It doesn’t even pay to try to understand. Things happen, and they happen for a reason. More times than not, in our quest to find an acceptable explanation, we examine our actions, justify our behavior, rationalize situations. Still, the answers elude us.
Because the big picture is only reserved for the author of the Play of Plays, only He knows why disappointments, betrayals, and letdowns need to happen before we are allowed to see the light.
I draw a parallel between the loss of my friendship with Viviana (read the story here) and Hurricane Irma. As shattering and destructive as the hurricane was, it left us bewildered at how powerful Nature can be. And how cleansing.
Try to tell this to a homeowner who lost his house in the Keys, or a business owner who won’t be opening her doors any time soon, or to a resident of Puerto Rico who is desperately trying to muddle through the complete destruction of the infrastructure of the island. Notwithstanding the fury of a hurricane, what remains after it is not just a peaceful calm but shimmering nuggets of insight and understanding.
BEFORE THE STORM
In the steady blueish sky that appears before the storm, you can anticipate something eerie coming. But no matter how much warning you have, you can never be fully prepared. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston and surrounding areas in Texas this past summer, when the news announced that Irma was following behind, we in South Florida braced for the worst. Irma was headed directly toward the southeast coast of Florida, and Miami-Dade and Broward counties were in its direct path. Many people opted for leaving, especially those who had been forced to evacuate the coastal zones. Caravans of cars clogged I-95 toward Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina in a desperate exodus to escape the fury that was coming. My husband and I were actually supposed to attend a wedding in New York city that weekend and our flight was scheduled for Friday, September 8th. However, when we saw that Irma was expected to make landfall on Sunday September 10th–the day we were supposed to return–we cancelled the flight. Being stuck in New York city indefinitely was not a possibility for us and we decided to stay home.
It was Thursday, September 7th and the race for gas, water, non-perishables as well as protecting our home and business, was in full swing. After spending hours in line at the gas station, only to find out that gas had just ran out as our turn arrived, we had to make up for lost time. Hanging shutters manually is something I don’t cherish doing at my age, not that I am that old, mind you. Each steel panel had to be brought from the garage to the window to be covered, hung from the pegs that were screwed into the exterior wall, and secured with wingnuts. Believe it or not, it took my husband and I until Saturday morning to cover all the windows of our home, amid breaks to rest from exhaustion and heat. We also juggled keeping the business open while securing all the glass walls and front door with scraps of wood and anything else we could find.
We were finally ready. But the storm unexpectedly veered west, heading for the Keys and the west coast of Florida instead. So were we safe? Had all this preparation been for nothing? No. We were warned that this storm was a monstrous Category 5 and that its outer bands exceeded the width and length of the entire state of Florida. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. We had no choice than to brace for the worst, pray for the best, and ride out the storm.
And we did.
After the terrifying hours in which all we heard was the roaring of the wind as it passed through, we ventured outside to assess the damage.
Sections of our fence were down and the area in the northeast corner I called my sanctuary, home to the blue jays and the turtledoves, was damaged beyond repair.
The ficus tree that provides shade to it lost most of its branches, which hung limply over the bench where I had meditated regularly. Now it was a scramble of torn vegetation, the cardinals and mockingbirds desperately flying in and out of the fallen debris looking for their nests and their young.
My sanctuary after the storm
At the opposite end of the yard, the mango tree suffered extreme damage. My beloved mango tree
which 12 years ago was only a two-foot-tall baby. The same mango tree that survived unscathed when the neighbor’s 80 ft pine tree fell on top of it during Hurricane Wilma back in 2005. The mango tree that inspired not only a poem in my first book of poetry Whispers of the Soul, but elicited a myriad of emotions at how and why it had survived in such a miraculous way.
PERCEIVING THE LIGHT
So now, despite the devastation, I was able to unearth powerful revelations. For one, when something is supposed to happen, it will happen no matter what. You can prepare for it, you can fret about it, you can perch yourself on the verge of denial, but escape it you will not. It’s scary, and humbling. Sometimes I think G-d does it just so He can hear our voices reaching out to Him in prayer.
Looking at my fence, down at several places, made me think about vulnerability. All of a sudden we were no longer enclosed, our turf no longer contained within its boundaries. We were not protected from intrusions from the outside. Dealing with that sense of exposure was the first step toward healing: facing the outside world with all its threats–imagined or real–can be quite challenging, which brought me to my next revelation.
The yard was littered with broken limbs and debris. But those broken trees taught me about faith. I cried for the birds that had nested in them, birds I’d been feeding every morning for the past 20 years. Where would they go now? Would they fly to safer skies? Would they look for other trees? Would this mark the beginning of a new era in the development of my garden in which no birds would ever come back to feed?
I only had to wait one day for the answer:
Cardinals flew back in their vibrant red plumage, and the blue jays dashed from broken branch to the edge of the fountain for a drink of water. The morning silence became peppered with a choir of chirps, coos, and trills. The birds were back, either to scope what was left of their homes or to gather from the rubble to rebuild new ones.
The over-sized vining leaves that had climbed up the fence, thick, green, abundant, were now a sorry reminder of what had been my sanctuary. Viviana had given us a stalk from her garden years ago, which we planted on the ground and nurtured with water and sun until they grew roots that would affix them firmly on the ground while climbing up the fence. It was no coincidence then that the same structure that symbolized protection from the outside world would be uprooted together with the same plants that anchored it firmly to the ground. Only a hurricane could yank it out of its security, leaving in its aftermath a decimated and sad view of what had once been a beautiful garden.
How propitious. A clean slate.
A blank page on the ground, on which happy stories can be written again, a canvas on which a new sanctuary can be rebuilt, amid harmonious melodies from songbirds that come to feed every day. A new environment that can replace the old one as it blooms once more with renewed vitality.
As for the mango tree, the gardener tells me it will come back. “Nothing like cutting and discarding what’s broken. All you have to do is fertilize it and you’ll have more mangoes than you’ll know what to do with.”
I’ll drink to that. With my newfound faith and the strength that comes from having survived–a hurricane and the loss of a friendship–I am looking forward to a fruitful harvest and to share the bounty and abundance with those who will grace us on their path through our garden.