Dear Evan Hansen

Getting in line to see Dear Evan Hansen

On the way home from New York City Mary asked me what my favorite song from Dear Evan Hansen had been.

Mind you, I had heard all of the songs a grand total of one time.

Unlike Mary, who knew every word of every song.

Unlike the woman sitting next to Mary, who also knew every word to every song.

During intermission I asked the woman if she had seen the play before.

“No,” she said, “I’ve just listened to the soundtrack a thousand times.”

Now, two weeks out, I’ve joined their ranks.

I want to see the show again in the worst way, but the tickets were a huge splurge the first time and would fall into the realm of ridiculous expenditures if I were to see it again.

“What’s it about?” Karl asked, a little mystified about my latest obsession.

In a nutshell, the story is about a socially awkward teen (Evan Hansen) whose counselor suggests that he write a pep talk to himself every day — Dear Evan Hansen. One of these letters falls into the hands of another social outcast who commits suicide. When the letter is found in the pocket of the deceased boy, his parents conclude that he and Evan Hansen were friends, and a fabricated friendship begins. This barebones synopsis leaves out a thousand important details, I know, but it’s a start.

What’s it about?  I could have answered mental health or high school or parenting or social media or life.

I’m still trying to figure that out — life, and what it’s about.


As Mary and I stood in line to enter the theater, we saw a sign saying that the part of Evan Hansen was being played that day by Michael Lee Brown. People in front of us and behind began to grumble. Before taking my seat, I listened to a woman argue with an usher about it.

“I paid to see Ben Platt,” she said. Purse looped over her forearm, gloves in one hand, ticket in the other, silver-haired — she looked like the innocuous grandmotherly sort, but she went after the usher like a Rottweiler.

The opening set for Dear Evan Hansen

To future Dear Evan Hansen viewers: May you be so lucky to see Michael Lee Brown perform the title role. He was amazing. He was the perfect amount of awkward as he stuttered. His hands fluttered — a stage-visible sign of a racing heart, something I know too well. I watched his hands, fascinated.


What was my favorite song?

I know them all now and sing along as I make dinner or walk the dog.

The lyrics are quotable, meme-able, but so layered and rich.

I think I know which song I would choose now — but that’s probably a post for another day.


Just an Old Green Pillow

I remember when Mom,
With needle and yarn,
The fabric in her lap,
Chain-stitched the outline of an owl
And satin-stitched the eyes and beak

It may look like
A lumpy green pillow,
But now I see
That it is,
In fact,
July’s Hydrangeas in November
A reminder of a summer past

It is an acorn cap
From which some squirrel has stolen the acorn
Or an apple left to wither on the tree

I think of Mom
When I see it
Flopped on the chair
Loose threads dangling
The carefully stitched outline
Frayed away

It is but a memory-keeper

The tangible

It’s November 3rd, That’s Why

Two years ago this — Helen and I kept vigil through the night with my mother. Helen had snapped this picture while I was dozing.

Three generations of hands

I went home in the wee hours, grabbed a little sleep, then went back to the hospital to relieve Helen.

After struggling so much the day before, making terrible gurgling sounds as she tried to breathe, my mother finally slept peacefully. I think the atropine helped.

Atropine gets its name from Atropos, one of the Fates, the one who chooses the mechanism of death and ends a mortal’s life. I find that both strange and interesting.

But my mother slept.

And we took turns sleeping.

At the end, Helen was sleeping when my mother passed away. My siblings were all there, but Helen, who had been so close to my mom, so faithful and present in so many ways, was not. In retrospect, I should have called her. But I didn’t know when the thread of life would finally be severed. None of us really do.

November 3rd feels heavy, like a weight on my heart.

My friend, Michael McNevin, wrote a song we play every November 4. The first few lines run through my mind unbidden.

Thinking of the cold to come…

It was 61° this morning — not very cold, but I shivered anyway. Today my father goes for a physical as a step toward entering an adult home. I am so unsettled with this decision. Ah, the cold to come.

From what I hear it will make me numb…

I remember the numbness after my mother died. I don’t want to feel that again, and yet, it is inevitable. My father walks more slowly now, shuffling along with his walker. His pacemaker paces 90% of the time. His thinking is muddled at an unquantifiable percentage.

Two of his peers took him to lunch the other day. When his friend brought him home, he pulled me aside. “Your father really couldn’t follow any of the conversation today,” he said, “And he fixated on one small thing. That was all he could talk about.”

Yes, I’ve noticed that, too. It makes me sad.

Look at how the wind goes by…

A breeze refreshes, but the wind is the wind. It blows through our lives – pushing us along, trying to hold us back, knocking dead branches out of trees, grabbing loose items and skittering them away.

Two years ago my mother died on a cold November day.

I can remember walking up the hill to the hospital that last time when she was still alive. It was still dark, maybe 5 AM. I wanted to give Helen a chance to sleep. The wind blew tiny raindrops against my cheeks — portending tears to come.

It’s November 3rd, that’s why.


A Visit to the New York Public Library (and a Broadway show)

Dear Mary Zaengle,

I didn’t know yesterday was going to be such a great day and here’s why —

In preparation, I had focused on the tired parts of the day: the getting up before 4 AM and the getting home after 1 AM.

I was worried about the city, all those people crowded together and the tall buildings holding them in, a barricade between city and country, urban and rural, not home and my home — and I was spending a day on the wrong side of the barricade.

I braced myself against the day instead of leaning into it.

I felt like you, who had never been to the city before, should be going with someone who loves the city and that’s not me — but you wanted me to go so I figured I’d better make a good effort.

“What do you want to do?” I had asked you. We had several hours to kill on either side of Dear Evan Hansen.

“I dunno,” you replied, in that helpful way you have.

So I worried about that, too, and finally decided we should go to the New York Public Library. You love books. I knew that if it turned out to be just a bunch of books you would be thrilled. You would pull the oldest book you could find off the shelves so you could hold it in your hands, feel the paper, and smell the old book smell. I’ve seen you do that.

The library was the right choice. You reached up to touch one of the stone lions that guarded the main entrance.

Inside, I touched the Lego lion that guarded the entrance to the children’s room.

“Mom!” you said, aghast. “The sign says ‘Please do not touch.'”

Oops. My bad.

But what a magnificent place! You wished you could climb up the ladder to the second tier of books that ran the circumference of the study room. I wished I could have seen the original card catalog where now tables of computers sit, the card catalog’s modern replacement.

We walked the long hallways, climbed the marble stairs and admired the art work that was everywhere.

a long hallway

Artwork — a man reading

Artwork — mother and child reading

ceiling in the McGraw Rotunda

As we were leaving, we noticed a sign for tours of the library. Our 2 hour visit served as a peek — there’s so much more, I’m sure. Next time we’ll have to take the tour.

Did I just say next time? Next time?

After spending some time there, I kind of want to go back. We should do that, don’t you think?




October Gratitude

On October 29, I am grateful for these — collected over the course of the month.

  1. Harvest time
  2. A few stalks left behind
  3. Airports
  4. A full-circle rainbow seen from above
  5. Tennessee sunrise
  6. A quiet place to stay
  7. That bald-headed guy resting his arm on the chair (below)
  8. The woman in the middle in the greenish shirt (above) (Her eyes always sparkle.)
  9. Dining with friends
  10. A new book
  11. An afternoon walking around a mall with a friend (sorry, no picture)
  12. The Dalek I saw there
  13. A bald eagle sighting
  14. A new job
  15. Chipmunks in the house (only the tail visible here)
  16. Mice trapped in an empty can and released into the wild
  17. Beautiful sunsets
  18. A girl to take the picture for me while I drive (rearview mirror)
  19. Late autumn colors
  20. The way the afternoon sun hits the hills
  21. Concentric spiky circles
  22. Apples
  23. Pears
  24. Hallmark movies
  25. Family humor
  26. A funny sign
  27. A visit from my grandson (the walker isn’t his)
  28. My father and my grandson playing together
  29. A military funeral (no photo, but a memory I’ll hold onto)

How has your October been?



Laurel brought a math problem to me the other day.

I looked at it and looked at it, but years of only doing grocery store math or tip calculations have eroded away much of the math soil in my brain. I found myself asking the question Mary, my non-mathy daughter, asked all the time — why do we need to know this stuff?

Back in the day, I loved math. A math sheet was a page full of puzzles to be solved, and they all had answers.

Now the variables and exponents and coefficients and fractions jumble together and refuse to tell me the story they’re supposed to tell.

In real life, when is a-cubed-minus-three going to be a denominator in any equation?

I decided to go for a walk to think about the problem.

The corn has been harvested in the fields down the road which makes them nice places to walk the dog. Our road has minimal shoulders and most of the drivers don’t care about the speed limit on it. It can be a little scary walking on it.

In the closest field, the harvesters missed a bit of a row on the edge. 

The stalks stand as sentinels — guarding nothing.

Nothing but a safe place to walk.

Sometimes in the summer, I would walk through the rows of tall corn to escape the sun and heat for a short leg of my walk. I would think about the time the farmer escaped from the nursing home that used to be down the road and wandered into the corn field. The state police had to bring helicopters to help find him.

But in the fall, the mowed rows are straight lines of what once was.

The shadows of the stalk stubs combined with the dried fragments of corn leaves made pretty patterns on the ground.

Maggie ran on ahead, and when I looked at her waiting for me down the field, I noticed where the planter had veered months ago — maybe because of an obstacle or maybe he was just distracted. The nice straight lines were not so nice and straight — like a math problem where the answer isn’t a sensible whole number, but full of exponents and variables.

By the time I reached the end of the row, I had figured out Laurel’s math problem. My brother had called me because I had sent it to him, and he confirmed what I suspected was the solution. It wasn’t a nice neat answer.

The end of the row was rounded. I could see where the tractor had turned.

The math erosion in my brain probably looks something like it.

Harvested — all that stuff I learned so many years ago gone now.

And rounded, like nearly every mental calculation I do.

Nary an exponent or variable in sight.