After the Flood

Note- This was originally written for the Chinook Observer after the 1996 flood. The most recent flooding rivaled that event and reminded me of this. This and other essays are in my book Content.

        Standing in the water in my basement, I couldn’t help but realize how blessed my life has been.
         Four inches of water downstairs was nothing compared to what other folks were going through. Houses sliding down banks, roads stranding people far from their homes and families; water wiping out all that some people had with no warning and no insurance. As I stacked waterlogged boxes on folding chairs up out of the water, I couldn’t help but smile at how lucky we were.
         It shouldn’t take suffering of others to remind me.

By Friday, the sun shone like August in a cloudless sky and I looked at the world with new eyes.
We cleaned out the basement, trashing most of the dozen or so boxes I had pack ratted away from various stages of my life. There was a scrapbook from high school with blank pages; several pounds of assorted papers we saved for some future use that will never come. There were tapes of lonely songs and angry nights that have sat unplayed for years as well as souvenirs of wanderings I made alone. Why did I save these wounds and scars of my life before Amy?
It didn’t take long to pile the truck down and haul the whole load to the dump.
It is some small neurosis I possess, this inability to throw anything away without a major event to press me into action. I can’t even bring myself to throw away the scraps of paper, receipts and cough drop wrappers I squirrel away in my back pocket. They collect upon the flat surfaces around the house -- every place but the garbage where they belong.
In that way, for me this flooding was a blessed event. A cleansing moment like the biblical flood that washed away the apathetic and unholy. It was an imperative to clean out the accumulated garbage of 20 some-odd years. Some of the garbage anyway. At least it will be a start.
Perhaps even more so, it was an opportunity to look at the blue sky last week and see the contrast between dark winter and perfect clear blue of tomorrow. I love living in the land of so much rain. It makes me appreciate the sun so much more than I would otherwise. When I lived East of the mountains -- where no clouds appeared between April and October -- I had no appreciation of the sun.
When times are good, you don’t appreciate the good times.
Yet, give me a natural disaster and I suddenly remember how to count my blessings. Last week was too kind on that account. Too many reminders were waiting to slap me in the head.
I could turn in the middle of my world and see how my life is now. In the bright light of a false spring, there was Amy planting sweetpeas in the garden. The dogs played in the mud, and the water slowly receded back to the banks of the river, leaving patterned shoals of silt behind. Great logs were left in the fields for us to cut up into firewood. Gifts brought by the high waters. I could look at these things and see all that is too easily forgotten when days are not so bright.
Our minds are muscles of habit. We are beings of assumptions, generalizations and programmed reactions only occasionally awakened from our automation trances to view the world as it really is. We seek order so we fail to appreciate it-- call it boredom, demand more.
I grew up thinking that contentment was a state of stagnation. Those who grow content in their lives fail to improve their world. To some extent that is true. Too often however, I think we use this as an excuse to create disasters for ourselves in hopes that we may escape the soft arms of contentment and the guilt we feel in their embrace.
We need to embrace the good things in our lives while striving to change that which still can be improved.
I awoke early on Monday, my 27th birthday. My back and legs sore from hauling truckloads of manure fro a the new life growing beneath the surface of our garden.
Sore as well from hauling the dead things away. Empty boxes and water logged memories are heavier than one can imagine. The work in the clean fresh air had felt wonderful, the soreness serves as a reminder of the good work accomplished. I pulled on my jeans and struggled to button the top button. Getting fat I guess -- a reminder of work still needing to be done.
On Tuesday, Amy and I celebrated Valentine’s Day with candies, root beers and cards, as well as the quiet realization that we don’t need to set a date on the calendar to say that we love each other.
How blessed we are, we who have our health, our loving family and a roof over our heads. How sad it is that we need to be reminded by the suffering of others.
How joyous and thankful we should let our hearts be when those reminders to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment