Well, last night, as I was slipping into bed with the leaf-shifting streetlight pouring in the window through the branches of our Mighty Ent, it hit me: I am really, really scared of tornadoes. The day's relief and puzzlement at our narrow escape from a path of destruction suddenly dissolved into a deeper, more primal terror: Wow, we could be really screwed at any time, in any place, with no warning at all. The helicopter shot of someone's dear little staircase, picture still on the wall, hanging out naked from a half-demolished row house in Bay Ridge, kept flashing onto my tired brain. Why not the CrazyStable? And, of course, What Does It All Mean?
I got a kick out of the fellow who sniped, after yesterday's tornado entry, that there was nothing "blessed" about our having escaped the tree-carnage (and car-carnage) by one block's distance, since God was the one who sent the tornado to start with. My mother, a devout cradle Catholic, was very much given to such observations. She wrestled miserably, not so much with the "problem of evil," as with the problem of senseless misfortune and tragedy, and was particularly annoyed by people who felt that their own little problems had been thrown into perspective by greater sorrows and losses. (Mom was very invested in the gravity of her own little problems.) She was even more annoyed when people (like oh, say, elderly devout Catholic ladies) got sufferings they didn't "deserve." What the hell was God thinking?
My mother semi-solved this problem by cultivating an intense devotion to the Blessed Mother, who was a powerful intercessor but could not be held responsible for really awful events; endless Hail Marys helped her perform a sort of end run around God the Father and his equally ineffectual Son, who dished out earthly justice with such inexplicable carelessness. My Aunt Louie, who wandered from her Southern Protestant roots into every manner of mystic searching in later years, took another tack; in addition to a robust belief in astrology, she playfully adopted a relationship with "Zeus," whose capricious nature left no theological difficulties in understanding the occasional hurled thunderbolt into her life. If her Volkswagen bus broke down in some spectacular manner, as it often would, she would say resignedly that it was "old Zeus sockin' it to me again." She and Zeus had an understanding: Stop Making Sense.
The Gospels, frankly, aren't all that helpful on this old chestnut. There is, of course, Luke 13: 3-5, in which Jesus makes uncanny mention of a particular phobia around here, falling towers:
Talk about mixed messages! This is one of those passages where I console myself that a lot must have been lost in translation. The best I can figure is that everybody's death comes like a falling tower eventually; we're never "ready" to go, and He's saying that we should be. Trees and towers that fall and crush us like bugs are a wake-up call, (I hate wake-up calls that come as I am getting into bed), and the mystery of our lives is finding out who is calling us and what we're waking up to.
Mind you, I am only receptive to strange and complex utterances such as these when they come from resurrected guys who come back from the dead bearing torture scars and telling me they love me unconditionally and will always be with me. And even then, I sometimes need a moment alone with Mary and Zeus.
2. Review house insurance coverage.