Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Dear Spike:

We went to the teacher's supply store this morning to pick up a box of magnetic letters for the refrigerator door. (Many of the letters we had mysteriously began disappearing as you began using them to spell. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?) After we found a tub of 108 letters — "that's more than four alphabets," I told you — we wandered around the store a bit to see if there was anything else we couldn't live without.

In one corner, there was a rack of small flags from all over the world, and I picked you out a tiny Chinese banner for your room. And so long as we were at it, we asked one of the store attendants if she had a map of China.

"I'm pretty sure we do," she said, leading us to the back of the room, where hundreds of tightly-scrolled maps were waiting in plastic bins. "May I ask why you're interested in China?"

"I'm going to live in China when I grow up," you told her confidently.

The lady took a step back to size you up. "Well, you're going to need a map then," she finally said, handing you the 18-inch roll of paper in a plastic bag.

"Thank you," you said.

"In Chinese," I corrected.

"Xie xie," you said.

"You're teaching her Chinese?" the lady asked.

"Nah, she's teaching us," I replied, explaining about how we'd come to decide to have you learn a language that your mother and I don't know ourselves.

"What else does she know?" the woman asked.

We went over a few of the basics. You told her what colors she was wearing and shared the names of some of your favorite animals.

As we headed up to the front counter, the lady called over some of her co-workers. "Can you tell us some more?" she said.

You obliged.

"She's a pretty smart little girl," another woman, who was ringing us up at the cash register said.

She picked up the box of alphabet letters and read the label. "108 foam letters," she said.

"That's more than four alphabets," you told her.

The woman looked around the room as though she were trying to spot the hidden camera.

"How does she know that?" she asked.

I just kept my mouth shut and shrugged. If people want to think my daughter is the smartest two-year-old in the world, who am I to argue?

Because, for all I know, they could be right.


Saturday, October 17, 2009


I'll never forget the day I met disaster.

It was Oct. 17, 1989. The San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics were just about to take the field in Game 3 of the World Series. Your Uncle Mikey and I were in our family's garage, shooting pool, playing darts and listening to the pre-game show on KNBR-AM on my little red-and-black boom box.

And then the world moved. It moved as though God had picked up the planet and was shaking it in anger. It moved as though it were about to break apart into outer space. It moved as I had never felt before and have never felt sense.

The tools hanging on the garage walls shook. A rake fell from its post. Mikey and I dashed out the back door, into the backyard. We wrapped our arms around each other and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

They say it was 15 seconds. It felt like the entire afternoon went by as we waited for the world to stop shaking.

By the time it stopped, I knew: That quake was a killer.

Indeed, 63 people died that day. Thousands more were injured. And I lost the ability to believe that God was always good.

The photos poured over the television. Stomach-churning images of cars crushed between fallen slabs of freeway and people crushed under the fallen facade of an old San Francisco building. Fires raged all night long.

And in the midst of it all, a small miracle: The cities hardest hit by the Earthquake were being represented in one of the biggest contests in all the sporting world. So millions of people who might otherwise have been on the freeways, on the bridges or walking along old city streets, were instead in their homes or packed into bars to watch the game.

So maybe God is good. Or maybe God just has a sick sense of humor.

This was the disaster that stole my innocence. But, of course, it wasn't the last. Or even the worst. Not even close.

A few years later, Los Angeles shook. Seventy four people died. The next year, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building took 168 lives, including that of one-year-old Baylee Almon, whose lifeless body, cradled in a firefighter's arms, became the iconic image of terror in the heartland.

A year after that, TWA Flight 800 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Two hundred and thirty perished.

And then Columbine. And then September 11. And then Columbia. And then Ivan and Katrina and Rita.

15. 2,992. 7. 124. 1,836. 120.

How do I explain this to you? How do I tell you that, even though this world is a very beautiful place, sometimes it shakes? How do I tell you that sometimes it kills? How do I tell you that God is only sometimes good?

On the day I met disaster, your grandfather was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, getting ready to cover the baseball game. Instead, he spent the evening covering the aftermath of the quake, then drove the long way back to our home across the Bay.

He never told us why it had happened. He just gave us all a big hug and told us that he loved us.

I guess that's all I'll have to offer you on the day you meet disaster. And you will.

Because even though this world is a very beautiful place, sometimes it shakes.

And when it does, I will not waiver. I will not tremble. I will be here to hug you, to hold you, to wipe away your tears.

I will be here. I will wait with you for the world to stop shaking.

And when it does, we will listen for the birds. And we will watch the wind rustle through the leaves of the trees. And we will know that the world is still a beautiful place.


Sunday, October 11, 2009


Dear Spike:

You've yet to perfect the pronunciation of the letter 'f,' so when your mother and I asked you where you wanted to go for a hike today, we were having some trouble understanding your answer.

"In the sorest," you said.

"The what?"

"The sorest."

"Um... the source?"

"No, the sorest."

"Can you say it again?"

Finally you grew frustrated and took a long contemplative pause.

"The woods," you finally said. "In the woods."

Even after you perfect your phonemes, there are going to be times in which intellectual, linguistic, social, cultural or technological barriers are going to prevent successful communication with those around you.

There's little in life more important that good communication skills. But faced with the inability to get their point across on the first try, many people just give up.

You, apparently, are not one of those people. And as a result, you're going to have access to a world that few others will.

You're going to see the sorest — and the trees.


Monday, October 5, 2009


Dear Spike:

Far more people have argued about the Mojave Desert Cross than have actually seen it.

I'm pretty sure I passed it, once, just about 10 years ago, while taking a shortcut from the Marine Corps base at 29 Palms to Las Vegas. But if I noticed the simple, white structure, jutting from the top of a 30-foot rock outcropping, I certainly don't remember it now.

So I would never again have thought of that lonely drive had I not heard, this week, that the U.S. Supreme Court was going to hear arguments about whether the 75-year-old war monument should be torn down in adherence to the principle of separation of church and state.

Turns out folks have been fighting over this for years. Hiring lawyers and filing petitions. Building coalitions and organizing legislation. Fighting and writing and wrything in despair over two pieces of steel pipe, affixed at the center, painted white and planted in the middle of nowhere.

Here's the irony of it all: The people on both sides of this issue are good Christians. The man who filed the original suit asking for the cross to be taken down is a devout Catholic who says he is opposed to the government's exploitation of the most sacred symbol of Jesus Christ's sacrifice. Those who want the cross to remain where it is say they're defending that same sacred symbol against anti-religious zealots who want to destroy all vestiges of God in government.

I wonder if either side has given much thought to the resources that have been squandered in this years-long legal battle. What else could those thousands of hours have done? What else could those millions of dollars have bought? Whose lives could have been bettered — or saved?

How is it possible that neither side has decided to turn the other cheek, as Christ commanded? To give to Caesar what is Caesar's, as Christ commanded? To use what limited resources we have in this world to help those who need it most, as Christ commanded?

There are things in this world worth fighting for. Choose your battles wisely. I often fail in this regard. And so I am in no position to cast any stones — only to offer some advice.

Fight the fights that are worth fightin' — and leave the rest to God.