The tornado touched down last Thursday.
We don’t often get tornadoes in this part of the country. The storm that brought it rolled through from west to east, a sinuous creature making its way toward the ocean. It brought heavy rains and lightning, cracks of thunder so loud they shook the walls, and the tornado warning blaring across the screens of our phones.
It was frightening, and then terrifying, as the rains came down heavier and heavier. The sky was a strange kind of grey and the wind stopped blowing. It seemed that any moment, the tornado would come down upon us, tear off the roof and rip apart the walls, leaving our lives wet and tattered.
It was a near miss, luckily. After an hour of sitting in a stairwell and trying to keep ourselves distracted, we emerged safe and sound. The storm had continued its steady progress and moved on, leaving us with just a river of water pouring down the street. There was not even a branch down from the trees out front.
Two miles to the west, they were not so lucky. The tornado touched down and ripped apart the forest, stranding thousands of people without power.
This is the power of a storm, to tear apart our lives with gleeful abandon. There are many storms in our lives, some of which bring rain and thunder, others which feed on our anxieties and rage within us, others that tear us apart from those we love.
Some storms are so terrible, we do not know how we will survive.
I drove out of town and down the hill a few days ago, distracted enough that I forgot about the tornado completely. We had had no damage, after all, and I had been busy with work that day. The sky was bright and blue, and the world had calmed.
Down one winding road and then another, I drove. The forest closed in around me and the road thinned; I began to hope that I would not encounter another car, because surely that would force one of us off the road. I reached a detour and followed the twists and turns of the road toward the river’s edge.
It was not until I reached the damage that I remembered what had happened. I slowed my car as chills raced through me.
As the road wound down one hill and prepared to ascend the next, I saw the marks the tornado had left. A trail of devastation about a hundred feet wide, no more, that had stripped bare the thin trees on the eastern side of the road and toppled behemoths on the west—some of which had fallen across driveways and through the roof of the house that sat perched on the hill.
I drove slowly through the area, gaping to the left and the right. Then I drove on.
The devastation vanished as I rounded the curve. Within half a mile, it was as if the storm had never been.
What is it about the world that allows utter devastation to descend upon some of us, while allowing the rest to be spared? How is it that storms can sweep through, upend our lives, and toss everything we love out into the wind and rain to be ruined? As one person experiences the worst day of their life, so many others have the very best. The storms of life have no rhyme or reason.
Lately, this is how I have been thinking about my writing.
Words have been difficult these days, pulled out of me more by force and determination than by any kind of inspiration. Anxieties slow me, and summer distractions; too much ice cream one day and exhaustion the next. I don’t want to write, and yet I do, because I know that to write is to seek meaning within the abstract, and that if I just keep going and lay down the words beneath my feet, eventually I might build a bridge to the stars.
This is harder when the storms of life come.
Little things and big, they pull me away from writing. The little storms of anxieties, or of jealousy, or of self doubt plague me. I cannot make them go away, just as I could not wish away the storm that came through the other day, bringing fear and possible devastation.
But I am learning to trust, as I commit myself to words each day. It is a slow process, for sure, but as I grow older, the ability to trust comes easier.
I have to trust that my readers will understand me, and that it is okay if they don’t. I trust that I have done my best with the words I have chosen, and that my words are enough. I trust that this anxiety is only momentary, and that this storm will pass, and the time will come when writing is easy again.
I trust that if I keep going, if I keep writing and using my words to guide me, the path will become clear. And that one day the road will straighten out, and the skies above shine blue, and the storms will have left me behind.
Wet and tousled, for sure, but whole.