Saturday, May 06, 2006

Close Calls

Huge storms raced through central Texas two nights ago and we narrowly avoided a small twister. Our next door neighbor, Todd, told me their barn roof was blown down along with a small section of their house roof. He said the pattern of destruction wound down past his barn, between the house and the creek, and that it definitely looked like it had been caused by a small tornado. This thing touched down not 200 yards from our front door, and we'd never have known it if Todd hadn't said something, because it happened in the middle of the night and no one saw the actual funnel cloud.

Just 200 yards from our door. Unreal.

How often does that happen, that unmitigated disaster misses us by the narrowest of margins and we don't even notice? Had we left work a second earlier we might have hit that car that just missed us. Had we left a second later we might have struck that woman crossing against the light. Tornadoes touch down scant distance from our homes in the middle of the night and we never see them.

There's a Buddhist teaching that I have always found very profound. It's the concept of "The glass is already broken", and the idea is to grasp that the totality of a thing exists in every instant. Even though you hold the glass whole in your hand now, it is also both shattered on a floor at some time in the future and disparate particles of sand some unknown time in the past. It's understanding, deep in your bones, that everything we know is temporary, and to appreciate the world for what it is in this moment, at this time, in this place.

The same sentiment is echoed in "Ozymandias", one of the most profoundly moving pieces of poetry I have ever read (and incidentally about the only piece of literature I read in high school that I can even recall).

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

That mindset helps me live with those unnoticed disasters, those near misses, those "There but for the grace of God" times when the worst almost -- but not quite -- happens. It may wait for us some time in the future, but for now we have the world, and it should be precious to us.

1 comment:

Denise said...

Since we're being philosophical, I have those moments all the time, and they can be quite paralyzing -- "If I leave the house a minute late, perhaps I'll avoid a wreck or that fire or..." The what ifs will kill you, if you ruminate on them and let them paralyze you. I tend to try and look on the positive side -- "If I do this now, then something good will happen because I seized the day," that ole "carpe diem" that we've turned into a catch phrase but still packs a punch when taken as it's meant. Sometimes, as Satchel Paige says, (I paraphrase here:) "I think. Then sometimes, I think deep thoughts. Then I take a nap." Sometimes, we just have to accept life as it is -- surface, fun, blowing bubbles with no specific purpose. Other times, I can't help but look inside and try and search for deeper reasons. Perhaps when we're spared disaster or something bad, God is saving us for something good later on down the road. He has a plan for us that didn't include that bad thing that day. And on the day when the bad things do happen, is God doing it to test us or to see how we'll react? No way to know. The only thing to do is reach down, grab those hairy ankles you so aptly describe in your blog and pull the boots up, smile and go on your way. The thing about life I like the most is the unexpectedness and randomness of it all. Gosh, it's wonderful that we never know what to expect!