12 September 2008

The Flood

There's a story in an old book about a flood, a time when God looked over the world and decided that it was time to start over, on a different basis than before. The story focuses mostly on one individual, and the changes that God brings into his life as he comes through the destruction and re-assesses what he's supposed to do for the rest of his life.

This story always has a special meaning for me, because God has used floods to re-shape and change my life several times. For example, I used to own lots of books. I still have a few hundred, but in the Old Days I took pride in the fact that I still owned almost every single book I had ever bought, found, or been given. I would tell people that Books were my extended memory, a way for me to have information at my fingertips without having to keep the sorting tabs up behind the frontal bones.

I owned new books, old books, cheap books, and expensive books. Eighteenth century hand-colored natural history texts. Hall's Mammals of North America, Walker's Mammals of the World. A hundred years of technical literature on internal combustion engines, theory and design of exhaust systems, the U.S. Army's Biological Survey of the Louisiana Purchase, Herpetologia, 1810. Ancient Chinese astrological handbooks, Greek philosophy, Malayan occult works, fiction, art, history, mathematics, all mixed in with Toby Chipmunk and Kevin Rabbit.

And then the first flood came through, and in an hour I went from 100 linear feet of books to about 40. They had been temporarily stacked in sealed boxes on the warehouse floor, and as I waded through the flood carrying them to safety, those on the bottom slowly filled with silt, diesel fuel, pesticides, and manure from the Stygian hog lot a mile upstream.

When I unpacked the boxes, I realized that not being selective in my accumulation had forced me to pay a steep price. The books that I actually treasured, that actually had value to me, were mixed up among the ones that I had merely accumulated, and the impartial flood waters had simply sliced off the bottom boxes. I had unavoidably rescued many titles that I would gladly have sacrificed in place of others that were being destroyed.

So I moved all I owned to what I thought was higher ground, and packed the 40 remaining feet of books into new boxes, and put them on the new warehouse floor far away. And then God sent the rains again, and my new warehouse went 30 inches deep. I lost 30 feet of the 40, as well as hundreds of stored bee hives, electric motors, tools, supplies, and all the photographs from many years of serious work with my beat-up old Nikon.

I don't want to dwell on the stuff that was lost, because the point of my observation was that it didn't matter, not only in the long run, but in the short one, too. That old book I spoke of earlier
explains it like this:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I had spent an incredible amount of energy on my library of books, sorting them, expanding coverage, replacing worn-out copies, adding new subjects and new viewpoints. I had forgotten how temporary it was, how temporary we all were. And I was so tangled up in the stuff, that I wasn't paying attention to what was really important. And so for me, the lesson plan included stripping away the distractions. Not just the books, but a vast edifice of mental accessories to my life that I didn't need and were simply obstructing my view of what I did need. I came out the other side much more aware of how much time I had, and where I was to spend my time and energy. I don't have the same regard for stuff anymore. Now, when people offer me beautiful family heirlooms to care for, I say "No, I am not a safe repository. I am subject to lessons."

And it frees me, too. I don't own much of anything worth stealing, so I don't own a door key to my house. I don't worry about where the truck keys are, because they're always in the trucks. They're not worth stealing either, even assuming a thief could get them started.

But the Floods were still pretty stressful, so now I live on hill, where that lesson, at least, is one I won't have to deal with as often. I've come through them changed for the better. And, you know what? After all the destruction, I still have Toby Chipmunk and Kevin Rabbit. Who could ask for more than that?

1 comment:

Regina Clare Jane said...

This was very thoughtful and a good lesson for me as well. I put way too much stock in my books-
I used to pride myself that I wasn't into material possessions- but I accumulated books like they were going out of style. I never considered books as possessions, as just things. They were more like "friends", if you know what I mean. And it's always hard to let go of friends... :)
I haven't had any tragedies to go through as you speak of, Kevin, but it's food for thought, just as those Bible quotes are...
Time to take some stock in that...