Yesterday I came face to face with fear and faith and I don’t know that I’ll ever be the same again.
Let me say I’ll be the first one to manufacture drama in my own mind. I have a whole blog dedicated to my imagination and what it contrives; please visit Also The Kitten is My Mind for more on that.
Yesterday I had to drive to Mobile to retrieve my mom and niece from a weekend with my little sister in Mississippi. Sage, the sister, is driving the moms and Yasmeen to Mobile which is about half way or more. I’m gonna scoop them up and Sage is going back home to Mississippi. No problem.
I wake up and make some coffee and throw on some running shorts and a hot pink jacket just to keep the sun off my arms. Because, you know, the sun is shining.
I get off the bridge and there are heavy clouds stomping across the sky like a procession of pregnant elephants. Rain begins pelting my windshield when I hit the interstate. I’m on the phone with my aunt and I’m sipping my coffee and I am glad for the rain. I have always loved rainy days, even if I had to drive in them.
The pelts of rain turn into something more like bullets and the elephants in the sky are angry. I get off the phone to pay better attention to their trumpeting and deluge. I drive into darker and darker sky and lightening joins the fun. Streaks of lightening pop close to the road, the trees are black in relief against the gray-green sky. Fire scorches the sky and then thunder rolls over my head. I put on my hazard lights because I can’t see the road anymore.
I imagine lightning hitting one of those trees right beside the interstate road and the tree falling on me. I imagine all manner of death and destruction from the lightening and trees. For a brief instant I drive under a bridge and feel relief from the furious rain and in that moment of windshield clarity I see exactly how bad this storm is.
There is no where to pull over. Of course, there’s the side of the road, but how safe is that? Driving is no safer.
Just when I think it’s as bad as it’s gonna get, lightening pops and thunder clamours in my ears and a prayer and lamentation springs from my lips, “I’ve got to get somewhere!” I’m not saying this for me so much as affirming that God is gonna have to do something here.
I am not exaggerating when I say I immediately see the sign for The Oasis truck stop. It rises in front of me like the golden sun after sleep spent in nightmares. I pull in and drive up to the front. I park beneath a diesel gas pump awning and I run inside. In five seconds I am completely soaked.
The place is packed with travellers who have sought shelter from the storm. People are milling around, getting a sandwich or shopping in one of the many and varied shops in this large convenience store/gas station/restaurant and lounge.
There is a large trucker with a long thin gray pony tail hanging down his back. His eyes are wide when he notices that the air is getting sucked out of the store and the doors are opening on their own. He mentions tornadoes. Then, someone from the back makes a call to someone in the front. People scatter calmly, as though in their scattering they want to try to remain calm. There is a man standing beside me and I reach for his arm then remember I don’t know him from Adam. He stands there like it’s okay, and that maybe it’d be okay for me to touch him if that’d make me feel better.
We are herded into the back and down a long cinderblock hallway where there are trucker showers behind locked doors and large stall bathrooms. There is a black giant with luminous eyes walking with a ring of keys and he unlocks many doors to these trucker shower stalls. We are told to stand in there, to stay in the hall and to remain calm.
I try to call my sister. I don’t have service. I try to call my dad. No service. I imagine dying here with these strangers and no one knowing where I am or what happened. I watch the black giant and try to be calm. I decide I’ll hide under him if anything happens.
Once we’re in the hall, this young black woman with baby on her hip summons everyone around her. Her eyes are as wide and wild as I know mine are. She begins praying like she does this for a living. She raises her right hand while holding her one year old baby boy, who is suspiciously calm, with the left. I’ll never forget that she asks for that truck stop be a vessel for divine protection. Her words were inspired and comforting.
There was a part of me that thought if a black woman is praying for us, we’re gonna be alright. Black ladies seem to be closer to God.
There is another custodian with a melted face. I wonder what he’s been through that he looks like that. Either he has been in a terrible car accident and couldn’t afford cosmetic surgery or he squared off with a nuclear reactor, I don’t know. His caramel skin is speckled with white streaking scars, like the lightning from outside took out its wrath on him. He stands in the hall with the rest of us.
There is a young woman with her cell phone. She has reception and lets me call my dad. His is the only number I know by heart. The walls vibrate and the lights flicker. I get off the phone and wonder if the building will be crushed or if we’ll all get sucked out. Also, I feel suspiciously calm, even as my heart races around and ’round in my chest.
This girl with the pink cell phone she let me use, her hands are shaking when I hand it back to her. “Are there tornadoes? Did someone see one or are they just worried?” I see me in her eyes.
“This is the perfect weather for them, but I don’t think anyone saw one. It’s okay.” Comforting her makes me feel stronger. I thank her for the phone and she goes to find her grandmother.
Without preamble, a woman with orange hair and a cragged and wrinkled face walks into the hall. She has sagging eyelids that don’t hide her beautiful brown eyes. Her voice is like an eighteen wheeler driving over gravel when she says, “It’s passed. Everything is fine, it’s just raining now.”
I speak up, “How do you know?”
“That’s what they said.”
That is enough for the black giant to begin closing and locking doors again. People mill out, stunned and hungry and make haste for the Subway or Chicken Shack in the building. They are paging me to move my car, which is under the last diesel tank and someone needs it. I go move my car. I use the restroom. I sit down at a booth. I sit there for a while.
That man who stood beside me when they first spoke of tornadoes and people moved to safety, he walks by this booth where I sit. “You do want something to drink?”
I shake my head affirmative. He points to a restaurant.
I sit there a while longer. I call everyone, mom and Yasmeen are waiting for me at McDonald’s in Daphne, twenty-five minutes away. Sage dropped them off and is trying to make it back to Mississippi with the baby before the weather descends on her area. Dad is fine, it never even rained in Mobile. The weather system I was caught in moved south-west and was absorbed by the Gulf. Thank you Gulf.
I go to the restaurant to say good-bye to that man whose name I don’t even know. He is eating a cobb salad and drinking iced tea. He asks if I’m hungry. I tell him I couldn’t eat a thing, but I have the opportunity to thank him. He orbited around and offered a deeply grounded sense of security to the atmosphere while so many of us felt spun up like the tornadoes everyone was so worried about.
I looked for that lady with her baby to thank her for the prayer but she was already gone.
I look around all of the shops and thought about buying something, to show the store how much I appreciate it being there.
Then I decided I’d do what I do best – I’d write about it. I’d include those people I remember, who made a bad situation better. So often people don’t know how much they count. I’m guilty of this, wondering sometimes for what I count.
I’ve never been more grateful to be home. I held the kitties close to me and they hated it. I finally ate and took a twenty-minute nap. Then Yasmeen and I watched Austin Powers – Man of Mystery. I reminded her one more time that she’s my favorite person on the planet, because in the cinderblock showers of the truck stop yesterday, there was nothing I wanted more than to say that to her.
Remember the smallest moments of kindness and comfort translate into grand memories and maybe a new theme in someone else’s life.
Be grateful, especially for your Oasis.