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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Baseball Bat Can't protect You from Everything

I was 16 years old and living on the Pacific island of Oahu when I first heard about tsunamis; hicks from the Midwest--where I grew up before that—just called them tidal waves. I thought the Japanese word sounded cool and the idea of it scared the living shit out of my coastal-dwelling young ass. This was the same summer that I saw the movie Jaws, so every time I went in the ocean I subconsciously hummed the theme music to that movie about a psychotic, man-eating shark while visions of being swept out to sea filled my head. And let’s not forget about jellyfish: the silent killers. The ocean is pretty much filled to the brim with death and destruction. I would avoid the ocean completely but it is fun to play in and nobody cares if you take a leak in it.

I don’t think that I was a particularly nervous kid but The Wizard of Oz also scared the shit out of me. It wasn’t the witch or the flying monkeys that bothered me. You could take care of those problems with a baseball bat. What freaked me out was the tornado. Whenever there was a tornado warning broadcast on TV, even if it was miles away, you would find me down in the basement squatting under a table with a few cans of food in my lap while the rest of the family was going about their business upstairs like the fools they were. Better safe than sorry was my motto.

I have learned to live with my irrational fear of big waves and big sharks. I actually learned to like twisters. I have lived most of my life within spitting distance of one ocean or another. I have spent a considerable amount of time in, on, or under water so it’s not like I have been paralyzed with fear. When I haven’t been in the water I have penned countless doodles involving blood-thirsty sharks or stick people villagers trying to mind their own business as huge waves are about to crash down upon them.

I’m an atheist, but if you want to call the recent tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people an “act of God,” I’m not going to argue about it. God is just a word that people use for things they don’t understand, or a means to come to grips with the infinite. I have little interest in religion or outer space. The ocean has always been vast and strange and infinite enough for me. Religion is a way to make man humble. I have never felt more humble than the times I have been out in the ocean alone at night. It doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, or what kind of car you drive, when you are a mile offshore swimming alone you are just another link in the food chain. Even if you have a baseball bat handy you are still pretty far down on that chain. Praying won’t do you much good either.

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