An Irish proverb tells us, “It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”
As I write this the rain is heavy, the wind is picking up, and Hurricane Sandy is on its way to and round us. I don’t know if it was destiny but a few weeks ago, I was looking up something else when I tripped across this quote. As is my habit when something connects for me I started a “draft post” with the quote so I wouldn’t forget it.
It was October 4th. The proverb provoked an electric storm of disconnected thoughts: remembrances of Mary Pipher‘s The Shelter of Each Other, her work on the need for family and connections, the refrain from a poetic Bob Dylan song from which I titled the post, “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm,” then a line from John Denver “perhaps love is like a resting place, a shelter from the storm, it exists to give you comfort, it is there to keep you warm.”
It is not always easy to write something with depth, but this Irish proverb seemed to hold the possibility of a variety of posts. Ah, multiple meanings to play with, I thought putting it into draft status, saving it for a ‘rainy day,’ a good writing prompt, grist for the mill.
Over the last weeks I have opened this draft a couple of times, savoring its flavor, considering possibilities. It made me think of a two block cartoon I once saw. One cell was labeled Hell and the second, Heaven. Both showed almost the same picture: people sitting at a table where a feast had been spread. In each drawing every person held a spoon with an enormous handle. The Hell picture showed frustration on every face because the spoons were so long no one could bring the food to his mouth. The length of the spoons was exactly the same in the second picture, but every face held joy. In Heaven all were fed as those at the table reached over to the person beside them and fed their neighbor. “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”
I love this cartoon. It tells us our circumstances are not what determine our feelings, but rather our attitude and response to them can make a heaven from a hell. But each time I opened the draft I closed it. I wasn’t ready. The ideas, like a savory soup, still needed to simmer. I had a carrot here and a bean there but no unified whole. So I set it aside and wrote something else.
And now ‘Frankenstorm’ has begun and it is late. I try to post on Saturday or early Sunday morning. This week our granddaughter visited and we played and had a grand time. Then preparing for the hurricane delayed me…but finally when I went into my blog there was my draft: Shelter from the Storm. Yes! What a fit with events. Perfect? I leave that to you. But often timing is everything…and yet, timing also changes everything. As you can see above my thoughts were not about a literal storm. And I still had to somehow put things into a cohesive whole.
So as always research was next. Now hours after investigating all my initial random thoughts and adding a couple of new ones, I decided not to just give you the completed post, but rather to also describe my process.
So…First interesting tidbit I found rereading the lyrics to Shelter From the Storm and researching peoples’ thoughts about their meaning: Dylan’s idea for the song was triggered by a line in the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, ironically or perhaps appropriately named, “Who’ll Stop the Rain.” This seemed like resonance with this hurricane moment. We all ask that question during the storm. But delving into it added a twist or two: a hint of global warming, a bit pointing to the current political campaigns. Interesting, even thought provoking, but not where I wanted to focus in the midst of what could be weather related crises for many people I care about.
Next I followed a new thought connected to a biblical reference Corey Ten Boom took as the title of her book, The Hiding Place. It is Isaiah’s description of Zion, the promised land, as “…a shelter and shade from the heat of day, and a refuge, a hiding place, from the storm and rain.” This concept has layers because the Ten Boom’s home became a hiding place for Jews during the Holocaust…and ultimately its provision came at a cost. Both Corey’s father and sister died in a concentration camp because they provided that shelter. Corey lived to testify to her experience of refuge in Ravensbrook, of caring for and being cared about. Even in the horror of the camps, most prisoners shared from their humanity with one another when they had nothing else left. “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”
Yet how could I tie together these powerful but eclectic thoughts into a coherent post? And where did the hurricane fit? Ah when in doubt edit and go back to your research. So more hours have passed, as I reread and cut and tightened. Where did that leave me? I guess my answer is found in what I connected to in these various thoughts.
Doug and I have spent our lives helping others, and we’ve learned there are many kinds of storms, some metaphorical, internal, and horribly painful, others concrete, but no less hurtful. Losing your home or your health, having no power or food, brings an immediacy that crystallizes the issue, bringing into sharp relief the most basic necessities. But concrete and touchable or internal and symbolic, when people are hurting, for whatever reason, help may be desperately needed.
So does it really matter if Dylan is writing about seeking refuge from a lost love or from the hail, from exhaustion or regret, from real hardship or unhappiness, from life itself or from death? Battered and beaten by storms within and without, those in need surround us. To me the only true question to ask is not what is the storm that sent you to me, but how should I respond? “Come in,” she said, “I will give you shelter from the storm?”
To draw this to an end, I would argue we humans need both to be cared for and to help in turn. We grow up because we are sheltered and all our lives through we need a connection to others. We need resting places, refuges of warmth and comfort. These next days of Sandy may offer lots of opportunities to provide them, or perhaps create a need for us to use them. Surely this will happen many times as our lives unfold. What seems clear is that to truly live vibrantly, to richly and fully experience heaven in our day to day we need to embrace these moments. We need to provide refuge and seek it. “It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”