After the Storm

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There are pearly gray mornings like this—after a storm—that you wake up feeling thoughtful.

Sitting at the kitchen table I grew up around, looking out on the backyard I played in, the hill I sledded down, the creek I looked for “crawdads” in . . . and thinking about how the world is different this morning for so many people, I can’t help but feel lucky–and also determined.  Mornings like these give me a deep sense of responsibility for living the life I have been given.

The reason for my visit to my hometown (other than plain old love for my family) is that my dear dad had knee replacement surgery 10 days ago.  Dad isn’t exactly a spring chicken, so to speak, but I never remember thinking so deeply about his age until I’ve watched him over the last few years struggle manfully through the incredible pain of an act as simple as walking.  He’s the “hero” type—he never wants anyone to know how much it hurts, so when he DOES let you see it, you know it’s real, it’s serious, and it’s intense.  His hair is whiter and the lines on his brow are deeper because of this pain, and it hurt us to see him like that.

We’ve known for a while that this was the inevitable next step.  That next step was considerably hastened when he woke up a few weeks ago completely unable to put weight on his knees at all.

Mom sent me a picture of him after his surgery, with the caption “I can’t believe how he great he looks—10 years younger”, and I saw it too.  The lines had relaxed.  His eyes were open wider.  It was a miracle to see that after having his knee basically torn apart and put back together, he was experiencing his first moments free of pain in YEARS.

Then, of course, came the pain of rehab.  Again, my father has been dutifully doing all of his exercises every day, using a walker to travel from the recliner where he spends most of his day to the kitchen three times a day for meals and exercise.  For a few hours a day, his leg is strapped into “THE MACHINE” (I never hear that without thinking about The Princess Bride), which bends and moves it ever so slowly, increasing his range of motion a mere 5 to 10 degrees a day.  My mom brings him food, changes his bandages, does the steady work of nursing and waiting and helping.  My grandpa walks down the street and sits with him.  And he’s doing so well.  The hero’s stubborn independence is useful for processes like these.  The lines of pain are back too, but they are different—somehow they say to me, his daughter, “I know this pain is for a purpose.  This pain will lead me to the other side of the old pain.”

Sometimes the world seems too full of tragedy to truly comprehend.  Wars, economic devastation, violence—but so often we have a “villain” to blame, even when we can’t agree on who the villain is.  Humans like that.  We like to assign responsibility to someone.

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But when the tragedy is due to “natural” elements, it feels different.  I think sometimes it’s almost harder.  Last night, my mom and I sat together watching the coverage of Oklahoma, and I saw her eyes well up at the pictures of Plaza Towers Elementary.  We watched a flashing weather map of our area covered in tornado watches and heard the torrential rain start outside as the line of storms reached our area.  My half-sister texted, suggesting we call my uncles to help carry my dad down to our basement.  And I started thinking about whether my mom and I, by ourselves, could carry a gravely injured 6-foot tall man down a set of stairs.  I decided that people can do extraordinary things when they have to, and that yes, we could.  It didn’t end up becoming necessary.  We all went to bed and when we woke up, the world was washed clean.

But the world isn’t clean today for so many people.  My heart breaks for people waking up without a home, without a neighborhood, and worst of all without their child.  There are tangible ways we can help, of course, and tangible ways that we should help.

But what I keep going back to, sitting at the kitchen table I grew up around, is that we honor victims of tragedy, we honor victims of hardship, we honor OURSELVES, by living life every day with a deep sense of responsibility to ourselves and the world.  We fight through the pain, and when it’s too much, we ask for help.  We carry those that need to be carried. We reach out as often as possible.  We endeavor to choose joy and lightness and adventure when darkness and lethargy is easier to sink into.  “Life is short” may be a cliché, but clichés tend to ring true on days like today.  Life is short.  Life is precious.  Life is worth it.

Casey Clark