As I trudged past towering piles of sand and moldering debris in the Far Rockaways today, I was suddenly reminded of a motorcycling accident I had in my early twenties. My boyfriend at the time was taking me for a ride on a beautiful sunny day in the Berkshire Mountains. He was driving just a bit too fast, in the middle of the road. As we crested a hill we came face to face with an oncoming car. After a terrifying moment, we pulled over to the shoulder and the bike fell to one side. We were both banged up but otherwise escaped unscathed. The experience made me realize something that should have been obvious: when you’re riding a motorcycle there’s very little standing between you and utter destruction.
Likewise, when Mother Nature turns to Mommy Dearest, there’s only so much we can do to protect ourselves and the lives we’ve worked so hard to build. Standing in my kitchen just a little over a week ago, with violent gusts of wind battering my home and the lights flickering ominously, I felt an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. At any moment water could come rushing into our flood-prone basement; trees could crash through our many large windows; the power that kept threatening to disappear could make its final curtain call.
Ultimately we escaped the storm unscathed and have spent much of the past week helping those who were less fortunate. But I keep feeling like the idiot rejoicing at dodging a bullet who turns around to realize she’s facing a firing squad. Because this time we just got really lucky. Next time, our home could be like the one I spent cleaning out today in the Rockaways: full of sewage-infused fragments of a life.
I remember many people remarking after Hurricane Katrina that New Orleans was ultimately doomed, because it was built below sea level. But much of the New York area is at sea level. Given the accelerating rise in the sea level, ‘at’ becomes ‘below’ rather quickly. At this point these freak storms feel like an annual event, at the minimum, and each time we face the question of whether it’s better to sleep in the basement and face potential flooding or sleep on the second floor and risk getting hit by a falling tree (and why is it that so many of these storms seem to hit at night when we are sleeping?
So, thousands of years after it was written, Psalm 29 still captures much of what I’ve been feeling lately:
…The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!” The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
Tomorrow another storm is supposed to hit – a Nor’easter. I pray that those left homeless and vulnerable by Sandy’s wrath will be safe. For those wishing to help with relief efforts, please check out this website for up-to-date information on how you can help.
Great stuff, Louise! Really helpful to have that Occupy Sandy link… will exploit it when our planning group meets at Huguenot Church Library, either tonight (8 pm) or Thurs. night.
I do not believe that the Lord is speaking in tragedy. The Lord is speaking in hearts opening up after more evidence that science has observed and verified for many years now. Our behavior has impact on our planet earth – our home – the home for ALL of us. I cannot take those Biblical, metaphoric passages literally. I believe in the power of those passages to inspire us to a “we are all on this fragile planet together” attitude that leads to justice and kindness for all. It was wonderful to see Huguenot Church in Pelham in action this way. It was great to see the Midnight Run to the homeless in NYC went forward last Friday night, and that the “warming and charging station” that was open at the church throughout the storm – because of the warmth of our geo thermal buildings powered by electricity run by a generator. Wish I could join you, but finally have power at school, so we are enjoying learning from all this at school. The real power is the power of love that can create a shared earth with proper human priorities.
Hi Joan, I agree that the human response to this tragedy has been (mostly) incredibly inspiring. I also don’t literally believe that the ‘Lord’ is the one breaking the trees or inflicting this damage. But it’s the sense of powerlessness, the sense of vulnerability in the face of overwhelming natural power that made me pick this psalm. Hope that makes sense. Glad to hear you have power back at school.