Friday, September 2, 2011

After the Flood




Is there a better day than the one that follows a hurricane? I mean, of course, granting we’ve been spared any serious losses. No trees have fallen on the house, no roofs have been blow off, no floods have washed through the basement (or worse), and – thanks be to dumb luck – the power is still on. Since, for many, it wasn’t.
Granted all these dispensations, the day after a near natural disaster is as sweet as a day can be. And the days that followed this week extended our good fortune.
After a big, ballyhooed weather disaster, we have all become a little bit like Noah and his extended family, chosen to ride out the flood in safety. Our arks have sailed on the roiled waters of TV images of watery and gale force destruction, dire forecasts, battered expectations, surges of desperate rhetoric, tidal flows of bad tidings – and now, some hours or days of forced idleness later, we have come through.
Our dove returns with a green sprig in his mouth. Our arc settles on Mount Ararat. We find ourselves in a cleansed and sanctified place – all rough weather, darkness, and humidity blown away
No crystal shines clearer than this day. The air is dry and the rain water swallowed deeply by the earth. Leaf and flower gleams with satisfaction.
We look about for signs of the change, and what do we see? A few blooms on the seasonal shrubs. We see a white Rose of Sharon. This name, I learn, first appeared in the King James Version of the English Bible, likely as a mistranslation of a Hebrew word for crocus. The word “Sharon” comes from the name given to a coastal plain bordering the Mediterranean Sea. An invented name for a flower which has pleased generations ever since, the Rose of Sharon first bloomed literarily in a translation of the Song of Solomon.
When we plant, look at, admire, or otherwise reference this common English shrub, we are evoking the ancient notion of a “holy land.”
Words preserve old ideas in a language carried from generation to generation, even after we forget their origins. But those origins tell us something. Do we not all live in a holy land?
After the flood, the earth is cleansed and restored. In eastern Massachusetts we just had a little dust-up of wind and rain, of course. No transformational catastrophe. But for a time we suffered the loss of resources, of pleasures, we might ordinarily enjoy. We stayed indoors, kept out of the rain, watched wind blow, reacted to the bigger gusts. We lost a summer Sunday; some a whole weekend. Maybe we worried a little, or reflected on our shortcomings.
But look! we have come through (to quote D.H. Lawrence’s book of poems). The world has given itself back to us.
It glows. Is there anything more beautiful than perfected sunlight? It is the father of delight. In its embrace the earth reveals its beauty.
I’m not Jewish but my wife is, so I have learned to regard the coming month as a sacred season, in which the “high holidays” approach. And oh, yes, the holy month of Ramadan has just concluded as well. Eid Mubarak!
I look at the world and I answer my own question. We live in a holy place.