Monday, December 9, 2013

So much wasted space

Did you know that if you took all the extra spaces people type between sentences every day and placed them end to end, they would fill 10,745 pages? Every single day?

Yeah, I totally made that up. So you did not know that. But it sounded kind of compelling there for a minute, huh?

It is true, however, that you're only supposed to type one space between sentences, and it's true that the two-space mythology is maddeningly persistent and it's even true that I managed to make an entire column out of that topic in this past Sunday's Times Free Press.

Well, that topic and also TED Talks and New Year's resolutions. In fact, a couple of people even told me they didn't know about TED Talks until they read that column. So maybe that column did more than just take up space.

But, honestly, probably not.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The best things in life are dumb

You guys! A new, dumb episode of "Regular Show" comes on tonight! Jack has seen the commercials, and he says it's something about basketball and Rigby and this other guy somehow trying to do basketball tricks or something? It sounds awesome. And so dumb. 

My column in the Times Free Press yesterday was also pretty dumb. I think I have a theme going here. It's not fancy, but I like it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Is that game really still on? REALLY?

This is the most beautiful, most perfect, most glorious season of the year and I CANNOT BELIEVE how many people spend it watching these long, boring sports things on television. But they do, and that means I have to find ways to entertain myself until all my friends and family return to their senses.

I manage.

Read about it in today's Times Free Press.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Our joyful, if irritating, noise

There’s a sound coming from the playroom upstairs -- a lilting, tuneless little thread of noise that persists through the cacophony of hundreds (thousands?) of Legos being plundered.

“Ben’s having a good time up there,” I tell my husband, peeking into his garage workshop, coffee in hand. “Can you hear him?”

“No,” Jim replies, looking up from the cabinets he’s staining. “Is he humming?”


He chuckles. “You can’t fight genetics.”

Last week, the colleague and longtime friend who sits in the cubicle next to mine at work stood up and peered over the wall that separates us.

“Mary, are you humming?”

“I don’t know. Did you hear someone humming?”


“Then I definitely was.”

When I was a teenager, a friend of mine spent the night and, over bowls of cereal the next morning asked me, “What is that noise?”

“What noise?”

“That, like, buzzing sound. Is it a saw?”

“Oh, that’s my mom. She’s just humming.”

These are my people. We hum. And we would stop, but we don’t even know we’re doing it.

My grandfather – my mom’s father – emitted a nearly constant, gravelly buzz. He’s been dead 21 years, and I can still hear it. My older son, Ben’s big brother Jack, has added unconscious percussion to the humming, absent-mindedly smacking out an accompanying tune on his skinny teenage chest as he reads or watches television or does his homework.

Sometimes Jack comes to the breakfast table first thing in the morning with the full musical process already in motion. “Jack, baby,” I plead blearily. “It’s so early. Can we eat breakfast without all the noise?”

“What noise?”

Not one of us has a speck of musical talent, by the way. It’s not as if we’re providing some kind of entertainment or in any way improving the atmosphere. I mean, my mother sounds like a saw.

But I have learned the hard way to miss the humming when it stops.

The years my mother battled an aggressive cancer, no one hummed. The year my own health fell apart and my marriage endured a notably rough patch, there was no humming. When Jim lost his job, when we moved twice in one year, when Jack was sick and no one could figure out why, the air was still.

When we’re stressed, when we’re sad, when we’re scared, the humming stops.

But when we’re engrossed in work we enjoy, when we’re comfortable and happy and feeling at home in this world and in our lives, we hum. We hum all the time, and the people around us think we’re weird, and maybe they even think we’re annoying, but I guess that’s OK.

It could be worse, right? We could know how to whistle.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A love letter to millennials from an angry gen Xer

Fair warning: This blog post is a bit of a rant, and I do tend to get NSFW when I rant. So if you'd like to read the family-safe, watered-down version of this, you can see that in the Times Free Press.

You're welcome.

Hey, you know what pisses me off? These articles insulting and belittling millennials. Like this one. And this! Who is writing these crappy, lazy articles, anyway? I bet I know. I bet these articles are written by members of generation X or maybe even baby boomers. Neither of whom have ANY ROOM to talk, by the way. Because we suck.

Yes, we do. We suck in our own special, particular ways and guess what? We suck more than millennials. Boomers especially. You guys look awfully comfy to the rest of us, with your Medicare and your Social Security checks and your pensions (PENSIONS! Who even HAS that any more?).

I sure won’t see any of that magical security as I stagger toward the mirage of retirement (RETIREMENT? HA!). And these millennials everyone is so busy calling narcissistic, self-involved, entitled brats? Well, they won’t see any of it, either -- and it’s largely built on their backs.

Granted, millennials are hardly the first generation to land on the receiving end of another’s piss-poor planning. But when gen X realized how royally screwed we were, we got kind of surly. We got a little cynical. We got disillusioned and we invented grunge and we went to see “Clerks” (again) and, granted, there are only like nine of us so we’re easily overwhelmed, but we pretty much just threw up our hands and met behind the gym to sneak a smoke.

Millennials had the bad luck to come up right behind us, all wide-eyed and stunningly numerous in the midst of this underwater, overextended, laid-off, bailed-out, outsourced, globally warmed, towers-collapsing, dead-end-war-zones mess they’re now left to clean up.

Did they get surly? No, you guys. They did not. They got creative. Idealistic. Inclusive. The got entrepreneurial and earnest and OK, yes, they fell pretty deeply in love with themselves, and we all had to hear about it on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr or whatever.

But hey, here’s another word for narcissistic, self-involved, entitled brats: YOUNG. They are young, you guys, and we were young, too, and do you know what we were when we were young? We were narcissistic, self-involved, entitled brats. ALL SYNONYMS FOR YOUNG. No one writing any of these crappy, lazy, insulting articles is breaking any new ground by observing that young people are self-involved. Biggest non-story ever.

And you cannot tell me you were not all of those things when you were young. I will not believe you. If you think you were not all of those things when you were young, you’re just old and forgetful, and perhaps bitter and deluded, and you clearly do not remember anything about being young. Hell, you’re probably a boomer, so go buy some pleated Dockers with your Social Security money that you took from my paycheck and stay out of this.

I mean, look. I am 41, extremely responsible and employed and steady and reliable and loving to my family and good to my friends and happy in my financially marginal, suburban little life. I exercise and eat vegetables and floss every damn day. But I absolutely spent the late ‘80s drinking warm cans of Old Milwaukee’s Best and chain-smoking Marlboro Lights while I teased my hair into giant, Aqua-Netted rake-bangs and snuck out of my bedroom window to drive to Mexico in the middle of the night. With no license.

Because I was YOUNG. And anyone dumb (young) enough to do any (all) of that is damn sure dumb enough to post it to Facebook. The only reason I didn’t post it to Facebook is because I couldn’t because no millennial had invented it yet, and one day these poor, dumb kids will be so very sorry that there is this eternal digital record of all their worst decisions and most inane, self-indulgent moments – which is just one more way they are getting screwed.

They don’t even get to be stupid in the safe, contained way that we did. They can move away or go to rehab or GROW UP or whatever the rest of us got to do to escape it, but that stupidity will FOLLOW THEM FOREVER. It’s horrible.

They’re good kids, you guys. They are. But they are KIDS.

I teach an introductory media writing class at a university, so I get to spend lots of time with millennials. The really little ones – 18-21, tops. I also work at a big company that hires lots of them, and I have several very close friends who are under 30 or barely beyond it. And guess what? While we’re busy writing these crappy, lazy, insulting articles, they’re out there trying to fix all this stuff we’ve messed up.

They LOVE to fix stuff, and to find new ways to do things, and they like to help each other and they even enjoy helping bitter old gen Xers like me. All these kids (KIDS, you guys) really want is some sense that we recognize the very tough spot they’re in (I don’t care which recession you graduated during – theirs is worse, and it isn’t their fault) and for us to maybe cut them a little slack for the unforgivable crime of being young.

Oh, I know what chapter of the millennial-bashing narrative comes next: They are so obnoxious, with all this wanting people to be nice to them. The nerve. Those pansies. They all got trophies for just showing up, and now they want everything handed to them. Boo hoo.

Well, bullshit, you guys. There is nothing wrong with expecting people to be nice to you – with hoping that they’ll be supportive and encouraging and helpful – especially when you’re YOUNG. We should be nice to them. And we should not act like it’s some big imposition to do it.

When I was a college student, when I was an intern, when I was a stumbling puppy of a reporter, SO MANY people were SO nice to me and I would have gotten nowhere and accomplished nothing without them. I was super clueless, and deeply in need of help, and the grown-ups helped me and no one accused me of being an entitled brat for needing help. This is why old people like us exist. We’re SUPPOSED to help.

Also, when I was in sixth grade, I had a really bad semester for boring reasons I won’t get into here. I did no schoolwork. None. I was failing every subject. One day, my teacher Mrs. Canale (may she rot eternally in hell) sent me out of the classroom and told all of the other kids that I was failing and that they were not to talk to me or play with me or eat lunch with me or into any way associate with me because I needed to focus on my work. And then she let 11-year-old me back into the room, and I had no idea what had just transpired. It took me a while to figure it out. One of the other kids finally spilled the secret. But not before I was driven to a nervous breakdown by the abrupt, inexplicable and total ostracism of my peers.

Any millennial who heard that story would be horrified – and rightly so. It’s horrible. So boomers and gen X can crow all they want about how they turned out fine even though they got paddled in school, or no one got a prize unless they actually won, or they had parents who were never home or who stood over them and made them practice the violin until their fingers bled or whatever. Yeah, yeah, we’re all so tough and amazing and excellent in every way because we got treated like garbage when we were small and powerless and in need of compassion. Great story.

But you will never, ever convince me that there is any value in making young people feel like shit. You will never convince me that there is any downside to showing them kindness.

There are no lessons learned, there is no character built, there is nothing to be gained by withholding help and praise and guidance and support from young people. And yes, we should enforce some standards, but those standards should be based on these ideas: Treat others with kindness. Help any time you can, in any way you can. Be useful. Be compassionate. The only time we should come down hard on them is any time they don’t exhibit that behavior. And, you guys, we should start by exhibiting that behavior ourselves.

If those are the standards, this generation is totally nailing it. These kids (KIDS, you guys) really do want to help. They’ve been raised on the collective consciousness of social media; they understand the power of connecting and supporting each other. They know they can truly change things because they ARE changing things. They HAVE TO. I mean, they’re coming of age in an absolute shitstorm.

My most recent media writing class featured an especially delightful crop of millennials. Yeah, they were pretty loud and they loooooved to hear themselves talk, but I loved to hear them talk, too, so it worked out. One kid in this class -- kind of an introverted, quiet kid -- landed a big-deal spot as an extra in a very big-deal movie. And when he came to class and talked about it, all the other kids decided it would be a great thing of they all went to see the movie to support this kid’s screen debut.

So a bunch of them got themselves organized, went out for wings after class and then saw this movie together. They made a very big point of letting this kid know how happy they were for him, and it was really freaking touching. He was so thrilled. I mean, it made him feel terrific. They even texted me a silly picture of themselves having dinner together, which made me feel terrific, too.

These kids hadn’t been friends before this class. Hell, they may not have stayed friends after. But they did this sweet thing that I am always seeing this generation do: They got organized and showed a real desire to help outside the scope of their own little individual existences.

These people are kind. They’re optimistic, despite having every reason to go all gen X and sink into cynicism. No, they’re not perfect (oh, because YOU are?) but I’m pretty proud of them. I like them. This world we’ve left them is a mess, and we should help them out any way we can.

Or, at the very least, we should behave like grown-ups and quick picking on the kids.

This is little Mary Rehyansky in 1992. She is 20.
She has no idea what she is doing. I remember her well.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Total recall

Things my 8-year-old son has said to me this week that I will totally be reminding him he said when he is 16 and making me batshit insane:

Thanks for waking me up early so I have more time to ride my bike.

I love living with you. Can I still live with you when I grow up?

Do you have any chores we can do?

Sit closer to me.

Can we go running together?

My school is really good, huh? We learn a lot there.

Don't forget I need to wear sunscreen.

Holy crap, you guys. Sometimes I really like having kids.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

No matter how I try to warm up, my Kindle leaves me cold

I was giddy at the idea of an e-reader -- all those stories dozing behind the sleek screen of that slender tablet. Books on demand. Books that won’t tear or wrinkle. Books whose spines don’t split, whose pages never fall out in chunks as if the story has developed mange. Endless variety, and virtually nothing to carry.

For an obsessive, lifelong reader, it seemed like the answer to everything.

When I received a Kindle for Christmas, I was thrilled. I immediately began downloading stuff I’d been meaning for ages to get my hands on. Christopher Hitchens’ musings on death as his approached; a posthumous collection by Vonnegut; that devastating, hilarious essay by David Foster Wallace about the surreality of life on a cruise ship; everything David Rakoff ever penned (what’s with me and doomed men, anyway?).

Oh, I read and read. And for a while, I did love my Kindle. I was infatuated. He was so pretty, so glib, so light, so quick with the words – the infinite, beautiful words. He even defined the ones I didn’t know! Just press the word, and up bounced its explanation. Miraculous.

But soon I started to notice things.

When I would try to lie on my side, for instance, he would flip the text, toggling it so that I could no longer read. He was only trying to help. But it annoyed me.

When my hand would stray accidentally to the screen, the page would spring to life – icons, arrows, options everywhere. My Kindle was so responsive. So incredibly, infuriatingly responsive.

I started to realize I felt lost without the physicality of the book. No pages to flip, no map of the story that my eyes could walk through. Just the vaguely glowing screen, just the flat text behind the glass.

And how do I know how much of my book remains unread without a fat stack of pages behind my bookmark? Well, a little number in the corner tells me I’m 86 percent of the way through. Great. Now I have numbers mucking up my wordfest. Worse yet, percentages, which I especially hate. And oh, PLEASE stop telling me you need to be charged. Such a buzzkill.

My Kindle even cost me the pleasure of a great read shared. I would tell a friend about an astonishing book, and finish by saying lamely, “I wish I could lend it to you, but it’s in my Kindle.”

I stayed with my Kindle, though. It seemed like the right thing to do. I persisted. I bought more titles. I read on, learning not to lie on my side, not to let my hand drift to the screen, trying to ignore the infernal percentages and whiny low battery warnings.

Until the night I was reading “The Book Thief,” the story by Markus Zusak of a young girl growing up in World War II-era Germany. It’s a tale narrated by Death, who watches the girl and ponders her fate as he goes about his grim work in that blighted time and place.

One day, the girl and her friend leave bread on the road where they know the starving, tortured Jews will find it as their Nazi captors march them toward Dachau. The horrific parade shambles past while the children watch anxiously from the trees. A lurching, skeletal man sees the bread, stoops to snatch it up, gnaws urgently. As more men follow suit, the scowling Nazi guard realizes something is amiss and turns viciously to device not responding.

Device not responding. Device not responding. Device not responding.

“Mommy, why are you yelling at your Kindle?”

And that, dear reader, was the end.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Peaceful protest in badass shoes

My friend Pam is an editorial writer for the Times Free Press. She recently asked me if I would contribute a short piece for the page.

"About what?"
"About whatever's on your mind."

Well, holy crap. I can certainly do that. Anytime, of course, but this week in particular.

Wendy Davis is on my mind, y'all. This woman is as good as it gets. 

Read my short editorial about it here. While I go buy some Mizuno Wave Riders.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Our long, strange dream

This was going to be a column about my family's annual vacation to Florida, but sometimes my kids ask me questions about the nature of reality. They don't realize that's what they're asking, but it is. And it's really a shame I don't have better answers for them, but I've always been a little hazy on the nature of it, myself.

I'm not even sure I believe in reality. I mean, there are as many realities as there are people perceiving them. None of us walks through this life in quite the same way. Each of us has a particular view of this world and this life, and none of us has the same view of this world and this life, and don't even get me started about the possibility that there are parallel realities we can't even access from here.

So I wrote some stuff about all of that in the Times Free Press on Sunday, when I actually meant to write about my family's vacation to Florida. If you want to, you can read it from your spot in your reality while I sit here and nurse this headache.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

I'll just skip that show about predatory corpses, but thanks so much for the offer

Hey, the world is pretty scary, you guys. Have you noticed? Pretty effing scary. People are capable of stunning, horrendous cruelty. Terrible, inexplicable things happen all the damn time. For no reason. With no warning. You've seen that, right? It's a thing. I'm not imagining it? Right? Right. OK.

So, look. I have tried, but I really don't understand why people want to watch and read scary, gory, violent stuff for entertainment. Zombies. Hunger Games. Dexter. War. Apocalyptic death matches. Why is that fun, you guys? WHY?

Thanks, but no. I will just sit over here under this rainbow and pet my unicorn and watch my kids chase butterflies while my husband reads me dirty limericks and my dog brings me beers. And, if you get a break between the zombie show and the serial killer show, you can read my column about it in today's Times Free Press.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mourning the stolen finish lines

I ran tonight.
It was 7:30 by the time I was done with work and teaching and had a little bit of space to just put one foot in front of the other. I ran alone, only about 4 miles. Along the river, under low clouds. Not fast. I’m not fast. But I do it anyway.
I’ll run a couple of half marathons this year. Spring and fall. I always do. My husband and our sons have stood at so many finish lines for me. My sweet, smiling boys, all of them.
The kids must get so bored sometimes, standing there, waiting to see me come around the final turn. My husband has to get tired of holding that damn camera, hoping he can get the shot as I lope over the finish line.
My littlest son, Ben, is 8. Just like that littlest son who died at the Boston Marathon, standing there with his mom and his sister, watching the runners. Ben is my runner. He can cover a mile in just over 8 minutes, his small, strong legs whirling, his face set in that determined, unpretty scowl he got from me. “We’re the runners in our family,” he tells me, slipping his small hand into mine.
I run a half marathon in a little more than 2 hours. If I ever attempted a full, I’d hope to come in around the 4:15 mark, like most of that slow-but-steady crowd that was striding toward the finish line in Boston, running toward relief and joy, when everything we knew about that moment changed.
That moment. It’s such a good one. That moment as you see the finish line come into view, that moment you see your boys waving, that moment you cross over and they find you and hug you despite the sweat, and you can’t quite catch your breath yet to thank them for standing there, to tell them you love them -- but you will. You will.
That moment is one more we’ve lost, isn’t it? One more lovely, bright thing that’s been taken. Will I ever see them standing there again without thinking of this? Will I tell them not to stand there anymore? I can’t breathe now, when I think about them standing there.
I’m thinking about dropping out of Nashville, my friend texts me.
Next week he’ll run a race there with 32,000 people. He and I ran that race together last year, back when that moment was still whole, still utterly and unambiguously good. I don’t know what to text back to him.
My initial thought is, Friend, don’t cancel. Please.
But then I think, Would I want my boys standing at that finish line? And I can’t breathe.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t offer any advice. I don’t have any. My next race is in May. I think I’ll go. They’re supposed to go with me, they’re expecting to stand at that finish line.
I think we’ll go. Probably. Maybe.
For the most part, runners are inherently happy people. We take a lot of pleasure in effort, in goals set and met, in the journey as well as the destination. We tend to travel in packs, but we also delight in solitude.
The people I run with laugh about pain, compare injuries and share tips on treating them, make a good-natured joke of the bad runs, turn the good ones into the stuff of legend – epic stories told and retold, enshrined forever in their running story repertoires.
They know exactly what you mean when you say, “I’m so tired; I really need to run.” They know exactly when to text just that word: Run?
The people who love us most may not get it, but they get how much it matters. There isn’t much in life more purely joyful than seeing those people at the finish line of a race. There isn’t much that feels better than that.
There wasn’t, I mean.  There wasn’t.
I don’t know what to do with this loss. I don’t know how life looks without that moment. I don’t want to be angry, but I’m so angry. So angry, so sad. But I don’t know what to do with it, this enraged mourning for all those stolen finish lines.
So I did the only thing I know to do. I ran tonight.
I ran.

With our boys at the finish line.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

We're all made of stories. Well, I guess we're mostly made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. But also stories. They really should be on the periodic table.

Writers never stop writing, even when they appear to be doing other things. We're writing when we run, when we cook, when we do the taxes or get a pedicure. It's all fodder for the narrative, and our minds are forever turning over and storing the details for later use.

But guess what? You do it, too, even if you aren't a writer. You build and tell and retell your own story every day -- to yourself, to your friends, to your family, even to strangers. We all do it, even when we don't mean to. Even when we don't realize it. We can't help it.

Today's column in the Times Free Press reflects on the power of narrative to strengthen our connections to each other and to show the people we love that, while there may not be happily ever after, there's always another page to turn.

Thanks for becoming part of the story.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The magic, the shitstorm, and a toast to the future of Toast

Some people just have magic, don’t they? They have magic and the minute you meet them, you know. You can just feel it.

My friend Kent has magic shooting from his fingertips. His eyes and his voice radiate heart and soul and warmth and humor that turn strangers into friends and friends into communities. The air around him vibrates with joy and empathy and kindness.

And it’s so funny about Kent -- he doesn’t even seem to try, really. He’s just himself, and the rest simply follows.

Kent’s magic takes many forms. He can spin a story that will have you gasping laughter (Oh my god, the stories…). He can deliver a hug that makes you forget even the most frustrating day at work. He knows exactly when to text and say ‘Where have you been? I miss you!’ He will ask you, every single time he sees you, how you’re doing and how you’re feeling what’s up with you today? And y’all, he really, really wants to know.

And when Kent’s caught in a shitstorm, which he is at the moment, he still does all of those things. He directs his magic outward, and he pulls us all together, toward him and toward each other and toward what’s real and bright.

I’ll get back to the shitstorm in a minute. First I want to tell you about the most potent manifestation of Kent’s magic. It's called Toast. A little café at the corner of Vine and Lindsay streets in downtown Chattanooga. A little café where Kent spins his unique brand of magic. A little café he spent 10 years building and working to support.

And y’all, that man worked. He worked when he was hurt (he has the surgical scars to prove it), he worked when he was broke, he worked when he was tired, he worked when he was sick. He kept going when anyone else would have given up.

He built his little business in addition to doing his “real” job as a flight attendant, and he worked on it out of sheer love for the community he was creating -- for the utter joy he takes in having everyone over for a cup of coffee and a catch-up.

The magic made him do it.

I didn’t meet Kent at Toast. We met through mutual friends. I pretty much wanted to climb into his lap immediately. He made me laugh, and then he told me about his little café, just a couple of blocks from my office, and he said, “Come visit me.”

I did. And my friends came, too. And of course they were his friends, too. And then my friends and his friends were all friends and we were all running together and having lunch together and playing games and drinking beers and celebrating birthdays and laughing and laughing all the time. I couldn't even tell you how it all evolved. It just happened.

Because that’s what happens when you go visit Kent.

Here’s the kind of thing he does: We sneak to Toast for a quick lunch, and he’ll be really busy waiting on the midday crowd, but he’ll slip over to our table with a giant cupcake and three forks. 

Or he’ll bring us coffee drinks we didn’t even ask for. Or tell us he really needs our opinion on these new cookies. Or he’ll sit down just long enough to show us a funny video that makes us giddy before he has to jump back up and get back to work.

We’ll plan to run a half marathon together, and he will volunteer to host a brunch at the café afterward, which means he is up late the night before prepping the food, and then he is up early getting things set up, and then he is running 13.1 miles and then he is making us eggs with pimento cheese in them. 

Oh, and all of this after he just flew in from an international trip for his other job. And smiling and laughing the whole time, you guys. Just reveling in it all.

Last week, as I drove to work, the texts starting rolling in: “Oh my god, the café is on fire. It’s bad. Oh my god.”

It burned. It was bad. No one was there, and no one was hurt, and that’s really good. But Kent’s place burned, and Kent had worked so hard. So damn hard for so damn long.

It takes a while to process that kind of loss. You have to realize it one slow, sad moment at a time. You have to walk through it, ashes on your shoes, gazing, bewildered, at a landscape at once familiar and completely alien.

You have to swallow a few sobs and salvage what you can, sit close by your friends with the smell of smoke still in your hair, wash your clothes over and over to escape it, sort through the pictures, marvel at the melted plastic, the charred wood, the ceiling on the floor, the floor burned away, the things lost, the things spared.

So very few of those things.

I don’t think Kent knew, at first, what he wanted to do. He’s been knocked down so hard. He’s taken bad hits before, but this is such a big one. He had to be tempted to take whatever insurance there is, pay the debts he can, and walk away.

And god, it hurt me to think he would do that, to think that warm, quirky community that spins around him and his place might slowly dissipate. That my friends and I would never again be able to duck out of the office for one of his therapeutic hugs and a quick cup of coffee. 

But I never, ever would have told him what I was thinking. I would only have told him to do what his heart needed, and I would have meant it. He was so hurt, and it was so hard to see.

He’s magic, though. I may have mentioned that.

Just a couple of days after the fire, Kent came to a birthday party for my husband and me, and he talked about Toast 2.0. He talked about how much he already misses it, his employees, his customers, his community. He talked about what it might take to bring it back, to build it even better this time.

I know lots of people believe things happen for a reason. I have to confess to you that I don’t believe that at all. I never have. I just don’t think there’s a plan or a purpose or even a rhythm to these things. We’re spinning together on a rock in space and, y’all, shit just happens. No one is pulling any cosmic levers.

But. BUT.

This is our job as we spin on this rock: To take what happens and learn from it. To find the value in the shitstorm and be better because of what we’ve endured. There’s no reason unless we locate it, unless we sift through what remains and discover it. We make our own reasons. We find our own lessons. The quality of our lives is directly connected to our ability to do that. 

And, because Kent is magic, he’s already hard at work making sure he pulls from this pain all the good there is to conjure.

Here’s what he posted to his legion of Facebook friends just a few days after the fire:

“I want to know what you want... what you want to see and experience when CONSIDERING the ability to reopen the cafe. I want to make this FOR you and WITH you in mind. I want your ideas, criticism, decor and food suggestions, layout and convenience features... I have always made a business FOR the customer and it’s possible that I may have to opportunity to make it better.

“I miss my customers and my employees so much and I am seeing now more than ever how much of a family to me everyone is.”

Kent, we’re with you, and we’ll do whatever you need. It will be OK, friend.

No, it will be better than OK.

It will be magic.