A most unusual storm derailed a family tradition yesterday, and sent us scurrying for safety.
The thunderheads billowed impressively in the mid-day heat, then marched relentlessly from south to north for the next several hours across rural Franklin County.
To be sure, we’ve had storms interrupt our Memorial Day gatherings on the (long-retired) Reiker family farm many times through the years. But none in our small gathering could recall such a persistent due-south-to-north track in the pattern. The rainfall totals caught our attention, too: Close to an inch-and-a-half fell in the couple of hours we sequestered indoors.
The upshot: No hiking through the woods or wading in the Bourbeuse River for us this time around. Instead, we peered through old photo albums and rummaged through drawers, piecing together the story of the generations before us who had lived in this place…
…who had lived here, and had in fact weathered many a confounding storm.
The earliest piece of evidence? A draft card from the Great War era, dated 1918 – confirming the deferment status of the lad who would go on to work the farm for the next six or seven decades.
There Western Union were telegrams, too – tons of ‘em – sent from across the country and around the world, providing brief reassurances to a mother that her three soldier-and-sailor sons were well (and in desperate need of cash!) during World War II.
As we sorted through all the “family” stuff the mother had kept so close to her heart, I was also blessed to hear stories told by two of her grandsons. It occurred to me that many were stories best savored in retrospect, long after the storms of life had passed. I can imagine, for example, that the mother’s heart often skipped a beat whenever a telegram arrived in the 1940s – followed by a prayer of gratitude as she discovered the missive contained good news.
And then there’s the barn. Ah yes, the barn: A picturesque fixture today, still on duty (although in a much-diminished role) ever since it was erected in 1915. But I doubt very much that it seemed like a blessing when, the year before, fire had ravaged its predecessor.
Eventually the grandsons’ stories wound down…and the skies cleared over our Memorial Day spent “in the country.” And I then had a chance to get up-close-and-personal with that old barn, now bathed in reassuring light. I noticed that it bore many scars – the marks left by untold storms and fears and doubt and confusion through the years. But I found beauty there, too. Inexplicable beauty.
As I gazed, I thought I detected a whisper – perhaps not unlike the Spirit who spoke to Saint Paul in the passage we heard proclaimed on the feast of the Ascension:
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to [God’s] call, what are the riches of glory…and what is the surpassing greatness of [God’s] power for us who believe…
True, these days of the COVID-19 pandemic have immersed us all in a most unusual storm. It’s easy to lose hope in the confusion and fear (and perhaps even terror) of the moment – to fret that this storm will never pass. But there’s something to be gained in looking upon the weather-beaten boards of an old barn, I think.
In doing so, our hearts are bathed in peace and our eyes are blessed by a reassuring measure of perspective. Indeed, in savoring such moment, we are reminded of the ultimate Source of Beauty, and the reason for our hope: Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Amen, Alleluia!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.