Birds weather storms better than people do. It may be counter-intuitive, but it’s a fact thatbirds are amazingly well equipped to handle the worst that nature can throw at them. In fact, thanks to a lot of good, new research with satellite tracking devices, scientists are concluding that birds are experts at managing extreme weather. They skirt around gale-force winds, and auto-adjust when blown off course. There’s even evidence that birds use storms to propel themselves faster than they’d be able to fly on their own. Of course, not every bird navigates storms perfectly. Birders will tell you there’s a greater chance of seeing rarities after a storm – birds who get blown off course and land somewhere they’re not normally seen. But even these wanderers eventually get back on track after a short stop-over. It’s not storms that kill thousands of birds every year, it’s oil spills and other man-made obstacles that get in their way. We get in our own way too.
The third anniversary of Hurricane Sandy is fast approaching and we’re just now hearing of another storm looming on the horizon. The Governor has declared a state of emergency. People are on edge. We’ve not yet recovered from the first storm, so the thought of another is almost unbearable. That is the way it is with trauma. Even when things seem to get a little easier, even when we make positive progress on the road to recovery, trauma can circle back to take another whack at you from a different angle.
The anniversary of the storm has me thinking about the past three years and the storms I’ve encountered in my life. The word that comes to mind is “disruption.” It’s been mostly self-induced disruption – storm recovery work, leaving the pastorate, trying to sell the house in Little Egg, moving to Pennington, a new job, an accident — these are the macro disruptions, but there are dozens more at the micro level. I thought the changes in my life originated at a pastor’s conference near San Antonio two years ago. The purpose of the conference was to provide time and space for pastors to take account of their lives in four major areas: vocational health, physical health, spiritual health and financial health. We crafted detailed plans around the vision and the goals we set for ourselves. Looking back on it, I wonder how much of the plan I devised contained the trauma of the storm that I had lived through a year before. Perhaps it was imbedded in the plan from the beginning. Storms are disruptive. This season of my life has felt disrupted. I am not weathering the storm as heartily as the birds do.
Three weeks ago, I flipped my Prius on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I don’t remember much about the accident, except that I was driving along with traffic and I saw bright brake lights ahead of me. The next thing I remember is tumbling over and landing upside down, hanging from the seatbelt. I was able to let myself down and I crawled out of the car into the glass on the pavement. In the emergency room I was x-rayed and released. I had bruises and abrasions, but nothing life-threatening. The crash was so violent that I could have been seriously injured or even killed, but I was just tossed about. Shaken, but intact.
I returned to work at Starbucks three days later. Still in training, it was the day I learned how to make cold bar drinks — mostly frappucinos. Everything hurt: reaching for the cup, pumping the espresso, adding the syrup, lifting the milk, securing the lid on the blender. My neck, collar bone and shoulder screamed in objection to every movement. I winced every time I pushed the button and watched the cyclone whip-up a rich, thick shake. A mini-storm in a blender. I persevered for another week. Ten days after the accident, as I turned on the shower at 3:45 in the morning to get to Starbucks for my 4:30 shift, I had a moment of clarity. The clouds parted and the truth hit me like a neon sign. I thought to myself, “What the @*&# am I doing?” Starbucks was not a fit. There are far easier and likely more rewarding ways to do coffee-house ministry. It was a good experiment and I learned what I needed to know: I’m not barista material. No sense in prolonging the agony. I thanked the manager and handed in my green apron. And the storm began to subside, just a little bit.
My new plan/vision/goal is for a season of peace and calm. Smooth sailing with light breezes and easy currents. No waves, no spray, no cyclones…just bobbing along, going with the flow. There’s a lot to learn from the birds in the midst of the storm. Perhaps the most important is this: don't fight it. Let it take you where it will. You can always correct the course later, or you can learn to live where it lands you. Stop struggling. Lay it down.