A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker




It's a calm, bright, sunny day today. The kind of day that gives summer its glowing reputation. The kind of day for which the word "lolling" was invented. The kind of day that was just made for a tumbler of ice cold lemonade, a hammock stretched between billowing shade trees and radio play-by-play of today's game from Wrigley Field.

Ah, yes - summer. Hot dogs. Swimmin' holes. Blue skies. Fresh-cut grass. Lazy, hazy, crazy days spent peaceably. Serenely. Comfortably. Calmly.


I mention this because yesterday was a different kind of summer day. It started out . . . well, summerishly. But by noon dark threatening storm clouds had gathered to blot out the sun. The morning's gentle summer breeze turned into a gale-force wind, then into something even more sinister and frightening. The thick finger of a funnel emerged from the clouds, swirling its way toward the earth. Within moments a tornado was blasting through the downtown area not five miles from where I was working, cutting a wide swath of destruction, injury and even death.

Local meteorologists are still trying to explain how a tornado could have touched down in our tranquil valley. The mountains that surround us are supposed to protect us from such things. At least, that's what my seventh grade science teacher said. And that's what a friend of mine told her 5-year-old recently after the little girl saw "The Wizard of Oz" for the first time.

"Don't worry, dear," my friend said when her daughter crawled into bed with her after a twister-related nightmare. "We don't get tornadoes here. The mountains protect us."

Moments after the tornado touched down, my friend dashed for the phone to call her daughter at home. Like Ricky Ricardo and local meteorologists, she had some 'splainin' to do.

Well, nobody asked me - they never do; they know better - but I have an explanation: sometimes there is no explanation. Sometimes stuff happens during our precarious journey through life that defies description or explanation. It just happens. Natural disasters happen. Random acts of violence resulting in the loss of innocent life happen. Even good things happen - things for which there is no discernable rhyme or reason. They just happen. That's the nature of our existence on this planet. And for a big chunk of the time we spend here, no mortal explanation is possible - or even necessary.

Of course, that doesn't stop us from trying to explain the inexplicable. Every time one of these phenomena occur - natural or man-made - we trot out "experts" who theorize and hypothesize and otherwise -ize. During the last 24 hours, I've heard a lot of that relative to our tornado. But if you listen carefully and peer closely between the lines, you'll see that what they're saying is "Hey, sometimes stuff happens" - only they're saying it in a really educated, erudite way.

And that's OK. Thankfully, our success in life isn't determined by our answers to "why" questions. When it comes right down to it, success and peace and happiness have less to do with external forces acting upon us than with how we choose to react to those forces. It's a matter of attitude, not platitudes. Because the fact is, none of us can control what happens to us. We can't bottle sunshine, or lasso the wind. But we can control our responses to the stuff that happens. And if we can control our responses and reactions, then it doesn't really matter what happens.

Or why.

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--- (c) Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and