The odd thing was that just a moment earlier I had driven into a quiet patch where the rain had stopped and the air was still.
I flicked off my windscreen wipers and drove into a side street.
The next moment, in a blast from the skies, my little car was being pelted with the fiercest, densest rain I have ever known. The torrent was loaded with bullets of hail. Lightning flashed all around. Visibility was erased.
I could see no shelter. I passed a car that had stopped, with its emergency lights on. At the top of the hill, where I needed to turn onto the main road, a bus had stopped. Even a bus!
What could I do? What would you do?
We always learn a lot about ourselves in such moments. Surprisingly, I was alarmed but not afraid. I went into high alert. My focus became directed at one thing: getting home.
A phrase popped into my mind:
If you can drive into a storm, you can also drive out of it.
Home was not far away and the surface water was rapidly increasing. I drove on, made a right turn, and soon entered the gates of home and the shelter of the carport.
Nature will always deliver storms
Some you will see coming, and some you won’t.
How do you deal with those events that crash into your unsuspecting world, changing you forever — like storms, or going into Lockdown because of a pandemic?
It’s human nature to cast around for ‘if only’ or ‘why didn’t I?’ as we go into a kind of backwards negotiation process, to unravel ourselves from the finality of the event.
It’s human nature to try and resume control as if there were something we could do to prevent what Shakespeare called ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. And so we inflict the ‘second arrow’ of making ourselves wrong for not preventing the event.
After my mother died a natural and timely death, I remember my dear father berating himself with ‘if only I could have got her to eat.’
As if we might control life
In the South Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand where the climate is harsh, the people are known for their resilience, especially the farmers, who deal with floods, snowstorms, power cuts, danger from the elements, and animal rescue in all weathers. They often laugh at the North Islanders for being “softies.”
Maori came to New Zealand from the warm Pacific Islands to a much colder land, where many of their crops wouldn’t grow. They had to adapt quickly or die. They learned the art of storage so that the kumara crop could survive a seasonal cycle. In underground pits – rua – the kumara tubers were carefully placed on bracken or brush and lifted out to feed the community over the months to come.
What is the quality I’m talking about with these examples? It’s resilience. One way to develop resilience is by learning to ‘store’ the good times. Another is by going out into nature and braving the elements through all weathers and all seasons.
Seedlings grow stronger when subjected to wind at an early tender stage in their growth. Children, exposed to bacteria develop their immune systems.
We cannot control life. It will deliver stinging storms as surely as it delivers the serenity of autumn, or the fragrance of spring. But we can build resilience by engaging with nature’s rhythms and letting go of the judgement that the only good day is a fine day.
Of course, it helps to have a safe shelter to come home to, when all we want is warmth, love and safety.
Through the many storms of my life, I’ve learned that at least I can find my way home. I hope you can too.
Grief and resilience live together
― Michelle Obama, Becoming
[disclaimer: In a thunderstorm it is recommended to stop your car & not touch any metal parts. I am not recommending my strategy to others.]
My book Dancing with the Seasons: inspiration and resilience through times of change will give you guidance for storms, setbacks and more.