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The thunder rumbled. My old rescued dog, Hubble, lumbered onto our covered porch, all fifty feet of southern columns and steel railing. The safest place in the world: my spot where I read, gut-talked with friends, cried over my parents’ deaths. It’s like being in a treehouse, surrounded by native dogwoods, redbuds and shagbark hickories. The 140-year old white oak canopied over all. A honey vein ran up its bark, rusty and wide as the Persian carpet down the hallway.

The Fourth of July was the day I settled in my chair to read through my novel’s first draft. No edits, no corrections. Just read the words that at times delighted me and mostly, made me cringe. I turned the editor off, told her to keep her mouth shut about all the telling, not showing. Just read as the online guru had suggested.

More thunder, more Hubble. I spoke a prayer over all the people at Creekside Park and Oak Hollow, celebrating in wild open spaces. How excited their children were to watch fireworks, to eat hot dogs, watermelon, kettle corn and ice cream. How the rain would not scare away the hardy partiers intent on watching the nighttime show. I worried about lightning strikes.

About page 48, the wind picked up and it started blowing toward the porch, a rare direction, a rare wind. Clouds descended, graying my view. Hubble came out again. This dog hates storms and would rather be groomed than experience thunder. I, on the other hand, loved watching storms, with the whipping winds and rain that rarely reached inside my porch. I stayed until my computer and draft were getting spit on. That got me up. Plus I needed to cut up watermelon. It was 2pm—time to get out of my pajamas to celebrate the fourth.

I went inside. Heard the crack, mentally tracked my trees, figuring it was one of our poplars that had been struck, prayed a quick “protect us” prayer. Without seeing, I sensed a tree was falling. Call it what you will, intuition or as I do, God, but I knew the white oak, the tree I trusted to stand since its roots rivaled most tree trunks–the last tree I ever expected to fall–was falling.

Just for the record. All those memes and cartoons we see where cats’ eyes go bug eye? That actually happens. Too, when people on the news tell you that their particular situation slowed into slow motion–also true. My body went still, waiting to see where the oak would land. I had no time to hope, to pray, to wonder where my girls were. No time to think.

I heard no sound, only watched branches punch through our porch roof and press against the kitchen windows. One second I wasn’t breathing, the next screaming for my girls. Catastrophic moments like these evaporate the importance of a first draft, politics, social platforms, organizing my laundry room, and ‘what’s for dinner?’

“Where are you?” I shouted to the second floor, heading up as I did, hoping that the tree’s branches had not poked through their bedrooms. They met me halfway down. “In the basement. Take the animals.” The quick winds still raged. I had no time to assess damage. All I could think about were the poplars. Though beautiful, poplars are prone to lightning strikes and shallow root systems. Given the rain we had all summer, I should have called the tree climbers. What were the odds that two trees fell on one house in one storm? I hoped it was large.

My love for my oak started before we built our house beside it. I had a tree doctor trim deadwood and inject vitamins into its roots to alleviate stress to the, then, 120-year old oak. Wherever I was in my yard, wherever I walked in my neighborhood, I would look for its looming branches and height in the sky. It was my lighthouse, signaling home. Now it invaded our house, wrecking three stories up. The root ball wrenched from the earth, almost two stories tall. My daddy always warned, “Trees are hard on houses.”

After Fire Chief Joe and his team left assuring me our house was safe, a man propped his camera equipment in the cul de sac, aiming it at our house. Insurance had said they’d send a drone, but this was even better. A young lady walked to me in a red shirt. I scrambled to associate my insurance colors with her clothing.

“Can I ask you some questions?”

“You’re the adjustor, right?”

“No, I’m with the local news.”

My family was safe. The gas line wasn’t endangered. The electric had been turned off. We’d had an hour to process and be thankful the outcome of a 93,000 lbs tree landing on our house hadn’t been worse. If it had fallen five feet to the west, the tree would have cut our house in half, probably hurting us all. A line had been drawn. The tree was allowed to press up against the house, taking out my closet and holy porch, but the structural integrity of the house stood. My precious older kids were on the way to help sort through the mess. A certain shocking loll had settled upon us.  

Folks, being truthful to oneself is hard. Sharing it in words for others is downright soul-stripping. My first thought was to turn the reporter down. It’s too fresh, too new, too much. Media, really? My second thought was media, really? What would it hurt to answer her questions? A part of me needed to download the images to someone else.

But the real part of me got strangled out by the new social-media me. It raised an eyebrow and said, well, hello, platform. Writing to publish is no longer just writing. No, the strange new world wants platform numbers–four and five-digit platform numbers. Since we were safe and frankly, the tree was down, could this help any? This I pondered after having sat exactly where the tree landed, not an hour ago. Had the dog not bugged me….I didn’t want to go there. I let social-media me win. I leveraged a minor catastrophic event in hopes to gain just one more follower. Yes, I know. For heaven’s sake, unfriend me now.

Ever seen the iconic photo of the young lady smiling at a camera on a beach while a rescuer tried to resuscitate her boyfriend? I always winced at that photo. How could she? Well, apparently, I could.

Did the reporter take the poetic words I uttered, “there’s a hole in the sky?” No, she asked me how it sounded when the tree fell. Oh, you mean, those few paralyzed seconds where I only remember staring at my cats’ eyes? So, I lied. “I heard a thump.” There you have it. Note to all: poesy, wisdom, profound insight, ethics—all fly out the window in a thirty-second interview. These are the words that I immortalized for my grandchildren: “Oh no, the wind is heading towards our house.” Twitter that, not. And there’s more. “Being a tree lover, I was like that’s not good.” My 30-seconds of local fame were wasted on common words that highlighted my superpower of staring out a window. I will take the front-page picture of me in second grade visiting the Charles’ Chips factory every day. Alas, this was decades before the internet.

What happened? How had I allowed a camera and a news reporter to knock all sense of honor and integrity from my soul, like the tree had stripped the clothes from my closet? In a micro-burst, I was rendered a media-slobbering minion. But that’s giving me too much credit. My heart broke over my lack of fortitude to say ‘no’ to the things of the world. I was the woman on the beach, or the rubbernecker pausing to gawk at–not help–the car sheared by the semi. My house had suffered calamity, and it drew forth the sap of my soul, far stickier and more bug-infested than I expected.

In one oak’s blow, I was exposed. The truth of me was revealed. I’d use a minor life event to gain social media traction. Good heavens, if I was capable of that, what would I do with a major one?

How are we being changed for the rest of our lives when we are worrying over “no likes?” Or our first thought is (guilty, here) that would make a great post? Somewhere in this, I’m getting lost. My children are getting lost. Shouldn’t my first post be to the Creator of me? Of us? If you don’t believe in a higher power, shouldn’t your first post be to your heart and mind? Instead, we turn to the screen and process it there. We’ve elevated the screen as our first contact with something “other.” How am I to walk this line? Without crossing it, again?

#goinglocalLasts2days #tops #HowNot2LetMediaOvertakeMe #IwantRealReally #Need5000KTwitterFollowers #Jekyll&Hyde #AnybodyBeenHere/DoneThis?

3 comments on “Writing through the Chaos

  1. I loved the honesty, and your writing. Great things happen when you combine both.

    Like

  2. I loved your honesty and writing. Beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Renee Leonard Kennedy says:

      Thank you, Truthlives!

      Like

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