Monthly Archives: June 2016

#PrayForOrlando

[Note: I’m taking a blog vacation for a couple of weeks and anticipate returning to action at the first of July.]

I will travel to Kenya this week with family and friends to spend the last half of June with an inspiring organization called Made in the Streets.  The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for those traveling to Kenya, potential violence, terrorism, and whatnot.  I very much take such warnings seriously, and yet, in Santa Monica, California, this morning, fifteen miles from my house, a man was caught with chemicals, assault weapons, and ammunition on his way to terrorize a gay pride parade—just hours after the deadliest mass shooting in American history occurred at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Where exactly are the safe places in the world right now?

For reasons specific to my personal belief system, I am neither shocked by nor afraid of the violence that currently dominates the headlines, but I do find it terribly sad, and my heart goes out to the victims and those who love them.  I join the chorus that urges everyone to #PrayForOrlando.

There are things that should be done, and we (however defined) should do them, but there is no easy fix in this world for hatred and violence.  I continue to believe that the complicated solution is a revolution of indiscriminate love and maintain my commitment to such a revolutionary practice.

I really do believe that love, eventually, wins.

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June Gloom

The cool temperature is what tourists find most surprising about Malibu weather.  I blame the Beach Boys: Good Vibrations did not imply that it would ever be your teeth chattering.  Now don’t get me wrong, the weather is heaven here—just heaven with a light jacket for the evenings.

Those who visit Malibu in June are surprised to hear locals describe the entire month as June Gloom, an unflattering name for a weather pattern that occurs when a marine layer produces overcast conditions that typically give way to sunny skies in the late afternoon.

Here is what cracks me up.  On, say, May 31, or, let’s say, July 1, we locals don’t know what to do with overcast skies.  Oh, the weather nerds will claim May Gray, but the rest of us say, What’s up with this weather?  We expect nothing but blue skies on our Memorial Day and Independence Day parties!  But if the calendar happens to say June, we all declare in definite tones: Of course, June Gloom.

June has developed such a negative reputation.

This makes me wonder about my own personal weather reputation, but if you want to play along, you can wonder about yours, too.  There are people in the world whose gloomy condition is to be expected, and there are others who are shockingly out of character when in a grumpy sort of mood.  What do people expect from me?

In Malibu, people anticipate gloom when June arrives.  I’d like folks to expect something better from me.

The Greatest

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My dad was a boxing fan, which made sense for a member of what Tom Brokaw termed “the greatest generation.”  Boxing was the American sport when he was a boy in the 1920s and 1930s, and I remember his tales of the great Jack Dempsey as we watched fights together a half century later.  I somehow failed to inherit his love for the sport, but the combination of his love and the golden age of heavyweight boxing that coincided with my childhood unleashed personal memories when Muhammad Ali’s passing was announced last Friday.  Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Muhammad Ali—those were the names that seemed larger than life to this little boy in small-town Arkansas.  Now, all three are gone.

That Ali is a popular American hero is fascinating.  I doubt that his outspoken racial pride and conversion to Islam in the 1960s endeared him to all who now mourn his passing.  I doubt that his refusal to accept military service makes him a hero to all patriotic Americans.  And his brash, in your face, “I am the greatest” trash talking is not typically the personality that leads to universal love and admiration, the Donald Trump phenomenon notwithstanding.

Maybe America just likes a winner?  I don’t buy it.  Call me crazy, but I’m guessing that Barry Bonds, Bill Belichick, and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. will not be universally adored when they ultimately move on from this life.

So, why did Muhammad Ali die an American hero?  Some say it is his social activism, his willingness to stand up for what he believed in.  Maybe so.  That has to be a part of it.  But I suggest there is something more to Ali’s universal appeal.

Muhammad Ali embraced life.

He was fun and funny and full of joy.  He lived without fear.  Think about it: the religious conversion, the brash statements in an era of racial violence, the thumbing his nose at the government’s draft, and the claims of boxing greatness all displayed that he was not afraid of any threat.

More importantly, he lost in the boxing ring multiple times—but came back for more with a smile.  Over time, in what seemed to be the cruelty of fate, the powerful and eloquent athlete lost his famed strength and good health and bold voice—but he came out in public with a smile.

Check it out: Muhammad Ali was not afraid of any threat, but he was also not afraid of any consequence.

I believe that is why we loved him so.  We want to live without fear, too.  We want to face both the goods and bads of life with unshakable joy.

Wouldn’t that be the Greatest?

A Difficult Journey

Although less than flattering, I will tell the story.

Our business in India last week took us further away from the Delhi airport each day, culminating in a three-hour climb up a winding, dangerous, spectacular road in the Himalayas.  On this final climb, as we dodged death (and cattle) ahead of us and absorbed the awesome views on both sides of us, I developed a case of motion sickness.  Nothing too terrible, just enough to create a fuss for our hosts, which led to some rest, a nice visit from a young Indian doctor, and a bottle of Sprite.  By evening, I felt better and had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful mountain village.

At 6:30am the following morning (warning: graphic material ahead), things went south.  Literally.  I will spare the terrible details, but suffice it to say that the next couple of hours were not pretty due to the onset of a malady common to travelers in the region.  But to somehow make things worse, we were scheduled to leave that morning with the following itinerary: a three-hour drive down the mountain, followed by a seven-hour drive to Delhi; followed by a six-hour wait in the airport; followed by an eight-hour flight to Amsterdam; followed by a one-hour race across the airport; followed by a ten-hour flight to Los Angeles.

And I felt like crap, pardon the ironic word choice.

One of my colleagues provided a miracle drug to stop the I’d-rather-not-say, and we were faced with a decision on what to do with me.  As my two colleagues considered donating me to India and our host offered to call an ambulance, I declared that I had four goals: (1) get down the mountain; (2) get to the airport in Delhi; (3) get to Amsterdam; and (4) get to Los Angeles.  And that I would take them one at a time.

Well, I strapped myself in, armed with a granola bar, drugs, a bottled water, prayer, and another Sprite, and off we went after goal number one.  It did not go so well.  At one point on the journey down the mountain, we stopped for my traveling mates to have lunch.  The smell of Indian food was not my friend, and I considered jumping off the mountain but did not have enough energy, so I strapped myself back in and continued on the journey.

I did survive the mountain and felt that there was hope—in fact, the lower elevation seemed to help.  On phase two of the journey—the seven-hour drive to Delhi—we stopped at a roadside convenience store where I discovered a can of plain Pringle’s and thought that God might like me again.  But alas, by the time night fell and we reached the airport, and possibly because we reached the crazy rush hour traffic of Delhi, I started to feel terrible again.  But hey, goal number two was accomplished.

The six-hour wait in the airport is not a fond memory.  On the plus side, I did eat most of a sandwich and then slept for a few hours sprawled across three plastic chairs, but by the time we boarded the flight to Amsterdam, I approached my lowest moment.  As the plane took off (thus ensuring I would reach goal number three), I longed for death once again.  I was certain that I would do ugly things in the airplane lavatory and even unfastened my seatbelt so that I could run for it—only you can’t run to the lavatory with drink carts in the aisle, and once you get there they are almost always occupied, and should a miracle occur and one be vacant I can’t fit in one anyway, much less if I am having convulsions.  And any change of clothes was packed in checked luggage.  I wished the plane would crash and somehow kill only me.

But somehow, after a few hours of misery, I improved enough for some fitful sleep, and by the time we completed my third goal I was in good enough shape to make it across the airport to board the plane to Los Angeles.

The final ten hours were not the happiest of my life, but I think you get the drift of the story by now.  I made it home after the terrible thirty-five hour journey and fully believe in miracles.

So why do I share such an embarrassing story?  I have faced a few significant challenges in my life, and there will be more for me and also for you.  When such challenges arise, and the journey ahead seems perilous and terrible with no guarantee of survival, sometimes you must set out on the journey anyway.

When such a journey is inevitable, fix your eyes on the road ahead, take it one step at a time, hope for some friends to journey with you, and just try to hold on.  You might not make it, but then again, you might.