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Malaga Cove

Haggerty’s

I grew up in a spectacularly beautiful place. Today I walked the trails above Malaga Cove and the views were stunning. Growing up, the views did not strike me as they do now. What I remember the most from my youth is the scent of the Hill. Those scents are likely what make my walks around Palos Verdes such a visceral experience. The Hill smells like a combination of eucalyptus, flowers (mock orange was especially prevalent in my youth) and sea air. Some of the undeveloped areas have a scent that I like to call coastal canyon. I smell that scent and I am taken back instantly to my youth. I can recall specific memories of walking through fields, jogging in the early morning fog and hiking down the cliffs to the beach.

When I walk around the Hill these days, those scents pull at me and make me wish for something that no longer exists. When I lived here, there were still open spaces where kids rode dirt bikes and built forts. In one then-undeveloped area, where Paseo La Cresta and Via Coronel met, if you drove through at night, you were likely to disturb a huge owl that liked to sit atop a street sign. There were definitely neighborhoods, generally the Estates and behind the gates in Rolling Hills, where truly wealthy people lived, but back then there were also “normal” areas inhabited by the single-income families of engineers that worked at Hughes, Northrup and TRW. Those days are long over. The empty fields have been filled with wanna-be Tuscan villas and Spanish-style McMansions. Only the 1% can afford to live here. The people are different today than those I grew up around.

Owls were not the only wildlife. Skunks abounded. If you left cat food outdoors, you were likely to attract the little nuisances. Many a night returning home late from work or a date would entail a face-off with a nervous skunk. The Estates and Portuguese Bend had peacocks – magical to me, but terrible pests for many of the residents.

We had one major shopping area on the hill – the Peninsula Center, with a couple of outpost retail centers in Lunada Bay and Malaga Cove. The Peninsula Center was perfect. It had all the basic shops you needed: two grocery stores, stationary stores, a 5 and dime and hardware store, a cheese shop, a bakery, shoe store, shops for clothes, fabric, luggage, jewelry, books and music. There was a Jolly Roger restaurant and my first employer, a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream. The shops were connected by outdoor walkways and courtyards. In the summertime they had arts and crafts festivals. During the holidays, groups would go caroling there and there was a house for Santa to visit and take pictures. Out by Portuguese Bend was Marine Land, a little mini-Sea World. It was a major summer employer for high school students.

When I moved to Palos Verdes from the San Fernando Valley, I did not like the coastal weather. We moved there in the early fall. Fog – it has a smell, did you know? –  came rolling in with the afternoon. It was cold and damp. I had to walk through the low clouds on my way to school. By the time I arrived my hair and clothes were covered with a fine mist. It wreaked havoc with my cowlicks. But I learned to love it. Even more so as an adult. I brought my children here in the summers every year. I wanted them to know and love the ocean. It was no longer the place I grew up, but there was enough still here to create good memories.

This year is a particularly good summer. The weather is warm and the fog is sparse. I look now out the bedroom window to a sky glowing orange where the sun has just gone down. The ocean is black and there is a breeze. Planes in the distance take off from LAX. My summers in the place I grew up have been numbered for a while now. I don’t know how much longer my mother will live here. But it will be okay. I find now, when I return to Texas, that I breathe out a sigh of relief. I welcome the space. The sky. The cows. The lone star flag and the people of the South. It wasn’t supposed to be forever, but it has become home too.

Sunset

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I’ve been thinking lately about when life doesn’t turn out the way you imagined. Giving up cherished dreams and embracing a new reality is hard. But it is also life. What is it John Lennon said? “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

Back in the 1960’s Aaron T. Beck developed a cognitive therapy for those experiencing depression. It is called “reframing”.  Patients would recognize their negative thoughts and learn to change them from negative to positive. When they did this it would lessen their depression. This technique has many uses. For instance, it can be used to help with test anxiety, memory problems and with parents having negative thoughts about disabled offspring.

 

Last Fall a friend from my teen years passed away. She had had children later in life and left behind young daughters. She was a little more mature, relatively anyway for an LDS woman, as well. Before meeting the man that would become her husband, she had dated a man that the whole family loved. He was an engineer and altogether great guy, but she just didn’t think he was the guy for her. The man she ended up marrying was a more difficult personality. He wasn’t a bad person, but he came with some issues that made him harder to embrace, but for her it was the match she had been looking for. They struggled financially. They weren’t destitute, but she often worked and did not enjoy many of the things society thinks is important. Her sister-in-law spoke at her funeral and commented that God cares about the big stuff – do you keep his commandments and your covenants? Do you marry in the right place and then work to keep that marriage intact in the face of internal and external struggle? Do you have children if you are physically capable of it?  Beyond that, it is all little stuff. It doesn’t feel like little stuff – illness, poverty, death – but in the big (eternal) scheme of things, it is. Because when we die and get to the other side, all those little things are gone, but the things that are big – commandments, covenants, marriage and family – that’s all that’s left. Did she ever have to reframe her life? If she was anything like the rest of us mortals, she likely did.

Emily Perl Kingsley wrote a story about planning a vacation to Italy. For her it is an allegory about having a disabled child, but I think it can be an allegory for any “reframing” event:

“You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”

I have been lucky. The times when I have had to reframe my life have been small. They were disappointments felt big at the time, but in light of the major realignments many people have to make, I recognize now how puny they were. Really.

Reframing your life sounds simple enough, but the name belies the difficulty of the task. It is hard to give up visions of how your life was supposed to be. You have to trust that what it will be can more than compensate for your disappointment.

Surrender to what is.

Let go of what was.

Have faith in what will be.