Monday, November 5, 2012

Peace After the Storm

Although I consider myself a spiritual person, I have not been a big churchgoer in quite some time. So it was with some reluctance that I found myself shuffling into 9:00 Mass alongside my husband and my mother- and father-in-law. 

I was exhausted. It had been six days since we’d lost power during Hurricane Sandy. Six days since I slept in my own bed. Six days of anxiety about how to keep my business up and running, how to keep my food from spoiling, how to heat my home, how to get my husband’s elderly parents safely out of their powerless home and back, how to avoid gas lines, how to find lodging for our dog, how to make sure all our devices were charged so we could stay connected to family and friends. For every solution, there were three more problems. And I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep since the week before Halloween.

Still, every time I started feeling sorry for myself, I would remember all those who had it a thousand times worse. Who had lost everything and were struggling to stay warm and nourished. Then I would feel guilty. It was a no-win situation. A constant battle between my ears. And usually the “committee meeting” to discuss this would take place in the middle of the night.

This morning I was especially exhausted. I’d spent a half hour crying, followed by a half hour taking a walk down to the now-placid bay to try to clear my head and get some much-needed fresh air, sunshine and exercise. But still I felt like someone had turned on a giant fog machine in my brain. I took my seat in the unusually crowded church and began a half-hearted “Go ahead, make my day” prayer. I didn’t really want to be here, but seeing as how I was, I figured I might as well stay open to some kind of message. Any kind of message. Oh, how I needed a message!

There was a children’s folk group tuning up at the side of the church, and I thought back to my teens and early 20s when my dad and I enjoyed playing music together at our parish folk Mass. He passed away in 2004, but I’ve always felt he’s watching over me, especially in times of crisis. It might not hurt to say a few words to Dad right about now. “Hey, Dad, about that message … God might be a little busy, but maybe you’ve got a minute …”

The service was especially long and boring. The music, which I usually enjoy, seemed to go on and on, and it all sounded exactly the same: like a dirge. The one bright spot was that it was a children’s Mass, and the priest invited the kids up to the altar after the sermon for a Q&A that gave us a few much-needed chuckles. The Gospel message was that loving one another was the most important commandment. Was that the message? Take the focus off myself and move it onto others, especially in this time of need? That felt right, but not quite “it.” 

Still I waited. 

After Communion, I checked my iPhone. We’d been here an hour and a quarter already. I might have dozed off at one point. It really was time to go. Clearly no burning bush would be coming to me today. Figured as much. That was magical thinking anyway. The priest gave the final blessing. Everyone started putting on their coats. I thought to myself ‘I really hope we don’t sit here through the final song. Enough already with the music. No one will think any less of us if we slip out a bit early.’

And then I heard the first notes of “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and my racing thoughts stopped abruptly. This was the song that used to be my big “solo” at the folk Mass, with my dad accompanying me on the guitar. I remembered his encouraging smile when I got to the part that tested my vocal abilities, and the satisfaction I felt when I hit the high notes successfully and drew approval from the congregation as well as from him. And I knew. This was my message. Let there be peace. You can hit the high notes. You can get through this. I’m still with you and it will be okay.

The fog lifted. The exhaustion, though still there, didn’t seem quite so bad. We decided to go home right after lunch and prepare for another cold night and the work week ahead. Put one foot in front of the other and trust that all would be well. 

Once aboard the ferry, we called our home phone, hoping the answering machine would pick up, signaling that the electricity had been turned on. It just kept ringing. As we debarked and hit the highway, we discussed how to best prepare in the fast-approaching darkness: fire up the generator, bring in wood for the fireplace, test the space heater, put the cooler on the deck, grab some extra blankets from the cedar closet. Back in Milford, we noticed a couple of traffic lights working that had been dark yesterday. And the turn signal was functioning again. That was a good sign.

Then, as we rounded our corner, there was the welcome sight of our front light on! The work crews stood across the street; they had just finished the job. I let out a war whoop and started to cry! Power had returned. In so many ways. 

Let there be peace on earth. Thank you, Daddy.

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