“Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” my Dad would pronounce when looking at a paper that was nearly an A, or surveying the almost clean room, or mostly weeded strawberry patch. It was one of his favorite phrases, easily understandable from a physics professor turned Dean. It was belied by watching him cook or God help us, paint. My dad painted rooms using what he ruefully called the “share” technique, where you share with the wall, the floor, your clothes, and quite possibly any exposed skin or other human who happened to wander through the spatter zone.

Ignoring Daddy’s paint spatter, the idea of “close” is an intriguing one.  It can mean, as above, just missing the mark. That can be a great thing, as in a ‘close call,’ or it can mean ‘nearly, almost there,’ a lovely, hopeful incarnation of the word. Oftentimes, in post-election reporting, horseshoes tumble and grenades pop off as races are won and lost by a handful of votes. It can be the slimmest of margins, there was an election in Indiana that I remember hearing about when I was registering to vote where the race had been decided by 4 votes….. and ever since I always worry that if I don’t make it to the polls in time, my one paltry vote could change the outcome.

The bullet dodging aspect of “close” tells stories of trips not taken, ships & planes avoided. Waylon Jennings was to have been on the plane with Buddy Holly and the others — he gave up his seat to the “Big Bopper,” because the bus seats were more cramped and the flight would be quicker for Richardson who wasn’t feeling well. Jennings was distraught for years after joking back and forth with Holly about buses freezing and planes crashing. Nearer still to tragedy was Lady Cosmo Duff-Gordon, the socialite turned lingerie designer and famed survivor of the Titanic. She was booked on the ill-fated Lusitania traveling the war swept seascape of the Atlantic — canceling last minute due to illness. Philip Mangone, ironically another designer, canceled as well — later surviving the crash of the Hindenburg (Erik Larson’s new popular history, Dead Wake, is an engaging account of Lusitania). One doesn’t have to be traveling to “come close,” as Catherine Foster who lived in Gettysburg at the time of the battle. Evidently, luckier than Jiminy Cricket, she survived her house’s impersonation of a billiards table — only to move to Johnstown, PA where she survived the flood of 1889. Maybe less dramatic, certainly no less impactful  are those who nearly become a statistic in an illness or disease, not yet cured by modern technologies. Oftentimes, in the midst of fighting that fate one forgets to breathe in the escape.

Breathing sometimes waits for those roseate moments when the finish line approaches. That “close to the end,” “nearly there,” time/place offering a vista of how far the journey has taken and how the inches widen as the end flashes brightly in the distance. “Imagine,” you whisper to yourself in the 3ams, as the darkness obscures that shiny sign. You lie there and think of that always growing list of tasks the mark and end, you’re so close, you tell yourself — just one foot in front of the other. Yet once in a while, you have to climb on that late night train, throw it in reverse a bit and marvel at how far you’ve come — look out on the “window-full’ vignette of done. Feel the whistles, and brakes and realize that sometimes close is a victor in and of itself, just like in horseshoes.


closer and closer:

  • Nearly Missed the Rainbow (Elmo & friends) –from one of Sesame Street’s anniversary spectacles — hosted by none other than Jon Stewart, this was on a loop when the girls were little — look beyond your feet, see the sky.
  • I take my chances (Mary Chapin Carpenter) — every decision needs to be made, knowing it’s for the best or the best you know at the time..
  • Up 2 U (Walk the Moon) — determining one’s fate daily — each step of the journey — hard edged, and raucous!
  • Pick yourself Up (Diana Krall) — there are days you never see the end, Krall’s jazzy boost is a gentle push
  • Almost there (from the Princess & the Frog) — this song has been rattling around as each day brought this phase of the journey.closer to ending
  • Breakaway  (Kelly Clarkson) — the girls and I spent a summer with this song in continuous rotation — lots of decisions that year too.
  • End of the End (Paul McCartney) — it’s sad, though quite hopeful — I like the idea of transitioning from one journey to another.
  • Closer to you (Brandi Carlile) — seems like a lot of journeys are to someone, even if it’s just yourself, Brandi Carlile can make anything evocative, with her smoky voice
  • Feel So Near (Dougie MacLean) — speaking of evocative — when then end seemed farthest this song would go all green and remind us that it was out there closer than we thought.
  • Just say Yes (Snow Patrol) — terribly earnest as their music is, I find this song remarkably comforting…
  • Half as Much (Rosemary Clooney) — as a measurement of distance, I guess the song fits — for me, it’s more about when I felt bad my Daddy would play on the guitar.
  • Almost (Bowling for Soup) –a charming collection of near misses, that manages to turn into a rueful love song
  • Chances (Five for Fighting) — singer/songwriter driven music from a guy that could be dismissed as a pop-py flash, but for his thoughtful collaborations and his serious philanthropy
  • Come a little Closer (Cage the Elephant) — one of our current favorite bands — they bring a punk, psychedelic sensibility to cool lyrics
  • Simple Twist of Fate (Bob Dylan) — if hand grenades, and floods and tumors can teach anything — it’s that fate is inexplicably random
  • Nothing to Lose (from the Empire soundtrack) –go big or go home, when you’re making the trip — you might as well pack for the duration
  • One Step Closer (from Disney’s Little Mermaid) — of course, there has to be a song from Little Mermaid — music can do anything!
  • Changing of the Seasons (Two Door Cinema Club) — fuel for driving back and forth as summer fell into autumn, slipped into winter, and blossomed into spring and summer
  • That Lucky ol’ Sun (Kenny Chesney & Willie Nelson) — ok, a little overblown — the wiki entry for this “contrasts the toil & trouble of man’s life with the obliviousness of nature” damn! who knew? Ray Charles has an excellent version, when we lived in Knoxville I needed a Kenny Chesney song to like (it was kind of required) — and Willie is on this one
  • Home (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) — eventually, games and wars end — and you get close enough to come home.

If you see a whole thing — it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planets, lives… But up close a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern –> Ursula K. Le Guin

Take care,

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