It is the season of Lent in the Christian church, a time of reflection, penitence, and self-denial, one object of these practices being humility.
I have mentioned before that my definition of humility is to have a clear, true perception of yourself, which does not mean self-bashing or delusions of grandeur, but rather an objective view of who you are. I think it’s impossible to be objective about yourself when you’re looking from inside your own head, but where else can you stand? It’s worth the effort to try. If you’re lying to yourself about who you are, whether you’re lying about being more than you are or less than you are, you’re lying. Living a lie makes nonsense of your life, so clear your head as well as you can, and see what you can see.
One good way to clear your head is to take a walk.
Yesterday was sunny, one of those early false spring days, and Marley the dog and I went down to the KVI beach for a walk. The sun was hot on my back and the wind was cold in my face as we went. Marley ecstatically sniffed practically every blade of grass, and left her own mite of communication in a spot which I now think of as Poop Central for dogs on KVI beach.
When I walk on the beach I am looking for where I would run in the event of a large earthquake and tsunami. If this makes me neurotic and paranoid, so be it. This paranoia is based on my knowledge that these things have happened here in the past, and could happen again.
I took the Vashon 101 class a few years ago in which one of the lecturers took glee in telling us that when the Seattle Fault lets go, we will have about four minutes before the tsunami hits Vashon. So now when I walk on the beach, hobbling along on my arthritic joints and assisted by my walking stick (thank you, Becky), I am calculating: how far could I go in four minutes? Is that a trail up the bluff there in the salal? Would my worn-out knees allow me to get up to safety in a hurry? Should I stand there and kiss the world good-bye and watch the wave come to take me?
Then I tell myself that while there will be an earthquake, the likelihood of it happening right this minute is slim. I’ve been walking on these beaches for over 40 years now. So far so good. I go back to limping along, picking up rocks that catch my eye, as well as things people have left behind. Yesterday’s haul: twenty white pebbles for my garden cairn, one pair of plaid sleep pants (size XL), and a pink plastic clothes pin.
In 1966 I lived in Alameda (another island) and commuted to San Francisco on the AC Transit. Every day on the way home as we crossed the Bay Bridge, I would worry. What if there was an earthquake? What if the bridge collapsed?
Mind you, I’d lived near the San Andreas Fault all my life, and had experienced many quakes, though no really large ones at that time. The large earthquake came later, in February, 1971, in Los Angeles. It gave me respect for earthquakes and what they can do. I moved up here in 1973, thinking that I was getting away from earthquakes. That’s how ignorant I was at the time. But getting back to my story…
On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. The San Andreas Fault shifted in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and guess what? A section of the Bay Bridge collapsed. One woman died when her car plummeted into the gap. All other vehicles were turned around and sent back to San Francisco. Meanwhile, in Oakland, the double-decker Cyprus freeway, which had been part of my daily commute in 1966, collapsed on itself, and 42 people died.
I had never worried about that freeway collapsing, only the Bay Bridge. In retrospect, I’d say my paranoia was at least partially not paranoia, but the worst that happened when the earthquake hit was not something I had foreseen, or worried about. That’s the thing about worry and paranoia – you are preparing to defend yourself from what you imagine, and you might have it all, or partially, wrong. You never know.
There was no earthquake while I was at the beach yesterday. The dog and I made it back to the car fine. I took some snapshots of the sunny scene so I could look at them on days like today, when the overcast is high and white and unbroken.
Is my head clearer for yesterday’s walk? I find that head clearing needs to be done every day for best results. The dog likes to clear her head, too, so we’ll go out walking again today.
I wish you a blessed Lent, if Christianity is your spiritual practice, and a clear head regardless of your spiritual practice.