My eyes opened this morning to clear, vivid sunshine here outside the nation’s capital. For an instant, the world was normal. Time to rise and greet the welcoming day.

     Then it all came rushing back.

     It was a day much like this one. Yesterday. A time so close, well, chronographically. But now the peace I knew resides on the other side of a great regional trauma.  Since the spinmeisters haven’t seen fit to attach a moniker – probably because even they, jaded as they often are, are themselves still reeling and shuffling in dumb fascination through the rubble of the cataclysm – let me humbly christen the Event as the Awesome Colossal Quiver, or ACQ.

     I know I know. What words can possibly capture the upheaval we all experienced? My mind tells me it was only seconds, but as so many others have said, it seemed to go on for a half-minute or more

     Les Bagel of nearby Finksburg summed it up for all of us: “It felt just like an earthquake! Don’tcha think?”

     Without the support of the unaffected parts of the country, it is unclear how we could go on. I am reading for the hundredth time one post from FACEBOOK, from a supporter relaying a message of hope. I am sure there will be others too, as the hours stretch into weeks. I can barely make out the words. The laptop screen blurs through my tears. But just a brief snippet from the piece:

     “Hey. Did you feel the quake? Musta been cool.”

     Okay. That was the whole piece, and they probably would’ve said more, but people who weren’t here, in this place, at the precise moment, will forget ACQ long before we are able to put it behind us.  I wish I could remember the exact time, to mark the anniversary each passing annum. But miraculously the lights did not dim, the power did not go out. PEPCO must be popping champagne in every office and repair truck in the region. 

     We will go on. We are Americans, after all. East Coasters to boot. We are the same stock who clawed back from the Flurry Fury of the great December 2009 Dusting. We are down, but not out. 

     Tomorrow will be time enough to return to other worries – the location of Quaddafi, the Cat Three hurricane currently bearing down on North Carolina. Let the days own trouble be I right?

     For today, we simply reach out, neighbor to neighbor and Democrat to Democrat. Or those other guys, as the case may be. Today we grieve. For the upturned lawn chair. For the early releases, and cancellations, and the myriad rippling consequences of ACQ.  For traffic and low interest and for a president that lay in his hammock while the nation’s capital trembled. 

     So continue to pray for us. Be generous in your donations. And be sure, we will rise from ACQ stronger.

I am just another bozo on the bus. But once in my life, for four glorious years, I was a member of the University of Maryland Gymkana Troupe. As I sit here counting on my fingers and toes, and then my wife’s, it has been almost as many pounds ago as years ago. Jimmy Carter was campaigning for president in a new wave of hope after Vietnam and Nixon’s departure.

I didn’t appreciate at the time what a unique opportunity Gymkana was for a guy like me – a commuter student in a sea of faces in a university factory overwhelmed with its commitment to at least offer an education to every graduating Maryland high school senior.

I discovered Gymkana the very first day of college, quite by accident – for those young enough to believe still in coincidence. I followed the sounds of laughter and pounding flesh down a dark hall in Cole Field House, and entered the double wooden doors to a room of magic. 

For me, it was the trampolines. I eventually worked up the courage to take a vault too, and the rest was the best part of college for me. Aaron and Bobby and Seth and Bunny and Rodney and Gina and Nancy and Mary and Hugh and Freddy and Rick and Gary and Frank and … and so many names that are on the tip of my tongue – right there.

I didn’t know what to expect last night, watching America’s Got Talent: YouTube addition. It had to be ladders or vaulting, right? But ladders is sooooo slow until everyone’s up. And vaulting doesn’t get interesting until you start piling bodies on the box, right?

What I saw blew me away. The hand that covered my eyes fell from my face and I watched, rapt. And they were right. It is unbelievable that these kids are not, like, from Cirque de Soleil. The first time I ever stepped on a trampoline, I was 17 years old, a frustrated, nearsighted diver, and it opened up a world to me that proved the difference between college-as-the-place-I-spent-four-years, to a land where I could soar, high above the bus. Just for that brief time.

In my secret heart of hearts, I don’t really believe that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame.  The closest I’ll ever come was probably last night, watching a technicolor version of my fading memories, and swelling with pride. I wondered, giddy, if they were the same ladders we packed into the truck that I occasionally got to drive to local shows. I hope so. I believe they were whittled by George Kramer and Joe Murray out of an old ship’s keel.

If they weren’t, don’t tell me.



    Jack Downs is a mystery writer, teacher, and the author of two novels and several short stories. Jack lives in Carroll County, Maryland with his wife and three children..


    October 2011
    August 2011
    September 2010