The Floods of Life
When it rains it pours. Such a trite statement used to gloss over a barrage of negative things life throws around. Yet sometimes when it rains, it really does pour and when it pours, the emotions flow. All the good along with the bad. It can be tumultuous, terrifying, and educational all at once. Learning to keep calm through it all is perhaps one of life’s biggest blessings. However, when it is not always possible to keep the feelings dammed up and they flow forth uncontrollably, that too causes a flood to either sink or swim in. Life is a river constantly in motion as it carries us along. I am so very thankful for that river and for being able to experience all of the highs and lows while still being true to who I am inside.
Let me tell you a story now. My Thanksgiving miracle of sorts. I wonder, could I have been swept away? The answer is yes.
Calm Before the Storm
My husband had to work Thanksgiving morning and I had to work outside of my normal daytime availability hours due to a sale taking place that evening. While not too happy about missing out on the family dinner, I was consoled by the thought of holiday pay. Plus, we were served a traditional turkey and ham dinner in the breakroom. For the most part, it was an uneventful night at work. Even the sale went rather smoothly. In fact, it was actually a day that seemed to drag on endlessly. The store was mostly empty, with plenty of employees on hand but few customers. The crowds rushed in for the one hour guarantee sale and then dissipated almost as quickly as they arrived.
I was very much ready to go home when my shift ended at 11pm, especially since it had been raining off and on all day and sounded like it was raining hard again. I talked to a couple of other cashiers that lived in my vicinity, telling them to be safe going home, exchanging good wishes and hopes we all were able to get home without any problems. Then I headed out the door. Sure enough, it was raining, worsening as I attempted to make my 20 minute commute safely. I hydroplaned a few times on the highway, but the real problems did not begin until I was a mere minute or two from my doorstep.
The Second Guessing Trap
I turned off the main highway to hit a few more pockets of water. The emergency alert system on my phone began blaring its loud warning that flash floods were coming to my area. Well, not much to do at that point other than to continue on. Virtually every road I could take from where I was had low water crossings. I turned onto the county road leading to my home stretch thinking I might just make it. Barely, but make it nonetheless. I was wrong.
Rounding a curve, I had two bridges to cross and then a left, a right, and another right into my driveway. I went over the first bridge, which had no water coming across the road, and on to the second bridge that did have plenty of water flowing across it. I could tell that the current was rough and that it was not a good idea to attempt to drive through it. It was already beginning to rise, becoming more turbulent by the minute. I called my husband to let him know I was not going to attempt to go through that water, that I was going to try to back up.
However, backing up was not as easy as it sounds. I could not see. It was dark and the back window of my pickup is tinted. Rolling down my window did little to help. I was uncomfortable and nervous, feeling like I couldn’t steer straight enough. I did not want to end up in a ditch so I called my husband, who said he would come help me get the big Dodge pickup backed back over the other bridge so that I could get out of there. Unfortunately, this meant getting the kids out of bed and out into the rain to come get me. Before heading out, he advised me to call 911, just in case.
The words made me a little more nervous, but I complied. Inundated with calls from stranded motorists, the only thing the dispatcher could do was to get my location and basically tell me to sit tight. I was told to call back if anything changed. So I sat and waited. My husband managed to find away around that was not yet under water. He came up behind where I was, stopping just before the first bridge that I had crossed several minutes earlier.
While on the phone, I attempted to go in reverse again as my husband tried to encourage me to keep backing up. I still could not see. Before I got to that point, the truck was not handling the pockets of water on the highway and side roads well. The warning light on the dash warned the transmission was hot and then would try to sputter out. I gouged the gas and the truck leapt forward again, dangerous on wet roads. In my mind, I thought what if the truck jumps back and I lose control? Irrational perhaps, but my thoughts nonetheless.
So, I thought I’d try to turn around. A little at a time. On the rather narrow road I inched my truck forward and backwards in a circle attempting to turn around so that I did not have to drive backwards over a bridge I could not see. It seemed to work until I inched a little too far forward. Trying to reverse after that point was futile and trying harder only made the truck go further into the ditch. At that point, the water was rising rather rapidly over the bridge I needed across. Walking across it was out of the question. Maybe I should have just put it full reverse and gone for it instead of turning around and if nothing else, been able to walk off the road or out of a ditch. Too late, though..
Waiting and Watching
I took out my phone, made another call to 911 to report changes to my status, was assured a fire truck had been dispatched, and then called my husband again. I let him know that my phone was about to die. I did not have a car charger so once it was out of power, I could no longer make any calls. I could see him sitting on the other side of the bridge with his headlights facing my truck, now sitting perpendicular to the road. But that was of little comfort. I sent a few texts to people, asking for prayers.
I watched as the waters inched closer to me. Thinking I might be able to get to safety if I went back up the road to the other bridge where a driveway could be found when it was not flooded, I got out of my truck. Running down the road, I wondered if I might be better off standing there on slightly higher ground and as I got closer to the other bridge, it became clear that the driveway to the safety of a home was no longer in sight. Waters were closing in from that direction too, so I turned and ran back to my truck, walking through ankle deep water to climb in my drivers side door. Nothing else to do but sit in the truck and wait.
But wait for what? Waters to continue to rise. How high would they rise? Would they sweep my truck down stream to who knows where? Would the truck remain stuck and fill with water? Should I get out? What would it feel like to be carried off? How far would I be carried? What tree branch, if any, looked strong enough to cling to if I needed to get out of the truck? The water just kept coming. I realized I was clinging tightly to the handle above the door.
Weakness and Strength
Suddenly, I felt extremely weak and tired. Loosening my grip seemed to make me feel weaker. Don’t give in, I kept telling myself. Passing out or falling asleep could be a big mistake. I prayed for courage, for wisdom, for strength and kept watching the water rise around me. The headlights illuminated the water now rushing over the barbed wire fence in front of me like miniature waterfalls. Seeing the fire truck lights arrive was a bit comforting. That comfort did not last long, though. Because it did not take long to figure out that they could not get to me.
I first noticed the truck on the other side of the second bridge. Eventually it came around to where my family was waiting, still unable to get to me. In fact, my husband had no choice but to keep backing up as the water continued to rise. At that point, I wanted to just give in and cry or something. Anything. I honked my horn several times, not really sure why. It was a combination of wanting my family to know that I was in the truck instead of out in the water and sheer frustration.
After awhile, I noticed water seeping into the truck around my feet. My legs began feeling heavy. I was cold and generally just miserable. Pulling my feet up off the floor, I took off my shoes to remove my soaking wet socks. I also shed the jacket I soaked in the rain when I got out of the truck. Thinking I may still need to get out of the truck if water kept coming in, I put my shoes back on to protect my feet but kept my legs huddled up around me in the seat. I pulled my wet jacket around the front of me, using it like a blanket, and watched the water rise some more. And, of course, prayed some more.
Part of me listened, hoping the sound of the fire engine running was actually the sound of a helicopter in the distance, coming to pluck me from the water. The other part of me dared let my mind wander for just a bit. Until it went completely dark. My headlights were dimming as the battery was dying. If that was not eerie enough, I realized the lights of the fire truck were gone as well. My husband’s headlights were gone. Thinking I was all alone out there, I started praying some more, this time not only for the things I was before but also for the rain to stop and the water to recede. The sound of water hitting the undercarriage of the truck and rushing all around me as the truck rocked gently in the water was sickening.
Some time passed before something told me to check the water on the floor. It was lowering. I was almost giddy! But I checked again just to be sure. I prayed some more and checked yet again. Yes, definitely receding. Every once in awhile I saw flashes of what I thought might be flashlights where the fire truck was. Eventually my husband’s headlights returned. But the most exciting thing to me was that the water was even receding away from the truck. I was beginning to see the road again! On both sides of the truck! Watching and waiting. Watching and waiting, but with relief. I was beginning to think that I might be waiting until daylight to get out of there.
Eventually the water did recede enough that I noticed the flashlight was actually coming closer to me. Finally! Someone was coming through the water for me. I had no idea if he was tied to a rope or if he was walking through low enough waters to wade without any issues. But I was grateful. I put my jacket on, made sure the doors were locked, and took the key out of the ignition.
“Hello,” was all I said.
“Hello. Are you ready to get wet?”
“No, not really. But I sure am ready to get out of here!”
He slipped a life jacket on over my head and then instructed me to take him by the arm. With assurances that it was not going to be that rough, we began walking back through the water. He kept telling me that it would get a bit harder when we made it to the bridge, but then it would get better once we crossed it. Onward we went into waist deep, cold water. Sure enough, traversing the bridge was not easy. The current was fast enough that things floated by around us, pieces of debris and tree branches. The rescuer just kept telling me to keep going. As long as we just kept going we would be okay. I could rest after we crossed the bridge.
After we crossed the bridge, however, I had no desire to stop and rest even though it was offered. I just needed to be out of the water and away from it completely. So I chose to just keep moving forward until I was clear of the water, where I found out that the fire truck had tried prematurely to come into the water after me. It was too deep, though, and knocked out power to the truck, which was why the lights disappeared. The fireman had to crawl out of his window and then call for someone else to come pull the truck back to the station.
When I made it to my husband’s truck, the children were quick to inform me that I was trapped for four hours. Four of the longest, yet shortest hours of my life. It did not seem as if that much time could possibly have gone by. Oh, but it had. From about 11:30 p.m when I first tried to turn around to 3:30 a.m. after being rescued from the flood waters in spite of my efforts not to get caught in it. It was hard to sleep even once I was safely home, warm in my own bed. I felt nauseated as I listened to more rain begin to pour outside.
According to FEMA, it takes only two feet of rushing water to carry away most vehicles. Maybe it was a good thing I was stuck in a ditch. After all, I felt the water rocking the truck. I had no idea whether or not I was making the right decisions, but had I decided to go to higher ground outside of the truck, I would have been washed away with the water. My body would have been one of the bodies found the next morning. Yes, there were something like 16 high water rescues and 4 fatalities due to the floods. Things could have gone a lot differently. What a sobering thought.
Floods of Life
Life is full of challenges to face and to overcome, full of things constantly rushing at us from various directions. If we are not careful, we can let those floods bowl us down and pull us under. Turbulent times within a relationship or any number of other situations. How we handle these things is what really matters, though, because how we handle the emotions and the panic determines how well we swim when trapped in those floods of life. It determines whether or not a friendship lasts. It determines whether or not two friends choose to remain friends after a flood. It even determines whether or not one chooses to be generally happy in life.
To me, life is too short not to let others know that I care. I never want the last words to someone I care about to be words that hurt or words of goodbye. Should a disagreement, misunderstanding arise, I choose to keep my heart open for reconciliation. Especially if no great betrayal or deceit has occurred. What is so bad that it merits cutting someone out of my life forever? Not much. Truly, not much. Anger is human. Emotion is human. Needing space is human, too, but it would take quite a lot for me not to want to return to someone I love after the flood of personal issues causing division recedes.
Even through stormy relationships, I manage to stay afloat. I manage to stay true to myself. These people may never see it as a strength of mine, but I do. I know what matters in life, at least to me. It would be nice if others saw that part of me as a redeeming quality, too, but it does not always work that way. People are prideful, stubborn, or too set in their own ways to reconsider another perspective. I am guilty of that myself sometimes. What I learned without a doubt, though, is that my perspective is still the perspective I want. Maybe I swim against the current, but as Henry David Thoreau once said, “the path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and to crooked men.”
I am forever grateful to friends and family that have been by my side, loved me at my worst, and continue to laugh with me at my best. That is what I aspire to be for others. I cannot expect to wade through high waters unsafe for me to traverse in order to save someone and I would not want someone to do that for me. But what I can do is be there waiting after the flood recedes.