Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 10:52 a.m.
When I awakened this morning, halfway across the country, I suppose I was somewhat prepared for more news of tragedy in Moore, Okla.
Sometimes it strikes me as useless all the times my social-media feeds ask me to pray for someone or something I don’t know. “Every little bit helps,” I’m told, but I’m conscious of how little sway I justly hold with the Almighty whose responsibility stretches across the needs of billions on this wretched planet alone. I reserve my prayers for those I know, love, respect and admire. I feel as if all I can manage is compassion for my little corner of the world.
And forgiveness. I ask a lot for forgiveness.
I only know a few Oklahomans. This awful tornado doesn’t touch me personally, or does it? Seeing all these teachers, firefighters, policemen (and women), daddies and mamas does affect me because they are fellow citizens, however distant, of this dysfunctional community of human beings. Each night I offer general prayers for the righteousness of my country and the success of its president. I guess I should rightly include a general request for mercy on behalf of all the innocent victims of the world’s disasters.
So I did.
As is usually the case, I had gone to sleep with the TV on. At about 5 a.m., I briefly awakened, and there, harsh and ubiquitous, was the latest footage from Moore. I sat on the side of the bed for a moment, squinted at the screen, and two items came to mind. The first was a sermon I first read in high school, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” by the Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards. It wasn’t the content of Edwards’ sermon that grabbed me, but, rather, the title and the imagery of innocents, not sinners, being buffeted about in the fierce swirl of the tornado.
“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is perhaps the ultimate hellfire-and-brimstone sermon. The Puritan’s concept of God doesn’t jive with mine. I see God as loving, not wrathful. But anyone who ever read it thinks of it from time to time, I think, if for no other reason the ferocity it conjures up.
The second was the opening of a song I wrote two winters ago, “The Paved Road,” which was named because, at the time, I couldn’t get to one. An unexpected snowfall left my vehicles trapped in the yard. Without much else to do – electricity out, house getting colder – I wrote the song. Its words are excerpted below:
The first thing that I saw / When I woke up this morning /Was bad news on the TV I left on the night before …
… Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hoping I can get / To the paved road …
… Like any man I yearn / For some measure of fulfillment / My ambition stretches far beyond / Just paying all the bills / When I wonder how the hell / I can make my fortune / My life’s nestled in a valley / Surrounded by hills
Here’s the whole song, from Youtube:
I thought about what I would do with this great disaster looming. My house has no basement, no storm cellar. The only “interior room” is sort of a hall where the bathroom, bedroom, office and living room intersect. But what, I thought, if I tried to stagger across the pasture behind the house and take refuge in the wooded ditch there? I could lie flat in its bottom. Perhaps uprooted trees would fall across the top without crushing me. Perhaps I’d drown as howling winds swept rain through the little chasm. Perhaps I’d be trapped there, and how would anyone find me?
I realized I’d be just another sinner in the hands of an angry God. Or an angry tornado, conjured up not by Good but by Evil.
Then I went back to sleep, but I don’t think I would’ve made it if I hadn’t prayed diligently, just for serenity, mercy and calm if nothing else.