Surviving the Guilt, Reclaiming the Gift

Sometimes, we don’t have a choice about whom we entertain.

I don’t remember making a call and I surely didn’t send out invitations, but suddenly a new problem has come to visit.    Sitting cross-legged at the corner of my mind, riffling through my thoughts like so much junk mail and looking for all the world like a bored ingénue who’s misplaced her nail file, my problem doesn’t seem inclined to leave.  So, it’s time to set aside the social niceties, and cope with this uninvited guest.

My problem is a sudden inability to write.  Since Hurricane Ike, I’ve produced a few blogs,  including one or two that pleased me very much. But the joy of writing, the sense of unfettered creativity, the easy flow of words simply has stopped. Ideas continue to pile up in my head, notes get jotted and beautiful, fragile phrases flit through my mind like clouds of rare verbal butterflies, but none of them lands on my paper.

The experience is passing strange.

For someone whose home experienced the eye of a hurricane, I’m unbelievably blessed.  My house is secure, and my business will survive.  While I’m getting things back on an even keel, my mother not only is being cared for, she’s rather enjoying herself on an extended midwestern “vacation”.   The stray kitty I worried over survived the storm perfectly well with some help from the neighbors, and the camphor tree I planted and love lost hardly a leaf.

My possessions are intact, including a little antique china collection I fuss over every hurricane season.  I experienced no financial losses because of the storm, apart from evacuation expense,  loss of income and the need to throw out a refrigerator-full of food.  My flowers are blooming and my bills are paid.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, I have no problems.

And that, it seems, is the problem.  Continue reading

A Restless Goose Chase


In Starting Over, Simply, I spoke of my evacuation for Hurricane Ike and my increasing eagerness to end that evacuation, returning home to confront the realities of a post-hurricane world. As I said,

I’m even more anxious now to be home. As power is restored, communications become more reliable and people begin to make contact, the desire to SEE what has happened is almost overwhelming. Today I’ve talked with people in San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas, Little Rock and Tulsa – all waiting to come back, preparing to come back, longing to come back…. to our home. With Mom safely tucked into the heart of the family, it’s time to turn around and head back, to find out what needs doing, and do it.”

Now, it’s time to begin the story of that coming home, and my first experience of “what needs doing”….

Wednesday, September 17

Even by Kansas and Missouri standards, it was nippy this morning. Still, I couldn’t help myself. With my first cup of coffee in hand and a liquid moon shimmering in the haze of first light, I kicked off my shoes and dug my toes down into the bluegrass that hadn’t been mowed in days. There’s nothing like it in Texas – long, luxurious grass with a fragrance that doesn’t even need cutting to fill the air. Bermuda and St. Augustine are fine grasses, but they’ll never compare to a silky midwestern lawn. Standing there, I suddenly heard a sound I hadn’t heard for a year or more – the cry of a goose. Looking around, I saw it immediately. Coming straight out of the north, it was quite solitary and honking with the enthusiasm of an out-of-control trucker. Flying low and straight over the rooftops, it headed due south, never varying its speed or direction. As far as I know, it’s still going, and probably will beat me to Houston.

I’ve always loved geese, and one of my favorite childhood songs was Frankie Laine’s Cry of the Wild Goose. It came to mind this morning, as did Gordon Lightfoot’s Restless, another paean to the wandering spirit so often portrayed by images of geese. Watching the goose this morning and hearing the music in my mind, I realized I was restless in a new and utterly unexpected way. It’s the restlessness of youth, of anticipation, of eagerness for a future that’s yet to be revealed. One of the basic choices rebuilders face is whether to attempt to re-create what was, or create something fresh and unexpected from the debris left scattered about.

In the most basic sense, the question is whether those pieces of debris belong to a jigsaw puzzle or a kaleidescope. Is the task to make everything fit together seamlessly, despite damage to the pieces? Or, might it be to twist and turn the lense, letting the pieces fall into a new and more beautiful pattern as they will? It’s a question I’ll be pondering tomorrow on those final miles home.

Thursday, September 18

When I left Tyler this morning, I had no idea what to expect of the day. After stopping in Nacogdoches for the little pile of “things” I’d left there, I headed off into an amazing tangle of wires, downed trees and scattered limbs that stretched alongside the road for miles and miles. It wasn’t constant, but it was clear that Ike’s winds had barely calmed as he worked his way through East Texas. The power crews and tree trimmers were doing their work, though, and here and there a stoplight worked, or people were pumping gas.

As bad as the wind damage was, the surge was worse. Coming across the Hartman Bridge from Baytown, I couldn’t see the location of a marina I’d always enjoyed, but I knew that it was gone. Closer to the bay, the debris still left beside the road was unbelievable.Before I reached my home, I made a swing through one of the closest marinas and was completely dumbstruck. In one pile of debris, the wheel of a Lexus pulled from the water was nearly covered by planks and sheared pieces of boat hull. Two huge fuel tanks floated in the water, and the metal gangways to the docks had been pulled off, twisted like gum wrappers and thrown up onto the grass. One boat had been dismasted, and then was pierced by its own mast. The stench of diesel, rotting garbage, sewage and decomposing plant life was overwhelming.

And then I came home. I’ve never won a lottery in my life – until today. The building was standing, and without damage. The electricity was on, and the water running. The palm leaves, occasional shingle and flotsam from the water rise had been cleaned up. Even the bottom apartments didn’t receive any water damage. Neither Mom’s apartment nor mine was damaged in the least – not even by wind-driven rain. The stray kitty I grieved over so came running to meet me, and my neighbors had kept her food and water bowls full. The plumeria and cape honeysuckle I’d finally just shoved into a corner of the breezeway and abandoned were perfectly fine, and every plant on my balcony looked precisely as it did when I left, if just a bit thirsty.

It’s the most unexpected and utterly unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen, and I am grateful beyond words. There will be work to do, for sure. The power has been off, and the refrigerators will have to be emptied, cleaned and restocked, and there is some work to be done with the plants, but after a good houseclean and unpacking, life at home will be just as it was – even better, with that good housecleaning finally done!

Work will be something else. There is unbelievable damage. I’ll be meeting tomorrow with several of my customers and surveying some of the marinas. Boatyards here will have limited capacity for repair work, at least for the time being, and I may be traveling for a while. In another week, I’ll know which customers I have left, and a schedule can be developed. It’s not going to be easy, but at least the first steps can be taken as early as tomorrow, and I’m eager to get on with it.

It’s time now for some supper, a hot shower, and another call to Mom. We’re working out some plans for her return, as well, but that will be a bit later, once I’ve done the out-of-town work that I’ll need to be doing.

I am blessed beyond belief, and after getting settled can begin to find ways to put all these blessings at the disposal of others who weren’t so lucky. I simply don’t have any better words than “astonished” and “grateful” to describe my feelings. It’s going to be an interesting few days!

To be continued…



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