The telephone rang—our son calling from Indianapolis to say a tornado had been sighted minutes away and was headed in our direction.
All day the wind had been blowing hot and cold, blustering its way across the Midwest. My husband Dave and I had been keeping a weather eye on the heavens. There’d been quite the cosmic argument up there and Somebody had overturned the barbecue grill, set gray-white-black briquettes scudding across the firmament.
We dashed outside (it made sense at the time) to batten the hatches on the chicken coop. We were almost back to the house when the wind took a sudden turn. Heavy rain pummeled us. We nearly tumbled into the basement.
Turning the radio on, we listened to a litany of storm warnings and watches. Our governor had hurried to a homeland security bunker somewhere we learned and was now urging all citizens to take cover, stay alert. It seemed a bit overblown.
But maybe not. About this same time a tornado was tearing through a town the next state over. Dave and I would later look at a news magazine photograph of the devastation. Trees denuded. Landmarks leveled. More than a thousand homes blown away, damaged or destroyed.
Suddenly our lights went out. Radio silence descended. We’d be among the lucky ones; no tornado would strike our little home and power would be restored after 24 hours. Some of our fellow citizens would sit in the dark for a week.
Dave and I lit candles, then darted upstairs to grab crackers and spoons and fill two bowls with the chili we’d had bubbling in the crock pot all day. Before we ate I offered a simple prayer of thanks. “Amen,” we said together. I opened my eyes to see my husband sitting across from me in the flickering light. We smiled to each other. Then he said, “May we always have this much.”
His words caught at me, lodged in my heart. It was one of those moments that even as it unfolded I knew would stick with me for some time to come. One, Dave is a gorgeous man: bright eyes, energetic, a swimmer’s build, kissable lips, cute butt. Two, candlelight was casting a romantic glow on a scene already sharpened with the tang of danger. Three, there was the sentiment itself: gratitude for simple things, awareness of how much we are given, shared pleasure in each other’s company, a present blessing, and hope for the future.
In Dave’s words I hear my wish for all of us in this new year: shelter from the storm, nourishment for the body, comfort in good company. May we always have this much.
And may we nurture the capacity to be grateful for it. There is wisdom, not to mention mental health, in being thankful for small things. A basement. A bowl of chili. Crackers. Candles. We can spend more time feeling happy when we are happy with what we already have, when we look for reasons to be grateful rather than for excuses to growl.
May we nurture also awareness. May we recognize what is going on around and within ourselves, our present blessings. May we listen to the heart and live true to its leanings.
Too, may we surround ourselves with people and projects that add to our experience of life, not sap our energy. May we ourselves be joy-bringers.
Nature is not sentimental; our circumstances can change in a moment and without warning. Our time is short: why spend it chasing after the wind? Rather, let’s choose mindfully to embrace life. In gratitude. And with all the energy we can muster. May we always have this much.
This essay appeared in the January issue of The Community Letter
Photo credit: Dave Malkoff. tornado damage, Washington, Illinois, with modifications to original photo