Stormy lessons

Isn’t it grand that one can still learn valuable lessons at any age? 

A recent vignette during a family visit woke me up and made an indelible stamp on my soul.

It was a bright afternoon and the wee pups needed walking.   Thankfully, our frequent guests a beloved niece and her husband do not shy away from pitching in, as our casa is their casa. 

We do bend over backwards to cook them amazing meals and entertain them, when they land, however we also, post blogs, tend to the garden, make treks to the store, and pay bills, as they are quite content to entertain themselves.

No one seemed to offer to walk the dogs, and they were getting restless and cranky to get on the trail.   “Heading out now to walk the pups”, said I the hostess, rather hoping someone else might offer.

My niece’s husband Gary decided to join me, and so, off we went.  The two of us have never spent time alone without another family member, and so I was rather pleased.  He is a lovely guy, funny, 15 years my junior and quite good company. 

The other two stayed behind, on the water, swimming and lazing about, as all Canuks love to do in our precious fleeting summers. 

The trail is a perfect circle round the lake and typically takes 25-40 minutes, depending on how many neighbors one runs into for chats, and how many squirrels run across the doggie’s paths, and how many “duties” the doggies have to do.

It is part dirt road and party rolling hill trail, with trees, poison ivy, shady ferns and junipers, as well as apple trees, blackberries and the occasional bear.

About halfway round the lake, the sky began to darken, and the wind picked up.  “Looks like a tornado is coming,” said Gary.   The sky got very dark blue black, and the rain began.  It pelted, but we were in the deep woods part of the trail and the trees provided protection.

The trees were swaying above us, creaking, groaning, and branches were falling.  Gary, the city dude, was unaccustomed to this and frankly looked a bit terrified.  “We should get out of the woods, “he said.

“We can keep going towards the road, as we are about halfway, “I mused.  The dogs are small ones and hate the rain as the drops bounce off the ground and hit them in the face and underbelly.  Not only do they get soaked on top of their wee heads but under the chins as well.  My preference was to stay in the woods, for their sake.   Gary and I debated, and as we did so a big crack of lightening bolted, and a thunderclap made us both jump.   We laughed nervously and stood in the woods rain drenching, trees reeling, and dogs whining.  

The sky grew darker, the wind grew very much windier, and the rain fell in torrents. Another clap of thunder, we both shrieked and laughed. Rather than making a decision to go to the road or retreat backwards on the path through the woods, I dashed towards a cottage on the waterfront and said “Follow me”.

It is a run-down place, and the owners are vaguely known to me. It was not occupied and unlocked and so we ran down their drive and up the stairs and into the front porch.   

The previous year, my husband and I capsized a canoe right in front of this cottage  and sought similar refuge there with dogs in tow and there were towels on the front porch.  This time, no towels, just broken glass, spider webs and stray fractured furniture. 

We dripped, and waited out the squall in silence, while it raged around us.  The pups we held in our arms, there was nowhere to sit, but we were in a dry spot, somewhat protected from the waving branches overhead.

Eventually, the storm calmed, as storms always do, and the rain diminished to a simple patter.  Gary decided it was time to go, and so, we made a beeline for home.   What is at least a 25 minute walk, consumed about an hour, yet, we were safe and fine.

When we arrived home, the party of two were waiting for us, with towels and drinks.  We all sat in the comfort of the living room.  “I like hanging out with white people”, Gary said.  Gary ‘s dad is Jamaican, and his mom is caucasian Canadian.

We all looked at him quizzically.

 “You folks break into cottages like it is nothing, I’d never dream of doing that in a million years”.   I’d get hit by lightning first,” he said.

This statement felt like it slapped me in the face.   Not only did it never dawn on me that we were doing anything wrong, had it been the nicer cottage next door, I’d have likely been fine with using the bathroom or sitting at the kitchen table.  I do know the owners a bit better, but still not all that well.  In fact, I would have preferred the comfort of the cottage next door, rather than the one we chose.

I did not think twice about using a stranger’s porch, or towel.  Was it neighborhood comfort or the right skin color that provided such confidence?  In his mind it was the latter.

Gary went on to explain how , growing up, he had been stopped a few times by police ,  how he had guns drawn on him, how his father had given him the “talk” about how to deal with officers questions, always with hands in the air.  On all the occasions he described, he had been doing nothing out of the ordinary, yet, felt his life was in danger.  Each incident he was just minding his own business as the officers were looking for someone else.

Although he was nervous about the downpour, entering a cottage was far more concerning to him. 

I was gob smacked at how for granted I took the simple act of seeking harbor from the storm.

 I sat and took it in and felt somewhat guilty, sad, and also grateful. 

“Gary, thank you so much, that is the best example of white privilege I have ever experienced,” I said.

Sometimes life lessons come to us on tempestuous days.