the last laugh

Some people need to get the last word. Todd needed to get the last laugh.

Every summer the incredibly uncool, nerdy Malloy kids would make the annual trip to ValleyFair with super cool Uncle Todd. This excursion involved a lot of planning, especially who would sit with Todd on the rides.

He rounded out the older kids’ foursome, which was supposed to make the experience less awkward and not leave anyone out. But we would fight over who would be stuffed next to the 6-foot-5 guy taking up a ridiculous amount of leg room, arm space and pooled over into the seats.

Despite these quibbles, we had a blast.

The pinnacle of the trip was the pilgrimage to the Wild Thing, which I know I was not the one to convince Mike, who is scared of heights, to ride. That was all smooth-talking Todd.

As we waited in line, I insisted we needed to figure out how we were going to pose for the picture. We needed a strategy. I wanted to see something awesome when we walked out of the tunnel and into the souvenir screen trap.

We had it down to a science, knowing where in the tunnel the lights and cameras were positioned, timing how many seconds we had to do something good. We knew we had one shot to make it perfect.

For some reason, Mike and I thought it would be awesome to get a picture of him pretending to choke me, while I held a gun made out of my hands to his face.  That’s the kind of middle school bad-assery that only comes out of Catholic school.

I don’t remember Amanda’s instructions. But I do remember Todd remaining calm and collected, not commenting as we plotted.

My memory still churns up the moments of the dark tunnel and flashes, the anticipation, the carefully planned action, then realizing when you are moving fast and going down, fake choking becomes real choking. Haven’t made that mistake again…

As we returned to daylight, we laughed and screamed, rushing to see our gloriously epic photo.

And then we saw that Todd had bombed it. There he was expressionless, bored and annoyed. Our, “Look!” Became, “Todd! You wrecked it…”

He could not stop laughing. The whole way home, he kept laughing. Years later, we’d pull out the picture, and he would laugh at how he skunked it. Grandma still laughs at it.

Aug. 31 would have been Todd’s 41st birthday. I pulled this out the night before and couldn’t help laughing and still feeling that dammit, he won.

As someone who needs to always get the last word, maybe Todd is trying to teach me something. How different would life be if we went after the last laugh?

silent night

It is snowing in Minnesota. Winter is upon us, and I can’t help but feel inspired. I love the snow. Everyone has to slow down when it snows. We’re forced to prioritize what is important and necessary. It’s a shared experience that brings about some more empathy, patience and understanding.

I find that the stillness of the snow brings me peace, quiet and reflection. The world is dusted with a fresh canvas, awaiting disruption. When it snows, I often find myself bundling up to walk. I love just to get lost in the serenity that has fallen upon the busy city.

I ventured out in the latest snow storm to clear off my car and run it, hoping to avoid any mishaps or a dead battery before the heavy flakes arrive overnight. The glow of the streetlights illuminated the glittery, powdery flakes that danced to the ground. The relatively untraveled sidewalks beckoned me. I couldn’t resist and wandered to see what would be revealed on my journey.

The crunch of the fresh snow under my boots brought the first spark of joy that kept me going. I can count on one hand the number of cars that passed me. I could hear the scraping of two shovels, and the only living creature that noticed me was a curious dog, happily playing in the powder.  I trudged along the path, peering at the lit Christmas trees in the window and admiring the thoughtful decorations outside the homes. I was delighted to come across icicles on a red house with sparkling lights. They looked almost fake perfectly dangling.

The snow left me breathless and in awe. As I gazed above and marveled in its majesty, suddenly “Silent Night” started playing in my head. I was overcome with peace and gratitude to be alive.

Something similar happened to me once before. After spending a day in the newsroom covering a mass terror attack, I called my brother, who was 9 at the time, to go for a walk. I needed to clear my mind in nature. We set off for the Arboretum after my shift. We went for a walk in the early spring with cameras in tow. Suddenly, my brother began humming the Lenten hymn “Were You There.” I remembered it was Holy Week.

There was something so beautiful and innocent in that moment, it was seared in my memory. Here we were, walking together along a path where signs of life were re-emerging. The world didn’t seem so lonely and scary. This child had awakened that feeling of peace and gratitude.

I smiled at the memory, and suddenly became aware it was rather cold. As I circled back to my starting point, I passed landmarks of my childhood and recalled the childlike simplicity of the world. The silent night brought me home, and the snow continued its descent.

The heat was overwhelming and almost suffocating when I opened the door to the building. I did not want to go inside, but unfortunately my legs were freezing in ill-suited yoga pants. I entered my cozy apartment to find my 30-minute adventure resulted in a helmet of fresh snow coating my head.

I grabbed a fresh cup of tea and sat to watch the snow, thankful for the stillness and grateful to be alive as the snow melted, trickling down my back.