In the days approaching Christmas, life is sporadically peaceful.

While kitchen multi-tasking, I set a sheet of parchment paper on fire. No cookies were lost. Our dog Maria recently took a fall and couldn’t walk, landing her at the vet’s with us carrying her in by towel sling. Two weeks ago I undertook a harrowing drive through an arctic snow blast to Cincinnati so I could help my friend Laurel. Her inner-city church sponsors an annual family gift distribution and depends on volunteers. I’ll be processing this experience for the rest of my life.

This spring Cliff had two ER runs because of soaring blood pressure. After hospitalization and countless tests, he’s back on his feet and better than ever. Because no one loves a road map more than he does, he’s traveled to North Carolina’s Merlefest and visited Nova Scotia with his friend Allen. Although they covered miles of gorgeous scenery, I suspect they appreciated the pubs and Irish music best of all.

In the fall, we toured Williamsburg and Monticello for the gazillionth time. Cliff loves history; I love beautiful buildings. Because he’s teased me forever about my bouts of fiery rhetoric, he scheduled a trip to Patrick Henry’s farm in Scotchtown so I could stand where he wrote his “Give Me Liberty” speech. There’s something reassuring in knowing I share the genetics of another writer who was not always well received but was right, nonetheless, I choose to believe. 

Maggie is considering a major in sociology or psychology. This summer she worked as a guide at the Thomas Edison Birthplace up the street and volunteered at the library’s cooking class for children, meaning she can speak at length about light bulb filaments and aversions to lettuce. If there’s a career in there, she’ll figure it out, coupled with her devotion to campus dogs. As president of their Planned Parenthood chapter, she’s attending the Million Women March in January. With Cliff’s protest of Spiro Agnew’s visit to Oklahoma and my being at Ohio University during the Kent State Massacre, she continues the family forays into political hot zones.

Of all the places we’ve lived, oddly enough we’ve had more company in Milan than anywhere else. We’re happy but puzzled at the same time. Quiet and historic, little happens here. Nevertheless, plenty of guests have been mesmerized by our butterfly bush covered with a flurry of winged creatures two-stepping from leaf to leaf. Who could have guessed one plant could accomplish so much good? In a world where bees and butterflies are dangerously challenged, they flourish around our porch. Amazingly, one monarch actually sat for twenty minutes on my arm.

If you read my August post Crazy Corn, you know about my alarming moment with a local farmer’s political views. There’s plenty of crazy on both sides these days. Last weekend at that Cincinnati church, I worked alongside a volunteer whose national opinion was vastly different from mine. Rather than needlessly arguing, I searched for our common connection. Turned out, we were just two people who’d grown up in Ohio’s Rust Belt and knew about lean times.

After winning his confidence, he told me he’d explained the need in this church to his affluent co-workers. One colleague responded by saying, “If you keep giving free things to those people, they’ll never get jobs.” He asked the man how many three-year-olds he’d ever seen buying their own coats. “I’m looking out for the innocent children who can’t help their circumstances,” he said to me. Who’d disagree with that point of view?

So that’s my advice. Find the commonality.

Patrick Henry said: “We are not weak if we make a proper use of those means…placed in our power.” Few of us can accomplish revolutionary change, but we can influence our corner of the world.

We can do something.

March. Plant a butterfly bush. Donate a toddler coat.

Do good wherever you are.

You always have that power. Always.

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