AFTER THE DELUGE: We’ve walked two blocks from our house to see the surreal spectacle of a roiling lake occupying several square miles of real estate that used to be houses, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, a brewery and the best restaurant in town. My daughter’s elderly crossing guard is at the edge of the lake, looking at her partially submerged home and crying. I’ve had nasty thoughts about her over the years, the way she hesitantly waddles into the intersection, too cautious to stop the aggressive drivers and making us one minute later than we need to be.
“Margaret, how are you?” I ask, my attitude-fog dispersed at the sight of so much tragedy.
“I’m so stressed, so stressed,” she replies, then leans into me.
I embrace her fully, and tell her she can stay in our extra bedroom if she needs to. My redemption, bittersweet, as it comes at the expense of someone else’s serenity, feels startlingly good.
It’s like this all the time now, dealing with the aftermath of The Flood, as it will be known for generations to come. Two of my daughter’s classmates lost their houses, and everyone asks them interminably “Is there anything we can do?” Feeling privileged and helpless, we who live on high ground relate to the displaced in a swirl of Survivor’s Guilt, giving things away left and right in an attempt to bring about justice.
Because I am built for crisis, but never became trained as an Incident Commander, I have to find something to organize or else I’ll go crazy. I mobilize my local chapter of Spellbinders, a national network of oral storytellers, to go and share stories with the children at the evacuation center. On the second night we are there, I convince a girl who is clearly distressed to follow me to our corner of the gym. The storyteller’s words flutter around us like confetti; she has us howling like wolves, barking like dogs, and squeaking like mice. After a few happy endings, the girl moves towards the teller, lost in worlds that don’t resemble her own.