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Apples in September – A Prayer of Hope and Redemption

If there be more, more woeful, hold it in,
For I am almost ready to dissolve,
Hearing of this.
--William Shakespeare, King Lear (Albany at V,iii)

For the second time in as many as thirty days we have had to contend with another monster that arose from the sea, threatening to swallow more of the Gulf coast in its angry jaws. Although the news being reported on Rita is that the damage--though significant in some parts of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana--did not rival what Katrina had done. A collective sigh of relief I'm sure, as we still haven't had time to overcome the devastation that rendered the coasts of Mississippi into a nightmare of broken dreams. New Orleans, though, did not fare as well, and found itself to be the lost Atlantis again as the waters from Lake Pontchartrain began pouring in.

It is not easy sometimes to understand the significance of an event, nor is it always apparent whether we have become participants of something far greater then what is immediately evidenced, but I am convinced more than ever that this time we live in today will be shown years later as a time when people were truly tested. When the year 2000 rolled on in, I felt a sense of excitement for the future--and I still do--but with the event of 9/11, the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated the coasts of Sri Lanka, Thailand and the island of Indonesia with the loss of over 175,000 people, and the unbelievable amount of destruction we've experienced with Katrina, and Rita, one cannot help thinking that perhaps God is part of the equation here. And if He is, I am not even going to try and suppose what the answer to that might be except that we may be living in an age where prayer and hope actually did come to mean something.

Today I had been seriously preoccupied after reading a gripping, heartfelt essay that Liz Strauss of Letting Me Be rendered from an email she had received from her sister-in-law in which she gives a first hand accounting of what it is like to be among people who have lost everything:

We observed and shared the despair of losing the everyday stuff of life,clean underwear, your toothbrush, and the despair of less obvious loss: your neighborhood and your best friend across the street, your favorite grocer, your church, your coffee ladies/men, your photos of your children as babies and your deceased parents, the necklace your grandmother gave you, your doctor, that house you spent a lifetime making a home, control over what food you eat, the rooms where you celebrated your family's milestones, the security you feel when you tuck in the kids . . . --(It's Not at All about ME) Reflections from Louisiana

In spite of such destruction and despair, however, the human spirit proves again to be so indelible. As she says:

They were thankful to be alive. -- ibid

One of the great enigmas of life is that of human suffering. Another of course is our purpose in life. And yet another is death. In our normal day-to-day lives where we are given to the hustle and bustle of work, family and recreation, it would seem that we purposely distract ourselves to no end to avoid thinking about such questions. Instead, we resign ourselves as if anesthetized to the bump and grind of making money, paying bills, and having lots of fun on the weekends with baseball, football, Nascar, mall shopping, eating out, anything for that matter, as long as it keeps us preoccupied and passes the time. We become so enveloped in our lives and in the lives of those around us that we lose sight sometimes of what really matters. We begin to think we're our jobs, our money, the titles we acquire, and the things we buy: large houses, big SUV's, and home theater for weekend cocooning. It's not about keeping up with the Jones's anymore; it's about being the biggest bad asses in the neighborhood. And it seems all well and good until a 9/11, or a tsunami, or a Katrina comes along, and in a horrifying instance of destruction, our lives are in peril and everything we worked so hard for is gone. But in the face of such tragedy when we have lost what we have worked so hard for, when we find ourselves completely stripped of our possessions, an amazing thing begins to happen. We find ourselves again, and in doing so, we realize that we are not just about ourselves, that life is indeed much more than that. We realize that what we're really about is people. And in realizing that, we begin to pull back to the things that matter most: family, friends and community.

After getting off from work today, I decide not to take the usual route home. I'd been watching the news on Rita and Katrina and had become too self-absorbed with how extensive the damage has been. I knew that if I went right home from work, I would find it hard to resist turning on the TV to catch up on the latest reports. And so I drive until I come to an apple orchard in Brooks. There is something endearing about apples in September, memories that go back to childhood when my mother would gather my three brothers and me up in the car and take us out to Bartlett's Orchard in Richmond, Mass for Macs and cider. After deciding on a bag of Cortlands and a gallon of just-pressed-that-day cider, I make my purchase and return to the car.

Driving off, I follow Route 7 back to Belfast. If ever there were a quintessential New England road replete with rolling hills thick in deep green, woods, and dairy farms with cows standing idyllic in the fields as they graze, this is it. My consciousness absorbs the resplendent scenery, and as I look beyond the hills, I begin to feel an easy sense of contentment. For the first time, I understand why I chose to come to this place to live. I reach for an apple from the bag I placed behind the front passenger seat. In the angst of doubt and incessant questioning these past few years, I had forgotten why I needed this place. But as the sun begins its slow decent behind me, I sense what my life has been about. I still think central California might be nice, but for now I am where I need to be. Looking up through the windshield at the wisps of clouds sailing by on a pastel blue sky, I whisper, "Amen."

By S. L. Cunningham