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

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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.

A Little Moderation

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The Great Southern California Drought seems awfully wet nowadays.  I read that it will take several wet years to rescue SoCal from its drought condition, but you have to give it to January 2017 for trying to do it all at once.  Last Friday’s rains produced multiple mudslides that effectively turned Malibu into a peninsula in advance of the heavy rains that hit on Sunday.  If the Pepperdine deer and coyotes start lining up in pairs, you will find me consulting Waze for the nearest Noah.

So it appears that the prayers for rain produced so much of it that the world around here is literally falling apart.  Figures.  Life’s strong suit does not appear to be producing a happy medium.

While not below the poverty line, I grew up relatively poor.  In the early 1980s, my dad was laid off from his longtime work as a butcher in a meatpacking plant and took a part-time job at a neighborhood grocery store.  I knew the store well, having built my baseball and football card collection from its candy counter thirty cents and one pack at a time.  When my loving father found out that I liked a particular brand of candy, he would bring home so much of it in brown paper bags that I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore.  You don’t get upset with a dad who loves you that much.  But you do start secretly feeding Laffy Taffy to stray animals.

Moderation is as rare as happiness is elusive, and there just may be a connection between the two.  And if the current state of American politics is instructive, moderation is less popular than ever.  Extreme is in, and moderation is out.

Imagine changing the names of television shows and events from extreme to moderate:

  • Moderate Home Makeover (ABC)
  • Moderate RVs (Travel Channel)
  • Moderate Weight Loss (ABC)
  • Moderate Couponing (TLC)
  • Moderate Homes (HGTV)
  • Moderate Cuisine (The Food Network)
  • The Moderation Games (ESPN)

Not really ratings grabbers.

But the ancient philosophers may have been on to something when they advised moderation. “Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.” (Cicero)  “If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.” (Epicetus)  “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.” (Proverbs 25:16, ESV; see also Laffy Taffy, above.)

As this blessed rain falls and the hills collapse, I guess I’m just thinking that the ancient virtue, Temperance, deserves a second look.

Nameless Friends

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For the past six years, “The Strand” has been my Saturday morning running home. It is a gorgeous location, beginning at Will Rogers State Beach on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Temescal Canyon and extending through Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey, and if you are crazy enough, continues on through Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach to its terminus in Torrance—a grand total of twenty miles. It is a spectacular route with its beautiful sunrises, open sand, crashing ocean waves, occasional dolphin sightings, and eclectic collection of locals and tourists out walking, jogging, cycling, and roller blading all day every day. I love it.

But the best thing about it to me is the crew that assembles there. After running solo for a year or two, my friend, Jeff, joined in once he relocated from Alabama to California. That made a good thing even better. With time, we enlarged our little running group to include friends, colleagues, and students, and I lost track of who all has joined in on our early morning adventures.

There are others, too—friends without names—that I know next to nothing about but immediately recognize and greet there on Saturday mornings. These nameless friends reflect the beautiful diversity of Southern California, and I feel a strange connection with each and every one despite such limited interaction. My favorite is a gentleman who rides his bike wearing earbuds and wraparound shades and after months of my unnoticed waving one day looked up and became one of my best buddies. He playfully criticizes me when I have been absent and notices when our little running group has grown or disappeared and points these things out in the two seconds we share in passing. Two seconds on intermittent Saturdays, and I doubt I will never know his name or his story, but he is my friend.

I’m really not sure why this seems special to me, but it does. It may be some deep desire to live in harmony with all of humanity for no other reason than we happen to share this planet. A desire to be connected to everyone in this world, named or not.

Whatever. I’ll be back at The Strand to see all of my friends soon and will be happy to see them.