Everyone says it’s not like Vermont, but it’s pretty bad here. We had another humongous storm yesterday early morning, including a thunderclap that caused me to scurry under the blanket. But it’s the rain that’s stunning. Thunderstorms usually imply downpours, but what we have now dwarfs the past.
For the first time, I start imagining this Valley as a disaster area. Not just Montpellier, Vermont, not just Oklahoma or Kansas after tornadoes (we did get a tornado watch for the day), not just the Caribbean in hurricane season or Indian villages in monsoon season, but right here, the Pioneer Valley, USA. No deaths yet that I’m aware of, but farmers are losing their crops for the season and homes are getting flooded, streets rutted and driveways cracked.
We’re of course lucky. Neighbors help each other bigtime. The barn of J&J Farms, which grows the best corn and whose farm stand I visit weekly in the summer, burned to the ground after a direct lightning hit. A GoFundMe was begun for them with a goal of $55,000, and last time I checked it was well over $75,000.
But nature is more powerful than GoFundMe. The above photo shows the Sawmill River, which runs well under the house, as it tumbles down its rocky dam. It’s right next to a beautiful old, red farmhouse belonging to two artists, and I’ve never seen it even come close to flooding the road (which goes to my home) or the farmhouse. The water has practically reached the road and could well go over soon.
Our annual zendo party, scheduled for yesterday, had to be rescheduled. Driving around the area in late morning, when the rains faded a bit, I saw more roads closed due to streams overrunning their banks. A friend called, highly upset, to ask me if we were okay and were we by any river.
“I’m terrified,” she told me.
We’re way above the river, I told her, no need to fear.
Is there really no need to fear? I wrote about Aussie’s safe place in the back seat of my car inside the garage. I’d opened the car door last night, along with the windows, and this morning found her there, snug, dry, and fairly calm. I’m so happy that she and I managed to identify this place of safety for her. And still, what about me? How much fear do I even let myself acknowledge in my life?
We often say that Zen takes away all fear. At the same time, most American Zen practitioners are middle-class; in fact, we like to joke that Zen is the Upper Middle Way. We have our homes, our cars, a refrigerator full of food, well water (and the water table is now so high!), excellent emergency services, firemen, police, and an ambulance that will arrive in a heartbeat. We should feel so secure, shouldn’t we?
But my friend, who has all those prerogatives, said she’s terrified.
Talking with my sister yesterday about Israel and Palestine, I reminded her of the saying that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.
She replied, in paraphrase: Yes, I’m aware of that, but hearing that from you makes me uneasy. Don’t ever forget that you live in a relatively safe place. You don’t lock your car as a rule; you don’t even lock your doors at night. I lock my door 24/7 whether I’m indoors or out. There were many times when I was afraid to walk the dog and be out on the street at night. The Palestinians are afraid of the Israeli army and the settlers, the settlers are afraid of shootings by the Palestinians, everybody’s afraid here. You live in a very different place from us.
When she said that I remembered how I scramble under the blanket when big storms come, or else go into the downstairs bathroom where there are no windows. Even when there’s nothing to fear, I’m still afraid. People are curious to know what trauma happened to me that accounts for this, they have suggestions for what I can do. None of that has really helped me.
Why am I afraid when there’s nothing to fear?
I think of my mother’s bravado, her toughness, her certainty that she would always know what to do in any situation. I see more and more how underlying much of that was tremendous fear. As a teen she was assaulted by a man wielding a knife in Bratislava. Her story was that she had managed to throw him down to the ground, grabbed his knife, and put it to his throat. It was hard for me to believe that, given how thin and small-boned she and the rest of her family were.
What really happened? What does it take to admit that under the bluff and bluster there is deep fear?
I think of the people referred to as the MAGA crowd, with their eternal fervor for the swaggering Donald Trump and his boasts of “owning the Libs.” I think it’s an ugly phrase even as they cheer it like crazy. What’s behind all that bombast? Not Donald’s, I think he’s a sick man, but those who love him? Those who, according to surveys, have served in the army, are less educated, and more church-going. Are they afraid of what’s happening in this country? Afraid to be ignored, left behind? Afraid they won’t recognize this country anymore?
Fear is fear, my sister said. You can bring all the explanations you want, but fear is still fear.
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