“You can’t be open to new opportunities if your life is full.” – Bob Goff
I grew up in Arkansas but moved away with my wife and daughters twenty-one years ago this month, and it was obvious that we entered a new world when our move coincided with “Mardi Gras break” in our new hometown.
Everyone has heard of Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” the colorful spectacle of parades and beads and general losing of minds associated with New Orleans, but it is a cultural phenomenon across the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle. And if you don’t live there, you might not realize that it is this week.
Everyone has heard of Mardi Gras, but having grown up in a small town with very little contact with the Christian calendar, I did not understand the point of the party until I moved in next door. Fat Tuesday, the day of indulgence, precedes Ash Wednesday, the day of fasting that marks the beginning of the season of Lent.
Although I grew up in a very religious environment with a strong emphasis on the Bible, the biblical practice of fasting was practically invisible to me. But I have grown to understand its great value.
We can talk food, of course, which anyone who has attempted any measure of self-control with food can appreciate, but fasting can refer to anything one chooses to do without. And we could all use some help learning how to give something—anything—up. In the workplace, I have heard it said that it is just as important (and possibly more so) to have a Stop Doing List next to your To Do List.
What do you need to stop doing?
Habit is powerful. Try breaking one, and you’ll see. But try flipping it on its head and develop a habit for stopping things. This is the week when the Christian calendar asks us to consider such a challenge.
I was born and raised in Arkansas. I love Arkansas. Now I live in California. And I love California. But recently I was reminded that a significant part of my heart remains in Mississippi.
We lived in Mississippi for about ten years and then moved to California about ten years ago. When we moved I expected to visit Mississippi from time to time, but somehow that had not happened in nine years until an unexpected invitation to officiate a funeral for a sweet friend arrived a couple of weeks ago. After a crazy couple of days of rearranging plans, I woke up to discover that I had been blasted into the past. I was unprepared.
I often say that nostalgia is just not my jam. For better or worse, my brain is oriented toward what is ahead, so life’s rearview mirror is relatively unused in my world. Well, it got used a bunch on this return to Mississippi.
Upon landing in Gulfport, I rented a car and drove down Highway 49 to the Gulf Coast and then along the beach that had been ravaged by Katrina thirteen years ago and, as the kids say, I started to feel all the feels. I saw familiar landmarks such as Beauvoir, the Biloxi Lighthouse, and Mary Mahoney’s. I saw the Coast Coliseum where my oldest daughter graduated high school and Point Cadet where my youngest had her first dance recital. There was the familiar Sharkhead’s souvenir shop and Jaws-inspired entrance but with a post-Katrina transformation that turned the entire first floor into a shaded parking lot. The Treasure Bay casino pirate ship is simply gone forever, and although I had never stepped foot inside, that made me want to cry. I had misplaced certain memories like the unique combination of bright white sands and murky waters and wondered what else I had forgotten over the years. It appeared that my GPS had sent me unwittingly down Memory Lane.
Our old hometown of Ocean Springs really threw me for a loop. I drove downtown past Lovelace Drugs and the Walter Anderson Museum and had to get out on Front Beach just to breathe. I stopped for a heavenly Tato-Nut donut and drove to our old Katrina-flooded house and discovered that it now looks like it did that fateful day when we evacuated for the storm. I wasn’t sure what to think about that sort of resurrection.
But seeing old friends nearly made my heart explode with love. Jim and Dimple. Gene and Eileen. All the Fains. Bruno and Linda. Angie and Carol. Todd and Robin. Samantha and Shelly. Tandy and Peggy. Bernice and Cathy. Frances and Mark. Tim and Katie. Connor and Amanda. Debbie and Brynlee. There is so much love in my heart for Ocean Springs and the Mississippi Gulf Coast—especially for our friends. I knew that in my brain and held it in my heart, but this trip resurrected the feeling from deep in my soul. Nostalgia hit me like a wave and left me dizzy. Like that old storm surge.
I texted my wife to say that we have to go back and visit together sometime. She said that she had wanted to do that for a long time now.
I know that I should learn to stop and smell the roses. But I am learning that I should also stop, turn around, and head back to Mississippi to smell the magnolias from time to time.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged arkansas, beauvior, california, gulf coast, hurricane katrina, lovelace drugs, mary mahoney's, memories, mississippi, nostalgia, ocean springs, sharkhead's, tatonut, treasure bay, walter anderson
Our 2008 move from Mississippi to Malibu sounds like a seismic culture shift, but moving from affluent, artsy, coastal Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to affluent, artsy, coastal Malibu was not as mind-blowing as you’d think. Okay, it was mind-blowing, just not as mind-blowing as you’d think.
One of the major differences is simply topographical. Ocean Springs sits on the super flat Mississippi Gulf Coast. Malibu officially sits at sea level, too, but that is only half the picture since the vast ocean spectacularly combines with equally stunning mountains. The views we are privileged to enjoy on the Pepperdine campus are ridiculous, and quite often we awaken to see that we are actually above the clouds. It is like a flight with adequate leg room and spacious bathroom facilities.
Recently, on such a morning, I drove from Sunshine Mountain down into the murky clouds for a beachside run along Malibu Road. It is one of my favorite runs because it is nearby, flat, quiet, and scenic, but it isn’t quite as scenic on mornings when the clouds decide to take a nap on the surface of the planet. Despite the cloud cover, I took off with eyes wide open since I have developed a habit of memorializing each morning run with a photograph. It was a challenge. The crashing waves were pretty great in the fog, but not so much for my increasingly outdated iPhone camera, and the horizon was simply nowhere to be seen.
And then I noticed the flowers. The reds and purples, the yellows and lavenders, all nestled in a setting of green and white, almost shy and hiding in the morning fog.
Life lessons exploded from the haze like the colorful flowers. For starters, when life descends into a fog, remember to look for the beauty that is ever present. But also, when life floats in the sunshine above the gray clouds, remember to go to the trouble of joining the world struggling through the smothering gloom. It would be tragic to miss out on the stunning grace that can be found in the obscurity.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged beauty, clouds, flowers, fog, grace, gulf coast, life, malibu, mississippi, ocean springs, pepperdine