I spent the latter part of this week on sabbatical down on the Georgia coast - refreshing my mind, body and soul through meditation, consumption of huge amounts of shellfish and a lot of lying around watching television - it rained. Whatever works, right?
Not coincidentally, my annual autumn pilgrimage to our state's barrier islands coincided - as it always does - with the Georgia football team's annual pilgrimage to the stadium-formally-known-as-the-Gator Bowl. In as much as the trend over the past two decades has not favored the red and black in this game, I even spent a little time praying for victory - which I know we aren't supposed to do, but I did anyway. Ham McDonald does it every week, and he sings in a church choir. So I figured it was OK for me to do, too.
I was on Jekyll Island - soon to be known as Hilton Head light. But that's OK. Huge amounts of money will change hands, and isn't that what government of the people is all about?
But my concern today is not with the Jekyll Island Authority or the state of Georgia - or even the state of Georgia-Florida. All weekend as I have stared across the gray Atlantic, I have found my mind wandering 3,000 miles west to southern California.
Several times a day, throughout the week, I dialed my home phone number to check my answering machine for important messages and to find out if anybody needed a speaker for their senior citizen banquet, if the bill collectors had grown tired of calling or if my boss had gotten wise to the fact that for the 20th straight year I had "come down with something" during Georgia-Florida week.
Crazy, isn't it? In the age of e-mail, cell phones and text messaging, I still have a landline with an answering machine and, believe it or not, still conduct business that way.
In fact, I am so technologically challenged that being able to work the answering machine is a major coup.
For the record, no banquets, the collectors are automated and my boss wanted a souvenir cup and a program for his friend, Benjie. I'll pick him up a cup. Programs cost six bucks. Benjie is out of luck.
Well, I told you all that to tell you this. While my lovely wife, Lisa, was flipping through the channels on the condo TV - I let her handle the remote on special occasions - we ran across a story about the California wildfires, which are absolutely devastating. As you already know, the Santa Ana winds have stirred up more than two dozen separate fires and turned parts of the San Diego valley into a raging inferno. And now they think most of the blazes were set by arsonists.
Nearly a billion dollars in damage and counting. More than 1,600 homes lost and counting. More than 1,000 square miles burned and 750,000 people evacuated - and counting and counting and counting. And we haven't even talked about the thousands of firefighters who are risking their lives and working to the point of exhaustion to try to salvage whatever they can.
As we sat and watched the story from the safety and comfort of the oceanside condo we had rented for the week, we saw a feature on the refugees inside Qualcomm Stadium, where about 15,000 area residents were sleeping on cots and dining on cold pizza and bottled water. Of course, they are getting kicked out for the weekend because the Chargers have to play Sunday. See money changing hands in paragraph three.
Of course, a lot of the folks won't have homes to go home to, which brings me to the whole point of this column.
Yeah, I know. Finally.
A lot of those interviewed - not just one or two, but several - said that they used their cell phones to call home several times a day, just like I had been doing.
Well, not exactly. You see, if they called home and the answering machine picked up, then they knew that it hadn't melted yet, which meant that their home, for the time being, was still standing. If the machine did not pick up - well, I suppose at that point they would expect the worst.
But the entire feature was quite sobering and put my whole week into perspective.
So many things - like a football game, for instance, or getting a gig at the Rotary Club luncheon - seem so important to so many people, and then you switch the television channel and are reminded that, in the big picture, the outcome of a football game isn't nearly as vital as you thought it was.
We have wars and rumors of war, fire, flood, drought, starvation, pestilence. It's a tough world and we need to make room for a lot of folks in our daily thoughts and prayers - like the victims of the California wildfires and the folks who are fighting the flames. I aim to remember them. I hope you will, too.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.