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Mudslide Cathedrals

I was lucky enough to be at the beach twice yesterday. It was a gorgeous day with weather that embraced you and made you feel happy to be alive. The beach was littered with families and friends and dogs, all enjoying the hugging sunshine.

When we returned later in the day with our dogs, the beachgoers were mostly gone, only a few last gaspers holding onto a day well done. The dogs lit off across the beach to chase things imaginary and real. Off they went, charging down the ocean’s edge, happily released from their dog duties and leashes. My son and I trailed behind.

I was in a horrible mood all day. I do not know why. I just was. I was tired and also just kind of a mess. I was restless, irritable and discontented. This almost never happens to me, well, at least a whole day like that, but yesterday despite my two beach visits, I was just in a mood, and it was foul.

The beach helped. I was able to release some of my negativity onto the sand, like discharging negatively charged atoms into the sand, the sand able to absorb with ease what was toxic to others. I walked and walked and still barely held it together. My son being wonderful and me still being irritated with him for tiny slights that added up to nothing. Finally, he left me alone, seeing that I was struggling to be polite, he took his dog and they chased each other around the beach while my dog ran up and down the beach, demanding the seagulls’ attention, some acknowledgement of her dominion. I could relate...

As I walked in silence, alone with my thoughts, I brewed and stewed, unsure why I was in such a state. I had a good day, got plenty of sleep, had a good weekend. I was not hungry. I have a great life and so when I feel no appreciation for it, it is rare. Yet, there I was, walking on the edge of my world, completely pissed off and disconnected from everyone and everything.

My negative head space might have been why I had the following mental emotional state might have been to blame, but if I am honest, I never walk that beach without thinking about this.

There is a ton of driftwood on the beach, gigantic remnants of trees that used to exist and thrive. They litter the beach now, constant reminders of a day all of us wish we could forget. The horrific day of the Montecito mudslide where 23 people lost their lives, hundreds were displaced from their homes and a community brought to the edge of ruin. It was a terrible time.

The deris flow carried away everything in its path, to include trees, large trees that are usually immune to the elements...but that day earth and sky joined forces and formed a union that brought certain destruction to so many.

The mountain came down, bringing with it previously beautiful landscaping, landing in the sea that raged at the bottom. Everything in the slide’s path, liquified and delivered to the ocean as a final resting place.

The sea took it all in and does what the sea does best, welcomed it home and then moved it to some other local. And for what appears to be most of the timber, it dropped it off at my beach. That was three years ago, the tide deposited the tattered remnants of lives no longer lived and brought them to us as reminders for all who perished. And I remember...

People knowing and unknowing have used the timber and made small houses that now dot the beach. Sun bleached structures made from what remains of lives lost.

As I walked the beach, I thought about all the people who lost their lives. I always do. I can’t not think about them. I didn’t know any of the dead personally but I felt their families pain, I listened to their stories, I grieved their loss as one can only grieve whose role was simply witness.

Yesterday was no different, I walked on the ocean and stood on the shore. I viewed the wood as a welcome addition to the coastline. A final home to those we lost. But yesterday, I saw the structures as cathedrals. Each unique in its own way. I marveled at them, the time and effort it took to build each one, each tiny shrine not unlike the lives lost. Some were inhabited by beachgoers. Many were vacant, their interest and purpose given way to a time before.

As I walked, the tiny cathedrals took on new meaning for me. They began to represent rebirth from death. What remained of lives lived before, now being used to recreate something new. It is always happening, this falling apart and coming together. Every minute of every day. Again, and again. Never stopping. But yesterday I saw that the energy of those we lost, was reborn into tiny huts on the coastal shore, each windows to another time, a terrible past and ended future.

And as I often do when upset or disturb, I count things to bring my mind back into some sort of peace. I have done this since I was a child. Counted tiles on a wall, pattern on the floor, lights in a ceiling. It is meditative and likely somewhat compulsive. So in my disturbed state, I counted the basilicas, one after another and when I got to the end of beach, I began to cry. There were 23.

Nature always setting right that which goes wrong. No one intended that there would be 23. In the intervening three and half years, I have seen them come and go, the temples changed and altered by the ocean, tide and humans. But yesterday as I walked the beach, there were 23.

So I stood in awe. I wept silently as I morned the dead that I did not know. I thanked each of them for their message, for their standing sentry on the beach, holding me accountable to this life that I have been so privileged to keep this long. I thanked them for allowing me entrance to their secret second lives, to walk among their structures and feel their energy still present and alive.

Mudslides are terrible things but sometimes with their horror and destruction, they create temples, sanctuaries for the rest of us. They stand tall in their testament to a time that came before, and share the story of a life cut short. Sometimes, you might walk your favorite beach and be so moved that you weep for the dead you didn’t know. You grant yourself access to feel the pain of your own hurt and loss. You allow what stands before you to alter you internally and understand that if you were really paying attention, life would move you to tears far more often...not just because of the pain, but because of the exquisite joy of being alive, standing on the beach, surrounded by altars divine.

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