How I wish I could wax elegantly like Marvin Gaye … mercy, mercy me … things aren’t what they use to be. How I wish I could predict the future … I can’t, planning, anticipating notwithstanding, approaching every day as a new adventure. Remembering the adage, nothing is promised, knowing well, nothing is promised – not today, not tomorrow. Magical, invisible hands reaching and holding limbs in place, slowing, restricting, bounded closer to earth’s gravitational pull. Looking in all directions, looking for the binders, seeing what I expected to see, nothing, still convinced of their presence.
I suspect we are not witnessing Armageddon. A New York Times’ story, reporting on the Mexico City earthquake, quoted a government employee, Jorge Ortiz Diaz, as saying, “It’s like Sodom and Gomorrah, like God is angry at us.” I possess a contrarian view of the world, of life. My contrarian view is one formed in part by my maternal grandmother. Always viewing weather as a gift, no matter the conditions, view in part religious based, in part the slanted view found in a farmer’s eye. My opinion in nothing Chester Anna Wright told me verbally, instead conveyed by praying; kneeling, persistent rubbing of both hands, looking skyward, lowering herself to the earth, touching the soil. Similar behavior she engaged in when neighbors, church members, relatives many times removed, came to her home to die. Praying, bathing their bodies, bending over and downward, listening to voice tones and inflections, accessing when death would arrive. Likewise, smelling and predicting Mother Nature’s behavior – weeks on end. No emergency warning systems, no telephones, never a newspaper delivered to the doorstep. Supplementing her faith with the Farmer’s Almanac, the radio, and A.A. Allen. No television, no internet, seldom a visit from friends or strangers. Forever educating – turning to Louis Wright – instructing when to plant, predicting rain, praying for rain; looking outward and over – “Two days, two days … you should secure the animals.” Watching birds, plants, sky, noticing absences before others; smelling, touching, forever looking for tell-tall signs. Cherishing rain, looking upward and outward, extending both hands skyward, verbal mouthing a simple and concise, “thank you”; cherishing heat, sweating like the rest of us, never uttering a profane word, even when the unexpected occurred. Consistent pattern and behavior was hers; possessing a sublime belief in Mother Nature, when all others viewed her conduct as obscene fickleness, mercurial, and unpredictable.
Storms, fires, earthquakes are weather events which are both common and uncommon. Common when it doesn’t affect us, uncommon when the water laps at our doorway, entering, invading … soiling. Seeing others in peril is different than when the worry become an everyday reality; worrying about ones future, being displaced in mind, body and thought; listening obliquely while others whisper “we were lucky, we were lucky”.
Pulling possessions out – now nothing more than rubble – through the doorway, into the yard, onto the curve – dealing with the hand fate has dealt to one’s household. Wanting the world to go back to work, admitting ones good fortune, contending the good fortune is because of God’s blessings, never seeing the corollary meaning in an affected household; common and uncommon tales existing side by side, told by the same untold weather events.
After Hurricane Ike’s landfall in 2008, there was a considerable period of time in which most of us were prevented from coming back onto Galveston Island. City officials informed the least of us the Island would be closed for an unknown period of time. Law enforcement was put in place to prevent entry; guarding the roadways, informing the citizenry, in both the print and visual mediums, to be advised to place their children in other school districts, to make other plans. The officials’ announcement felt like someone was pulling the welcome mat away. These announcements played hourly, daily; part of the news-feed, playing while the others were permitted to enter, to make repairs, secure property, to check on friends and family. When the Houston Chronicle reported a seafood fest on the Seawall for recovery workers, I was aghast. Looking from afar, prevented from entering; wondering, wondering, wondering what tomorrow would bring. I did what I did then for a living. I studied the legality of the City’s actions and brought suit; something about life, liberty and property rights. We settled, allowing the rest of us to enter the island to begin the rebuilding process.
Three weeks after Ike’s landing, lights were restored. Courts in Austin and Houston must have been in communication with the light company, both placing calls within fifteen minutes of the lights and phones becoming operable.
“The temporary injunction hearing is scheduled 1:30 p.m. The Court wants you here for a docket call at 9:00 a.m., tomorrow morning.”
“I can’t be Austin in the morning. We had a hurricane on the coast. We just got lights and phone service minutes ago.”
I learned quickly, our conditions weren’t their conditions. The plea was refused, never heard. “No counsel, see you tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.” My, “but-buts”, meant nothing.
The Houston court demanded my appearance two days later, “docket call and jury selection will start on Monday.”
My, “I don’t know(s)”, were never heard. I didn’t know where the file was. I didn’t know if I could find clean suits to wear. I didn’t know how the client survived the storm. Things aren’t what they use to be … mercy, mercy, me.
Actually, I knew where one-half of the file was located, in the middle of the floor. A soaked pile of smelly mush rendered unreadable, bound by something other than paper clips, swollen to twice its previous size, expelling invisible fumes which caused ones’ eyes to water.
I ultimately learned neither Austin nor Houston was affected. Saw something one the television I suspect. We were removed from their world. Their courthouses were safe. The pleas were for naught.
“I don’t have lights at my home as of yet”, Her Honor explained, while dismissively waving the objections to the side, much like a worrisome fly. Standing, moving away from the bench, exiting, and reminding me of her ruling, “See you Monday morning.” A surreal experience, cartoonish, as if being pulled across the screen, with blanket in tow, screaming, “Stop, stop, stop … erase and redraw … no one stopped and redrew the sketch. The ruling was the ruling and remained the ruling. Pulling on the booth-straps has never been as painful as it was then, standing in the dock of the courtroom, looking around, feeling smallish, lost.
Seeing the water rise during Hurricane Harvey, stopping six inches short, lapping at the door, swaying in the middle of the street, in suspended animation served as a reminder how the common and uncommon plays us. Seeing the destruction of Rockport, watching the Sabine rise, the freeways in Houston become rivers, seeing people being drug across the screen to safety, while hearing my own whispers, others whispers, “how lucky we were”. Life must go on, they say. Yes, they say.
Ah things ain’t what they used to be, no no.
I have seen the feel good stories. I too have applauded the volunteers’ efforts, wondering still, worrying still, what happens when the cameras move away? Worrying whether we will remain consistent and recognize the disjointed, dystopian existence storm and earthquake victims are presented; long after the water has receded from yards, streets, bayous, rivers, flowing back to the Gulf; long after the earth has stopped shaking; considerably longer than the time it takes water to dissipate, leaving noticeable reminders of its presence.
Those who are lucky, move on. Life goes on. Life goes on.
Food and clothing assistance stops, for those who are not so lucky. The lenses are put back in place, the cameras lowered into carrying cases, after being put in the off position. No longer a story; a new story awaits; time to go back to work, while the less fortunate remain in a perpetual state of internal shock; worrying whether, trying to remember how to put one foot in the front of the other, hoping for the best.
I say all of this to say that I hope we remember – even if we were fortunate – the adage “life goes on” sometimes is not a complete and adequate description of life’s circumstances and challenges. We have to recognize life changes, much a cracked vase, on the verge of fractured, must be helped – held in place – until the glue sets.
The little things, the same hand extended to you in the past. Doing what you wished others would have done for you, caring. Some can’t move on, living the nightmare daily; seeing their world turned, inside out, upside down, round and round.
Oh, absolutely, there aren’t enough hours in the day; hurting feet, backs, aching minds remind us of this. Never ever believe our world is as big they told us in school; a world isolated by time, distance, differences, and languages, no more. The persistent attempt to resurrect coal is not meaningless, having a profound effect on us, our neighbors to both the North and South. Dismissing the repetitive five hundred (500) year storms as happenstance is pure folly.
There is no magical formula how long it takes. Events which are life-altering can change the character and nature of the community, causing a communal migration. New Orleans is a prime example, a mass migration of peoples into Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston. The disappearance of next door neighbors, shuttered buildings, and untimely, unexpected deaths. Mercy, mercy me… Land grabbers, disinterested government officials with smiles engrafted – practiced, affixed – putting on the best face possible, congratulating each other – banquets, awards – while moving away, in the opposite direction of encased cameras, moving on, moving on. That’s what we do. That’s what we do.
Chester Anna Wright lived a simple life, by today’s standards. Her life examples seemed more complicated by any standard. Relying on her senses, remaining in tune with nature’s whim, saying thank you no matter what, never whispering her good fortune when other suffered in her farming community; a harder stance, not an impossible stance for any of us, no matter where we are located.