Happy New Year to you all. I know it’s late, but better late than never.
I wonder what this year will bring? Some of it will be predictable and some of it will not. There will be pleasant surprises and no doubt a few shocks along the way, such is life. Predictability has the potential to be boring but sometimes when we’re in the midst of a storm in our lives we long for something stable and ordinary.
A quote was sent to me recently, accredited to Haruki Murakami the acclaimed Japanese writer: ‘When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person that walked in. That’s what the storm is all about’. This quote struck me particularly because quite recently our family had a close encounter with a storm.
One very windy Monday morning in early November the phone rang at 7am – always a worrying sign. I wasn’t prepared to hear my daughter’s very worried and upset voice on the other end of the phone. Eventually I realised she was telling me that the large 250 year old oak tree in her garden had twisted in a particularly severe gust of wind and had fallen, landing on the houses next door. They didn’t know if anyone was in the bedrooms of the adjacent houses or if anyone was injured.
By the time I got there a few minutes later I found a scene of devastation; the branches of the tree which should have been in the back garden were in front of the house; police, ambulances and fire engines blocked the road and the neighbours were huddled in a group in a state of shock. By then it was clear that no one had been hurt, which was a miracle as these are town houses with two bedrooms in the loft. That morning everyone had got up early, thank God.
Everyone rallied round; tea was made, animals looked after, emergency workers traipsed through my daughter’s house – it was surreal, rather like a scene from a disaster movie. The following days were a blur as men with cranes removed the tree and others shredded it. The BBC sent outside broadcast vans and those who had lost their homes tried to make sense of the situation. They were found new temporary homes but post-traumatic stress set in and they were in a very fragile state indeed. This affected neighbours, including our little family who then didn’t know if their house was safe as cracks appeared and acro props were installed.
Many people’s lives were changed that day, instantly, but people also discovered the kindness of strangers – those who helped in so many different ways and then vanished.
Later on that day I went shopping for food, as my daughter and her family were now staying with us. As I stood there I overheard a conversation in the checkout queue: “Well, that was all a storm in a teacup wasn’t it? The weather forecasters overreacting again – it was nothing in the end.” Really? It hadn’t affected them so it was okay, and yet just down the road there was a life changing event playing out.
A few days later there was a natural disaster in the Philippines – a large number of people lost their lives, many thousands lost their homes and all their possessions. This exceptionally wet winter has also meant that many in this country have been flooded out of their homes and had their lives totally disrupted. It made me wonder – if a small event in South London can cause such distress, what must these people be going through?
Have I been guilty of not recognising the stress that people suffer through natural disasters, or wars come to that? I think maybe it took a tree to fall in a suburban cul-de-sac for me to even begin to understand a little of what it must be like to lose your home and security and even your loved ones in circumstances like these.
Jesus came to show us that God works through adversity and that things can be transformed. My daughter and her family have now moved into a little house not far away and their new baby is due any minute but none of us are the same as we were before the tree fell. Life changes us – let’s hope that this year it’s for the better.