Tree falling on a friend's house

Tree falling on a friend’s house courtesy of Carly Baker Chapman

It was a loud “Thud” sound that woke us up in the middle of the night.

The whole night we had been up with sound of an ice storm.
Tink, tink, tink.
The howling wind was slamming the ice particles against our windows.

We don’t get a lot of snow here in the South, but occasionally we do get ice, which is really dangerous.  The roads get covered by invisible ice.    The roads are not salted, and the drivers are unaccustomed to driving in these hazardous conditions.  Horrible accidents and multi-car pile-ups tend to follow.

This time it was the accumulation of ice on trees that was wreaking havoc.    The ground was softened up with rain, and the weight of ice on tall and majestic pine trees was literally uprooting them.   Trees down on roads, on homes, on railroad tracks.

Thud.
Thud. 

Tall pine trees, each over 150 feet, crashed to the ground around our house.
The trees often fall on power lines, knocking out electricity.

We woke up to a cold house, dark house, with a strange sound:
Thud, thud coming every few minutes.
The Tink tink of ice continues.

Our phones still held some charge, and we got to hear from friends all over town.    Some of them, who live in simple and beautiful secluded wooded neighborhoods, had trees falling on their house.  They had woken up at midnight to the horror of seeing trees crashing through their roof. So there they were, in the wet icy rain, sawing down the tree and trying to keep dry.

Blossoms covered in ice

Blossoms covered in ice author photo

We were more fortunate.  We had two large trees fall very near our home.  One crushed our fence.  The other, the enormous 150 foot pine tree, missed our house by a few feet.   It fell diagonally in our yard, to the very corner of the yard.  I shuddered to think what would have happened if it had fallen on the part of the house that our kids’ bedrooms are.  I stood there in amazement, looking at how the kind and overwhelmed tree fell the in one place in our yard it could have fallen without crushing the house.  And I could not but feel a wave of gratitude to this tree, crashing to the ground in the place which caused the least damage.

I felt gratitude to the tree, and yes, to God—even just as quickly there came another thought:  I knew that the family whose house had been crushed by a tree was just as loved by God.   Here was a mystery:  I give thanks to God for sparing my family and my house, even though I can’t and do not blame God for putting a tree through my friends’ house.   It is a strange relationship, this love affair with God, and standing in this cold icy storm I don’t pretend that it is logical or consistent.   Love rarely is.

And here, in this awesomely beautiful and frightening ice storm there is also beauty:   friends reaching out to friends.   There is something about storms of life that strip us to our core, literally to our heart.  And what a joy to discover that there, in the mist of the storm, people are good and beautiful, that our primal instinct is to connect our lives, to reach out in love and service.

Friends have been offering their homes the whole day:

“We don’t have power, but we have a fireplace.   Come over.”
“We don’t have power, but we have a roof, come over!”
“We have electricity, come for a warm shower.”
And my favorite:
“We have coffee, come over.”

Other friends were writing:  “I wish we all lived in a cul-de-sac, so that we could all huddle up together.”

Can we live like this when the storm passes?

Storms of life.  The Qur’an has a beautiful parable about how when we are caught in a storm, we turn intrinsically to God, for help, for gratitude.  And when the storm passes, we fall back into the slumber of forgetfulness.

And so it is with these storms.    It brings out strange sentiments:  the desire to love and protect, connecting the love and protection of one’s own family to others, realizing that people matter more than things.  And that things matter when they are the roof over your children’s heads, the fire that keeps them warm, the coffee without which life…sucks.

Trees covered by ice

Trees covered by ice author photo

We spend so much of life accumulating.  Accumulating wealth, status, experiences.  Titles.  The right people.  Children.   Success.  Accomplishment.

Yet in the time of storm, there is a different desire:  gratitude.  Connecting our lives here with our lives there, friends here with friends there.

The Qur’an is right:  these storm make us turn to God.  They remind us to be grateful for simple gifts, like a roof, warmth, power, food, coffee, shelter, safety.   Gratitutde to God that the tree fell there, and not here.  And these storms give us a chance to turn to God by reaching out to God’s people—which is to say all of us.   To reach out to those upon whom the trees fall, not a few feet ahead, but directly overhead.

Sometimes the storms of life are literally an ice storm.
Sometimes they are a revolution, an occupation, a divorce, poverty, a sickness, a depression, a broken-heartedness.

May the Qur’an be right, and may we turn to God and open up our hearts to one another at the times of these storm.
May the Qur’an be wrong, and may we not lapse back into forgetfulness if and when these storms pass.

Tink, tink.
Thud.   There goes another tree.
Another chance to reach out to a friend.
Another chance to live in gratitude in the midst of a storm.

 

1 Comment

  1. The problem of beauty gets less attention then the problem of evil – unfairly, I think.

    I appreciated your reflection on the difficulties of thanking God for things. In Islam the idea that all actions are authored by God is quite strong (I’d even go so far as to label it the default position, if I may) and I suppose the reason thanks for good is not matched by blame for bad comes from the idea that we “deserve” no good treatment from God, and every event that turns out better then the absolute worst case is due to his magnanimity. So if the tree HAD fallen on your house, you could thank God your family was safe. If it had fallen and you had broken an arm, you could be thankful no one died. Etc.

    Of course, the problem with this is that gratitude and happiness in a storm is not exactly tied to realizing what is important in life (as opposed to possessions, job, status, and so on), but rather tied to the fact that we have very low expectations at the time, we are just concerned with keeping safe, and it is easy to see if that is being realized or not. The reason we forget after the storm is because, with the storm over, we can dream again. We can expect more then just Avoiding the worst-case. This is a difficult thing, yes, but it’s also a great thing. Man does not live on bread (or even coffee) alone. Let’s not live like we are always under a storm. Let’s not be always satisfied with “thank God it’s not worse.” Gratitude should not be an excuse for complacency or fatalism.

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