Six white rocking chairs. Along with one set of windchimes and the occasional wreath, they are the only things on the front porch. The front porch that, 28 years ago, I had the builder make two feet wider than called for by the blueprints, two feet wider than normal. I wanted a big porch for lots of rocking chairs.
There is something about a rocking chair that speaks invitation and offers rest. Sitting in one straightens your back, opens your chest, and makes you receptive to things like birdsong and bee buzz and deep conversation. The sight of just one moving gently in the evening breeze, its shadow growing longer by the minute, can slow the most anxious heart; the sight of six, well, it can slow six anxious hearts.
People I know still ride around in the country sometimes. Ride around with no purpose other than riding. And sometimes they tell me, “I went past your house the other day. I started to stop, but ...” and their voices trail off with a wistfulness that makes me sigh. I know what prompted the almost-stopping. I know what was the invisible pull. It was the rocking chairs.
So, I was more than a little disappointed when my friends, evacuees from Savannah, arrived at Sandhill last Wednesday after I had already moved all the rocking chairs to a safer location. I could offer food and drink and ice, clean sheets and electricity and a very friendly dog, but no rocking chairs.
To be honest, I don’t think they noticed. We played with dogs and took walks down the dirt road and made spaghetti. We reminisced and told stories – including one I’d never heard before involving moonshine and driving a hearse from Texas – and wondered about a lot of things without trying to come up with answers. Had it not been for the never-ending stream of Weather Channel and WTOC reportage coming from the living room, one would never have known there was a hurricane somewhere nearby.
When they left the next day, under a bright sun and a clear sky, I was feeling a strange kind of gratitude for the mandatory evacuation that had sent them my way.
At the same time that I was sheltering my friends, my church was sheltering another group of evacuees, the residents of a children’s home from Glynn County. On Sunday morning, the director of the home spoke briefly to our congregation of their appreciation for that shelter. She explained that their intentions had been to be as self-sufficient as possible, to stay out of the way, to be no trouble. But, she explained, everywhere they turned there was someone to help, to provide, to walk alongside.
Then she shared something that shook me to the core. “We wanted to not be a burden,” she said, “but at some point we just surrendered to the love.”
The image of my empty porch advanced toward me like a wave, the truth I had known all along, but failed to acknowledge threatening to throw me to my knees. Rocking chairs and clean sheets and open tables are just tools. On their own they do not welcome or offer sanctuary or provide nourishment. Only love does that.
And when it does, the only response that makes any sense at all is surrender. Letting go and giving in to the only thing stronger, more determined, and far far more predictable than a Category 5 hurricane.
On Saturday the rocking chairs found their way back onto the porch. Newly washed with soap and bleach, they look almost new. They are waiting to do their job. I am, too.