One of my favorites. Originally posted to MySpace on:
November 27, 2007:
In 2006, I wrote a four-part essay called “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” the epic account of my living in the path of destruction during two crazy Atlantic hurricane seasons. The essay began with a personal history of the jadedness I had felt toward the power of hurricanes, as most of the storms hitting South Florida from 1976 to 2003 (save for “Andrew”) were letdowns, but segued into a series of mini-essays that showed the respect that hurricanes deserved, according to what the 2004 season forced out of me. In one segment, called “To Shed a Tear,” I lamented the loss of my shed, a childhood relic destroyed by the crippled branch of a backyard Schefflera tree during the three-day onslaught of Hurricane Frances.
That event happened three years ago. Last week, in a surprising turn of events, God used the same tree that destroyed my shed to spare my house from catastrophe.
First of all, before I get into the story, I should mention something that has plagued my heart for years—something that I had escaped at times, but have never fully broken from. I’m in my thirties and I’m living in my mom’s house. Sucks.
I know, the first thought that comes to your mind is Failure to Launch. The first time I saw the ad for the movie, I thought, “Hey, that’s about me.” Who would’ve guessed I’d have something in common with Matthew McConaughy? Well, in real life I suppose nothing. But this nutbag of a character—there’s something.
I’ve tortured myself over this issue, because unlike the character in the movie, who lives at home because he has no ambition to leave, I find myself stuck here. Why? I’ve been out before. Several times. Why do I keep coming back? I don’t want to be here. I like my freedom—prefer it in fact. What brings me back time and time again? What holds me here indefinitely? I’m thirty-one years old; shouldn’t I have the means to escape for good?
Well, there’s the income issue, of course. Sure, I could work sixty hours a week—the standard time required to live in South Florida these days—and forsake my writer’s ambition while I’m at it. But what’s left? After another thirty years, will I be happy that I pissed away my life doing the stuff I hate? Will the extra few bucks a week really make my life worth it? Perhaps living at home and sparing a few extra hours of my time to enjoy life each week (working on the things that do matter to me) is a fair trade.
Such a thought for freedom is inspirational to the aching soul, but the reminder of elusive dreams diminish that temporary joy. What’s left is a husk of a man that claws for a means to fulfill his heart where he can afford the rent.
So, how does that man sleep at night? Well, he doesn’t. He’s writing this essay on three hours’ sleep.
For years I asked myself (and God), “What’s the point of my being here?” without really having an answer. I’d toss and turn, kick my fan, bicker over my ill fate. But it never brought me anywhere, including those places that might allow me to figure things out.
On Thanksgiving night, however, just a few evenings ago, I had a window into understanding.
The weekend before, my sister had gone to Tampa for her high school band’s state competition. My mom, who had devoted a lot of time to being a “band parent,” was determined to see her perform this year, as last year had thrown out some obstacle preventing her to go. The travel arrangements were made: a carpool of other band parents would pick her up and take her to Tampa. Nothing would stop her mission to see her daughter compete.
Except, perhaps, an allergy so intense that she couldn’t breathe.
Allergies don’t play nice with my mom’s system. For five months she’s been on a coughing fit, choking halfway through conversations, scaring people who don’t know what’s going on. Each fit often lasts a minute at a time, sounding like death every hack. My sister and I are used to it—we never worry anymore—but we understand the pain. It sucks, but it’s routine. Mom figured out how to function around it.
Well, on Friday night, just a few hours before she was supposed to leave town, my mom had the worst of her coughing fits. And it wasn’t safe this time. She couldn’t breathe.
I was calm, silently praying for her well-being, but really didn’t know what to do. She’s beyond medicinal comforts. She’s beyond the security of doctor visits. The allergy is continual and nothing this side of God’s hand can fix it. And this time she couldn’t breathe.
After a short stint of silent prayer, the choking subsided, briefly. She returned to her housework, though in slow motion, hoping to get something done. Then it came back. She had to rest again.
The conversation (and growing panic in mom’s voice) centered on possible triggers. The allergy intensified last June within fifteen minutes of her returning from a trip to Missouri. It hadn’t stopped since. Clearly, something native was causing this.
But then we considered the timing. My sister was competing in a state championship and my mom was going to support her the next day. If the fits continued in their intensity, it would’ve been near impossible for her to go. Hence, there had to be a spiritual attack. We started praying against it.
It let up slightly, enough to give her breathing room, but it was still debilitating. We tried to think of other causes. In the brainstorm, the word “Schefflera” came up—a tree we have standing in our backyard, tall, full of leaves in the shape of shoe soles—and immediately her air passages cleared up.
“That’s weird,” she said.
“No, it’s not,” I said. “We called out the source.”
Okay, so we figured it out. Then what?
During the month of November each year, the leaves have a habit of falling from the tree. It’s unstoppable, really. They fall, they clutter the yard, they turn yellow, et cetera. They form a scattered pile around the back patio (where the shed used to stand), a few feet from where my mom likes to read. And they make her sick.
When the subject of the leaves came up, and her air passages cleared, I decided I would rake them that weekend while she was in Tampa. She couldn’t do it herself; after all, she would’ve choked. If I weren’t living there, however, she’d have to do it anyway.
The weekend rolled around and I got distracted. Saturday came and gone. I still had to rake them. Then Sunday came. Time ticked.
When procrastination had reared its head long enough, I went out there, grabbed the rake and some bags, and started piling up the leaves.
There were a lot of leaves on that ground, enough to build a new tree. After nearly an hour I had raked up five bags’ worth of thick, padded vegetation. Then I lay all the bags along the curb at the foot of the unused driveway, which the city forgot to design a ramp for when they widened the road fifteen years ago. The trash site nestled next to a small garden my dad designed when he was still alive, in the area where another Schefflera used to stand.
My job, then, was done. The trash collectors would be there Tuesday to pick everything up. I could rest again.
Monday night, however, just twelve hours before the garbage trucks were schedule to arrive, something happened.
I worked late Monday, so I missed the action, but my mom recounted the story for me. A few months earlier, she had canceled the insurance on the house so she could pay the remainder of the mortgage. She went back and forth on the decision, but decided to take the chance since her income was scheduled to decrease in a year and mortgage payments would’ve been difficult. Well, that night, around nine o’clock or so, that decision almost came back to haunt her. On that normally busy street, at the southeast corner of my property, a driver lost control of his car. No one knows what happened; there was nothing in front of him, nothing to miss. He just lost control, slamming his brakes as he hopped the curb, and careened into my front yard. The way he was positioned, he would’ve come right through the living room—or if the living room didn’t stop him, my bedroom (and specifically, my computer where my life’s work is stored) certainly would have. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. His wheels, unable to stop by his own effort, got caught on the five bags of leaves, preventing him from moving forward.
So, thanks to God’s creative use of my mom’s allergy to a tree in the backyard, my childhood home still stands. What’s your Thanksgiving story?