Author Archives: Nathanael Worley

A Happy Ending

Last night, while my wife was inside a restaurant with friends, someone broke the window of her car and stole her briefcase. All it contained was her paycheck and documents she needs for her job, including two notebooks of handwritten notes for opinions she had to write. They were one of a kind originals, with no copies. Recreating them from memory would have been nearly impossible.

Local police spent the night looking for the briefcase, and my wife spent several hours trying to figure out what to do about the loss. She and I both said a prayer that, somehow, they would be safely returned. This morning, Sarah got up early to drive around some more looking and then drove to the auto glass shop, where the very nice technicians not only replaced her window by 10:30 a.m., but they even cleaned up every trace of broken glass and disturbance.

While she was on her way home, I received a phone call at the house from a gentleman who lives 3 miles from the restaurant. He told me that he walked his dog this morning near a highway overpass and happened to see some papers loose. When he looked more closely, he saw my wife’s briefcase and decided that it looked important. Carefully, he gathered up all the materials from the underbrush and cleaned them off. Finding only a business card and not wanting to keep my wife waiting till Monday, he rummaged around until he found a receipt from the car dealership, which my wife had stuffed in an outer pocket of the bag.

He called the dealership, told the story, and convinced them to give him our home number. I was able to call my wife with his address, and within 15 minutes, she had arrived at his house and retrieved everything in her bag except one cell phone charger. Everything of importance was there: all her notes, client papers, her paycheck, and a document containing our child’s name, address, and date of birth. Mike, the good samaritan, apologized over and over for going through her things to figure out how to contact Sarah. She assured him repeatedly that it was the best thing he could have done to make her happy.

On her way home, she told the wonderful police department that we had recovered everything. Then she headed to the bank, where she deposited her check in perfect time for me to pay some bills that are due this week.

All of this happened in 11 hours. Her faith in humanity has been completely restored. We all feel grateful. It’s a beautiful thing.

Inauguration

I’m still absorbing the impact of President Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday. It is hard for me to explain why it has made me so ecstatic. Of course it feels great to know that the candidate for whom I voted has become president, but I think there is more going on.

Many, many people have written and spoken about the historic significance of our having elected the first African-American president. They have said, and rightly so, that all Americans can now feel that race doesn’t have to be a barrier to achievement in this country, that we are collectively moving beyond our shameful past of discrimination. Watching the faces of many African-Americans who attended the inauguration, it was easy to see the joy people felt in seeing this color barrier fall. Many people interviewed said they never expected to see this in their lifetimes.

I guess, finally, what makes me so happy for us as a country is this: we are capable of surprising ourselves by being better than we thought we were. Millions upon millions of Americans have proved that the old hatreds, so much a part of our national history, can be put down.

There’s a hymn I really love, which opens like this, “A glorious day is dawning,/And o’er the waking earth/The heralds of the morning/Are springing into birth.”

What a glorious new morning. I am filled with hope.

Holiday

Monday holidays are a super invention. I have felt for a long time that 3-day weekends are the perfect length to rest up for the work week. You get an extra day’s sleep without an early alarm; you have time to run errands, relax, and do projects; and you know that the rest of the week is a short one.

Mainly, the long weekends helps me focus on having fun and getting things done. But, there is also the holiday itself. In the case of Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday, we get the chance to remember the life and contribution of a man who inspired other people to change our society.

This new year, I am looking all over for inspiration, especially the kind that pushes me closer to a life that makes a difference. For some reason 2009 already feels like a year in which we can all make a difference, starting with our new president and the belief that he and his team will be able to help turn some of our problems around.

Inspiration and hope go hand in hand for me. I’m feeling hopeful, and that has made me feel ready: ready to write, ready to help my friends, ready to make a difference. MLK made a difference. Barack Obama is ready to make a difference.

Why not us? Why not me?

Deep Freeze!

It’s easy to complain about the cold (we’ve been down to -18F in Chicago today). But, I just read in the New York Times that the canals have frozen in the Netherlands for the first time in 12 years. This is a very big deal for the Dutch, who think of skating, according to the story, as “part of our soul.”

I’m thrilled for the Dutch, who have rushed out by the hundreds of thousands to skate on the canals, an old national tradition. Older Dutch are euphoric to relive their childhood memories. For many children, of course, this is a new experience. I imagine how happy, how full of wonder and surprise they must be to see their parents and their grandparents bursting with childlike excitement. How great to learn to be a child from your elders.

Just this morning I told friends that I have never really minded the bitter cold, at least on a sunny day, but that I don’t love it as much since I stopped having the chance to skate outside. And now I’m reading about a country able to skate outside, in spite of water pollution, in spite of global warming.

Can’t you imagine it, the wind pushing freezing tears from the corners of your eyes, your skates ripping into the hard, rough ice, the warmth returning to your feet in your skates as you work your legs and arms. If you are lucky, you hold a small child in front of you with both hands, feeling him feel the ice, the startling lack of friction and weight, as you glide untethered away from shore.

God bless winter.

Miracle in the Hudson–All Passengers Survive

Today’s lead news story about the USAirways flight safely landing in the Hudson River in New York City has really inspired me. It is stunning and wonderful to see the media coverage that is typically devoted to a catastrophe focus instead on a catastrophe averted.

The superb reactions of the USAir flight crew to land and evacuate the plane safely, the seemingly orderly participation of the 150 passengers, who let women and children climb out first, and the fast response of ferry captains and rescue personnel to race to retrieve the passengers from the wreckage, remind us how well people can react to crisis.

I have been struck watching some of the interviews on the TV news tonight how measured the passengers appear in their comments. They are balancing joy in being alive with wonder that they could have come through something so nearly awful. One gentleman, a young doctor, struck a note that resonated with me: he said that, right at impact with the water, he braced for what he had learned to expect from the movies, an explosion, some object to tear him apart. Instead, several of them started shouting, “We’re OK. We’re OK. Let’s get out.”

I love the fact that the people had the presence of mind to figure out immediately that real experience could be better than one had been led to expect. This is grounds for celebration. The skilled pilots and the flight attendants all remembered their training and managed a once-in-a-lifetime challenge with intelligence, poise, and efficiency. The passengers who relied on them adopted the same level of thoughtful responsibility to assist in their own rescue.

What a triumph. It fills me with happiness. Reuters has some great photos.

New Year’s diet

I’m struggling with the diet my wife and I started after New Year’s. It’s only day 4 today, but the first week is always the worst, because that’s when you kick the sugar habit. Eating too much sugar is a life-long bad habit for me, ever since childhood, when I could eat everything I wanted and not gain a pound.

Weaning yourself off sugar (or caffeine, for that matter) does make you ask why you became so dependent on it in the first place. I haven’t read that much about what experts say about “comfort” eating or “emotional” eating, but the sense I have is that they are ways to find a quick, super easy way to feel better.

Of course, the real point is that there are more lasting, reliable ways to feel better, and most of these involve doing something worthwhile like helping someone else or helping yourself by eating right and exercising. Like most things that are worthwhile, these take more work than eating out of a vending machine.

Which takes me back to the first week of a diet. I find that I go into mourning for snack foods that I love (“I wish I had a black and white cookie.” “I wish I had a piece of chocolate cake.”) Then, the further into it I get, the more I admit to myself that I will appreciate being fit and in shape, and I will also appreciate not being controlled and hypnotized by processed, fatty foods.

Smokers say that after they quit smoking, they get to the point where they can really taste their food, and the same thing is true to a lesser degree with eating less junk food. All of the fresh vegetables start to taste delicious. I’m not allowed much fruit in the first week of this diet, but the fruit I am allowed (a tablespoon of raisins, a dried apricot) taste like candy.

There is a metaphor in this, that giving up quick, empty joys clears the way for you to notice deeper, more substantial joys. In three weeks, this will make me really happy.

For today, I am clinging to the fact that I have lost 2.5 pounds, and I get to eat a little applesauce for a snack later today.

Couldn’t sleep

Last night was one of those nights in a hotel room when I couldn’t get comfortable. I was congested and, alternately, too hot and too cold and kept my wife awake by tossing around all night. So I got up and now have the early morning to myself in the hotel lobby.

The one thing I really like about winter is being awake in the early morning darkness. Somehow it feels like you are living a secret life, with only a few other earlybirds. It reminds me of winter mornings in my childhood during ski trips. We would get up early, complaining and grumpy, but then there was a hot breakfast and the promise of a full day on the slopes.

I don’t ski much at all any more, and it’s one of the things I have given up that I would like to return to. That is the best part of New Year’s for me, imagining what I will do this year to improve on last year.

I’m feeling optimistic about this year, confident that there will be lots of fun things to do. I’ve learned in the last year to look forward to the good things that are ahead of me most of the time, even when I’m struggling a little bit. It has really helped me be grateful for all the wonderful people in my life, who make me feel happy and appreciated at work, at home, and around town.

Happy New Year. (I intend to think this for at least two months.)

Musicians

Elivis Costello hosts a new show on the Sundance Channel called Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…. Each episode features another musician (Elton John, Lou Reed, James Taylor), with whom Costello performs and discusses that musician’s musical tastes and process.

I’ve just watched the James Taylor episode. I loved James Taylor starting in high school, when a friend of mine introduced me to his music. Every quality that I loved is on display in this televised hour: thoughtfulness, humor, insight, confession, and musicianship.

The show is great fun to watch because Costello, a talented musician with extremely varied musical taste, happily focuses on his guest’s likes and dislikes and shares his admiration with the studio audience.

It’s always a treat for me to listen to successful artists discuss how they create and, in this case, how they perform. Taylor talks about the profound shock of being a singer-songwriter emerging from the introspection of writing into the spotlight of a pop star’s fame. It is what you work for, he says, and then when it gets there, you realize that the product is not so much the music as the self, and you can get a little lost. He says, specifically, “Hang onto your hat.”

He also says that he understands the cult of celebrity as an effort by ordinary people to use celebrities to represent them in the wider world. Fascinating.

Tonight, the intimacy of the music and the connection between the two aging musicians represented for me both my aspirations as an artist (which I have to admit may come to nothing) and my thirst for collaborators.

Watch the show if you are a music lover of a certain age.

Merry Christmas

There is probably a word for what I experienced last night. It is similar to an epiphany, the word that James Joyce revived to describe a transformational moment, in which you suddenly experience a profound insight about yourself and your life. It can hit you unexpectedly and without warning.

Last night, after my wife cooked a delicious dinner for a small group at her parents’ house, we came home to wrap presents. The three of us each took a room, Nina in her bedroom, Sarah in her study, and I in the living room with the Christmas tree. I turned on a CD of Diana Krall singing Christmas carols, plugged in the lights on the tree, and sat on the floor to wrap stocking gifts.

When I had finished wrapping, I put away the paper, ribbons, and tape in the attic and returned to the living room to sit in a chair and listen to the music. We live on a quiet street without street lights, and the neighbors at the back were away, so outside was silent except for the steady rain.

I sat right in front of the tree and gazed from one ornament to another, lingering mostly on the hand-painted, ceramic figures that my stepdaughter’s great-grandmother sent to her, every year at Christmas, and also at the hand-made ornaments that Nina herself brought home from school as a small child.

Christmas tree ornaments have a special, evocative power over me. They appear every year for a week or two and recall other Christmas Eves and Christmas mornings, first in your own childhood and then in your children’s. They are celebratory and colorful, and the best of them are simple. These favorites of mine are tiny reminders of our family’s joy and love.

The word I am looking for describes a brief, personal experience that allows you a sweet, simple appreciation that you are who you are, that there is nothing you would change.

You might call it a blessing.

Snow storm

The first major snow storm of the winter blew through southeastern Massachusetts this afternoon just before dark. Two inches had fallen by nightfall, which happens before 5:00 p.m. these days. Because her plans came together late in the afternoon, I agreed to take my stepdaughter to a friend’s house just as the storm hit its wildest point.

We probably should have turned around when I realized just how bad the roads were, but by that time we were halfway there, and it would have been disappointing to my child not to finish the trip. The drive was a little scary, but mostly because my imagination tends to kick in when things start to feel out of control. I tried to push out of my mind the idea that I might make a wrong turn in the dark on the way home and drive off the road.

It’s a good lesson to remember every once in awhile that we sometimes choose to think things are worse than they are. It’s easy to do with so many examples in the news and in our lives of things turning awful. How much better, though, to move the opposite direction and envision things being even better than they seem.

Our street lost power tonight after I ate dinner, so here I was alone in a house without lights or an internet connection. After complaining about it on the phone with my wife, I climbed into bed with my laptop and watched a silly romantic comedy with the last of my laptop battery.

I guess the point I’m making is that I can get carried away hoping things don’t take a turn for the worse, when it would be every bit as logical to hope that things will take a turn for the better. This sounds like a superficial kind of pretend game, but I mean it seriously. Where we have the chance to make things better through our determination, I think we have a duty to do it.

Nothing is more important.

The power has just come back on in time for me to finish this before bedtime.