives simply and maintains a stubborn sense of self-reliance.

I am grateful to her in ways I cannot find words to describe. And so I will leave this to say, my grandmother is a phenomenally kind, generous, loving person. She has suffered loss and then seen years of increase. She holds the world together with worry and attention. I hope you are reading this and thinking of someone in your life like this. If you are, you understand what it means to be loved and appreciated beyond all limits and reason. You understand the spirit of generosity.

 

 

The Internet Revolution is Now Complete. My Grandma Has WiFi.

The Internet Revolution is now complete. My 88 year old grandmother has wi-fi.

I visited her this afternoon for our traditional New Year’s family lunch. I was surprised to find a router sitting beside her recliner, lights ablaze and signaling traffic. This shock was preceded a few weeks earlier by a Facebook friend request from my grandmother. What is going on?

Turns out my uncle activated a DSL connection, installed the router and established the Facebook account. He also bought a used Toshiba tablet so my grandma can Facebook. This is a bit of a head bender. My grandmother is an intelligent woman but I’m not sure if she knows that she internet access. I have never once seen her use a computer of any kind. She distrusts debit cards, does not carry a cell phone and uses only two TV channels — CNN and The Weather Channel. I’m not even certain she knows what the internet is.

But, that doesn’t matter. She now has wireless internet access, whether she realizes it or not, and it will make her life noticeably better in at least two practical ways. My grandmother is losing her hearing. She can still enjoy conversations in rooms without background noise but phone calls are a chore. For two years, she has been using a telephone-to-text relay service that is mediated by a third party listener who listens to the conversation and transcribes on the screen for my grandmother to read. It works okay but accuracy is about 60% and there is some lag. Like I said, phone calls are a chore. The DSL connnection was installed to connect her telephone to an internet-based transcription service which works faster with more accuracy. I am told the transcription is now 80% accurate and much faster. That alone is worth the price of the internet subscription.

Photographs are a big part of my grandmother’s life. She started taking snapshots as a kid and has carried the hobby ever since. Her pictures reveal what is most important in her life – family. I am sure she was tens of thousands of candid family photos, many of which are pressed in albums or are hanging on her living room walls. When she leaves her apartment, they will have to re-sheet rock the entire living room because there are so many nail holes from family pictures. It is a sight to behold.

The wireless connection and tablet allow my uncle to show my grandmother recent pictures from family in west Tennessee, Texas and Kansas through Facebook. Even if she never likes a post or publishes a status update, wireless internet access allows my grandmother to extend the reach of photo collection into virtual space. This is a good way to keep her from feeling quite so far away from the people she loves.

I write a lot about how the Internet shapes my daily life. When thinking about technology, I often succumb to the rhetoric of revolution. Today, it occurred to me that the revolution may be over. The Internet now truly underpins every aspect our quotidian lives. The Internet has become a utility like water and electricity, so ubiquitous in our daily lives we don’t even have to know it is there for it to bring value. The revolution is complete. Everything is different and the tools have disappeared. We can finally take this stuff for granted and expect it to work for us every time without special skill or training. Incredible to realize how boring and commonplace the magic has become. We live in fascinating times, even when we find them completely ordinary.