Things Happen; That’s All They Ever Do

“Come upstairs!”

Maggie, Elsie and I dashed from the sun room.

I heard it as I leapt up the stairs two at a time: the unmistakable, high-pitched, steady-yet-disconcerting iPhone Alert.

Though the girls and I were racing from one window-filled room to another as a vicious thunderstorm ripped through Wilmington, the implications of the alert didn’t register. It didn’t occur to me that we were in harms way.

The four of us stood together in the enclosed patio on the second floor, marveling at the drama outside.

“Look at that tree!” Abbi said as a nearby 100-year-old oak bent like a ballerina.

Lightning flashed.

“The wind is blowing the rain into frothy waves!” Maggie said.

Windows bowed.

“I’m a little scared,” Elsie said.

Thunder rolled.

It was beautiful. And awesome.

And by sundown, it was well out to sea. I stepped outside to remove the larger limbs from the street, and spotted a rainbow. I called the girls. We stood there in the center of the street until the sky turned pink.

In the morning, as Maggie and Elsie relished their two hours of approved screen time (“Star Wars Rebels,” always), Abbi announced, “At 8:30 we’re going outside to clean the yard.”

At 8:29 (as if Abbi knew!), The City approached: a foreman’s pickup truck, an apple picker, wood chipper, guys with hard hats, orange vests and brooms.

By 8:30, we were combing the yard for debris together. I raked the street, gathered sticks from the neighbor’s yards, and then climbed onto the roof to clip rogue limbs.

All the while, the gentlemen of Wilmington’s Department of Public Works lent a hand, and a smile. One complimented Elsie’s raking skills. She beamed. I flushed with pride.

Meantime, I had a 10am appointment with my neighborhood bike shop, Garrison’s. I set out sometime after 9:30, and headed northwest.

A few blocks past the girls’ school, a massive, freshly felled pine tree blocked Route 52 — a four laner connecting Wilmington to Kennett Square. Delmarva Power & Light was just arriving. Cars u-turned. I threaded my way through the debris on my new Cannondale.

A few hundred yards past my in-law’s — the home in which Abbi, Maggie, Elsie and I lived for ten months until this April — telephone poles were snapped like twigs. Wires were jumbled, snagged and tangled amongst massive, tipped trees. Fences were shattered. Homeowners milled about, stunned. Cars slowed, stopped, and turned. I threaded my way through the debris.

For eleven minutes, we came to learn, an EF1 tornado ravished the Delaware countryside. Winds topped 105 miles per hour. An inch of rain fell in one minute. Hundreds of trees were toppled. 14,000 households lost power.

The hurricane’s path ended just four blocks northeast of our new home.

While Abbi, Maggie, Elsie and I were running upstairs, most Delawareans were running down.

Pedaling onward, the debris continued, diminished. Less than a mile from the bike shop, a branch swept into my cranks.

I kept pedaling.

It wedged in the spokes, then tore the rear derailleur clean from the bike. In an instant, the chain and derailleur jammed into my spokes. The bike stopped abruptly, then — stuck in my clips — I tumbled over into the mud.

As I walked my hobbled bike up the hill, humiliated, I was struck again by how quickly, frequently and unexpectedly things happen.

Tornados. Pandemics. Presidents.

Things happen; that’s all they ever do.

And so we are flooded with uncertainty. Will the economy collapse? Will we return to school? Will I get sick?

And we do not respond well. We perceive uncertainty as danger. We establish routines, systems, and processes to countervail. We speak with confidence on topics over which we exert no control: weather, economy, viruses. Relationships. Derailleurs.

But thing happen; that’s all they ever do.

So what happens if we get comfortable with that reality? What happens when we welcome uncertainty? Surf it like a wave? Run upstairs when everyone else runs down?