This June, I committed to walking a three-mile route through our neighborhood every day during the summer. Each excursion instills an increased level of familiarity with my community, and I’ve come to anticipate specific scenes and characters that I’ll meet along the way. The yappy terrier (which I now know is corralled by an invisible fence), the two stacked bird houses wedged into the lower branches of a maple tree, and at least one member of the family of rabbits darting across the small cul-de-sac at the end of a path. Their predictability provides a cadence of comfort in what has been a turbulent season for our family. Yappy dog, birdhouses, rabbit. Next day. Yappy dog, birdhouses, rabbit. Mercies made new every morning.
The summer began as expected – the usual swim meets, family movie nights, and a welcomed shift to a slower pace of life. Days were clear and bright. Nights twinkled with fireflies. Then the storm hit. We hadn’t anticipated the downpour – or the consequential damage. In hindsight, dark clouds had been brewing for a while, but we had been too lulled by life’s constant stream of distractions to notice. Dentist appointment and ballet rehearsal, chicken on the grill and a trip to buy new running shoes, then without warning (or consulting) us, the Maker zipped open the skies and unleashed the fury of the natural world. We watched helplessly as destruction ensued.
That torrential week has been memorialized in the landscape of our backyard. We’ve never been very good at growing grass. Last November, as a final act of desperation, we flew the white flag of surrender by installing sod over the almost-acre behind our home. For months, we waited while visions of zoysia danced in our heads. The dream came true and the lawn turned green and we rejoiced in our final victory. The dream, however, was fleeting. The sod was too young to have established a strong root system. When the rains came, the grass (and the money we’d hesitantly invested) washed away. Although a few lush patches still remain, our yard has developed a permanent case of the mange.
While the rain swept away our last hope of grass, there were storms of a different kind raging in our home. We’d discovered mold in the ceiling of our bedroom. The damaged section couldn’t be repaired – it had to be ripped out. As we cleared out the master bedroom and temporarily relocated to another, the comfort and convenience we’d treasured were displaced. Under the same roof at the same time, a less visible – yet more insidious – battle was waging. A battle of the soul. The peaceful home we’d worked so hard to build had been sabotaged, and we hadn’t seen it coming. Despair is a stealthy foe. It lurks in the shadows waiting for the ideal conditions – then strikes with a fury – leaving a dark mark on everyone in its path. The relatively carefree summer we’d been enjoying was torn away. Comfort, convenience, and the illusion of control had been displaced. And the rain kept pounding down.
After three harrowing days, the downpour reduced to a trickle. The clouds pealed away, and once again, revealed the fullness of the warm summer sun. The sun had never stopped shining. We just couldn’t see it because our vision had been obscured.
With the promise of a new, brighter day sustaining my steps, I ventured out for my morning walk. Remnants of the storm were scattered everywhere. My route became an obstacle course over fallen branches and around inconvenient pools of mud. When I reached the secluded stretch of path that runs behind several homes, I was stopped. Bricks, not branches, littered the ground. At the foot of a steep back yard, a five-foot privacy wall had crumbled. The combination of intense soil erosion and excessive water pressure against the face of the wall had proved unstoppable. Only days earlier, the wall had seemed impenetrable and secure. What man had so skillfully and confidently constructed was no match for the cosmic curve ball that had been thrown its way.
We build our walls of security – parenting book by insurance policy by political allegiance by financial investment. They stand tall and proud, and we feel safe. But the inevitable storms come and outwit our efforts, crumbling what we thought was impenetrable. With the rubble of scattered bricks at our feet, there is a choice to be made. We can despair and try to rebuild what was lost. Or we can keep pressing forward.
After navigating the rubble and snapping a few pictures, I continued my walk on the path ahead of me. Up the big hill, alongside the creek, then across the bridge. A familiar sound greeted me from further down the trail. The yappy terrier was offering his morning greeting. Next came the tree with the birdhouses. Then the rabbit darting across my path. Indeed, the wall had crumbled – as will more in the years to come – but let us not despair. Yappy dog. Birdhouses. Rabbit. Mercies made new every morning.