High Water and Tender Mercies
The rain lasted long enough to move the sky from dusk to hard dark, to leave the grass glistening, to flatten the ant hills out by the mailbox. Long enough for me to notice when the sound reduced itself to the monotonic drip drip drip from the eaves and the cones streaming from the floodlights on the corners of the house went from pale and thick to bright and golden. Just long enough to make the night an invitation.
The toad on the front steps hurried away into the shadows as my footsteps approached. Straight toward the road I headed, making a sharp right at just the point where the grass meets the dirt. I followed the edges of the yard, around and around and around – along the field road to the branch, down the row of trees to the shed, then back toward the road along rows of peanuts slurping in the just-fallen rain.
My steps grew more confident as my eyes adjusted, better able to avoid the ridges left by tractor tires, the holes left by armadillos. I could make out the faintest glow of the moon, shrouded by deep shadows. As I got closer to the back corner of the house I could suddenly smell the strong, piquant scent of rosemary and the equally strong, but sweeter scent of Russian sage. I came up short and stopped, took a deep breath and wondered if the rain had somehow released the scents, if the still-heavy humidity was concentrating them into this small spot.
I walked until the wet seeped through my tennis shoes, through my socks, until I could feel my toes beginning to shrivel. I didn’t want to go inside. I wanted to keep walking in the dark.
At my desk, taking one last look at the incessant stream of information that technology affords, I noticed an Instagram post from Brene’ Brown, a researcher and author whose work on shame and resilience, being vulnerable and showing up has had a significant impact on the way I look at the world and myself. Brene’ (because I think of her as a friend) lives in Houston and is right in the middle of the loss and displacement and fear and uncertainty gifted southeast Texas by Hurricane Harvey and her post, a video made at the NRG Center, showed us a woman who wasn’t trying to hide any of it. Her hair was spiky and she was wearing no makeup.
This is what she said: “Everyone has been asking what you can do to help. I’m going to ask you for what we really need because this is not a community that needs anything to be pretty or wrapped in a bow. We need underwear.”
Then she gave people the link to Amazon where they, where I could buy underwear, clean, fresh-smelling, never worn underwear for the people of Houston. So I clicked and clicked and clicked. And I filled my Amazon cart with underwear and I clicked one more time to send them on their way.
And then I went to my Facebook page and I wrote a post about praying for Houston, but not being satisfied with just praying. And I wrote about Brene’ Brown and being the person in the arena and I shared the link and I asked my friends to buy underwear.
And they did. Within minutes, the responses to my post started showing up. People buying underwear for people they do not know, will never meet. People whose age, race, and religion are irrelevant. I couldn’t help crying.
In the strangest form of alchemy I’d ever seen, I watched as the compassion of my friends, my family, my people transformed into action, their prayers turned into underwear. In the midst of flood and deepest darkness, mercy manifested itself like the scent of rosemary and Russian sage rising through the night.