Friday, December 31, 2004


I have a few thoughts on the end of 2004. This will be the year my wife and I had our first child. Our daughter came from the air; a phone call from our adoption agency brought her to our home in less than two days.

People have asked if we were in a state of shock, going from zero to a hundred in no time. No, it wasn't shock. We were ready. Our minds were so made up by then that her sudden arrival was a relief.

Along with parenthood, my business has languished. Our finances have sagged. We're looking at cashing in our 401K. I've been working on new ventures, ones that have great promise, since they will use my talents. Starting a new business while managing the ebb of my old one is a strain. 2004 will be year that I worked the hardest, for the least pay---if any.

Where we live, making a small income with a child is murder. It has kept me awake at night.

2004 is the year that I have felt more distance from friends. I love them, but I feel distant. I really think it's me, too. I have no animosity towards them---I just feel a certain drift on my part. It's me who has changed. I feel less compelled to call them, or rely on them for advice. I find myself watching them struggle with their lives, but I feel isolation, not solidarity. Part of the drift has to do with an incongruent world view; other parts are simply beyond me. And it's sad.

2004 was the year of blogging for me. Somehow, I got noticed by Winds of Change. I'm not entirely clear as to why. Sometimes I wonder if my stuff really fits there. It's been an enormous effort to write essays that are substantive. And I made some mistakes, where readers are quick with the knife. That's to be expected, I suppose. It's been an interesting ride, and although I have slowed, I will plug away. My plan for 2005 is more exclusive entries on this blog, along with the Winds essays. I don't think everything I want to say belongs there.

And then there's the grand finale to 2004. Giant, crushing waves in Asia. I've been glued to this horror story, downloading tsunami videos, playing them over and over while listening to 'Times Like These' by Foo Fighters. Over, and over, and over again. Part of me is fascinated, since tsunami footage is really rare. Another part of me thinks about the year, and life. In one of the tsunami videos, the people are frivolous in the face of the rising wave, not realizing until the very end that their lives were in peril. Then they ran. They ran as hard as they could. But it was too late.

We got a lot of Christmas cards this year, many with messages of God's love. I was sick with a cold and a friend emailed me that he was praying for my recovery. It was nice of him, but I wondered why God would want to heal my cold while the Indian Ocean beat down entire cities in Asia. I've always wanted some sort of faith, and I admire those who have it. But for me, it's elusive---a beautiful idea that doesn't suit me.

Sometimes I think the only difference between God-fearing and godless people is that the believers think we're being watched, while the unbelievers think we're basically on our own. Going through life thinking that someone out there cares and worries about me is powerful stuff. It's just a matter of seeing things that way. For now, I don't.

So long, 2004. The year of waves and babies. I'll never forget you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


The New York Times has published a number of photographs from the disaster areas that sweep the coasts of India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. We see people who are desperate for help, poking at solid mud, searching for the lost. We see beautiful women in colorful sarongs wailing at open mass graves. My heart feels their yearning for aid and comfort.

One horrific story told of how moments before the tsunami struck, the water drew back and rushed out to sea, leaving live fish slapping on the wet sand. Children ran down to fetch the unexpected bounty -- their last moments were spent grabbing at dancing, silvery fish with glee. Few survived.

In one photo from Sri Lanka, there are two men carrying away a twisted, half-naked body; people are standing around in a daze. One such bystander to this pathetic scene is a young, dark-haired Sri Lankan wearing a bin Laden t-shirt. I wonder if the editors of the New York Times inserted this image deliberately, or if it was overlooked, or deemed irrelevant to the commiserable scene.

I have nothing but sympathy for these poor blighted people. The anguish in their faces require no additional words of sorrow. Seeing the bin Laden bystander has me wondering if these people would have the same sympathy for my countrymen, under reversed fate. I wonder if a handful of American aid dollars might get him to discard his tattered bin Laden shirt -- or merely buy a new one. I wonder if he thinks the Arab League should be sending him aid instead of infidel Americans. It’s disheartening that this man should tinge my sympathy with cynicism. But there it is.

Living consists of enduring tsunamis -- unexpected waves rising out of the sea, changing everything. If asked only a minute before the first wave hit, “what threatens you the most,” the bin Laden bystander might have postulated that George Bush was his greatest threat, or American capitalism. Or perhaps he would have lamented diminishing fish supplies, or pointed at a deforested tropical coastland. Maybe he would have expressed fear for Tamil rebels, or government army men. Then, only one minute later, the sea’s horizon would tilt upwards, sweeping away the expected.

Change tends to come in waves -- deep, silent swells that knock every atom of presumption aside, overturning accepted prejudices, ideas, fears and dreams. 9/11 was one such wave. It was a great surge that overcame our meticulously constructed reality, seemingly impervious to the dark motives of bearded men living in 12th century Afghanistan. That wave rose out of the sea, on a beautiful, sunny day. And a new world was born in its wake.

In this last nod to 2004, we should remember waves. We can look back on human history and see that fundamental change rises from nowhere, and is revolutionary. Waves like the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, or the 1929 Crash; waves such as Pearl Harbor and Trinity, or a crumbling Berlin Wall, or the World Wide Web. In retrospect, there were impending signs, and surely their coming could have been foretold if anyone was attuned and heard. We should recognize that our greatest asset as living beings is our capacity to absorb waves. In so doing, we transform ourselves, and move ahead. The waves of this world make us a better people. We will endure only if we create opportunity from the abrupt realities that rise from the sea.