Tag Archives: phoenix

Rising From the Ashes (Waters, Rubble, Ice, or Whatever)

al-jody

Mother Nature cleared her throat this week and shut down several roads leading to our life here in sunny (once again) Malibu.  My wife and I apparently collect natural disasters, starting with Arkansas tornadoes and ice storms, continuing with Gulf Coast floods and hurricanes, and now that we’ve hit the jackpot, California drought, earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides.  We just need a blizzard, tsunami, and volcano to complete the set.  Stockpiling seashells sounds significantly safer (sweet sentence!), but since an ice storm played a major role in the early days of our relationship, I guess the disaster collection is appropriate.

Jody and I met on New Year’s Day 1994 at a high school basketball tournament in Jonesboro, Arkansas.  I was there as a high school basketball coach, and she was there, according to her own rendition, in part to meet me.  You can picture me there at a guardrail in the arena, standing by myself, watching basketball, unsuspecting, when this beautiful young woman innocently (ha!) walks up to introduce herself.  I never knew what hit me that night, but it turned out to be love.

I didn’t have much of a chance according to the Vegas oddsmakers given my dating record yet somehow didn’t mess things up right away.  We talked through several basketball games that night, followed by a trip to Steak ‘n Shake since we weren’t particularly ready to stop the conversation.  We subsequently went on a date or two in January and could sense that something special was in the works.  And then came the infamous ice storm of 1994, a disaster that The Weather Channel ranked as #2 in their list of the “Nation’s Worst Ice Storms.”

Best.  Disaster.  Ever.

Classes at my school were canceled for what seemed like forever.  Jody’s work was not canceled, but since she lived about a forty-five minute drive away on super treacherous roads, she stayed close by at a friend’s apartment throughout the ice storm.  Over the course of that week or two we had the equivalent of a year or so of dating.  At least that’s what we tell ourselves since we were engaged a month later and married by May.

Jody and I have seen a natural disaster or two along the way, and living in California we can count on encountering more.  But we’ve also seen some pretty amazing things emerge “naturally” from both natural and unnatural disasters, and the past twenty-three years of my life is the best evidence of all.

Go Big or Go Home

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood . . . . Make big plans, aim high in hope and work . . . .” – Daniel Burnham

As luck would have it, I needed a big hairy audacious goal in life and learned that that’s a thing at a higher education conference in Phoenix.

The weather was scorching hot in Phoenix, but since it was a dry heat, I believe it was technically chilly. I may be a bit fuzzy on the science. The conference was held at the swanky Arizona Biltmore where the Reagans honeymooned, Marilyn Monroe lounged by the pool, and Irving Berlin dreamed of a white Christmas, but at times I felt surrounded by my kind of people (who were taking care of the lawn). The Biltmore is also where John McCain conceded that Sarah Palin would not be the new Vice President of the United States, and that is an historic event regardless of your leanings.

Hands down, the most stimulating plenary at the conference was delivered by Jim Collins, the famed business consultant and author of classic books such as Built to Last and Good to Great. His lecture was worth even more than the two nights at the Biltmore.

Instead of recounting the twelve points of his great lecture, I will simply mention that Collins coined the acronym BHAG (bee-hag), which stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. True story. There is actually a Wikipedia entry for this concept that will save me the trouble—it lists examples such as Microsoft’s “A computer on every desk and in every home,” and Google’s “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

It is a goal that is huge and bold and captivating but not impossible.

I need one of those. I seem to have lost all of mine sometime back.

Seven years ago, I started having chest pains. Scary. Instead of sudden death, I got a new diet, a daily purple pill, and an epiphany, which is not a bad deal given the choices. The epiphany was that if my life had ended in my late thirties—halftime from the perspective of an odds maker—there was no reason to complain. It had been a good run and anything more would just be bonus.

That was a nice thought for a while, but it is mathematically ridiculous and I am just now figuring that out. You see, the odds makers would now have my life a good chunk of the way into the third quarter. Are you following me here sports fans? So I had a great first half, but either the game ended at halftime or it didn’t, and looking at the rest of my life as the bonus round is goofy math. And it is no way to play.

I have a tendency to be either the tiniest bit existentially-angsty or maybe a whole lot. When Collins made it to point number ten or so in Phoenix and declared that a BHAG was a cure for existential angst, he had my attention.

I need a big hairy audacious goal to propel me forward because coasting is, well, anticlimactic, and to risk sounding whiny, increasingly boring. And if I’m being candid and I am so there, coasting has almost proven to be depressing.

No more, I declare. The game isn’t over. I am officially back in the game, and the second half is instantly better.

Things are really starting to look up.

Comparison Is the Death of Joy

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[If anyone just has to have the shirt, click HERE.]  🙂

“Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain

“People watching” is great fun, and a trip to an airport is like working in HR for the circus.

Recently, I was at the gate in LAX awaiting my flight to Phoenix when three ladies sat down beside me in brightly-colored muumuus. They were quite the sight. I think it was a mother and two daughters who could have been grandmothers themselves. The mother looked like Helen Roper as a smoker, and I mean that in the best possible way. From the phone call home, I deduced that they had just returned from a cruise. They told dad/husband that they had a blast but were sure ready for home.

I tried to read my book and not pay attention, but at one point one turned to the others and whispered that “you see all kinds in the airport.” They chuckled condescendingly. I nearly fell off my chair. Airports are awesome.

On my return to Los Angeles, I was a few hours early for the flight and looked for a gate that was not crowded so I could eat my overpriced lunch in peace. There was a perfect row. One young man sat at the end in the lotus position reading a hardcover. He was tall and looked like European Jesus, and with the long hair, beard, black shirt, and blue jeans, I imagined that he had an elective choice in high school and chose Buddhist Meditation over Motorcycle Gangs in a close call and the rest was history.

We sat in peace for a few minutes but were then joined by Frustrated Lady. Of all the open seats in the gate area, she chose to sit directly across from European Jesus. I applauded her choice. She, too, looked like a smoker (what is my deal with smokers?).

Frustrated Lady made several phone calls and made it very clear that she had missed her connecting flight and was not happy with the aviation industry. When she got hold of Alan, who I presume is her husband based on her change to a more unpleasant tone, she told him that the flight tonight to Kansas City would be her last. Next year, when she travels to California, it would either be by car or bus, and I don’t know what Alan said to that, but he was wrong.

Eventually, Frustrated Lady went for some ice cream, which seemed to help. European Jesus seemed happier, too.

I thought about the great sport of people watching and considered something that might be important: When we encounter other human beings, we see ourselves as the norm and consider everyone else the odd ones out.

This thought appeared right after it dawned on me that European Jesus had stories of both Frustrated Lady and Skinny Bald Man when he gathered with his apostles on arrival at his final destination.

So, do with this lesson what you will, but my suggestion is this: Fly Southwest.

Ha!

No, my suggestion is to keep on people watching, and keep on noticing all the crazy differences in humanity, but resist the urge to make it a competitive sport.

Non-European Jesus once told a story about two people praying: one thanked God that he wasn’t like the other person and the other simply asked for grace. The moral of the story was that you get to choose.

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* Click HERE for a good article from Daniela Tempesta on the dangers of comparing ourselves to others.