The storm and the stranger
Hustling around HEB this morning, grabbing hurricane groceries from the depleted shelves, I got into a conversation with an elderly lady who was, like us, planning to shelter in place when Hurricane Ike hits tomorrow. Gary and I have approached the whole thing with a sort of carnival attitude. (It's actually a lovely way to spend the weekend of our 25th anniversary, cuddled up in the candlelight, engaged in a Scrabble-to-the-death match.) But for this woman in her late 70s, living alone in a small apartment, the gathering storm was clearly terrifying.
"Come on over and join us," I said. "We have a spare room with a comfortable bed. And Lord knows, we're getting plenty of groceries here. We'd love to have you."
She bit her bottom lip, thought for a long moment, glanced warily at Gary. Vampire that I am, I couldn't look away from her eyes. Vulnerable. Weighing her options. Face the storm alone or trust a total stranger. Which was more frightening?
"That's nice of you," she finally said, "but I'll be fine."
Driving home, I was thinking about the storm and the stranger. Two literary icons for scary. At least with devil and the deep blue sea, you know what you're up against. But the storm represents the utterly random and chaotic force of nature and fate. And the stranger is not only the unknown, it's the unknowable dark reaches of human greed and cruelty. Unfortunately, the kindness of strangers is something you really can't depend on.
Gary says I worry too much about people I meet like this. The skinny, crazy dude who lives under the overpass at 45 & Cypresswood. A little girl I see unsupervised at the park across the street. This elderly lady in the produce aisle. It's the curse of a writer's imagination. All I can do is ask God's hand on her and hope that we all survive the storm with a good story.
Suggested hurricane reading:
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (No kindness amongst these strangers.)
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle ("It was a dark and stormy night...")
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Murder, mayhem, and relentless rain.)