Monthly Archives: April 2016

Your Time Will Come

A friend introduced me to the music of Johnny Clegg several years ago, and I am eternally grateful.  Clegg’s official website describes him as a “dancer, anthropologist, singer, songwriter, academic, activist and French knight” and that he “campaigned against the injustice of apartheid South Africa and been instrumental in putting the new South Africa on the map as a cultural ambassador.”  Pretty cool, right?

Clegg performed at Pepperdine last weekend, and one of my favorite moments in the concert came when Clegg referred to Nelson Mandela’s world-changing endurance to introduce the song “Your Time Will Come.”  Clegg said Mandela taught us that to live with such patience you must believe that everything will be alright in the end, and if it isn’t, then it isn’t the end.

The lyrics to “Your Time Will Come” are mostly in Zulu with an English ending.  Since my Zulu is a little rusty, here are the lyrics fully translated into English:

You were lying, do not tell lies.
You told lies, trying to mislead me,
so that I would give up my faith and hope.
That is what you said — you said that our future is hopeless,
our tomorrow is bleak, you were lying,
trying to mislead us.
No can do! We will never relinquish our faith.

Chorus:
Everything will be all right —
It’s just when this will be, we cannot know.
Everything will come right, I tell you friend.
Do not throw away your hope.
Me holding on one side, you holding on the other side
together we will pull through,
you and me, you and me.

My spirits are down,
I say to you child of my aunt, you have caused me great fear.
You told lies, trying to mislead me,
so that I would give up my faith and hope.
That is what you said — you said that our future is hopeless,
our tomorrow is bleak, you were lying,
trying to mislead us.
No can do! We will never relinquish our faith.

Chorus:

Everything will be all right —
It’s just when this will be, we cannot know.
Everything will come right, I tell you friend.

It will be all right my friend, I’m telling you.
Come true courage, for it is you who gives
life and takes it away,
me on this side, you on the other,
we will hold it together.
Don’t listen to the lies of my compatriot.
We will be victorious in the end, just you and me,
just you and me.

I saw the Berlin Wall fall
I saw Mandela walk free
I saw a dream whose time has come
Change my history — so keep on dreaming.

Dream on dreamer, dreamer.

In the best of times and in the worst of times
gotta keep looking at the skyline
not at a hole in the road
Your time will come, sister, your time will come
nobody’s gonna rush history, we have to ease it along
— just ease it along.

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Discovering Diversity

I participated in a “privilege beads” exercise at a diversity conference a year ago that involved reading statements and taking applicable beads to create a privilege bracelet.  As a white, straight, Christian, highly-educated, American male who lives in Malibu, I made a privilege hula-hoop.  It was embarrassing.  It was particularly embarrassing because one of my primary self-identifiers has always been growing up poor (read: underprivileged).  I am all about sticking it to the Man, ironically, and standing up for the little guy, i.e., my people.  Imagine my surprise.

But discovering diversity has been, for me, a humiliating pathway to joy.  The world is a big and beautiful place, and leaving the startling homogeneity of my hometown, though filled with wonderful people, has been an indescribable blessing.  I have learned so much, mainly that I know so little, and what I don’t know is fascinating without fail.  More importantly, I now have relationships with people who represent ethnicity, identities, faiths, interests, and nationalities that I never even heard of as a child.  That is my real privilege.  I am better for knowing these good souls, sure, but more importantly, the world is better for knowing them, too.

I returned to the same conference this year hoping for no privilege beads but anticipating new and deeper relationships and was not disappointed on any count.  One of the many things I learned at this year’s conference is that the majority of the United States will be non-white by 2044 and that 2011 already marked the first year that more non-white babies were born in the United States than white babies.  Significant change is occurring as to several of my privileges, some far more quickly than others.  My Facebook feed reminds me that many find such changes to be frightening.  Since diversity has been a great blessing in my life, I see it with different eyes.  To co-opt the famous FDR quote, the only frightening thing I see is the fear itself.

One at a Time

Today marks the end of this semester’s last full week of classes at Pepperdine School of Law.  Two more days next week, several “dead” days, and a couple of weeks of final exams remain so we surely aren’t done, but today feels significant because this academic year is almost, pardon the pun, in the books.  The 1Ls will soon be rising 2Ls, the 2Ls will soon be rising 3Ls, the 3Ls will soon be law school graduates, and the faculty and staff will still be faculty and staff.

So most of us are in a mood.

I like to think of it as an antsy-yet-over-it, needy-but-don’t-touch-me, slightly nauseous, hyperactive zombie sort of mood.

There is something terrible about being so close in time to a finish line while remaining so far away in the amount of work.  All you can think about is being finished with it all, but that simply distracts you from making any progress on the pile of whatever that stands before you.  It is as if the nightmare where you are trying to run to safety but for some reason cannot get your legs to work came true.

One of my favorite books on writing (and just, ever) is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  She describes the book’s title this way:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

That is my advice to law students as well as life students when the sheer amount of what lies ahead seems a bit daunting.  Just take it one step/day/hour/bird/whatever at a time.

I Have a Favorite Shirt

I have a favorite shirt.  There.  It is good to have that out in the open.  We hit it off right away, and then we started spending an inordinate amount of time together.  Now, it has blossomed into a beautiful relationship.

The relationship began in early February when I received the long-sleeved technical t-shirt for running the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach.  “I Ran This Beach!” is printed across the front, which is a little embarrassing due to the sophomoric Blake Shelton-ish double entendre.  But I love my shirt.

It is attractive, I guess, sort of a denim-y acid-washed color, but that isn’t why I like it so much.  I just really like the way it feels.  In an “I’m-embarrassed-my-wife-will-read-this” sort of way, I really like the way it feels.

Speaking of my wife, she probably hates it by now since I put it on every day when I get home from work and there is a decent chance that it doesn’t smell like a spring meadow, but that hasn’t slowed me down because changing into my favorite shirt signals an important transition from work to relaxation.  The person who had the bright idea of tying something in a knot around your neck and calling it business (busy-ness) attire was, well, pretty spot on.  Untying the knot that threatens to disconnect my brain from my heart and lungs and putting on my favorite shirt is an important part of my day.

Now that technology has successfully obliterated the work/relaxation line, I consider this daily costume change an act of defiance.  I will not be dominated by work.  I may work a lot, maybe more than I should, and maybe even at home, but it will be on my terms while wearing my favorite shirt.  And that feels good in more ways than one.

Life Expectancy

An online life expectancy calculator concluded that my check-out time is age ninety-two, but I don’t believe it for a second.  For one thing, that would mean enduring eleven more presidential campaigns, which is unimaginable, but more importantly, the calculation did not include that both of my parents died in their early seventies, that I seek out stressful jobs, and that my childhood diet consisted of fried baloney sandwiches, nacho cheese Doritos, Little Debbie snack cakes, and Dr. Pepper.  But hey, I’ll shoot for ninety-two and see what I get.

One thing in my favor is that I am not easily angered, and word on the street is that this is good for longevity.  Other than the peaceful people on the maternal side of my family tree, I have no idea why it is difficult to get under my skin.  But I’m happy it is true.  (Of course I am, or at least I’m not upset about it!)

Frederick Buechner once wrote:

Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun.

To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.

The chief drawback is what you are wolfing down is yourself.

The skeleton at the feast is you.

Anger simply isn’t worth it.  This is easier said than done, although I have a suggestion that seems a bit counter-intuitive to a happy life at first: lower your expectations.  I don’t mean lower your drive or goals or dreams, the fuel that makes life worth actually crawling out of bed in the morning, but I do mean living in reality enough to know that things rarely go as planned, and that that is okay.

Anger happens when life lets you down.  Expect that life will let you down.  Of all things, don’t let that come as a surprise.

For instance, I was told that I should live to age ninety-two.  I’m not counting on it.  (Cue Tim McGraw as I choose to live like I am dying!)

Step Back In

I doubt many tune into my blog to read a cool poem and reflect on its deep meaning, but just in case anyone else in this station wagon has ever messed up, reflected on an irretrievable life, and decided that the opportunity to carry on is too precious to stay away, this Raymond Carver poem is worth it.

Locking Yourself Out,
Then Trying to Get Back In

By Raymond Carver

You simply go out and shut the door
without thinking. And when you look back
at what you’ve done
it’s too late. If this sounds
like the story of a life, okay.

It was raining. The neighbors who had
a key were away. I tried and tried
the lower windows. Stared
inside the sofa, plants, the table
and chairs, the stereo set-up.
My coffee cup and ashtrays waited for me
on the glass-topped table, and my heart
went out to them. I said, Hello, friends,
or something like that. After all,
this wasn’t so bad.
Worse things had happened. This
was even a little funny. I found the ladder.
Took that and leaned it against the house.
Then climbed in the rain to the deck,
swung myself over the railing
and tried the door. Which was locked,
of course. But I looked in just the same
at my desk, some papers, and my chair.
This was the window on the other side
of the desk where I’d raise my eyes
and stare out when I sat at that desk.
This is not like downstairs, I thought.
This is something else.

And it was something to look in like that, unseen,
from the deck. To be there, inside, and not be there.
I don’t even think I can talk about it.
I brought my face close to the glass
and imagined myself inside,
sitting at the desk. Looking up
from my work now and again.
Thinking about some other place
and some other time.
The people I had loved then.

I stood there for a minute in the rain.
Considering myself to be the luckiest of men.
Even though a wave of grief passed through me.
Even though I felt violently ashamed
of the injury I’d done back then.
I bashed that beautiful window.
And stepped back in.

“Locking Yourself Out, Then Trying to Get Back In,” by Raymond Carver, from Where Water Comes Together With Other Water (Vintage Books).

Shooting for Significance

After undoubtedly the most thrilling finish in the history of the NCAA basketball tournament, I remembered my personal stories of hoops heroics (i.e., coming off the bench to sink crucial free throws against Tyronza in 1986; converting a five-point play in OT to defeat Marmaduke in 1988) before ultimately concluding that nobody cares except me.  This is true because I have tried on multiple occasions to express the greatness of my shining moments to my sweet wife who loves me very much.  And she surely doesn’t care.

I, along with an inestimable number of fellow human beings, dreamed of doing what Kris Jenkins did in Houston on Monday night: deliver the game-winning shot in the biggest game in front of the entire world.  How many kids on sun-filled playgrounds, in sweltering gyms, in lonely backyards, in their wildest dreams, lusted for such a moment?  How many of us still do?

What makes a college student tossing an orange ball through a metal cylinder twice its size from ten yards away such an object of deep admiration?  What is it about the tournament itself that would cause a television network to invest $10.8 billion dollars for the rights to show it to the world for fourteen years?

It is madness.  To be specific, March Madness.

I am convinced that it runs far deeper than the human desire for entertainment; instead, it is an inherent longing for significance.  We all want (at the very least) one shining moment.  In Kris Jenkins, we find a representative of our desire to come through at just the right time for the force of good (sorry Tar Heel Nation, just a metaphor) and be a hero.  That way, the world will not soon forget us, we think.  Springsteen singing about glory days and all that.

Is it terrible of us to think this way?  Well, it obviously can be (we can start with, um, Hitler), but I do not think that the quest for significance is necessarily terrible at all.  At least I hope not, since we are all infected.  For just a personal sampler, it is surely that part of my brain that causes me to post on social media how far I run, or check the number of “likes” on a Facebook post, or look at how many people read my blog.  Surely I’m not alone in this.  We all want to do something worthwhile.

The real question is: What is the measure we use to gauge significance?  Since the answer to that question determines everything else, it deserves some pretty serious reflection.

Bird Brained

I returned from a difficult morning run and walked the neighborhood searching my brain for the department in charge of breathing.  Eventually, after the wheezing subsided, I heard a strange shuffle-pop sound on repeat, which turned out to be a little bird perched on the passenger side mirror of a neighbor’s car having a little showdown with itself.  It was a good fight, but my best estimate was that it was headed for a draw.

It cracked me up, the stupid little bird ignorant that the enemy in the stare-down was simply his/her/its own reflection.  I admired the courage, what with the sudden beak attacks that were magically matched beak-on-beak, but repeatedly charging face-first into a piece of glass was pretty funny.

Until, that is, it occurred to me that in a sense I am that stupid little bird.  The absolute biggest threat to my survival is that joker staring back at me in the mirror, and although (most days) I don’t slam my face repeatedly in the mirror, it is true that no one attacks me more than me.

An honest look in the mirror, sizing oneself up, noticing flaws and so on, seems not only healthy but also necessary to effect any real, lasting change.  Beating yourself up, on the other hand, makes about as much sense as that goofy bird repeatedly catapulting itself into a mirror.

Now or Later

[Note: After reading a recent post, my friend, Brittany, suggested that I watch “The Barkley Marathons” on Netflix.  I did, and wow!  For the Netflix aficionados among us, it is a good use of ninety minutes.  I’ll just leave this as a teaser for anyone interested.]

In “The Barkley Marathons” (Netflix, see note above), a graduate student named John shared that he was taught as a child to work hard, save, and plan for the future.  John was a good son who bought what his folks were selling.  However, his father, practicing what he preached, worked and saved throughout his adult life so that he and his wife could travel the world on retirement only to die one year before retirement.  This effected a change in John who decided that you should live life while you have it.

I’m with John.  I’m not signing up for The Barkley Marathons anytime soon, but I’m with John.

Now to be clear, I’m not advocating that anyone quit work, buy a sports car, and go all Thelma and Louise on the world.  Instead, I suggest that we spend some quality time determining what it means to really, truly live, and do that now instead of later.  Later does not come with a guarantee.

Is it possible that “living life while you have it” could look like hard work and saving to travel the world when you retire?  I think so.  If that’s what you discover.  I simply (and humbly) suggest that you make sure of it before placing all of the proverbial eggs in such a basket.