shelter from the storm

So New York is getting a hurricane … the last big hurricane to hit Long Island in my memory was Hurricane Gloria, in 1985.

I was 12 years old then, and I remember being fascinated by the effects of the hurricane; all of a sudden we had to contend with nature in all of her wrathful glory. And people were in a panic.

During the eye of the hurricane, I went out into the backyard, to my secret spot by the side of the house. Broken branches and debris were everywhere, but nothing had seriously devestated the area. What I remember most of all was the light, the quiet of that still center, and the feeling that the very air was infused with energy, especially as the calm began to lift, giving way to tempestuous wind and sheets of rain.

I remember that the weekend after Hurricane Gloria, I was in church …

We did not go to church much; I went to catholic school and my parents felt that my religious education was provided for; nevertheless, once a month my school held a liturgy for each grade, and my sister and I dutifully went with our father while my mother stayed home, making sunday dinner.

I was prone to distraction during church. The rituals of the service made little sense to me, as I watched them being carried out dogmatically and with hardly any passion. I recall that I did, however, long to taste the wine. I made up elaborate stories in my head. I watched boys out of the corner of my eye, and discovered a way of ripping paper and gum wrappers into small sculptures of flowers and animals.

I always listened though when it was time to hear stories from the bible. I was also interested in the homily, when the priests would tell their own stories in the form of sermons. Most of the time, the stories would drone on, falling over the congregation, escaping my grasp. Every once in a while, thankfully, a priest would really try to reach people at that moment, to touch and engage their hearts and spirits.

So, I was in church, listening to the priest’s sermon, and he was talking about the hurricane – his homily centered on the experience of his family over the previous weekend – it so happened that his sister’s wedding was planned to take place on the day the hurricane hit.

He said that his sister had planned a huge wedding; hundreds of people were invited to celebrate the event. A hall was rented; all the requisite plans were made … flowers and dresses and limos, rings and tuxedos. And the day of the wedding, everything closed in the face of Hurricane Gloria.

The electricity was out. No one could really travel, and only immediate family were able to get to the ceremony. The rented hall was closed, as was pretty much everything else. They didn’t even have access to the diamond rings they had painstakingly picked out. They were wearing regular, everyday clothes.

And yet … and yet, they carried out the ceremony. I still remember listening to the priest describe how he watched his brother-in-law catch his breath, as his sister walked down the aisle, in the eye of the hurricane, sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows, the candles on the altar afire.

They were stripped bare, left with what is most essential. Life. Love. Family. Such blessings are these gifts, and yet we forget how much these bonds matter, how important and necessary they are to our lives.

We can try to save our material possessions, to plan as much as possible in the face of the coming storms … but in our lives, it is the people we love, and who love us in return, who really shelter and ground us, who root us in our experiences, nourish our hopes, and help us to live fully in the present, as we cast our sacred dreams among the stars.

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