The Best We Can
The water is hot. It is rushing through the faucet, collecting in the sink. Bubbles that smell of green things, living things rise like yeast. I hold my hands under the water for a moment, watch my knuckles turn red. It is dark outside the kitchen window, but inside, inside my house, it is light, miraculously light.
I am cleaning the candleholders. The bronze ones that were a housewarming gift for my very first grown-up place. The clear acrylic cubes I bought in Chattanooga as a memento of a girls’ weekend. The lead crystal ones that belong to Mama who loaned them to me and who never asked for them back. I am cleaning them of the wax that dripped and hardened and caked over the four nights during which they got to be more than just bit players in an attractive table display. Four nights during which they were the only thing that stood between me and the abyss, darkness that fell with the thud of a guillotine at 10:23 p.m. on Friday.
The hurricane was relatively kind to Adabelle. Other than the string of pine trees that fell like dominoes over the power lines, stranding all of us without lights and cable and internet and well water, there was little real damage. The ancient oak tree in my parents’ front yard, already crippled by two previous storms, lost yet another chunk of itself, taking out a part of their fence, but graciously falling in the road rather than into their bedroom. The chinaberry tree in my backyard that had of late become the feeding station for so many birds was halfway uprooted and left dangling. A few more pine trees in the woods behind my brother’s and my neighbors’ houses snapped in two – that’s all.
I did not have any trees fall through my roof or crush my car. I did not have water rise up into my house like the tide. I did not – I can hardly form the words. – have someone I love stolen from me by the violent, indiscriminate wind and rain. Yes, it was for 93 hours. Yes, it meant that I had to drive 20 miles to get something cold to drink. Yes, I had to put on makeup in the bathroom at the office. But that? That’s inconvenience. That’s all.
Which is why it’s a little embarrassing to admit that by Day Five, when I’d grown tired of drive-by showers and my favorite take-out, when I had to stop to remember what day it was, when I was about ready to just let the cell phone die rather than sit in my car for one more minute waiting for it to charge, I got a little pouty, a little impatient, a little impertinent.
I was, like everyone else, longing for normal. I wanted to be able to do something, anything, without thinking and planning and strategizing. I wanted to be able to look at a clock and check the time, to find the dog snacks in the pantry without knocking something else off the shelf, to put in my contacts. I wanted to be able to flush the toilet, for heaven’s sake!
Did I really need to feel guilty about that? Is it wrong to desire comfort? Can’t we prefer light over dark without being made to feel as though we have failed the test of human toughness? No. No. And yes.
Hardship is not a contest. Pain is not an endurance test. Nobody leaves here unscarred. Nobody gets a perfect score. Hurricane Matthew – just like every hurricane, tornado, drought, war, terroristic attack, and automobile accident that came before or will come after – was just one more challenge, one more chance to do the best we can.