images (1)“We are to the gods as flies are to wanton boys.

They kill us for their sport.”

William Shakespeare




Morals: Always Protect Your Family

It hit us at two a.m. in the dark of the night. The freight train rumble woke me and I sat up in bed. “Tornado,” I yelled and it hit us; literally hit us. With a giant “WHOMP” it smacked the back of our house. The percussive blow seemed to punch me in the chest—a blow of recognition to my fragile mortality. As quick as a tornado wifey ran, got the Kid, and we fled to the basement; the safety burrow of prairie people. Then modern man’s sirens screamed their alert.

We huddled in the basement, watching cable news, via underground cable and electricity service, as our Little One piled couch cushions in the downstairs, interior bathroom to save us. The freight train—nature’s high speed flash and smash train had run down its track and no longer rumbled in the air around us. “Pop, pop, pop” the large hail fell onto our new house, bouncing like a thousand, icy gum balls—bouncing as though coming up from the dark earth rather than down onto it. In its odd luminescence, like the “nitre” on the cavern walls in Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” the yard turned white in frozen ice. A chill blew through my lungs. The forty-foot+ pine tree out-front now leaned into the arms of a large maple tree. Our Little One cried in fear when he saw the leaning pine. “Dad, what can knock down a tree?” So I spoke to him of tornadoes. We left the dangerous window and he cuddled on my lap as I told him we were doing the right thing to protect ourselves.

The TV news people talked on into the night as the sirens sang out again and again. Rain blasted down and we watched the icy luminance melt away. Then, suddenly, a threatening silence—and then, again as quick as thought, breaking the silence, the wind began to howl again. My son yelled for us to go to the bathroom to our soft cushions, but the sirens as quickly stopped and the TV news man gave us the “All Clear,” to come up from our burrow caverns. “Dad,” my son said, “we could die couldn’t we?”

“Yes, Kiddo, we could have, but we did the best we could do to survive this tornado,” I answered in my fatherly wisdom/hope/wonder. “I think its okay to go back to bed now.”

The next morning came in on a flood of sun beams and we awoke to see the results of last night’s twisting wind. We had made it through in pretty good shape. In comparison to those who had lost their entire houses, our new home had lost some of its roof, the new deck furniture had disappeared, a great tree lay split-in-two as though Paul Bunyon had dropped his great axe down the center of it. One half of it had bounced off of the house’s roof and two bedrooms had water damage, and some of the doorframes had shifted, causing swinging or sticking doors, but we were safe.

Ethics: Good, Honest Folk

With morning coffee in hand I answered the doorbell. A stocky, gray haired neighbor man stood on the porch beneath the leaning pine still in the arms of the maple. “Come in,” I said and pointed to our leaning danger. He held up a large chainsaw and offered his help. Heat emanated from the chainsaw’s motor. He’d been cutting downed trees all morning. I opened my sleepy ears and heard the chores of chainsaw motors singing wood chips from trees all around the neighborhood. I didn’t know what to do. Should I wait until my insurance company saw the damage or have the trees removed?

“Take pictures and keep all paperwork when you have stuff done, but take pictures for proof.” I thanked him and gave him safe passage through the garage door; away from the tree threat. He went to the next home and offered his help again. I sipped my coffee and watched the neighborhood fill with helpers. They came in like army ants and buzzed, and cut, and pulled, and brought food and water for all around. Goodwill burst out from the people, neighbors and strangers, like last night’s rain and it pooled in a union of humanity. “Dad, why is everyone doing that?” came the quizzical question from my Little One’s mind.

“Good question Kid,” I said, and tried to be a wise dad to him. “Kid, it’s a funny thing. I’d call it being human, for being human is to know pain, suffering, happiness, troubles, successes and such. It’s what I call Universal Human Value; it’s something every person on this planet can understand, because they’ve experienced it in their life, and it binds us all together as humans.” A small, puzzled face looked up at me. “Okay, if Momma were to cry, would you feel bad?” He nodded vigorously. “That’s what I mean.” He nodded and my wondering social butterfly went outside to socialize with the people.

Volunteer groups set up posts for almost every need of the neighborhoods where the tornado had hopped about, randomly smacking any thing in its touchdown spots. A net of security was spun around us by law enforcement to protect us and to stop looting. We neighbors gathered at the sidewalks and told our stories and shared information about services. Help was as plentiful as the hail of last night, but it took longer to melt away in the gentle human heart and it blended in human compassion. Those who the tornado had killed were honored with genuine sadness.

Money: “You Have a Claim Number”

The 24/7, “always on your side” insurance company didn’t call back by Monday; two days after I’d left a message at the local office and had spoken to a confused girl at the headquarters of the leviathan company. On Monday I spent an hour trying to break through the voicemail wall, but finally, after redialing continuously, caught a staff member of the local insurance agent. She was plaintiff and deeply concerned about our experience and would have the head agent call me as soon as possible, but . . . the head agent had a flood at her farm and she was very busy. The head agent never called—hope she didn’t get washed away? The headquarters did call over the next few days with seven very confused messages; gave me two wrong claim numbers, and always had my address wrong, but they were very, very concerned for my welfare.

An inspector arrived two weeks after the tornado. He was gentle and kind and went over the house like a mother looking for chicken pocks on her baby. I watched as he took notes and I thought about how odd it was for him to decide how much his business was going to pay me for my home’s damages. It seemed to me like a boxer deciding who had won the match. I certainly hadn’t in the inspector’s eyes. He kept saying: “The policy reads.” He kept pointing out how much things had depreciated over time. He couldn’t include the wobbly deck a tree had fallen on, the tree removal costs, the broken A/C outside unit, unless I could get an A/C contractor to write an explanation on how the unit was damaged, that my deductible was one percent of the value of my new house, and that he’d send me an itemized accounting of what his company was going to pay in a few weeks. While he spoke to me, my mind twirled in a twisting of morals, ethics, and money. He hinted that if I said this, then he could count that, but he insisted that he could not tell me anything to do beyond the insurance contract. The joking on the neighborhood sidewalks came back to me: “Hey, did anyone see my fifty-two inch flat panel screen TV that was on my deck last night? Hey, did anyone see my riding lawnmower fly by last night? My eighteen foot boat must have floated away in the water that night. Has anyone seen it? We’ll just have to let the insurance companies pay for them.” I considered what imaginary things could have flown away in my twister and they weren’t in Kansas anymore, but I still was. I drifted off in the balloon from Omaha away from the land of possible OZ money and focused back on the speaker’s face. Each “the policy reads” seemed like another brick in the wall sealing me in money’s cavern. He spoke it over and over and the wall built in front of me with the cavern walls of money behind me. The morals and ethics spun and spun me into confusion. What should I do now that I was faced with money? He handed me a sheet to list the things that had gone away and he went away; back to the duty of the impersonal headquarters. I held my strength and considered the reality of my life. If I held onto the morals and the ethics of true humanness, I wasn’t going to get the needed money to make the repairs. I wasn’t going to get a cheaper insurance premium, but a higher one. Now walled in, I wondered: Morally, shouldn’t I protect my family? Ethically, wasn’t I a man who worked hard to keep his family in a good life? Money wise, didn’t I deserve the pay-off after years of sending premiums, premiums, premiums? I had to fight for my “American dream”—didn’t I? But what did that mean? I wished I had the lighter for Diogenes’s lantern, for I couldn’t see my humanity in the pitch black of the now walled in money catacomb.

Wifey and son came home and we all flushed out onto the now wobbly deck to cool down from the hot house. I spoke to wifey about my struggles and she confidently told me I’d do the right thing. I shook my head and sweat flew off of my brow. Now that the backyard tree was gone, the sun burnt down upon us, so we squeezed to the right side of the deck to try for the shade from a neighbor’s tree. My son chose this hot moment to crawl up onto my lap—a new thing since the tornado. He ran his finger around my gold wedding band. “Dad,” he said, “when you die, can I have this?”

“Yes, son, you may,” and we talked about the five squirrels that had just a day before the tornado put on a dazzling performance of spinning in circles at the tips of the former tree’s limbs, entertaining us in great delight. “Wonder what happened to them?” the growing boy said and swatted a mosquito; “Look, Dad, I got him.” We sat until late into the dark in the pleasure of our momentary existence. Thunder rumbled in the black heat of the night. “Dad, is there going to be another tornado?”

The End




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