Safe in the arms of….my neighbor’s crawl space?

29 May

 Waking up this morning, well, every morning since the storms that were forecasted to be the most dangerous seen in the last 15 years, I’ve felt such a sense of gratitude. I have to share it with you.

Tuesday night all the  news could talk about was the severe weather we were supposed to get the following day. The tragedy in Joplin had occurred, and I was hoping that everyone was taking the warnings seriously.  A month ago the enormous oak tree that could have obliterated my house was ripped out of my back yard. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such helplessness.

So with the storms expected to begin rolling through on Wed afternoon, I had planned on coming home a little earlier than usual.  I got home around 5pm and started preparing the best way I knew how.

I have a crawl space in my garage, and while I had previously hunkered down in the bathtub of a small interior bathroom when the storm sirens would shreak their way to my home, I decided that as bad as they were describing these storms could be, and the possible tornadoes that could rip through, I needed to  be safer.

I swept the cobwebs away from the crawl space cover and around the outer edges. Lying a blanket down and getting inside to ensure that I could fit, I also drug a radio inside and put my flashlight and water in the corner. Racking my brain for other things I might need, I felt pretty good about my decision to get the “shelter” ready.

As I answered emails on my laptop, watching the updated weather forecasts, the time of arrival was announced and descriptions of the destruction in the wake of the wall of storms had me feeling very antsy. My doorbell rang and I flew off the couch!

My neighbor, whom I had never met but saw in his yard often, was at the door.

“Hi. I’m Kenny. We’ve got our crawl space all ready to go, and the storms are supposed to hit us soon. You should come over and we can go through this together. My daughter’s coming home early from work, and we’re all just waiting over there. C’mon over. You can have a Coke.” 

He could not have missed the progressive relaxation of every muscle of my body. Had I been attached to an EKG alarms would likely have sounded with the huge change that occurred in the speed of my heart rhythms.

I held back tears and screeched out a “thank you. That’s very kind of you.”

Now, those of you who know me well understand my reluctance to “burden” others. This is what I felt immediately. Then I felt a bit strange, like I should be able to take care of myself. Then I went through this odd, uncomfortable, vulnerable, weak, why-can’t-you-hold-yourself-together moment. Then I couldn’t believe I had let a year pass since I had bought this house and had not even walked across the street to meet the neighbors. Then I packed my laptop in my computer bag, grabbed some water, shoved a flashlight and batteries in my purse, excavated my brain as best I could to unearth if there was ANYTHING else I’d need immediately should my home be ripped off its foundation…..and I made my way across the street.

Kenny’s wife met me halfway down the driveway and enveloped me in a warm, nurturing hug. “Come on in, sweetie. This is scary. I’m glad you came over.”

Tears.

Again.

And somehow I squeaked out of my swollen throat, “Thank you.”

Inside they had the television tuned to the local channel broadcasting the weather. I met the youngest son, the one who I always saw outside mowing their law, washing the cars, and so many times had thought, “Wow, what a responsible kid” about. He didn’t disappoint me with his polite, easy-going, friendly demeanor.  I met both daughters, one who had just graduated from college and another who was eagerly texting away on her cell phone but was inviting and gave me a big smile. I was given a tour of their home, offered food, and I sat on the couch before we decided it was time to make our way to the crawl space reeling in what I felt like was the Twilight Zone.

Was I really here, among this family, unrelated but feeling like I’d just come home?

Six of us crawled and shimmied our ways in single file fashion to the back of the narrow space. In a line we sat, knees folded close to our bodies but relatively comfortably, waiting out the storm. We could hear the wind outside, the radio announcing the storm’s path. And we chatted about normal things….our new phones, my job, they were interested in what I do, the other neighbors, the guitar lessons I and the young boy were taking.

In the midst of what was destructive outside, I felt safe, connected, loved, and thankful on the inside.  Crammed in a tiny space with strangers, but not strangers. They had taken me in like I was family, and that is exactly how I felt with them.

As we heard the radio announcer state that the storm had passed, we moved back into the living room, our eyes on the tv to  be sure that there wouldn’t be another round. But two hours later I was still there, and we were laughing and carrying on. We were all wilting though from the excitement and anxiety of the evening, and I prepared to leave.

Again I was embraced and told to never hesitate to ask for anything I needed.

Why does it take something monumental….the possibility of death, destruction, fear…..to bring people together? 

No more, I thought. I’ve committed to reaching out. Being more generous. Smiling at those who I don’t know. Asking for help.

We have so much to offer each other, and it’s easy to get locked in the minutiae of our own lives, going through the motions, and not taking the time to recognize how truly important connection with others is.

What will you do today, tomorrow, this week to reach out? The love I felt in that crawl space is what I aim to create in my heart.

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