While Surfing, Learning to Be a Better Person

Several weeks into this New Year, a friend sent me a news item. It was a list of ten of Pope Francis's most memorable quotes, turned by a writer into a list of New Year's resolutions. They were nice resolutions: be happy, don't gossip and finish your meals (there is no such thing as innocent slander and wasting food is stealing from the world's poor, the Pope has said), befriend those who disagree with you, be understanding, and don't judge others. But with all due respect to the Pope, my mother told me these same things many years ago. And then she went on and served as an example.

But, and my mother would be the first to echo this, I often need a reminder, and so I read the Pope's words carefully (plus, it's a good idea to stay on the right side of someone like the Pope, no matter what he says about befriending those who disagree). They were, as I said, fine words, aimed at making each of us a better person and, in sum, a better collective whole. I realize I'm a little past the window for New Year's resolutions, but now I know you won't judge me and you might even thank me when we're done.

After ruminating on the Pope's thoughts, my mind quickly turned to my myriad failures on so many of these fronts, and, far more entertaining and fit for print, the myriad failures of others. I am only kidding. I refuse to gossip.

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But I will say I only had to look back as far as last week to see where I had failed the Pope and my Mom, as well as at least one other august gentleman. I was out surfing (Southern California is currently enjoying an appreciable swell). So was half the state, although it was the middle of the day in the middle of the work week, for California's surfers have a healthy sense of priority. Several stand up paddle boarders were out in the water, too. Anyone who surfs knows there are many surfers who do not like (this is putting it kindly) stand up paddlers. Because their boards are bigger, stand up paddlers catch waves earlier and easier. Not every stand up paddler is good about sharing. Out in the water, animosity hums.

Sometimes it assumes voice. Sitting out in the water I heard a twenty-something surfer address a stand up paddler.

Hey. Get the *%($@** out of here, @%*hole.

The younger surfer was sitting with a friend and they both laughed, but maybe he still needed more validation because he turned and looked at me. I didn't offer him encouragement, but I didn't tell him he was disrespectful and rude either. I told myself it wasn't my place. I also knew I was surrounded by surfers who probably didn't want the paddler there anyway. So I stayed quiet. I turned away.

The stand up paddler moved off, his afternoon ruined. He passed only a few feet from me. I didn't acknowledge him either. No one did. He was in a very lonely place

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and bow to none.

I try to adhere to these words, but now you know I am not always successful.

The quote is part of an eloquent passage attributed to Chief Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief and a man as wise as the Pope and nearly as wise as my Mom. I won't provide the entire passage here, but I will provide you a link and tell you there is a wealth of good advice crammed into Chief Tecumseh's short speech. Much of it mirrors the Pope's advice. Although I suspect the two men had vastly different visions regarding certain matters, I'm also guessing they would have gotten along splendidly (Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours.)

No doubt both men grasped the Big Picture, too, but here, I believe, Chief Tecumseh was most eloquent.

Not each year a fresh opportunity: each day a fresh opportunity.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

You're welcome.

About the Author

Ken McAlpine is the author of eight books and lives in Ventura. His most recent novel, “Juncture,” is a cerebral “Jaws”; a suspense-filled thriller, a story of primal love and our changing oceans and, perhaps, a final fork in the road.
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