I have shelf-top cabinets and vaulted ceilings in my kitchen. On the highest wall the space between the cabinet top and the ceiling’s surface seems vast and open, so shortly after I moved in I purchased two obscure members of the philodendron family to grace that lofty margin. They grew, not in viney tendrils like the hanging philodendrons you see in offices with their leaves grazing the floor, but in long graceful stalks with huge heartshaped leaves on the ends. The plants flourished under the morning sun pouring in through the skylight, their long arms reaching up to the light. They grew so heartily that I had to stake them to keep them from toppling, and occasionally long stalks would grow at a downward angle, catching the cabinet doors and getting caught among the mugs and glasses.
Last night, with a skillet full of squash and zucchini on one burner and a skillet full of chicken, onions, garlic and peppers on another, I hurried to put away clean dishes from the dishwasher before dinner. In what I can only describe as a freakish blur of events, I opened the glassware cabinet, stashed a mug, moved aside a rogue leaf from the plant above, and closed the cabinet, and then I was covered in black potting soil and one of my philodendrons lay broken at my now blackened feet.
Dirt was everywhere–in the coffee maker, on my recently showered skin and hair, in the sink, on the freshly mopped linoleum. In the skillet of squash and zucchini. I was immobilized by the scene. I put my hands over my face, screamed “ohmygodohmygod” a number of times, and then cried for several minutes. It was not a pretty sight.
Later, when the plant had been carried to the front porch and the dirt had been swept from the counters and then from the floor, when feet and hands were cleaned and the squash and zucchini rinsed and repositioned in the skillet, it occurred to me that I should have taken a picture to accompany what will likely be an oft-told story. Photography was, of course, the last thing on my mind at the time. I don’t handle chaos well. I find it difficult to watch others experience it. I certainly would never think of preserving it. For that reason I have avoided the television news this weekend, all week in fact. But the online news photos of Katrina’s destruction are unavoidable, and they haunt me: bodies floating in flood swells, naked children, hollow eyes and sallow starving faces. Who is taking these pictures, and how are they sleeping at night? Perhaps they aren’t.
Avoiding the constant news updates has not caused me to forget the reality of the situation, and I am struck silent, introspective, and am feeling a little hollow myself. I have wandered around my house all day in silence, reading and drinking tea, absentmindedly stroking the cat when he leaps into my lap, staring for long periods of time out the sliding door and through the screened porch. I try to imagine what 12 or 15 or 20 feet of water would look like, try to calculate the height of my neighbor’s house, consider how I would protect myself and my animals should the likes of Noah’s flood rush my quiet street. I cannot conceive of any of it. I walk around and study what is mine, all the treasures of my life, the treasure that is my life, and I am grateful, even though I know, though only from observation, that life can be quite tenuous. The whole world can change in a second. For now my seconds are full of grace and peace and a normalcy I will try to remember not to complain about weeks and months from now when I am bored and restless. For now I thank God I know where to find all the people I love, that I can assure myself with a simple phone call that they are safe. For now I am grateful that I need only a rag and a broom and a dustpan to clean up the chaos in my life.
Today I am reminded that I’m one of the fortunate ones. If you’re reading this, so are you. I wonder, what will we do with our great fortune?