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The Tending Of What Remains

This was not our first rodeo.

Or first hurricane. And enough has already been said about Idalia by people who understand barometric pressure and millibars and the Saffir-Simpson Scale. I am still thinking about it, though, or – more particularly – what happens now. We call it the aftermath. The roads surrounding us were nearly all washed out and blocked with fallen trees. The ditches were flooded and the water in the pond down the way reached the top of its dam, quivering like a too-full cup. There was a dead frog lying in the middle of the road, away from all the tire marks, and I’m still not sure he didn’t drown. But we had it relatively easy. The power went out for only a few minutes. The turned-down rocking chairs didn’t get blown off the porch. I managed to staunch the leak that appears in the living room ceiling every time we get heavy rains. And the next morning dawned with bright sunshine and a cool breeze. Staring into the pale blue sky it occurred to me that the use of the word aftermath is always in the context of an especially unpleasant event or the time following something destructive. Aftermaths appear in the wake of financial collapse and mass shootings and natural disasters like, of course, hurricanes. Aftermaths exist in the space occupied by dreaded diagnoses and relationship rupture, as a result of loss and disappointment and death. And we are now, under this cloudless sky, in the aftermath. Which makes the etymology of aftermath, which I couldn’t resist researching, all the more interesting: The word was first used in the late 1400s and was originally an agricultural term from the ancient word “math,” which meant “a mowing.” The after-math was a mowing that took place after the first crop from a particular field was harvested. It involved the cutting, plowing, or, sometimes, grazing of whatever was left, a stewardship practice that kept anything from going to waste. I can stare out the window and remember the aftermath of Hurricane David in 1979 which involved hand-harvesting an entire crop of corn that had been laid flat by the Category 2 storm as it licked the coast at Savannah. Is stewarding what we were doing, I wondered, as we trudged through the fields lifting the slain stalks and breaking off the ears one by one, making sure that none went to waste? Is stewarding what we were doing as we waited in the dark and the heat for five days after Matthew in 2016, grieving all that had been lost, including two lives? I think so. Aftermath is not just what happens, but what we do with it. Aftermath is not just the recovery, but the learning from it. And there is much to learn from living in a place where hurricanes appear on a regular basis – the prudence of keeping batteries and candles and drinking water on hand, for certain, but, also and especially, the lesson of eventually. Eventually the wind moves on, the rain stops, the water recedes. Eventually the power comes back on. Eventually the traffic starts up again and Walmart reopens. Eventually we move forward, but – we can only hope – not unchanged. The limbs have all been picked up now. The carport has been swept clean of the litter of fading leaves. The county came out on Saturday to move the trees and scrape the road. Things are almost back to something like normal. Except – excuse the repetition – this isn’t our first rodeo. Anyone who has watched for, prepared for, lived through a hurricane (or a wildfire, a divorce, or a cancer diagnosis) knows that normal is a temporary condition. And all we can do is embrace the aftermath, the second mowing, the tending of what is left.

Copyright 2023

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