The first sentence of this week’s Write on Wednesday prompt stopped me as surely as an unexpected storm surge: “Earlier tonight I was tearing around the kitchen in my usual mad dash to get dinner – putting dishes away, feeding the dogs, preparing a marinade for the salmon, cleaning and chopping some carrots…” There was nothing extraordinary about Becca’s description of her evening routine, and that alone made it seem utterly extraordinary, a glimpse into a half-remembered world where the simple realities – dinner, dishes, dogs – could be counted on to sustain and enliven the routines of life. “Chopping some carrots…”
During the past weeks, there have been times I’d have found the thought of chopping carrots unimaginable, if not slightly bizarre. After a storm like Ike (or Katrina, or Rita, or any of the unnamed spinning whorls of water and wind yet to come), routine is an early victim. On the sailboat crazily surfing atop the storm surge, in the condo surrounded by moonlit water where no water ought to be, in the grinding screech of metal on metal and the plummeting and plunging of fiberglass and wood, there is no thought of routine. Survival is what counts. But storms end and water recedes. Emerging speechless from their shelter into the dawning of a fragmented, chaotic day, everyone discovers their world has been utterly changed, and beloved routines scoured away as surely as houses from a beach.
Like injured creatures warily testing first one limb and then another, people ask, “How’d you do?” “How’d the storm treat you?” What they’re asking, of course, is whether you have a house left, or a business, or even a dish to hold some carrots. It’s easy to assume those who emerged from the chaos with their home, family and possessions intact weren’t “affected” by the storm. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Everyone is affected, and the sense of dislocation, the communal feeling of helplessness, the suspicion that life itself continues to surge and to scour is a suspicion that can’t be avoided or dismissed.
Rich or poor, cursed or blessed, old or young, people begin to re-establish their routines in the same ways. They tell their stories, over and over. They stand and stare into space, as though listening for answers to unformed questions. They ask perfect strangers, ” How high’d the water get at your place?” and call people they haven’t spoken to in years, simply to ask, “Are you alive?”
If you catch them in an unguarded moment, their faces seem as placid and impenetrable as the glistening smoothness of the waters which destoyed their lives. If you look more closely, you can see the turbulence beneath the surface, as the mind races to catch up with life. Overwhelmed by events, stripped of routine, forced to absorb the realities of utterly changed lives and reduced to a search for the most basic necessities, it seems there is no time for thought and reflection, no time for creativity, no time for any spirit other than a spirit of gritty determination.
And yet, if there is no time to slow the pace of events or slow activity in the face of devastation, it hardly matters. For healing to take place, for creativity to re-emerge and the spirit to be restored, it is the mind that must be slowed, given rest and allowed to lie fallow as a winter field while time and patience do their work.
Returning home after Ike, I found the crepe myrtle beside my mother’s porch utterly stripped and bare – not a leaf remained on its branches. After a week, tiny bits of green appeared – new leaves defying the season, emerging in utter silence and oblivious to the destruction surrounding them. Today, two weeks later, the tree is fully leaved. Even though it isn’t time to prune, I’ve trimmed a bit, shaping the tree and cutting back enough to encourage even more growth.
Along the ditches and seawalls, where debris once covered the grasses and shrubs, there is a faint green haze of new growth. The water is settling, and returning heron and egret are reflected in the early morning stillness. In the nighttime silence, fish frolick and splash as though they, too, have come home, and a single, unapologetic bit of human laughter ripples into my window on the breeze.
Once again, creation and destruction have battled for supremacy, laying waste to the world and humbling humanity in the process. And once again, creation has the last word. What is true for nature is true for human nature, the nature of human spirit and mind. Time. Patience. Silence. Creation will come.