A Year of Morning Thanks
Rumbles and Robins' Songs
If I were seated on some cloud high above the neighborhood where I live, looking backward on the storm that's just now passing overhead, what I'd see--I think--would be some George Lucas-like monster plodding along the prairie on long legs of lightning. This storm, like so many out here, announced itself fifty miles west already in a slow grumble that finally crescendoed into window-rattling cymbal crashes. Where all that electrical power is going to smack down, no one knows. And there's nothing we can really do, so--for the most part--we sleep though. Unless we're children.
Years ago, when a little earthquake shook the California retreat center where we were staying, the kids ran to the window to watch the swimming pool because, we were told, pools get unruly and therefore wonderfully entertaining during earthquakes. My daughter, an Iowa girl--maybe nine or ten--was petrified. When all those California kids came back the table and the earth stopped shivvering, my daughter was white with fright. "What's the big deal?" those kids asked her. "Shoot, you've got tornadoes."
She looked at me as if I had some kind of explanation.
Yes, we do have tornaodos, and neither me nor my daughter had thought about them in exactly that way before. We have tornadoes, and we have electrical storms like the one walking by right now, storms that threaten and often deliver immense violence. But we live with it. I may be wrong here, but no one--at least now one I know--every left Sioux County, Iowa, because of electrical storms--or tornados.
Last weekend an F-5, the monster, wiped out one-third of Parkersburg, Iowa, the central Iowa town where my grandfather grew up, a place where I spoke just last fall. The devastation was immense and unbelievable. It will be years before that town looks like anything more than a war zone.
Four people died that night in Parkersburg, two of them elderly members of the church where I spoke last fall. They were eighty years old and on their way to their basement when the monster struck. They just didn't get there fast enough.
When TV cameras caught some of the survivors standing before the mangled wreckage of their homes--if there was any home there--some of them praised God for sparing them. It's a natural and wonderfully pious impulse, to thank the Lord for keeping us in the palm of his hand. It's an expression of blessed relief and immense gratitude.
But the flip side of the argument--or so it seems to me--is to blame the Lord God almighty for not protecting the elderly couple who died, by keeping them from the safety basement by inflicting them with gimpy knees or whatever. How can the God of heaven and earth be responsible for the safe-keeping of some, but not for the deaths of others?
I don't know.
The storm has passed now; the land has been refreshed, not only by the rain but also the nitrogen passed along by way of the light show. Somewhere, maybe, someone is fighting a fire ignited by an errant bolt; but here, just outside my basement window, the robins' songs are already lighting up the morning.
We've been spared. We've been blessed.
I don't think I get it all exactly, but I'm glad the storm has passed, the screen before me is lit, and the sky just outside the basement window is beginning to brighten with morning light.
But there are still some wandering rumbles--I hear them off to the east. I guess we never really escape the rumbles, do we? This morning in Parkersburg, they're huge, I guess, even though the sky may be crystalline.
Yesterday, good friends told me about their daughter, who's left her husband because of abuse. The kids don't understand and are angry, very angry--too angry even to talk to them, their grandparents. These are immensely good people, God-fearing people. At their age, they shouldn't have to be troubled by such horrors, but always there are rumbles, it seems.
The sky outside my window is still rumbling, but the robins are singing. If we can never be fully delivered from the darkness and the rumbling, give us ears, Lord, to hear the music.