A Place to Elevate

Back in March I hung two strands of quarantine Christmas lights along the back fence. I thought the color might cheer the neighbors on the opposite rim of the brush canyon. Also, my family would be in the back yard more than we used to. The place needed some spirit.

My wife thought so too. She online shopped a 7-foot diameter trampoline for our son.

When she described the purchase, I did not celebrate the prospect of assembling it. Because I don’t like following directions. And I don’t have very much patience. And I’m clumsy with tools.

So as I delved into the trampoline’s massive shipping box, I was not thinking of my son. Instead, my brain commandeered my wife’s voice and made it shout the instruction manual at me. The same voice scolded me for putting off an eye exam.

The trampoline company had lubricated the frame tubes with thin oil for easy joining. The courtesy caused more problems than it solved.

I took a lot of thrown-tool retrieval breaks, during which I caught excerpts of my next-door-neighbor’s side of an outdoor phone call. His presence made me self-conscious. He’s a sailor on leave and wouldn’t blink at the profanities breaching his fence. But he would never forgive my inadequate wrist torque.

Eventually I went in the house for water. And to make sure my family knew how bad I was suffering for their benefit.

I muttered at the incomplete trampoline through the kitchen window. The thing was the antithesis of joy.

My son roused me from my dark musings by smashing a toy push mower into my Achilles tendons. Oh yeah. That’s why I was doing this. To mitigate a confined toddler’s capacity for destruction.

I resumed the travail. Newly committed to keeping my composure. But resolve rarely lasts. It’s why there should be traffic directors in the parking lots of churches, yoga centers, and massage therapy studios.

What rekindled my primal angst was the unmanageable bulk of safety netting. There was no way I was going to ask for my wife’s help at this point, though. Her insight would for sure be helpful. The last thing my ego needed.

The second-to-last thing my ego needed was the percussive shockwave of confident music that leapt the canyon all of a sudden. The bravado conveyed by the lyrics made me feel weak. And was totally unsuitable for the children of the neighborhood.

Me 20 years ago wouldn’t have liked the quarantine iteration of me that strode to my fence to gather intelligence of my noisy neighbors.

The music was flowing from the property right across the canyon. From the vantage that benefitted most from the happy illumination of my Christmas lights. A half-dozen adults and children were animating the yard with concerted labor. Their work looked mysteriously urgent.

I indulged in a few moments of self-pitying contempt for their efforts. But I was sweaty and hungry. My reserves of ill-will are finite. I directed my ire back at my more immediate nemesis. The trampoline.

The final push took another twenty minutes. I walked an evaluative circle around the finished project. Sound and symmetrical. An inviting venue for risk and recovery.

The neighbors’ music was quieter now. I drew a mental sketch of the matriarch who was undoubtedly responsible for the polite adjustment.

I combed the grass for scattered tools. Replayed the events of the afternoon. Realized my impatience and hypocrisy had been symptoms of faithlessness. Mostly in myself.

I went in the house. My son saluted me with a chicken nugget. Suppressed laughter brightened my wife’s eyes. She knew an apology was coming.

After we put the kids to bed that night, I treated my sore limbs to wine in the back yard. Let myself enjoy the silhouette of the trampoline, backlit by our quarantine lights.

Music was still wafting over the canyon. I went to the fence again, this time more generous with good-will for my boisterous neighbors. Something had given them license to celebrate in the face of the bleak unknown.

What I saw across the canyon demolished another wing of my self-importance. A bright line of colored bulbs. Running taut across their fence, inflicting damage on the dark.

So that’s what my neighbors had been up to this afternoon.

I raised my wine to the rainbow vein and resolved to give everything in the universe the benefit of the doubt forever.

A potent sentiment I wish I could always hang onto. But it seems to want to come and go.