Miracles: Slam Dunk, Fire, Serendipity

Many people don’t know that Chanukah is a holiday about miracles. Ironically, at least in the US, the winter holiday season tends to be an extra hard or outright miserable time for so many people, especially those who have complicated or nonexistent relationships with family, leaving them feeling more lonely and ashamed than usual. With all the emphasis on celebrating and gifts, not having enough money or not receiving invitations or presents might add to feeling like a misfit, or a worthless being. That was certainly true for me, although I made a production of creating and giving gifts. I suppose that helped. Add to that the dark and cold season, and it all becomes a recipe for bleakness. Last week as December was just starting, I thought I would write about something inspirational or upbeat, like the recent serendipitous experience I had in Hawaii that I like to call Fire on the Mountain. I sat down to write.

But as I sat staring at the blank screen, I found myself typing “World of Neglect,” and, for whatever reason, fixating on the story of Brittney Griner. I complained about the biting chill of 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) here these days, which to us in San Francisco is a “cold snap.” I wondered what the temperature would be in the Gulag-like conditions of Griner’s Mordovia prison camp. Again, I am no sports fan, but for some reason, I am compelled and fascinated by the stories of brilliant athletes. Griner’s story grabbed me from the day it broke back in February, now ten months ago. 

I am often disgusted and angered by the fickle and sensational news business, where a story hits and captures widespread concern, even outrage, only to sink into the quicksand of world neglect, upstaged by the next big story. I felt like Griner was all too rapidly forgotten, disappearing into the gaping void of world neglect. I had to wonder, would she have been so easy to forget if she was white and straight? If it were, say, the cherubic blond quarterback of our local football team, the man I call “Lover-Boy,” would he have been so forgettable and left to languish in the bowels of a Russian nightmare? My more hard-headed and politically-unbiased husband probably said so. But I am not convinced.

Unable to refocus on my “positive” agenda, I began researching Griner, curious to find out more about her story. I find her beautiful and her 6 foot nine (205.74 cm) frame so elegant and striking that it rather shocked me to learn that, always taller than her peers growing up in Houston, she suffered miserably and was mercilessly bullied in school. The other kids called her a “freak,” and she believed them. She was already suicidal by junior high school. And as she got older, wrestling with her sexuality, she finally summoned the courage to come out to her parents. Upon hearing it, her (most likely traumatized) Vietnam veteran father lost no time in kicking her out. That was all I could find about her sad childhood. But that colored my already bleak thoughts about her, locked away, forgotten in Siberia-like hard labor conditions. All day I could not shake the image of Brittney Griner, forgotten. I had not had a day like that before, fixated on her, a political football (basketball?) punted into outer space.

The next morning in the wee hours, I turned on the radio as I always do. The first thing I heard was that Brittney Griner was free! She was on the plane and on her way home. Admittedly I was instantly in tears. How did this happen?!

I am often disgusted and angered by the fickle and sensational news business, where a story hits and captures widespread concern, even outrage, only to sink into the quicksand of world neglect, upstaged by the next big story.

Fire on the Mountain

We had the good fortune to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday on our beloved “home away from home,” the Big Island of Hawaii. We spent our first couple of days on the northeastern side of the island in Volcano, the little town where the famed Mauna Loa volcano majestically stands. After a lovely visit there, we took our leave, heading south to Kona on my favorite, the sunny side of the island. No sooner had we arrived in Kona, we heard the news that Mauna Loa had explosively erupted the day after we left, like it had not done since 1984. Although our friends who lived there assured us that they were safe and all was well, we kept hearing news reports of lava creeping and spilling further and ever wider across the roads. We felt as if we had dodged a bullet.

We had arranged for a day excursion during our time in Kona, up the 8,500-foot (2,590 meters) peak of Hualalai Mountain there. We had never been up there before, a bucket list item of my husband’s. It was to be a guided tour led by a lovely native guide named Kimo in his trusty but clearly well-worn Jeep. We set out early, just the three of us, starting the long and rickety climb up the incredibly steep, rocky dirt road, and all the while, Kimo entertained us with stories about growing up with his 52 cousins, their parents, and grandparents on this sacred land. He pointed out elaborate ecosystems, describing how a beautiful creeping vine grew around the precious and sensitive Koa trees to protect them from the sun’s heat, so they could thrive. He also told us the sad story, common to so many native peoples, of how the colonial government quadrupled property taxes so quickly that his family were forced off their beloved ancestral land, and it was sold off to wealthy real estate developers. Kimo and many like him had to go to work building the very resort homes that took over their ancestral land, torn by compromise but dependent on the work to feed their kids. It reminded me of concentration camp victims having to dig their own graves. 

Kimo was especially proud of Hualalai, which was most dear to his beloved grandmother. He was glad to have the opportunity to take us up there, and he had not been up there in over a week. After about 40 minutes lumbering and rumbling up the mountain, we reached the spot where the much-needed (by me) restroom was located. Kimo pulled over and I dashed inside. Emerging relieved, I saw Kimo madly running into the bushes toward rising smoke. The mountain was on fire. 

We threw all the bottled water he had packed into the jeep onto the smoldering embers to little avail, and apologetically, Kimo hurriedly told us we had to cancel the tour. Of course! But he felt terrible about it.

Like a racecar driver, Kimo got us down the rugged mountain in no time and called his community to help him come and fight the fire. He was so grateful to us! If we had not booked the tour, and if I had not had to go to the bathroom, he would not have been there to see the smoking embers spread into incipient flames. The whole mountain would have burned down. How do these things happen?

How does it happen that we serendipitously meet that certain person? How do stars seem miraculously to line up just so? What is the power of positive thinking, of good works? 


What does Brittney Griner have to do with Mauna Loa and Hualalai, trauma and neglect, you and me? I strive to be scientific about cause and effect, although there are things that we cannot explain, sometimes very wonderful. How does it happen that we serendipitously meet that certain person? How do stars seem miraculously to line up just so? What is the power of positive thinking, of good works? Sometimes out of the depth of dark despair, we are surprised by something inexplicably wonderful. A Tibetan Buddhist tradition, I am told, teaches that on certain days of the year, one’s good karmic works are multiplied a hundred million-fold. I make my donations to suicide prevention on those days. I like to think I can save a hundred million lives. Who knows? I guess we must just hang in and do our best!

Best wishes of the season! And to all a good night!

Today’s song:

My book “Working with the Developmental Trauma of Childhood Neglect: Using Psychotherapy and Attachment Theory Techniques in Clinical Practice” was published on August 31st. It provides psychotherapists with a multidimensional view of childhood neglect and a practical roadmap for facilitating survivors’ healing.

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