The unction to function

I saw a spooky thing on New Year’s Eve, just outside of Fairfield: part of Interstate 80 abandoned and under water. Because of the flooding, a trip to see some relatives in the Bay Area that normally takes an hour-and-a-half took nearly five hours. Coming home across the Yolo Causeway was just as unnerving. And when we got back, the power was out. No lights, no TV and no Internet or e-mail. Worse, no way to charge my iPod. I was frustrated and feeling a little sorry for myself. From the interstate system to the failure of my personal electronics, it seemed that things were really starting to unravel.

Of course, I was being a baby—as my wife pointed out. I had a house, and food to eat—better than a lot of people are doing on any given day.

And we had a working gas stove, and candles, and that was enough to start cooking the traditional New Year’s Day meal I’d been looking forward to all day: black-eyed peas and collard greens—and a bunch of other tasty stuff—all cooked in a pot. In some parts of the country, this dish is called hoppin’ John, and it’s supposed to ensure luck (symbolized by the black-eyed peas) and prosperity (that’s the greens) in the coming year. We eat it every New Year’s Day, and every year, things seem to turn out all right—as they did Monday morning when the lights came back on.

And that brings me to this week’s cover story (“First we pray, then we ride”).

Like any good story, it says something about who we are, as people. It’s about bull riding, sure. I think it’s also about the passion of one’s true calling and the power of tradition in our lives. But, most importantly, it’s about a guy who had much bigger and scarier problems in his life than being stuck in traffic—who turned his life around to create something good for others.

We all need something, or somebody, to help us keep going when things are looking bleak. For Gary Peterson, it’s his faith in God that gives him “the unction to function.” For me, it’s the patient and loving people I have in my life and a few simple, comforting traditions, like hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, that do the trick. Good luck and prosperity to you all in 2006.