среда, 28 ноября 2012 г.

In the Basement

By Kathy L. Baumgarten

I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.
~Louisa May Alcott

Thunder and lightning come and go in our lives but therein lies a lesson. When the sun comes out again, the raindrops on the leaves will sparkle like diamonds. If we stand long enough to watch the last of the clouds blow away, we will also see that the storm had nourished us in a way that we could not predict. It was in such a storm that I learned to have hope.
I must have been four or five years old. My father had died and our mother had to work, so our grandmother came to stay with us one summer. Our home was surrounded by lovely trees, but this terrified my mother whenever a storm blew up. I didn't understand then what I do now — about house insurance deductibles and how much money a widowed secretary with a mortgage and three kids could actually have at her disposal in 1962 to pay for repairs. Impossible numbers must have swirled in her head with every thunder clap. Worse yet, we lived on an island where the waters frequently attracted lightning.

But, oblivious to all these facts, I was standing on a chair by the window really enjoying the sight of the trees fighting against the wind when I heard the phone ring. My grandmother answered it with the shaking hands of someone who'd only ever gotten bad news over the phone. My older sisters sensed trouble, and I recall that a shadow fell across their countenances as Grandma put down the receiver and shepherded us down the basement stairs.

"Grandma, who was it?" they pleaded as we descended. "What's wrong?" It had been our mother calling from work to order us to seek shelter. Grandma, anxious that nothing would happen to us on her watch, complied. At the bottom of the stairs, I stood and watched the old woman pull over a chair and instruct my sisters to drag over the old shaggy pink rug for us to sit upon. The basement, rarely used, was dimly lit with only a bare bulb or two and a pair of cobwebbed windows through which I observed the wind bending the grass flat. I sat by her right knee, my two sisters on her left, and enjoyed the cozy little situation I found myself in for the first time with family members that I loved. As I happily took in the scene, I noticed how peaceful Grandma appeared compared to my sisters.

"What if the tree falls on our roof, Grandma?" they asked. "Who will pay for it?" More pleadingly, "Where will we live then? How will we eat?"

Suddenly alarmed, I looked eagerly to our grandmother. As our father's mother, I held her in high esteem. Touching her, I always felt a connection to him. Today, I know that some family members felt she was a woman of small intellect who, putting everything in the hands of the Lord, unflappably stood her ground. But I was small and looked to her.

She was just smiling and shaking her head.

"Grandma," I ventured, comparing her face to those of my older siblings, "why aren't you afraid?"

She looked up, and we looked up with her. I think my sisters only saw the floor joists and impending doom, but somehow I knew she was focusing her eyes on something farther away than the rough-cut boards, pipes and metal ductwork. "God will watch over us," she declared as the lightning cracked.

My sisters disagreed heartily. Where was God when our father died and left us destitute? Where was God when our mother locked herself in her room sobbing and left us to our own devices? Wasn't it God making the storm? Didn't God grow the trees that were perilously near our eaves, which would take out the hall window if they brushed too close?

I looked at my sisters and weighed their complaints, and then I looked back at Grandma. She sighed a little, folded her hands, and looked up again. And you know what? We were already in the basement. We couldn't hide any deeper from the storm; we had done everything in our power to protect ourselves, and I knew that. When she repeated "God will protect us," making that promise again, I made the first and most valuable decision of my whole life, one I need to remind myself of time and time again. I decided that I liked my grandma better at that moment than the fearmongers. In her seventy-plus years, she had seen many trees felled by storms, watched many loved ones fall around her, but she had still learned, or taught herself, the inner discipline to look beyond the situation at hand and trust that there was something bigger at work than what she could fully understand. I'm just sorry that she never knew how much I needed to see her looking from the basement out at the storm and declaring, against all doubts, that it was going to be okay.

Years later, as I lay in my sleeping bag beside a Rocky Mountain lake with another storm raging around me, I felt the same thrill as that day with Grandma in the basement. I smiled at the power and might of the storm, certain that the sun would shine again in the morning. My tentmates, shuddering in their bags, began to murmur as my sisters had so long ago. "How can you be so calm?" they charged. "We're camped at the highest point on the mountain, and metal poles are holding up the tent! We'll be toast if we take a direct hit!"

I didn't know then how to tell them why I enjoyed the storm, but I do now. When the wind had died, I followed my grandmother up the stairs. I watched her place her hand tentatively to turn the doorknob, not knowing what the storm had wrought on the other side. Then I saw the sun break upon her face and the great relief that rose from her heart. I heard my sisters laugh and saw them jump up with joy. Perhaps I was awfully young to make the decision to follow Grandma's way, but the more I've opened doors and seen the sun greet me in my own life, the more I have hope that there are many more sunny days ahead.
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