420 Seconds

The train didn’t roar by, nor thunder past, nor cannonball to the north.

Forget any exciting verb to depict the freight train’s actions while it crossed—and therefore blocked—an intersection while I idled, stalled with other drivers.

I’d left home planning arrive early for a meeting. Now would I make my appointment as “early” departed on what seemed like the west coast’s slowest train?

I glanced at my rear view and spotted a guy approach and abruptly brake. He sat alone in a wide cab. A delivery truck, maybe. Even before he completely stopped, his face contorted in anger. He slammed the cab’s ceiling with his fist. Once. Twice. And again. Though I had no idea what prompted his anger, his blatant displays of agitation and disgust continued over the next few moments.

The 8th Sunday of Epiphany – for February 27, 2011

And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. . . (Matthew 6:28-29)

But only for a few moments.

Though the train traveled with the haste of a turtle bored with speed, after my arrival it took about seven minutes for the last car to rattle through the intersection. The warning lights ceased flashing; the crossing guard gates swiveled skyward. Seven minutes max. 420 seconds. I’ve watched Tom Colicchio, co-host of Bravo’s Top Chef, whip together a stunning meal in fewer ticks of the clock than the time it took for the traffic to get moving again.

And yet how troubled the fellow behind me seemed. How do we describe it sometimes? He was “beside himself.” Or “not himself.” His troubles made him act like a caged animal inside his truck.

420 seconds.

Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

If we’re not troubled, we humans find a way to become troubled. As technology accelerates, time shrinks and the tasks we add to our multi-tasking expand. We bemoan a microwave’s delay, curse a jet plane arriving a half-hour late after a cross-country flight, and casually add another appointment to the schedule that means every signal light will have to turn green for us to get across town. We live in anguish, as if our kitchen appliance or the jet stream at 30,000 feet or the city’s signal lights is out to get us.

We invite troubles in and frequently never let go of them.

You want to understand real trouble?

Read Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller Unbroken–A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The book follows the life of Louis Zamperini, born in 1917 and a veteran of World War II. While flying a search-and-rescue mission, his B-24 crashed into the Pacific. Only three crewmembers, including Zamperini, were able to scramble into life rafts. During the next days—I won’t tell you how long, but it’s loooong—they drifted: at the mercy of the currents, with the sun beating down, with little food, and threatened continuously by sharks. But it got worse because they’re eventually rescued by . . . the enemy. Zamperini will look back at the time in the raft as if it were a pleasure cruise.

How did he survive? Continue reading →

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This Amazes Me

Lightning struck twice.

However, what bothered me first was a bug that flitted by. I swiped at it. Missed. There it came again, angling up to the left. Oops, to the right. Then the erratic little creature vanished.

The persnickety insect was followed by lightning, brief slashes of light from a distant storm seen from the corner of my left eye. Ah-oh. The bursts of white streaks were not from bad weather brewing far away, but inside my head.

The 7th Sunday after Epiphany – for February 20, 2011

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD… (Leviticus 19: 18)

Almost two years ago, I experienced flashing lights and floating debris (“bugs”) in my right eye. An ophthalmologist diagnosed PVD, or posterior vitreous detachment. As a handy-dandy Wikipedia article states, “The vitreous humor fills the eye behind the lens. At birth it is attached to the retina. Over time the vitreous changes, shrinking and developing pockets of liquefaction, similar to the way a gelatin dessert shrinks, or detaches, from the edge of a pan over time.” My gelatin dessert had shrunk again, this time on the other eye. Thus, lightning struck twice.

The physician (same guy as before) poked and prodded my view to the world and, like any good stand-up comedian on tour, described my situation with the identical joke from my first visit: “Most people get PVD because of birthdays.” Continue reading →

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This or This or This or This

It’s breakfast time.

Oatmeal or granola? Sourdough toast or a bagel with cream cheese?

Since it’s winter, my favorite choice—and I love to contemplate this while thinking of friends in frigid Nebraska or icy Wisconsin—involves sauntering a few steps from my kitchen. Should I drink OJ from the supermarket or head outside to determine which oranges are ripe on our backyard trees? After grabbing a few, I’d then squeeze dee-licioius citrus nectar into a glass!

Choices for each person are more bountiful than the hairs on our head, the sand on the beach, the stars in the sky, or other clichés I could keep using. Tree-ripened or store-bought? Leaded or unleaded? Arise or punch the snooze button? Peets or Starbucks? Packers or Steelers?

The 6th Sunday of Epiphany – for February 13, 2011

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live . . . (Deuteronomy 30:19)

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life,” Deuteronomy declares, blatantly speaking for the Holy with ancient words that are as fresh as the oranges dangling from my tree. Life or death . . . choose!

If only choices were that simple.

In 2010, Hurt Locker received the Best Picture Oscar. Though it holds the dubious reputation of being the least seen of any Best Picture, I believe it deserved the award. Of its many startling scenes (and I’m not spoiling the story for the zillions of you who didn’t see director Kathryn Bigelow’s flick), one that still lingers a year later comes toward the end. William James—actor Jeremy Renner—home from war, home from disarming bombs on the streets of Baghdad, goes shopping in a local supermarket. For long, long seconds, James stands in an aisle, surrounded by breakfast cereal. I set before you life and death. Choose: Cheerios or Cap’n Crunch or . . .? Continue reading →

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