House MD
The ScriptDoctor



This commentary aired on Marketplace Radio, May 18, 1998.

I blame it on the volcano.

Well... Maybe it's not entirely the volcano's fault. Let me explain.

As a child... I often spent a week or two during the summer vacationing with my family at a resort camp on a lake.
Like a lot of suburban families, we enjoyed the rustic cabins, the cold mountain streams, the lush, dark woods.
The place was called Harmony Falls.

But it's gone now. No... I don't mean the resort went bust. It's gone... Really gone... Because the lake these cabins were on the shore of was Spirit Lake. Spirit Lake on Mt. St. Helens.

A year after the mountain erupted... With the force, scientists said, of a nuclear weapon... work took me back to harmony falls.
The cabins were gone.
The woods were gone.
The green was gone.
Only the grit-covered bedrock remained... The lay of the land Faintly reminiscent of the former cabin village... in the way a skeleton merely suggests the living body it once supported.

So now, back to blaming the volcano.
I recently walked away from a steady job... A good one... At CNN in Atlanta... Because I wasn't satisfied with where and how I was living. Some co-workers said I had a lot of guts to trade a sure-thing for uncertainty.
But that's not how I saw it... You see... Because of the volcano I don't believe in "sure-things."
I mean... if a mountain... a big mountain... can be there one day... and half gone the next... What sort of lasting-power can you expect from the frail constructions of mere humans?
That's why I didn't think taking a flying leap off my twice-a-month paychecks was as big a deal as those co-workers did.

The lesson of the volcano to me is not... as some people say... to just "live for today," and forget about tomorrow.
Certainly, it's possible I could die before tomorrow... And if I blew my cash I could live luxuriously... if briefly. But the odds are I've got several more decades to go. So I'm investing for retirement... And I fasten my seatbelt and don't smoke cigarettes, in order to improve the likelihood I'll get to cash-in.

At the same time however, the volcano taught me to avoid a slavish belief that anything is guaranteed: even if you succeed in satisfying the whimsies of your boss... that's no guarantee he or she won't be suddenly gone one day. So it's good to play "what-if" games.

So I don't blindly accept that a steady job... or other apparently safe haven... is really some "Rock of Gibraltar." I know... thanks to the volcano... that rocks... and even mountains... don't last forever.

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