- Disaster and Redemption
Last Wednesday when I drove Emma to school, the pollen hung in the air like a scrim. It comes every year: two weeks of early spring in which our world is silted with a gritty yellow dust. It coats railings and window sills; it clings to cars, dusts the newborn leaves, and pools in untouched corners of porch and parking lot.
You can garden in it, and plumes of the stuff will rise with every leaf you disturb. You can run in it, and it will stick to your sweat and fill your mouth and eyes with grit.
There’s nothing for it but to wait it out. Even rain brings little relief. While we may watch this yellow dust running down the drain, it returns on the next dry day. The trees will release this pollen–filling our air and lungs, dusting our skin with its reproductive hopes–until it has run its course.
And Wednesday was the day that Emma called me from school. She called; she didn’t text. A text from Emma is not uncommon during the school day: a message to remind me of something, or to tell me how she is, or to ask me to remind her of something–at which I will scrawl the message in Sharpie on a piece of paper and tape it to a kitchen cabinet.
But on Wednesday, she called, which meant something was wrong. And when I heard her voice, it matched mine in an emergency: hushed, slow, measured.
“Mom. I’m okay. But there’s been an explosion.”
Amazing the thoughts that pour into the milliseconds between a phone’s ring and the voice that answers, “Hello?” And in the next milliseconds between the reassurance and the explanation for it all.
I think we all think about it at the drop-off, right? We’ve seen it too many times on the news, and in my teaching days I supervised my classroom in the drill: the lockdown, the silence, the students’ bodies folded and pressed into the space least visible from the door.
Lord, have mercy.
Last Wednesday it was not a shooter but an explosion: the coffee shop we drive past nearly every day. The oasis we’ve visited many times in its sun-filled mornings with its ancient and beautiful black-and-white-tiled floor. It was a gas leak, and now everything is gone–and with it, the owner–less than a block from Emma’s school.
The school handled it very well. The early release was executed promptly, counselors were present. The necessary cancellations and then two-hour delay were clearly communicated. And yesterday, the students wore white in a show of support to all affected by the explosion, and most specifically to honor Mr. Lee, who lost his life.
Then on Monday, I had a text from Emma: “Mom, Notre Dame is on fire.”
She hasn’t seen the cathedral in person yet, but we have long hoped to take her there.
“Crazy how many things are catching fire,” she wrote.
And interesting how fire ignites fire, how we see the connections even when they aren’t connected. How disaster here and disaster there are linked in our minds. Trauma, we know, can do this to us: an accident fifteen years ago can somehow still startle us today if the sound is loud enough.
The coffee shop exploded, and to Emma–who, while in the school was literally about as far from the explosion as she could possibly be–it sounded like someone immediately next to her pounding and banging on a metal door.
We can’t drive past the front of the coffee shop yet. That section of Duke Street is closed. But I drove near it yesterday to get Emma.
The building is gone, replaced by light and rubble. But the light is wrong: it shouldn’t be there. Wrong, too, are the collapsed roof and wreckage, the blasted out windows of the surrounding buildings, and the dark marks around these empty spaces where flame, debris and smoke shot through and stunned us all.
Which brings us to last Wednesday’s pollen and this week’s clear sky where, now, the scrim has lifted. Even last Thursday it seemed the pollen was on its way out. And Friday evening’s thunderstorm scrubbed the last of it away.
Somehow this brings to mind that now famous saying of Mr. Rogers, whose own mother, helping her young son contend with the horror of disaster, told him to always look for the helpers.
Look for the helpers: and there they were, evacuating the coffee shop before the explosion, and afterward carefully picking through the debris. Some continue to channel traffic around the site; others took pains to confirm the stability of the school buildings before students were allowed to return.
See, too, the counselors, present and ready for students affected by the trauma. And the students themselves, yesterday tying white ribbons to the school’s fence in honor of Mr. Lee.
In Paris, over 400 firefighters worked tirelessly to put out a blaze that, for a time, they said could not be overcome. Others pulled priceless works of art out of harm’s way. And across the river, grief-stricken Parisians watched the flames and prayed, a vigil against utter destruction.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel that loss and disaster are the way of things. We can far too readily count the corrosive forces of the world.
But the helpers are world’s redemptive motion, as are those who grieve a loss not explicitly their own.
And this motion–do you see it?– runs deeper than human will. Recall the pollen, already finished for the year. It coated our world for two short weeks, a nuisance of yellow dust. It was a gesture toward continuance, the opened palm of life’s Author, an elaborate if gritty abundance of hope.
Daisy, why another day?
Why another sunrise?
Who will take the blame
for all redemptive motion
And every rainy day
When He gives Himself away?