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Storms won't be escaped forever

By Ray Waddle

Hurricane Irene was bearing down, getting closer. The weather people said it would hit us at daybreak, a Category 1 storm.

At midnight, fierce wind and rain were already the worst I’d ever encountered. Big trees at the breaking point were teetering dangerously. Never had I seen nature appear so angry. Never had the possibility of serious damage to my normal little life – house, possessions, security – been so real.

Normally this worry is abstract, something you see on TV happening elsewhere, to others. Now the roaring wind was saying something else: sooner or later, everyone has to confront life’s unstoppable dangers, looking them straight in the eye.

I prayed to God – for safety, yes, but also for the courage to live without possessiveness. A sudden lack of possessions seemed a likelihood. This was no time for frivolous bargaining with the divine. This was a moment to face the raging power of nature, the power of creation that God has made, a fearful mystery of the biblical Lord of all.

A quote came to mind: “I believe in reality.” I heard a health professional say it recently, meaning he refuses to whitewash life’s real-world difficulties, the world’s sufferings, the fact of death. In this raging wind it was time to acknowledge the whirlwind, and hope to endure in this fragile little shelter we otherwise call a sturdy house and home.

Fearsome daybreak arrived. But something happened. The lashing winds died down. The rain became a shower. Unpredictably, Irene weakened. Around our town, only the power grid sustained damage. We had no electricity for a few days, which was nothing.

So we came to the end of the drama in gentle candlelight in the living room. The effect was a kind of vespers service: the liturgy was our sighs of relief, our taking stock of every blessing, and a sober commitment to better preparation and clearer-eyed realism about the risks inherent in this astonishing thing called life.

I make no claim to combat duty as a victim of the storm. Many fared far, far worse elsewhere. More than 40 people died up and down the East Coast because of Irene. Catastrophic flooding traumatized thousands of people.

We were spared, this time. Maybe not next time. And certainly not for all time.

Someone is always in the path of destruction. They deserve empathy and solidarity. It’s an arrogant mistake to assume these things only happen to others. This delicate thing called normal life was never meant to be permanent. Eventually loss touches everyone.

And that day of reckoning will be a testing time of faith and character. It is well to remember those who this moment are in dire need – because of drought, tornado, fire, earthquake or flood – and treat them as neighbors whether near or far.

Because one day the rest of us, one by one, might taste that desperation. And it will not be pleasant to remember how indifferent we were when we had the power to respond to others while we could, but didn’t.

Ray Waddle is a columnist, author and the editor of Reflections magazine, published by Yale Divinity School.

Ed. NoteThe United Methodist Committee on Relief continues to respond to survivors of Hurricane Irene as well as to flooding in the Dakotas, spring tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., Alabama and other locales, the Japan earthquake and tsumani and other disasters of recent months. Learn how you can respond.

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