A town in mourning. AP Photo/David Goldman

On Friday, December 14 at 2:36 a.m. PST, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of San Diego. The quake was only seven miles below sea level, according to the USGS (the U.S. Geological Survey), a shallow depth for tremors of that size, but that wasn’t the unusual part.

“The earthquake was different because it ruptured in a region that has no known fault line and where there aren’t large earthquakes,” UC San Diego seismologist Dr. Debi Kilb told NBC 7 San Diego.

I slept in a San Diego hotel, unaware of what was bubbling up underneath, and was awoken at 6 a.m. by a text from my wife.

“Did it wake you up?”

Not knowing yet about the earthquake I texted back that only her text woke me up. My wife’s something of an amateur seismologist. I can’t say I blame her. She was asleep and had books and furniture ripped from the walls and crash down on her when the big quake devastated Northridge, Calif. in 1994. That quake, one of the worst in our nation’s history, leveled the Cal State Northridge campus and many surrounding areas, ultimately killing 60 people.

After I got up, I drove to an early morning meeting, where I sat in a conference room with San Diego-based advisor R. J. Kelly, founder and president of Wealth Legacy Family of Companies. As Kelly began to talk I placed my iPhone between us to record the conversation. 

I’ve interviewed many advisors over the past five years, but none of those interviews went quite like this one. Kelly talked some about annuities, other safe products and various wealth strategies. But the conversation really turned when he talked about his various inspirations.

One of those, perhaps the chief one, is his wife, who is a survivor of The Killing Fields of Cambodia. Her early years were not unlike those of princesses in fairy tales. The family had untold wealth. Their home, Kelly tells me, would fetch $30 million to $40 million if it were plopped down in Southern California.

But the Khmer Rouge changed all that. They killed more than 100 members of Kelly’s wife’s extended family, including her father, who was executed in front of the family. The survivors then spent years in a prison camp where they were tortured.

As Kelly tells me this horrific tale, an alert flashes on my computer. “A gunman has opened fire in a Connecticut elementary school. Untold number of victims.” The headline is vague, at this point, but my throat constricts as thoughts race to my own daughter who I’d dropped off at her elementary school the day before in Colorado.

I take a drink of water and try to get through the interview without mentioning the message to Kelly, who tells me of his wife’s survival, and how her story continues to inspire him.

I race from the interview to the airport, rushing through traffic and security lines, listening to the details on the radio being broadcast from Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

It’s not until I’m in my seat, buckled in, that I have time for contemplation, meditation, prayer, and, finally, a moment to weep openly for the victims and the parents and family members of the victims.

My mind races, looking for something to grasp, to hold onto, it bounces around before settling on my daughter’s birth, a monumental event for any parent who’s present.

Megan was born in water, a home birth in our living room. When the midwife tossed her to me as if she were a sea creature, I’d never held a baby before, not an infant. Out of instinct, I immediately counted her fingers and her toes, I checked out her eyes, mouth and nose. So rubbery and elastic, she seemed as much amphibian as human.

I kid her about that even now. That she was born with gills that later dissolved and a tail that eventually fell off.

“Then where are the pictures? Where’s the proof?” she demands. All this from an eight-year-old. God, they grow up fast.

“Oh, they’re somewhere,” I say. “They’re in a box. I’ll show you.” At this point, she usually attaches herself to my leg, holding tight around the shin and ankle. She calls herself “The Tick” when we play this game and she holds on like she never wants to let go. And even though I’m swinging her around the room in looping arcs, I never want her to.

Over the Rocky Mountains, the pilot tells us to tighten our belts: “It’s going to get bumpy,” he says. He’s not kidding. The plane begins to bounce and chop in the air. As the walls of the aging aircraft vibrate, I think again of the victims of Sandy Hook, the hole they leave in their parents’ hearts, each one a tiny earthquake.

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