Nature trumps all human plans. How quickly and unexpectedly it can ground us
Grounded–that’s the word used when airlines have to cancel flights for weather. And that’s what has also happened in the area here in North Texas for much of the last couple of weeks. And it was my situation on Sunday morning.
Although much of the ice/snow mix melted late Saturday, there were still patches of ice everywhere with some churches cancelling services for the sake of the safety of their parishioners. The last thing I need at this point in life is a broken bone from a fall on an invisible piece of black ice, so I also chose to stay home.
In 2010, an Iceland volcano erupted and spewed ash all over northern Europe, grounding all flights in that part of the world. My oldest son lives in London but was working in the Middle East when the volcano began to erupt. He had been on the last flight into Heathrow Airport that was permitted to land before that airport was completely shut down. The rest of his team was stuck in the Middle East–and stayed stuck there.
Although he lives quite a distance from Heathrow, his neighborhood is in the normal flight pattern for many landings and take-off’s. He called to tell me about a big picnic his family was having in their backyard and how nice it was not to have any planes flying overhead. He didn’t realize until their disappearance what a constant background noise they made, even though the planes were still high above them.
We also talked about the systemic effects of a prolonged European flight grounding. Airlines and airports, of course, would be badly hurt financially, but trains were packed, hotels spilled over and anyone who owned a boat or ferry or taxi cleaned up. He heard of one colleague who spent over $3,000 on a taxi to get from Paris to some place in Spain. And this was apparently not uncommon.
Big systemic effect–that’s the situation. One thing affects another thing which affects many other things and everything ends up being changed.
Many of us have been temporarily grounded recently with plans disrupted, and normal rhythms way out of sync. Did we use this time to see things that have been invisible to us before? Just as my son suddenly discovered how nice it was not to have the background noise of the overhead flights, did we discover that some of our normal patterns, more visible because of the interruption, also might be bringing uncomfortable “background noise?” Did this forced stop give space to think more deeply about our lives, our choices, our relationship to things much larger than we are?
Many live as though their plans are all that matter. These weather events help us re-evaluate such a mindset. We humans, who often think we have such power, are actually puny in the face of the natural world. Recognizing our puniness, some healthy humility, can serve as a big step to also recognizing the powerful love of God who was and is willing to accompany our puny little selves into every situation. A baby step, perhaps, but a way to see a temporary grounding as a huge blessing.
We really are not in control of things. Our hope lies in a God who does hold all creation together, and One who can both laugh at our hubris when we chose to ignore or disparage the thought of such a God, and who also continually says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I missed being in worship Sunday. That’s one of my “normal patterns” that I don’t want to break.
Instead, I listened to my favorite hymns, savoring a cup of hot tea. I took time for leisurely morning prayers and especially prayed for those who who are cold and hungry.
I counted the blessings of warm clothes and a heating system that works. Yet I know the utility bill will skyrocket for this period. Systemic effects again: utility, towing and car repair companies will benefit; restaurants and retail outlets and church offering plates suffer.
Nature does indeed trump all plans. A good reminder of how little we can actually control and how even less we can accurately predict. May the unexpectedness of these temporary groundings help us all clear out some detrimental background noise and learn to live with appreciation of the things we do have as well as gain compassion and greater willingness to help those hurt by these forces beyond the control of any human being.