Our recent trip to Malibu couldn’t help but bring up bittersweet memories of our times there in the past. We lived in Malibu for nearly three years and the way in which we had to leave our first home denied us the closure that a planned move can offer. Our attempts at making peace with that abrupt goodbye have been mixed over the past few years, but after this recent excursion, Malibu feels more like a storied old friend than a painfully unrequited love.
Our last overnight trip to Malibu was nearly three years ago, in November 2008. Shadows of that trip were so inescapable throughout this trip but perhaps most notably as we were assigned the exact same hotel room that we had stayed in 3 years ago (2008 on LEFT; 2011 on RIGHT). Thinking back on where we were the last time we were in that room…Katherine was 6 months out from her stroke and had just been released from living full-time at Casa Colina–she was still unable to walk at all and still unable to eat, using a feeding tube in her stomach for nourishment. So many things in our lives at that point were honestly so bleak, but we clung to the hope that at least they looked better than they had the month before. As I look back on these pictures, as pictures are supposed to do, they capture the reality of that moment in a way that words could not express then. There is such a palatable sadness in those images, which I suppose is understandable as this was Katherine’s first time back to this place that she loved so much. In juxtaposition, the pictures from this most recent trip (all on the RIGHT) communicate a very different place, though one that has taken nearly three years to reach.
Malibu is spectacularly beautiful but its real charm lies in the simplicity of the life lived in such close proximity to the Pacific Ocean. We explored and experienced all that this glamorously sleepy beach town has to offer while we lived there, but funny enough, in the times that we have come back to visit, we always fall back on the same old spots, all within about a mile of Pepperdine. I suppose now it’s just easier to maneuver a baby and a wheelchair in certain, specific spots, but we’ve also come to appreciate these everyday places so much that we are drawn back to them time and time again. In a way, they allow us to reconcile our old lives through new eyes.
After an easy evening, we all awoke the next morning to such beautiful weather that it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go on a pre-breakfast jog. Pepperdine’s campus is carved right into the mountainside, and the rolling and winding roads are perfect for a breath-taking (in many senses) work-out that Katherine and I used to engage whenever the mood would strike us (admittedly, not as often as it should have). This time, Katherine waved me on out the door as she determined it would be much less complicated for me to just enjoy a jog on my own. I hooked up my I-pod and scrolled through my songs, haphazardly ending up on a song that I had often used when jogging these same hills, many years ago. I appreciate classical music, though I don’t listen to it with much regularity, but this song is a modern classical piece that is so lovely and meaningful that I couldn’t help but push play. To me, this particular song, “Vide Cor Meum” has always symbolized the sacrificial nature of a deep love (it’s based on Dante’s “La Vita Nuova”), long before I gained a more real-life understanding of that concept. I began the downhill descent to this glorious soundtrack, fitting of the 180 degree views of the mountains and the sea. Katherine and I had jogged this same path many times years before, talking about our future, beyond Malibu; we had even lugged our newborn James, in the baby carrier, up the same hill just a few short months before everything changed.
On the breeze, a familiar scent of the tree that stood outside of our Malibu apartment, and as the music crescendoed in my head, I was suddenly, almost unexpectedly, overwhelmed with the reality that this specific place of memory might only be shared in Katherine’s mind and never again experienced in her body. From deep within, this sorrowful thought came welling up inside of me, and as I jogged I wept uncontrollably at the fact that I was effortlessly experiencing this moment that my love would not soon, if ever, be able to experience again. I nearly had to stop I was so overcome by emotion at the sight of a hill–a hill that is innocuously driven up hundreds of times a day and begrudgingly hiked up by dozens of students at any given time. I was reminded of the quote by Anais Nin, “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”. I suppose that is our blessing and our curse as humans; we can find meaning that is so deeply personal in the most mundane things of this world as to make us sob like babies; however, it is our curse that often, our personal take on this life is absolutely all we can see.
As I reached the top of the hill again, my face hot with tears and sweat, I took a deep breath and enjoyed the euphoric after-effect of a good cry (pretty rare for me) as I took in the full vista, just waking up to the morning. The natural beauty of creation can’t help but speak the name of the Creator, a vivid reminder of how much He cherishes that hillside in Malibu, dotted with yellow wildflowers and small deer and crying joggers. I couldn’t help but be reminded of another hill, one that is anything but innocuous, and suddenly, the sorrow of my little hill faded into the hope of glory, like the morning fog giving way to the sun. Our pastor, Mark Brewer, recently noted that as we appreciate the beauty and exquisite detail of life on this Earth, of our bodies and nature, we should always keep in mind that God masterfully created it all knowing it would never last long. Now, imagine what God has created for us, a new body and a new earth, in a place that he intends to last for an eternity.