One year ago, during these very same late night and pre dawn hours, here in my little town, our little world was uprooted and sidelined by a tumultuous ‘natural’ event, the likes of which most involved had never experienced before. I endured this passage both patiently and stoically and had a keen understanding of the root causes and the need for such a claimed ‘catastrophe’ – as it was called by some. I had fortunately been exposed to a similar event some years earlier and had the benefit of that moment to guide me through the process and to shine some light on this very dark and dreary night.
In fact, it was not even unexpected or unwarranted from a certain perspective, as i had learned many years before, from a somewhat unorthodox source that “….if you did not have storms, you would all go insane.” So with this in mind, i was able to stand apart, as the spectator, almost, regardless of the fact that i was literally in the eye of the storm.
And in a strange way, it all made me wonder about the past – in my little town – when i was just a little boy, and when i really did not grow up believing that god keeps his eye on us all. Instead, i grew up experiencing strange events of a nature which were quite unusual and uncommon, as my perspective was a little distant and unlike that of the other kids i knew, and reconciling the world around me was almost impossible then anyway.
I saw and felt a world in disarray and at war with itself. It was a place where chaos and confusion dominated, both at home and also in the world at large as i had gleaned it then from the evening news reports on television and in the papers. So i used to wonder where this god was that everyone spoke so highly of and how he could allow such disturbances in his own backyard. It was unacceptable to me that he would, or that he was keeping his eye on us all, and i did not believe that, even back then.
Once, in the second grade, in a new suburban public school for the first time, i recall, for example, pledging allegiance to a flag that hung in the front of a classroom because we were told to, and were required to, even though i had no understanding at all of what we were actually saying or doing then. We really did pledge allegiance to the wall, only, because even though we were instructed to turn and face this flag, it was as if we were talking to a wall as we recited these unfamiliar and pseudo patriotic words. But i never felt any god lean upon me in those dedicated moments, even though i was told we were one nation under this god and indivisible. It went like this:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Strange as it may seem now, it is a historical fact that only in 1954 that this phrase “under God” was added to this pledge on Flag Day of that year, as i understand it. Did he just then begin to keep his eye on us all, i wonder now, or was he just not allowed to let us know he already was, until that year? Either way, it seems odd to me that a resolution of our so called ‘congress’ was required then to permit him to stand over our ‘one nation’. What about the other nations on this planet, then? Who and where are their gods, and were they, too, indivisible, as well?
Nevertheless, in the middle of this second grade, as i recall now, a new president had just been recently elected and we were carefully being introduced to what we later came to understand as an inauguration ceremony as he took the oath of office. There was great exhilaration in the mood of our teacher as she explained this event to us and even taught us his first, middle and last name. We memorized it and mimicked it as we were told to do, again, with the whole class saying it out loud a few times, in unison, as she delicately wrote it out in script on the blackboard.
Then, suddenly, only a few grades later, our lesson was interrupted in the late morning one day as our African American Music Teacher erupted into hysteria when someone entered the classroom and whispered into her ear. A few minutes later, when she had composed herself enough to speak, we were told that this very beloved president with the three names we had all learned so well had just been shot and killed – assassinated in some far away state when his brains were splattered all over the inside of his open top limousine by a high powered rifle as he was being driven around in his motorcade.
Was this that the liberty and justice for all they were referring to earlier? And why wasn’t this god keeping his eye on him, i wonder, as he was, after all, the president? Then, several days later, i actually watched his alleged assassin get shot dead on live black and white tv by a lunatic gunman as he was being led from a police station. He was another guy with three names we also came to memorize, but for a very different reason, of course.
As time went on, a lot of other people with three names became well known, too, and it soon became apparent that this was not because they were revered or famous, but rather because they were to become infamous. It then became the norm for decades thereafter to be known by three names whenever someone committed some outrageous or heinous crime against our society, and this became a little confusing, i must admit. Especially because the good guys like presidents and others like them were usually known by their first names and last names only, or maybe even an acronym or nick name. Sometimes, a middle initial would also be thrown in for good measure, too, as a feature of distinction. I was confused again to say the least, as i had three names, too, but no one ever referred to me that way.
But in my little town, this then became a world where a president was killed and a country mourned while we ate corn flakes for breakfast and played baseball outside in the street, oblivious to the real reasons behind all of this, but still keenly aware of the dark mood and the somber state of things around us. But what happened to that pledge of allegiance to that flag and to the republic for which it stood, i asked myself as we watched the populace, on tv once again, enter the capitol rotunda for days on end to participate in this serene funeral of this revered president? None of this made any sense to a little boy from a little town, inquisitively watching black and white tv at home in his suburban living room.
Meanwhile, in another far away country we hardly even heard of yet, a monk had set himself on fire in his street and a war began. We got scared when we heard our country might become involved in this foreign war and things then began to get dark, or even darker. It was quite disconcerting as we were busy getting ready for the World Series while yet another pall then settled over our immature minds – too immature for these things, at any rate. And all of that was many years ago and many, many things, both tragic and traumatic have occurred since then to our nation, our society and to our culture; things too numerous to adequately mention or describe here.
But last year, there was not much going on in my new little town during these late night and pre dawn hours except the dead and dying, both physically and in spirit, as nature ripped a hole through our lives and drowned nearly everything in sight. She brought a full moon, high tides, winds and rain and powerful surges of the seas – with flooding of near biblical proportions – resulting in inconceivable damage.
I experienced this disaster in technicolor, even though the night was black as ink, with no electricity and no lights, both indoors and outside. That full moon shone as a beacon against a pitch black sky, reflecting down into the neck high water from the rows of houses on either side of the street. The water table rocked like the wake in a bathtub. Echoes of the voices of those fleeing from a chain of burning houses just down the street struck a poignant chord within, sounding a cry of terror, as they rowed through the street to refuge, balancing on slabs of debris from broken wooden decks and makeshift canoes in what was now a canal.
I was forced to venture out several times into that cold raging stream, punched inland by the rushing tide, to assist in retrieving a neighbor, a lone wife, someone’s mother, a grandmother, who was defenseless as her home was slowly becoming absorbed by the rising of this untamed surge of the sea. Once safely ensconced inside, i could now look out and see the embers from these burning houses shooting all around, relentlessly, like fireflies, hitting the remaining houses and threatening to burn yet another one to the ground, maybe even the one in which i thought i was safe in then. The odor was strong and thick and pungent and our breathing was challenged, even indoors here. We stood frozen at the windows, watching and waiting for the fires to take their own last breaths too. It was a long and harrowing night and one that screamed with the stillness of danger.
Then, suddenly, the water level seemed to stop rising and with a creeping, snail like precision, began to recede, slowly, inch by inch, as i watched the high water mark on a vehicle outside become visible. I felt an air of relief and after a brief rest when the water level had reached the curb only, the darkness enveloping this night began to beckon and i ventured outside again. Right down the block, i witnessed the horror she left behind – scores of houses now reduced to ashes while in the pre dawn darkness, a handful of firefighters were battling the remnants of the last flames which engulfed the few buildings they could finally reach once the water was low enough to allow them access to these barren streets. No sirens, no emergency vehicles, but only a single fire truck with the red cherry light on the top of its cab revolving around and around, drawing me closer and closer to that horrid site, as i walked closer, almost hypnotized by the darting flames in the distance, the chalky feel of fresh smoke and the smoldering ashes on both sides of the street. It was eerie and awesome but the devastation was stark and that smell of burning wood and cinder was almost unbearable. There was a silence about it all that belied the reality, the kind of stillness that only accompanies the aftermath of a natural disaster.
When the daylight eventually arrived on this very date, the remains of my little town on this block were now hardly recognizable and tales of that night’s woes began circulating like gossip. Shock and confusion were written on the faces of all who witnessed the powerful effects of this affair, and who never imagined they would be subjected to the enormity of such forces and who could not understand why or how this could have snuck up behind them and shattered the comfort and security of their lives. They had thought they were immune to such energies and yet stories of friends and neighbors who were killed and homes that were consumed or leveled by the force of the infringing ocean, now resonated with a reality that was virtually incomprehensible to them. In a word, their spirits were crushed.
And thus, just one year ago, this god, who was just supposed to keep his eye on us all, just stepped aside, i guess, as this little town endured what became a gravely memorable experience, the likes of which most here have never seen or dreamed of, and the effects of which are still being felt and dealt with even today.
Yet here, i am not a little boy anymore, and yet, i still see the likes of such tragedies and calamities in our world which i had witnessed as that little boy back then. Except that it is getting worse lately, and more frequent, and it is a more ominous time now, if you can imagine that. We have another foreign war going on that we are inextricably involved in, our political scene is rampant with deceit and despair and our quality of life is consistently marred by the screams of the media, pounding all of this negativity into our consciousness by the hour. Violent acts of carnage and massacre abound, regularly, and there seems to be no relief in sight. And my little town is now a little city and our world has shrunk because of impersonal electronic devices and innumerable cable channels, websites and social media agendas and distractions, while these storms are now much more prevalent and more deadly than ever before.
But from my own point of view, this was all a cleansing, a purging and an awakening, a renewal sorely needed to disburse certain energies that were driving this region into an insane pattern of tumult and internal dissonance. It was indeed another wake up call, the likes of which we had seen here on that fateful day in September some eleven years prior – the one which did not seem to resonate deeply enough within my little town or elsewhere since then. So Mr. Universe did some calculations and re-calibrations, it appears, and decided that another dose of ‘catastrophe’ would be helpful or even necessary here to restore some much needed sanity, as he called upon his Mistress, Mother Nature, to imbue us with some more ethereal medicine of his own brand.
So are we to still believe that there is this god who keeps his eye on us all, or would it behoove us more to look deep within ourselves and find the god consciousness we were all created from, and implement and share that instead with our co-inhabitants on this planet? Wouldn’t that make for a better world and a more promising future? And wouldn’t that influence those around us to act more civilly too, so our progeny can experience and enjoy the times to come instead of lamenting the past errors of history, as we have done?
Perhaps so, and then in my little town, and in yours, we might all sleep a little better and maybe wake up to some peace and tranquility with productivity and progress, without climactic aberrations, trauma and destruction. And then, we can all pledge a true allegiance to whatever flag or nation we choose, under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice – for all.
And after it rains, there’s a rainbow……