Sunday, April 11, 2010


Our kids were pretty young when we moved from the San Francisco Bay Area back to the east coast, specifically to the Boston area. When they started school here, even though they were just in the first grade they were amused by the quaint colloquial use of language by Boston area natives. “Wicked” meant good. It had nothing to do with a witch. “We had a wicked time” was a good thing and saying it, even if they were just repeating something they heard some kid at school say, brought a smile to their faces.

The other term that came into use around the house was “awesome.” And to be fair, popular media as well as the cultural influence of the area was to blame for this one. “Awesome” meant yes, or all right, or that would do, or thank you. “Hey, can you pass the salt? Awesome.” But there was no awe in this awesome. All of the natural authentic awe was replaced by a cosmetic stand-in awe, expressed only in the tonality in which the word was delivered. “That was AWESOME!” No that was just salt. Get over it.

Few things are actually awesome. If one has a personal experience with their creator, that might constitute as awesome. Seeing a child born, especially if it’s your child, most especially if it’s your grandchild, that could be described as truly awesome. Ask any grandparent.

Water is awesome. Sip it and it will give you life. Harness it and it will support life. Ignore it at the wrong time and it will take life away. Here are some examples.

I’ve started on a new diet. One of these popular ones that includes a hell of a lot of exercise and a particular form of eating. The diet makes sense. For the most part it doesn’t make unreasonable demands and it explains the reasoning behind its tenets. One of those tenets has to do with drinking water – massive amounts of un-carbonated water. I like to swim in it, shower in it, and sit in a hot bubbling soup of it, but drinking a lot of it is hard for me. If I successfully start to regularly drink a half gallon of water per day, I will be filled with awe between my frequent trips to the bathroom. Though I do occasionally employ the whinny form awe, that being aw. “Kevin, put down the coffee and drink some water.” Aw!

From spending so much time at the beach, I’m used to the power of waves as they barrel into shore, finishing their reach onto dry land with a thin film that glides over the sand until it stops and recedes. The waves are gentle and almost predicable. We lay bets on whether a sand castle will stand up to repeated thin gliding reaches of the waves. But when those waves are inspired by seismic activity way out in the ocean, it is another matter. I always envisioned a tsunami as a giant wall of water hundreds of feet high that hits the coast and wipes everything out in one fell swoop. But that’s not the case. That’s not water’s power. Nature does not have to be big to be powerful.

Instead, a tsunami is a scaled up version of that thin film that glides over the sand. But in a tsunami, the water glides in and just doesn’t stop. Instead of receding, it proceeds, forward, inward, picking up whatever is not anchored to the ground, as well as many things that are – or were. The power of water here is not just that it can destroy and kill, but also that it delivers perspective; a special form of vision that gets overshadowed by the desperation and fear the event triggers in the citizenry. Perhaps for the first time, one might see how close to sea level they live and work, and how tenuous their coexistence is and always has been with the ocean, river, stream, lake or damn. Water has a way of quickly communicating its relationship with your life and sometimes that relationship is not good.

Water inspires real awe. Nothing cosmetic about it.