Fire and ice

It was twenty-four years ago yesterday, and an early thaw had been followed by freezing rain that encased everything – buildings, trees, cars, and lawns – in up to two inches of clear, solid ice.

The world glistened with chandeliers, and much of it crashed under their weight.

I remember my parents standing there, watching as their trees – over six dozen trees that they had planted during seventeen years there, trees with roots in their heart – sagged and creaked under the weight, some breaking with the cracking sound of gunshots, echoing in their eyes.

Dad was 62 then (a younger man still than I then understood, an older man already than I yet realized), and planting trees had already become harder for him than it had been. He and mom had moved to a bare field and made it the only home I thought I’d ever have. They worked together, letting us help (even when we got in the way) and adding bit by bit.

They spent years creating a homestead and hours watching forces attack much of their work. The beauty they had created, engulfed in another beauty turned destructive.

Yet that destruction also turned glorious, prompting much goodness and love. People grabbed chainsaws and addressed what they could in their own yards and in their neighbors’. Volunteers and businesses helped the professional crews working to repair the damage and forestall further problems. People with heat shared their homes with people who’d lost it. There are always those who take advantage of hardship, but they are outnumbered by those who quietly help where they see need.

I wish now that I’d already been a reporter then, that I’d known how to record the ice storm in words and pictures and been equipped to do so. I was there but didn’t know how.

But now I do know, and I find myself wishing even more that I were already in Cape Town for the stories of what is happening there now. Wild fires have been raging since Sunday, partly worsened by a heat wave and high winds; the cold and rain that so ravaged our area in 1991 would be a godsend there today. Crews and volunteers have been working around the clock, cutting firebreaks and wetting the fires with hoses and helicopters.

Dramatic pictures of the flames at night show that same beauty that people enjoy in a bonfire, but unleashed and uncontrolled, wreaking horrible damage. People have lost so much of what they’ve worked so hard to create and hundreds have been evacuated. Fortunately, injuries have been limited. The fynbos – their shrub land – is being consumed by the fires but will later be renewed because of them; the soil will be richer, and seeds will have more light available. Beauty will come out of the destruction, redeeming it.

The details are in some ways opposite, but the themes are the same. The rigid, orderly beauty of ice and the dancing, unpredictable beauty of fire, both turned to destruction. The creation twisted, and people responding – in reflection of God’s love – to those in need. The need to help and be helped.

Today as yesterday, stories of hope are waiting beneath trouble and tragedy, able to connect us to each other across oceans and eras in empathy, action, and prayer. And they will be there tomorrow.


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