Saturday, February 6, 2010

All Things Must Pass

Looking at the snow this morning, I am reminded how all things come and go. We struggle with the snow today, but eventually it will only be a memory. Just as the gentle breezes and green leaves of last summer are now tucked snuggly away in our memories. This too shall pass.

When we lived in Cudjoe Key, we had a small, but very powerful hurricane move through. It only really affected our key and two others, but it wiped us out. I really can’t describe what it looked like, there was a forty foot sail boat on top of one of my neighbor’s house. There was seaweed everywhere. Our next-door neighbor’s roof was on our house and in our yard. A huge dock box was in the middle of our yard. Destroyed homes. Downed palm trees. Nothing looked right even if it wasn’t destroyed. And no words can describe the smell.

As a result of this storm, we had no electricity for seven weeks. For the first two weeks we had no water and no toilets. We were lugging water and after two days we had port-a-potties. The Salvation Army provided ice, sandwiches and some good cheer; they were great and they stayed with us throughout- unlike the Red Cross that left the same day the TV cameras did. It was hot, humid; the mosquitoes were on a feeding rampage. We lived outside, peed outside, washed clothes outside, and got re-acquainted with each other. We bought a large boat cooler and that was our refrigeration. We cooked on our gas grill and ate outside in what was left of the garden, listening to the ocean lapping against the seawall. We had torches for light and they helped keep the mosquitoes at bay along with a few citronella candles. The Milky Way was our companion. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I was amazed at how much light starlight can give.

Our jobs were not affected; Key West did not suffer any lasting damage. The power was out just long enough for the shrimp and ribs in the freezers at Margaritaville to begin to thaw and the owner decided to throw it all out. I found it impossible to just throw out two hundred pounds of shrimp, so I made the executive decision to split it up amongst all of my cooks. We each took home about twenty pounds of shrimp. If my boss had found out it would have cost me my job, but it was criminal to waste food like this. We also split up about a hundred pounds of baby back ribs. (We were eating meat still at this time.)

I cooked up all the shrimp when we got home. I gave away more than half of it to the neighbors that were still there with us- there were only a few of us remaining. We ate the remainder for the next few days. What a feast! The ribs were not thawed out and lasted a few more days on the ice, before we had to cook them.

Here we are in the middle of destruction, sitting in our garden enjoying a veritable feast of shrimp and ribs by candle light sipping cold wine. It was an odd contrast.

We had light from the torches in our immediate area; lighting our table, but much beyond the perimeter of the table was total darkness, made darker from the light of our torches. On one of the first nights after the storm, we were at our table, eating and a car pulled up to our yard. I couldn’t see the car and was unusual because the streets were not really cleared yet, it was still difficult to drive in our neighborhood. And yet, here comes a car and stops! The owner gets out of the car, comes to just beyond our lighted perimeter, and asks if we would like some homemade blueberry wine. Of course, we said yes and he handed us a small jug. We asked him to join us and have some shrimp, he said, “No, no thank you. I should be getting back,” and with that he was gone. Who was that man? We never knew… but the wine was delicious.

And that was the way of this adventure. There was some awful hardships, sleeping indoors at night was difficult, it was so hot. We would stay up playing cards until very late to avoid going to bed. People lost their homes. It was ugly for a year after this storm, perhaps longer. But, today, I don’t think of the difficulties, the ugliness or the smells. What I remember is that jug of homemade blueberry wine, playing cards with my husband, the torches, getting up in the middle of the night, and going outside with my dog and peeing together. I remember the look of happiness on my neighbors’ faces when I gave them a ton of cooked shrimp for their dinner. And when the lights finally did come back on, I felt a deep sense of loss. We never ate in the garden again and it wouldn’t have been the same anyway. It was the total darkness that created the sense of being wrapped in a cocoon, the light form the neighbors’ would have altered the experience. Sometimes it is best to remember it as it was and not try to recreate that which can’t be recreated. Which is why we never go back to a restaurant where we had a fabulous meal, it is never as good the second time.

All things pass. Everything changes and nothing ever stays the same. It is the grasping after our pleasures and pain that cause suffering. It is better to experience it, acknowledge it and bless it for its arrival and then to just let it go.

So, this morning as I looked out on all this snow and the hardships that it brought, what I will remember is snuggling in bed until late, the hot chocolate after being out in the cold shoveling, the Irish oatmeal and homemade biscuits for breakfast. And that is how it should be.
"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." -Albert Camus

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