A storm was coming, but it passed, and she was grateful.
A second storm was coming, but it too passed, and she was grateful still.
A third storm was coming and she thought, it won’t come here. But exactly four years ago today, it did, and she had fallen ill and was sorry to be a burden and grateful to have good friends to help her evacuate and offer her shelter at the last minute.
The storm came, and her office was among its first reported casualties, including all the computers and desks and files, and she was grateful that all her team had been out of the building when the waves took it.
She began to write and to send messages to her friends and neighbors so that they might share news as it emerged, and her messages went viral. And she was grateful to have the outlet.
My dream home is high above the ground, she said, where the storm surge can’t reach it. When I return, I will provide shelter and a meeting place for those who lost their homes. And she was grateful to have bought her dream home so that she could offer this safe place.
The Mayor announced a one-day look ‘n leave, and she hurried home. There she found ten feet of sludge in her lobby and learned the roof had split open over her dream home. She decided to violate the law and stay overnight so she could clean out her friends’ stinky refrigerators before departing again for God knows how long. When a young law enforcement type trolling for looters stopped her after curfew and held a gun to her face, she was grateful to be a white, middle-aged woman driving a Lexus.
She moved with her pets from hotel to hotel, and she was grateful each day to be temporarily unburdened of the normal expectations of normal times.
You are being unrealistic, The Man said. You should quit. We can’t tell you what to do, but we strongly suggest it. She said, I have twenty-seven teammates who agreed to follow my vision when it was only a dream. Now that we are all so vulnerable, I cannot just take what few marbles I have left and walk away. They need me. And I need your support. And The Man said, well you can continue until you run out of resources, but we will not provide you with anything more. We like you, but we think you are foolish and we don’t support your efforts. Follow the rules, don’t ask us for anything, and do not complain to us when you fail. And she was grateful for her own optimism, as well as her own certainty.
The city raised its gates and she hosted a gathering at a local restaurant for her colleagues. How many of you will be going home tonight to the same bed you slept in one month ago? she asked, and only two or three hands of the two hundred in the room went up. That night they laughed and cried and yelled and bitched and hugged and shook their collective fists at the moon, and they all knew that no one outside their experience would ever understand. And she was grateful to have been among them there, if only for one night.
You have insurance, the adjustor said, but not the right kind to cover the types of damages you’ve suffered. There’s no way you could have known, but I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do for you. That’s right, said FEMA, you don’t qualify for any of our programs. True, said TWIA. If only you had been a renter, we could have given you money to reimburse your expenses and a per diem to help you survive. And she was grateful to have friends who offered their vacation home for a month, and others who brought her groceries, not to mention the sausage sandwiches they were giving out in the Kroger parking lot.
A month later, it was time to go. My friends need their home back, she thought. Where will I go? And there was a knock on the door and the Queen of Her Business said, my family and I have discussed it and we have agreed that you should have our home in the country for as many months as you need it. And she was grateful for still waters that run deep where you least expect them.
The place was four hours away, and she was grateful for the time to think and to sing aloud as she drove, and the solitude in which to write while she was there.
We have repaired your dream home, they told her in late November, but to continue living in it, you will have to pay a five-figure assessment to accommodate the insurance deductibles of the building. You will also have to pay thousands of dollars in back HOA dues and utilities and increased insurance premiums. By the way, all the fees are going up. And she was grateful to be home and to have someplace to invite all the storm orphans to have Thanksgiving together that year.
We need to help each other, an acquaintance said after the New Year. I own an old orphanage that I had hoped to save, and you need someplace to live and work. She said, I appreciate the offer, but I am happy living and working in my dream home. And she was grateful to think that things might be getting back to normal.
Thank you for sending us the last of your savings, the mortgage company told her the next month. Now get out. No, we won’t defer three months’ payments like we said we would. From where we sit, you are not a candidate for loan restructuring. You are unemployed or worse, self-employed in a devastated industry. We don’t care that there was a killer hurricane where you live and that your business washed away and that you have run through your 401(k) trying to hold on to your dream home while also trying to help your team survive. We don’t care about the teammate whose ex-husband is using the storm as an excuse to win custody of her children. We don’t care about the two teammates with cancer. We don’t care about the teammate who committed suicide on New Year’s Eve. We don’t care about the teammates who stayed for the storm and are now likely suffering post traumatic stress. We don’t care about the teammates who lost everything and are living in hotels and trailers. We don’t care that you are all trying to rebuild your community, literally. We don’t care that none of you have any foreseeable prospects. We don’t care about all the other wolves at your door. We don’t care. We don’t care. We don’t care. Get out. And she was grateful for the friend with the orphanage.
Living and working in the nine thousand square foot Greek Revival children’s home, she joked that she had twenty-seven roommates. And she was grateful to appreciate irony.
An old crush appeared and became a New Love. And she was grateful to learn that you’re never too old.
We’ve been sending you letters, the repo man said. You didn’t reply. I haven’t had mail delivered in seven months, she said. There was a hurricane, you may have heard. Doesn’t matter, he said. You can bring the back payment plus a zillion dollars in penalties to this address. He drove away from the orphanage with her Lexus. And she was grateful there weren’t a hundred people standing around watching at that moment.
What am I going to do? she asked the Universe. I can’t afford all the penalties needed to get my car back, and I have no money and no credit to buy a new car with. Her friend said, my daughter just got a job that comes with a company car. If you make her payments for her, I’m sure she’ll let you drive her old car as long as you want to. And she was grateful for good friends and cosmic arrangements.
They invited others into the orphanage to hold soup benefits for the poor and weddings for the betrothed, and they held classes to teach each other how to survive. City Council congratulated her and her friend on the great example of collaboration after the storm they had set, the newspaper reported on how well they were doing in the orphanage, and The Man said, good thing We did this. And she was grateful that she didn’t believe in firearms.
They made just enough money to pay the rent and the power bills and to help each other when they needed it. Then there were twenty-seven, then twenty, then seventeen, then twelve. And she was grateful to have stayed, even as their numbers dwindled.
Her New Love said, I’m going to have to leave soon to pursue my mission, which is a thousand miles away. It will be hard, but you have survived much worse. And she was grateful for whatever time together they had.
On the first anniversary of the storm, her friend said, I cannot keep the orphanage any longer. It is time to let go. And she knew, too, that it was time to let the team go. They said goodbye. And she was grateful to have known each of them.
The Man said, I told you so. And she was grateful to be rid of him.
Where will I live? she asked. I have stayed in seven different places since I evacuated. I have no credit, no job, and I have pets! So she set out to find a small apartment where she hoped to talk the landlord into taking a chance on her. She looked and looked and looked all day at every small place to let until she chanced on a sign out front of an antebellum mansion. There must be quarters out back or an apartment inside, she thought as she let herself in. The mansion, in fact, was not as large as it looked, but was beyond any beauty in her wildest imagination. She called the agent and said, I have no credit, no job, and I also have four pets. No pets, said the agent, and he hung up. Five minutes later, he called back. I told the landlord that you had no credit, no job, and four pets, and he said yes, he said. And she was grateful for the landlord, the agent, and both their mothers!
For another year, she worked at multiple jobs and cleaned up more of the seemingly endless messes the storm had left. And people called and said, we watched what you did and read what you wrote after the storm, and you are the person we want to trust our business to. And she was grateful for her decision to speak aloud.
Her new home served as a meeting place and a gathering hall for parties and benefits and classes, just as the orphanage had. And she was grateful to be able to fling wide its doors and bring lots of life and light into the old house.
She found a small theatre and wanted to join. She auditioned and auditioned and auditioned and was finally granted a part, the part of an incurably optimistic woman jumping for joy in the face of incessant bad news. And she was grateful to be back in touch with the art that had been her first love and to be surrounded by people she really did understand.
On the second anniversary of the storm, even as a few old messes were still being mopped up, she began a new business. And some of the teammates from before and others who had watched her lead came out of the woodwork and said, we would like to join you. And she was grateful for second chances for them all.
She learned that her dream home, the one that the mortgage company wouldn’t work with her to keep, the one that had sat empty for a year and a half after they threw her out, had sold for twenty-nine cents on the dollar. And she was grateful for the exquisite place she now called home and the landlord she called her guardian angel.
Her brother, whom she had barely seen since high school, began to communicate with her, and they became friends again. And she was grateful to have him back.
During Advent of that second year, she began counting miracles. She remembered the woman who had volunteered to do her company books and another who agreed to coach her for a year after the storm. She remembered the gentleman who had supported and sponsored all of her training sessions and continued to do so. She remembered the lady who had paid to send her team to Orlando and the groups that adopted her teammates to help with their specific needs. She remembered her superstar friend who donated her time and expertise to teach a class that over a hundred locals showed up for. She thought of the old colleagues who sent her writing work so she could pay some bills. She thought of the strangers who had offered truckloads of donations for anyone who needed them and the clothing drives that followed. She remembered helping with the fly-over of the West End and the raw sound of people’s voices on the headset as they saw their homes or what was left of them for the first time. She thought of the countless folks who had fixed and fetched and toted and donated and cooked and printed and patched and mended and delivered things. She remembered the ching of small change against the glass of the pitcher in the front hall of the orphanage where people would empty their pockets every time they entered the building. She counted the miracles that were still happening all around her. And she was grateful.
As the fourth anniversary of the storm approached, she awoke in a new city, with a new job and a new life. Everything changed that day, she thought. The Universe took the life I’d made, and swept it out to sea. She hoped her friends knew how much she missed them and that her town understood she hadn’t meant to abandon it. She remembered that missing someone or something means you’ve loved them, and that love doesn’t die.
And she was grateful.
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands. – e.e. cummings