The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

When disaster knocks


Suffering…who needs it?

No thank you.

But no matter how many times we decline the invitation, most of us discover the knocking never stops.  And often the guest barges right in and stays.

I can’t look at any of the pictures of Hurricane Sandy without remembering that day when we were finally, FINALLY let back into our Grand Forks neighborhood and eased the door of the house open.

And here’s the hardest thing.

For a while, a certain “I can do this” carries you along.  Neighbors may knit hands and lives together for a while.  It’s interesting to me that I’m smiling in this clean-up picture.

Just couldn’t help myself?

Was actually happy to finally be back in the house and start the clean-up?

It was impossible to step into a room and NOT try to flip a light on.  When we got cold, it was impossible to keep ourselves from thinking that we could have a hot cup of tea or turn on a hot shower.

Confusion.  Bewilderment.  Vertigo.  But a certain jolt of determination keeps a lot of people moving forward and overcoming problems.




In those first days after the flood, with my thoughts and feelings swirling, sometimes all I wanted to do was pull off the yellow gloves and jot down words and phrases to capture the experience.  Sometimes I thought of the books I’d read and how I’d practiced the sensations of being in an extreme situation as I imagined myself into the brain and skin of a fictional character.

One of the main things I learned?

We Americans don’t get much practice–outside the pages of books–in suffering.  A lot of solutions come amazingly quickly.  When we have to endure, we quickly start looking for someone to blame.

I hear that bewilderment and pain in the voices of people whose lives and things were swirled and dumped this week.

I remember.

And I wish I could whisper a tiny, “Hang on.  Your guest will leave you changed.  But the misery won’t have its claws in you forever.”

One of the uses of suffering is that it often leaves us more compassionate.  More humble.

More determined to hang on to the joy where and when it bubbles in.

More aware of any small and precious chance to make a difference in our brief time on this earth.

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