We passed the KTLA5 News van just south of the exit to Isla Vista. Apparently they were also headed back to L.A.
“Can’t see the water today,” Mother said, her head turned to her window as she looked to the south where the coast was hiding in a bank of clouds and moisture.
“No,” I said. I looked left to check the fast lane, before moving into it to get around the car that was slowing us down, “but you can’t miss the fact it’s there with all this heavy marine layer.”
Yesterday, the trip north meant short sleeves, air conditioning and sun glasses against the bright sun and beautiful blue sky and water, but today was a long sleeve day, with the A/C turned off and vent air warmed up to 73 degrees. It was overcast and cool out, 60 degrees at 9:45 a.m.
The Isla Vista murder/suicide tragedy was three days ago. The town was probably still reeling. Families decimated and shocked. People would need jackets or sweatshirts when they took flowers to mark the spot of the tragedies. And anyway, overcast, cloudy skies made more sense for mourning than a bright, sunny day at the beach, right? Or maybe the gray sky matched the gray in people’s minds and kept them away from the scene and that was why the News Van was headed back to L.A.
“We never spent time at the beach,” Mother said, her head still turned towards the coast, “I was busy with all you kids, your father needed the car for work, and there was no money or time for trips to the beach.” She sounded a little wistful at the missed opportunity.
“And when you did get away,” I said, checking the review mirror for a CHP as my speed increased down a hill, “you went to the mountains?”
“Of course,” Mother said in a tone that meant, why would they go anywhere else? “Your father and I loved the mountains.”
I checked the rear view mirror to see if my visiting brother had anything to add to this trip down memory lane, but he was asleep, his white haired head against the head rest of the back seat, cell phone in his hand, the radio classical music his lullaby.
His week-long visit with his son, daughter-in-law and three grandkids in Lompoc gave me an excuse to talk Mother into taking a trip north. What a trip of contrasts. We’d gone from L.A. County to Santa Barbara County, from high rises, acres of concrete, bumper to bumper traffic, houses and small businesses as far as the eye could see, interspersed with strip malls and large shopping complexes, past ocean views, bougainvillea blanketed cliffs and para-sailing and beyond, to rolling green hills sprayed with yellow mustard blooms like dancing sprites over hills and vales that sloped down to the winding ribbon that is Highway 1.
It felt like another world. It felt like the back of beyond where nothing lived except grasses and hills and dense undergrowth. It felt hushed and beautiful, fresh and alive. It felt like another place in time.
It felt nothing like the tragedy and blood and suffering of Isla Vista, where a rampaging, mentally stressed college student had planned for his pain to erupt leaving six dead and thirteen wounded.
Rather, it felt happy. We found a busy and content family of two school teachers, their two teenagers, a ten year old and a Mother-in-law who just had one lung lobe removed in an effort to eradicate cancer.
They act like they are aware they have each other. They act like they know who they are. They act like they understand their place in life. They act like they will take care of each other. They act like they will be there for the recovery after cancer surgery; they will be there for each other after my nephew has back surgery this summer; they will be there for my beautiful, seventeen year old great niece as she makes a college choice, they will be there in encouraging my nephew’s wife as she finishes her masters and her doctorate, they will be there to support my nephew as he finishes his seminary work. It isn’t that their life doesn’t have challenges. It’s that they are determined to keep their lives simple, hang on to their faith and believe in each other.
How easily that tragic college student with long term self-esteem and mental health issues could have been me, or my brother, or his son, or his daughter-in-law or one of his grandchildren. I think of the poor choices I made when I was young, that student’s age. I cringe when I think of how some things turned out. I, too, was a failure. I’m grateful I learned to move beyond. I’m grateful there was healing.
I’m grateful, this gray morning, that life has given me time to get it right. And I’m sad for the destroyed families of those six dead and thirteen wounded. I pray there will be a way for them to recover; that there will be time for their lives to get it right. Other than just screaming about guns. Or knives. It’s a deeper issue than a tool used for destruction. It’s about value at the very core of our being. It’s about compassion and forgiveness. It’s about finding help when damage eats away at the soul. It’s about love.
“I saw a whale,” Mother said, her eyes glued to the water, as the fog began to lift.
“Where?” My brother woke, stretched and turned to his window.
We craned our necks to see the beauty of life that continues on.